TotalBoat Varnish Protects & Beautifies an Adirondack Style Chair

Varnishing with This Old House and Jimmy Diresta

Kevin O’Connor of This Old House has visited our friend Jimmy DiResta at his upstate NY farmhouse a few times for special projects. They have built a few dining tables, a sign and in this video, they refresh the old favorite, Adirondack Chair, with some steel and of course, some TotalBoat varnish on old barn boards. The result is a sharp-looking chair built to withstand all that the weather can throw at it – and it starts with some brightly varnished wood finished in Gleam Satin varnish for an understated, yet beautiful and lasting finish that Jimmy can trust.  

We are super fans of Jimmy’s for his “get after it” style of making and jumping into his projects. A quick sketch and some well thought out material plans are all he needs to get going on a project. He’s not afraid to make a few mistakes and show you the issue and the solution. Check out all of his great videos (like the Bacon Table and the Canoe) on his own YouTube channel.


16 responses to “Varnishing with This Old House and Jimmy Diresta

  1. A waste of time for most of us. Few have access or proficiency in welding and metal work. Let’s show a useful series on making classic Adirondack chairs and the pros and cons of the myriad designs for these classics. I have built several using different species and designs and have come up with designs that are more comfortable and/or sturdy. They really aren’t too difficult to build and choosing different species or mixing species provide many different advantages (or disadvantages), as do finishes, to consider when building them.

  2. When I saw there was a video of This Old House video I was interested. I have been varnishing for 60 years now and am noted for my quality of work.I thought that I still may learn some tips from what are the best. When I saw Kevin “slopping”on your product with what looked like an 89 centI chip brush I was very disappointed. Should be titled How not to varnish. I would be embarrassed to have my product associated with this. I use your products with complete satisfaction. I rate you 5 stars. Have you seen this?

    1. Jonathan,
      I would love to hear about some of your techniques for a quality varnish result. I am restoring a 1950 Old Town Boat and are using the Total Boat Lust product. I just can’t seem to get that glassy fine finish out of the varnish. I use a good quality brush and thin the Lust product as recommended. Also, lightly sand between each coat. Any other suggestions/tips?

      1. John,
        It sounds like you are doing it right. Total boat , Tips from a shipwright has some excellent tutorials on u-tube. There master varnisher recommends after 5 coats of the lust top off with 1 coat of gloss. This should give you that finish you are looking for.

        1. Interesting, I hadn’t heard about topping off w/ a coat of gloss. I will check out the videos. I have watched all the videos on Total Boat which are helpful and their projects come out perfect. Not so much for mine.

          1. John,
            I lay my varnish thin , work fast , tip from the top down and don’t play with it to much.
            Don’t stress have fun. I’m sure you will achieve the finish you want.

  3. Just a response to the comments…

    The welding and cutting he’s doing, you could do yourself for less than $150 in tools. A trip to harbor freight for a flux core welder, a 4” grinder, consumables, and even some protective gear. A couple of hours practice and BAM you could knock out that frame. Most every woodworker I know has a chopsaw and blades that cost that much.

    My 13 year old son did it, made his own desk almost exactly like this, with a flame stained top and metal legs.

    Or get creative, a hacksaw, and a file could replace the grinder to prep everything. Then get a buddy to weld it up…(beer and a $20 bill could get this done.)

    Every other tool I saw him use, every competent wood worker would already have in the shop.

    And as for the 89 cent chip brush, who in their right mind would use a $20 varnish brush on ROUGH CUT OAK and steel? The gleam will level out the brush strokes from the cheap brush and you don’t destroy an important tool.

    I’m glad to see Total Boat supporting those of us who “do” rather those of us who “can’t” or “won’t”

    1. You make think it is can’t or won’t, but a comfortable Adirondack has wide armrests, curved backs and seats. And even made with oak are
      lighter than the square tubes used in this construction.

      Secondly, As an experienced varnisher, I don’t go along with their haphazard use and lack of important prep to their chair.

  4. This design totally misses the whole Adirondack Chair aesthetic. First of all it looks too darn heavy to move. Second, those steel armrests will get pretty hot in the sun and they aren’t wide enough to hold your beverage that “original” style Adirondack Chairs do. While he has the relaxing angle of the seat and back down usually the arm rests are level and not angled in order to hold your beverage. Third, no spacing between the boards either in the back or the seat will not help in air flow or water drainage. Surely this could have been thought out better and to have to disassemble the chair in order to coat it each year with varnish is way too much work. Cedar would have been a better choice for material. Grade it an F in design and execution. Many are called but few are chosen.

  5. I plan on making this chair but I first have to take a welding class and buy a welding machine and get a gym membership so I can lift it. Should get the project done in about 6 months if I apply myself.

  6. I must have missed the instructions to degrease and prime the steel tube prior to the finish coat of black paint.

  7. What’s with all no negative comments???
    If you don’t like it don’t build it.
    I’m sure this chair is appreciated by many.
    I agree it’s not for everyone but what is.
    I just don’t understand why everyone is so against this chair.
    I say nice jobs guys and thanks for doing something different and not just building another Adirondack chair.


    1. It’s a totally impractical and flawed design with not a lot of thought put into the negatives of its limitations. Lots of manufactured outdoor chairs that may be constructed of light weight steel nearly all advertise plastic armrests to mitigate the heat that steel receives in the sun once it gets hot. Tim, ever place your arms on a hot steel chair that’s been placed in the sun? Not pleasant. I guess it may be suitable for a gazebo or a a covered porch. Its weight alone rules out the portability factor. Obviously a lot of the commentators here agree that its limitations outweigh any possible benefits that purchasing the steel, cutting and welding it together and fabricating it make it way beyond the average DIY’er which I’m thinking is their target. How about we put them on the market and see if they sell?

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