Tools & Equipment

The UK’s Best Exterior Wood ‘Yacht’ Varnish For Treating Outdoor Wood

water beading on varnished furniture
Written by Jonathan Sweet

There’s nothing quite like the superior finish that a top-quality varnish job gives to a wooden surface.

So much so, in fact, that treating the panelling of exterior doors, window frames, furniture and other wooden structures has become almost a fine art form in and of itself.

Of course, that has instigated a whole trade specifically created to meet the demand of DIY enthusiasts across the world, who are eager to find the perfect substance with which to coat their exterior wooden surfaces and achieve the best finish possible. With plenty of varnishes available to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to begin looking.

The first thing to consider when selecting an appropriate product is the type of wood it will be varnishing, whether the timber has been treated before and what kind of aesthetic results are desirable. Other factors to take into account include the product’s longevity, its resistance to external contaminants, its ease of use and, of course, the all-important price tag.

The good news is that we’ve scoured the market for you and narrowed down the search parameters to arrive at a shortlist of just five alternatives, representing the very best yacht varnish for exterior use available in the UK today.

Our #1 Top Pick
Rustins EAVS2500 2.5L Outdoor Varnish Satin - Clear
Value Pick
Johnstone's 309309 Woodcare Outdoor Yacht Varnish, Clear Gloss, 250 ml
Also Consider...
Epifanes Clear High Gloss Varnish 500ml
Finish
Clear Satin
Clear Gloss
Clear Gloss
Volume
2.5L
250ml
500ml
Drying Time
4 Hours
24 Hours
24 Hours
UV Protection
Price
£34.84
£5.99
Price not available
Our #1 Top Pick
Rustins EAVS2500 2.5L Outdoor Varnish Satin - Clear
Finish
Clear Satin
Volume
2.5L
Drying Time
4 Hours
UV Protection
Price
£34.84
Value Pick
Johnstone's 309309 Woodcare Outdoor Yacht Varnish, Clear Gloss, 250 ml
Finish
Clear Gloss
Volume
250ml
Drying Time
24 Hours
UV Protection
Price
£5.99
Also Consider...
Epifanes Clear High Gloss Varnish 500ml
Finish
Clear Gloss
Volume
500ml
Drying Time
24 Hours
UV Protection
Price
Price not available

Last update on 2021-01-07 / Affiliate links / Images / Pricing from Amazon Product Advertising API

Read on and take your pick from the quintet of candidates below.

Best Pick: Rustins Outdoor Clear Varnish

Affordable and effective outdoor varnish which is quick-drying and long-lasting.

Cost: £34.84

This water-based varnish from Rustins has been specifically developed to offer incredible results in a short timeframe. Just 30 minutes after application, the substance will be dry to the touch, while it’s ready for a second coating in only four hours.

Don’t expect that to impact upon its lifespan, though. If applied properly and given several coats, you can achieve an impressive aesthetic outcome and adequate protection for your exterior wooden surfaces for years to come. The varnish comes in three different finishes (matte, gloss or satin), allowing you to pick the variety which suits your own personal preferences best.

You can expect one litre of the substance to cover roughly between 12 and 15 square metres of wood. With four different size options available (250ml, 500ml, 1 litre or 2.5 litres), all of which are priced affordably in comparison to the competition, ensuring you have enough to cover all surfaces is easily arranged.

One added attraction of this product is its water-based nature, as well. While the finish will appear slightly different to oil-based alternatives, it should offer equivalent protection without the same cost to the environment.

Pros

  • Quick-drying but long-lasting
  • Three different finishes and four different sizes
  • Kind on the environment

Cons

  • Not as water-resistant as some other options
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Value Pick: Johnstone’s Outdoor Yacht Varnish

Marine-quality varnish which offers a high gloss finish at an economical price.

Cost: £5.99

This robust, marine-quality varnish is suitable for all types of exterior woodwork and is equally effective on virgin surfaces or those which have been previously stained or varnished.

Containing weather-resistant properties, it’s designed to hold up in even the most inclement of conditions and will safeguard your home’s exterior surfaces for years at a time. It also flexes with the natural ebb and flow of the wood, meaning it doesn’t crack or peel easily. Drying times can vary between 24 hours and a matter of days, so it’s not the fastest acting solution on the market – but it will provide strong protection after the fact.

The high gloss finish is attractive on the eye and the varnish also does a great job of picking out minor details in the grain of the wood, but it should be noted that it may also darken the colour of the surface to which it is applied quite significantly. As a result, that should be borne in mind when selecting the right product for your needs.

Having said that, Johnstone’s is certainly an economical option and with two sizes available (250ml or 750ml), both of which are eminently affordable, you can coat your timber without breaking the bank.

Pros

  • Weather-, crack- and peel-resistant
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Darkens colour of wood
  • Can take 24 hours or longer to dry
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Epifanes High Gloss Varnish

A superior high-gloss varnish which contains special UV-filtering properties, preventing discolouration from the sun’s rays.

Cost: Price not available

This premium option from Epifanes is suitable for all types of wood, whether inside or out, and has gained plaudits for its abilities on a number of different fronts.

First of all, the ultra-violet (UV) resistance contained in the varnish’s composition mean that the wood won’t be subject to discolouration, even after prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. It’s capable of an ultra-high gloss finish which doesn’t diminish over time, achieving impressive results that last the distance.

It’s recommended to apply several coats of the varnish, leaving at least 24 hours between each one (even during the height of summer), since this gives the substance adequate time to properly dry. However, if applied properly, it’s without parallel in the world of yacht varnishes and will yield superlative results guaranteed to satisfy.

The one major deterrent of the Epifanes product is its price point; as the most expensive option on this list by some distance, it may be too prohibitive for some, but if considered as an investment rather than a luxury purchase, it’ll repay your faith for years to come.

