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Finishing - Tru Oil

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A couple of months back I came across a somewhat heated debate on a bamboo rod centric list (can't recall which one) about using wipe on oil/varnish finishes on blanks glued up with a PVA glue like Titebond II.  The part that got my attention was the assertion by one fellow that the concentration of petroleum distillates combined with the penetration of the oils into the bamboo would cause damage to the glue lines that would ultimately lead  to failure.   I think  the oil  being discussed  was Tru-Oil.

I personally find this difficult to believe.  The thinners in these wiping varnishes evaporate fairly quickly and I imagine that the oils only penetrate a couple of thousandths into the wood.  But then again, I've never tried it.

What's the experience of the list?  Anybody out there oil finished a rod glued up with Titebond II?  If so, have any problems been experienced?   (Bill Benham)

    I sure don't know, but if it is true there goes 30 years of rod building shot to hell.  Did you ever hear the one about stepping on a crack and breaking your mother's back.  Same classification in my opinion.  (Ralph Moon)

    I have used Tru-Oil on my last two rods and they were both glued up with Titebond II Extend.  Before that I used pure Tung oil on my rods.  They were also glued up with Titebond II Extend.  I have only been doing this since 2000 so I can't speak to longevity, but there have been no short term problems.  (Hal Manas)


I just finished a rifle stock with Tru-Oil and I am impressed with it ease of use and it durability. I was wondering has anyone tried applying it  to a blank?  I was thinking how a  couple of coats of Tru-Oil sanded with 400 grit then wrapping the blank varnishing the wraps and topping the whole thing off  with a coat of varnish to get that nice continuous look.

Does anyone have experience  doing anything similar?   (Adam Vigil)

    I don't know how the varnish will stick to the Tru-Oil, but I've used Tru-Oil alone (except for wraps).  I like it.  About a dozen coats, rubbed down after the first 6, the next 3 and finally polished with Meguires looks REALLY  nice  to  my  eye.   Less Tru-Oil, less gloss.  My first rod only has 3 coats on it, I may add some sometime, but I LIKE the low gloss finish. Also, if it gets nicked, it's really easy to rub on another coat.  (Neil Savage)

    I have been using Tru-Oil for some time now.  I started using it as the first coat on my wraps to get rid of the shimmers and it works well when it is new (the Tru-Oil).  At that time I was using tung oil on my rods, just hand rubbed, I like that look.  I switched to Tru-Oil on the rod and it works just fine.  When I am finished I add one more coat to join the wraps and rod and then I wax the rod.  I have had no problems and I don't have to worry about dipping or dripping or any of the other headaches that go with all that.  As I said, I like this look.  (Hal Manas)

    I am using Tru-Oil  on a rifle  stock as we speak.  I have tried Tru-Oil on cane blanks and it works very well. But, I wouldn't use it on the wraps. I have tried that and I didn't like the way it came out. I can't remember exactly what I didn't like about it, but I remember that I told myself, that I wouldn't do that again.  (Dave LeClair)

      Tru-Oil works very well on wraps, and is a good cure for "the shimmers."  A first coat can be applied out of the bottle, but subsequent coats need to be thinned or you'll be looking at a mess of wrinkles and dimples.  I just change over to my regular varnish after that first coat.  (Bill Harms)

        Just curious, as the Tru-Oil is mostly linseed oil polymerized, does it tend to act as a color preserver or will it give you the same effect as varnish only?

        Other than a quick drying time, is there another reason to use it?  (Mike Shay)

          Other than ease of application (wipe-on), no runs, quick dry, easy to repair, and I like the way it looks, no reason...  Just my $.02.  (Neil Savage)

    I used Formby's Tung/Poly oil and I really like the results.  It went on very even and I had no runs and very little junk in the finish to deal with.  It seemed to build very well and gave a nice gloss finish.  I then used poly on my wraps.  (Lee Orr)

    I have done four one piece rods with Tru-Oil and varnish on the wraps. I like the look and it seems to hold up well but only time will tell.  (Chuck Irvine)

    I have used Tru-Oil on my wraps as a first coat. It seems to help with what the list calls the shimmers. After the Tru-Oil, I use varnish on the wraps (about 3 or 4 coats lightly sanding between each coat) and I varnish the entire rod last. 

