Homemade "Varnish"

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Homemade finish (like a clear lacquer)

First off, Lacquer thinner is NOT mineral sprits, or white turps. It’s a mix of Toluene, Acetone, Ethyl acetate, Isopropyl alcohol, and petroleum distillates. Wild stuff! Even seems to restart dried up felt tip markers. Hummm. . . What else does it do? For this application do not try to use mineral sprits or white turps in place of true Lacquer thinner. They’re not likely to replace lacquer thinner elsewhere, either. Lacquer thinner also thins (uncured!) epoxy, removes many finishes, degreases items and does a lot of other interesting things. It’s worth getting a large container of it, even if you aren’t working with lacquer and think you don‘t need lacquer thinner. But Smoking around it is Not A Good Idea, and neither is breathing the fumes. Yes, smoking in itself is Not A Good Idea in any case (I am an ex-smoker, so I can say that.)

So, here it is, a durable homemade final finish you can make yourself. You might even call it a clear lacquer.

Start with:

two Quart glass jars (a Canning Jar - or any big. large mouth glass jar can substitute - you want a wide mouth to take large chunks of foam) Some smaller glass jars as well, to store the finished product, with lids.

(‘Smaller’ is fine because Styrofoam really shrinks and melts down on contact with lacquer thinner. Boy, does it!)

1/2- Quart Lacquer thinner (you don’t use it all at once, you don’t need much to start things off. It‘s a cheap way to buy Lacquer Thinner, a useful item.) Styrofoam... a whole bunch of it!!!! The same type is suggested for a batch, don’t mix lots if you can help it. A metal or glass funnel (discardable, perhaps? I made one from a cut up beer can) (In general, avoid plastic funnels. Lacquer thinner does not like some plastics) Several new coffee filters, used one at a time.

(Note: Make this stuff outside! Lacquer thinner fumes are bad news!)

To start off, before you do anything, it’s best to pour some (a half inch or so) of the Lacquer Thinner into a smaller jar, recap the bigger can, put it aside, and work with that smaller container. You only need about a half inch of lacquer thinner in the first jar, the dissolver jar, to start things off. Later on you might add another half inch to that amount. Using a gallon can to provide the liquid needed is just asking for spills, overflows, and trouble. And while this is not a vastly dangerous acid, I sure don’t suggest skin contact. It does attack some materials, softens or removes many finishes, makes bad news fumes, and burns rather briskly. Only have a limited amount of it in the open.

And remember, lacquer thinner in any form makes bad news fumes. Make this stuff outside! Or under a fume hood with a ‘suck up the cat’ capacity.

My first lot was packing block Styrofoam - big blocks you cut down with a knife to fit in the first ‘Digester’ (Dissolver?) jar. Count on this one ending up with some ‘junk’ on the bottom in the fluid. The second jar will be toped with a filter, and the smaller jars will long term store the final product.

By the way . . .

There are some rather interesting items for holding useful liquids on the market. For example, laboratory wash bottles. Try:




Wash bottles are fun. Problem is, most wash bottles drip. Well, most do - there is a dripless version. But the standard bottle is not a big problem, if you’re in an area where the drips don’t matter, but if not, it’s a very good reason to not use that particular type of container. But I urge you look at those containers, and others. You may like what you see. There are a number of special containers that can make life easier for people. Look for a source of special dispensing bottles.

Making the clear lacquer

Put about a half inch of the Lacquer thinner in the primary glass jar (you can always add more later, if needed) and add cut-up pieces of Styrofoam, or Styrofoam peanuts... any kind but the water soluble, biodegradable ones. You can tell the difference by the sort of light yellow color of the unusable stuff. I suggest you have several smaller sealable containers on hand to store the filtered final product, as the primary product has unresolved bits, some dirt, and other minor problems - in short it really needs to sit overnight and then be filtered. By the way, for some reason when I made this stuff outside it attracted a number of flies! Why, I can’t guess. But several died just sitting on the container rim and ended up dead on the bottom of the primary bottle. Those fumes are potent!

By the way, the lacquer thinner fumes may attack or soften the flexible plastic liner of the glass container cap.

