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Finishing - Varnish - Brand Selection

My MoW varnish needs to be replaced and I'm trying to figure what I want to replace it with, any suggestions?  (Tim Stoltz)

    Why aren't you satisfied with the MOW, it's supposed to be one of the better choices.  (Larry Puckett)

      Question on this, are there any draw backs to using "Polyurethane" varnishes?  (Jimi Genzling)

        I have several rods here with polyurethane varnish which are well, well, over 20 years old,  they look just like they did when i made them.  As a tip, try using genuine turpentine as a thinner, if nothing else it smells better!  (Robin Haywood)

      I know you asked Tim, but I switched about a year ago.  For an unknown reason the MoW would give me a zippered finish in places.  The zipper is what I call an area of the varnish that forms small dips and peaks with sharp edges that are chained together - this didn’t happen over the entire rod, just certain flats for random lengths.  It was enough of a problem that it made me switch to P&L 61.  (Kyle Druey)

    Try Interlux Schooner or Spitanni.  Spitanni is from Italy and is super high quality.  It is hard to find.  Check out Wooden Boat magazine and you will see references to it.  Interlux Schooner is very high quality and has the smell and look of varnishes before the EPA regulations.  It may be tinted if you want it darker, but it has good color as stock.   I get mine at Marine Hardware stores.

    The only Man-O-War that I have liked happened to be a stuff called Boat-Cote -- I think that's how they spelled coat.  Anyway, this stuff was dark, cane in gallons only as far as I could tell, and skinned over in the tube faster than anything I have ever used.  But it smelled right and was dark. It took forever to dry, but it really made wraps go transparent if you wanted them to.

    A little history lesson.  The Clean Air Act that forced paint and varnish companies (and car manufacturers, etc., etc.) to change the way they make things was signed by President Johnson in 1967 or 1968.  Varnishes ceased being what they were in the "old days" by the time the Clean Air Act Standards came into place in the early 1970's.  The recent changes to varnish formulae are only modifications  on modifications on modifications.

    If you really want a thrill, order some copal chunks from a fine art supply store and make your own old-fashioned copal varnish.  See Google.  (Chris Lucker)

      I took Chris' advice sometime back and switched to schooner. It's all he says. I like it very much and have recommended it to others. I am still on the look out for Spitanni though!  (Mike Shay)


This is a question for my fellow antipodeans on the list:

Is there a brand of spar you are using on your rods and blanks that you would particularly recommend?  (Nick Kingston)

    I have been using Schooner from "International", which you should be able to get from any marine supplier. I know Peter McKean uses Goldspar, also from the same company, and his rods are finished flawlessly.  (Nick Taransky)

      Yes, the Interlux Schooner or Interlux Original is great stuff. I buy the Original because (unlike the Schooner) it has a sticker that says it is not for sale in California. In my opinion, that must make it better. How's that for logic?  (Bob Maulucci)

        That's good logic. California enacted laws on how much Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) paints and varnishes can give off - reduced them of course, so to be sold in this state they had to be reformulated. In every case I've seen, the reformulation was worse. I'm hoping that given enough time and research from the paint companies the reformulated stuff will catch up to the way they used to be.  (Darryl Hayashida)

    I've used Feast Watson without any problems so far.  Not sure where it's made, but it's readily available here in Perth.  (Mike Roberts)


I need some advice regarding which finish to ultimately utilize in my drip tube. Helmsman and Ace Hardware Spar are readily available locally, but finishes such as MOW, Pratt & Lambert #61, Schooner, Last and Last Marine, etc. that seem to be mentioned are not. Also, my understanding is government regulations resulted in new improved formulas for MOW and Helmsman resulting in less than desirable results without the addition of solvents. Any advice regarding what to use would be greatly appreciated.  (Ron Delesky)

    I purchased and then disposed of the "new improved" version of Helmsman a couple of months ago. Could not make it work and had to strip it from the rod sections and start over. I then purchased the Ace Hardware house brand and have had good success with it. I must say my experience is limited to two rods with the Ace, but I like it so far.  (Steve Shelton)

      The new version of Helmsman did not adhere to the blank in all places. The coating was uneven, and there were actually some uncoated areas. Almost as though the blank was contaminated. That is a possibility I suppose, but I have never had a similar problem. The blank was washed with denatured alcohol prior to dipping. In short, I did nothing different from my previous routine. I cannot recall what thinning agents I used or in what amounts. Probably in the area of 15% turpentine. Guess I really should write that stuff down and keep it available.

      I tried dipping with the stuff at least three times, varied the temperature of the varnish from 75 to 100 degrees. As I recall the results were worse at the higher temps. I also got some runs (slight) at the lower temps, therefore I tried the higher temps. No more runs but worse coverage at the higher temps.

      Removed the varnish from the rod, replaced it with the Ace varnish and got perfect results.  (Steve Shelton)

        Oily contamination is the most common reason for coating problems.  Alcohol is NOT a good solvent for most oils so you are better off with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner, in that order.  (Al Baldauski)

    I've used the Ace House Brand Spar Varnish, very comparable to MOW...

    Matter of fact I would not be surprised if came from the MOW plant...

    I thin 5% Mineral Sprits & 10% Penetrol... (Dave Collyer)

      I've used almost the same identical regimen with Ace Hardware brand Spar for 25-30 rods, but I substitute VM&P Naphtha for the mineral  spirits.   I  guess  if  it works in arid Colorado, and also in near-tropical Louisiana, it must be fairly versatile.  (Harry Boyd)

    I used to be in the paint business, and I can assure you that most varnishes  of the same resin in a given price range are virtually identical.  There are differences between different resin bases for varnished and those differences are important.  (Ralph Moon)

    I am using MOW spar now and it dries really slowly but it is easy to fix little "bad spots" with. I have used in the past with success Fred Meyer brand polyurethane, Prat & Lambert R10 Varmor Gloss (not sure what the  #61 is). All the Poly's I have used have worked great. They dry quick, usually to the touch in just a few hours. The seem to be harder to clean up little bad spots. Poly doesn't seem to feather in as well as spar, you have to be really careful when sanding little imperfections out, but you can work on them quicker because the stuff dries so quickly.

