Oil varnish is one of the oldest finished used for stringed instruments. It is oil varnish that was used on violins for centuries and is still the preferred finish for many dyed in the wood violin makers around the world.
It is thought that oil varnish was used on Stradivarius Violins, but there is a bit of dispute of that due to the fact that spirit varnish was also in use at the time.
Oil varnish uses melted resins as the base combined with a drying oil, which is usually tung oil or linseed oil. There is also a thinner added to make it easier to brush and go on thin. Once the oil and resin reacts with oxygen in the air, the finish begins to dry as the thinner evaporates and forms a thin film that is durable and flexible.
Oil Varnish As A Guitar Finish:
Oil varnish does make a nice looking guitar finish, but it is quite hard to work with. It is difficult to brush or spray, dries very slowly and because of the slow drying, it has a tendency to collect more dust and dirt particles that need to be contended with.
Also, it is quite difficult to buff to a quality high gloss finish and it is difficult to repair.
If you do decide to use a varnish, it is easiest to use a ready-to-use varnish that are available from violin supply houses, which is ready for you to mix up.
Oil Varnish – The Advantages:
- Can be brushed or sprayed.
- Will give a very fine vintage appearance.
- Dries to a hard finish you can buff.
Oil Varnish – The Disadvantages:
- Takes quite a bit of experience to apply expertly. Once you master it though you can get a very fine looking finish.
- Rather long tack time means the finish is much more likely to attract dust and dirt and you will have to contend with those repairs.
- Very difficult to repair.
- Can be difficult to buff.