Can I Use Water-Based Varathane as a Polymer Clay Glaze?

Is water-based Varathane a good alternative to your craft store's polymer clay glaze?

Well, Varathane is a polyurethane sealant primarily for wood. It dries clear, is durable, and protects wood from scratches, dust, and dirt. It makes floors last for years. The water-based kind can be easily cleaned up with soapy water, and most kinds are low-odor.

But does it do the same for polymer clay? Does it make your figurines last longer? Does it stay on the charms, beads, or pendants even with excessive wear on the skin?

You may have heard about experts recommending Varathane, whether you are a newbie to polymer clay crafting or a seasoned veteran. Well, let's see why it has an edge over various other "glazes" that can be used for coating finished pieces.

If you're doing jewelry with poly clay as a medium, Most experts recommend Varathane as it doesn't yellow and stays durable.
If you're doing jewelry with poly clay as a medium, Most experts recommend Varathane as it doesn't yellow and stays durable. | Source

What About Other Glazes for Polymer Clay?

Well, people assume that if something is high quality, then it's likely expensive. In a few cases, such as glazes designed for polymer clay, even expensive ones can be shoddy.

For instance, the Sculpey glaze costs a couple of dollars (or other currency) for one ounce bottle, which leaves you wondering what else to buy. Furthermore, some crafters have had bad experiences glazing their polymer clay pieces for long term wear. Besides, it isn't UV-resistant, thus turning pieces yellow.


A cheaper alternative would be Pledge FutureShine, but like the Sculpey glaze, it lacks a UV protectant. Most of the time your beads, brooches, or whatever would yellow, even in the early, early, evening.


Another economical glaze is DecoArt's Triple Thick. It provides pieces a good shine and a hard finish (It's so named that you have to apply it in thin coats.) But some crafters find it not that great for long-term use, although it's UV-resistant.


"For me, it left thousands of tiny bubbles, an uneven, bumpy and sometimes cloudy surface," one crafter wrote, "It made all the colors on my jewelry run into each other, even when I applied two layers of spray varnish as an undercoat."


Most clay artists are wondering what kind of nonstick, UV-resistant clay glaze can they use for their projects.
Most clay artists are wondering what kind of nonstick, UV-resistant clay glaze can they use for their projects. | Source

Why Most Poly-Clay Artists Recommend Varathane

Varathane (the one that is water-based as opposed to oil-based, as the latter tends to deteriorate your clay projects) is a UV-resistant polyurethane finish. This advantage makes it suitable for jewelry making and beading with the material. It works on all baked pieces of polymer clay brands, but quite a few of them (Kato Polyclay, for instance) need to be wiped down with rubbing alcohol.

Besides the resistance to yellowing, Varathane has an interpenetrating network (IPN). This allows the finish to be set into as well as on top of the surface of the baked piece.

Like all other glazes, it protects stamping rub-on foils and mica chips that are embedded in the clay, especially if the pieces are beads to be worn, cell phone charms, and such. It brings out the depths of the clay colors, especially if it has inclusions (such as glitter, mica powders, or even coffee grounds).

If you paint over the project with acrylic paint once it's cooled, brush on the Varathane when dried. It not only protects the piece, but as with this pendant here, the metallic paints that are just dabbed on show their effects.
If you paint over the project with acrylic paint once it's cooled, brush on the Varathane when dried. It not only protects the piece, but as with this pendant here, the metallic paints that are just dabbed on show their effects.

Where to Buy it and What Kind

Varathane can be found at most hardware stores. Look for independent retailers because some chain stores don't usually sell them. You really can shop online for it, so you have a wider range of options. They sell smaller cans as opposed to gallon cans if you are economical.

For best results, try looking for the gloss version. It adheres better than satin or semi-gloss, even without a rubbing alcohol wipedown on products made from certain brands of polymer clay.

(If you are using the other two, sand the piece slightly with 400 grit sandpaper, wipe with rubbing alcohol, or brush a specialty clay glaze - if you have the money - to allow either material to adhere better. Otherwise, daub the gloss finish with a makeup or stamping sponge for a matte finish.)

