Can damar varnish be used as a wood finish?
Damar varnish is an excellent wood finish. I have used it on two
kitchen table tops.
When dry, damar varnish is hard as nails. It dries very clear.
Many layers of damar varnish can be used to coat a surface. There
are two primary benefits: Irregularities will become filled
(leveled, when performed carefully); and, each additional layer
provides additional protection to the underlying surface. When
complete, the damar varnish provides a waterproof, stain resistant,
scratch resistant, glossy surface.
Specifically, I have used damar varnish as a finish to table
tops that have been painted with oil paint, by a local artist. I
started with damar concentrate. For each additional layer I added
gum turpentine to the solution. In this way the varnish contained a
gradually increasing the amount of fat for each additional layer.
Between layers, I hand sanded with 220 grit sand paper and sanding
A solution of one part damar crystals (by volume) to one part
gum turpentine yields "damar concentrate". Use ONLY pure gum
spirits of turpentine. Example: 1 lb damar crystals + 1 qt gum
turpentine yields 1 qt damar concentrate.
Expect the damar crystals to contain impurities - this is
common. Expect to wait several days for the damar crystals to
dissolve in the pure spirits of gum turpentine. Slowly stir the
solution once in the morning and once in the evening until
completely dissolved. This part requires more waiting than actual
stirring. I recommend mixing in a wide mouth mason jar and not
filling to the top (leave space for stirring).
When completely dissolved, the solution will be thicker at the
bottom than the top and most of the impurities will be towards the
bottom. This is okay. Carefully pour the solution through a layer
(or more) of cheese cloth into another mason jar to remove
The result is ~ 1 qt of damar concentrate. Damar concentrate has
the consistency of honey. If the solution is not that thick, the
solution can be set aside to evaporate (in a well ventilated area)
until enough of the turpentine evaporates to get the honey-like
USE AS FINISH
Damar concentrate may be used as the first layer of varnish.
This is what I used on the table tops. I started by leveling the
table top. Specifically before adding any varnish I made the table
surface approximately level - so that the drying varnish would
result in a flat and level surface. I used the first two thick
varnish layers to fill in the differences between layers of oil
paint (note: the method used by the artist resulted in differences
in height in the surface of the table top. The subsequent task of
filling in the difference with damar concentrate is part of the
I allowed this to dry. I cleaned off layers of dust that
accumulated during the drying process. I used 220 grit sandpaper to
remove defects, insects, and to add enough bite for the next layer
of varnish. I mixed a solution of two-thirds damar concentrate to
one-third gum turpentine for the next two layers. With oil
painting, the rule is "fat over lean" - and so it is with this
Briefly, the reasoning behind "fat over lean" is to account for
the way damar varnish "dries". Damar varnish does not dry by
evaporation. It dries by oxidation. The topmost layers of varnish
must remain flexible while the lower layers (layers closer to the
wood) are drying. The varnish, though it will feel dry at the
surface, will actually be drying from the inside out. Interesting.
For more detail about oxidization, ask someone who has been in
through the first chemistry series at university.
I have struggled to find concise, clear, expert guidance from a
craftsman on "using damar varnish as a wood working finish". I
offer the above as a recommendation only. I encourage the reader to
experiment and respond. I would like to understand more about damar
varnish in woodworking.