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Balsam Varnish
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Dave Chandler
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Joined: 31 Oct 2007
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Location: Mt Mitchell in North Carolina

PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 11:31 pm    Post subject: Balsam Varnish Reply with quote

Just as an update on my collecting balsam sap and making varnish -- I collected about a cup of sap the other day. This was done by poking and draining the blisters on the Fraser Fir, which is a subspecies of the Canadian Balsam and covers the "Black Mountains" in my back yard.

I added enough isopropol to disolve the goo filled with needles and blister material, which I then filtered out. I put the filtered material on a hot plate in a jar, and brought it up to a temperature that you could see the alcohol burn off (about 180 degree F). When the alcohol had burnt off, the temperature rose on its own to 212 degrees F and water in the solution began to boil. Not until the water was gone, would the temperature go up further.

After the boiling subsided, the temperature went up above 250 degrees F. The substance suddenly (really -- quite suddenly) cleared, and bubbled very lightly, and started to darken. At this point, perhaps only about 5-10 minutes after the water had disappeared, I took the resin off the burner and let it cool. The next morning, the resin is so hard it will not leave a fingerprint on the surface, and its extremely clear, slightly dark perhaps because of the extra heat once the water was gone.

I believe any other impurities, oils, etc, departed during the process, depending on its boiling point. The resin settled somewhere between 250-300 degrees F, and I think for a darker resin you could cook it longer, but you're adding small microscopic bits of charred resin, not real color. There may be better ways to darken and color the resin.

The resin could be disolved in an oil, perhaps "stand oil" or some other purified linseed oil, to make an oil varnish. Spike Lavender oil can be added to either, its one of those rare ingredients that can be disolved either in alcohol or oil. The spike oil keeps the varnish from getting so hard that it easily scratches. The gum elemi helps improve adherence between coats. Add Alcohol to taste.

My plan is to add a little gum elemi and spike lavender, in 91% isopropyl alcohol solution as well as some color, and see how it works as a varnish. I have a violin I made long ago, that is in its third or fourth varnish. Poor thing, but that may be the best use for that particular fiddle.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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Chet Bishop
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Location: Forest Grove, Oregon

PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That sounds like a lot of fun, Dave! Let us know how the varnish turns out.
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DonLeister
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So out of a cup of raw resin how much was left after you cooked it? And was the cup thinned with isopropyl or was it still raw?

Is this your own recipe? I would call it a very lean one, basically with no polymerized oils in it, since the spike oil will never dry.
I don't mean to be criticizing your process, I'm interested in it since it sounds like something I would do.
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

From a cup or so of wet crap that included wood chunks, water running down the bark etc, I ended up with 35 grams of pure clean resin.

I thinned it about 1:1 with alcohol to get it out of the jar, and through a filter. The 35 grams has no water, no alcohol, no additives, just pure hard resin. This is actually enough to make varnish for at least one violin, depending on how much you want to put on.

this is basically the 1704 spirit varnish found here on Lemuel's site substituting sandarac with the balsam resin. It has the gum elemi and the spike lavender oil as the only other ingredients other than the alcohol to make it workable. My understanding is that the lavender oil gives it some pliability and softness. I'm not sure what other oils you can add to spirit varnish, and yet thin it with alcohol.

I use the isopropyl as its as clean and pure alcohol as I've found locally available (you can get 91% if you look around -- I found some in the local drug store and its cheaper than denatured), whereas denatured alcohol has other additives like naptha and may be as little as 60% alcohol. Naptha as a solvent, from what I've read, makes inferior varnish, while pure alcohol will not remain in the varnish but evaporate out.