    It does not act as color preserver. The finished wraps look the same as they would if you were using varnish only. As I said in my earlier post, it seems to help with the shimmers. I took the technique from earlier threads about wrapping which I dug up in Todd's tip site and the archives.  (Bill Bixler)


For anyone who hasn't used Tru-Oil, I HIGHLY recommend getting some Birchwood-Casey Tru-Oil.

I wanted to do clear wraps and tried every darned thing to get them to be clear without any air pockets.  I did lots of tests on scrap cane and the only thing that REALLY worked was straight Tru-Oil.  It also has the nice benefit of drying rather quickly.  (Joe West)

    Did you try Tru-Oil for a rod finish too?  I like it a lot.  I use about 12 coats, rub down with 4/0 steel wool after each 3 or 4 coats and polish with Meguires' after the final coat.  Not QUITE as glossy as varnish, but a lot easier to apply and to repair if it should happen to get nicked.  (Neil Savage)

      A.J. Campbell mentions Tru-Oil as a "traditional" rod finish along with those varnishes that are no longer EPA approved. 

      How to apply the Tru-Oil?  How long between coats?

      Longevity?  Hardness?

      Anyone else using Tru-Oil?  (Joe West)

        It's great Joe.  apply with the fingers, steel wool when dry to touch, but very lightly, I never use less than six coats and as Neil suggests maybe more is better.  Looks Great, fast and easy to apply dries as hard as any varnish why use anything else?  (Ralph Moon)

        As with any finish, time between coats depends on temperature, humidity etc.  I rub it on with my fingers, then rub fairly hard to build up heat.   Be sure to stroke from thick end to thin, not the other way, especially on the tip section.  I usually do about 3 coats a day in between other things.  You could probably do 4 a day here in southern Michigan in a warm room during the winter.  Be sure it doesn't feel at all sticky before doing the next coat.  I used 4 or 5 coats on my first rod in 2000.  Not as shiny but seems to be holding up well, no touchups needed yet.  And if it IS needed, just rub on another coat.  The only problem I've had so far is my signature faded under the finish, maybe I didn't use the right kind of pen.  (Neil Savage)

    I've been using about 15 rubbed-in coats of Tru-Oil on blanks, allowing at least 5 hours drying time and steel wool between coats. I varnish the wraps and varnish over the lettering, and then rub in a few coats of Birchwood-Casey gun stock wax. When the finish starts to get dull or dirty looking, I clean the rod with Pledge, rub in a couple coats of wax, and the rod looks like new.

    So far I've been very pleased with this finish. I fish a lot in the salt water and typically rinse  my rods in hot water after each use. You don't get the shiny finish like you do with varnish, but it holds up well.  (Tom Bowden)

    I have used Tru-Oil on many rods and wraps and it is  very good. Just remember this when using it on the wraps. It will make the wraps very dark. Light brown becomes very dark brown and medium to dark brown turns to black.  Also, from my experience,  the wraps will tend to wrinkle if  you use too many coats too soon.   For me,  it works best if I use only one or two coats of Tru-Oil on the wraps and then switch to varnish.  (David Ray)

      I tried Tru-Oil on some test wraps and didn't like the way it looked.  I've been using Valspar 900 on wraps.  About 6 coats seems to be required to make a smooth finish on Gossamer.  Bigger thread would probably need more.  (Neil Savage)

        My Tru-Oil experience was very bad. I used it on a reel seat and it took 4 or 5 coats and then I felt I had way to much time in on that reel seat. I live in western Kansas and it took for ever to dry. I felt it was way less time to dip insert in urethane varnish, sometimes it only takes 1 coat of varnish. Then I gave it a try again on another wood spacer and had the same problem but worse because it was a walnut spacer a little more oily than the other piece of wood I used. I do know that Tru-Oil works very good on guns and when it's fully cured it's a very hard finish compared to Varnish. Seems to me it would change the action of  a rod as hard as it gets.  By the way I through bottle away and I will never waste my money again on the stuff unless it's for a gun.  (Dave Henney)

