Paint or varnish first?

I'm possibly almost done with my sanding and getting ready to paint and varnish my Mill Creek 16.5 hybrid. Painting the hull and doing a bright finish on the deck. 

So my question: is it better to paint the hull first, then varnish the deck? Or varnish the deck then paint the hull? Does it change the equation if I"m notoriously a little sloppy when painting? 


6 replies:

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RE: Paint or varnish first?

I'm planning on doing paint first, varnish second for two reasons:

- My craft is "bottoms up" at the moment. I'll carry the fairing and finishing work on the bottom all the way through to final paint before flipping it to sand and finish the deck.

- I get to maintain a wooden outboard or two that have painted bottoms. We repaint the bottoms every decade or so if we remember. We revarnish the upper sides, deck, seats etc. every year or two. You want the varnish layer to be on top of the paint layer. It's going to end up there anyway.

>> Does it change the equation if I"m notoriously a little sloppy when painting? <<

Not really. I presume you'll be equally sloppy when varnishing, as I am. A good masking job is what will save you. More than just a line of masking tape along the boundary. Behind that masking tape you want to tape down some plastic sheeting or other material to protect the parts of the boat you don't want getting hit with whatever you're flinging around. A length of wax paper is really easy to tape in place and does the job nicely on craft that aren't very deep. You'll do this for both the painting and the varnishing - with the mask going in different directions, of course.

RE: Paint or varnish first?

   Varnish first..............having built wood boats I always varnished first before paint. Varnish forms a seal. If you get a little wild with the paint it can be wiped off the varnish.  Paint on wood soaks into the grain.  Paint sticks on varnish. 


Of course these are really not wood but a composite of wood and epoxy/fiber glass. Neither soaks into the epoxy.   Still,  old habbits continue. 

RE: Paint or varnish first?

Thanks for replies. 

I've got a paint first, and a varnish first. Anyone want to be the tie-breaker? 

RE: Paint or varnish first?

If you're epoxifying your whole project it doesn't really matter whether varnish comes before paint, or after. The epoxy serves to seal the wood 100% If you've done your part, the additional coatings are for protection or decoration.

Everything changes if you have wood that's not epoxied. Varnish traditionally goes first, otherwise paint on your carefully prepped brightwork is gonna be no end of grief to get out before the varnish goes on.

RE: Paint or varnish first?

varnish first:)

the reason is two fold:

1) paint is opaque (not clear), so if you want a nice clean line between the paint and varnish and you are not going to try to butt the lines (e.g., have paint come right up to the edge of the varnish), you have to put the opaque material over the clear material.   so you put your varnish down first and let it harden, then you can slightly overlap your varnish with a single piece of tape to paint up to to get a clean line between the paint/varnish.

2) its much easier to wipe spilled paint off of hardened varnish becuase you can see it.  its harder to notice a varnish spill on paint.

hope that helps.


RE: Paint or varnish first?

Having done it both ways, I believe that varnish first is best for the reasons that hspira outlines above.  Regardlesss of which approach that you use, if you are not happy with the appearance of the paint/varnish line, it is easy to hide with auto pinstriping available at any auto parts store. 


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