I’ve made a lot of desks and benchtops in my time and love the look of natural timber grain.
The problem is that I have never been able to get a good finish when doing clear varnish.
I always end up with brush marks if I use a paint brush and bubbles or pock marks using a foam or mircrofibre roller.
What is the best way to get a good finish without sending too much on spray painting equipment?
Welcome to the Workshop community. It's fantastic to have you join us. I'm sure you'll find the site really helpful and I hope you will regularly share your projects.
I trust a member of the community can assist with some tips for getting a great finish with clear varnish. Perhaps @Simon might be able to help?
What kind of brush have you been using @Alex? Have you tried a foam brush?
I wonder if you are also brushing too much? Brushing too much not only creates more air bubbles but also makes the solvent evaporate. The bubbles will not have enough time to pop and brush marks will not have enough time to flow out.
I've had similar issues in the past, especially when using brushes on the more 'affordable' end of the scale. Correct me please if this isn't the issue, but when using some of the cheap and nasty throw away brushes, the finish could always be nicer.
These days when I plan out any painting job, I now realise that I should expect to be spending at least $25-$30 on a good quality brush. However with this sort of equipment, if it is cleaned properly after each use theres no reason you cannot hang onto these for a couple of years. Unfortunately the old 5-pack of brushes for $5 special will never give you your desired result.
If you are in a situation where you have a decent quality brush and still find brush marks or bubbles, there is a technique called 'feathering', an easily process where once you have good coverage of your varnish on the surface, very lightly drag the tips of the brush bristles across the varnish, in the same direction first applied, and this will give a nice even finish.