Correcting a Mistake: How to Salvage a Varnish Job Gone Wrong

Every now and then, even the most experienced marine painter will complete a varnishing job that they are dissatisfied with on the hull. Varnishing is notoriously difficult and seems to be more of an art than a science. Varnish’s property as a clear thick epoxy makes it very susceptible to sagging, dripping and contamination of airborne particles such as dust and dirt. Even the rim of the varnish paint can, left to dry out, can cause bubbles and unsightly foam in varnish that’s seen only after drying.

If you’re finding yourself stuck in a situation where your latest coat of varnish isn’t exactly what you want, there’s no need to despair. There are a few ways to not only salvage your job, which has probably taken days if not weeks to complete, and still come out with a great looking boat.

The first, and somewhat counterintuitive, action to take when you have a bad coat of varnish is to let the varnish at least cure on the boat. You are going to need to remove the coat of varnish, and there’s nothing more frustrating and a waste of time than trying to sand a “soft” coat of varnish. You’ll ruin your sanding block as well if you try to remove the varnish before its fully cured.

Once the varnish has cured, the next step is to determine why it looks bad. Did you brush it on too thickly? If your only complaint is brush strokes, then sanding these down with 220 grit sandpaper and reapplying a thinner coat above the “mistake” coat is the best way to correct this mistake. That way you don’t have to start completely over with your coats of varnish and you can finish in the same relative amount of time.

Varnish Brush

Varnish Brush

If you are facing a situation where your varnish developed bubbles or picked up inordinate amounts of dust while drying, the situation is a little bit stickier – no pun intended. After letting the varnish cure, the only way to treat this tragedy is to completely sand that coat of varnish from the hull. As you sand a bad coat from the hull, you should carry a wet rag with you to wipe down the hull as you go. Coupling this with bright light allows you to see how see you’re sanding and ensures you are completely removing the bad coat.

If your varnish has been contaminated and you didn’t realize it until you applied it to the hull, the same process as described above applies. Depending on the contamination, such as foam formation or you didn’t let your epoxy cure all the way and now you have paint streaks in the varnish, you should let the coat cure and completely start from scratch on your varnish. Depending on how deep you sand to get rid of the contaminants, you may even need to reapply a coat of epoxy.

It’s always better safe than sorry when it comes to correcting painting mistakes. It happens to even the best painters, but the hard work you put into correcting it will show through once your boat is completed and protected.

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