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Old 02-17-2013, 11:00 PM   #1
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Head Spinning from Varnish/Polyurethane Research

Hey folks! I'm in the process of rebuilding my 70's plastic interior with wood... birch. Wondering if y'all can point me in the right direction on finishing/sealing it. My plan is just to just something like a varnish or polyurethane without staining it. A few questions...

What type of sheen is most appropriate for an Airstream? Matte, satin, semi-gloss, gloss? Are gloss finishes better for water resistance? The first part of the project is the bathroom and around the shower so that is definitely on my mind.

I think that I've read you can use a gloss for base coats and that a satin, flat, or rubbed effect etc on the last coat or two is all that really matters for the final finish. Is this correct? If so, it sounds great to be able to see how it looks that way and then decide at the end if I want to lay satin or matte over it. Just need to know if I'm on the right track with this.

I'm tempted to go with a product made for marine applications such as something from West Marine. I've read that Epifanes is quite popular.

Drying time is important since I'm going to be doing this on the road (likely at the Texas Airstream Harbor where I am now).

Would something like Epifanes Rapid Clear be good? No sanding between coats, can apply coats 5-6 hours apart...
https://epifanes.com/na/store/varnis...es/rapidclear/

Thanks for any and all advice! I'm a newbie when it comes to this stuff.
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:13 PM   #2
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In reading on boat forums, it sounds like Epifanes Rapidclear is thin and best suited for base coats. Then, people talk about switching to regular Epifanes varnish or their Woodfinish product. From the Epifanes website, it sounds like that would be used for heavy build coats (in a gloss) and then if you want a matte or rubbed effect, you add that on last.

They also have "Aqua Marine Varnish" described as "a quick-drying, clear, one component interior satin finish based on a polyurethane/acrylic dispersion dissolved in water. This finish gives a rich, sublime, hand rubbed finish with good resistance to alcohol and household chemicals. Preferred on interior work." (this also looks like the most expensive of the stuff they sell.)

Hmmm.
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Old 02-18-2013, 12:23 AM   #3
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I believe the idea of going with gloss first is that the "flatners" in semi-gloss and satin will obscure the grain or make it cloudy on the way down to seeing the word.

I have only use Captan's by Z spar I believe. I was going to do what you are speaking off with my 1973 Tradewind. I had gotten some ideas from looking at sailboat interior.

You maybe well advised to just play with finishes on a bunch of sample boards.

Label them with the how and what you did to each one. Could do a log with a letter system on the boards.

I would include Experimenting with Shellac as a first coat both clear and amber. Amber will give you an aged look on the birch like the 50's interiors

Zinner brand Shellac is everywhere and is fine for what you are doing. Some woodworker are all into mixing their own flakes with alcohol etc.

You can dilute the pre made stuff if you like.

Good Luck


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Old 02-18-2013, 02:00 AM   #4
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You got a 70 model right? I used Spar Marine Varnish from Ace Hardware (high Gloss) ..., But that was only for the wood in this one. But it does great - hard as all get out. And takes about a day to dry good depending on humidity. The inner plastic shell (I think) should only be cleaned up real good and left as is. Also the shell framing in the window over the sink can be brittle so watch out for that. What exact 70 model do you have and do you have pictures. My profile says I am in Kansas - but we are in Altus Ok. right now. I would love to see the Airstream Harbor where your at.
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Old 02-18-2013, 07:09 AM   #5
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I'm just finishing up my cabinets in my Bambi II. I used Heavy Duty Varathane in a satin finish first & Miniwax polyurathane wipe-on satin. I cut the varathane with mineral spirits so it could be applied with a rag, thus, no drips. I've used Epifanes for a screen house outside. If you don't have the wood completely enveloped (all sides), water will get in & lift the finish off (don't ask me how I know!). For my cabinets, I put the finish in plastic bottles (like water bottles) so I didn't have to have the mess of a can. I used a cotton rag from a t-shirt saturated with finish. I used blue gloves from Harbor Freight & when I was finished with the coat for the day, I held the rag in a ball in my hand & pulled the glove inside out around the rag & tied it in a knot. Then I threw it in the freezer for then next time I would use it. It made it really easy & kept the mess WAY down. Of course, I had to sand between coats & tack. But if you don't do that, you'll have a crappy finish. I used maple for my wood. Here's a picture of some of the cabinets finished:Click image for larger version

