Front Door Varnish Choices

      Choosing a wood finish for an old entry door, based on price and looks. January 13, 2009

I'm repairing and refinishing an old door. The customer prefers wood finish, not paint. I am considering Epiphanes, but what's better, clear varnish or wood finish gloss? (Ease of application, durability, re-coatable). Customer understands it will have to be fixed up every year or two. This does have weather and sun exposure. I don't need high gloss.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
If you don't require high gloss (which is what Epiphanes varnish is known for), I'd suggest you look at Cetol. It is much easier to apply and maintain than any varnish, and in my opinion looks great. It is my finish of choice for all exterior teak on boats (my own included).

If you're stuck on varnish, Epiphanes is at the top of the list for quality and looks.

Just a final note on ease of application. If you haven't already, have a read through the Epiphanes Q&A. Recommended application is anywhere from 7 or 8 to 11 coats. On the other hand, Cetol - sand, slap on three coats (four if you want to), no sanding between coats, and you're done. Maintenance is a breeze too - "wash" it down using TSP and a purple sanding pad, rinse well, slap on another coat. And I am using the term "slap" deliberately. Cetol applies much more like an oil than a varnish. Way easy to get on without brush strokes or bubbles or any of the other difficulties of varnish.

From contributor A:
Epiphanes is probably a waste of money for an old door. It's about $125 a gallon. McCloskey Man O War varnish is excellent, available at most good pro paint stores and costs about $60 a gallon. We finish all of our new exterior doors with McCloskey. I like the Epiphanes for yachts, but the Danish want lots of Euros for those metric cans of gold.

From contributor R:
I also recommend Sikkens Cetol Door & Window.

From contributor P:
I will agree that the Cetol is quick and easy, but I would suggest that it is not the thing to use if you want maximum pop of really beautiful wood - the Cetol is not completely clear, unlike the Epifanes, which cures to be like lightly ambered water.

If you have a simple pine door, knock yourself out with the Cetol. If you're doing something more exotic like teak or cherry or such, put on the 7 coats of Epifanes and your customer will gush. Trust me, I've not had any complaints.

As for which one to use: The wood finish is my preference, because it sets up with resinous wood (teak, etc.), and it does not require sanding between coats (less than a couple days between).

I typically use the wood finish matte as my last 1-2 coats because the gloss is really gloss - it looks the same when cured as it does when wet... too shiny for my liking.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your very helpful response. I'll try to get some Cetol to try. My local distributor has gallons only. Otherwise, Mccloskeys. I was looking at Epi for more durability with sun, etc. I'm gonna skip the Epiphanes until the next yacht job (never). The cloudiness of Cetol would maybe be an advantage on this old door (pine with old repairs).

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