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What varnish is recommended for the hull?

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I am wondering if anyone has a product recommendation for the hull of my ship? I know I should be looking for a matte finish, but should I try to find a varnish, poly, whatever? Should it be diluted? How many coats are typically used? Sanding in between?


The local hobby store sells Matte Varnish, but I'm not sure if it is meant for coating over a painting.


As always, any help is appreciated.


Thank you,


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  • 1 month later...

I've always used a matt varnish that's white spirit based enamel - Humbrol in the UK in a small small tin, covers well and seals the wood, no sheen or shine. Silk finish makes the wood look a like its wet and a gloss is far to shiny.






Current build Trumpeter Arizona 1:200 with White Ensign PE and a Nautilus Wooden Deck.

Built Caldercraft Convulsion, HM Brig Badger and HMS Snake.

Awaiting - Zvelda HMS Dreadnought planning to get the Pontos Deck and PE Upgrades, Panart 1:23 Gun deck model and couple of the cannon kits Manatu - French siege mortar, and American coastal cannon.

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It really depends on personal preference.  For example, some builders prefer water-based and others prefer oil or spirit based.  Your best bet is to look at some of the builds and pick out your preference in appearance.  Then try it out on some scrap to make sure you like the look.  On my Atalanta, for example, all of the wood is finished with Watco's except for the holly on the lower hull which is clear flat dope.  In particular, look at the difference between the deck planking and the lower hull...  They are both holly but have totally different appearances because of the different finishes applied.


Chairman Nautical Research Guild

Member Nautical Research and Model Society

Member Midwest Model Shipwrights


Current Builds:     

Completed Builds: Longboat - 1:48 scale       HMS Atalanta-1775 - 1:48 scale       Half Hull Planking Project      Capstan Project     Swallow 1779 - 1:48 scale               Echo Cross Section   

Gallery:  Hannah - 1:36 scale.

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More important factors than choice of wood finish (there are many that will work fine) is preparation of surface prior to finishing and correct leveling of the surface during finishing. This is speaking as a long time furniture maker rather than ship modeler, I am new to the latter.


However as I look through finished models and build logs, I see many severely marred by lack of a few simple steps during finishing.


First of.course is sanding, you can get away with 220 but when I want good wood to look really nice under a clear coat, I will take the wood sanding out to 600 grit.


If you are using an open-grained wood like walnut or oak where the pores are way out of scale, you should use a fill coat(s) to fill the pores, either a colored filler or clear sanding sealer or really good are the two-part epoxy clear fillers used by guitar makers a lot these days, system 3 is a good example.


When it comes to the final finish, even if you wet the wood to raise the grain before final sanding, you're never going to get all of the fuzz. So it's very important to run over your surfaces lightly with 1500 grit or so after the first coats, doing so will improve the final result quite a bit. After a second coat I usually work it a little harder but with 2000 grit, this will help remove lots of high and low spots in the finish. And I'll always hit the final coat with 2000 or 2500 one last time. Following these steps should ensure you get a nice finish with ripples no larger than should be at scale.


All of that applies to paint just as much as clear, except for a painted surface there is no reason to sand past 220.

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