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I had something happen on my last tip that I don't understand?  (well, there's a lot I don't understand, but this is the thing that's got me baffled right now.)

Wiped the tip with paint thinner to clean off anything that might be adhering to it. Filled the tube, put the tip in it and left it for about an hour while I did some other things.

Dripped the tip and let it dry for 48 hours.

When I removed it, the upper section had visibly less poly on it than the lower section.

In the past, I've had no problems with the thickness of the covering.  (Terry Kirkpatrick)

    One obvious cause might have been contamination. Could you have wiped down the blank  with a cloth dried with fabric softener? Or perhaps you were using WD 40 or something like that in the shop that day and got some on your hands. There may be other issues, but that is what I would think about first.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


I noticed on the latest section that I dipped (well, dripped) that the varnish pulled away from the flats. I am using Ace Spar varnish that is about two months old, thinned with 15% Naptha and 10% Penetrol. This didn't happen on the other sections and it has left me scratching my head as to what I did wrong.

Secondly I am trying to keep the dust out of the varnish. I have set up a half bathroom in my basement for my varnish room. It has a register, but I closed it. I leave the vent running (although I confess I love the smell of varnish) and I have placed a HEPA filter in the room. I am misting the walls before doing anything and I still get dust in the varnish. So now I am thinking it is already contaminated with dust and I need to filter it out. Where do I get the high end filters the professional painters use? Can I get them at Napa or Auto Zone? I bought some filters from the hardware store. It has caught some junk, but I want something better. Any advice is appreciated.  (Scott Bearden)

    You need to build a drying cabinet. Having the vent on in the bath is creating a vacuum. So air is being drawn in from under the door or what ever, air has to replace air being power vented out. This also keeps the air moving picking up what dust there is. Dip or drip with the vent off, try not to move around alot, move the rod to the sealed or filtered air drying cabinet and then you can vent the fumes. Thus said, I still get some dust in my varnish now and then.  (Tom Kurtis)

    My guess is that the varnish mixture is too thin.  Maybe reduce the naptha & Penetrol to 10% Naptha & 5% Penetrol.  What's the temperature in your dripping area?  As far as the dust in concerned, I'd run the varnish mix thru a  auto paint filter.  (Paul Julius)

      The best paint filter is a women's nylon stocking.  (Bret Reiter)

        I had considered that, but I always wonder if there are any chemicals they apply. I kind of worry about other contaminates. Obviously it has worked for you, so I will give it a shot. I have also considered buying an empty can from the hardware store since a lot of crud will settle to the bottom. I was planning on filtering it into the new can. (Scott Bearden)

          I also filter this into a new can that I have cleaned out.  (Bret Reiter)

    Mark Wendt has some good info on filters. Maybe he will comment.  Huh, Mark, will ya!?

    I got some from a auto paint store. They gave me some out of a BIG box. They moved or went out of business, so when I run out I'll need to buy some from somewhere. They didn't use them because they filtered too much out of the paint. They said they would even filter out the metal in metal flake paint! I don't know anything about paint or filter size, so go ahead and laugh!! These are Gerson, Base/Clear Coat, Fine, 190 Micron filters #10601. Mark, are these good for rodmaking varnish? They seem to work pretty good.

    I've found that a lot of specs found in the finish was on the rod before I dipped the rod section.  I can't remember who, on the list, said that the odorless mineral spirit and the wiping cloth could leave contaminants on the rod after wiping. I believe this to be true! Rod preparation before dipping is very important!! I mist the air, my hair (yes, I'm shedding), arms, and I pull the section out of the tube into my drying cabinet. And I still get some tiny specs sometimes! I hate buffing!!  (David Dziadosz)

      Mark did show me the filters he uses and I couldn't remember the name of them to save my life. I bought the filters in the paint isle at the hardware store. I used to work in a paint booth about 10 years ago and I could tell these were not very good. I just don't know where my work got them from or brand names or anything. I suspect Napa or other automotive stores wouldn't have professional grade filters either. I will have to look around for an automotive paint store.  (Scott Bearden)

      Yep, them are the ones.  The Gerson 2000T filters, part number 10601,  They're designed for filtering the clear coat on the two part automotive finishes.  They also have an extra fine mesh one, but I think due to the viscosity of our varnish, you'd be waiting an hour or so for the varnish to drip through and fill the tube.  And since the filters are 190 micron, it's quite understandable why metal flake finishes don't work too awful well with those filters!  If I remember correctly, the folks at the auto body supply shop told me they were designed to be used mainly for the clear coat finish, which has little or no particulates in it.  They recommended the other filters with larger openings for the color/metallics/metal flake paints.  (Mark Wendt)