    So to recap:

    I'm gonna do the next few rods with MOW then switch back to Poly. Overall I like the Poly.  The finish is great, lasts a long time, dries quick, I have figured out how to work on imperfections. I don't get too many imperfections anyway (maybe because it dries so quickly).

    My first few rods were spar and when I built a new dip tube I filled it with MOW. The old one had Poly R10 in it. it was just time for a change and since both Poly and Spar are accepted finishes widely in use it would work just fine either way.  (Martin Jensen)


I'm looking for recommendation for varnish.  (William Vincent)

    I've had good luck with Helmsman by Minwax, McCloskey’s Man O War, Pratt & Lambert 61, and for wipe-on: Minwax Tung Oil Finish.   All can be used for blanks or wraps but the wipe-on types will require many coats if you want to build up the finish on the wraps-but it will penetrate the threads very nicely for the first coat or two.  There are many more available and most work well and some makers are very opinionated  about what they feel is the best and how it should be applied...I drip.  (Brian Smith)

    I use Helmsman off the shelf at Walmart.  (Tony Spezio)

    Recently, I've switched from Man-o-War to "Last-N-Last."  I cut it with approximately 15% mineral spirits and a quarter cup of Penetrol. 

    After the guides are wrapped & varnished...I varnish the rod using the dip tube method (at 75 degree room temp).  I rig a 7 rpm motor with a 1/8" dowel ...and 10-lb test braided Dacron line to eliminate twisting.  As the line wraps around the 1/8" dowel, the rod is lifted quite slowly from the tube/varnish.  The results are very good...and no drips/sags! Usually 3 coats does the trick. The Last-N-Last polishes out nicely too.   (Bernie Elser)

    Last 'n Last.  (Mark Wendt)

      Yeah, but what do you recommend for shop floors???  (Todd Talsma)

        Minwax Helmsman PolyU.  Leaves a wunnerful finish that's easy to sweep and keep clean...(Mark Wendt)

          Whew, thank goodness. L 'n L is pretty expensive to use as a cement sealer!  (Larry Blan)

    This can be a confusing subject, indeed, due to the fact that many manufacturers don't list their ingredients but merely imply them on the labels nowadays.  Some of the best advice I've gotten here is to purchase a copy of Bob Flexner's book Understanding Wood Finishing, cheap and readily available through book sellers and/or wood working companies.  It also has a good chapter on card scrapers (May God Bless George Barnes and the humble Cod Scrapa).

    Basically, Bill, your choice is between a Polyurethane resin type or the more traditional Phenyl/Alkyd resin types of varnish.  Helmsman is PU and most of the rest are generally some blend of phenyl/alkyd.(as far as the type resin is concerned)  PU is generally regarded  as  more  durable  but  less  flexible  and vice-versa for p/a, though both produce an outstanding finish.  Then there are the matters of the type of oil and type of thinner and various combinations thereof.......

    At this point might it just be best to go with whatever good Spar is available locally and delve into the mystifying world of varnish while you're snow bound.  Hope this helps.  (Darrol Groth)

    Minwax Helmsman Gloss thinned 25% with Naphtha off the shelf @ Home Depot.  Pulled from the dip tube @ 1"/minute. Good for rods & shop floor. Thinned and pulled this slow, you don't have to wait at guides but need more coats. Applied on the shop floor, it's more like "Swoosh" and spread with a squeegee. :>)  (Don Schneider)

      Yes, and it makes a wonderful surface for ice skating too...(Mark Wendt)

      Is Naphtha better than Mineral Spirits?  (Tony Spezio)

        I think it is but that's just my opinion. It seems to mix well and doesn't separate with time.

        The reason I use gloss varnish instead of semigloss is semigloss has some kind of particles suspended in it that will settle out with time if you don't stir it up before each use.

        My dip tube setup is a little different than most. It's a 2" tube inside a 6" tube with heated air circulating between the tubes maintaining varnish temp 75F to 80F. It also has a sealing cap/plug that takes all the air out of the 2" tube went not in use. If there is some interest on the list, I'll take some pictures and do a write-up for Todd to post if he doesn't mind.  (Don Schneider)

          I seem to have a problem with the varnish jelling in the can after a few months even though I use it often. I drain back in the can and store it that way. I make sure the can is full to the top by adding a bit of Mineral Spirits. In spite of this it still jells. The old cans say to thin with Mineral Spirits but the "New Improved" says not to thin it. I wonder if the varnish is absorbing oxygen when it is draining and exposed to the ambient air. I think you keep your varnish in the tube. I have mentioned this before, I heat my room to 80 degrees F for a full day or two before I varnish. Everything I will use including the rod is in the room so it is at the same temp. I also use Helmsman Gloss, mainly because it is about all I can here in my rural area.