Pros

  • UV protection against sun’s rays prevents discolouration
  • Beautifully glossy finish returns impeccable results

Cons

  • Expensive in comparison to other alternatives
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Ronseal Exterior Yacht Varnish

Water-repellent, UV-resistant and flexible varnish with a satin or gloss finish.

Cost: £15.43

This solvent-based varnish contains a unique formula that enhances the water-repellent capabilities of your wood, which can be an invaluable asset when it comes to exterior woodwork in the dead of the Great British winter.

It’s also engineered to contain UV-filtering properties to prevent discolouration or fading over time, while its flexibility means it can move with the wood as it expands and contracts and prevents flaking, cracking or peeling. All taken together, that means the varnish should serve you well for a good couple of years at least before a recoating is required.

As for application times, there is a six-hour waiting period for the substance to dry – which means it is possible to tackle two or three coats in the same day if you time things right. It aims for a gloss or satin finish (depending on the product you buy), though it may darken lighter woods. Those concerned about retaining the aesthetic integrity of the timber should bear that in mind when making their choice.

Available in a range of sizes, the varnish is not the cheapest brand you’re likely to encounter, but it’s still a very affordable option all the same.

Pros

  • Protects against water damage, UV discolouration and general wear and tear
  • 6-hour drying time allows for multiple coats in the same day

Cons

  • Slightly darkens the appearance of lighter woods
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Lina Mae Wood Care Varnish

Water-based varnish specifically designed to cope with more extreme weather conditions.

Cost: £19.99

This water-based varnish is equally impressive when applied to new wood or damaged wood with previous treatment history. With UV-protection properties and a waterproof finish, it’ll protect your wooden external surfaces from all the elements, whether that entails rain, shine or hot, hot humidity.

The substance is quick-drying, meaning it’s dry to the touch within 60 minutes and ready for another coat within a maximum of four hours. That excellent turnaround time allows you to treat all required surfaces with multiple coats in just one or two days, resulting in an efficient solution that doesn’t skimp on results.

The end product is a lovely sheen to the outer surface of any wood to which it is applied, offering attractive aesthetic qualities and long-lasting protection to boot. It’s incredibly easy to apply with a brush or roller, both of which can be cleaned with the minimum of fuss after the job is complete.

What’s more, because the varnish is water-based and completely free from solvents, there’s no nasty smell attached to it – and it’s kind on the environment, as well.

Pros

  • UV-resistant and waterproof
  • Easy to use, incredibly quick-drying
  • 100% free from solvents

Cons

  • Water-based nature means it doesn’t have quite the same effect as oil-based alternatives (although which is better is down to a matter of personal preference)
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How To Apply Yacht Varnish

When it comes to applying varnish to any exterior wooden surface, preparation is key to a successful project. How you approach the job will depend on the type of wood from which the item in question is constructed and whether it has been treated in the past.

If the substance contains remnants of a previous coating of varnish that is in pristine condition, it can be worked upon right away. Otherwise, any signs of damage or decay indicate that the old finish must be removed beforehand using a citrus-based or methylene chloride-based stripper. In fact, it may be preferable to remove the previous coating even if it does not show signs of ageing if you’re unsure as to how old it is, since degradation is only a matter of time. Take care not to damage the surface of the wood as you remove the previous layer, since investing time now will return massive dividends in the long run.

The next step is to sand the wood to perfection. Start out with an 80-grit sandpaper, gradually working your way up to 220 grit at the finish. Remember to clean the surface before switching to a higher grade of sandpaper, using either compressed air or a rag dampened with alcohol. Resist the temptation to dig into lower spots with the edge of the sander, but instead concentrate on achieving uniformity through patience and endeavour.

Once you’ve finished the sanding phase, it’s time to wipe the wood down and prepare it for the varnishing job. This is especially important for oily woods such as teak and iroko, so you should wipe them down carefully using a solvent like acetone to dissolve any oils remaining on the surface and aid with the adhesion of the varnish. For more resinous kinds of timber like mahogany, it’s a better idea to use a naptha-based solvent to achieve the same effect.

Finally, it’s time to apply the varnish. Make sure you follow the instructions which accompany the product of your choice, using a clean brush or roller to apply the substance evenly across the surface of the wood and removing all traces of dust wherever you encounter it. Even if the brush is brand new out of the box, be sure to clean it thoroughly prior to starting the job to ensure any impurities are taken away. Do not apply the varnish on days with high humidity, moisture or direct sunlight, and take care to wait the requisite amount of time between each coat to ensure it is fully dry.

And voila! Your timber should be looking spectacular.

How Many Coats Are Needed?

The exact number of coats which your wooden structure will require is dependent both on the type of wood itself and the effect you wish to achieve, as well as the viscosity of the substance you’re using and the thickness of your own personal brushstrokes. That makes it nigh-on impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Generally speaking, however, a greater number of coats will provide greater protection to the surface of the wood, meaning you’ll have to reapply the treatment with less frequency going forwards.

There may be a temptation to stop after just two or three coats, especially if the wood is already returning impressive aesthetic results. This would be a mistake. It’s advisable to apply several over the course of a few days, aiming for six or more in total and following the instructions which come with the product each time. Some varnishes ask for you to sand the surface with a 220-grit sandpaper between coats, while others don’t require this step.

As with all things, make sure you’re following the guidance provided by the manufacturer and you can’t go wrong.

About the author

Jonathan Sweet

Jonny is an avid writer with a background in tourism, film and literature, but has a penchant for penning articles on all kinds of topics. He's always considered himself an environmentalist to some degree, but in recent times he has found himself shining a greater spotlight on his daily lifestyle choices and how the tiny changes he can make to his routine can have a cumulatively significant impact on the planet.

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