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There are two main types of varnish; oil varnish and spirit varnish.
Oil varnish consists of resins and "drying oils". The resins can be natural of synthetic. Most traditional violin oil varnishes contain natural resins, of which there are many to choose from. Commercial oil varnishes usually contain synthetic resins; phenolic, alkyd, polyurethane, or other.
A "drying oil" is actually an oil that solidifies through polymerization rather than actually drying. Polymerization is a process at the molecular level, where molecules link together to form large molecules and the oil solidifies. Common drying oils are tung oil and linseed oil.
A myriad of ingredients can be added to oil varnish to adjust drying, hardness, surface quality, etc.
A spirit varnish is based on shellac dissolved in alcohol. A myriad of other ingredients can be added to adjust drying, hardness, surface quality, etc.
Because varnish can be oil or spirit varnish, and because many resins, oils, gums, etc. can be added in different amounts to many different formulae, there is an infinite number of mixtures that can be called varnish.
Authored by: John Hamlett
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