          I am pleased with it though I have used the Semi Gloss on my personal rods but have gone away from using it. (Tony Spezio)

            I've often wondered about the multiple contacts with oxygen you get with drip tubes. That’s why cut a hole in my basement floor so I could have a dip system. I use Helmsman gloss straight out of the can and draw at near 4" a minute. I put the dip tube into my heated drying cabinet the day before and heat the varnish to 85 or 90 before dipping. I also fill any space in the tube with inert gas before storing. No problems so far and it's been in there for better than  a year now.  (Tom Key)

              I wonder where we can get inert gas from in convenient cans this side of the Atlantic?  (Robin Haywood)

                They sell propane canisters in England don't they? The hand held ones that are used for small torches in the use of doing things like soldering copper plumbing pipe. You can just let some of that shoot into the tube. Any gas that's heavier than air will work.  (Will Price)

                  I am stupid.

                  Some time ago Luke said to use butane, but I couldn't think how to squirt it, it has suddenly come to me that you just use the blow torch unlit..................

                  Not so much fun though.  (Robin Haywood)

                    Please, use propane and not butane.

                    Propane is NOT used on boats for the same reason it should be used for varnish containers: It is heavy and sinks - in a boat butane is used because it is light and so if there is a leak it won't collect in the bilge waiting for a chance to explode the way propane would. Regardless, smoke your cigars up on deck.  (Henry Mitchell)

                      I am doubly stupid, many thanks!  (Robin Haywood)

                You can also use vinegar and baking soda.  Mix a bit of each in a container like a milk jug and then "pour" the heavier than air gas out of the container into your paint can or dip tube being very careful not to pour any of the liquid into the varnish.  Please don't ask me how I know that this can happen.  (Hal Manas)

                  I was doing this for a while but I had a visitor in the shop one morning when I went thru the motions of pouring nothing from the jug and I felt like Amos and Andy buying invisible glass.    (Timothy Troester)

                  The trouble is that with me it jolly well would happen, some animal or other would conspire to jog my arm or something.

                  Would someone whose chemistry didn't end in 1964 please tell us which gas is produced?  (Robin Haywood)

                    CO2.  (Steve Weiss)

            I had the same skimming problem before I started using Naphtha. Yes I leave the varnish in the dip tube capped by the plug I made that eliminates the air when not in use.

            When using I keep the varnish in the tube at 70F-80F, otherwise it is whatever the temp is in the shop. Hang the sections in a 75F drying cabinet. With the thinness of the coats by the time I get the 5th or 6th section pulled I can start over. I keep this up till I like the look. When done I leave the sections in the cabinet for several days.

            The present batch of varnish has been in the tube for a couple of years and shows no sign of skimming or separation. All I've ever done is add more varnish to top off the tube.  I did thin all of the varnish at the same time, fill the tube and store the rest in one of the cans. The can is not full and even with air in the can doesn't show any sign of skimming either. When the top-off can is empty, dump all the varnish and start over with a fresh batch. I don't know what is in Naphtha but it works and the varnish seems to love it.

            I don't use semi-gloss because like metal flake it must be stirred/mixed or it separates and whatever they put in it settles to the bottom. This may not be a problem in a drip tube but IMHO not good in a dip tube. Besides, in the Northwest we don't get enough sunshine for reflections to cause a problem.  (Don Schneider)

              I don't use semi-gloss because like metal flake it must be stirred/mixed or it separates and whatever they put in it settles to the bottom.

              I believe it's talc (like baby powder) that makes the semi-gloss.  You can always rub out the gloss to the degree of shine you want.  (Neil Savage)

            I pretty much do as you do only I top off the quart cans with a 1/2 cap full of paint thinner after each application of varnish. I've never had a problem with the varnish and it's two years old. One thing you didn't mention that I do; I heat the varnish to about 100 degrees before pouring it into the drip tube. I really am getting good rod finishes so, I ain't changing a thing, as they say.  (Mark Dyba)

            When I went to Don's method of capping the dip tube, the gelling problem stopped. I also switched to Ace Hardware marine spar varnish instead of Helmsman, at the same time.  Same spar varnish is now 3 years in the tube and OK.  The Ace web site says that you have an Ace Hardware store in Mountain Home,  AR. (Paul Franklyn)

            Its the exposure to oxygen. I have a can of MOW that is 3-5 years old and still good but I shoot a blast of Bloxygen in it each time I use a little for wraps. However, I take out a couple ounces each time I do wraps and put it in a small glass bottle then immediately shoot a blast of Bloxygen and close the original can to prevent oxygen from getting in. In spite of the fact that I also hit the glass bottle with Bloxygen  it skims over in about 24 hours. Once enough oxygen gets into the mix you can't stop the jelling.  (Larry Puckett)

              Suggestion on the little glass bottle. I do the same, but just put on the cap and turn it upside down. The jelling takes place at the bottom of the jar - now of course the top - and when you turn it back up to use the top is OK. When the bottle level gets down too far, just add a bit of turps or naps. When it jells too bad - probably 6 months or more, clean it out and start over on the little bottle. Hope this suggestion helps.  (Frank Paul)

    I’ve used Minwax spar for all my rods so far, cut 15% with mineral spirits.  I’ve kept my dip tube topped of with propane and tightly capped.  All had gone well with no skinnig until about the three year point.  Now, nothing prevents a skin from forming quite quickly.  From this behavior, I deduce that from repeated exposure to air during dipping enough oxygen has been absorbed to create a skin despite a protective gas layer.  I guess it’s time for new varnish.  (Al Baldauski)

    I use Ace Spar varnish and have got beautiful results. (Jeff Volner)


I was just wondering what type's of varnish people are using? I've seen the SUTHERLAND WELLES LTD Marine Spar Varnish but it seem a little pricey, does anyone know of anything cheaper that works well also?  (Eric Thieman)

    I use Helmsman Spar Varnish.  About $24.00 USD a gallon.  Works very well.  (David Gerich)

    I use McCloskey's Man O' War Spar Varnish.  About $22.50/gallon (or so).  (Don Peet)

      Wow great price….where did you get it? I just received a gallon and I paid $56.30 plus shipping.  (Ren Monllor)

    Ace Spar varnish, get it from your local Ace hardware store.  (Larry Puckett)

    I'm new to bamboo, I just started a test wrap on my first bamboo blank, a Driggs 2/1.

