Varnish varieties and 7 helpful application tips

August 7, 2015

When you apply a topcoat of varnish or clear finish to your wooden floorboards you protect your floor and keep it looking lovely for years. But applying finish to a wooden floor can be tricky. Here's some information on the different finishes available and seven tips for applying your finish of choice:

Varnish varieties and 7 helpful application tips

Solvent-based polyurethane

  • Varnishes that are solvent-based polyurethane will give you a durable topcoat.
  • However, these kinds of varnishes are slow-drying.
  • Floors that have a topcoat of solvent-based polyurethane need to be cleaned with turpentine and are likely to yellow with age.

Water-based polyurethane

  • Water-based polyurethanes are easy to work with and quick drying.
  • These kinds of varnish can be cleaned with water.
  • Floors treated with water-based polyuethane varnishes are less likely to discolour.

Catalysed lacquers

  • Catalysed lacquers are made with a chemical catalyst that makes them very quick-drying.
  • Professionals usually use this kind of floor coating, while homeowners don't.

Oil finish

  • An oil finish will penetrate your wooden floorboards and leave them with a natural matte finish.
  • You can either buy ready-made oil finish or make your own.
  • To make your own finish mix one part raw linseed oil with eight parts turpentine.

7 handy tips for varnishing wooden floors

1. Being methodical will make any varnishing job easier. For example, concentrate on two or three boards at a time, and work with the grain as you apply your finish from one end of your group of boards to the other. Then just keep spreading your finish until you reach the other end of the room.

2. Lambswool pads might cost a bit more, but they are definitely the best things to use to apply floor finish.

3. Don't trap yourself in a corner. Plan on how you'll leave the room you're working in once you've finished varnishing before you start. In general, you should start at the room's far side and work your way back towards the doorway.

4. Apply your finish quickly so that the board you've just coated is still still wet when you're working on the board beside it. This way, you'll avoid the streaks that appear when wet finish overlaps with a section of floor that's already dry.

5. When you're applying a finish, always wear a fume or vapour mask. The only exception to this rule is if the room you're working in has excellent ventilation.

6. Fumes from most finishes are flammable. While you're working make sure that all gas flames (including pilot lights) are extinguished and don't let anyone smoke in your work area. If you use any rags, they'll also be flammable so let them dry outside and then throw them away.

7.  After you've finished your varnishing job, don't leave any windows in that room open. If you do, you might find your finish peppered with a layer of dust and insects.

Now you know a bit about the various finishes available and how to effectively use them. As long as you keep this knowledge in mind, your next varnishing  job is likely to leave your wooden floor looking beautiful.

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