How to Store Varathane

Most artists want to store Varathane in airtight containers such as baby food jars or film canisters. "To extend shelf-life and prevent contamination of your whole supply, don't work from the can," informs Polymer Clay Web, "Instead, transfer a small amount of the finish to an "easy access" container and make sure that the can is tightly sealed and properly stored."

Some polymer clay experts advise putting it into a bottle that is squeezable so that you have better control of the amount you're using. A squirt bottle or a cleaned-out shampoo bottle can work. "I rub a bit of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) around the rim of my jar of Varathane to keep it from sticking and getting crusty," commented Jeanette in polymer clay encyclopedia Glass Attic.

A bottle or container (preferably opaque) can be used to store small amounts of Varathane at a time.
A bottle or container (preferably opaque) can be used to store small amounts of Varathane at a time.

How to Apply Varathane

Some clay artists, including beaders and hobbyists doing just charms, dip their projects in the can and hang it to let the excess drip. However, the bottom would likely get an uneven coat, so they must keep an eye on the dripping and brush off the excess to make the bottom even.

The best way to apply Varathane is to brush it with a soft bristle brush in thin, even coats. "The thicker coat that forms from dipping can result in the finish peeling away, particularly in humid climates," noted Sarajane Helm. Use short, careful strokes to avoid air bubbles and wait for the project to dry for at least 2 hours between coats. Wash hands and brush with warm soapy water immediately after each use.

If desired, bake the dry glazed items at 200°F for 5-10 minutes to set., but no more than that to avoid burning. For the best shine, allow the baked item to cool or the wet-sanded and buffed item to dry before glazing.

Varathane is also compatible with water-based inks, paints, and powders. Mixing them can let you imitate faux enamel, stains, cloisonne, and other special effects. For instance, loose eyeshadow dedicated for crafting makes a good material to mix Varathane with, provided that it doen't contain any oils. Bear in mind that the material dries faster with inclusions, so it's advisable to work with small batches at a time.

It also acts as a glue if the things you want to glue with need to be preserved. Items include tiny rhinestones, beads, and other baked clay items. I suggest that you bake as above to set the glaze and help the item to adhere better.

Varathane does more than bring out the details, especially in "special effect" clays like pearl and glitter. It can be used as a glue to attach small objects (like tiny crystals) that can be baked at low temps. (The eye is from two part epoxy clay.)
Varathane does more than bring out the details, especially in "special effect" clays like pearl and glitter. It can be used as a glue to attach small objects (like tiny crystals) that can be baked at low temps. (The eye is from two part epoxy clay.)

That Girl Has to Agree with Most Poly Clay Vets - this Glaze is Awesome to Her!

Well, as long as it's water-based as opposed to oil-based, Varathane can be a good medium for glazing your polymer clay jewelry components, charms, and figurines. But you may want to see if it works for you or not. Maybe you have a strong preference for another glazing medium, but whether you use it or not is all a matter of taste.

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Comments 7 comments

leilabarda profile image

leilabarda 3 years ago from Marikina City

no question about, glaze definitely add not just shine but beauty in your creation. it also protects from dust and dirt and prolong the beauty. thanks for so many wonderful tips you have shared.


talfonso profile image

talfonso 3 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL Author

Leilabarda - that's so true about the polymer clay glaze. Varathane is the best because it's UV-resistant and doesn't get too sticky. Thanks for the kind comment!


leilabarda profile image

leilabarda 3 years ago from Marikina City

can you name a specific store where I can buy varathane. thanks!


talfonso profile image

talfonso 3 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL Author

You can find them at Lowe's, Home Depot, or your local hardware store. If not, try buying it online on Amazon. I got mine from that site for $10.99 for an 8 0z can and I figured that it's perfect.


leilabarda profile image

leilabarda 3 years ago from Marikina City

Thanks for the info. I will look for it in our local hardware store.


Ivy 3 years ago

I have been using varathane, it works pretty well. I might be doing something wrong, but no matter how gentle and soft my brush is I keep seeing strokes. I bake it for about 5 minutes but they do not melt away. I will say, my items are normally applique pendants or detailed pendants and not smooth beads. Could that be a reason it is not coming out properly? I also prefer the matte look, but I have heard that the matte varathane does not stick as well. Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Ivy


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

This was a great hub. It's very useful and informative and helpful as well. Voted up!

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