    I'm going with Ace Hardware spar varnish too. Since my blank is impregnated, I'm planning on just varnishing the wraps. On the butt section, where the grip will go, I've wrapped a stripper guide and have applied 2 coats thinned with artist grade turpentine. The Ace I bought was in the quart container and I paid about US $12 I think. 

    I carried the test two steps further with two full strength coats of Ace spar over the thinned coats and it looked GREAT. Much nicer than my graphite rods' use of FlexCoat stuff.  (Eric Zamora)

      How did you impregnate your blank?  I use Nelsonite on mine, but I follow up with several coats of Tru-Oil before I add the guides and wraps.  I go for transparent wraps and I am still searching for the perfect varnish for this application.  I have not yet tried the thinned epoxy first coat, but I may try that someday.  I have some wipe on Tung Oil finish for the first coat or two on my next rod's wraps.  (Hal Manas)

      P.S.  Good choice of rods.  My Driggs River Special is one of my two favorite rods.  I can't decide which is really my favorite - it depends on where I'm fishing, I guess.

    On the recommendation of Sir Ratbert Numbley, I've been using Last 'N Last for a couple of years now.  I like it a lot.  (Mark Wendt)


I had a question about what brands of varnish is best or do people prefer. Should it be clear gloss, semi-gloss or high gloss as well?  (Brandon Shepelak)

    I use Helmsman Spar Varnish.  Semi Gloss.  Works well.  (David Gerich)


I'm looking to start using a poly varnish & I was wondering if anyone is using any of the Minwax varnishes, whether it be the interior or exterior (Helmsman spar urethane).  Also curious as your experience with any of the current formulations of these varnishes.  (Paul Julius)

    I use the Helmsman Spar Urethane in my dip tube and think it gives a great finish. I liked it better before it became "New & Improved" but there is nothing wrong with it now. The original formula was a little darker (amber) than the new version which is almost colorless. I use the clear gloss as opposed to the satin finish.  (Will Price)

    I had some problems with a couple of cans I bought several months ago. It was the "new Improved." I had been using the Helmsman for over 8 years and have been satisfied. I think the new stuff has a problem with being thinned with some thinners. I just bought a new can a couple of weeks ago and did one rod with it.  It did give me a real nice finish. I did not do any thinning.  (Tony Spezio)

    I like the results that I have been getting with the "new improved" Helmsman. I warm it up to about 90 degrees to 95 degrees before putting it in my drip tube and drain at about 1 1/2" -2" per minute.  The slower you go  the thinner the finish and less chance of runs.  (Don Green)


One more time, Man-o-War Vs Helmsman

1. Gloss? Or semi gloss

2. Some other brand?  (Bill Vincent)

    I've used both Man o' War and Helmsman and either one will provide a nice looking and protective finish.  I'm currently using Last 'n' Last Marine and Door Spar Varnish because I heard it's less prone to "pulling off the flats"  (which gives a rounding effect), and it does seem to be better in that regard.

    Semi-gloss and satin varnish are essentially gloss varnish that has had silica particles added to it that suppress light refraction, thus giving the effect of a non-glossy finish.  These particles are essentially impurities in the varnish coat that do nothing for it's protectiveness.  If you don’t like a shiny gloss finish, you can rub the final finish down with various polishing compounds to get the degree of shine you want.  Basically, you start with a coarse grit like pumice stone, which gives a flat satin look.  If you follow with finer grits, the finish will become increasingly more glossy.  (Rich Margiotta)

    I use Helmsman Gloss. I'm satisfied with the look it gives me, but I've heard so many rodmakers gush over Last and Last, That I'm thinking of giving it a try the next time I change the varnish in the dip tube.  (Will Price)

      Are these particles what settles in the bottom of the container, or is there other particulate matter that requires stirring even in gloss varnish? Is there any finish that doesn't require mixing or stirring even if it has sat in the bottom of a dip-tube for three months?  (Henry Mitchell)

        The Helmsman gloss requires no stirring and tells you so on the side of the can. The satin and semi-gloss requires stirring. I've never seen any evidence of "settling" in the gloss. Because of the amount of restoration/refinishing I do it seldom sits more than 3-4 weeks between usage. The only thing  do after filling the tube is add a squirt of Bloxygen after every use and once the level drops about an inch I top it off back to the full mark. (Will Price)

        Gloss doesn't need stirring, only the other sheen's have particulates in them that need stirring.  (John Channer)

    Gloss of any brand as long as it says Spar or Exterior on it.  (John Channer)

      Stay away from Satin I drain coat and found the particulates leave a hazy coat on the rod.  (Jim Tefft)

    Like 'em both.  I am currently using gloss but I am considering deglossing my rods like I did of old.  (Bret Reiter)


I have been using Epiphanies Spar Varnish for a couple of years.  It is getting expensive,  it has a long curing time, and it seems to have a short shelf life, at least for me!