    Once you have your rod ready to dip try taking a piece of 1000 grit sandpaper and hit the edges of your corners lightly before dipping. If that don't work then I'd reduce the amount of naptha and Penetrol so the viscosity of your varnish is thicker. It sounds like your varnish is to thin but I'd very lightly sand the edges to be sure they themselves are not the problem. As for the dust in your varnish, the most probable cause is that the blank is not clean before dipping. Instead of spending a bunch of money on filters and whatnot you might first make certain that the blank is perfectly clean before dipping. All the dust filters in the workd won't help if you if the blank is contaminated when you dip the section. If you get an Optivisor (2X) or a 2 power pair of reading glasses and use a really good light source you can easily inspect every inch of the blank before dipping. Use a tack cloth and very lightly pinch the cloth across opposing flats. Do this on all three sets of flats and then check again with your Optivisor. Be sure not to pinch to hard as this can cause static electricity to form on your blank - and cause small dust particle's to adhere to the blank. I'd continue to mist down the walls of your dipping area as this makes perfect sense to keep the dust down. If you do experience dust in your finish you'll need to observe if it's from your varnish being contaminated or if the problem is from surface dust on your blank. There's an obvious difference and if the dust appears to be sitting on top of the finish the cause of the problem is a dirty blank. If the dust bunny's are not on the surface,  but deep within, you can tell the varnish is contaminated. I've made about 50 bamboo rods and never have I had to use any product to rub down the blank to get the dust bunny's off. That's because with few exceptions there were none to rub out. Getting a perfect finish is not difficult if the blank is perfectly clean when it's dipped.  (Jim Bureau)

      I think (as usual) Jim is right on the money on this one.  I don't have a drying cabinet and dip in my house which also houses two dogs and two wood stoves.  My rods come out OK, but I DO take extra care to make sure the blank is "clean" before dipping.  I also shut off the ceiling fan and put the pooches in another room.

      I had a similar problem with varnish pulling from the apexes in my earlier rods.  I was trying for the ultimate finish by over smoothing (1000 grit) the blank.  I now go only as fine as 600 grit and do cut the gloss on the apexes with the same grit.  I have also stopped thinning as much and have slowed the dip rate to about 1.5 "/minute.  (David Van Burgel)

      The best tack  cloth you can  get is the  one recommended to me by M-D.  It's the "Blue" tack cloth.  When you go to the autobody supply shop for the Gerson filters, tell 'em you want the "Blue" tack cloth.  They'll know what you are asking about.  The "Blue" tack cloth leaves absolutely no residue at all on the area wiped with it, unlike some of the other tack cloths which leave some deposits on the rod and can cause fisheyes.  (Mark Wendt)

    When we discussed this about a year ago Denver Dave reported that he uses 85% Ace Spar, 10% Penetrol, and 5% Naptha. I also know of one other famous maker who uses this mixture as well. From what I have seen of Dave's and the other fellow's finishes on their web sites it seems to work well for them.  (Larry Puckett)

      "Improved" Helmsman, and Ace Spar, are quite different critters.  Though I haven't used the new Helmsman, I have more than a little experience with the Ace Spar.  The chief solvent in the can of Ace Spar is already naptha, I think.  The chief solvent in Helmsman is probably mineral spirits.  (Harry Boyd)

      Yes, agreed; I was speaking specifically about Ace Spar. The mixture I have for Helmsman is 60% Helmsman Spar, 15% Penetrol, 15% Tung Oil, and 10% Mineral Spirits. Don't remember who posted that one but it sounded good so I wrote it in my notebook.  (Larry Puckett)

        This new Helmsman I just got several weeks ago is definitely different than the old I was using. I really can't tell what it is but it is different. Finding any other thing in this rural area in not easy. I will have to check out  the Ace Varnish.  (Tony Spezio)

          I was a confirmed believer in the original Helmsman urethane. It was easy to use, fairly easy to control, although I dipped, as opposed to dripped... and drying time was great in my cabinet. I was purchasing from Lowes. The last time I went to Lowes for it, it was gone. They switched to the Minwax urethane (who also make Helmsman) but it wasn't spar urethane. They did, however have Cabot's Spar Varnish... this will be my first attempt with it, we'll see how that goes. Can you order it online? I know Lowes and HD both have web sites for purchasing.  (Mike St. Clair)

          After reading the labels of the old Helmsman and Ace's, I think they're pretty much the same. I wonder who makes the varnish for Ace.  (David Dziadosz)

            I hope they don't change Ace's formula, but I am sure all things are inevitable. Maybe it already has changed and I wouldn't know the difference. The can I have says this:

            Manufactured by Ace Hardware Corporation
            2200 Kensington Court
            Oak Brook, Illinois 60523


            Linseed Tung Phenolic Resin
            Petroleum Distillates
            Ethylene Glycol Monopropyl Ether
            Cobalt Compound
            Alkyl Ketoxime

            Looking at that list should I consider Petroleum Distillates for a thinner? I saw some in the brush aisle at the local art store. Or is turps still a good idea?

