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I've used the inexpensive narrow foam brush applying poly with good results.  Haven't tried bristles.  Use drip tube for spar, didn't have the tube when I used the foam brush. (Ed Riddle)

Ed found this tip in:  "Refinish a Bamboo Fly Rod" by David Klausmeyer, pages 33-37. "American Angler" Jan/Feb 1999.


Here is how I have been finishing my rods for a long, long time.  But, no, it did not take a long, long time to learn how.  There are no tricks, and the process does not require a Rembrandt.  As with everything else, however, there is a learning curve in applying a finish to a rod by brush.  But, unless you're on a tight production schedule, who cares?  Your mistakes will cost you nothing, as it is very easy to remove (or to sand out the affected areas of) a "botched" job and start over.  You will catch on quickly, and you will produce a finish as  good or better than any dip tube method.

Very likely, you will not get the perfect finish on your first couple attempts, so why not take some practice licks on an old tip or a mid section you may have lying around?  Sand off  (or use a stripper) to remove all the original finish, but leave the guides and their wraps intact.

Lastly, by way of introduction, let me assure you that the most difficult part of the entire finishing process will be to slog your way through the explanation that follows.  Doing the work itself is a cakewalk, once you understand what the process consists of.


    One good quality artist's brush: round, 1/8" soft , pointed bristles (If you can't get one this size, get a slightly larger one and use a razor blade to cut back the outer bristles at the ferrule, all around the circumference.)  This brush is used only for first applying six or eight coats of finish to the various wraps.

    One good quality artist's brush: flat, 5/16" soft, pointed bristles.  (Again, if you must get a wider one, go ahead, and then, up at the ferrule, trim the bristles back from either outer edge.)  This brush is used for applying varnish to all areas of the rod sections.  Use a razor blade to cut a little more than 1/8" squarely across the tip.  This will stiffen the bristles somewhat and will destroy the original delicacy at the tip of the brush.  The purpose of this trim-job is to retain both the softness to apply the varnish smoothly, while also gaining the necessary stiffness to "pull" the varnish down as you go (to avoid runs and drips).

    Wet-or-dry sandpaper in #600 and #1200 grits.  (Used for sanding between coats and removing minute flecks of dust or other imperfections.

    Steel wool in 4-aught--or finer if you can locate it  (Used for everything)

    Varnish or Poly of your choice.  It doesn't matter, so long as it pleases you.  I like Minwax Poly, "quick-dry," in the high gloss, but do not take as a recommendation.  I like the poly because of its lasting flexibility and what I think are its protective qualities.  I like the quick-dry for all the obvious reasons.  I like the high gloss just because I like the high gloss.  If you don't, that makes no difference. Suit yourself.

    Turpentine, if you use true varnish:  Mineral Spirits if you use polyurethane.

    A very small and VERY CLEAN plastic container for the thinned varnish/poly.


    I will assume you have already applied six or eight coats (more, if you need, or if you like) of thinned finish to all your wraps, and that these have been allowed to dry for at least a week to ten days prior to final sanding to your satisfaction (and/or steel-wooling).

    You must understand (now that the guides have been wrapped and finished) that as you varnish the whole rod, your attention will be concentrated ONLY upon each little area BETWEEN a set of guides at any one time.  Don't even THINK about the whole rod.  You are interested only in each little 5" 6" or 8" segment of the rod--one at a time.

    Do not worry about airborne dust or setting up a special, protective, drying cabinet.  You do not need these, as you will be lightly sanding out imperfections in each coat of varnish anyway.  Dust is simply not an issue.

    I finish many rods in the open air of my shop, with the windows open, the fan going, my dogs in and out, and dust (no doubt) everywhere--as my cleaning schedule leaves much to be desired.  Yet my rods come out nearly perfectly.  I think the reason is because the only dust one really needs to worry about is that which is on the rod to begin with, on one's hands, shirt, in the liquid finish, or in the brush itself.  So, in contrast to everything else, I am VERY fastidious about these factors.

    I am assuming, lastly, that your rod sections have been lightly steelwooled, cleaned with mineral spirits (or turp) and allowed to dry thoroughly prior to the actual varnishing steps that follow.

