Varnish and more varnish plus Artweeks at Sylva

I am in the thick of the finishing stages of the motor canoe project. I become very single minded and can only concentrate on the job in hand – hence the absence of a fresh blog for some time.

Varnishing has a therapeutic motion about it, it is almost a silent process that quietly transforms the timber into a rich pattern of colour and grain. It is not so romantic when you include into the dream the preparation work between each and every coat.

Preparation is almost everything in the quest for a wonderful finish. The “almost” in that last sentence is because the technique of applying the varnish and the conditions in which you carry out the job are also critical. Keeping calm is the key to success, as soon as you start rushing the outcome suffers and more work is required to put things right.

Imagine the scene – you have taken most of the day to smooth down the previous finish with really fine abrasives, every speck of dust has been vacuumed and wiped off the surfaces, the workshop is cleaned and the boat sheeted over with polyethene, you prepare the varnish mix, measuring out the thinners with millilitre accuracy and your brush is clean and ready. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is many things! A logical and even approach is the only defence that might mitigate the runs, missed bits, dust and flies landing (although the flies are really hard to control). You creep out of the varnish tent when it’s all over, clean out the brush and hope that when you peek in the following morning it will be a pleasant surprise.

I do not always make the varnishing job easy for myself. The two curvy, slatted seat backs look great but present a fearsome varnishing challenge. I started by trying to coat both sides with a piece hanging on two wires but the runs and dribbles got the better of me. So now I have used a mile of masking tape and am coating one side at a time. This will take twice as long but half as much stress for a good result.

Life at The Sylva Foundation Wood Centre is always interesting, the next excitement is our involvement in Oxfordshire Artweeks. Dozens of artists and craft studios open up around the county over 10 days in May, and at Sylva it is a big event with all the tenants opening up to display their work as well as other artists and makers who join us to fill the big open workshop space. The Centre is open on 19th and 20th May and all over the following bank holiday weekend, 26th, 27th and 28th May. During the week between these dates Sylva hosts an evening event called WoodWords on Thursday 24th where 5 authors talk about their latest publications, all with a wood and tree theme – go to to book your tickets.