            What does everybody else's label say?  (Scott Bearden)

              Any oil-based varnish can be thinned with mineral spirits or naphtha (both petroleum distillates), or spirits of turpentine.  (Rich Margiotta)

                Going through the pharmacy section of the local grocery store, I found small bottles of turpentine. I thought this stuff must be good!! I use it to thin the wrap finish (Helmsman).  (David Dziadosz)

              It also says "Do not shake or stir", like the old Helmsman.  (David Dziadosz)

                My can doesn't even list the ingredients but I live in one of those areas where they have to sell the reduced VOC version. Guess I should ask them at the store for the MSDS sheet. Since Scott and I live in the same county I wonder how long he has had it.  (Larry Puckett)

                  I bought mine from the Dale City store back in December. The other local store is always sold out of it. Maybe one store hasn't sold its existing stock, and the other has not replaced it yet? Who knows. The can I have says "copyright 1995". That's the only indication of date on it.  (Scott Bearden)

                    Mine says 1995 too. Maybe its because I bought just a pint to give it a test on my wraps — may not be enough room for contents.  (Larry Puckett)

      Scott thinned with 15% naptha.  That's a lot compared to Denver Dave. Scott's problem may be more that the viscosity is too low rather than solvent fumes, but I'm betting it's both.  It doesn't take much thinning to make a huge change in viscosity.  A 10% dilution can reduce the viscosity of some solutions by 3-4 times.  It's important to remember that we're talking about a DRIP tube here.  Everything changes in a DIP tube where there is little room to entrap a substantial layer of fumes.  (Al Baldauski)

        If solvent fumes are causing problems as Al suggests, you might try covering the drain tube with a coffee filter held in place with a rubber band so the fumes can freely dissipate.  I only used a drain tube once, so don't count me as an authority on the necessary procedures.  (Harry Boyd)

          If you cover the top of the tube you will worsen the problem.  The solvent fumes may well be heavier than air and just stay in the tube even without a cover.  IF you cover it, it slows the evaporation of those fumes even more.  (Al Baldauski)

    I’ve done a lot of industrial dip coating and can make a guess at your problem.  It could be the NAPTHA.  Naptha if very volatile and forms an invisible cloud of solvent OVER the varnish.  As the level in your tube recedes the solvent cloud increases and has the effect of thinning the varnish on the rod causing it to pull away from the corners.  Those guys who DIP coat don’t have the problem if they use Naptha because the solvent cloud is small and fixed at the top of the tube.  My advice would be to use a slow evaporating solvent like mineral spirits.  (Al Baldauski)

      Thanks Al. I had not considered that how it is applied can affect which thinners were used. I am contemplating getting a fresh gallon and not thinning it, just warming it up instead. I do a very slow drain and have not had any runs as a result. I have not timed it, but I would guess an inch a minute, maybe a little faster. Sitting in the tube, in the fumes for longer sounds exactly like what could be causing it to pull away.

      So that's a few things I will do to fix the problem. I will dress the corners, speed up the withdrawal a little and perhaps a fresh can of unthinned varnish. Now I am regretting ever using Naptha. Would artist grade turpentine have similar results or is mineral spirits really the best way to go? I will try using fresh varnish without any thinner before I go down that road. I can always add, but I can't take away.  (Scott Bearden)

      I just started using Naphtha on these last two rods and I have to admit, I am not really pleased with the final finish. I plan on going back to mineral spirits. I do find that the Mineral Spirits seem to gel  the varnish in the can pretty quick. I may be wrong on this but after I thin the varnish after using it a few times, it seems to jell up soon after that.  (Tony Spezio)

        This is something that has driven me nuts too. What I have done was to go to the Bill Harms method of brushing. It is detailed clearly out on the tips site. It takes a while to get it down pat, but I have gotten results that I can live with. Thinking of abandoning the drip method. If you subscribe to Power Fibers, there is a recording on volume 17 done by Bill at one of the gatherings (I think its 17, correct me if I am wrong Todd) that I watched twice and went from there.  (Bill Bixler)

        I thought my reply to Al was off list so I will elaborate a bit more.