    Lastly, you want a strong light coming in toward you from one side so that, holding the rod in its reflection, you can see that you are leaving no bare spots, and that you have no runs developing.


    Put on a clean, but old tee shirt after you have given it a really good shaking-out.  (Old, because all the lint probably will be gone after repeated washings.  Shake, just in case it isn't.)

    Open your  varnish/poly  (I'll just call it "varnish" from here on) and spoon a tablespoon or so into a very small container (but not so small that you risk tipping it over with your brush).  Be certain that the container is clean and COMPLETELY DUSTFREE.  With a medicine dropper, add a touch of your thinner to get a somewhat finer consistency.  Swirl around well.  (Ratio is not particularly critical.) The thinner will help you to avoid runs  and drips,  and it will  also minimize the "wet-time" exposure to airborne dust.

    Dip your flat brush right down into the gallon can of thinner and swish around vigorously to remove dust particles.  Dry the brush by fanning the bristles somewhat as you blow on them (to clear any remaining particles).

    Lastly, wash your hands and forearms immediately before picking up the rod section.  After usual drying, blow hard onto your fingertips,  flicking them against one another as you blow.

    Now, take the rod section in both hands and both wipe and blow off any dust.  Begin at the ferrule end of the tip (or the cork end of the butt) and work your way toward the finer end.  Blow especially sharps jets into and around each of the guide feet.  Do not try to clean dust from your rod section with mineral spirits or turp.  You will only introduce still more dust in the process.

    When you reach the end of the tip, hold the section in your left hand just below the first guide at perhaps a 40 degree angle or so. Then take your flat brush and dip it into the varnish to load the brush.  Gently (to minimize bubbles) wipe off most of the varnish along the edge of the container, since we  have only a  very small area to deal with up here at the tip-top.

    As you apply the varnish, you will always be making long, and soft strokes with the thinned varnish--beginning at a point up at your right, and pulling downward toward your left hand.  Do not press the brush.  It simply is not necessary in laying down the coat of varnish, as the bristles are soft and the varnish, thin.

    Rotate the rod section somewhat with your left hand just before you begin each of the long strokes--pulling them down from the tip-top just to the edge of the first wrap.  On the very thin, upper parts of a tip section, you cannot try to cover only one flat at a time.  Instead, you will probably be covering two or more flats, so that perhaps only three or fours strokes will do the job.  You will soon see how nicely and smoothly the varnish "wets out" on the cane. Also, as the varnish is thin, and your brush has been trimmed at its tip, you will be pulling (without even trying) all "excess" varnish downward to your left hand.

    When you have finished this first little area, you now attend only to the guide and its two wraps near your left hand.  Wet the brush again, but this time gently press it along the edge of the container to remove almost all the varnish. (You already had plenty of varnish still in your brush from before, so what you want now is just a "newly-wetted" brush.)

    Now, use only one of the corners of the brush and go quickly and softly around the first wrap.  Again with a corner, gently press a few bristles under each of the guide feet to wet-out that flat.  Now, pull the varnish down toward your left hand again, but only far enough to cover the other, remaining guide wrap.  (Be sure to dab and "pull" a little at the guide feet as you do this to be sure that you have "wicked away" any varnish that might later form a drip.)

    So, that's the deal.

    Now, move your left hand down below the next guide, blowing sharply once again on those finger tips as you do.  With the finger tips on your right hand, wipe off this next area between the guides,  and give sharp, little puffs under the feet.  Dip your brush once again, gently skim off the excess, and begin the long, soft downward strokes--starting your brush at the base of the wrap  you finished just a moment ago, and pulling the coat from there all the way down to near the edge of the wrap near your left hand.

    As you move, section by section, down the rod toward the ferrule end, you will need only just slightly more varnish in your brush with each area.  The guide spacing increases as does the diameter of the cane blank.  This, too, you will quickly learn to control.

