Varnishing

Varnishing is an important aspect of pyrography. It’s not essential, because you can burn things for the house and not necessarily have to varnish them. At least, I don’t think you have to varnish them… Well, I have things I haven’t varnished and haven’t encountered any angry pyrography police. Yet.

So in the house, no worries, but if you’re going to craft items for the garden you’re really going to need to varnish them. Again, it’s not the law, but you’ll want to protect your prized pieces from the vengeful wrath of nature.

Any boat maker will tell you, ‘There’s no such thing as a nature-proof varnish. And Sir Osis of the River is not a stupid name for a boat!’

Well, they’re wrong. About the name, not about the varnish, they’re dead right about that.

So you’ll need a good quality varnish to keep your work looking good and as safe as possible.

Before I go into varnishes I’ll just add a top tip: bright sunlight will cause your pyrography to fade over time, so if possible try to face your piece to the North – if you live in the northern hemisphere. If the water spins the wrong way down your plughole you may need to face your piece South. I’m not sure, and this isn’t a post about spherical trigonometry or astral alignment, so rule of thumb keep it out of the sun (this should be in the poetry section of the site!)

As I was learning pyrography – and I’m still learning pyrography, I just know a little more about it now than when I knew nothing at all about it – I bought some outdoor wood varnish, primarily because it was cheap and would do the job.

Using a paint brush I applied the varnish and was initially pleasantly pleased with the result. However, there are a few draw backs with this type of varnish.

It tends to add a yellowish tint to the wood, and the coating is generally much too thick. Pieces will not only take a long time to fully dry, but may remain sticky for…well, I don’t know how long, but one of the first pieces I did, 6 weeks ago, is still a bit sticky now.

Brush on varnish also tends to give the pyrographized bits a sheen, catching the light and giving them a kind of wet look. This may be an effect you rather like, so I’ll leave judgement of the merits or detractions of this up to you.

In its defence, apart from it being really cheap, the brush on wood varnish has given a very nice effect to the sign I made for our house, although when it needs a new coat – which outdoor pieces will do from time to time – I think I’ll use the new spray on varnish.

Ah, now, the new spray on varnish. It’s mentioned. It’s out there.

This stuff is so much better. For a start it’s a spray (as I believe I may have mentioned) so just prop your piece up against the shed, or in a cardboard box – tape it to the cat, whatever – and off you spray.

It takes a few seconds to cover a decent sized piece, and it dries in a few minutes. Fully dry. Bone dry. None of this partitioning off the wood shed for days to keep the chickens away from your pyrography, no, dries in moments.

It’s then ready to flip over to do the back, and by the time you’ve learnt a new swear word in chickenese you’re ready for another coat.

The spray, made by Plasti-kote, is a satin finish – which basically means it has no colour, rather than it being nice to sleep on – and is an acrylic based sealer.

Take a look here at two pieces I’ve done, using each of the varnishes and guess which is which.

Varnishing effects

You can find the answer buried in a chest in a riverbank 12 paces from the big oak tree…
Not really. The Fairies is varnished with the Ronseal outdoor wood varnish and Pooh Bear is finished with the acrylic sealer.

Which is best? You decide.

The decision making process can be a complex one, with all sorts of factors to consider when making a choice. Fortunately here we can pick either / or, so why not spend the time saved by not having to consider all those extra factors to write a quick reply on which you think is best.

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