Bamboo Tips - Tips Area
Finishing - Drying Cabinets

< Home < Tips Area < Finishing < Drying Cabinets


What are some of you guys using as drying cabinets? I noticed on the tips sight there was a drying cabinet that had a light bulb in the bottom wouldn’t this be kinda dangerous having varnish dripping on bulb??  (Dave Henney)

    I use a cheap plastic wardrobe cabinet I got at the local Home Depot. The sort of obvious answer to the varnish dripping on the light bulb is don't place the light bulb where varnish can drip on it, but in reality, by the time you are hanging it in a drying cabinet there shouldn't be anything dripping. If there is you will have runs in the varnish.  (Darryl Hayashida)

    I have a piece of sheet metal mounted across the top of the bulbs below the rods. (I cut it from the bottom of a VCR that went belly-up.) At one time I didn't cover them and hung my rods using masking tape. All 3 pieces of a rod dropped out of their tape and laid up against a 100W bulb for an indeterminate time. Lemme tell ya, the power fibers ain't worth s*^% once you've boiled off the lignin that holds 'em together! Both tips AND the butt were effectively 6" short from that disaster. It did create the only 6 ft 8 wt rod I ever built though. <Sheepish grin>

    Seriously though, I never had a drip problem even before, maybe because I was to dumb to realize it could happen. My dryer is now large enough to hold 24 sections at once (about 8" X 14" X 72") and I have 3 3-way bulbs under the sheet metal so that I can turn any or all on at once giving me from 50 to 450W. I generally stay with 100 -200 watts, giving from 85 - 125 degrees (F) as needed.  I figure any rod kept  in that temp will be in a low-humidity state due to the inverse nature of temp and humidity.  (Art Port)

    I have a 100 watt or greater (150?) that is called a "Kitchen Bulb" that is mounted in one of those ceramic flat fixtures and bolted to the bottom of my pine shelving board cabinet.  The light is controlled by a dimmer that is mounted a couple of inches from the floor so I can punch it on or off with my foot and even spin the dimmer knob for more or less heat.  I have fire retardant insulation surrounding the bottom of the cabinet around the bulb so that the pine does not overheat.  The top of the insulation pieces creates a shelf upon which I used to rest a 1/16" aluminum plate that matches the cross section of the cabinet.  The plate protected the light bulb in case a rod section fell, but I never worried about dripping  varnish as I withdraw at 1.2 inches per minute and there is no extra varnish on my rods at that withdrawal rate.

    The aluminum plate also was supposed to act as a heat diffuser.  I drilled a bunch of randomly spaced holes in the plate to allow heat to escape.  I stopped using the plate a long time ago.

    The door of the  cabinet is  clear Plexiglas.   Magnets and weather-stripping situated along the door edge create a tightish seal.

    If you are concerned about varnish dripping, then you are withdrawing too rapidly.   (Chris Lucker)

    I use a big cardboard clothes box that I bought from a local storage business. It came with a metal rack that can be secured to the box with tape to hold rod sections. For heat, I mounted a cheap ceramic light fixture to a piece of plywood, and use a 200 watt lamp.

    Advantages: (1) Cheap - less than $25 for the whole set up. (2) The box folds up & fits in the garage rafters when not in use.  (Tom Bowden)

    I use an old side by side refrigerator. (It was free) It already has a built in light bulb, you must take out the door switch so the light stays on while the door is closed. Another thing I do is hang two pieces of Plexiglas glass (6 inches wide X 4 feet long) in the main cabinet. before I hang any rods, I spray out the refrigerator. with water and charge the Plexiglas by rubbing them with an old silk scarf that my wife didn't want. This creates a dust magnet, just in case there is any stray dust flying around. I find that this set up works great. this whole set up cost about $10.  (Denny Dennis)

      Nylon stockings should work just as well as the silk scarf to charge the Plexiglas in case SWMBO doesn't have any silk scarves she's willing to part with.  (Neil Savage)


Many years ago I had a drying cabinet, but during a move I decided I didn't need it any longer, so I threw it out.  It was a pretty junky piece anyhow. Now, I'd like to build a proper one, but am also eager to keep things very low-tech (ie., light-bulb powered) and simple (no mica strips, digital sensors, computer temp.  controls  or  transistorized panels).   Gimme a break, techno-dudes.