    When you near the male ferrule, you can only hold the rod with your left hand finger tips.  Be certain that you do not have so much varnish left on your brush that you end up with a run.  Rotate the rod section as best you can with your left hand, holding the brush tip against the ferrule wrap.  Allow the end of the brush now to "wick away" any excess varnish on the ferrule wrap.

    Hold the entire rod section horizontally by the ferrule end, and rotate the rod a quarter-turn or so at a time--just often enough to ensure that, as the varnish sets up, no runs or drips can form.  With the "quick-dry" poly that I use, this takes maybe five minutes.  This is the only part of the entire varnishing process that I consider to be difficult (and that, only because it's BORING).

    Upon beginning the butt section, the guide spacing and the diameter will have increased quite a bit, so you will now need to load your brush rather more frequently.  Begin with the ferrule wrap, and make a single, long stroke downward.  You want to estimate about how far down to take your stroke, so that you do not run out of varnish before you have rotated all the way around the circumference of the area you're working on.  You can do a nicer job if each brush-load of varnish takes you all the way around (as opposed to having to reload the brush and introduce a fresh stroke alongside one that has already become rather too thin.)  This, too, is part of the learning curve, and does not take long to figure out.

    As you work down the butt section, you no longer have the luxury" of focusing  only on  the space between a set of guides, but instead you now must learn to focus upon an area "defined" by the amount of varnish you happen to have loaded in your brush.  Also, as you work down the butt section, you will be covering only one flat per stroke, so "save" enough varnish in your brush to make all six strokes around the circumference of that area.

    Each time you reload your brush, you will start right in at the still-wet ends of the area you just covered, pulling long strokes downward again.  The thinned varnish you have prepared will level out well enough to allow you to do this without fear of creating visible brush-strokes (and also without fear of introducing runs).  Varnish that is too thick will leave a surface that does not level out well, whereas varnish that is too thin wants to run badly, and will simply need an additional coat.

    In all of this, what you are trying to produce is a nice, fluid coating on the surface.  Do not brush out to such a thin layer that you can actually see the minute "topography" of the cane showing through, because if you do, you will not be able to distinguish this effect from those areas where you may actually have skipped a spot.  Another danger of brushing out too thinly is that when you reload your brush to start in again, you may find that you are starting in on an area that is no longer really wet.  The newly applied strokes will not level-out properly.  (Your reflected source of light will help immensely in this.)

    At the other extreme, you also do not want to lay on so much varnish that you risk runs or drips.  If you detect your varnish is beginning to "pool up" or run, you probably have loaded the brush too much for the small area you are trying to cover.  After perhaps a couple blunders, you will soon learn how much varnish is needed on your brush for a given area (whether on the cane or just around one of the guides).

    In between these two ends of the spectrum, you will find the perfect coating.  It does not take many "goof-ups" before you learn exactly how to control what you are doing.  The learning-curve is pretty steep.

    If you detect, after applying an entire coat, that there are some areas showing skipped spots ("windows"), you have only to allow the rod to dry for a day or so.  Then, lightly sand or steel wool the entire area between this set of guides, and apply another, "corrective coat" just there.

    As you finish the butt section, again hold it horizontally for about five minutes while rotating it slowly.


    Allow the first coat to dry for perhaps two or three days and then sand out whatever little areas do not please you with the #600 grit paper.  Cut a little piece of sandpaper that measures only about 1 1/2" square, and take care as you sand that you apply pressure with only one finger, and that you keep the paper dead flat.  Sand very lightly, as you are not dealing with material that offers much resistance.  Then use the steel-wool very lightly over the entire rod section to prepare a good mechanical bond for the next coat.  (This is more important for poly than for true varnish.)  Take care when using the steel wool not to "burn" the varnish off the corners.

    Apply the second coat exactly as you did the first, only you'll be much better at it this time.  Also, you will find that varnish flows more "gracefully" over a first coat that it did over the bare cane.

    Allow this second coat to dry for at least a week to ten days.  If there are imperfections that seem to require another coat, you will see these within the second day when you can safely inspect your work.  Should there be areas in need of a third coat, lightly sand out both the imperfections themselves AS WELL AS the other flats  between the set of guides in question.  Refinish this entire area, starting and ending exactly at the edge of the wraps.  You will not be able to detect, later, which areas needed the extra coat.

