How Many Coats of Varnish? (For Different Surfaces)

The lustrous sheen that varnish offers is one reason the finish is very common but to enjoy that luster, you need to apply enough coats. So how many coats of varnish should you apply?

For high-traffic and busy surfaces like the kitchen table and countertop, you’ll need 3 coats of varnish for maximum protection and durability. For low-traffic areas, room décor, and furniture like drawers, 2 coats of varnish is enough.

To know for sure how many coats of varnish are needed, you can always check the manufacturer’s instructions. The number of varnish coats required depends on the type of varnish and the type of finish you are aiming for.

This post explains more about the number of coats required for proper varnish application including the number of coats needed per type of varnish. Let’s dive in.

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Varnish?

Why Does The Number Of Coats Matter For Varnish?

The number of coats matter for varnish because it determines the durability and type of finish of the varnish paint. If you apply less than the required number of varnish coats, the finish will not be strong or thick and it will be easily damaged. If you apply more than the required number of varnish coats, then the varnish will turn sticky and will not dry as it should.

When applying varnish, the number of coats is very important because it determines if the finish will come out smooth or tacky. Varnish is a very thick paint – so thick that you’ll need to thin the varnish before applying it sometimes.

With a finish that thick, you can easily get a tacky finish if you apply too many coats. When you apply too many coats, the varnish will not dry as it should. This will cause the varnish to remain wet and turn tacky or sticky after a few hours.

The number of coats also matters for varnish because it determines the durability of the finish. If you apply less than the recommended number of varnish coats, then the finish will not be strong or durable. This will cause the varnish coat to develop scratches, dents, and peel off eventually.

You should know that there is no general agreement on the number of coats for varnish. In some cases, a single coat can be enough and in other cases, you’ll need a second coat of varnish. So how do you know if you need a second coat? Let’s find out.

How Do You Know If You Need A Second Coat Of Varnish?

How Do You Know If You Need A Second Coat Of Varnish?

To know if you need a second coat of varnish, you should check the manufacturer’s instructions – The manufacturer’s instructions often include the number of varnish coats to be applied.

You can also know if you need a second coat by inspecting the first coat. If the first coat looks light, then you need a second coat. The surface to be finished also determines if you’ll need a second coat or not.

If you want to apply varnish on a countertop or kitchen table, for instance, you’ll need a second coat of varnish because these areas are prone to constant use, friction, food and drink spills, and the like. This means that you need a second and probably third coat of varnish to make the finish durable enough to protect the kitchen table or countertop.

However, if you are applying the varnish on drawers or dressers, you usually don’t need a second coat because these items don’t experience much use. Another factor that determines if you need a second coat or not is the type of varnish.

Water-based and acrylic varnishes usually require a second coat regardless of the surface to be painted. Oil-based varnishes on the other hand can be applied with just a single coat because oil-based varnishes are thicker and offer more coverage.

So, in summary, always check the manufacturer’s instructions and consider the type of varnish and surface to be painted to know if the second coat of varnish is needed. That said, what happens if you don’t use enough coats of varnish? Let’s find out.

What Happens If You Don’t Use Enough Coats Of Varnish?

If you don’t use enough coats of varnish, the finish will be thin meaning that the varnish will offer very little protection to the surface underneath. Asides from this, not using enough coats of varnish will also cause the finish to chip and peel quickly.

When applying varnish, there is usually a number of coats to apply. If you apply less than the required number of coats, the varnish finish will come out thin or light and this is the last thing you want. This is because a thin varnish finish will not protect the surface underneath.

Since the finish is thin, it will take little effort to dent it and any damage that occurs to the thin varnish coat will also affect the stain or wood underneath.

Not using enough coats of varnish will also cause the finish to chip and peel off quickly. The peeling is caused by the effects of the elements on the varnish. Moisture, dust, heat, and the like will easily affect the varnish causing it to chip and peel off.

Next, let’s find out what happens when you use too many coats of varnish.

What Happens If You Use Too Many Coats Of Varnish?

If you use too many coats of varnish, the finish will not dry as it should. Instead, the varnish coating will remain wet and turn sticky after a while. When the varnish turns sticky, it will absorb stains, and dirt will stick to the finish easily making your finish dark and filthy. The sticky varnish can also begin to smell after a few days.

Applying too many coats of varnish is a bad idea. Many homeowners often feel that applying multiple coats of varnish improves the durability and strength of the finish but this is not the case. When you apply too many coats of varnish, it becomes a problem.

Ordinarily, varnish is a thick paint meaning that it takes a long time to dry. When you apply too many coats, you indirectly increase the already long dry time of the varnish causing the varnish to remain wet for several hours.

The wet texture of the varnish coat allows stains and dirt to stick to the varnish very easily further preventing the varnish from drying. After some time, the dirt on the varnish will cause the finish to turn dark. Oil-based varnishes will begin to smell after a few days if you apply too many coats.

Next, let’s check out common types of varnishes and see how many coats you need to apply.

How Many Coats Do Different Types of Varnishes Need?

How Many Coats Do Different Types of Varnishes Need?

Yacht Varnish

You need at least 2 coats of yacht varnish for proper coverage and durability. On average, 3 coats of yacht varnish are needed on building exterior or boats. Ronseal, a popular manufacturer of yacht varnish advises applying 2-4 coats of the varnish.

