Jump to content

Exterior Woodie Finish

Michael Caswell

Recommended Posts

I am going to refinish the exterior wood panels of my 1938 Ford Woodie Station Wagon. 

First challenge I have is that I live in California. The environmental restrictions are horrible. So, if regulatory compliance was/is not an issue, can someone please share you guidance and recommendations for therapy refurnishing process and clear coat recommendations?


Thank you, much appreciated. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe if you scroll down to the Woodie Section there are discussions about this.


Are you refinishing all of the wood or just the door insert panels?

Are you stripping the wood completely and starting fresh or just adding to the existing finish?

I have always used Marine Spar varnish. I believe I used the semi-gloss finish NOT gloss - way too shiny.


Anyway, if you are just going to go over the existing finish you should use a very fine grit sandpaper or (better yet) use a fine grit scuff pad.

Scuff up the existing finish and use a tack cloth/rag to remove any loose particles and apply a coat of the new varnish allowing it to dry 24 hours. Depending on how many coats you want to apply continue the process until done. Scuff - apply coat - allow to dry....

When you apply the last coat let it dry and you are done.

There have been many discussions on what to use to apply the varnish.

Some say use the cheap foam brushes and others say use a good brush. I have always used a good brush and have had excellent results.


If you strip the wood completely then you would need to apply a "sealing" coat (or 2). A "sealing" coat is simply thinning the varnish, 50/50,

with paint thinner. This allows the mixture to penetrate the wood and "seal" it. 

I generally apply 10-15 coats of varnish for maximum protection.

The rule is that, no matter what you do, you must ALWAYS scuff the finish between coats. This allows better adhesion AND removes any high spots .


Just a tip - when storing the varnish between coats I always, after putting the lid back on, turn the can upside down. This prevents air from getting into the can and "skinning" the varnish.


I hope this helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I generally agree with Joe.  There are new varnishes that claim the light sand between coats is not necessary (learned from a boat builder) but I haven't tried it yet.  Even if a satin finish is desired, start with gloss coats and then top coat with satin.  Satin rarely has UV absorber in it like gloss does (read the cans). A good bristle brush, or "tipping" with a good foam brush would be my choice of tools.  Cheap brushes on a job like this are a bad idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I probably used the Satin finish, too. Not the semi-gloss. I cannot remember which (it was 22 years ago). BUT I would NEVER use the Gloss finish.

I have seen Woodies that have wood that shines like paint. To me it looks too "fake". It looked like the wood was encased in plastic .

All the cars I have done over the years using Satin?? have come out beautifully and they had/have a very nice "glow" to the finish and it looks "blended" - like the wood and the varnish belong together.

I do not think that a Woodie manufactured in the 30's-50's would have originally had that "plastic" look and I like to keep things the way they should be.

Just my opinion(s)........

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Mike, I use marine spar varnish. Pettit Captains Varnish #1015 and Pettit Flagship Varnish with more UV protection #2015. Applied with a Purdy or Corona oxhair brush available at paint stores. I order it from Jamestown Distributors and Hamilton Marine. This is traditional alkyd/tung oil varnish thinned with mineral spirit/paint thinner.


But here is another alternative if that is not available in California. It is a marine varnish product called Le Tonkinois. It is highly refined tung oil that does not contain solvents. It brushes on and dries to a film just like the kind with solvents in it. Before I started varnishing my woodie, I made some samples with traditional spar varnish and Le Tonkinois. I left them outside to see how it would hold up. After three years Le Tonkinois did not peel but it lost its sheen and had some crazing on the surface. While I think traditional spar varnish is more durable, Le Tonkinois is a close second. I think it is a real option for woodie station wagons because they will be in the garage most of the time and out of the sun. There are 2 versions, original and an improved version called No. 1


Here are some links for more info:


http://www.tarsmell.com/      This is a website that sells Le Tonkinois

Google Le Tonkinois

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...