I am looking for an alternative.  I know that this has been discussed a lot in the past with no consensus reached but I am still interested in others' experience.  Anybody willing to offer an opinion?  (Ken Rongey)

    Man O War and Last N Last are probably the two most popular with rodmakers, but there are many brands of spar varnish out there and not really all that much difference between them, Ace's store brand works fine,too.  (John Channer)

    If you'd reject polyurethanes, for whatever reason you might have, the Sutherland Wells is a great, if expensive, varnish, and the Pratt & Lambert No. 61 Spar is pretty darn good, as well, at about 2/3 the cost.  I've done sections side-by-side for comparison, when I say that.  I believe, however, that S-W may have a higher solids content and more UV inhibitors.  S-W has a web site, if you need to check labels, and I'm sure you can find P&L, too, as well as in your local interior decorating store.  (Steve Yasgur)

      The Pratt & Lambert of today is not the P & L of Garrisons' day, thanks to the formula changes necessitated by the EPA. A few years back P & L was bought by Sherwin-Williams and it can only be found in the Sherwin -Williams stores that are owned by S-W. The franchise stores cannot carry it. I've always had pretty good luck with Helmsman Spar (Minwax).  (Will Price)

    I've been using Varathane clear waterborne outdoor Diamond gloss finish. It has a short curing time, never skins over and cleans up with water. It goes on a bit thinner than regular varnish so you may have to use an extra coat. I usually use 3 on my rods. So far it seems too hold up just fine and looks pretty good too.  (Ken Paterson)

    Paterson_emerger1

    I have only used Ace spar because, frankly, out here in the sticks it is about all that was available locally.  That said, it hasn't been reformulated to my knowledge and is the only spar I can find that says "don't stir, don't shake, don't agitate", which I like just fine.  Are there other varnishes still out there that still don't require mixing?  (Ray Wright)

      Seems like Zar exterior finish was the other one I had found that did not need stirring. It's about the clearest of all exterior finishes. It's almost too clear! It's been a few years ago, so I don't know if they have changed their formula. The company tech told me the UV absorbers may come to the surface if the rod was stored in a dark closet for long periods of time. It would wipe off, but wouldn't look very good to a customer. I have some rods finished with it and have never seen the white powdery looking stuff on the rods.  (David Dziadosz)

      They should all say that to avoid bubbles.  Besides, what's to stir except the flatting agent?  Now those non-gloss varnishes do need a gentle up-stirring to suspend the fine silica flatting agent.  (Dave Burley)


I've been at this cane thing for a while and the result is that I've experienced the deterioration of the quality of various finishes.

  • Original white can Varathane seems to last forever
  • Black Can Professional Grade Varathane about 1000 > 1500 hours
  • Mix Wax spar urethane about 1000 > 1500 hours.
  • Now apparently the Professional Grade Varathane is disappearing.
  • Have tried water based varnishes with poor results. Lumpy coating.
  • Tried wiping varnishes and still got a lot to learn there to get the same blemish free finish I get by dipping.

Anybody got any ideas of a good long lasting finish that hasn't/won't experience the California lower VOC crap?  (Don Anderson)

    If the resin hasn't changed, maybe adding some aromatic solvent like toluene would give better leveling and film formation. Shouldn't take much.  (Dave Burley)

    How were these lives determined? What was the endpoint?  What were the lighting conditions, temperature humidity etc? Or were they were determined under fishing conditions on rods?

    I have floors and furniture that have been coated with several varnishes (Minwax Helmsman has lasted on bathroom furniture for 10 years) some that have lasted under normal use for 20 years. 

    1000 hours = 83 Days.  (Doug Easton)

      The rods were fished. Rather measuring rod fittings/finishes life by years, I measure by hours fished. They were used for trout. The rods rode in my truck in their cases from spring to fall unless fished. I have no idea what an endpoint means. I do know that the white can Varathane that I started with in 1981 lasted a lot longer than the finishes I get today. Some of those original rods have had 5000 or more hours on them. One I get back every winter for checking. The finish is still good.

      Curiously the finish failures tend to start near the ferrules and progress towards the butt. The finish cracks over the glue line area to start and works its way back into the flats. One rod that I use personally had Varathane on it originally but was switched to Professional Grade on a guide change-out [I wear them out as well] and then to MinWax Spar Urethane. The last 2 refinishes lasted about 1000 hours each.  (Don Anderson)

        This finish failure issue is very interesting to me.  I use, and always have, some sort of Tung Oil based varnish.  The current, and has been for about 8 or 9 years, is Last and Last Marine Door and Spar Varnish, same stuff the late John Channer used (we both got that idea from Ron Kusse).  Before that, it was something else, can't remember what, exactly, but it was also a Tung Oil based Marine Spar Varnish.  I have had no issues at all with the finishes degrading or breaking down.

        The "Snake Rod" went from 1992 until 2007 before it was refinished.  Actually, there was NOTHING at all wrong with the Tung Oil Varnish finish that was on the rod, but I fell, on the rod of course, and broke it, so after the repair, I just refinished it.  My current rod has four hard years of fishing on it.  It lives in the back of my Envoy 24/7 365 days a year... it's in there right now.  It has sat through three years of blistering southern heat, ice storms, snow storms, including our current one, has laid in the rod tray on my boat, getting bounced around like a rubber ball as I run that jon boat wide open up and down the river. 

        When I fish, I fish hard.  VERY hard.  It's not unusual for me to put in 8 hour plus days in the winter and 14 to 16 hour days of fishing in the summer.  Considering the number of days I fish, I'd say it gets at least 1200 hours of fishing each year on it... no exaggeration.  Those on this list that have fished with me, know that sometimes I depend on moonlight to get from the truck to the river and then on the NEXT round of moonlight to get back to the truck.  I've even, after the last knee surgery, sneaked to the river when my wife wasn't home, slipped on my wading boots, grabbed my walker and got in the water to fish.  I fish A LOT and 95% of my  fishing is done with the same rod, my "Daily Driver".  Many of you have seen it... 8' 5 wt with 141 red with black/red/black tipping, rattan handle, amboyna reel seat and 141 3-turn wide red intermediate wraps.