    If, after initial inspection, there are no areas in need of this sort of additional work, then allow the ten days to pass.  At the end of this period you will be sanding out only whatever little dust particles (or minute ripples) there may be, and I'll bet there will be damn few.  Use reflected light to examine.  This time, sand with the #1200 grit paper (or finer), as you are now preparing for the polishing stages.  Work only on the smallest area you need to, and do not disturb the rest.

Polishing has been covered elsewhere, so I will not get into that.  This post has already grown way too long.

Cheers, (Bill Harms)


Is there a method to apply rod varnish with a sort of small flat sponge on a stick. Is this preferred by people. If so, where do you get these applicators, or if you make them yourself, what is the preferred material. If you know but are likely tied up with or being S Claus, maybe keep this query in mind and let me know when convenient.  (Sean McSharry)

    The small foam brushes can be found where you purchase paint, they're used for painting corners of interior walls.

    I've used this method, but only with fast drying polyurethane, can't say whether spar would turn out different, but I was pleased with the fast-dry poly.  In a jar, mix 4 tablespoons of varnish with 1/2 tablespoon of mineral spirits. Stir and allow bubbles to pop before application.  This mixture goes on thin and levels nicely.  Hold the section at something less than a 45 degree angle with tip resting on workbench, dip brush, drag off excess on jar lip, apply one flat at a time using one  long continuous downward stroke,  repeat for each flat.  When finished, hold the section by each end horizontal and slowly rotate for about 10 minutes to allow leveling and begin drying.  Then allow the section to rest horizontally 24 hours before buffing with 0000 steel wool, clean with tack cloth then apply 2nd coat. After final coat, wait a week before mounting guides.  (Ed Riddle)

      This is exactly my method of varnishing, but I use a finger... easier to find and cheaper!  (Geert Poorteman)

    I have used the foam brushes for varnishing woodworking projects but after I got a batch that were contaminated with something I got the worst case of fisheye ever seen.

    If you are asking about varnishing the entire rod, the following comments would apply.  If you are just asking about varnishing wraps, the list of applicators varies from toothpicks to bamboo spatulas to artists brushes.  A small piece of foam might work.

    I think the consensus of the list would be that the best varnishing method for an entire rod section is to dip in a tube.  Brushing with bristle or foam will work but is difficult to  keep even with all the corners.  I use a small pad of clean cotton cloth (T-shirt cloth), hang the rod section vertically, saturate the pad with varnish and wrap it around the rod section at the top.  Wipe down from tip to butt smoothly.  Rotate the rod section to the next flat and repeat.  Again for the final pair of flats.  It applies a fairly thin coat of varnish and of course must be done before wrapping the rod.  I sand between coats 1, 2, and 3, and then apply a final coat.  The key is to have enough varnish in the pad to smoothly cover the rod, but not so much as to cause runs.  (Kurt Clement)

    I have brushed my rods for many, many years, but have had no success with the foam applicators.  I use a 3/8"  flat, camel hair brush because these allow me to regulate the flow of varnish as I want it, and also because I can manipulate the corner fibers into and under the guides.  This aids both in application of varnish, and in wicking-away excess buildup.  I can't do this with foam.  (Bill Harms)

    I used to varnish rods for years using my fingers only, the same way I apply a finish to a gun stock.  I just switched to foam brushes a few years ago and I get great results.  If I took the time to polish my rods they would be even better but I have had people ask me if I dipped my rods.  (Bret Reiter)

    Once, several years ago, Ralph and Bob Clark from Lewiston were explaining to me how they finish their rods.  I don’t remember exactly how, but it seems that Bob told me that his method involves a milk jug and a balloon, or something like that.  I remember thinking, WOW, that’s pretty cool.  Since Bob isn’t online, maybe Ralph can explain his method.  Now that I know a bit more, I’d like to hear it again.

    Seems like he put a pin hole, or something in the balloon, put it on an inverted jug with the bottom cut off, put some varnish in the jug, then pushed the rod sections through the varnish and out the pinhole in the balloon, which stretched enough to ensure that the excess varnish is stripped off as the section comes out the bottom.