Use a wide mouth jar as your starting point, as you will be cutting up the blocks of Styrofoam with a knife to get raw materials and cramming it into the jar. I haven’t seen any molded Styrofoam packing blocks made from the water soluble, biodegradable Styrofoam; there may be none. I have not tried the water soluble, biodegradable Styrofoam in the mix - I don’t think it will improve anything - may not even melt down at all. The flexible foam in a sheet form might work as well, but I haven’t tried it.

Ok, so you stuff the Styrofoam into the jar - it will start to melt right away. Fine, it’s working, so keep stuffing! And when that batch melts down, stuff in some more. Anyway, the lacquer thinner melts the Styrofoam. Keep adding the Styrofoam until the mixture starts to gel, then add a bit more thinner to get the mix back to a liquid, well, a thinner liquid, anyway. It will produce a lot of bubbles in the beginning - Don’t cap the bottle tightly.

When you get all the batches dissolved, let it sit overnight to ‘settle’. And DON’T screw the cap down tight while it sits overnight - put it in place to help coral the solvent fumes, fine, but it‘s still outgassing a bit, remember? Filtering is next, but first, let it settle overnight.

Do this, and right away you will notice an improvement in color - but there will be a layer of dirt settled on the bottom. No need to disturb that glop, just pour off the top part and filter that liquid. You will want to filter the primary product because of dirt and other bits that will show up when the Styrofoam is melted down. Filtering will remove those bits, lighten up the color a bit in general, and give a better looking product that looks like a thin honey, or an oil.

Follow my first rule of doing anything chemical - if you can smell it - ventilate right away! Do this all outside, as there are gasses that result from the reduction action. And if you don’t - or can’t - smell lacquer thinner, trust me, you still need to ventilate anyway.

Use just one filter at a time. Fold the coffee filter into 4 quarters, overlap three of the quarters which makes a hollow cone shape, and stick the folded filter into the funnel. It doesn’t matter that part of the filter overlaps itself partly, it will still work. As the liquid can be thick, things will be slow, and it’s probably best for it be thin. You might want to do this filtering in a solvent rich atmosphere.

“A what?”

Set the catch jar and filter / funnel up in the good old standby, two large coffee cans soldered together at the rims. That way, the evaporated solvents have no place to go, so they hand around and the filter doesn’t dry out and clog as much. It will still ‘load up’ with the filtered glop, of course.

I have just seen a stiff sponge like peanut type packing, different from the usual stuff. It wasn’t water-soluble, and reacted to the lacquer thinner in the usual way. Left overnight, in the morning it had a thick layer of thick dark glop over a thinner fluid. Discard the thick dark glop, filter the thin liquid. The thinner fluid filtered just fine. But the color was different than the last batch. It didn’t show any signs of mixing with the last lot on it’s own - it seemed thinner, and sat on top of the stuff from the first batch. When stirred it mixed just fine. We’ll see how well this new stuff works. So far it seems fine. In general, this stuff seems to work best on the thin side.

Separating lots of Styrofoam

“I’m not shipping much stuff out, and the chips are piling up. So, how do I separate out the non finish producing, biodegradable Styrofoam?” Hint: it's cornstarch, reworked.

(Musical Note) “Raindrops keep falling . . . “ Right, separating that stuff out is not a problem. Just make a finish out of what the rain (or hose spray) left behind and got dried out.

To use

You may wish to thin it a bit first. To thin, use lacquer thinner. Apply with a paint brush. Or, thin it a bit more and use an airbrush - a fun tool, by the way, likes thin paints, good to have around the shop. On my stuff so far, one coat makes a good sealer, additional coats results in a hard 'matte' finish (a dull or non-glossy finish.) Thicker may make a somewhat glossy finish. To clean up, use (what else!) lacquer thinner.

A different lacquer

A different lacquer can be made. Just dissolve ping-pong balls in acetone till you get this thick white liquid that's about the consistency of thin glue and about the color of spoiled milk. This should be about 3/4 of a ping pong ball per ounce of acetone. One difference between the lacquer detailed above and this one is the solvent - acetone vrs lacquer thinner.

 And, of course, the raw materials - just  ping pong balls.   http://www.ping-pong.com

Original text by user:DaveSmith