          As an alternative to Tru-Oil, I have used Waterlox on the reel seat inserts and have had very good results.  Woodcrafters sells sample packs 2 oz for a very good price $3.95 eliminating trial and error costs as well as storage. It fills a baby jar perfectly.  Waterlox comes in 4 sheens from sealer to high gloss as well as a Marine variety.  I have not tried finishing a blank but I would imagine it would impregnate like any other  tung oil based finish... It is designed for hard use like floors and is very well suited for oily woods.  Three light coats and walnut burl "pops" with beauty and depth.  They have a web site that offers information as well as a way to order trial sizes.  (Michael Hoffman)

            Waterlox is good stuff! (JMO)

            I use it on reel seats and occasionally soak a blank in it overnight. (Thank you resorcinol!)  (Dewey Hildebrand)

              Waterlox is varnish, as in oil + resin cooked together, with thinners and driers added.  The oil they use appears to be all or mostly tung oil, a good thing.  Basically the same concoction as high quality spar, though I suspect the floor stuff has less oil content so it will dry harder.

              Tru-Oil is polymerized linseed oil that's been thinned so it will rub on easily (hence the multiple coats necessary).  "Polymerized" means that the oil has been cooked at a high temperature without oxygen so that the finished product will form a film faster and more completely than plain linseed oil.  It performs very much like an interior (short oil) varnish.  I'm with Dave Henney on this -- I would rather have a film that actually had UV protectants in it and  didn't  require so  many coats.   I've used Tru-Oil on many seats and it looks fine, but I suspect that good exterior varnish is a better finish.

              "Danish oil" is one of those nonspecific terms that could mean just about anything.  Usually, it is just a thinned oil (tung, linseed, soya, etc), sometimes mixed with varnish -- an "oil/varnish" as the woodworkers say.  The films on oil/varnishes are pretty soft compared to regular varnish but apply very nicely by hand.  If I were so inclined, I would use the old woodworkers' recipe instead of something premade: equal parts of spar, tung oil, and turpentine or naphtha.

              There's nothing magical here, just variations on a theme.  (Rich Margiotta)

                I agree with all that you have said.  I think that you have cleared the air here.  Just a couple of asides, however.  Waterlox exterior  has 50% solids and is used on decking and exterior wood on boats.  Also, I am not convinced that UV protection is all that important in a fly rod finish.  If one had continuous exterior exposure perhaps. but I doubt if most fly rods see more that a couple of hundred hours per year of sun.  Therefore, although Tru-Oil does indeed have fewer solids, thus requiring more coats, sufficient coats will give a build that is protective enough for me.  Plus there is little expense and great ease of application.  Considering the fact that you need two or three quarts of marine  spar  varnish for  a dip  tank,  that $6.00 bottle of Tru-Oil does quite a few rods.  (Ralph Moon)

                  As a shaft finish, and if you don't want to dip, you  can thin any good varnish 50-50 with gum spirits of turpentine or naphtha and wipe it on the  same  way  that  you  do  with Tru-Oil.  About the same number of coats would be needed (at least 5, maybe 7-8 depending on how much build you want.)  I think you're right about the solids -- although each coat will contain less solids, you can just add more coats to get the same total. 

                  However, I have no idea of what the merits  would be of using varnish Vs. Tru-Oil.  I suspect they're about about the same in longevity, liquid water resistance, and limiting water vapor penetration.  I say this because I haven't done any tests, but having used both, I want to use varnish, for some completely unscientific reason.  (Rich Margiotta)


I am thinking of using Tru-Oil for first rod finish and Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails Varnish for wraps. Good idea? bad idea?   (Stephen Dugmore)

    Tru-Oil is a perfectly good finish, and is especially nice if you don't have a dip tank or want to brush. I have never used Sally Hansen, but I have heard that you want about 6 very very thin coats. I think the guy that used it thinned it with alcohol.