    I am undoubtedly miss-remembering the conversation.  At the time, my mind was still whirling after a tour of Ralph's basement.  Also, at the time I had no information from which to base a judgment,  so the information  has slipped my mind.  (Jason Swan)

      I think it goes the other way.  It's like dipping the rod without the tube.  (David Dziadosz)

      His method is in 'Best of the Planing Form' page 105.  (Mark Dyba)

      I tried the "balloon and bottle" method a couple of times in the early days. I could not draw the bottle down the section at an even enough rate without leaving ridges in the finish. Starts out easy to do, standing there, but you soon have to kneel or bend over in order to reach the lower parts of the hanging section, all this while still moving the bottle at a controlled rate. I just couldn't do it. It wasn't until I was able to draw the section at a controlled rate through the varnish in the bottle neck that I was able to get a smooth,  even finish.  (Martin-Darrell)

      If its the technique I think you're talking about I've used a 35mm film canister, punched a hole in the bottom and stretched the finger from a rubber glove over the hole and then used a hot pin to punch a hole in the tip of the finger. Push the bare section (no guides) into the hole and then fill the  canister with varnish and push the section down, effectively coating it. Poor man's dipping apparatus.  (Bill Walters)

    I currently use foam brushes and am obtaining satisfactory results. I have found I need to use the closed cell foam brushes (gray color) that I get at the hardware and not the less expensive ones from craft stores. The craft type have a habit of flaking off bits of foam.

    Have a drip system in progress and also a binder. Still binding by hand and have yet to load up the drip tube.  (Jim Tefft)


After a few minor and major mishaps, I have made peace with the quality of the blank and am plodding on.  I chose to brush finish this rod (I will save making a dipping setup for rod #2 this winter).  I used a foam brush and am fairly happy with the finish - I used Helmsman Spar.  I have been sanding down the coats with 400 grit paper and down to 1500 grit before the this last (hopefully final) coat.  I forgot to sign the blank before the first coat (off came that coat) and was a tad aggressive on the next (patched the signing and coated again).  I did say "slow" did I not?

Anyway, I now have a decent looking finish that has been curing for a few days while I plan the final sanding and polishing.  There are some dust spots, but luckily no fur (I have a Samoyed and a white Malamute).  I have been experimenting with a 1x6 with 2 coats of Helmsman with various steps:

1. Sanded with 400 grit paper.

2. Sanded with 400 then 1500 grit paper.

3.  Sanded with 400 then 1500 grit paper, then buffed with 4F Pumice and water.

4.  Sanded with 400 then 1500 grit paper, then buffed with 4F Pumice and water, then buffed with Rottenstone and water.

5.  Then I buffed half of all of these with Crest Complete toothpaste - first on my fingertip and then with some Bounty paper cloth.

Anal?  Probably an accurate description :) .

I used toothpaste after a fruitless search here for Perfect it and Finesse it and Flitz metal polish today.  I should have some Flitz soon, but I needed to experiment.  I suspect the Flitz stuff is similar to "Brasso" and "Silvo" - I have not tried those metal polishing liquids yet.  However, I did remember a body shop back in Africa that used Brasso and toothpaste as a fine buffing compound, so I tried it.  Not sure what a mint aroma does to fish.

I was a little surprised at the results of my experiment.  On all 4 of my samples, the toothpaste finished part came up glossy.  The areas finished with 4F pumice and rottenstone were distinctly satin.  The half I did with tooth paste is distinctly glossy.  I am relying on the fingertip sensation and reflected light from the lamp on my desk.

I expected a buffing effect - I did not know what comparitive abrasiveness the toothpaste would have compared to 1500 grit, pumice 4F and rottenstone.  Seems it is a lot finer.  I assume it will be similar on the rod.

