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I have made a nice wooden toy box from pine and plywood. I'd like to paint it.

It will get bashed around a bit! So I'm looking to achieve a tough finish.

I've done some research and am currently planning to spray it with acrylic paint (Liquitex) and then varnish it with gloss acrylic varnish.

Does that sound like a good approach and are there better ways to do it?

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    Hi, welcome to Woodworking! Asking for the best anything is a sure way to garner opinions rather than facts so we'll need to edit the wording there. I can work my Answer around it but FFR it's best to specify exactly which product you're using rather than just giving a generic descriptor, as these don't usually tell us enough.
    – Graphus
    Commented Feb 16 at 8:31
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    I was foolishly thinking you were in the US until I'd already penned my Answer (Liquitex threw me off) but I see you're in the UK and not the US/Canada which is good as you can ignore all the guff about Minwax v Varathane v Behr v General Finishes, which tends to have too high a noise-to-signal ratio :-)
    – Graphus
    Commented Feb 16 at 9:25

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am currently planning to spray it with acrylic paint (Liquitex) and then varnish it with gloss acrylic varnish.
Does that sound like a good approach and are there better ways to do it?

If the gloss varnish you refer to is any of the Liquitex products then there are likely better ways to go. To start with artists' varnishes are not typically made for toughness of the same class as furniture varnishes.

Furniture varnishes, especially polyurethane/poly, are made to be tough, intended to withstand daily handling, regular cleaning (which is surprisingly damaging to finishes), even direct contact with the unglazed surfaces of mugs, plates etc. and not just hold up for years but for a decade or longer ideally.

You'll want a waterbased finish specifically, all oil-based varnishes are significantly yellowish/amber coloured and will impart this colouring even in a thin coating (and you'll want more than a thin coating for good protection). Waterbased finishes on the other hand are referred to a "water white", and while the liquid finish will be milky in the container it will dry absolutely clear and colourless. Four coats should be considered a minimum here; I would use more personally.

I won't recommend a specific product in part because finish choices can be very dependent on factors that include local availability, cost/perceived value, and even brand recognition. But as a general point I will say don't buy the first thing that comes to hand at the DIY place/home centre or hardware store...... typically the cheapest consumer-level products are cheap for a very good reason! Not that you always get what you pay for with finishes — looking at you "hardwax oils" — but that's another day's discussion ^_^


A quick word about the paint
Artists' acrylic paints can have excellent colour-retention properties but they're not made to be physically tough and there are arguments in favour of also using a tough paint underneath a tougher varnish where you want to maximise durability.

However, as your project is partly pine this is probably overkill — stronger paints being ideally suited to harder substrates, especially metals.

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    "regular cleaning (which is surprisingly damaging to finishes)" I can attest to that! We cleaned the top coat and stain right off our old dining room table cleaning up after our three kids!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 16 at 17:50
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    Also, an artist's varnish is likely to cost many multiples what a woodworking varnish would cost. They tend to be sold in much smaller quantities and are priced accordingly.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 16 at 17:50
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    @FreeMan, 2nd point, absofrickinlutely. The price differential tends to gets worse and worse the more niche the interest the product is supplied for, plus with a reverse sliding scale for how small the container is!
    – Graphus
    Commented Feb 17 at 7:58
  • Thanks so much for your advice! I really appreciate your time and expertise. I've got some artists' spray paint (the Liquitex acrylic paint I mentioned) but haven't yet got the varnish, so I'm going to get some tough water-based polyurethane and experiment with the paint and varnish on some scrap wood.
    – Dan Lewer
    Commented Feb 17 at 14:23
  • Doing test pieces, @DanLewer is always, 100% of the time, the best way to determine if something is going to turn out the way you want it.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 17 at 21:31

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