Issue 13 T.O.C. – Steve Voigt – “Reconstructing the Varnish Maker’s Art: Traditional Finishes for the 21st Century”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Thirteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

The subscription window which includes Issue Thirteen is open now.

To get Issue Thirteen when it ships early October, you can sign up for a subscription here. 

If you aren’t sure about your subscription status, you can reach out to Grace at Keep in mind though, if you are set to auto-renew, you never have to worry about getting the next issue of Mortise & Tenon. Issue Thirteen is coming your way soon!


Steve Voigt – “Reconstructing the Varnish Maker’s Art: Traditional Finishes for the 21st Century”

There are some parts of a project that we tend to take for granted. Finishing, for example: If we want to apply a clear protective coat to a piece of furniture, we go to the store and buy a little can of (likely petroleum-based) synthetic liquid that we brush on while holding our breath. And while this may offer decent short-term results, the longer view may offer a more cautionary note.

Few woodworkers today realize that varnishes of the past were naturally derived, relatively green, and renewable, while offering repairability and warmth that far exceeds their modern counterparts. In Issue Thirteen, author and planemaker Steve Voigt takes a fascinating and in-depth look at natural resin varnishes. Initially unsatisfied by the finishes he found available on the market for his traditional wooden planes, Voigt turned to exploring historic finishes and has not looked back. He brings us through the ancient alchemy of combining oil, resin, and solvent to produce this magical protective substance, and discusses how our modern manufacturing and extraction methods have led to subpar ingredients for wood finishing.

Going back to the forest or the field and minimally processing the necessary raw materials needed for varnish makes a world of difference in the final product. Voigt shows us how flax was utilized in the past (and still is by some small firms) to maximize the valuable oils and make a fine finish; how resin can be harvested sustainably from trees; and how (when made correctly) the natural solvent, turpentine, smells wonderful and is preferable to petroleum-based solvents. You won’t look at a finished surface the same way again, and may even find yourself eager to try your hand at making your own natural varnish.

Subscribe now to reserve your copy of Issue Thirteen.


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