Tried and True Varnish Oil curing issue

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Forum topic by eastwestjoinery posted 09-27-2018 10:39 PM 1297 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3 posts in 644 days

09-27-2018 10:39 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tried and true varnish oil

Hey all – long time reader, first time poster. I’ve posted a similar query elsewhere hoping to find help with this one.
To start, I’ve read through every thread I can find here and elsewhere concerning T&T Varnish Oil (some before using, the rest after), and it may well be that all there is to say has already been said – but most threads were years old and many trailed off before a resolution, so I guess I’m interested if there are solutions previous posters in my situation used but haven’t reported. 

Fundamental questions: If the Varnish Oil hasn’t fully cured to the touch after about 48hrs in a hot/dry environment (Los Angeles) is it likely ever to, or does the surface tackiness I’m finding likely point to a misstep in application whose only solution will be removal?  If the latter, can sanding be avoided – is removal possible with thinner/steel wool only?  What’s my best bet?

I am (now) fully aware of the divided opinions on T&T (Varnish Oil especially).  I won’t use it again on a workpiece unless/until I’ve mastered it for personal use. I have had success with the Original formula on Walnut, but hadn’t previously used the Varnish Oil.  I’d hoped its added sheen and scratch resistance would be right my current project but clearly didn’t do enough research before applying it.

The workpiece is Cherry sanded to 320 grit.  I thought I did a thorough job following the instructions: burnish with 0000 steel wool, apply thinly with cloth, wait at least an hour (left outdoors in sunlight), wipe off excess with clean cloth, wait 24 hrs, burnish and repeat.  I know THIN coats are key here from previous T&T use, so I paid attention to that – though I think it’s likely I still went on too thick given my current situation.

I did 5 coats total over a week.  I believe the third coat I started noticing my wipe-off rag catching in a couple spots where the surface felt a bit gummy.  In retrospect, this was probably a sign I’d either used too much or waited too long to remove or both?  Unfortunately, I progressed with more coats as before, but tried waiting slightly longer to remove excess.  Probably should have done the opposite?  And not added any more without being 100% positive the previous had fully cured?  Ah, hindsight.

What I have now is a piece that looks quite beautiful, although the sheen is not entirely even and there are still a couple slightly gummy spots, and whose surface overall feels a little waxy/tacky; when I run my fingers across it they squeak.  It’s been a little over 48 hrs, much of which time the piece has sat in direct sunlight and 75+ degree temps.

I guess I’m trying to ascertain A) am I being impatient and will the finish cure in time or B) are these symptoms of a botched (albeit commonly so) application process for which the only solution is removal.  

Any thoughts/remedies are appreciated.  I have reached out to T&T for advice, not heard back yet and thought I’d try here in the meantime.

Thanks in advance, Raky

8 replies so far

View eastwestjoinery's profile


3 posts in 644 days

#1 posted 09-27-2018 11:42 PM

Quick update: took the project by a local Rockler for advice, a few of the staff looked at it and everyone seemed to think I’d be fine, that my biggest mistake was probably leaving the coats to dry in direct sunlight – that probably kept the finish softer than it should have been.

They suggested leaving it to cure a few more days out of sun, then finish off with some Liberon wax polish and call it a day.

I know it’s hard without being able to see/touch something, but I still welcome anyone else’s thoughts/experiences/suggestions.

Thanks – R

View lumbering_on's profile


578 posts in 1258 days

#2 posted 09-28-2018 04:00 AM

I haven’t used it myself, but I know some people that have and it can be a bit of a pain. It should still cure, but it will take time. Try not touching it for a week and then see how it’s reacting. If it still hasn’t cured, then sanding may be the best bet.

View CaptainKlutz's profile (online now)


3142 posts in 2262 days

#3 posted 09-28-2018 07:18 AM

I use T&T finishes on many smaller projects. Primarily use it for items where I want a minimum amount of film build, so the beauty of wood shines. My wife likes to call it a ‘naked’ wood finish, as it almost seems like bare polished wood without a finish.
My experience with varnish oil taught me that using 3+ coats to create a thick film requires much more cure time than label suggests. Here in AZ, initial 2 coats can be done about 8-12 hours apart. But I have to wait 36-48hrs between rest. If wood has any figure that behaves like end grain (absorbs oil), have seen T&T Varnish oil behave similar to straight BLO and weep oil (or stay gummy) for over a week. I would expect your 5 coats will need 2+ weeks to harden.
T&T Varnish Oil can develop a nice film finish if you have time to wait; but if I want project to have a durable film finish in less than a week, I apply 2-4 coats of Arm-R-Seal polyurethane (or spray lacquer).

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View eastwestjoinery's profile


3 posts in 644 days

#4 posted 09-28-2018 04:13 PM

Thanks so much for both these replies. Yes, your experience sounds consistent with what I’m finding – the first couple coats went on easily, as expected; it was the subsequent coats where I got into trouble and should have stopped.

I did hear back from T&T with some helpful suggestions as well. I like the way T&T products come out, and I like the lack of chemicals, but I was obviously a little naive about the drying process. In the future I’ll either use something else or budget adequate time for drying.

Thanks again for the feedback.

View Lazyman's profile (online now)


5374 posts in 2155 days

#5 posted 09-29-2018 12:58 PM

I’ve only noticed the tackiness when I haven’t sufficiently wiped the remaining finish an hour or two after after applying a coat. In fact, I usually sort of buff it vigorously with a coarse shop rag to the point of generating a little heat from friction. (I have actually applied the VO as a friction finish on the lathe and in my experience it appears that the heat from the friction does make it setup much more quickly.) And if there is any tackiness left when you are ready for the next coat, don’t apply the next coat until it is gone. If it doesn’t’ seem quite ready at that point, I usually buff it again and wait until it feels smooth to the touch before applying the next coat. BTW, I bought my can of T&T VO about 3 years ago and It does seem like it takes a little longer now than when it was fresh for each coat to feel smooth and ready for the next coat than it used to, though it could be that I am just more impatient these days or environmental conditions in my shop are different somehow.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Rich's profile


5602 posts in 1357 days

#6 posted 09-29-2018 01:27 PM

Japan drier will speed up the process immensely. I mix it approximately 1 part drier to 64 parts oil. Since it’s best to only treat what you’ll be using, I generally take one or two ounces of oil and add one-half or one milliliter of drier using a pipette. Try it on a test board.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View BalsaWood's profile


179 posts in 1926 days

#7 posted 10-02-2018 05:50 PM

I’ve used T&T varnish oil for quite a few projects and it is really nice if you have the time to apply it and patience for it to dry afterwards. What I generally do is apply a good amount, rub it in the wood, and then wait 30min or so and then aggressively wipe off whatever is left. I let it dry for a few days, use a brown bad to smooth it, and then add another coat. 4 to 5 coats is what I usually do and get a nice film finish. But ya, like other posters said, it takes some time for it to dry but I think it is worth the wait.

View OSU55's profile


2646 posts in 2757 days

#8 posted 10-04-2018 03:01 PM

Reading this may help. For a thin film “naked” finish I encourage you to try plain old mw poly thinned 1:1. Flood the surface, keep it wet not sopping, for 10 min, wipe off, dry, repeat. 2-4 coats depending on what you want. Can also do 3rd coat and above like a regular wipe on, ie leave more on the surface. It will dry faster that t&t and be a harder finish, and a lot cheaper.

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