Has anyone messed around with this recently who could recommend a design for the heat generation box and distribution that seems to work well?  (Bill Harms)

    I started building one last night and researched the archives  etc. before starting but didn't come up with much except the basic concepts so any extra input in the way of specific dimensions and some useful bells and whistles would come in handy for me as well.

    One thing I have been considering doing instead of putting metal flashing around the bottom of the box to reflect heat is to mount the light fixture in a metal vegetable or juice can using the can much in the way a lamp shade is mounted if that makes sense to anybody.

    I have a nice fluorescent fixture I can mount but it takes up half the room and seems to me that it would heat one side of the sticks more than the other. Anybody have any thoughts on that besides build a bigger box?  (Dick Steinbach)

      Here is my current crazy set up. I have an old metal cabinet (maybe you would call it a bureau). It has a light bulb fixture at the bottom with a 100 watt heat lamp style bulb (the bulb is three years old and still works almost 24/7!). Inside the cabinet is silver faced bubble wrap style insulation (Home Depot item). The outside is wrapped with a hot water heater blanket that was too small to fit my heater. A board with many eye hooks is screwed into the top. It stays at right around 100 degrees and can hold more rods than I would ever care to work on at once. In fact, my personal rods can often be found in the back of it and my Wheatley salmon fly boxes get thrown on the floor of it after a long wet day of steelheading.

      You can find all sorts of cabinets like this being thrown out. Parts and materials was quite cheap.  (Bob Maulucci)

        This is what I ended up with.  Works fine, use a big juice can, hollow threaded rod, light socket (just like a lamp is wired) I put a couple of washers as spacers under the can and the wood underneath and on the sides is as cool as can be. No scorching whatever.  (Dick Steinbach)

    1. Make it out of plywood. Paint the inside to reduce dust.

    2. Have a single door over the entire front of the cabinet, but put in two access ports: one at the level of the rod coming out of the dip tube, and the other at the top . This allows you to reach in and pop guides if needed, and to switch sections without exposing everything to dust. Having a single door makes it easy to move things around.

    3. I use fluorescent fixtures for light, and incandescent bulbs at the bottom for heat. Made the mistake of putting the bulbs at the side for faster drying, and got major runs because the heat was uneven on the sections.

    4. It will be cheaper to buy a 3 bulb bathroom fixture than it will be to make it from scratch. And all you have to do is screw it to the base of the unit.

    If you do it this way, you can hang sections, install the dip tube, then close everything to let the dust settle. From there you can slowly open the access doors to maintain heat and minimize dust while you dip multiple sections.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


I have just finished reading the archives on drying cabinet (all 73) because I am now fine tuning my project. The question of temperature range was something I was quite interested in and opinions seemed to range from eighty degrees to one hundred ten or more and sometimes ten or twenty degree variance from the top to the bottom of the cabinet. It was all quite confusing.

I plan to use McCloskey's Man-O-War Spar Varnish (unless some of you caution me that's a mistake), and so I decided to read the can's instructions which told me that "surface and air temperatures must be between 50 and ninety degrees during application and drying" which of course answered my particular question.

Obviously then, the best temperature for our drying cabinets will differ for each of us and the best source to go to would be to the manufacturer. Just a suggestion... I hope it makes sense.  (Dick Steinbach)

    I think that anything between 90 and 110 degrees would be just fine. What does matter if there is a major difference between top and bottom,  especially in terms of where the rod is in the cabinet. If the tip is next to a bulb and it's 130 degrees, the varnish will dry there first, and give you runs as the wet stuff from the top flows down over the stuff that already dried. So allow at least 24 inches between your heat source and the closest bamboo. and more would be better.

    If I could do it all over again, I would go with whatever varnish is available locally, easily, and inexpensively. The archives suggest that Man-O-War is prone to pulling away from the corners of the flats, it can be hard to find, and it is somewhat expensive. It does smell good though. I keep getting snookered into "just one more can".

