Behlen Behkol Solvent

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Whiskey is for drinking.  Water content is for fighting over.

When it’s time to booze up, we have many choices.  Clyde stocks gallons of generic hooch.  With adult-proof lid, can rust, and drippy spout, we may buy in desperation or ignorance but regret our choice.  Acquire in haste, repent in leisure.

We’re dabbling into the arcane world of spirit varnishes and stains.  After the tool sharpening guy from Southern Italy insulted me, it’s likely I’ve transcended the hobbyist.  Genuine need for solvent worthy of a professional spurs investigation.

Internet research brings to mind Fido chasing his tail.  More opinions than the autumn leaves we crunch across during an evening stroll.  To filter flow & clarify consumption, we contact National Finishes Expert Phillip Pritchard and confirm what we suspect.  Hunches are backed with facts.  Myths dispelled.  When it is time to get our Varnish On, there is only one choice.  The professional choice.  Behkol.

We ask Phillip the advantages of Behlen spirit solvent over 190 proof hooch or hardware store quality denatured alcohol, when working with spirit varnishes.  We cannot possibly paraphrase Phillip’s wisdom;  an excellent quote you will have! – ATB

190 PROOF HOOCH IS 95% ethanol and 5% water.  It is designed for drinking purposes, best enjoyed after applying your finish.  Off the shelf denatured alcohol, sold primarily as a cleaning solvent, is a high concentration of ethanol and enough denaturant to prevent human consumption.  Alcohol is hydroscopic and naturally draws water from the environment; in a general purpose cleaning solvent it should pose no harm but there’s no telling how much water it contains.  

Behlen Behkol Solvent also contains a high concentration of ethanol, but it’s carefully sourced and controlled for minimal water content.  The denaturant used is less toxic than other common choices.  We add a stabilizing solvent to provide a greater shelf life for your dissolved shellac.  All solvents used in Behkol are alcohols and are carefully selected for better shellac compatibility.  This does add cost to Behkol Solvent, but it is purposely formulated for use as a shellac solvent, eliminates solvent related issues and provides higher performance when finishing with shellac.  –  Phillip Pritchard

One thought on “Behlen Behkol Solvent

    American Toolbox responded:
    November 5, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    More from Phillip, in response to our question, “With all this talk of shellac solvent, would Behkol also be the preferred thinner for Behlen Violin Varnish?” – ATB

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    Yes, our violin varnish is a shellac based product and Behkol is the recommended reducer.

    How often have you heard complaints about Violin Varnish not drying? The reality is that Violin Varnish is designed to be flexible and when applied heavy it will print. It’s meant to be a padding finish that’s put on as a light coating with excellent flexibility. At its designed thickness, printing isn’t an issue but when applied heavier printing becomes an issue. I often have users call with complaints asking when the finish will dry? Fact is the finish is completely dry but picks up impressions from a carpet or pad from the weight of the instrument due to its soft or flexible nature. If you lay a bed sheet on concrete and jump onto it, it will still feel hard; as you layer multiple sheets you’ll start to feel some cushioning. A flexible film applied thin won’t print but build it up beyond its designed thickness and you get a similar effect.

    The printing complaint comes mostly from users who brush or spray apply the Violin Varnish and build it up heavy. Just thought I’d pass this along as it is the most common complaint with this product. – Phillip Pritchard

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    Thanks! The first 50 times I used the varnish, on a cello, I kept thinning it more and more, brushing very fast to get it on before it became tacky.

    Later, I used a pad for touch-up instead of a brush. Without training, it is a lot of trial and error. I’ll invest in a correct pad. Old soft cotton tee shirt? – ATB

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    The outer fabric used on a pad is most often a cotton linen weave fabric that is lint and dust free. Old sheets or pillow cases can be used after many washings. Mohawk Trace Cloth is another option but is a bit coarser than a sheet. You can find our Trace Cloth at

    I’ve found a good resource for French Polish on the Luthiers Mercantile International website. In addition, Bob Flexner has some good information in his book, “Understanding Wood Finishing”. – Phillip Pritchard

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