Doing up a piece of wooden furniture or wanting to breathe new life into a favourite item? Then you may want to consider varnishing it as a form of finishing that proves both durable and beautiful looking. It also provides on-going protection from water, grease and dirt.

First of all, though, it is important before starting a varnishing project that you ensure you have everything you need. This includes:

  • A good quality brush
  • Lots of newspaper
  • Fine-grade sandpaper
  • A lint-free cloth
  • Varnish
  • Mineral spirits
  • Paint stick
  • One clean container

Start by selecting a work area that is well-ventilated, as the fumes from the varnish can be quite strong. It is important that the area is warm, ideally 21 degrees centigrade, as this will allow the varnish to dry properly. Remember to select a spot where your furniture item is out of direct sunlight as this could cause the varnish to dry too quickly. Lay out the newspaper throughout the working area to ensure the varnish does not spill directly onto the floor.

Sand all the rough edges of the item. Ensure you sand with the grain, as sanding against it could damage the wood. Once sanding is completed remove all dust from the item with a clean, lint-free cloth. It is also important to vacuum the area to ensure no dust remains. It is possible to use the vacuum cleaner on ‘blow setting’ or a hairdryer on a cool temperature to remove dust from any small areas of the furniture.

Select a brush that is designed for the application of varnish. It must be completely clean and free of any particles. Pour your varnish into a large clean container, ensuring you pour enough for the entire area you are varnishing and immediately replace the lid on the varnish container to ensure dust does not mix with it.

Measure out an equal amount of the mineral spirits and slowly blend this with the varnish, using your paint stick. Stir the two substances until they are completely combined.

Dip your brush in the mixture, allowing it to drip over the container to remove excess varnish, then apply it to the furniture item using long, straight stokes. Brush with the grain, not against it, and ensure the varnish is applied thinly and evenly. If you notice the varnish thickening in the container during the application process, you should add more mineral spirits to thin it.

The first coat of varnish should dry overnight. Once it is completely dry, re-sand it. You can test the item for dryness by lightly rubbing a piece of your sandpaper on it. If dust is produced then it is dry and ready for the next step.

The entire process, from sanding the item through to the application of varnish, needs to be repeated two or three times to ensure the furniture item is properly completed. The varnish, mineral spirits and brush can be purchased at any hardware store. Most offer a selection of varnishes, including high-gloss, satin and flat forms. It is best to ask a store employee about the best choice for your item, and they will also be able to advise you on brush and mineral spirit selection.

A varnishing project can be time-consuming and requires work to be completed over several days, but the result is a beautiful looking item of wooden furniture that will look lovely in any home!

Important tips:

  • If the varnish does spill on carpet it can be removed using white spirits. Once the stain disappears clean the area with detergent and warm water. It takes a lot of scrubbing but it can be removed!
  • If the wood has tiny potholes or spots apply the varnish to the area only once. Several applications will result in a bulge on the furniture.
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