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Updated August 17, 2007

Glossary of Varnish Ingredients

Supplies - Wood - Tools - Bow Parts - Varnish

 


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An Encyclopedia of Varnish Ingredients, their Properties, and Origin.

Amber Cochineal Lac, Gum Lac Sal Ammoniac
Arabic Colophony (Pine Resin) Lavender Oil Sandalwood
Arnotto Copiaba Litharge Sandarac
Ashphalt Copal Logwood Sulphate of Lead
Benzoin Curcuma Madder Terebinth
Brazil Wood Dragon's Blood Mastic Tragacanth
Campeachy Wood Elemi Muriatic Acid Tumeric
Cassel Yellow Gamboge Orpiment Turpentine
Chagual Gum Garance Pernambucco Umber
Cinnibar Gum Arabic Saffron Vermillion
Amber
A fossil gum or resin principally found along the shores of a large part of the Baltic and North Seas, especially off the promontory of Samland. It is cast up by the sea, and collected at ebb tide with nets, and is also brought up by divers and dredging. It is partly soluble in alcohol and entirely so in chloroform. It decomposes when heated rather below 300 degrees Celsius, yielding "oil of amber," and a black residue called "amber pitch." This last, when dissolved in oil of turpentine or linseed oil, forms "amber varnish" or "amber lac." Back
Arnotto
A small South American tree of the Indian plum family producing the yellowish-red dye also known as annatto. Back
Ashphalt
The bituminous pitch coming principally from Trinidad, sparingly soluble in alcohol, but more so in naphtha, turpentine or ether. Back
Benzoin (Gum Benzoic or Benzoe)
(1) A balsamic resin obtained from the Styrax benzoin, a tree native to Java and Sumatra, and from other varieties of the Styrax;
(2) the Lithocarpus benzoin, a tree found in Siam. The Siamese benzoin occurs in the form of small "tears." This Siamese benzoin is reddish-yellow to white in colour, consisting of 10-14 % of benzoic acid, and the rest resin. The Sumatra benzoin occurs only in masses of dull red resin enclosing white tears. Back
Brazil Wood and Pernambucco
The red wood of the Brazilian Caesalpina used as a dye. The dark, yellowish-red heartwood of the Caesalpina echinata or Pernambucco wood (bois de Fernambuc) is largely used for the making of violin bows. Back
Cassel Yellow
A patent yellow pigment. Back
Cinnibar (Vermilion)
An ore of mercury, cochineal-red to lead-gray mercury sulphite, found in crystals and powders, and used as a pigment. Back
Cochineal
A dyestuff consisting of female cochineal insects, killed and dried by heat, which gives a brilliant scarlet dye and the pigment carmine. Back
Colophony
Colophony, or pine resin, is extracted by slashing the bark of spruce and pine trees, and is collected throughout Europe and North America. The pine resin is distilled, yielding turpentine, and the residue yields colophony. It is rarely used in violin varnish because of its brittleness, and its tendency to show scratches as white streaks.
Pine resin of high quality is used as bow rosin. Violin bow rosin is harder than cello bow rosin - cooking it for a longer period of time yields a softer and darker rosin. Back
Copiaba
Copiaba or Copiaba is an oleoresin from trees of the Copiaba species found in the West Indies and the valleys of the Amazon. From its golden coloured, viscous liquid, there is disengaged a volatile oil. Back
Copal
Copal, from the Mexican copalli, incense, is a hard, lustrous resin, and the term is generally and vaguely used for resins which, though similar in physical properties, are all together distinct as to their sources.
Mexican copal, generally considered the best, is obtained from a species of Hymenia. It is tasteless, odorless, almost colorless, transparent, and lemon-yellow or yellowish brown in colour. It forms one of the most valuable of varnishes when it has been dissolved in alcohol, spirits of turpentine, oil of turpentine which has been exposed to the air, or any other suitable medium. The addition of oil of spike or rosemary promotes its solubility in alcohol. As a gum it ranks next to amber in hardness. Copal is also obtained from Sierra Leone, and in a fossil state, from the west coast of Africa, as well as from Brazil and other South American countries, from trees of the Guibourtia, Trachylobium and Hymenia families.