Has anyone else experimented with toothpaste?  No, I will not tell your SWMBO's (if you promise not to tell mine I used the paste out the bathroom).  (Greg Dawson)

    Toothpaste is fine for polishing most things including metal and plastic.  I'm sure the mint will give you a sweet smelling rod. When sanding between coats, don't go finer than 400; otherwise you won't have any "tooth" for the next coat to grip.  (Ron Grantham)

    Back in the late forties when I worked for flying time, we used toothpaste to polish out scratches on the plastic windshields on the planes that the company had. It did a real good job of polishing out the scratches and left no swirls.  (Tony Spezio)

    You want to talk slow, I've been building bamboo fly rods since '73 and just finished #9.  That means I'm averaging 3.4 years per rod.  Maybe we should start a thread on the slowest rodmaker.  I claim the title until someone dethrones me.

    As for finish polishing, I use Novus Plastic Polish #2.  This is the stuff they use on airplane windshields today.  Several sites on the web offer free samples.  (Ron Larsen)

    For final polishing, I highly recommend water - from as many different streams as possible, applied with a fly line, over a period of years.  It doesn't do much for the finish, but it does wonders for the soul.  (Robert Kope)

    I ended up using 4F pumice followed by Crest toothpaste after 4 coats of Helmsman Spar.  I applied both with the rough side of a piece of belt leather dipped in a puddle of water.  The finish came out beautifully satin.  I am busy layering on coats onto the wraps - probably another 3 or 4 thin coats to go (I have applied 3 thin coats already).  (Greg Dawson)


What best brand and kind of foam brush to use to varnish a blank? Where is the source to purchase some?  (Mike Fennell)

    Best to get good sable brush.  Foam leaves marks.  (Bret Reiter)

    I get my foam brushes at Harbor Freight for about $0.35 each. I thin the varnish 20% with turpentine and use the foam to just flow the varnish on. I never get any marks on the blank. Just keep the foam well filled with varnish. 

    The only trick with the foam is to keep it well filled with varnish. Be sure to hold the section just varnished in a horizontal position until the solvent evaporates enough for the varnish to tack before hanging to dry. You also need to use just the corner of the foam brush to pick up the excess varnish where the guide feet meet the thread. This technique is very similar to that used by Bill Harms at Grayrock this summer.  (Jerry Drake)


A couple of questions for our esteemed brush finishing experts.  I just finished a couple of Payne tapers and would like to finish them with a little nostalgia. At the Catskill gathering , I believe, it was Hal Bacon that said Payne used orange shellac on his wraps. Am I correct and, if so, how many coats do you apply to the silk?

Secondly, for those of you who use Pratt & Lambert #61, what are your ideas on thinning the varnish for brush application?  (Mike Givney)

    Yes, my understanding is also that Payne used orange shellac on the first coats for their wraps.  The purpose, I assume, was an attempt to preserve the color of the  Java Brown and Antique Gold.  No coating will preserve color exactly, but orange shellac does a pretty good job and also offers a good seal to the bamboo.

    I don't know how many coats Payne used, but I would surely apply at least three.  After that, you can use your varnish of choice to build, sand and finish.  You mention Pratt & Lambert #61, which thins nicely for brushing. The company won't recommend this, of course, but it's because of legalities and not because thinning isn't a good idea.  (Bill Harms)

      I just refinished a Heddon made Lyons and Coulson with black wraps tipped in gold. I removed the old varnish with isopropanol, including the varnish over the wraps. I re coated the wraps with 3 coats of Zinsner's premixed shellac. Hal Bacon mentioned at the Catskill gathering that you should use only the top layer of this shellac without any mixing. This worked very well for me. I finished up by doing a standard varnish job. I ended up with the nicest wraps I have ever gotten. The gold tips didn't seem to take any major tint so the shellac seemed to seal well and not contribute any color. I don't know what would happen with lighter colored main wraps but I can't wait to see.  (Doug Easton)

        Zinsser makes at least 2 different premixed shellacs-- white and orange-- which did you use?  I'm almost ready to wrap a Payne 98, and have about given up on color preserver, but would like to try shellac (and Roo Glue as recently discussed) before I quit trying and just accept the darkening.  (Neil Savage)

    Get in touch with Mike Brooks.  He has a formulation for the Payne wrap varnish.  He  showed us how to make it at the SRG.  It's quite simple to make.  (Mark Wendt)

