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Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a solvent.


Most resin or "gum" varnishes consist of a natural substance dissolved in a solvent. The two main types of natural varnishes are spirit varnish (which uses alcohol as a solvent) and turpentine or petroleum-based varnish. Some resins are soluble in both alcohol and turpentine.

Shellac is a very widely used single component resin varnish that is alcohol soluble. It is not used outdoors or where it will come into repeated contact with water such as around a sink or bathtub.


  • Bob Flexner (1993). Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish. Rodale Press: Emmaus, PA. ISBN 0-87596-566-0

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