        I bought the new "Improved" Helmsman  for the rods I will be doing now. One of the list members recommended I try Naphtha as a thinner instead of Mineral Spirits after talking to him about the varnish jelling in the can. I tried it on the wraps and was real pleased. What I mixed did not jell in the small container I use. It still has not jelled. When I thinned with Mineral Spirits, the thinned varnish seemed to jell up in a couple of days in the small container.

        I thinned the drain tube varnish with Naphtha and Penetrol. I normally use Mineral spirits and Penetrol. After draining these last two rods, the finish does not seem to have the "zip" in the final finish that I was getting before. It seems to have a minor "cloud" to it. It is very acceptable but I can see the difference. It may polish out, I have not done that. At this time, I am not sure if it is the Naphtha or the new " Improved" Helmsman. The only way I will know is to get some more new "Improved" Helmsman and thin it with Mineral Spirits and compare the two finishes.

        As Al says, pulling the rod sections is different than draining, I use the drain tube,  maybe Naphtha is not going to work as well as it would "pulling" the sections.  (Tony Spezio)

          The cloud you see may be caused by adding Penetrol to  the mix.

          As I discussed with you earlier, I mixed/thinned 25% by volume all of my last batch of varnish with Naphtha only. The varnish I used is the old formula of Minwax clear gloss Helmsman. Been in the tube about 3 years now with no sings of separating, skimming or clouding. Reserve cans mixed/thinned at the same time don't show any negative signs either.

          There are a few things different with my dip tube setup:

          1. Don't run any equipment in the shop while varnishing.

          2. Wipe down the sections with an alcohol lint free cloth prior to dipping.

          3. I heat/maintain the varnish to 75 - 80 degrees.

          4. Cap the dip tube when not in use. The cap removes most if not all the air in  the tube.

          5. Pull rate is 1"/minute.

          6. Hang the sections in a 70 degree filtered air cabinet between dips.

          This results in very thin coats of varnish. I sand off most of the first two coats prior to wrapping. Once wrapped I dip until I'm satisfied with the look. Never had varnish pull away from flats.

          Anybody want pictures of my setup, let me know.  (Don Schneider)

            We did discuss this in a number of E mails, I always respect what you have to say. It could be that the new Helmsman and the Penetrol might interact or it may be the Naphtha. I used Penetrol with the old Helmsman. and had no problems I would not call it really "clouding," the finish just don't have the real "zip" I am used to seeing. I just polished the rod and it is up to par.  Unless a person has done a number of them, no one would know it is a bit different. I really don't consider it a problem, it just bothers me a bit.

            I do know these two cans of Helmsman are different. I can't put my finger on it but it is. The varnish seems to be thinner. I was totally satisfied on the way it went on the wraps. My wraps are as smooth as glass. I will save what I have for wraps and see if I can get some other varnish for the drain tube. We. now have a Lowes and a Home Depot about 30 miles away.  (Tony Spezio)

        Don't use naphtha it is too fast of a drier & will cause cloudiness in some cases.  Also MS is not good either.  Use turps.  (Bret Reiter)

          Its interesting you say it is faster drying. I tried using to clean my brushes. After subsequent usage and cleaning there was a fair amount of varnish left that would leave the bristles as hard as a rock once dry. I let the brushes soak for 24 hours in a small glass with naptha. I had forgotten about it and when I came back I fully expected it to be evaporated. Not only was it still there, but the brushes were no better off. Dumping out the Naptha and filling the glass with acetone cleaned the brushes up in about 10 minutes. I have also noticed that Naptha leaves an oily residue on my hands. All of the other sections came out fine and I guess the greater surface area and less density of the Varnish allowed it to dry as normal.

          I have seriously considered the artist grade turps. I may try that with a fresh can.  (Scott Bearden)

            Naphtha and mineral spirits are both products from petroleum distillation.  Naphtha is distilled off at a lower temperature and is more volatile (evaporates faster).  It is less oily than mineral spirits and is commonly used as a degreaser and wax remover.  Neither naphtha nor mineral spirits will dissolve a cured varnish, so not only will they NOT clean brushes with dried varnish but they can be safely used on cured varnish surfaces for cleaning.  Using acetone on your brushes may get the dried varnish out, but will severely shorten their life, especially if they're natural bristle.  (Think about using acetone on your hair.)