Yacht varnish is one of the most durable types of varnishes. Yacht varnish was originally designed to be used on wooden parts of boats, yachts, and ships to protect the wood from water damage and rotting.

The success of the varnish on water vessels is why many painters now use yacht varnish on building exterior and high moisture areas. However, to ensure you get proper waterproofing and durability from the yacht varnish, you need to apply at least 2 coats on the surface.

Spar Varnish

You should apply 2 or 3 coats of spar varnish on wood. It’s usually not advised to go above 3 coats of spar varnish on any surface because spar varnish is very thick – so thick that you need to thin the coats with mineral spirits or turpentine before application.

However, if you want to use the spar varnish on a boat or water vessel, you need multiple coats especially if you are working on bare wood.

You should also ensure to sand between coats of spar varnish as the next coat will not stick to the existing coat if you don’t sand.

You should know that spar varnish is better suited to exterior surfaces and porches because spar varnish is coated with additives and UV blockers that make the finish thrive on outdoor surfaces. Using spar varnish indoors is a waste of the varnish because it can do so much more.

Gamvar Varnish

Gamvar is a solvent-based varnish that needs the fewest coats possible. A thin coat of Gamvar varnish is enough for adequate coverage and protection but you can apply up to two thin coats of the varnish. It’s rarely advised to apply more than 2 coats of Gamvar varnish because the more coats you add, the longer the varnish will stay tacky.

You should know that you are to only apply Gamvar varnish with a paintbrush and ensure that each coat is as thin as possible so the solvent in the varnish can dry out. Also, leave at least 6 hours between each coat of Gamvar varnish.

Floor Varnish

It’s best to apply 3 coats of floor varnish on a floor since the floor will experience high foot traffic, dropped items, weight, and a whole lot more.

You need enough protection and durability on your floor and 3 coats of floor varnish will give you that. You should sand and wipe each coat before applying the next coat of varnish.

Spray Varnish

You need 2-3 light coats of spray varnish. The number of coats that are needed for spray varnish is usually indicated on the container.

You should know that prepping for spray varnish application is different from other types of varnishes – so always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

How Many Coats Of Varnish For Different Types of Surfaces?

Wood

You need between 1 and 3 coats of varnish on wood. On average, 2 coats of varnish are usually enough on wood but the number of coats you’ll need on wood depends on the type of varnish and the type of wood.

For instance, you’ll need at least 3 coats of water-based varnish on wood because the water-based varnish will be absorbed quickly by the porous wood. However, for oil-based varnishes, you can apply just a coat since the finish is thicker.

If you are working on wood that will see heavy traffic like kitchen tables, you’ll need 3 coats but on wood that will not see heavy traffic, you can apply two coats of varnish. Parts of wood items like the legs and arms of chairs can be coated with just one coat of oil-based varnish.

Oil Painting

You need just a coat of varnish on oil painting because the painting will not be touched or used. Oil paintings are usually hung or placed in a corner of the home for beauty and décor. The painting will not experience any type of traffic or intense friction so a coat of varnish is okay.

If you apply too many coats of varnish to oil painting, it will affect the painting.

Boat

On boats, you need multiple coats of varnish. If you are starting from the bare wood of the boat, you’ll need at least 6 coats of varnish for good coverage. If there is an existing finish on the boat, you’ll need at least 4-5 coats of varnish.

The reason you need many coats of varnish on a boat is that boats are usually on water and you need enough protection on the boat to prevent the wood from rotting. You should also know that spar marine varnish is best suited to boats.

Wood Floors

On wood floors, you need at least 3 coats of varnish for good coverage and protection. Since the wood floor will be exposed to high traffic and constant use, you need more coats of varnish. However, ensure to sand between each coat of varnish and only use floor varnish on wood floors.

Outdoor Furniture

On outdoor furniture, you need 3 coats of exterior varnish. This is because the outdoor furniture to be painted will be exposed to the elements – rainfall, sunlight, and harsh conditions. As such, you need enough coats and a varnish that can withstand the elements without chipping.

Spar and exterior oil-based varnishes are ideal for outdoor furniture.

Wood Doors

On wood doors, you can apply 2 coats of varnish but you should know that this only goes for wood doors that are inside the home. For front doors, you’ll need 3 coats of an exterior varnish because front doors experience more traffic, use, and harsher conditions than interior doors.

Chalk Painting

On chalk paint, you can apply 1 or 2 coats of varnish for proper coverage and protection. It’s not advised to apply more than 2 coats of varnish on chalk painting because varnishes alter or enhance the color of the chalk. So if you apply too many coats of varnish on chalk paint, you might lose the original color and finish of the chalk.

Stairs

On stairs, you need 3 coats of a floor varnish because stairs are high traffic areas. Since the stairs will be subjected to stomping, hard shoes, and heels, you need at least 3 coats of a durable varnish to protect the stairs.

Final Words

In summary, the number of varnish coats needed usually varies based on the type of varnish and the surface to be finished. However, 3 coats of varnish are the universal standard for different surfaces including wood.

You should always check the manufacturer’s instructions for details relating to the number of coats and how to apply the polyurethane. Finally, remember not to apply less or more than the recommended number of varnish coats because doing so will ruin the finish.

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