    Why not try some test wraps on a dowel  before you do  the rod?  (Jeff Schaeffer)


How durable is Tru-Oil?  Used on a spacer and thought that it would work nicely for a blank.  (Lee Orr)

    Tru-Oil is altogether durable and "user-friendly," and has been used for decades on some of the finest gun stocks.  But, as with everything else we do, it's not as much the product as the technique that makes or breaks a good rod.  (Bill Harms)

    I LIKE Tru-Oil, but you need quite a few coats if you want a gloss finish. I put on 4 or 5, then put the blank in my planing form and sand it out with #1000 wet or dry sandpaper used dry (I wrap it around a square piece of steel).  Then 4 or 5 more coats and repeat, 3 or 4 more coats and polish with Meguires.  12 to 15 coats total.   I've been using Varathane 900 on the wraps afterward with no problem so far.  (Neil Savage)

    I think Tru-Oil is a great finish, but tung oil is even better. Just more time consuming. I have a rod that is now going on 4 years old finished with tung and still looks great, and no set. And it has been fished hard.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

      But Tru-Oil is a tung oil product.  Surely you didn't use pure tung oil on that earlier rod, did you?  All the regularly available "tung oil" products I know of (the hand-rubbed finishes) are not pure, but are blended with various resins, driers and thinners.  That is to say, much like Tru-Oil.  (Bill Harms)

        Another benefit to Tru-Oil over varnish is that if it DOES get damaged it doesn't have to be stripped, you can just put on a bit more in the damaged area and rub it out.  I've been "sold" on oil finishes for a long time (for most anything I want a clear finish on).  (Neil Savage)

        I'm almost certain that Tru-Oil is Linseed Oil based rather than Tung Oil based...  I've had an email conversation with one of the fellows who makes Tru-Oil for Birchwood Casey, and I "think" that's what I remember him saying.  I can't find my notes right now,  so I'm not 100% sure.

        And yes, I use 100% pure Tung Oil as a first coat on my rods before dipping in Tung Oil based spar varnish.  (Harry Boyd)

          Tru-Oil is Linseed and "Natural oils" based.  Maybe the natural oils is tung oil as well?  (Gary Williams)

          Here is the description of Tru-Oil from the B-C web site.

          Tru-Oil® Gun Stock Finish

          There is no better oil finish! TRU-OIL Gun Stock Finish is the professional’s choice for gunstock (or furniture) finishing for more than 30 years. Its unique blend of linseed and natural oils dries fast and will not cloud, yellow or crack with age and resists water damage. TRU-OIL Gun Stock Finish penetrates deeply and forms a tough, clear, hard finish that protects and enhances the beauty of fine woods. For a hand rubbed, satin luster, simply buff with steel wool and rubbing compound or use Stock Sheen & Conditioner. Excellent as a sealer for under butt plates, recoil pads and in inletted actions to prevent stock damage. Use the liquid for fast filling of the pores and the aerosol for the final finish.  (David Van Burgel)

            I used woodcraft 100% pure tung oil. I think Tru-Oil has some tung in it, but it is advertised as a linseed oil product with other oils and hardeners (whatever that means).

            Pure tung oil is the most underrated and misunderstood rod finish in the history of rodmaking.

            I will bring the rod to Grayrock so that you all can see for yourself,  and I might even do a demo on the various wipe-on finishes.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

    Tru-Oil is polymerized linseed oil that's been thinned heavily so it can be wiped on. It may also have metallic driers in it (same as varnish), but I don’t know why it would need them.  Tung oil can also be polymerized (most of Sutherland Welles' products are this.) "Polymerized" means the oil has been cooked at a very high temperature in the absence of oxygen so that when it is exposed to oxygen the molecules completely polymerize, unlike pure linseed or tung oil which only partially polymerizes as it dries.  Polymerization occurs when small molecules combine to form larger, longer ones. 

    What that means for us is that polymerized oil will form a film that looks and behaves much like varnish.  It will have a glossy look rather than the matte look of oil.

    Which begs the question, if it behaves like varnish, why not just use varnish in the first place?  Varnish is combination of oil and resin, but I don’t know how the varnish film stacks up against the 100% polymerized oil film, but my guess is that the varnish film is tougher and is a better water vapor barrier (both will shed liquid water ’til the cows come home.)  I haven't seen anything written on this.

