First coat of varnish on the deck.

It’s not perfect, but again, I have to sand between each coat of varnish anyway and I’m learning how to apply varnish as I go.

You can see right under the forward hatch that I didn’t get very good coverage. That’s ok. I’ll consider the first two coats practice and worry about the final finish as I get closer to the last coat(s).
Again, you can see in this photo that the varnish is a little thin right under the forward hatch. No worries. It’s the first coat. Plenty of sanding and more coats of varnish to follow.

First coat of varnish on the hull.

If anyone is curious about how I am applying the varnish, I am using a technique used by Nick Schade at Guillemot Kayaks. Essentially, after preparing the surface I am using a 3″ foam brush and varnishing approximately one foot sections of the surface I am working on and then moving on to the adjacent section while maintaining the wet edge of the previous section. Switching back and forth, from one side of the kayak to the other, and repeating until the entire kayak deck or hull (whichever I am working on at the time) is finished. The video that I linked to above shows the method in much greater detail than I can easily describe here. I greatly admire Mr. Schade’s kayaks and he has wonderfully detailed videos on YouTube (that can be found through his web site or by searching YouTube itself). I found the videos on preparing for varnishing and applying varnish to be an outstanding resource. Thank you Mr. Schade! Since this is my first attempt at building a kayak, if the finish on my Ronan turns out to be half as beautiful as Mr. Schade’s kayaks I will be very happy indeed. I am going to use two different types of varnish, both made by the same manufacturer. I will apply two coats of Pettit Flagship Varnish, which has the highest UV protection, because UV breaks down epoxy. I will follow with two coats of Pettit Captains Varnish, which I am told by Pygmy Boats, has good UV protection, but is also very durable. I hope that in this way I will get the best of both worlds, very high UV protection and a durable finish that will take sea kayaking levels of abuse.

It looks pretty good. There are a couple of little sags that I didn’t see until it was too late to do anything about them, but I have to sand between each coat anyway. I’ll learn as I go. Tomorrow the kayak gets flipped over and the deck gets the first coat of varnish. Then sanding, then varnishing, then sanding, then varnishing, then sanding, then varnishing…

Kayak finally sanded for varnish.

I finally had time after work today to hand sand the Ronan. It is ready for varnish (I hope). This is one of the many stages in the kayak construction in which I have no previous experience. I have already been further down this rabbit hole than I should have gone, adding additional coats of epoxy to the hull and the deck because I didn’t think it was thick enough and was worried about sanding down into the fiberglass cloth where the surface wasn’t completely smooth. If I don’t quit messing around and put some varnish on this thing I’m going to get caught in an endless loop and I’ll never finish the kayak. I still have the hatch covers to sand. After everything is sanded it gets wiped down first with denatured alcohol, and then with mineral spirits to remove any contaminants, followed by the first coat of varnish. Then sanding between each subsequent coat of varnish. Onward.


The hatch covers needed one more coat of epoxy before being varnished.

The deck and hull had gotten one fill coat of epoxy that the hatch covers had not, and I want the deck and the hatch covers to have the same depth of epoxy protection before I varnish. So I sanded the hatch covers and gave them one more coat of epoxy. There were also a couple of areas around the port edge of the forward hatch opening where the fiberglass cloth got chewed up a little bit when I was sawing the opening. They showed up after I epoxied as white specks around the opening. At first I thought they would be ok, but the longer I looked at them the more more I realized that they would bug me for the rest of my kayaking life if I didn’t fix them. So I did. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

It is not easy to see in the photo above, where I sanded and re-applied epoxy to the edge of the forward hatch, but if you look carefully you can see it on the deck, right at the edge of the hatch.