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From time to time, I have problems with fisheyes in my varnish, and I'm wondering if any of you have found a way to remove silicone contaminants before finishing. There are lots of causes for fisheye, but my understanding is that, if the usual solvents and cleaners can't clear the bare surface, you're left with silicone as the culprit.

Most of the products I've found to eliminate fisheye are additives to the topcoat (usually lacquers), but I don't want to use an additive. "Smoothie" and similar products are themselves silicone based and create their own contamination problems -- a last-ditch effort with uncertain results. I would much prefer to resolve the surface problems BEFORE beginning my varnish work. Any advice out there?  (Bill Harms)

    I've never had a fisheye problem, but I don't allow anything with silicone in it or anything that has even come close to silicones of any kind in my varnish room or shop. The main culprits as far as I can tell are fabric softener sheets and Scotch Guard type products, at least in the home environment. I don't use fabric softeners on my own clothes(I do my own laundry, partly for this reason) and I don't wash and reuse rags, at least not on rods. I buy bag's o rags at the hardware store and just throw them out, part of the cost of doing business. On the rare occasion I say something, I do it outside far away from the shop. I would say your best bet is to find the source of contamination and eliminate it as best you can first. I would also toss any varnish, tubes, containers, brushes, etc that have ever had a fisheye from their use. Anything that has come into contact with varnish that has fish-eyed needs to go, it might be contaminated, too. Acetone is about the hottest solvent I know of that's available without an note from your mother, I would try that and work my way down to more benign ones.  (John Channer)

      It's funny, I saw a note recently from someone who mentioned using old T-shirts to wipe down their rods and I thought, OOPS, there's trouble waiting to happen. Until I say this out loud, I've never had any fisheye problems, but I'm sure they're in my future after I send this!  (Art Port)

        I have been on this list in the back ground for many years and I believe that this is the only subject that I pipe up on from time to time. I started rod building about 15 years ago and the only place to set up was in the back room of my laundromat behind the dryers. I had my shop in that room for about three years and the dust was horrendous from those machines. But as you can imagine the different kinds of drier cloths that were used by the public and I never had a fisheye! Now I was brushing most mostly back then but still no problem. I build in a shop that is away from my drying and varnish tubes but they are one door down from the laundry in my home still no problem. I guess what I am saying is in my opinion it is in the way you prepare the rod for varnish. Get her clean and I mean real clean and dust free between coats and you should be fine.  (Ron Rees)

          Fisheyes are very difficult to get rid of, you can try cleaning the rod with cellulose thinners. One fail proof way is. the first coat of finish can be French polish then after that go to your rod varnish. French polish is not effected by silicones the same way varnish coats is. (Gary Nicholson)

          Just wondering.  Do you use one of those plane socks from Lee Valley or someplace similar?  I was going to start using one of those when I read the package it came in.  Seems those plane socks have silicon in them to help inhibit rust on the planes.  Good thing I looked first, or I would have slid my planes into them.  (Mark Wendt)

    I used to have that problem now and then, and since I stopped using steel wool on the blanks,  I have not had the problem again.

    I tried stainless steel steel wool, and all kinds of oil-less steel wools, I even soaked the oil-less steel wool in solvents to get the oil out but could not as you could still see the oil on the surface.

    I now use synthetic steel wool made for auto body shops (made by 3M).

    Having said this, I know quite a few makers that swear by using steel wool and presumably have no fisheye problems.  (Larry Tusoni)

    Most of what we hear about silicone isn't true. This doesn't diminish the difficulty of getting rid of fisheyes when they occur, of course.  :)

    If all else fails, try wax and grease remover from the local automotive paint distributor. It isn't cheap, but that is what it is made for.  (Larry Blan)

    Your query sent me digging in Flexner's book: Understanding Wood Finishing and he has much to say on this subject - much of which you seem to be aware.  According to F. fisheye, or worse, crawling,  is usually caused by spots of any kind of oil or lubricant, it's just that silicone is a common ingredient and therefore often the culprit, Pledge furniture polish being the worst.  The problem arises when you try to coat the more oily surface or spot with a less oily substance - and you get the same effect as water beading on a freshly waxed car, or painting enamel over a grease spot on a board.  I think many of us don't experience much of a problem because most of us use spar varnish which is very high in oil.

    So, to answer your question - try to be aware and search your shop for intermittent contamination by any aerosol lubricants or products.  Does SWMBO or a maid sometimes "do you a favor" by dusting your work bench with Pledge?  Do you work on your guns or reels near your finishing bench and use squirt lubricants that might get a splat or aerosol drift on a blank?  Aerosol Cheese Whiz parties/fights when your buddies come over for poker?  Gooey spare ribs?  If this just happens sometimes, it must coincide with something.