    Whatever varnish you decide to use, you will figure out quickly what works and what doesn't in terms of temperatures, thinning, drying time, polishing, etc.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


I’m Finally getting around to finishing up my drying box. I need some info on what size bulb most used and what about a cover for the bulb, coffee can with holes.  (Tony Spezio)

    You may want to take a look at my drying cabinet on Todd's tip site.  I've never been happy with the "light bulb in the bottom" approach.  I used a eaves trough heater and it works quite well.  Take a look.  (Ron Larsen)

    My drying box is a old school locker, 12"d x 18"w x 72"t

    I use a 100w bulb with a half of a coffee can (cut vertical, turned horizontal) as a shield on the bottom, keeps it about 20 degrees over room temp...

    I drilled two 1" holes on the bottom/side and at the top/side, as the air heats up it rises to the top and exits the top holes carrying the fumes with it...

    I covered the two bottom holes with a single layer of paper towel as a filter, the top holes are uncovered...

    I run the box 12 hours on and 12 hours off, this heating/cooling works the varnish and cures it faster...

    Very simple and works for me....

    PS... If your shop is unheated during the winter, might try two bulbs that work independently. One on 24 hours and the other cycling 12 hours on and 12 hours off. I like to keep it 60 degrees on the off cycle and 90 degrees on the on cycle..  (Dave Collyer)


I would appreciate some ideas regarding building a drying cabinet such as dimensions, light bulb size/fixture, etc. What type of setups are being utilized?  (Ron Delesky)

    I built mine out of pine 1x12, 5' long with an open front. I then made a Plexiglas door in 3 pieces for it, a main door with an 8" flap at the top and bottom, so I can reach in to change sections without opening the whole door. My varnish tube goes out the bottom and thru the floor. I have enough hooks in the back of the box to hang 2 rods, but I usually only do one at a time. With this set up, I don't have to take a freshly varnished section out of the box, I just reach thru the upper flap and take it off the string and hang it on one of the hooks, put another section on the string and dip it. We have 4 cats and 2 dogs and live at the end of a half mile long gravel driveway, so even tho my rod room (read also, back bedroom)  is kept closed and off limits to critters, there is still plenty of hair and dust to avoid, I try to keep exposure to room air to a minimum.  (John Channer)

      I made mine out of 1" x 1" x  12" x 5' frame work covered with 1/8" ply. Insulated it with 1" of insulation board on the inside. Suspended it from the top of my shop with a hinged door in the bottom with a 25 watt bulb mounted on the door. 4 1" holes in the top and bottom allow air flow up through the box. The bottom 4 1" holes have a sleeve with a 1" disk punched from a paint strainer glued on a 1" dowel with a 3/4" hole reamed through it inserted for a filter. Holds 8 sections by pulling a string for  each through the  top  and cleating/tie-off on the outside bottom of the box. Maintains 70° when the temp in the shop/garage is  in the 40's. Pretty simple and out of the way unless you are 6' 4" and brain your self when you walk under it.  (Don Schneider)

    There are a few pics of drying cabinets here.  Light bulb size tends to vary, depending on the size of the cabinet, how well it holds heat, and outside air temp.  You'll probably have to experiment a little once you get yours made.  As you can see from Todd's site, there are quite a few different setups in operation.  (Mark Wendt)

    Look out on the tips site under drying cabinets and also "What's New".  Todd posted a picture of my finishing system last month.  I also have a drying cabinet similar to what's already been discussed with the light bulb in the bottom etc.  My finishing cabinet also serves the same purpose, besides, I was able to make another gadget!  Problem is, I'm running out of space in my shop/basement for all my contraptions!  (Scott Bahn)

    I have been very pleased with a used metal school locker that I purchased.