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Old 02-18-2013, 08:16 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beckybillrae View Post
I'm just finishing up my cabinets in my Bambi II. ... If you don't have the wood completely enveloped (all sides), water will get in & lift the finish off (don't ask me how I know!).
Your cabinets look great! Now, on covering the wood... Am I in trouble if I just get almost all the surfaces covered instead of absolutely all surfaces? I covered the back of most I have put in so far with spar urethane but didn't cover absolutely every part and some sides. I'd say they are 90% covered. Do I need to take apart some of sections to cover areas, such as where two pieces are joined flush together?
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:18 AM   #7
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Here are some pictures of what I am working on...



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Old 02-18-2013, 08:22 AM   #8
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Tony S - I have seen the z spar at west marine. I will look at that a bit more closely and I have also seen others talk abut shelllac but I don't know much about it. I'll check it out. Epifanes has a product in their system that has some tint to it so maybe that can be another option. I think you have a good idea about testing various combinations of products.
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:23 AM   #9
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Have you considered just using a quality oil wood stain/conditioner like Livos...or others? It sure makes the wood look better and is healthier for you too.
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:31 AM   #10
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So, is there a more appropriate sheen than others? (Gloss, semi, satin, etc?) What finish was Airstream using on wood in the 50s and 60s?
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:35 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Melody Ranch View Post
Have you considered just using a quality oil wood stain/conditioner like Livos...or others? It sure makes the wood look better and is healthier for you too.
Do things like that have good water repellant characteristics? I don't know much about any of this and have been looking at the varnishes and urethanes as they seem to be popular based on availability. But maybe I just have tunnel vision at this point since I have just started to understand those options.
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:38 AM   #12
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You should be fine. I just had issues with epifanes. I've used spar urethane outdoors & never had it lift off like epifanes. The reason I didn't use gloss is because it shows imperfections in your finish a lot more than satin does. If you're good & like gloss, it's just a matter of taste! Your shower looks fabulous!
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Old 02-18-2013, 08:44 AM   #13
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Thanks! Here is the outside wall toward the rear bedroom (and that's my dad there to the side who fortunately has the patience to get the details right that I don't)

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Old 02-18-2013, 10:21 AM   #14
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I'm no expert, but we've done a lot of new birch on our interior. Due to availability issues and me sometimes just grabbing the wrong can, we actually ended up with a variety of finishes on the inside. So, from a beginner's perspective, here's what I've gleaned:

Varnish vs. urethane - from my research, I understand that true varnish penetrates the wood better than urethanes, so it is good as a first coat. It also takes 24 hours to dry, vs. 4 for urethanes. This slows down progress and also leaves the finish vulnerable for airborne impurities longer. True varnish can be spot touched up at any time since it dissolves into the varnish layer below. It does need to be sanded if urethane is going on top of it.

Brush vs. rag - I'm going to borrow Becky's rag and glove technique for touch ups on wood already installed on our walls. Meanwhile, I prefer a brush. Although I don't get quite as perfect a finish, it works for my setup. I actually like the cheap Chinese brushes since they are more flexible, don't hold as much varathane in each dip and are easier to get completely clean. BUT they shed hairs to an unforgiveable level, so I use a nice, high quality natural bristle brush and only dip the tip in abou 1/4" each time.

Gloss, semi-gloss and satin - Gloss shows every wonderful detail of the grain. It also shows every imperfect brush stroke, every drip (who, me, drip?), and every speck of anything that lands on the surface. It also reflects light with a glare that hides the wood at the glare spot. Semi-gloss is better with the glare, but still fairly unforgiving about the imperfections. I have come to prefer satin as, for my abilities, it gives the best looking finish and still shows off the depth and grain of the wood. I have not had any issues of apparent "clouding" of the grain. Satin and semi-gloss need to be stirred often while working. The dulling agents are suspended in the finish and if they aren't kept stirred in, the less stirred parts of the work will be glossier than others and the end of the can will be much duller than the beginning.