        My "Daily Driver" does not have one place, anywhere in the varnish, that needs attention.  I never clean it, I never dry it off before I throw it back in the tube and have, on more than one occasion in the winter, had to lay the rod bag on the dash of my Envoy over the defroster vent so I can thaw it out enough to get the rod out of the bag. (yeah, I know I should at least dry it off with a towel or my shirt before I put it back in bag and tube in the winter, but hey... I'm usually tired when I finish fishing and, frankly, just don't care)

        I don't have issues with varnish failures, or varnish deterioration.  I do NOT have any big finishing secrets, except this. You know those directions on the can where it says it's best to apply thin coats at temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees? Well, I figure the guys that make the varnish probably know more about varnishing than most people do, so I follow their directions... METICULOUSLY.  I DO NOT heat the varnish.  I DO NOT cure it in a 100 degree plus drying cabinet. I DO NOT put it on thick, I put it on VERY thin.

        I'm not knocking anyone's way of doing things, I'm just saying that from the days in the 70's and 80's when I was making violins and over the past 22 years of making bamboo fly rods and the past 30 years of doing repairs, refinishes and restorations, I learned a long time ago that they don't just write on those cans for fun.  They're putting USEFUL and CORRECT information on them.

        Now, I cannot speak for what Polyurethane finishes do.  Don't like them, too much, probably never will.  They just don't look right to me!  Well, there is one out there that does have a deep rich look to it that I like, but for my rods, I have found that I can't beat the durability of a good quality spar varnish, especially when applied the way it's supposed to be applied.  (Bob Nunley)

          I agree a tung oil 5 or more layers has water resistance and best news of all has no telltale layers that are evidence you refinished it, unlike varnish. Tung oil can be wiped on at any time, allowed to cure and you have a new finish.  I use a tung oil finish on dulcimers I build for that and many other reasons.  (Dave Burley)

    I have read somewhere that the finish of the Varathane 900  (black label) is a very reliable long  lasting  finish.  If  I  get 1000-1500 hours on the water with just the one rod, I should be so lucky, those hours will be in someone else’s hand, because I will have been dead for a long time.  (Jon Holland)

    Since I'm just starting out here,  this is sobering coming from you, to say the least.  Not at all sure what to make of it, but this month's Power Fibers has an article on using Gorilla Glue for a finish, wiping on multiple coats (guess you can do 1/2 dozen in a day!), then wrapping your guides over that.  Supposed to leave a very hard hi-gloss finish that's easy to repair, altho says it lacks that 'wet' look of traditional dipped spar finishes.  The photographs look quite promising.  Just tossing this out there, although you've probably already seen it.  I thought I'd try it on a prototype just to see for myself.  Especially in the cold months when I can't dip.  Could always dip over the monkey glue, I'm sure.  (Bob Brockett)

      I predict your GG finish will turn brown from UV exposure and flake off eventually.  GG, being a construction adhesive is made from UV unstable aromatic urethane prepolymers.

      Be sure to hang your test sample where it gets plenty of UV exposure.  Cover part of it with say black construction paper and then remove after a month to get a direct comparison.

      Let us know.  (Dave Burley)

        I am the author of the article on using Gorilla Glue as a finish and cannot guarantee how long it will last.  Notice that Don says popular types of urethane finishes last 1000-1500 hours and most of us are familiar with the deterioration of many varnish finishes, whether for rods, furniture, or boats.  Even most nominally UV stabilized finishes will darken/yellow with age.

        How have I tested the Gorilla Glue finish I have used?  The way most of us do, by using them over a period of time.  For example, my wife and I used two rods with the GG finish for a full month of daily fishing in Montana last August in sunshine and overcast, with sweaty hands and dunking in the river.  The finish, except for one tiny  chip on my rod from a weighted nymph, showed no ill effects.

        Will the stuff last for 10-20-30 years?  I have no idea, because I have been using the finish for only a little over a year.  If you do the construction paper test, make sure that you use archival quality paper.  Some of what sunlight can drive out of conventional paper might be worse than the sun itself.

        Yes, you can dip over coats of Gorilla Glue.  My article mentions that.  I suggest rubbing the Gorilla Glue down slightly with, say, 1200 grit sandpaper or 0000 steel wool before dipping just to make sure that your varnish will adhere well.  (Tim Anderson)

          Sorry I didn't mention your name in my post, but I couldn't get the PF article to come up on my work station here.  So, I just fired off what I remembered.  Did miss the part where you say you can dip over GG finish, but I figured that would work fine if prepped as you say here.  So far as the archival paper (which really is just paper manufactured from an acid-free pulp base -- think pH neutral and minus the lignin, sulfur and sometimes the usual types of bleaches; you're right they don't gas as much), I can only imagine that effecting anything if it actually comes in close contact w/the blank.  Is that what you meant?  Beyond that, anything that might block the light should work.  I'll just use a test strip, not an actual glued up blank.  (Bob Brockett)

            The UV agents in a typical varnish would provide some protection to the GG.   (Dave Burley)

            Over a decade ago, I glued fake (concrete) cobblestones to asphalt in my yard using Gorilla Glue.  As usual, some of it foamed out and has been exposed to sun (we have lots of it) and weather ever since.  The stuff did darken, but remained amazingly unaffected otherwise for many years.  Hardly a scientific test?  Of course not, but it is something that still amazes me.