    I got a 72" single 12"X12" metal locker from them for ~$25. plus shipping.  I have lined it with duct insulation and placed a 60 watt bulb in the bottom.  Does not take up a lot of room in the rod shop [garage], very reasonable [could not build a wooden one for $25.] and it works great.  If you like this idea call them at 800-551-1170 and see if they have some more single lockers.  They are getting used ones in ALL the time.  (Roy Hawk)


I would like to varnish my rod sections in my shed which is unattached from the house and unheated.  It stays about 10 degrees cooler than the outside temps and it doesn’t usually get below freezing or even to freezing during the nights where I live.  I built a drying cabinet this past weekend and am having some problems getting a consistent temp throughout the shaft.  The cabinet is made of 1X8’s and is 6’ tall.  The door is also made of pine and is a 1X10 with weather stripping around it to make a good seal.  At the bottom I placed a ceramic light fixture which is wired to a baseboard thermostat that is located approximately ½ way in between the rod sections while hanging.  This is then wired to a switch.  I drilled a small hole in the side of the cabinet just above the thermostat so I could insert my thermometer probe and get a reading of the temperature with the door closed.  With a 60 watt bulb, I was only getting the cabinet to about 10 degrees above the outside temperature.  I thought that maybe a 100 watt bulb would help and it did.  I was able to get the temp at the probe to 70 degrees+ while the temperature in the shed was in the upper 40’s.  I figured if I left the light on longer it would probably get to 80 degrees eventually.  I wanted to test the temp lower in the cabinet to see how consistent the temperatures were, so I drilled another hole about two feet up from the bottom.  This would most likely be where the tips of the rod sections would be when suspended from the cabinet.  I inserted the probe and watched them temps climb.  It reached over 100 degrees in a matter of seconds.  I switched the cabinet off and figured I will have to do something in order to equalize the temperature.  What would you all do?  Do I need to drill a hole in the top to make a vent to help draw the hot air up?  Do I need to install a small fan on the top to circulate the air inside or do I need to place the small fan on top of the vent to pull the hot air up and out?    (Greg Reeves)

    There are many facets to your problem

    1.  100 watts isn’t much when you’re trying to heat up all that wood as well as the air.

    2.  The wood at the bottom heats up first by radiant absorption then the heated air begins to rise by convection to the cooler places.

    3.  When you place your thermometer near the bulb it heats by radiation and probably doesn’t give you an accurate air temperature.

    If you install a fan to circulate the heated air uniformly throughout the cabinet you will achieve better results.  It doesn’t matter where you put the fan as long as it circulates enough air.   In theory, your cabinet would eventually reach 27 degrees warmer than the outside temp with a 100 watt bulb, but it will take a couple of hours to get there.  Adding some 4 inch insulation will allow you to get to about 100 degrees warmer than outside temp.

    Hope this gives you some idea of what’s going on in there.  (Al Baldauski)

    A short piece of PVC inserted through the top with a coffee filter rubber-banded on it might work well to give the moisture a place to go.

    Just a thought.  (Bruce Johns)

    I don't have an answer to your questions because I have the same ones.  I live in San Jose, CA and need to be able to finish rods all year.  My workshop is my unheated garage, but I do have the luxury of hanging the finished rod in the house (which we keep at a toasty 64 degrees) to dry.  My finished actually come out OK (I rub them out and wax after the varnish is fully cured), but I've been getting a few runs.  Interestingly they are not always in the flat below a guide, and this is what has me stumped.  I use a drain system and use a 4"/minute rate stopping below each guide (at the bottom of the wrap) for 5 minutes.  What else should I do?  Oh yes, since the garage temp is mid to low 50's, I heat the varnish and my dip cabinet is also heated.  Is there an optimum temp?  I refuse to heat the garage or waste the energy to heat the house any higher, which leaves me with the cabinet option.  Suggestions??  (Tom Key)

      I don’t know what kind of finish you are using but I drain at the same 4”/minute without stopping at the wraps and I have no problems. (SO far)  (Ren Monllor)

    I think most instructions will tell you that the temps have to be at least 70 degrees F for proper application and drying. However if you heat your varnish tube and your drying cabinet, and warm your rods before dipping/dripping that should compensate.  (Larry Puckett)

    I drilled holes in both the bottom and top of my Drying cabinet.  I also made sure it's

    not air tight, just doesn't let the dust swirls around.  A 60w bulb should be good enough.

