This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
1. Avoid as far as possible all manipulations with the varnishes; do not dilute them with oil of turpentine, and least of all with siccative, to expedite 'the drying. If the varnish has become too thick in consequence of faulty storing, it should be heated and receive an addition of hot, well-boiled linseed-oil varnish and oil of turpentine. Linseed-oil varnish or oil of turpentine added to the varnish at a common temperature renders it streaky (flacculent) and dim and has an unfavorable influence on the drying; oil of turpentine takes away the gloss of varnish.
2. Varnishing must be done only on smooth, clean surfaces, if a fine, mirrorlike gloss is desired.
3. Varnish must be poured only into clean vessels, and from these never back into the stationary vessels, if it has been in contact with the brush. Use only dry brushes for varnishing, which are not moist with oil of turpentine or linseed oil or varnish.
4. Apply varnishes of all kinds as uniformly as possible; spread them out evenly on the surfaces so that they form neither too thick nor too thin a layer. If the varnish is put on too thin the coating shows no gloss; if applied too thick it does not get even and does not form a smooth surface, but a wavy one.
5. Like all oil-paint coatings, every coat of varnish must be perfectly dry before a new one is put on; otherwise it is likely that the whole work will show cracks. The consumer of varnish is only too apt to blame the varnish for all defects which appear in his work or develop after some time, although this can only be proven in rare cases. As a rule, the ground was not prepared right and the different layers of paint were not sufficiently dry, if the surfaces crack after a comparatively short time and have the appearance of maps. The cracking of paint must not be confounded with the cracking of the varnish, for the cracking of the paint will cause the varnish to crack prematurely. The varnish has to stand more than the paint; it protects the latter, and as it is transparent, the defects of the paint are visible through the varnish, which frequently causes one to form the erroneous conclusion that the varnish has cracked,
6. All varnish coatings must dry slowly, and during the drying must be absolutely protected from dust, flies, etc., until they have reached that stage when we can pass the back of the hand or a finger over them without sticking to it.
The production of faultless varnishing in most cases depends on the accuracy of the varnisher, on the treatment of his brush, his varnish pot, and all the other accessories. A brush which still holds the split points of the bristles never varnishes clear; they are rubbed off easily and spoil the varnished work. A brush which has never been used does not produce clean work; it should be tried several times, and when it is found that the varnishing accomplished by its use is neat and satisfactory it should be kept very carefully.
The preservation of the brush is thus accomplished: First of all do not place it in oil or varnish, for this would form a skin, parts of which would adhere to it, rendering the varnished surface unclean and grainy; besides these skins there are other particles which accumulate in the corners and cannot be removed by dusting off; these will also injure the work-in order to preserve the brush properly, insert it in a glass of suitable size through a cork in the middle of which a hole has been bored exactly fitting the handle. Into the glass pour a mixture of equal parts of alcohol and oil of turpentine, and allow only the point of the brush to touch the mixture, if at all. If the cork is air-tight the brush cannot dry in the vapor of oil of turpentine and spirit. From time to time the liquids in the glass should be replenished.
If the varnish remains in the varnish receptacle, a little alcohol may be poured on, which can do the varnish no harm. At all events the varnish will be prevented from drying on the walls of the vessel and from becoming covered by a skin which is produced by the linseed oil, and which indicates that the varnish is both fat and permanent. No skin forms on a meager varnish, even when it drys thick.
After complete drying of the coat of varnish it sometimes happens that the varnish becomes white, blue, dim, or blind. If varnish turns white on exposure to the air the quality is at fault. The varnish is either not fat enough or it contains a rosin unsuitable for exterior work (copal). The whitening occurs a few days after the drying of the varnish and can be removed only by rubbing off the varnish.
Rub down the surface to be varnished with sharp vinegar. Coating with strongly diluted ox gall is also of advantage.