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Updated August 17, 2007

Violin Varnish Recipes (1704)

Supplies - Wood - Tools - Bow Parts - Varnish

Oil and Spirit Varnishes for violin, viola, cello and bass

High quality oil and spirit varnishes by Joseph Hammerl (JOHA) and Hidersine. Varnish solvents/thinners.

Violin Varnish Supplies and Materials

Ingredients for making and applying violin spirit and oil varnishes, including brushes, gums, resins, dyes, oils, lacs and more.

Violin Varnish Recipies
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This is the recipe we use on our own instruments.

Violin Varnish Glossary

List of varnish ingredients, their properties, origin and usage.

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Below is a varnish recipe (and my own variation thereof) that is an old traditional Italian recipe. I have found it to be an excellent varnish for new instruments - it dries fairly fast, is transparent and durable (not too hard or soft). Certainly not a hard brittle varnish, but I prefer the varnish to have a more 'natural' feel, as most of the older Italian violins have.

The materials to make it are available from us (on this web site), and the preparation instructions below are fairly easy to follow; the process takes about 1-2 weeks and only about an hour of time (once you have the equipment and supplies). In the future I hope to include photographs of my very basic setup that I use to make this varnish.

1704 Violin Varnish Recipe

The recipe below is a well known varnish recipe. It makes a beautiful golden spirit varnish which is especially good for touch up, as well as for new instruments.

    • 45 g Seedlac
    • 7.5 grams gum elemi (optional)
    • 200 ml Alcohol
    • 9 ml. Lavender Oil Spike

Place all of the ingredients in a glass jar and let it dissolve, stirring at least twice a day, until the lac no longer sits and sticks to the bottom of the jar (This may take from one to three weeks).

When completely dissolved, boil in a double boiler for seven minutes, let cool, and then boil again for seven minutes. While still warm, filter through a cloth (I use a cheese cloth). If it is allowed to cool it will be difficult to filter. Repeat the filtering process until there is no more dirt in the filter. Once this process is complete, and the varnish has cooled, it is ready to use. Since alcohol is lost in the cooking process, thinning with alcohol will probably be necessary to obtain brushing consistency. Be sure to have extra alcohol on hand for this.

1704N Violin Varnish Recipe (Variation)
Download recipe and instructions in Word format (.doc)

This variation of the 1704 varnish I prefer for the varnishing of new instruments. A small amount of mastic improves adherence between coats, and the sandarac adds a bit of hardness.

    • 45 grams seedlac
    • 5 grams gum mastic
    • 5 grams gum sandarac
    • 200 ml. alcohol
    • 5-7 ml. Lavender spike oil

Preparations are the same as for the 1704 recipe. The mastic is a softener and improves adherence between coats. Sandarac is a hardener, and gives a bit more gloss to the varnish. Less Lavender oil makes the varnish a bit harder (compensated by the mastic).

Why the 1704 'Variation'?

Through some research, trial and error, I settled on this as my main varnish recipe. A little less lavender oil makes it dry faster and harder. The sandarac adds a bit more gloss and increases hardness. Mastic improves adherence between coats and adds suppleness to the varnish, without the permanent softness that the lavender oil tends to impart.

Clear Touch-up Varnish

Seedlac varnish can be somewhat too dark for touching up very light instruments. In this case, replace the seedlac with white shellac in the 1704 varnish. A bit of Sandarac can give more gloss to the varnish.

Varnish Tips: Coloring Agents (available here)

The varnishes above will vary, depending on the particular shipment of Seedlac. This can range from a light yellow-gold, to an old-gold; from reddish to green/brown (not really green, but a brown that lacks some red pigment). At any rate, the 1704 varnish will usually be quite light without the use of colors, which some may prefer.

I prefer to start with a yellow base and build the darker colors on top. A varnish that does not have a good color base of yellow tends to look incomplete regardless how much color is put over the white wood.

For examples of the varnish, see these violins that I have made:
Violin, Leif Luscombe, 1994
Violin, Leif Luscombe, 1996


I use Kamala, it gives a wonderful yellow base that appears quite bright when applied but matures to a warm yellow.

Saffron (especially Spanish) also produces a fine yellow, though I have not tried it yet in varnish.

Turmeric (curcuma) makes a nice yellow, but in my experience is not light-fast.


I use Catechu. While not as transparent as some of the other dyes, it is the only brown that I have found to be of sufficient tinctoral strength to produce a dark brown varnish.


I use Sandalwood. It varies with each shipment from a brown red to an orange-red.

Pernambucco will yield a nice reddish stain when dissolved in alcohol.

Dissolve any of the above ingredients in alcohol; warming the jar in a water bath will facilitate the process of extracting the dyes. This can be added to the varnish. For this reason I like to keep my varnish on the thicker side, as it will become thinner with the addition of the dyes.

Dyes can be added directly to the varnish, though straining may be quite difficult, and must be done while the varnish is hot and thin. This method works best with sandalwood chips rather than the powdered stains, as the chips do not clog the filter as the powder does.


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