Best Varnishes for Wood 2019 – Reviews

Best Varnishes for Wood 2019 – Reviews

applying-exterior-wood-varnishWood varnish has been around since the heyday of the Egyptian Empire, but we’ve come a long way from those original mixtures, which basically consisted of tree sap and alcohol.

Modern varnishes offer a mix of hardness, beauty, and ease of use. At this point, varnishing a surface is no more difficult than painting that surface.

At the same time, there are some inferior products out there, and I want to do our best to help you avoid them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some products that aren’t so inferior. We will examine different types of wood varnishes in no particular order. Let’s look, then, at the best varnishes for wood.

Best Varnishes for Wood in November, 2019

#VarnishDry time (hours)Covers (quart)Sheen 
1 TotalBoat
Editor's Choice
162,5 sq. ft.gloss, satin Check Price
2 Rust-Oleum2up to 150 sq. ft.gloss Check Price
3MCCLOSKEY 462,5 sq. ft.gloss Check Price
4Epifanes 12up to 150 sq. ft.gloss Check Price
5 System Three4100 - 125 sq. ft.satin Check Price

1. Totalboat Marine Spar Varnish – Best Outdoor Wood Varnish

This is a somewhat specialized product that is intended for marine use, but it serves well for any purpose that requires strong water resistance. Outdoor projects like decks, sheds, and patio furniture are great opportunities to use this stuff. It keeps out water with great effectiveness.

This varnish is made from Tung oil, and its finish is very hard and durable. I like the high level of clarity, as it doesn’t interfere with the natural beauty of the wood. I also like the fact that this is one of those self-leveling formulas. Some say that this feature doesn’t make much difference, but anything that makes it easier to apply a clean and level coating is worthy of praise.

Dries Fast

This one also seems to dry a little faster than most varnishes, which is probably due to its Tung oil-based formula. That stuff tends to evaporate faster than most oils, so it would make sense. However, it should be noted that other factors can influence dry time, such as temperature and humidity. Our results might simply be the product of our environment.

May Not Be Worth The Cost For All People

This paint is pretty expensive, so it isn’t worth buying for most projects. This is only worth buying if your project requires extreme waterproofing. Also, it does take quite a few coats to get the full effect. You won’t really see a lot of difference in your wood surface after the first coat, or even after the second coat. Thus, you should allocate a little bit more time when working with this product.

Pros
  • Marine grade
  • Self-leveling formula
  • Blocks UV light
  • Great clarity
  • Fairly quick drying
Cons
  • Requires too many coats
  • Pretty expensive

2. Rust-Oleum Marine Spar Varnish – Old Reliable

This paint comes from a trusted brand with a good record for quality, so it gains some points right off the bat. This is another spar varnish, but it’s even tougher than the others. This one resists water beautifully, making it bead up every time. It also resists mildew, UV penetration, and salt. Obviously, the salt protection won’t help you much at home, but the mildew protection is a nice touch.

This one is oil-based, which means that it will penetrate into the wood for a lasting finish that actually becomes part of the wood. It dries crystal-clear: Other than the shine, you won’t even know it’s there. However, that great finish will take more time to dry than most others, requiring two hours before it’s dry to the touch. Full curing takes up to 48 hours.

Long Dry Time

The long drying time is slightly inconvenient, but it’s not really a big deal. However, those who are in a hurry might find this product to be an annoyance. Professionals who are working on a strict timeframe might also have some issues. Further, vertical surfaces are going to be a little harder when you choose this varnish. With its longer dry time, there will be more opportunity for the varnish to run and drip. This will create rough spots that have to be sanded away, adding even more time to the process.

Beauty And Toughness

The oil-based nature of this product gives it a finish that is unique when compared to other products of this type. Most are water-based, which produces a hard and clear finish. While this is great from a durability standpoint, it doesn’t add much of anything to the beauty and visual appeal of the wood. If you want something that will make those grains pop like never before, this is a great one. Not only will it provide the hard and durable surface that you want, but it will also darken the wood, almost like a stain, giving your surface a classic antique look that is both classy and cheap to produce.

Pros
  • Trusted brand with a good record
  • Resists UV, mildew, and salt damage
  • Absolutely crystal-clear
  • Oil-based for deep penetration
Cons
  • Nasty odor
  • Very flammable
  • Long drying time

3. MCCLOSKEY Voc Mow Spar – Volatile But Effective

This is a premium brand, and a premium product. As such, you can bet that you will pay more for this one. The quantity is a little greater than that of our other choices, but you will pay a bit more for that extra quality, and that’s putting it lightly. While we’re talking about the negatives, let’s talk about the other big one: Volatility. This stuff is made with toxic and flammable chemicals that are somewhat unpleasant to the nose.

