Warm Weather and Sowing Seeds

Good morning everyone. We are enjoying a stretch of warm dry weather here. I know many of you shake your heads when I describe temperatures soaring into the 50s but remember that under the cover, with a little solar gain, that means painting and varnishing weather. Katie and Rob have been hard at it. They are quite amazing at their ability to keep the fit-out process going as the days get darker earlier. Sowing seeds towards sailing seven months from now is not easy when the sun barely clears the horizon by 7 AM and is gone by 4 in the afternoon. So when you see them next summer thank them for all their endurance. I know I am singing their praises.

I am spending this week at an EMS conference here in Rockport, brushing up on my EMT skills. I am stuck inside, all for a good purpose I know, but stuck inside none the less. The cruel view from the window is of the sun lit bay gently ruffled by the breeze and the islands stretching down east to Acadia National Park. Did I mention that it is only seven months until we sail again??? Notice the rocking chair in the background of the above picture. It quietly waits and watches, a gentle reminder of what we are all about.

Have a great day. Be well. Do good.


  1. Captain Barry – It is great to see the beautiful Mary Day being treated in such a loving way.

    I do have a question about varnish which I should perhaps address to Katie and Rob.

    My boat building is proceeding with the recent installation of the breast hooks and stern knees. The rub rails are being fitted and will soon be installed too. While waiting for epoxy to cure (it takes a while for that to happen when the temperature doesn't get above 70) I have been working on the spars. I think they are round enough and just need some sanding with finer grit paper. So I will soon be ready to apply the first coats of varnish.

    What brand (Epifanes?)and how much do I thin the varnish for the first coat and then subsequent coats? Do you recommend any additives? Do you have advise about brushes? I see articles about painting and varnishing that implore the reader to invest in good brushes. An article about painting new wooden boats appeared in March/April 2009 edition of Wooden Boat where Tom Hill writes that he prefers badger hair brushes but that China bristle brushes work well also. My local big box hardware store does not carry badger hair brushes. When I find them online they seem quite expensive. I'm willing to spend the money if the results are far superior to the much less expensive China bristle brushes available locally.

    Okay, upon re-reading the above I realize I've asked way more than one question but a fella wants his first wooden boat to look good even if he doesn't get to sail it too often.

  2. Hi Ed,

    I do prefer the Epifanes gloss varnish. Epifanes has a high speed varnish which kicks fast and multiple coats can be applied without sanding. I prefer the old fashioned way sanding between coats. Prep your work sanding with the grain through the grits up to 220 being careful not to leave scratches from the heavier grits. Whatever you you do now will be permanently visible. That is the rub with varnish… it is unforgiving. Wipe your work with acetone and make sure it has kicked before applying your first coat of varnish. A tack cloth should be used to wipe the work as you go moments before you varnish. We do a first coat thinned 50/50 with Epifanes reducing thinner, Penetrol or good old fashioned turpentine which smells (some folks get sensitized by the fumes so use in the open air.) Might I also remind you to properly dispose of any rags with thinner on them… including turpentine or linseed oil, both of which can cause spontaneous combustion.

    At any rate we do a 50/50 coat first and maybe even a second coat depending on the porosity of the wood. Then we move to a coat of varnish that is 75/25 varnish/thinner. Once the pores of the wood are sealed we go for the full bore coats trying not to thin much but depending on heat and humidity and the feel of your brush you may have to add some thinner just to get you varnish to flow off the brush without any drag. You will need lots of good light and you will constantly need to look back a few inches from every conceivable angle to catch and smooth out sags, drips, runs, and holidays. A word to the wise… don't go back to far. Once it starts to set up you can't fix what is done. It will look obvious but you will have to exhibit great self control. Don't ask me how I know this.

    A comment on your brush. Make it the best natural bristle brush you can afford and keep it clean and dust free after cleaning by hanging it in thinner between uses. China bristle will be fine but that brush should never be used for anything but varnish. Comb the bristles with a wire brush or paint brush comb before and after each use to remove the loose bristles. If a brush becomes heavy with paint or varnish while you are working find a clean line to stop at, say a corner or seam, and take a minute to clean the excess paint or varnish and restore the bristles and ferrule to the limber condition.

    How many coats of varnish??? Probably at least 5 full coats to start with being careful to let the varnish kick hard between coats and scouring with a very fine bronze wool between coats. Any sags or drips take a long time to kick and will need to be rubbed out with 220 grit lest they magnify themselves with each new coat.

    So Ed there you have it. I am no expert but I have made my fair share of mistakes. You did not ask about staining but that is something to look into if the grain and color of you wood is not even as often happens with mahogany that is provided with some kit boats. We stain some pieces aboard the schooner to even out the color where we have made repairs to the mahogany hatches. You can try a test piece to what work before you commit to staining or varnishing the finished product. But that would be way too easy.


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