      Mike's suggestion was very light brown or blonde shellac flakes dissolved in lacquer  - saturate solution and decant remaining residue.  Shellac flakes available at Kremer-Pigmente.  (Darrol Groth)


I am interested in trying to brush on the varnish this go around.  What types of brush do you use ?  How many coats and any other tips you have to offer?  (Matt Baun)

    I have come to the conclusion that a relatively big, say half-inch, sable artists brush is better.  It holds more varnish so I don't have to look away from the workpiece to recharge the brush and thus forget where I got to.  I've been changing my views on varnishing rods for about 45 years now, so next week's answer to your question will be.  (Robin Haywood)

    I find it easier to brush first then wrap on guides, too many speed bumps along the shaft for a smooth transition.  For a brush, all I use is a piece of a coffee filter doubled over to cover two flats at once.   (Pete Van Schaack)

    Having neither the steady hand of a Bret Reiter nor nowhere near the finesse of a Bill Harms I have gone to using a foam brush.  They use a fine Sable artists brush, but the bristles just wiggle too much for me.  I get the 1" ones and cut off the outside 2/3 to make it just slightly wider than the widest flat (and the cut off pieces are good for odd jobs).  I like brushing with the guides on because the wraps give me stopping and resting places - that's one of the reasons I incorporate intermediate wraps in the long gap between the stripper and signature wraps - more resting places.  I also think the foam wicks up excess varnish at the wraps better than a regular brush does.  (Darrol Groth)

    I personally use my fingertips. And the results are getting better every time. I just did a rod, and it looks more than OK. I put the varnish on with a little squeeze bottle and then turn the rod around between my fingers to distribute it evenly. Then just wipe the varnish with a fingertip, or "squeeze' is between index and thumb and try to wipe it off. Gives a good even layer. Preparing the rod and cleaning it before varnishing improves the quality of the work. Rainy days make for less dust. Varnish when the children are gone... to varnish the windings, apply a more than liberal coat of varnish on the winding and let the rod rest horizontally. The varnish will drip of. Get the last drop off with a tooth pick. The turn the rod occasionally while the varnish dries to avoid leaks. Before doing all this lock the dog up. And end the children to the neighbors!  (Geert Poorteman)

    I have tried several types of brushes but for overall performance you can't be the synthetic bristle made to duplicate the sable hair ones.  The type I use are 12" long so you have good balance/support and a #2 or #3 round work best. The bristles are white and they don't react when you clean them with paint thinner. Some of the "real hair" break after the solvents destroy the fiber integrity. I buy mine at an artist supply house for about $4-5. Just a couple of heads up, before you start make sure to blow off the bristles with a can of high pressure air, make sure all the lint has been  removed from the rod first (I use my wife's old nylons with tiny bit of mineral spirits to wipe down the blank) and be sure to let the rods dry in an area FREE FROM DUST. If you have a drying chamber these seem to work best for keeping the dust down. 

    Also if you have a coffee cup warmer to keep the spar warm, it does seem to go on smoother and take better than cold. I use a piece of swirled bailing wire under the can to keep it from scorching or getting too warm. Touch your brush bristles in mineral spirits BEFORE using and the spar will go on with fewer bubbles.  (Rudy Rios)


How about sharing your methods of finishing by hand. I too, am just starting out by rebuilding/refinishing/repairing to learn the process. I can wrap guides, build grips, fit ferrules and seats.

I haven't finished  a rod by dipping. There must be some folks on the list that have hand varnished a rod, how about sharing some pointers. I do have a simple rod lathe for turning the sections as they dry. I have two rods that I am replacing the guides on they are bare cane, with newly wrapped guides. I will be finishing them with Helmsman Spar Urethane. Do I brush on while turning on the rod lathe?  Do I hand rub, then dry on the lathe?   (Chuck Pickering)

    I have finished rods using varnish and my finger.  Varnish flows, from what I don't think it matters as long as it is consistent and clean.  (Scott Grady)