I've also been practicing spraying this on, as I can get a complete coat very evenly applied with only about 5-7cc of varnish, thinned 3:1 with alcohol, and a couple drops of Steward-McDonald Color. I have some sandarac that I may add for some additional color, but really want to see how a pure balsam varnish works out.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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"Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm" Winston Churchill

"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo


Last edited by Dave Chandler on Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As an aside, I boiled down about 5 lbs of green hemlock needles, and was unable to recover any measureable resin from stems and needles. I even tried boiling down bark shavings, and got nothing.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An excellent on-line book on resins

https://archive.org/stream/analysisofresins00dietuoft#page/72/mode/2up
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo
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kjb
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 6:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

thanks for the link and the info on you varnish making. I have not ventured into that arena yet but I am getting the info together.
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 9:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At my age, secret formulas won't benefit me, so whatever I learn I'll gladly share.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First photo, about 6 ounces of varnish made from 30 grams of resin, using the 1704 recipe on Lemuel's site, but substituting the Balsam Resin for the Seedlac, with the various volumes adjusted to 30 grams. I also did not wait for the resin to disolve on its own as it was a hard block in the b ottom of a bottle, so I heated it up in alcohol to disolve the resin.

[img][img][/img]

Next photo is a scrap piece of wood with two different sealers, A side is thinned shellac with burnt sugar added and B side is thinned lacquer.

[img][/img]

next photo I've added my clear balsam varnish

[img][/img]

Final photo I've sprayed this area with about 2 grams of varnish, 4 grams alcohol, and one drop each of orange and medium brown colortone products.

[img][/img]

Well, how about one more photo looking straight down at the wood in the sun.

[img][/img]

My preference is side A with the burnt brown sugar added to the sealer/ground.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
Southern Violin Association

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm" Winston Churchill

"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo
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Chet Bishop
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 8:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, Dave! That is some pretty stuff!

Can you expand a bit upon how you burned the brown sugar...and how it dissolves (in alcohol?)

I really like the look of that and am seriously considering using it on my next instrument.

Chet
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actonern
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 6:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Balsam resin can be cooked with linseed oil at a 4 parts resin 1 part oil ratio to make a very transparent and beautiful ground coat.
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kjb
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 7:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

yes the burnt sugar thing has me intrigued also. looks very good.
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 8:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've posted the brown sugar thing in another thread a year or two ago. I'll pull it up and regenerate it for you. I really don't like oils in my grounds, they tend to soak too deeply into the wood. I like shellac with lots of alcohol, the shellac stays on the surface, which is what I'm looking for.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
Southern Violin Association

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm" Winston Churchill

"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 8:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kjb wrote:
yes the burnt sugar thing has me intrigued also. looks very good.


Basically a cup of brown sugar, put it on the burner (outside) and cook it until it smokes, starts to get a bit foamy and looks almost black, then pull it off the burner. If you go too far, it will suddenly turn into just carbon, The smoke will stain your hands like an old smoker, so you may want to wear gloves when handling. It will dry into hard rock "candy", just add enough water to make it into a molassas sort of material that you can dip out of the jar if you're going to mix it. If you want to apply it directly to the wood, put a few teaspoons of water onto the top of the rock sugar in the jar, and just stir it a bit with a brush and apply it to your wood. The problem with this, is that the sugar tends to stay on the surface of the wood and attract moisture. I prefer to put a bit of the rehydrated burnt sugar into my ground (shellac usually), and this seems to solve the problem.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
Southern Violin Association

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm" Winston Churchill

"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo
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Dave Chandler
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2015 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The burnt sugar disolves very well in alcohol, if you have it already somewhat rehydrated in water like a tar or molassas. If you put the sugar water directly onto the wood, it looks great, but the sugar tends to leach out through the ground, and complicates your varnishing. If its mixed with the ground, the color will get into the end grains nicely, but also stays trapped in the shellac and doesn't show up on the surface. It could be that you just get too much sugar on the wood applying it directly, so that could be what creates the problem. I recommend experimenting on some scrap wood first, and I would not put this on the spruce.
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Dave in the Blue Ridge
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"Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm" Winston Churchill

"I took the road less travelled, and now I don't know where I am." Marco Polo
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