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8 Top-Rated Wood Varnishes for Your Wood Project

August 30, 2022

Varnishing wood has been practiced since the time of the Egyptians. But today’s varnishing products have come a long way from the old alcohol and tree sap mixture. Modern varnishes offer a blend of beauty, hardness, and ease of use.

This article will explore some of the top varnishes for wood out there. We have gone through numerous customer reviews, product reviews, and research into product specifications. We hope this information gives you a clear understanding of varnishes and equip youto make an informed decision when it comes to your wood varnish needs.

Five Types of Wood Varnish


Oil-based varnishes produce the hardest finish of all varnishes but are also very slow to dry. They are semi-transparent, only slightly darkening the color of wood when applied.


Polyurethane varnishes produce an extremely hard surface, making them ideal for flooring or other areas that will be exposed to frequent wear and tear. While they are usually not resistant to UV  light, a few options do have additives to provide mild protection against sunlight damage.


Acrylic varnishes are water-based and therefore easy to clean up. They are highly transparent and often do not penetrate the surface of the wood. Acrylics are also quick-drying and offer moderate UV protection.


Spar varnishes (also called marine or yacht varnish) are highly flexible and ideal to use on exterior woods. They offer the highest water resistance and deeply penetrate the surface of the wood. Spars are often the best choice for wood frequently exposed to water. The appearance tends to be a matte to satin finish, but glossy options are also available.


Alkyd varnishes are slow to reach maximum hardness but dry to the touch quickly. They offer excellent UV protection while enhancing wood’s natural colors and grain. Alkyds are also very versatile and work well in both interior and exterior settings.

The Top 8 Best Rated Varnishes

TotalBoat Gleam 2.0 Marine Spar Varnish

TotalBoat’s Gleam 2.0 is a polyurethane/spar varnish that is fortified with UV blocking ingredients. It’s quick drying, generally ready for re-coating within an hour, and is highly water resistant. Gleam 2.0 is transparent and thin; therefore, it will retain the natural color of your wood while being easy to apply. While it’s considered to be an expensive varnish its many benefits make it well worth the cost.

Rust-Oleum Marine Spar Varnish

Rust-Oleum marine spar is an oil-based spar varnish that dries clear and glossy. It’s thicker than other water-based spars but is still easy to apply with a rag or brush. The drying time tends to be lengthy, with a recommended drying time of 2 days between coats – so it is a time-consuming option. Deep penetration of the wood allows this varnish to offer excellent water and mildew resistance.

Epifanes Clear Varnish

Epifanes clear varnish is an imported Holland varnish that provides incredible water/salt resistance, making it ideal for marine applications or outdoor project. While the varnish is clear it does tend to darken the natural color of wood when applied, especially when applied in multiple coats. Drying time is lengthy and it will take days to apply more than one coat. Some consider this varnish to be too thick, so it may require some thinning to make application easier.

McCloskey Man O War Marine Spar Varnish

McCloskey marine varnish is an oil-based spar designed for use in the harshest environments. Originally made for use on boats it’s highly flexible, provides outstanding water resistance, and has excellent UV protection. The curing time of this varnish is moderate, taking roughly 4-6 hours to dry between coats. But the thickness of this product allows it to offer maximum protection in only 1 or 2 coats.

Varathane Premium Wood Stain

Varathane premium wood stain has an outstanding reputation for providing deep rich color to wood when applied. It’s an oil-based varnish that dries quickly, so you are able to re-coat in roughly an hour. The protection it offers is negligible, making it necessary to add a protective coating on top if your project will be exposed to weather. Varathane offers this varnish in a variety of color options.

TotalBoat Lust Marine Varnish

TotalBoat Lust marine varnish is an outstanding choice for all outdoor projects with excellent UV protection and water resistance. The fast dry time of this varnish – requiring about an hour to cure – makes it perfect for quick projects., The finish is rich and offers moderate darkening of wood when applied.

TotalBoat Halcyon Varnish

TotalBoat Halcyon varnish is a water-based spar with a hard and deep finish. The thickness of this varnish can make it a bit challenging to apply, but the quick drying time and high weather resistance makes it an outstanding choice for most any wood project. With minimal harsh fumes, it stands out as a safe option for those with compromised respiratory conditions.

System Three Marine Spar Varnish

System Three’s marine spar varnish is a urethane-based varnish that is very affordable. While the inexpensive price is enticing, the poor coverage it offers can require you to buy more than one quart for larger projects. This varnish offers moderate UV protection and water resistance, while still being easy to apply over most any pre-finish. Coating tends to be matte in appearance, even for the glossy options available.

As with any wood coating product, it’s important to do your homework to select the best varnish for your project. The good news is you have several suitable options to choose from. Good luck making your choice!

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