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Violin Q & A: Violin Varnish Recipe

Violin Q & A: Violin Varnish Recipe

by George Manno

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000


I have been experimenting with varnish making for the last four years. I have read just about every book published on the subject. I have written to makers in this country, as well as to makers all over the world, asking their advice and comments on my recipe, but not one of them has replied. I am enclosing my oil varnish recipe for you to see; it’s not very complicated. The color is a rich golden brown; the only problem is that it won’t dry.

pine gum resin
gum rosin (colophony), WW grade
linseed oil
turpentine spirits

Do you see anything wrong with this formula?

Not knowing how much of what you use to make this varnish makes little difference in what I see wrong with your recipe. First, the presence of rosin or colophony in your varnish will not allow the other ingredients to become palmitic, therefore it won’t dry. Another thing, the rich golden brown color that you have now will fade once exposed to any kind of ultraviolet light. Leaving out the gum rosin will give you the beginning of a good spirit varnish. As for a colorant, there are a number of dyes that can be mixed with your now-spirit varnish to complete it. Please contact Mr. Ed Campbell of the Chimney Violin Shop, 614 Lerew Road, Boiling Springs, PA 17007. He’d be more than happy to help you with your ongoing experiments.