Making Matters: Why varnish matters

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Ulrike Dederer reviews and summarises new research on how multilayered varnishes influence the moisture protection and vibrational properties of tonewood

The term ‘varnish’ is not used consistently. Sometimes it refers to the complete coating system, including the wood finish and wood pre-treatments, and sometimes only to the coloured final layer. Varnish serves to protect the wood against dirt, wear and moisture, as well as to enhance its appearance. But how does varnish influence the acoustics of an instrument? And does varnish really protect against changes in relative humidity (RH)?

Three years ago Sarah Lämmlein, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), contacted me and asked about my varnishing process as she was researching the influence of varnish systems on moisture protection, and on the vibrational properties of violin wood (https://rdcu.be/b4GjL). I demonstrated my complete varnishing method to her, which mainly follows the ‘Byzantine coating system’ introduced to me by Koen Padding.

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