            Your suggestion with the paper would surely lead some people to wrap or tape it around the test piece.  I mentioned archival paper, because that is a convenient designation for what one can buy easily.  Normal construction paper is usually not pH neutral and has plenty of sulfur in it and somehow I can just envision wrapping that stuff around a blank rather than a test strip and then putting it in the sun.  (Tim Anderson)

              By the way, Tim, your's is an excellent article in Power Fibers.  Clearly composed, professionally done.  Larry Blan is right.  Can't find new stuff out without folks like you taking the time.  Between you and the Dempsey/Bogart/Spezio/Arguello/Daniel tutorials, a lot of quality stuff for me to chew on this month.  (Good job, Todd!)  All right, now how exactly do  you  clean  epoxy  residue  off keyboards...?  (Bob Brockett)

          Gorilla Glue actually oxidizes and gets brittle rather quickly. I had a piece of wood, part of a router jig, that had a covering of GG over part of it where I rubbed off excess that had come out of joint. This jig sat on our porch for a year. After the year, when we moved, I tried using the jig and the GG cracked and flaked off. I admire people that try different approaches, but I wouldn't suggest anyone else try using it as a finish. A guy I used to build rods with used it with alcohol as a impreg solution and it works real well, but I wouldn't try it because of the tendency for the GG to get brittle with oxidation. (Bill Walters)

            Heh. Back in the day, when only a heretic would use PVA glue, we said essentially the same thing to those brave souls who tried the PVA's. Unless those folks venture forth, we remain mired in place, held fast by myst and "tradition".  (Larry Blan)

          Just urging caution, since GG is not made for that use.  Other polyurethane coatings are made for this use and are not as light sensitive.  (Dave Burley)

            What polyurethane coatings would work?  (Don Anderson)

              Minwax and others make a series of urethane modified varnishes, which you are likely familiar with already and would be closest to what you do now. I would go look there first at the exterior applications.

              Urethanes are used industrially, as you may also know, as the "clear coat" on many automobiles due to its unique leveling and resultant gloss and depth and excellent wear resistance as an unpigmented film. A large use over plastic is computer cases.

              Europe started this clearcoat use first, but in the US, the automobile unions protested the moon suits required for the long time use of sprayed urethanes.  In my opinion, this was entirely justified, as prolonged exposure to urethanes can cause a lot of problems with the nervous system and potentially cancer.  These problems today are much minimized by improved quality of the monomers used to make the polyurethane. As you may know, the robots get these jobs in the auto factory.

              The use of dipped coatings ( as we do) versus spraying is much less of a danger, but always use adequate ventilation and I suggest an "organics" rated cartridge respirator and rubber gloves.  Read the MSDS supplied by the producer.

              Here is a typical auto and other coatings product sheet.

              This will guarantee exterior use (and aliphatic) urethanes. Likely the flexibility will be OK, since it is being applied routinely over metal and marine uses.

              The manufacturer cautions that this product is for industrial use only, requiring any of various supplied catalysts to achieve the desired characteristics and good ventilation for the spray applications visualized. Likely Spectrum has a series of urethanes they sell to other suppliers or even directly sell to private auto finishers via your auto store.  I'd check there. Then go to the supplier's website for additional advice.

              As an aside, many varnishes intended for table surface application characterized as "wear resistant" may not be flexibile enough for a rod application. So ask the manufacturer. The addition of silica used as an additive to flatten the coating ( semi-gloss, etc) will improve wear resistance and not really affect the flexibility at the low levels used.

              As another aside, urethanes' high gloss likely may contribute to "rod flash" and while it helps catch a customer, may not be the best for wary trout.

              I hope this was helpful.  (Dave Burley)

    Now I have no idea what to use. Tim Anderson was kind enough to send me his article and I finished off 2 rods with the glue. Works well but doesn't give the dipped finish look. Still, looks like it might work. I did measure the build up and after 6 coats it was 0.001>0.003" combined thickness [measured across 2 flats].

    Did a sample section that I left in a bucket of water for 4 days. No discernible color change suggesting water was successfully kept out.

    Now what do I do? One rod is wrapped, the other got reel seat today. I think I'll finish them out and see how it goes. I'm going to refinish one of my rods with GG and see how it performs over time.

    Still, that begs the question - what are we to do if all oil based varnishes in N. America disappear? (Don Anderson)

      I use Tru-Oil or tung oil. I like the look and I don't have to worry about the formula. At least I haven't yet. I suppose that if Tru-Oil changes for the worse I can just use tung oil. And for all of you who want to tell me that those finishes won't keep moisture out, nothing really does so I wax all of my rods at least once a season. Wax works!   (Hal Manas)

      What about Waterlox Original Marine Sealer, hi gloss?  I've only got some stuff printed out on it, but maybe someone else can kick in on if this stuff is right or not.  Or maybe you've tried it already?  (Bob Brockett)

        Ya know guys I have a book called Classic Finishing Techniques by Sam Allen, with a little time and effort I bet we could make our own varnish of great quality. (There are recipes) I am not bound by all the environmental restraints and I don't need to make a gallon every 5 seconds to make money! I think that my pine pitch and turpentine is real close maybe just needs some dryers? Anyway there wasn't alway a Home Depot, but there are some nicely finished pieces of furniture that has been around a long time.

        I for one love to figure this stuff out. I remember an old gunsmithing instructor back home who used to make his own French Polish that was better than anything I have ever been able to buy.

        Not all is lost, just hiding!   (Joe Arguello)

          To the best of my knowledge, the problem with oil based finishes isn't the resin, it's the solvents.  I wonder how long we'll be able to get ordinary paint thinner, for example.  I see in the Rockler catalog that they can't ship "Goof Off" to California now.  (Neil Savage)

          Thanks for the info Joe, I'd like to play with your idea too.

          I found Sam Allen's book on Amazon, good used condition for $8.80, 12 bucks total with shipping!  (Tom Vagell)


I'm looking to change from plastic based [urethane & Varathane] type products to a tung oil product. To thins point, I can only find Interlux Schooner Gold.