    100 degrees in a matter of minutes could be problem heat buildup over hours.  (Terry Kirkpatrick)

      On my drying cabinet I do not have a fan to circulate the air. I do have 4 1' holes in the top & bottom to allow air to circulate. (heat rises) The holes in the bottom have filters made from paint filters to keep out dust. The top holes do not have filters. Had to experiment with the bulb wattage size to maintain 70° at the top of the cabinet. The cabinet is about 10" square and 60" long with 1" insulation on the inside. The bottom of the box is hinged with the bulb/socket mounted on it.  I have 6 strings to pull the sections up into the box. Pull the sections up into the box and tie-off to dry/cure. I mounted the box in my garage so that the bottom was high enough I didn't brain myself walking under it.  (Don Schneider)




    Don't worry about it and don't put a fan in it if you are going to hang freshly varnished rods in it, you'll just blow dust all over your new varnish. I've never even checked what temp mine gets with a 100 watt bulb in it, let alone any differences between the top and bottom, and the finish on the last 65 rods has turned out fine(if I get them clean enough before the final coats.  (John Channer)

      John's right. My varnish tank set up is a 12" diameter piece of PVC aka Wayne's design from his book. It is 10' long, 3' of which is sunk down into my garage floor (you haven't lived until you've core drilled a 14" diameter hole through a 4" slab and dug out compacted clay with a post hole digger, but that's another story).

      I have a 100 watt halogen flood bulb in the bottom. My varnish tube sits in a hole on a shelf in the PVC shell up about waist high. I can get the inside of the shell up to about 105 degrees, and I thought about putting a t'stat on it to regulate temp, but the finish is great as is (I use spar varnish).

      The setup in my old house was much the same, except it was in a boiler room off my garage that had a lot of exposed heat piping, and stayed 95 degrees year round). So there was no need for the supplemental heat in that setup.

      I'm sure the temperature stratification is higher at the bottom than the top, but it hasn't mattered for me.    (Tom Vagell)

    I get about 100 degrees out of my cabinet,  which is a modified CD tower that has a 100 watt clear light bulb and sides insulated with hard foam basement insulation.  (Jim Tefft)


I am building a drying cabinet of wood construction, approx. 12" x 12" by 5' tall.  I have seen that many use light bulbs as a heat source. I have a small thermostatically controlled ceramic heater that I was considering using. Is this a good idea or are there dangers and consequences that I am unaware of? (Ray Wright)

    If it does not move air and you can keep it between 70 and 85 degrees you won't have a problem.  Light bulbs don't have many places that are hard to dust, are cheap, don't generally catch fire if spirit based varnish drips on them, and you need light anyway, so it's killing two birds with one stone.

    There are several ways to skin this cat.  I saw a drying cabinet for 35 mm film rolls (they hung straight down) that had positive air pressure and a HEPA filter that looked really cool.  Others have used school lockers with a light bulb and had good performance.

    Try it and let us know if you burn the place down.  (Brian Creek)

    I wasn't sure how hot I wanted it t get, so I mounted 3 separate 3-way sockets in the bottom and put three 50-100-150w bulbs in them. I get just about any temp I want from 80 to about 125F from the various cominations of settings. Cheap too.  (Art Port)

      Question to the group regarding this thread - I built a drying cabinet and abandoned it when I failed to figure out a reliable way to get uniform heat from top to bottom.  Now I dry my rods in the extra bathroom with a small heater warming the room.  If I put a small fan it the cabinet will the heat even out?  HELP! (Tom Key)

        A fan will make the temperature uniform in the cabinet. Radio Shack sells a 115 volt fan, catalog number 273-242, for about $20.00. Works great for me.  (Don Green)

        As has been said to others, you are overcomplicating this. A light in the bottom of a cabinet is sufficient. Yes the heat is not even from top to bottom but it really doesn't matter for simply drying the varnish or even glued up sections. I have used a locker with a light bulb (60 - 100 watts) in the bottom cover the bulb with a coffee can with holes in it, or something of this nature, for all of my rod building career, or since 1992 what does happen is that heat rises and if you have some type of vent on the bottom and top of the cabinet you will get a natural flow of air that helps vent the vapors from the top.

        So that being said what I do is dip the sections in the morning or at night then about 8 hours later, either at night or in the morning I dip again. I do not even look at the sections between the first 2 coats. I then let them dry for approximately 24 hours, do any sanding or repairs I deem necessary and clean with a wet lint free cloth, tack the dust off and dip again, back into the cabinet to dry. Hope this helps.  (Joe Arguello)

        You know, it may well be a mistaken impression, but I find that my varnish finish is several orders of magnitude better since I started hanging the sections in my drying cabinet without turning on the heat at all. even in winter.