My current finishing regimen is to sand with 220 and wipe with a tack cloth. I use Helmsman indoor/outdoor spar urethane oil based satin clear and a natural bristle brush. Before each subsequent coat, I sand again and then wipe with a paper towel dampened with mineral spirits. I put at least three coats on the surfaces that show, sometimes two on the inside of a cupboard or closet and sometimes just one if it's not going to be exposed at all. I try to get all the edges but I'm not compulsive about it. Airstream didn't even bother putting a finish on the exposed pressboard on some of their closet interiors. To clean the brush, I wipe any excess finish off with a paper towel. I fold a new paper towel in quarters and hold it in my hand with the brush on top and gently dribble mineral spirits on both sides until the brush is saturated but not dripping. Then I work the mineral spirits into the brush hairs and get as much finish out as possible. I use a dry paper towel to remove as much remaining finish and spirits as possible. It may not be conventional, but it's close to what my dad taught me about cleaning up after oil painting to get all the colors out of each brush. So far, the brush still feels as flexible as when new, and that's what counts.

I wish you luck. Finishing is a bit of a daunting process to face, but you'll learn as you go along.
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Old 02-18-2013, 12:02 PM   #15
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Thanks for the detailed response! A lot of good info. I was thinking that I'd use the helmsman spar urethane too and that is what I used on the backs of things before assembly. But I kept reading that the true spar and marine grades are generally sold only at marine supply places so started considering stuff there. And that is how I ended up considering epifanes. It is more expensive and less convenient to procure so not sure if I will go that route. Epifanes does sound like it takes a lot of work out of the process, both according to marketing info and people posting about experience on the net.
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Old 02-18-2013, 02:21 PM   #16
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Epifanes does sound like it takes a lot of work out of the process, both according to marketing info and people posting about experience on the net.
That IS what they make it sound like. But, I did sand between the 1st & 2nd coats because it was very rough, plus, I put 5 coats on (it's outside), plus, I have places where I missed encapsulating everything & the wood turned grey (cause it's cedar). Not really happy with it & have done a lot of varnishing in my life. You'll be much better off with what you're using. Really!
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Old 02-18-2013, 03:25 PM   #17
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Epiphanes is a beautiful varnish but it's loaded with solvents and inside a closed space like a trailer is likely to destroy brain cells due to the fumes. Ventilation fans to remove the fumes will also blow dust, bugs and other stuff into your wet varnish so they're out. A better (and more beautiful) natural varnish is Le Tonkinois, the official varnish of the French Navy. It doesn't have the fumes issue and it's also more tolerant of less than ideal application conditions.
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Old 02-23-2013, 07:52 AM   #18
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I have some helmsman spar, and just got some epifanes rapid coat (the one that has the warm tint that I am hopeful will make it look aged) and I have been researching the le tonkinois brand as well. Hard to decide what to use! There are so many rave reviews on the epifanes and le tonk that I am very tempted to go in one of those directions. I guess the le tonk is very different and I am still trying to understand it better. I will probably do some tests but that would only give me an idea on the immediate factors such as application effort and aesthetics, not the longer term durability.

It is hard to dismiss the epifanes despite the warnings here as there is so much praise for the product. And I do really need to get moving on finishing this stuff so I may just go for it.
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Old 02-23-2013, 08:24 AM   #19
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I always use Epiphanes (original premium) for exterior varnishing due to it's superior UV resistance because I hate frequent recoating. For interior work I always use Le Tonkinois because it's beautiful in an old timey sort of way, easy to apply and the fumes don't leave me stumbling around strumming my lips with my fingers making motorboat noises.

Professional boat coaters often build up the bulk of a coating with Rapid Clear and then finish with three coats of the original premium for UV protection.

Learning to varnish to a thick, blemish free finish is a non-trivial exercise. There can't be any bugs or trash in the air when you varnish because your wet coat is where some of it will end up. The only remedy is to let that coat harden and then sand the blemishes out but runs due to a too thick coat will never harden enough to be sanded. Many thin coats with adequate hardening time between them (24 hours) gives the best results, so a 12 coat finish will take nearly two weeks to apply. You will need many tack cloths and some 320 grit or finer sandpaper for between coat prep, and an expensive very high quality paint brush that you always treat with near reverence.

If you like the satin finish, Wipe On polyurethane is much easier to apply and is very durable except that it has no UV protection.
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Old 02-23-2013, 08:27 AM   #20
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Some reading material related to this discussion...

http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...kinois-varnish

http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...kinois-varnish

http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/...ish-30721.html
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