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All fhe facts from Flo's January presentation to PVDA

Varnish a liquid preparation that when spread and allowed to dry on a surface forms a hard lustrous typically transparent coating
Water Based
Features: quick drying (30 min. max)
                  may be gently wet sanded
                  soap and water clean-up
 
Water Based for Use Over Oils
Features: contain petroleum based products such as ketone and toluene
                 paint must be thoroughly dry (several days - weeks)
 
Oil or Spirit Based
Features: slow drying 6-8 hours or more for 1 coat
                 very durable, gives a beautiful finish
                 may be wet sanded
                 cleans up with mineral spirits
                 use over oil or acrylic paints
 
Marine Spar Varnish
Features: pliable
                 weatherproof
                 will yellow with age
 
Polyurethane any of various polymers that contain NHCOO linkages and are used especially in flexible and rigid foams, elastomers, and resins (as for coatings)
Features: generally yellows with age giving mellow softening of color
                 sometimes incompatible over oils, shellac and lacquer
                 non-yellowing types contain polyvinyl acetate
Tips:
Generally, preferred method is to use water based varnish for water based paint.
Furniture or floor varnish can be used on decorative pieces.
Jackie Shaw has used as many as 20 coats of varnish in her choice pieces. This is not accomplished in a single day or week, but is certainly worth the effort for an heirloom piece.
Pledge no-wax mitts can substitute for tack cloth.
A rumpled brown paper bag can also work as sand paper.
 
New and Wonderful - Wipe on Varnish
Features: easy application - use a damp cloth
                 no brush strokes
                 quick drying
                 may be used on already finished pieces
                two current brands: Final Coat and JW Etc's WIPE ON (see below)
 
Lacquer any of various clear or colored synthetic organic coatings that typically dry to form a film by evaporation of the solvent; especially : a solution of a cellulose derivative (as nitrocellulose)
Features: solvent based
                 cannot be used over enamels, varnishes, oil paints or oil stains
 
Shellac purified lac usually prepared in thin orange or yellow flakes by heating and filtering and often bleached white; a preparation of lac dissolved usually in alcohol and used chiefly as a wood filler and finish
Features: quick drying
                 can be used over oil or acrylic paints
                 unaffected by varnish solvents, can be used as an isolating coat like Krylon 1311
                 may be used over crackling mediums before further painting

Flo's Finishing Facts (page two)

Flo's Finishing Facts (page three)