What’s In Violin Oil Varnish?

What’s In Violin Oil Varnish?

The varnish on your violin is a very visible aspect of the instrument and yet it’s something that you may not have thought a great deal about. Varnishes for violins tend to be either oil varnish, or sprit based varnish (also known as shellac) and in this post, we’ll take a look at oil varnish.

Oil Varnish

One of the reasons why we still have so many great old playable violins is because the varnish on their instruments has performed its primary function well (perhaps with the help of some extra coats and restoration over time). Preserving and protecting the wood of your violin from degrading over time is a vital task that’s performed by the varnish coats. Sealing the wood and protecting it from the weather, dirt, oils, wear and tear, and bumps and scrapes are one of the secrets of the long life of a violin. Oil varnish has proven itself to be a great preserver and protector that soaks into the wood giving strength, and colour, and it contributes to the tone

Age-Old Recipes

We know how good some old oil-based varnish recipes are because some renowned violin makers have been using varnishes based on centuries-old recipes. The combination of protective powers, colour and looks, and the tone aspects of their violins have all proven to be special, and the varnish they use is valued as being an important part of the individual identity of their particular violins. Oils such as linseed oil and walnut form popular bases for violin oil varnishes.


Traditional oil varnish recipes dried very slowly and it wasn’t uncommon for violins that had been varnished to be left for months before the violin could be handled.


Modern Oil Varnish

Blends of different resins and oils make up the oil varnishes that have been used over many hundreds of years. High-quality modern oil varnishes use pure oils, select resins, non-toxic drying agents, and pigment pastes in oil to get the right colour match and light stability.

For more information or if you have questions about the varnish on your instrument call us on 020 7249 9398.


  • Mr Kassam

    Dear Sirs

    I have a fine Italian violin made by Pachini Vasco in 1974, a year before he died in 1975. It has golden brown varnish. A part of the varnish at the back has dried up. Would you be able to re-varnish this part to match up exactly with the rest, which is intact.
    I will appreciate your reply.
    M Kassam

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  • Bo Bolinski


    Varnish consists of
    1. a resin or mixture of resins
    2. a carrier solvent
    3. pigment(s)
    4. OPTIONAL: a ‘drying’ vegetable oil such as linseed oil

    Various options are available for each category and compatibility of the combined ingredients is an important factor.
    Solvents are chosen that will dissolve the particular resin or resin mixture.
    ‘Drying’ oils are used in so-called ‘oil varnishes’, hence the name.
    Pigments can be virtually any natural or synthetic materials that keep their color over time. They may be of vegetable, mineral or chemically extracted or synthesized origin. Ideally, they should be chemically inert in use.

    Retouching and repair of old varnish layers requires a lot of skill and experience and detailed understanding of applied materials, whether they are modern restoration materials or traditional formulations. It is similar to paintings restoration, where a wide range of techniques and substances are used to match the existing surfaces, colors and textures.

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