Definition of varnish in English:



  • 1[mass noun] Resin dissolved in a liquid for applying on wood, metal, or other materials to form a hard, clear, shiny surface when dry.

    ‘several coats of varnish’
    [count noun] ‘the wood was stained with a dark varnish’
    • ‘When the piece is dry, sand it lightly and apply one coat of acrylic varnish to protect the finish.’
    • ‘Lots of glue was used to fix this all in place, and over the top of all this a few layers of varnish or shellac were applied to finally seal the whole thing.’
    • ‘The final stage of restoration is to apply a clear varnish - when appropriate.’
    • ‘It was also incorporated into a broad range of industrial products, including lubricants, insecticides, paints, and varnishes.’
    • ‘Do not apply urethane varnish over a coat of shellac or lacquer.’
    • ‘We first prepared the boards by sanding the wooden surface to remove any varnish.’
    • ‘Paints and varnishes are designed, of course, to adhere permanently and evenly to a surface.’
    • ‘Both cabins have redwood siding that appears to have been given a clear coat of varnish or shellac.’
    • ‘For thousands of years most paints and varnishes were made with hemp seed oil or linseed. as both make very good bases and can hold pigments really well.’
    • ‘No varnishes are applied either, the wood's glossy look is from being hand rubbed.’
    • ‘Once a year every detail is painted with a thick, clear coat of marine-grade varnish to protect it from weathering.’
    • ‘Sealers are usually thinned varnishes which, when applied to wood, penetrate into the wood pores on the surface.’
    • ‘Let dry overnight, then apply two coats of clear polyurethane varnish.’
    • ‘Two or more coats of clear gloss varnish will give you the traditional shiny, lacquered finish.’
    • ‘Then he repeatedly applies furniture varnish or stain which he wipes away with turpentine and reapplies to darken the edges of the work.’
    • ‘I have found that these ornaments only last in dry conditions, even when coated well with varnish or shellac.’
    • ‘Apply two, preferably three coats of urethane varnish using a good quality natural bristle brush.’
    • ‘Oil varnishes consist of a polymer (natural or synthetic) dissolved in an oil.’
    • ‘The rockers were made of wood, their dark varnish scuffed and scraped.’
    • ‘The plate is then removed, and the wax or varnish removed by a solvent.’
    lacquer, lac, shellac, japan, enamel, glaze, polish, oil, resin, wax
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    1. 1.1
      ‘her fingernails were painted with pink varnish’
      short for nail varnish
      • ‘But a set of six steel strings is a notorious nail varnish remover - just slices the varnish off and leaves your partially-painted nails looking tatty.’
      • ‘Mummy had never had a ‘blue rinse’ put on her hair or clear varnish on her nails.’
      • ‘Joan looked up from examining her bitten nails, wondering if she should pick up a new black varnish.’
      • ‘Her colleague, who already had her coat on, looked up then looked down again, picking chipped pink varnish from the edge of a finger nail.’
      • ‘The lady filed and shaped our nails, cleaned our cuticles and painted 4 layers of varnish on them.’
    2. 1.2literary [in singular]An external or superficially attractive appearance of a specific quality.
      ‘an outward varnish of civilization’
      • ‘Presumably the point would have been to make certain of the sinister police chief's demise, while putting a varnish of legality on it later on.’
      • ‘It was reduced to the purely decorative art of whether or not to put the varnish of international approval on a decision already made.’
      • ‘It would take a lot more than suggesting Lincoln was gay to strip some of the varnish off of his image.’
      • ‘If we are to develop a more realistic sense of place we will need to strip the varnish from some cherished myths about our island world.’
      • ‘Extremist impulses have acquired a varnish of respectability through the intercession of the socialist leaders.’


  • 1 Apply varnish to.

    ‘we stripped the floor and varnished it’
    [with object and complement] ‘her toenails were varnished red’
    • ‘Tomkins notes that Picasso did not varnish his own paintings.’
    • ‘The two bedrooms have varnished flooring and Velux windows, while the larger of the two also has exposed ceiling beams.’
    • ‘Angie stepped out, following her mother onto the newly varnished porch.’
    • ‘‘It has been varnished, which was a Victorian practice they thought would preserve valuables, but it now means we can't distinguish the varnish from the bone,’ he said.’
    • ‘Finally, we bought a thin oak-veneer board from Travis Perkins and varnished it to create a splashback.’
    • ‘Steve Perry went back to the business of varnishing his deck.’
    • ‘Belt sanders are relatively inexpensive to hire and while sanding and varnishing floors is tough work, buyers will love the results.’
    • ‘The entrance hall of this attractive terraced property has a varnished pitch pine floor as well as recessed brass spotlights.’
    • ‘We've even varnished it all over so that no splinter would hurt your flesh.’
    • ‘The furniture was wood, polished to a high gloss rather than varnished.’
    • ‘Here wide varnished floorboards are set against rich yellow walls, more ornate plasterwork and a large cast-iron fireplace.’
    • ‘If you want to obtain a rustic country style, having plain varnished woodwork will achieve this.’
    • ‘He was going to varnish the new pine doors but he was already reeling from the fumes from the paint.’
    • ‘Well crafted, watertight wooden forms are essential, and Ando's forms are varnished to achieve the smooth finish.’
    • ‘At the end of the paved path, wide, sweeping marble steps rose, leading up to a pair of solid, darkly varnished wooden doors.’
    • ‘Daisy had a small cupboard made recently and I managed to get it varnished this morning.’
    • ‘When the city was financially strapped in the early 1980s, Mr. Benson came to the office one weekend and sanded and varnished his own desk to cut costs.’
    • ‘The chairs are all pinkish and soft from massive amounts of use, and the tables are nicely varnished, but not entirely pristine.’
    • ‘Both rooms are painted in a rich red and have varnished pine floors, picture rails and attractive brick fireplaces.’
    • ‘There are two bedrooms upstairs, both with original cast iron fireplaces and varnished wooden floorboards.’
    • ‘The floors and banisters had been varnished and polished till they gleamed, the frames of paintings had received a thorough cleaning.’
    • ‘Then the paintings are varnished several times and polished to a glasslike surface.’
    • ‘They put back a fireplace into the dining room and laid an oak laminate floor in the lounge and sanded and varnished the floorboards in the bedrooms.’
    lacquer, shellac, japan, enamel, glaze, polish, oil, resin, wax
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    1. 1.1Disguise or gloss over (a fact)
      ‘the white minority government is varnishing over the rougher edges of its racist rule’
      • ‘He doesn't varnish the facts because he doesn't have to.’
      • ‘John Fahey tried to varnish over the problems by citing family and work commitments as the reason for the poor turnout at a recent training session.’


Middle English: from Old French vernis, from medieval Latin veronix fragrant resin, sandarac or medieval Greek berenikē, probably from Berenice, a town in Cyrenaica.