The Differences Between Paint & Varnish

Differences Between Paint & Varnish
There are a few obvious and fundamental differences between paint and varnish that need consideration when deciding on the required finish particularly for wood. Wood is a natural product and as such has unique features. The first and most basic decision is whether you want to highlight or hide the detail in the grain of the timber.

Choosing The Desired Effect

If choosing to display the beauty of the grain, varnish should be used. Typically it is clear and offers UV protection for the timber. Before varnishing a stain can be applied to the timber to enhance or change it’s colour.

The range of colours for stains however can be somewhat limited and tends to be based around different timber shades. It is also important to decide on the sheen level (shininess) of the varnish which can range from ‘flat’ matt to full gloss. This sheen level is often denoted as a percentage (i.e 25%, 50%, 75%, the higher the number, the more glossy).

Whilst varnish to some extent is absorbed by the timber, paint is a pure surface treatment. This means it will coat over the natural features of the timber hiding them under a smooth finish. The main advantage of paint is that it comes in a virtually limitless range of colours. This versatility is further extended if using multiple colours. Paint comes in a number of types each giving its own finish.

There are a variety of textured paints including eggshell and different levels of finish from matt through to high gloss. It is always advisable to use a primer as a base coat as this will help ensure an even finish and also gives a better representation of the top coat colour. It also helps to ‘fill’ the grain and once rubbed back with light sanding offers a pure smooth surface.


Varnish and paint can be applied in several ways. Brushing is typically the most common means of application. This requires a little more attention when using varnish as the timber will absorb on contact so the process should be completed start to finish in one. In this respect, paint is slightly more forgiving.

A roller can be used in place of a brush and generally offers a more even finish. It can, however, depending on the viscosity of the paint or varnish leave a slightly textured finish.

Both paint and varnish can be sprayed, though this requires specialist equipment and a suitable environment. This is best left to dedicated professionals.

In all these cases and with both paint and varnish, it is normal to give a base coat which, when dry, has a light sanding (de-nibbing) before applying a top coat to achieve your chosen effect.

Fundamentally the choice is dependant on whether you want to work with the natural features of the timber or to disguise them. Paint has the versatility of colour whilst varnish enhances the timber allowing it to tell its story.

Best Varnish Remover for Wood

varnish remover

Before you do a refinish of your furniture, you require an effective chemical stripping agent to help you remove the varnish. In choosing a varnish remover, the effectiveness of the stripper is an important consideration. You have to choose a chemical stripper that is quick and safe to use. It’s important to first verify if the said stripper is actually a varnish remover. This article takes you through the various options of varnish remover and how to settle on the best.

What should you consider in a Varnish Remover?

First, you have to consider the potency of the varnish remover. Strong paint strippers have an upper hand in removing thicker finishes. Secondly, you should go for a chemical stripper that is safer to use. Even though most strippers are flammable, it’s important to go for the one that has fewer dangers. Additionally, you should consider the price of the strippers. The price should coincide with the effectiveness of the stripper. Lastly, you should consider the form of the stripper. Most-effective varnish removers come in liquid and semi-paste form.

What are the Best Varnish Removers?

Before buying the varnish stripper, it’s crucial to ascertain that your furniture finish is varnish. If it’s not varnish, then there is no need for the chemical stripper as you can use ordinary caustic chemicals. To check for varnish, you should look at the finish closely. Varnish is heavy and mostly, amber colour. You can also identify brush stroke on the wood finish and these are normally absent in thin finishes. The following groups of chemical strippers are the best for varnish removal:

  1. Methylene Chloride Agents: These stripping chemicals are regarded as the strongest. The strippers are effective against heavy varnish coats. Varnish strippers of this category also contain other components such as caustic to neutralise their strong adverse effects. Methylene Chloride irritates the skin and the eyes. It’s recommended to wear safety gears such as the goggle’s and gloves when working with these varnish strippers.
  1. N-Methyl-2-Pyrrolidone (NMP) Strippers: Due to the health concerns linked to methylene chloride strippers, some manufacturers substitute methylene chloride with NMP. NMP is considered less toxic and safer to use. Even though the chemical strippers are not as strong as Methylene chloride, the stripping effects are fair. There are situations where the chemical strippers would contain portions of potent stripping chemicals such as methanol, ketone, and toluene. The agents are known to cling finely to vertical wood surfaces, thus effective in varnish removing. Maybe the only concern is that the chemicals are flammable.
  1. Biochemical Strippers: These are the safest strippers to use mainly because they are of plant origin. Important chemicals in these strippers include citric acid (from lemon or oranges), terpene (from pine), and lactic acid (from pulp). The advantages of these strippers are:


  •  They are eco-friendly, thus safe
  • Odourless when using, thus flexible

Overall, the varnish removers are important if you want to do a refinish. Getting the right stripper is vital if you want to achieve the best results. With an effective stripper, you get value for your money as you also enjoy great varnish removal.