A lot of products you guys in the US pick up @ your big box stores finishes that are just not available in Canada.

Is Schooner a tung oil varnish?  (Don Anderson)

    Schooner is a Tung oil based varnish but Schooner Gold?  I suggest that you ask International what the difference is between these two and if the Gold retains the Tung oil base.  (Gary Marshall)

    See here.

    If I had to guess, I'd say they reformulated to a lower VOC and used some urethane solids for better wear and better leveling plus  UV additives.   I see no indication of Tung oil.  (Dave Burley)


Has anybody out there been using International Compass varnish in a dip tube?  Any feelings on its use/results/lifetime in tube etc?

I have been using Goldspar for ages now but the rumor is that it is to be replaced by the Compass, this is the case at several stockists but no suggestion on the International web site.  (Gary Marshall)

    Is Schooner still available?

    Made by International and I used it for years and liked it very much.  (Mike Shay)

      Yes Schooner is still available and I use it on some rods (two tubes!) but the Polyurethane has some advantages that I would like to stick with.  (Gary Marshall)


This morning my final remnant of old formula Varathane dried up and died.  I have tried a few other finishes as a color preserver and for me they failed miserably. Any suggestions for a replacement?  Does Varathane 900 work that well, and where can you get this stuff ( remember, I am in Southern California where everything is illegal but crookery) - and I don't want to buy 6 quarts - or do I?!!  (Keith Temple)

    Try Al's Colorrite from Anglers Workshop. This does a good job for me with 4 or 5 coats.  (Frank Paul)

    Is it Crystal Clear Varathane that has dried up on you? If not and it's available then I 've heard really good comments on it for CP. I've used Hanson's Hard as Nails but I don't know if it's the best choice.  (Don Ginter)


After several years of using Varmor, my local supply has dried up. I either have to order a case, burn a lot of gas to go get it or switch varnish.

I can get Minwax and Helmsman at the local big box. they also have Cabot polyurethane.

Has anyone tried the Cabot's?  (David Atchison)

    As you probably know, the reason for varnish over polyurethane is that varnish is more flexible and supposedly more suitable for bending. However, having said that I note that Cattanach uses a polyurethane and they seem to be flexible enough. Which leads to your question: I use a spar varnish that I get at Canadian Tire and I was turned on to  it by Milward because that's what he uses. I'm not one to say that what's good enough for me is good enough for you or others but I do suspect that most spar varnishes work well. Not to mention that the urethanes apparently do too. So, if you are close to a Canadian Tire store their's is about 10 bucks a litre. If not, there are certainly lots of well known makers using Helmsman spar. Minwax? In my opinion the most important thing in a choice of varnish is the color it will be on the rod. I like a bit of rich amber color and I think it's better as UV protection anyway.  (Don Ginter)

      What is the brand of spar varnish that you can source from Canadian Tire?  Minwax?  (Greg Dawson)

        No, it's called Armor Coat Spar Varnish and it comes from Trileaf Distributors in Ontario. My guess is that it's flogged by this distributor and there's a dozen different labels go on the can by different retailers. One of the reasons I took Milward's advice and went with it is because Spar Varnish is getting pretty scarce around here now. Lots of Urethanes though but I just wanted Spar.  (Don Ginter)

        I used to use International Schooner, which is a traditional spar, and then it started to get a bit gard to find, but my local marine chandler stocked International Goldspar, which is a poly spar, so  started to use that.

        Honestly, I can't tell the difference, except that I don't think the Goldspar has quite the same tendency to build up to a thick coat as the Schooner; but I used to hate that anyway!

        So if my experience is anything to go on, you should not let yourself be put off using a product, so long as it is a quality product, just because it contains polyurethane.  Do I know what it will  look like 50 years down the track?  No!   Do I care?  No! (Peter McKean)

    I've had really good results with Helmsman from Home Depot based on a  recommendation from a friend that's used it for years.  I just bought my first cans of poly down here in Chile, all they have is Minwax and 2 local brands I know nothing about. The minwax cans in South America say "Helmsman" in little small letters at the bottom. Not sure what this means exactly but it's making me think there probably isn't much difference and maybe they  are made in the same factory just to slightly different specs. I'd let you know how it goes with the minwax except it's hard to say if the stuff down here is the same as up there.

    Ultimately I guess there is a lot to be said for buying a pint (sometimes even a half pint if it's available) of whatever you want to use first and testing it out on a test stick first. That's what I'm gonna do.  (John Rupp)

      Helmsman is owned by Minwax.  (Larry Puckett)

      Helmsmen was all I had available when I started over 12 years ago. It is what I have been using on my wraps and rod finish all this time. All I can say is I am happy with it and the drying time is a lot faster. I have no reason to use any other finish.  (Tony Spezio)

        I agree with Tony. I was using Helmsman for restoration and refinish work before I started making rods and stuck with it when I started making my own. Have never had a problem with it.  (Will Price)

    Varnish?  I hope it isn't polyurethane. The can of Cabot I'm using says 'Spar Varnish'. It seems okay ~ goes on easily, but how does one know if it's good short of time test?  (Vince Brannick)

    I've used the Helmsman urethane and Cabot's spar varnish but not their polyurethane. Helmsman cures pretty hard so it takes a bit more to polish out any blemishes. The Cabot varnish seems like any other regular alkyd spar varnish I've used(Man O War, Epiphanes, and Interlux) and doesn't dry quite as hard as the Minwax so it's easier to polish out. I'd imagine the Cabot polyurethane is comparable to any other polyurethanes but I don't have a lot of experience with them so I'll leave it at that. Hope that helps.  (Jason Klett)


 

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