    Also, I know that you use a very low oil finish.  You might consider using a higher oil varnish, such as spar.  Or you could do your first sealer coats in something like Formby's Tung Oil Finish which would seal in any underlying oil.  The varnish you use will go over it nicely.  I hope this helps.  (Darrol Groth)

      Your suggestions are all good. Prevention is always the best bet, but it's hard to know what the real source may be and I never see the problem until it has already occurred. Sanding back and refinishing doesn't help because the problem is not just on the bare surface, but is now IN the finish. That's why I'm looking for a rub-down product that can be used regularly before starting my finishing. Short of removing the silicone, a high-oil content rubbing sealer may be the best way to go. Shellac is also a good undercoat sealer, I'm told.

      (BTW, where do you find those maids that clean your shop?)  (Bill Harms)

        Maybe Formby's is the way to go then - inferring that you refuse to change varnish.  No maids here, I just assumed all you Perfessers had 'em, - and judging by the pictures of your neat shop.  (Darrol Groth)

          I use four to six coats of Formby's, steel wooled between coats wiped down with denatured  alcohol each time prior to wrapping. This is hand applied. After wrapping and applying thinned Helmsman to the wraps. I finish up with one to two coats of Helmsman on the the whole rod using the drain tube. So far, I have not had any problems and get a real nice finish.  (Tony Spezio)

            To answer some off list questions about using the steel wool. What I did not mention here is when I steel wool, I do not do it in the same room I varnish in. Each time I do use steel wool on a rod,, I pass a large magnet over the rod to pick up any stray particles that might be there. Maybe I have just been lucky, I have not had to re do a rod because of a flaw in the final finish. I get my 0000 steel wool at Walmart in the paint department.  (Tony Spezio)

    The thing that works best for me is to prep the section immediately before varnishing by cleaning vigorously with a lint free cloth or a natural chamois soaked in alcohol.  I cannot abide the smell of methylated spirit, so I use ethyl alcohol; but metho would work just as well.  (Peter McKean)

      Yes, good advice under all circumstances, and thanks much. My usual practice is to rub the blanks down, first with mineral spirits and then with alcohol. I've done this for years, despite everything. But the usual cleaners can't touch silicone contamination. Prevention is always best, but it's also imperfect, so the "right" cleaner is what I'd like to find.  (Bill Harms)

        As far as removing it, this is what Flexner says.  Wash the wood with naptha and a clean cloth, turning the cloth often so you just don't smear the oil around.  The danger is, though, that you are only diluting the oil this way.  As with any grease another answer is an emulsifier.   He  suggests  washing  the  wood  with  a  solution  of tri-sodium phosphate and water (i.e. soap).  Then of course you have to deal with a wet blank.  This has sure made me aware to be careful.  (Darrol Groth)

          Interesting. I usually wipe mine down with alcohol for the first coat but wash with liquid dish washing soap and rinse well before subsequent coats. I have never seen a fisheye except when I tried Minwax Helmsman spray.  (Doug Easton)

            Another thing that I've read can contain silicone is some brands of paper towel.  I've never had a problem with Bounty brand, so I continue to use it in my shop.  OTOH, I use a coat of Watco oil, followed by several coats of Tru-Oil, so maybe it wouldn't be a problem anyway.    (Neil Savage)

              I found "Bounty" has no micro fibers that can leach off. That is what I use. (Tony Spezio)

                That is true about some paper towels.  Did you ever wonder why your car windows streak when you wash them down with paper towels?  yep, the darn silicone in the toweling.  (Bret Reiter)

          Yes, I worry about smearing around whatever the contaminants are on the surface too. It's one thing to use an emulsifier (and as far as silicones are concerned, I'm learning that most solvents and cleaning products offer only that), but it's an entirely different thing to find something that actually removes the contaminants.

          And, like you, I'm also learning the need to be very careful. Admittedly, we only have these problems once in a blue moon (if at all), but it's very helpful for the list to have reminded us of the many causes, preventions and ways to overcome this issue.  (Bill Harms)

            Tri sodium phosphate is a pretty strong degreaser that will take your skin off if you use enough of it.  This is also something that really needs to be rinsed off whatever you use it on or it will muck with the adhesion of the finish.  Oh yeh, don't get this shit in your eyes either.  We used to use this to degrease machines when my constrcution company would do an industrial job.  My suggestion would be don't use this if you want to avoid any other types of problems.

