A-Z of miniature crafts: V for varnishing

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18 November 2021
Learn how to varnish your miniatures in this quick guide to the useful technique by Jane Harrop…

Jane Harrop continues our series on the A–Z of basic crafts used within the miniatures world and demonstrates the technique of ‘varnishing’. Choose one of your own projects that requires glazing and work alongside Jane (who uses a 1/12th scale kitchen sink in this example) as she explains how to get a perfect glossy finish. 

What are the different types of varnishes?

When it comes to varnishing your miniatures, there are a few different options… 

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Oil and solvent based varnishes

These require good ventilation and white spirit for cleaning brushes. Oil based varnishes are very slow to dry, while solvent based are a little bit quicker, although one thin coat can still take several hours to dry. Two or three coats of either type of varnish will generally achieve a high gloss finish.

Prism Clear Glaze

Water based varnishes

Water based varnishes are safer to use and brushes are cleaned using soap and water. They’re quick drying. Two or three coats will generally achieve a good gloss finish, but may not give the glassy gloss finish associated with oil and solvent based varnishes.

Top varnishing tips!

  • Applying several layers of gloss varnish will create a glazed finish. You must apply varnish sparingly and allow each coat to thoroughly dry before applying another. 
  • Most gloss varnishes will dry with a flat finish – to create a raised 3D finish use a crafter’s dimensional varnish, but only on small pieces. 
  • Always use a new or clean soft paintbrush when applying the varnish and work in a clean and dust free environment with good light. For small pieces or 1/48th scale projects, use a decent clear nail varnish as an alternative to create a glazed flat finish. If you aren’t confident in tackling this straight away, practise on an off-cut beforehand.

Ranger gloss

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How to varnish miniatures in four easy steps 

1. Make sure the piece you're varnishing is totally dry and free from dust and your working area is clean, dust free and well lit. Invest in a new flat bristled synthetic paintbrush. If possible create a holder for the piece, so it won’t be disturbed as the varnish is applied and as it dries. Choose a gloss varnish that best suits your project and the finish you require.

Jane has used a solvent based varnish which will give a high gloss porcelain finish on the painted wooden sink.

Miniature sink and varnish

2. Apply one thin coat of varnish, ensuring that it doesn’t settle in corners or you apply too much so that it drips. Remove or pop any air bubbles before the varnish starts to dry. On flat areas follow the direction of the brush in one way. Leave on one side to dry.

Applying varnish to 1/12th scale sink

3. The tiles are made from glossy photo paper and to give them a more realistic finish, apply a coat of crafter’s three-dimensional water based gloss varnish. You can see that a drop from the bottle retains its shape and doesn’t spread. For a good finish, apply a good thick smooth layer of this type of varnish. If applied scratchy, it'll dry with a scratchy look.

Water based gloss varnish

4. Returning to the sink, you can speed up the drying process by using a hair dryer on medium settings. Too much heat can cause the varnish to blister. Once the first coat has dried thoroughly, apply a second coat, following previous procedures. If necessary once dry, apply another coat.

Varnished miniature sink

Why stop there? Get stuck into more from the series, starting with ‘U’ where you’ll learn how to upholster dolls house furniture!

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