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Thread: Spar Varnish Question (Epifanes)

  1. #1

    Spar Varnish Question (Epifanes)

    Hi all,

    I recently made a patio table out of cherry wood and finished it with Epifanes gloss varnish.

    The finish did not turn out well - lots of drips on the sides and some dust and air bubbles and wrinkling in the top.

    I put about 5 thick coats and was wondering if I could sand the finish down so it's at least flat and dust/bubble free on the top, and then put a couple layers of something else on top to have a nice looking, clean flat surface. I figure sanding alone won't work as after sanding it gets that really foggy and white appearance.

    I was thinking one option would be something like Minwax Spar Urethane or something along those lines - can anyone recommend something that's readily available? I ran out of Epifanes and am not interested in using that product again.

    The table will be on a balcony that will get some direct sunlight but not every day all day.
    Last edited by Clarke Duggan; 06-23-2021 at 6:41 PM.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Clarke Duggan View Post
    ...I ran out of Epifanes and am not interested in using that product again...
    The problem was not with the Epiphanes; it was entirely with truly awful application technique (5 heavy, dusty coats). Changing brands is a science project and is now really too late. Learn to correctly apply the finish you have started with and you will be OK.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Epifanes is not the easiest varnish to apply, but you should not be getting runs, air bubbles, and definitely not wrinkles. Let it sit a week or two to harden some, then sand it down until the defects are gone. Then apply new coats of Epifanes. Use a good quality brush and thin the varnish so it flows out easier and thinner. With a good brush you should be able to apply it w/o thinning, but it's OK to thin it; it just takes more coats.

    MinWax, Helmsman, etc. Spar varnishes are not in the same league as Epifanes. I recommend you stick with Epifanes.

    It you want to strip off all the Epifanes back to raw wood you could use Target Coatings EM-9300 Polycarbonate finish. Goes on great with a brush, only requires a few coats, and is very hard and durable. Amber color, should look great on cherry.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    New Westminster BC
    Agree with Andy, don't blame the product because you did a poor job of applying it. I've used Epiphanes with good results on my stitch and glue kayak. Going forward, make sure you give the finish lots of time to cure before sanding then follow the label instructions and apply a couple more coats of Epiphanes in a dust free environment. Don't be afraid to thin it and apply as a wipe on varnish.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Denver, CO
    Welcome, Clarke. Thanks for your post. Sorry if you didn’t get a terribly warm welcome to your first post here. This forum is all about learning and we’ve all made mistakes and learned from them and from each other. After many years of finishing I still run into issues and have always found great advice here.

    If you want to switch products, I think you’d be safe letting the Epiphanes dry thoroughly, maybe at least a week, and continue with another topcoat. I would stick with oil based. The Minwax may be easier to apply. Thinning will definitely help give the finish more time to flow out and let air bubbles pop. Wiping finish will require even more thinning. The coats will be much thinner than brushed coats but will definitely eliminate bubbles. Wiping on the edges/vertical surfaces will help avoid drips. Lightly sand between coats and be sure to thoroughly vacuum and/or wipe off sanding dust before next coat.

    Good luck and let us know how it turns out.
    Last edited by Bennett Ostroff; 06-24-2021 at 12:30 AM.

  6. #6
    I followed the instructions. They recommend using the varnish full strength or only slightly diluted after the first few coats. When it is so thick it goes on thick and stays tacky for more than 4 hours unless you're in a very hot dry climate. To me this seems like an obvious problem with the product which makes it incredibly difficult to use compared to anything else that dries more quickly.

    I'm not sure how you can keep an environment dust free for 6 hours as the varnish is still tacky, which is why I am looking for another product that can adhere to sanded epifanes and will not come off outdoors.

    I'm not the only person who has had a bad experience with this product. Would've been much easier if I had gone with something else from the start but too late now just looking for an easy fix without spending another 50 dollars on a can of epifanes.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Denver, CO
    Yeah that is a really long time to remain tacky. Minwax polyurethane or spar urethane will dry much faster than that. It’s cheap and readily available and will do the job just fine. Thinning it will increase open time but the coats will ultimately become tack-free faster because they’re thinner. Wiped on will dry even faster. Minwax Wipe-on Poly comes pre-thinned to wiping consistency.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Bennett Ostroff View Post
    Yeah that is a really long time to remain tacky. Minwax polyurethane or spar urethane will dry much faster than that. It’s cheap and readily available and will do the job just fine. Thinning it will increase open time but the coats will ultimately become tack-free faster because they’re thinner. Wiped on will dry even faster. Minwax Wipe-on Poly comes pre-thinned to wiping consistency.
    Thanks I'm going to contact the company directly and ask. I didn't have many issues with the first few coats that I thinned, but once I stopped thinning it it really didn't want to go on very well at all and took forever to become touch-dry. Since it's meant to be a final varnish on its own I figure few people will have experience putting anything else on top of it.

    Hopefully an oil-based outdoor finish will do the trick - will check with Epifanes customer support.

  9. #9
    I refinished an entry door for my son using Epifanes. As I applied subsequent coats I noticed problems similar to what you reported. I sanded out as much as possible and sprayed the last 3 coats. It turned out fantastic.

  10. #10
    I have been using Epifanes gloss varnish for at least 20 years on boats and outdoor furniture. It is without question the best quality marine and exterior varnish available and the only real varnish used by the boatyard pros I've met from Maine to Trinidad (non-varnish finishes like Cetol and Rapidcoat/Rapidclear are not real varnishes). If you have wrinkles on horizontal surfaces and drips on vertical surfaces then the varnish was applied too heavily and possibly without enough time between coats. 100%, that is the cause of your troubles. Epifanes is thicker than other spar varnishes and is therefore less likely to drip, so you will have even more drips with a different spar varnish and the same application thickness. To avoid dust in the finish you have to apply the finish on a wind-free day (if working outside) when there isn't much pollen in the air and after removing dust from the work surface and your clothing. Try using a tack cloth. Bubbles are usually created by carelessly wiping the loaded brush against the inside lip of the can to remove excess varnish from the brush and by moving the brush across the work surface too quickly. Use a plastic container instead of working directly from the can and be careful when you unload one side of the brush. It helps to use a good quality brush. Apply just enough varnish to cover the surface and move the brush across the surface slowly, adjusting pressure based on how heavily the brush is loaded with varnish. Epifanes gloss varnish should be tack-free within about 3 hours, depending on temp, humidity and whether it is in direct sunlight. Your excessive dry time is another indication that the varnish was applied much too heavily. That "foggy and white" appearance after sanding will disappear when the next coat is applied. You don't have to sand down to bare wood to remove dried drips and bubbles - just get the surface smooth. If the sandpaper corns up then the too thick finish isn't dry enough for sanding yet. If you don't want to sand between coats then use something like Cetol or Rapidcoat, but the results will not look exactly like real varnish because those non-varnish alternatives have UV-inhibiting additives like iron oxide that heavily tint the finish.
    Last edited by Holmes Anderson; 06-24-2021 at 8:28 AM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Tampa Bay, FL

    If it makes you feel any better, I had a similar experience recently with Epifanes when refinishing a Titanic deck chair that I built a few years ago. Bubbles and some drips (mostly bubbles). Everything I tried - I couldn't get rid of them.

    I switched to System Three marine spar varnish and it was FAR easier to apply. Yes it seems thinner, and probably needs more coats than the Epifanes, but I'll be using it from now on. i waited a few days for the Epifanes to dry, then just lightly sanded and started applying the System Three. FWIW. My $0.02
    - When God closes a door, he opens a window. Our heating bill is outrageous & six raccoons got in last night. Please God, this has to stop!
    - Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

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