Anim is the hard copal resin obtained from the Hymenia courbaril, a South American tree; while gum anime is the name also given to the resin known in commerce as Zanzibar or East African copal. The raw copal yielded by Zanzibar Trachylobium hornemannianum is inferior, and used only in India and China for making a coarse varnish. The fossil East African copal is dug from the fround over a wide belt of the mainland coast of Zanzibar. A gum obtained from the Vateria indica is also known as gum anime, and is often confused with true copal in commerce. Back
Dragon's Blood
The best gum dragon or dragon's blood is obtained from the Calamus draco, a rotang or mattan palm of the eastern Archipelago and India. It is a dark red-brown in colour, brittle, nearly opaque, and when ground supplies a fine red powder soluble in ether, alcohol and fixed and volatile oils. Much of the dragon's blood of commerce is obtained from the Pterocarpus draco, of South America. Back
Elemi (Gum Elemi)
This is a fragrant resin obtained from the Egyptian Amyris elemifera and the Mexican Elaphirium elemiferum, and is greenish yellow and semitransparent. The oleoresin known as manilla elemi is obtained in the Phillipines, probably from the cananarium commune, and is pale yellowish colour, soluble in alcohol. In the 17th and 18th centuries the term elemi usually denoted a Brazilian elemi obtained from trees of the icaeiu species. Back
Gamboge (Gum Gutta or Gummi Gutti) **Poison**
Externally a dirty orange in colour, gamboge, which occurs in commerce as pipe or roll gamboge, which is purer, and cake gamboge, inferior in quality, is a gum resin coming from Cambodia and Siam. It is tasteless, hard and brittle, affords a brilliant yellow powder, and is often adulterated with rice powder or pulverized bark. Back
Garance (Fleur-de-garance or Madderbloom)
This "flowers of madder" is a refined dyestuff obtained by macerating commercial madder. Back
Gum Arabic (Chagual Gum)
Gum Arabic is of the type of the gums which are entirely soluble in water. It is obtained from a variety of sources as it exists in the juices of almost all plants. It is largely obtained from the Acacia Arabica of North Africa and Eastern Asia, and varies in colour from straw yellow to deep red. Varieties are: gum Senegal produced by the Acacia Verek, occurring in round pieces, reddish or yellow, and supplying a very clear, tough mucilage. Shagual gum, from Santiago, Chile, resembles Gum Senegal. Back
Lac or Gum Lac
This is a resinous encrustation formed of the twigs of various trees by an infesting insect, the Coccus lacca, allied to the cochineal insect, the in the East Indies and southeastern Asia. To obtain the largest amount of both resin and red dyestuff, which is segregated in the ovaries of the females, the twigs with their living inhabitants are gathered in June and November. "Stick lac" is the lac encrusting the twigs when gathered; the resin crushed small and washed in hot water to free it from coloring matter is known as "seed lac," and this, melted and strained is the "shellac" of commerce. Lac forms the basis of some of the most valuable of varnishes. Back
Lavender Oil
The product of the distillation of flowers of lavender with water. The variety most often used for varnishes is oil of spike (Lavender oil spike) obtained from the Lavendula latifolia. Back
Litharge
Lead monoxide, straw yellow in colour and used as a pigment. Back
Logwood (Campeachy Wood)
The Mexican and Central American Haematoxylon campechianum supplies the dark red heart wood, whose color pigments readily dissolve in boiling water. It is also known as campeachy wood. Back
Madder
The Dutch Rubia tinctorum is the plant whose peeled roots supply madder, a pigment whose colouring principle is alizarin. The madders are brown, madder carmine and madder orange in colour. Back
Mastic (Gum Mastic)
A resinous exudation from the lentisk, Pistacia leatiscus, the evergreen shrub found along the Mediterranean coast, Portugal, Morocco and the Canaries. Mastic occurs in commerce on the form of roundish tears as large as peas, transparent, with pale yellow or greenish tinge. It is soluble in alcohol and oil of turpentine. Back
Muriatic Acid
Hydrochloric acid, a corrosive gaseous compound, very soluble in water, generally sold under the name of Muriatic acid. Back
Orpiment
An arsenic-sulfur combination yielding a brilliant yellow color known as king's yellow. Back
Saffron
The dried, deep orange-coloured stigmas of the saffron plant, Crocus sativus, which yield a much used pigment for colouring varnishes. Back
Sal Ammoniac
A soluble ammonium chloride, white in colour, and vitreous. Back
Sandalwood
This wood, much used as a dye, is not the Santalum yasi, but the Pterocarpus santalunis, and grows in India and Ceylon. The close grained heart wood is a dark red in colour. Back
Sandarac
This is a yellowish transparent resin obtained from the Callitris quadrivalvis, a conifer of northwest Africa; analogous resins coming from the Callitris sineusis of China and the C. reessii of South Australia, which last product is known as pine gum. Sandarac reaches commerce in the form of small round balls or elongated tears, is yellow in colour, and somewhat harder than mastic for which it is sometimes substituted. True Sandarac is obtained from the common juniper, and is another name fro juniper gum. Back
Sulphate of Lead
A mixture of lead carbonate and hydrated oxide, used as a pigment. Back
Terebinth
The liquid oleoresinous exudation of the Pistacia terbinthus, a small tree common in southern Europe and the Mediterranean area, known as Chian, Scio or Cyprian turpentine. Back
Tragacanth (Gum Tragacanth)
This gum, a product of the Astragulus tragacantha, comes from Smyrna and Constantinople, occurs in opaque whitish flakes, and is an excellent thickener of colours. It may be considered one of the varieties of gum Arabic. Back
Tumeric (Curcuma)
Tumeric, terra merita or curcuma (safran d'Inde: Indian Saffron), is made of the old roots of the Curcuma longa, a plant of the ginger family; and curcumin is the yellow compound contained in this root. Back
Turpentine
The oleoresins which exude from certain trees, especially of the conifer family. These resins are separated by distillation into rosin or colophony, and oil or spirit of turpentine. Venetian or Venice turpentine, collected primarily from Tyrol, from the larch tree, is the most esteemed variety. The result of its distillation with water is a colourless volatile oil (essential oil or spirits of turpentine) soluble in alcohol, ether, and other oils, and a ready solvent of nearly all resins. Cyprian turpentine is inferior in quality to the Venice turpentine.
Venetian Turpentine
Also known as Larch resin. Source: South Tyrol, Switzerland, Southern France. The consistency is rather clear and quite thick, and is soluable in spirit, volatile oils, and turpentine. It is a softener for for spirit and oil varnishes, and can counterbalance brittle resins, but do not use in excess of 3-5% in a varnish recipe or the varnish will not dry properly.Back
Umber
A Hydrated ferric oxide, chestnut brown to liver brown in colour, used as a pigment. As found in nature, the oxide is called raw umber, and when heated, so as to produce a reddish brown, is known as burnt umber. Back
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