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Thread: Repairing varnish finishes

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Repairing varnish finishes

    There seems to be a huge volume of threads having to do with varnish finishes. I just want to get a very general understanding.
    1) Are there different types of varnish finishes?
    2) Does each type have a unique repair process (for maring, scratches, etc)?
    3) Is there a wide variation in luthier finish expertise?
    4) Can French polishing be used to spruce up all types of varnish finishes?

    I am not a builder and I do not have a specific repair in mind. I just want a ballpark understanding about varnish finishes. Thank you.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    There seems to be a huge volume of threads having to do with varnish finishes. I just want to get a very general understanding.
    1) Are there different types of varnish finishes?
    Many

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    2) Does each type have a unique repair process (for maring, scratches, etc)?
    Yes

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    3) Is there a wide variation in luthier finish expertise?
    Extremely

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    4) Can French polishing be used to spruce up all types of varnish finishes?
    Not quite, though under expert hands it comes close.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    I am not a builder and I do not have a specific repair in mind. I just want a ballpark understanding about varnish finishes. Thank you.

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  4. #3
    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Mr. Hamlett -
    That is exactly what I wanted to know and the exact level of detail. Perfect - thank you so much for providing this frame of reference.

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin

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    Teacher, luthier
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    One of the nice things about French polished shellac is that although it won't stick to absolutely everything, it will stick to darn near everything.

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  7. #5
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    100% agree with John.
    I would add a bit of detail to 1) and 2)
    There are not only several types of varnishes but also methods of application given varnish that dictate possible future repair techniques. You can have colored wood (stain/dye) sealer and clear coats, you can have sealed clean wood and colored (or clear) layers of varnish or you can have combination of both. That can be done with spirit/oil or waterbased varnish (or any other finish). In repair situation it is EXTREMELY important to match the process and coloring, not the actual varnish substance though for long term stability matching material is also important. Many restorers use spirit varnishes (shellac based) to repair most finishes and add colors/ additives to match appearance luster or texture of original varnish.
    When one of my mandolins got to me after 10 years of playing with 1" long bare wood spot worn on neck I was able to repair it undetectably because I knew exactly what was on it and had the same bottles of stains and the same finish. But I didn't apply it as originally (alcohol based stain would attack surrounding FP-finish and create splotchy appearance) but I saturated few q-tips with the stain and let them dry out and then used them to apply the stain just wetting the q-tip with water on paper towel (which allows the stain transfer to wood) and apply it almost dry in small amounts till desired shade is built up evenly. In most cases the restorer cannot be certain what he is repairing and expertise is very important to make decision what MIGHT work best (in many cases invisible repairs on mandolin finishes are just plain impossible).
    Adrian

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    In most cases the restorer cannot be certain what he is repairing and expertise is very important to make decision what MIGHT work best (in many cases invisible repairs on mandolin finishes are just plain impossible).
    This statement is particularly helpful. Thank you Adrian. And it makes me curious (though it goes beyond the scope of my original question): on older instruments like my L&H mandolin, how does a luthier figure out what works best when the finish was applied 100 years ago?

    (PS Fortunately my L&H has a beautiful intact finish - but if it did not, it sounds like I'd have to search hard for the right person to work on it.)

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    This statement is particularly helpful. Thank you Adrian. And it makes me curious (though it goes beyond the scope of my original question): on older instruments like my L&H mandolin, how does a luthier figure out what works best when the finish was applied 100 years ago?

    (PS Fortunately my L&H has a beautiful intact finish - but if it did not, it sounds like I'd have to search hard for the right person to work on it.)
    OLder factory instruments may be the easiest in this respect as there wasn't all the variety of finishes and stains available back then, mostly shellac based varnish or later nitrocellulose as they dry fast enough for factory setting. Since these instruments are quite common the (experienced) restorers already know what works. Many times it's some filling with spirit varnish and some french polish to refresh the whole surface.
    It's more often the modern finishes and finishing methods that are hard/impossible to repair.
    Adrian

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  11. #8
    Mandolin & Mandola maker
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    I did read somewhere that the Lyon and Healy mandolins were oil varnished and then french polished. If that is correct then they should be easy to repair with a bit of french polishing.
    Peter Coombe - mandolins, mandolas and guitars
    http://www.petercoombe.com

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Thank you Adrian, Peter, and John. This gives me a much better understanding of this subject and a good clear message: make sure I find a luthier who really knows his stuff if I ever have a finish problem.

    (Peter, totally off topic, if you are aware of what Marissa Carroll is doing in the musical world recently - could you perhaps PM me? I have so much enjoyed her past videos. Thank you.)

    “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer

    1925 Lyon & Healy Model A, #1674
    2015 Collings A (MT2-V)
    2018 Carlo Mazzaccara Lucia
    2020 Burgin Shanghai Octave Mandolin

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    Default Re: Repairing varnish finishes

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Thank you Adrian, Peter, and John. This gives me a much better understanding of this subject and a good clear message: make sure I find a luthier who really knows his stuff if I ever have a finish problem.

    (Peter, totally off topic, if you are aware of what Marissa Carroll is doing in the musical world recently - could you perhaps PM me? I have so much enjoyed her past videos. Thank you.)
    I was just watching one of hers and Joel Wood's videos yesterday! I leaned recently that Joel also play the mandola with great aplomb.
    Bernie
    ____
    Due to current budgetary restrictions the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off -- sorry about the inconvenience.

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