            The newer oil-based varnish formulations have replaced the higher volatile petroleum distillates with lower volatile ones.  A quick look at the latest Minwax spar urethane MSDS verifies this.  There is no naphtha in there now, though there was in the past.  In its place is a combination of regular mineral spirits and low odor mineral spirits, which have had the more volatile components removed.  ("Volatile Organic Compounds" are the things regulated by EPA.)  This means that the dry rate is significantly slower, so they've added enough cobalt that it now has to be listed on the MSDS.  (Cobalt and other metallic compounds are called "driers" or "japan driers" because they act as catalysts in the uptake of oxygen in the varnish polymerization process.)  Whether or not the guts of the varnish -- the oils and the resins -- have been changed is anybody's guess.  But my guess is that they have not.

            Penetrol is something of a mystery, but from what I can gather, it's just a drying oil thinned with mineral spirits: linseed, tung, or soya.  So when you add it to your varnish, four things happen: (1) the resulting coating is thinner than if 100% varnish was used (duh!); (2) the strength and protection qualities of the varnish film are reduced because of the extra oil; (3) the extra oil produces a more satiny look to the finish (not necessarily a bad thing); (4) the varnish flows on more evenly, which is a nice feature.  If you're looking for a really high gloss look, forgo the Penetrol.

            I severely doubt the problems mentioned are due to using naphtha Vs. mineral spirits.  There must be other things at work.  If naphtha is forming  a "cloud" that somehow interferes with the drying of the varnish, then mineral spirits will too.  Plus there's already petroleum distillates in undiluted varnish that would form the same thing.  Honestly, this cloud thing sounds hokey, like swamp gas causing UFO sightings.

            That being said, I thin my dip tube varnish with only artist grade spirits of turpentine, 5-7%.  I do this because an experienced painter told me that turps will help paint or varnish "flow" better.    Withdrawal rate about 2" per minute.  The first coat can look a little ragged, but the top coat looks pretty good.  (Rich Margiotta)

              I was in the coatings industry from the time I was 16 up until I was 47 years old.  I only thin with turps & I only use mineral spirits to clean brushes.  (Bret Reiter)

              My comment on Naptha creating a vapor cloud were “speculation” based on similar situations I’ve encountered in industrial dip coating applications using blends of fast and slow solvents.  Naptha is a term loosely used to describe a wide variety of petroleum distillates, some of which are extremely volatile, some of which are only slightly more so that “mineral spirits”, another loosely defined term.  So if the naptha used in a DRIP tube were of the high-volatility variety and present in a high enough concentration, then a cloud could develop and cause problems with the coating.  In open air or in a DIP tube, the fast solvent can dissipate.  The DRIP tube prevents if from dissipating.  (Al Baldauski)

                My point was that if naphtha was indeed causing a cloud, then any other volatile would too, even the volatiles in the unthinned varnish.  (Rich Margiotta)

                  And my point is it’s a matter degree.  If you add a lot more of a volatile solvent to your blend, you’ll wind up with a higher concentration of that volatile solvent in the cloud over the varnish pool.  That higher-than-normal concentration MAY cause a problem.  (Al Baldauski)

    In reading the various reasons why this happens I have not noted a suggestion that the pre cleaning of the stick may be the cause of the varnish not adhering to the flats. I mention this because it happened to me and the reason it happened was because of what I used to clean the stick with before dipping. I always scrub my rods with liquid dish soap before dipping. I let it hang until dry, then rub it down with a tack cloth and dip. Results are good. One day after wetting the rod I noticed we were out of liquid dish soap so I tried a liquid hand soap that my wife has in the bathroom. Big mistake! If you have varnish problems look at it from all angles because it may not be the varnish.  (Mark Dyba)

      Detergents are excellent degreasers. Liquid dishwashing detergents like Joy  are almost pure blends of poly alcohols. They're designed to rinse clear leaving no residue. They're neutral in pH and chemically nonreactive. I use them all the time for cleaning cork and on blanks.  (Doug Easton)

    I am a dummy. I meant to say it pulled away from the corners.  (Scott Bearden)

      It could be that your corners are TOO sharp.  In furniture making, the advice is always to ease the corners a bit because the finish won't stick on a really sharp corner.  (Neil Savage)

        I guess its a lesson learned. Here I was trying to be careful to preserve those sharp corners and only buffing the flat to the best of my ability. I guess I achieved that, but the result in the varnish was not anticipated.  (Scott Bearden)

      I have heard of this happening when the apexes are too sharp. I steel wool the blank to break the sharp edges on the apexes. So far, I have not had any problems. There might be other reasons that I don't know about.  (Tony Spezio)


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