        Whether it possibly just allows the varnish to seek its surface level for longer without supplemental heat, or whether I am hallucinating I don't know, but it seems to be a repeatable thing, for me anyway.  (Peter McKean)

        This is my observation as well. Since I brush finish I want to give the varnish as long to level as I can. I don't put the rod into the drying cabinet until it has cured at room temperature for about 8 hours. With Helmsman you can cause the  varnish to "skin over" which can result in slower curing under the "skin." This may not be a problem with a dipped finish because the coats are thinner. I think that it is important to get the right balance between the varnish "kicking" over and solvent evaporation. JMO.  (Doug Easton)

        You know this is an interesting observation that warrants more thought! (You guys are causing me pain) I may have to try this and see if there is a difference. I dip my rods then put them immediately into the drying cabinet, I could just leave the light off. This definitely sounds like it might make a difference. Although my finish has always been one of the things my customers rave about, there is always room for improvement. Like I have always said, I have yet to make the perfect rod!  (Joe Arguello)

    My drying cabinet is similar to what you are making. It is 12" by 12" by 12" 6 foot high.

    It is also out of wood and has a Lexan door with room at the top and bottom for air to move through it as it heats up.

    In the bottom is just a ceramic light fixture mounted to a metal electrical box. I can put a 100 or higher watt bulb and keep the temperature over 80 degrees. I actually put a coffee can over the light bulb with big holes around the top and bottom to cut the light and spread the heat a little.

    I have strung wire about an inch down from the top and hang a bunch of S hooks for the rod sections to hang from. I have 4 strings of wire and have had as many as 4 3 and 4 piece rods in there at a time.

    Really simple and cheap.  Worked for 12 years so far with no problems.  (Gordon Koppin)

      With 20/20 hindsight, I'll say this about drying cabinets.  Build them as wide and deep as you can.  Skinny cabinets, with more than one rod section drying in them, can give you Prozac moments when one section starts swinging and either almost, or does hit one of the other sections.  Wider boxes also make it easier to get the sections in and out of the box.  12" x 12" may look good, but bigger is always better.  My next drying cabinet is going to be a hell of a lot wider and deeper.  It might even be a room by itself!  (Mark Wendt)

        I couldn’t agree more with this post.

        My first drying cabinet holds six cup hooks. Entirely made of 1x6’s with the light bulb.

        I moved the whole shebang into the room closet in my machine shop, where I can walk in and actually not have my belly or my arms or another rod bump another rod.  Happy times…..hmmm.  (Ren Monllor)


I have all the materials to put together a drying cabinet, but i have a few questions about using one.

1. After dipping the blank, how long do you let it rest before you move it to the cabinet?

2. How long do you keep the dipped blank in the cabinet?

3. Do you need openings in the top of the cabinet to let the heated air pass through?  If so, i assume some type of filter should be placed over the opening.  (Matt Draft)

    1. About as long as it takes to walk s-l-o-w-l-y from the dip tank to the cabinet.

    2. Till I need to do something else with the blank.

    3. I have about 3, all 1/2" holes which I've never bother to "filter". I use one of them to drop a remote sensing ($20) grill thermometer through to assess my temps. Got it at a Target (pronounced Tarjay, around here, for its upscale qualities relative to Big K and Wally World).

    Be careful not to OBSESS about these details - they can drive ya NUTS! In most things bamboo ('cept the taper!), close enuff is good enuff.  (Art Port)

      Put the dip tube in the floor beneath the cabinet and you don’t have to move it.  (Brian Creek)

    I screwed a regular temperature gauge to the back so I can see it through the door.

    Matt you are thinking way too hard about this.  (Gordon Koppin)


Site Design by: Talsma Web Creations

Tips Home - What's New - Tips - Articles - Tutorials - Contraptions - Contributors - Search Site - Contact Us - Taper Archives
Christmas Missives - Chat Room - Photo Galleries - Line Conversions - The Journey - Extreme Rodmaking - Rodmaker's Pictures - Donate - Store