Flexible Finish

This one is engineered for maximum UV protection, and so it should last a lot longer than most. Also, it is engineered to dry flexible. This is a great touch for wooden surfaces, which will often bend and warp a little bit as the weather changes. A flexible finish ensures that the varnish layer can flex along with the rest of the wood and avoid flaking.

Resistant To All

This one also does a great job of resisting salt and chemicals, so it’s a great choice for those who live near the ocean. That salty sea air can really do a number on your paint after a few years, but this product should keep those issues down to a minimum. Those who don’t live by the sea might want to consider another product, as the salt resistance won’t make any real difference for them.

Pros
  • Maximum UV protection
  • Provides a flexible finish
  • Resists salt and chemicals
  • Good for indoor and outdoor use
Cons
  • Quite volatile and bad-smelling
  • Very expensive

4. Epifanes Clear Varnish – A Great Bargain

This is a very high-gloss marine varnish that is suitable for pretty much anything. You can apply it to inside jobs, outside jobs, and marine applications. Like other marine finishes, it is kind of expensive. However, it’s not as expensive as most products of that type, so that’s a plus.

This product is suitable for both new and old wood, so it’s a great choice for those restoration projects. It resists UV light, so that should do even more to help it resist degradation. This is a definite plus, as it helps you to be sure that your product will last a long time. A longer-lived varnish equals less time before you have to varnish again. This is a major consideration for today’s busy environment.

Imported Equals Extra Taxes

I do see a couple of problems here, in spite of the value factor. This product is imported from Holland, which is only a problem because the import taxes have surely added more to the cost of this product. If it had some kind of special quality, it would be worth the extra money, but it does not. Also, some customers say that this product is prone to bubbling up after a few months.

What Do You Mean By “Bubbling Up?”
When I say “bubbling up,” I’m referring to a phenomenon that is often seen from paint that contains too many ingredients. In the process of adding all those things, they end up mixing in a lot of oxygen from the air around the product. Once the can is sealed up, that air has nowhere to go, and it turns into tiny bubbles that may get bigger once they are again exposed to the open air.

Pros
  • High gloss
  • Suitable for indoor, outdoor, or marine use
  • Suitable for old and new wood
  • Resists UV degradation
Cons
  • Imported- extra cost
  • Sometimes prone to bubbling

5. System Three Clear Marine Spar Urethane Varnish Coating – The Budget Option

This is quite possibly the most affordable item on my list, and it comes with all the features and advantages that you would expect. First of all, you can get this stuff in several different forms. That’s a very nice touch because some jobs really don’t require a high-gloss approach. The satin paint does a great job of sealing and protecting the wood without making it glisten in the sun. Some people prefer a matte look to their furniture, and those people will probably like this product.

Easy To Use On Pre-Treated Surfaces

This one can be applied over existing paint, other coatings, wood putty, and even epoxy. So, if you’re one of those people who like to use glue for a lot of household repairs, this product will suit you. It has a strong UV protection level, which should keep it from becoming dulled by exposure to sunlight. There is no need to worry about outdoor use with this one.

Relatively poor coverage

At the same time, this product does not give very good coverage. When you consider its lower price, it seems like the obvious winner. However, that relatively low coverage will probably negate the money that you save on each can. You are likely to need more than one can for any large project, so take that into account when planning to use this product. Also, this one is even more flammable and toxic than most of these products.

Pros
  • Available in gloss or satin finish
  • Can be applied over epoxy
  • Never gets dulled by sunlight
  • Fairly cheap
Cons
  • Very flammable and toxic
  • Poor coverage

Conclusion

Varnish finish is easily one of the most versatile tools in the handyman’s arsenal. It protects, it shines, it improves the look of any wooden object, and it seals the product from moisture, mold, and all sorts of other things. Of course, there is always a right way to make something, and also a wrong way to make something. That is why some varnishes give you a strong finish that will last the ages, and why some others produce a thin and weak veneer that flakes and chips away at the first sign of bad weather.

When you choose a varnish, I hope that you will remember the basic ideas and principles that you have learned today and that they will help you make the perfect choice for you and your home. You just need to remember that every product is unique. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all varnishes are the same, because that mistake could lead to a lot of extra work on your part. Then, as you grumble and curse while scraping away the old finish so that you can try again, you might wish that you had listened more closely to the things that I told you!

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