Amish Furniture – Conversion Varnish Finish & Care

Protecting the finish: Conversion Varnish

Fact: Conversion varnish cures from the “bottom up” and the solvent must work its way out of the film so the finish molecules can cross-link.

Finishes can be broken into two basic groups: Penetrating and Film. Penetrating finishes “soak” into the wood and do not “cure”; therefore, they give very little protection and no layers can be built up.

Film finishes “build up” on the surface of the wood. Each layer can be built upon the next layer which separates the wood from the outside elements such as water, water vapor and everyday use. Film finishes also help “seal” the Amish furniture from the constant exchange of moisture which causes wood to split.

All of the Amish made furniture we sell has a Conversion Varnish “topcoat” applied to the furniture after it’s stained. This is a clear finish that is considered “reactive”. This product has a chemical reaction when mixed for use, and has a shelf, or “pot” life. Think of it as mixing concrete with water. When the chemical reaction starts, you only have a limited amount of time to place the product before it gets hard.

Each varnish manufacturer recommends a specific amount of time the Amish furniture craftsmen can add more layers of finish to the furniture and still get each of the layers to chemically bond together. This allows the Amish furniture craftsman to build multiple layers and get maximum protection for the piece of Amish furniture.

Conversion varnish is used by top end furniture makers for the excellent sealing and wear quality it provides to the consumer. Conversion varnish, in chemical resistance tests conducted by the manufacturer, had superior marks against the following materials tested:

Chemical resistance tests:

Using the 0 to 10 system with 0= severe effect, 10= no effect

Item
Lacquer
Conversion Varnish
Nail Polish Remover
0
10
Perfume
0
10
Hair Spray
0
10
Shoe Polish
3
7
Coke (soda pop)
7
10
Ketchup
7
10
Hot Coffee
5
10
Alcohol
5
10
Hot Water
5
10

• We know of one Amish furniture craftsman that is “testing” his dining table all the time. He reports sitting hot pans directly on the conversion varnish finish with little or no effect of burning or damaging the surface. However, using hot pads or placemats is recommended.

 


Varnish and Lacquer (Polyurethane)

Varnish is produced by “cooking” a curing oil with resin. Drying additives are brought into the solution to help speed up the curing process. Varnish is very durable and is available at your local hardware store. Most often it is called Polyurethane and is brushed on the project to build layers.

Amish furniture craftsmen prefer not to use Polyurethane because of the long dry time. It takes over an hour just to get enough “cure” to keep dust from sticking to it and it takes over 24 hours to add the second coat. Conversion varnish can add the second coat in 5 minutes or less.

Lacquer is widely used as a film finish in lower quality furniture and cabinets. Lacquer is a resin held is suspension by a thinner or solvent and when sprayed the thinner evaporates causing the finish to cure.

Lacquer is very easy to apply with a spray gun due to the very quick dry time and multiple coats can be applied in a very small time frame as well. Lacquer is also easy to repair because it has no chemical reaction to cross-link and cure. This allows any damage to be easily repaired by sanding down the damaged area and applying new coats.

Look at the chart above showing the strength and durability of lacquer compared to conversion varnish.

CARE

To care for your Amish made furniture couldn’t be easier.  Simply dust with a very slightly damp cloth and then be sure surface is dry by going over it again with a soft dry cloth.  That’s it.  No need for any special “conditioners” or waxes.  You can use a furniture polish should you wish.  Use a polish, however, that does not contain any silicone as this can damage your finish over time.