            When I worked in the body shop in my misspent youth we would wash cars down with plain old mineral spirits to remove any silicone contaminate from waxes used on cars.  Just make sure when you do wipe down any rod blanks that you also dry them as the drying spots will cause the fisheye problem.  (Bret Reiter)

              I use TSP in commercial heating and chilled water piping systems in a 3 day flush mixed with 180 degree water to clean flux, oils, loose solder, etc. out of the piping and equipment before the permanent fill. We’re talking one pound per 1500 gallons of water. You should see how shiny it makes the inside of steel and copper pipe! In higher concentrations, it’s pretty caustic.  (Tom Vagell)

    In a conversation with another rodmaker earlier this year regarding fisheyes he stated that he almost quit rodmaking after trying to find the source.  It turned out to be a new spool of binding thread he bought.  Unbeknownst to him it turned out to be ‘bonded’ which when heated left some substance on the cane.  H he could not find a method of removing it.  When he brought the thread to his usual place the owner pointed out that this thread was coated/bonded and not his usual type.  Just another potential fly (fisheye) in the ointment.  (Ralph Tuttle)

    Interesting discussion about fish eye...I had the problem a couple of years ago using Pittsburgh polyurethane in a dip tube.  I assumed that silicone was the problem, but I was not sure.  In the spirit of "scientific" research, FWIW , I sprayed some silicone lubricant on to a reject piece of a glued blank and dipped it into fresh varnish. I was surprised to see no defect in the finish!  Unfortunately, I still had fish eyes on my rod sections when I dipped them, even after wiping them with acetone, mineral spirits, and then with alcohol!  I used lint free cotton surgical sponges to apply the solvents.

    I then switched to Epiphanes Spar varnish and I have had no problem since.  So, I have no explanation for the defect in the finish, but at least I have a solution I can work with.

    I use three coats of Epiphanes on the wraps, then sand them with 1000 grit paper.  Then I dip once, sand again with 1000 grit paper, and dip a second time.  Pretty simple, but it works for me.  (Ken Rongey)

      Thanks so much for the response. I'm thinking that even if my problem may not have been caused by silicone, as you suggest, a product effective enough to remove silicone is probably gonna get rid of all other contaminants too. Thinking of your experiment, maybe the reason your test-application of the silicone lubricant presented no problem is that your spraying left behind an altered, but uniform, surface-tension for the varnish. By contrast, the rod section you were working on probably had only spotted areas of dissimilar surface-tension -- and if that was the result of silicone, the usual solvents and cleaners wouldn't have any effect.

      Alternatively, some other guys suggested sealing off the problem by rubbing-on a couple coats of either Formby's tung oil or shellac. Like you, I have no explanation for the problems either, but solutions seem likely. Darrol Groth suggested that spar varnishes have a much higher oil content than polys and are less susceptible to surface tension irregularities. Makes sense to me because I always use a poly, always brush, and always thin my product with turps. I'm not going to change those parts of my regimen, but I think that rubbing on a couple, initial, sealer coats is the way to circumvent the mysteries.

      Thanks again to all of you who chimed-in on this. I really appreciate the help.  (Bill Harms)

        I go along with Bills comments. I have never had a problem (yet) with fish eye but have always wiped a couple of coats of tung oil on the rod to bring out the shades of color in the cane before coating with poly varnish.

        There may be another advantages with this practice.  (Ian Kearney)

    On the issue of varnish fish eyes, this one is not so simple. It can be caused by a number of things.

    1. It rarely happens to a raw blank, when it does the probable cause is oil, silicone or water.  This can be airborne, put on by tack rags,  finger prints, and condensation. Cleaning with solvents, Naptha, turps, and mineral solvent will often leave a slight oil residue. Change to degreasing agents alcohol, acetone, MEK, etc. Generally, the culprit will soak into the raw bamboo, not so if the blank was coated to prevent moisture absorption.

    2. If the blank was pre varnished, all the above plus, too fine a finish on the coating, the previous varnish coat had Penetrol added, using Turpentine for a thinner, too sharp a corner on the flats, an open, even a micro opening in a glue seam from chipping caused by too aggressive removal of the glue wraps and excess glue.  This mostly manifests itself in the but section where the flats are the biggest. Try sanding back the finish with 320, degreasing and wiping with Liquid sandpaper, allow to soak in for a few minutes, wipe, dry with lint free cloth and dip immediately.  That generally clears it.  (Jack Mickievicz)


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