In view of the myriad products and processes used in rod making, and with the evident changes in the formulation of many of the traditional materials used for finishing, it may be useful to consider how best to perform the 'final' stages.  For the 'traditionalists' who prefer to brush on varnish, as opposed to 'dipping', some of the newer varnishes may pose more of a problem with tearing, streaking, etc., but even with extreme care in preparation and execution, and even with highest quality materials and tools (brushes), there is almost always need to eliminate some minor (if not major) 'flaws'. The question may be, is there a best procedure to use? Is it essential that steel wool be (judiciously) applied to the entire sections? ~ or can just the errant surface(s) be treated? In either instance, the area(s) affected will certainly exhibit a loss of luster, which will require some remedy. How best is the luster recovered? Is then, still another final coat recommended? We may look to achieve a 'flawless' surface, but can such actually be accomplished? Are there some 'brushers' among us willing to share experiences and advise?  (Vince Brannick)

    When I started to make rods I thought I wanted a dip tube. I didn't get one made and kept on brushing like I had for years doing repairs and rebuilds on bamboo rods. I still don't have a dip/drip tube! I honestly don't see the hype in all the messing around with dip/drip tubes.

    Yes, there is a knack to putting on a finish with a brush. I use foam applicators that I buy by the bag full at Hobby Lobby. A 35 mm film can works well to mix the varnish in. I use Ace Hardware spar varnish thinned with turpentine. Nothing special here. Mix 4 parts varnish with 1 part turpentine. The 35 mm film can will hold enough mixed varnish to do a rod with two coats. Don't let your applicator get too dry. It needs to be wet enough to flow onto your rod blank. If it is dragging and leaving lines or streaks, you don't have enough varnish on your applicator.

    You mention flaws. I don't get any flaws that are objectionable and my customers can't find any of them at all. I have not had a run in several years of finishing rods.

    People are often very surprised to learn that I don't dip my rods.  (Jerry Drake)

    I appreciate your input. I once tried foam brushing, but wasn't very happy with it. Now my brush(es) are the best available for my purpose) in an 'Art' shop ~$18 to $20 range, and I get good results. My question isn't as much in respect to the initial three or four coats, as it is dealing with (if, and) any discrepancies that may appear after the 'final' coat Typically I do go over the entire rod with 0000 grit steel wool, and it usually smoothes things out nicely, but leaves a somewhat matte-like finish.  That's what  my concern is basically with. My rod work is primarily for myself (family and friends), and I'm not unhappy with the matte finish, but occasionally a rod is built on request, and the new owner prefers a high gloss finish. I know the topic has been covered in the past but I was hoping that a 'revisit' might prove useful.  (Vince Brannick)

    In my limited experience, I have used both the 3M products and also a Plastic Polish compound and found that both products bring back the shine in the spar that I use.  I use the MOW spar so I’m not sure about the polishing characteristics of the ACE.  I don’t steel wool the entire rod.  Only the blemishes that I think need to be removed.  I start with 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper wet and sand until the blemish is removed.  Then either use the 3M perfect it followed by the 3M finesse it or vice versa, I always get confused and have to look that up before hand.  Or I use the Plastic Polish compound instead of the 3M.  It takes some elbow grease to bring back the shine but I can’t tell the difference between the untouched and polished areas when I take the time to do it right.  I think  the key is to have the varnish cure for a couple of weeks before touching it.  The harder it is, the better the polishing has worked for me.  Now my process is final dip it, fish it for a few weeks and then go back and work on blemishes if I feel the need.  Rods for other people, I would just let sit for as long as possible before trying to polish.  (Greg Reeves)

    Don Green was always hyping a product on CFRF about a product for this purpose. I had him send me 2 of them and they work unbelievably well!!!! It's a product that women use for buffing and shining their fingernails called Sand Turtle Gleemer. It's a stick about 1" wide and 6" long that is green on one side (buffing) and white on the other side (shining). Micro abrasives that can't really be seen or felt. They are sold through a chain store called Sally’s Beauty Supply. If you have one in your area get a couple of these. After the steel wool rub use the white side (skip the green side as it buffs down to matte also) and it will bring the shine back like you wouldn't believe.  (Will Price)


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