    If ease of application is your thing, then you can thin your favorite  varnish  50-50 with  naphtha and  wipe it on just like Tru-Oil.  This is what all commercial "wiping varnishes" and what many "tung oil finishes" (like Formby's) are:  thinned varnish (which may contain some percentage of tung oil).  Bear in mind that you'll need about the double the coats since you've got the solids in half.  (Rich Margiotta)

      I guess my uneducated response to that would be - they use it on gun stocks for Pete's sake! If there were any questions regarding its longevity and ability to shed water I don't think it would be as widely accepted for use on something like gun stocks that are far more abused than cane rods.  (Phil Smith)

        FWIW, the B-C web site MSDS does not mention varnish, just oils and mineral spirits. 

        Another advantage if you only make one or two rods a year is that it comes in a 3 oz. bottle, so when it gels you haven't  lost a quart.  (Neil Savage)


I'm trying Tru-Oil on a rod for the first time.  How many coats do you use? 5 or 10 or 20 or...?  How do you tell when you have enough?  (Frank Stetzer, Hexrod, Taper Archive, Rodmakers Archive)

    I haven't made all that many  rods, (5) but I used Tru-Oil on all.  I'm now using about a dozen coats.  I put on 5 or 6, well rubbed and let dry, then rub with 4/0 steel wool or whatever, sometimes #1200 wet/dry sandpaper used dry.  Then 3 more coats and rub with steel wool, 3 final coats and polish with Meguires swirl remover.  If I don't like the look, I wipe with alcohol on a clean rag and do more coats.  With Tru-Oil, you only get a little build up with each coat, so put it on until you get tired of doing it, or it looks the way you want, whichever comes first (;-)  (Neil Savage)

    I've been using Tru-Oil to refinish rods  for the last 5 or 6 years. In fact, unless a customer insists on varnishing when I restore their rod, I'll probably never go back to varnishing! It's just too easy, too cheap to use the Tru-Oil! In my opinion a rod looks just as good or better with this finish than with varnish and unlike varnish, if you want to redo it all you need is steel wool (no stripping). I do it just a little different than Neil, but I’m sure the results are the same. I use #0000 steel wool after every 2 coats and usually put approximately 10 coats (Not steelwooling after the last coat).The great thing about the Tru-Oil is if you don't want a high gloss finish you just lightly steel wool after the last coat and you end up with a nice satin finish that looks like an Orvis impregnated rod. All this and it only cost $4.99 a bottle at Wally World and a 3 oz. bottle will do several rods. Try it, I think you will be very pleased with the results.  (Will Price)

      Sure beats Marine Spar on cost doesn't it?  One of the easiest and most satisfactory finishes I have used.  (Ralph Moon)

        I'd like to try Tru-Oil on my next rod if someone tell me how it is applied?? I am assuming that it is either brushed or rubbed on with a cloth.  (Larry Fraysier)

          I've used Tru-Oil on all my rods for years now.  My rational was that if it's good enough for gun stocks it should be good enough for fly rods. Having control issues, tank dipping just wasn't allowing me to "steer" the finish the way I wanted it. I've used this method with good results and this is how I apply it before the ferrules are mounted:

          I sand the blank using grits 220, 400, 600, and 1000.

          I apply the first five coats with a lint free cotton patch about the size you would use for muzzle loading.  The trick is to apply it with the patch in long smooth strokes until it starts to develop a bit of "traction".  This serves two purposes.  The first is that it "picks" up lint and dust as it begins to set, but don't wipe it too long (you'll develop a feel for how long is long enough).  The second is that it lays down a thin coat. The beauty of Tru-Oil is that successive coats can be applied in just a  few hours.  After five coats I hand buff it with linseed oil, pumice, and rottenstone.

          I wrap my guides on after the finish so for the 6th and final coat I dip it using the bottle and balloon method since TruOil comes in such small quantities.  I use a withdraw rate of 4 rpm's to lay down as thin a coat as possible.  I finish buffing it with the linseed oil, pumice and rottenstone.  (Gary Williams)

          Tru-Oil is polymerized linseed oil that has been highly thinned so it can be wiped on.  "Polymerized" oil is made by cooking the oil at very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen.  When it's applied and dries, it forms a film very much like varnish (which is a cooking of oil and a resin).  Since tung oil is generally considered to be superior to linseed oil as a water barrier, you might be better off with one of the Sutherland Welles concoctions.

          The ease of application is due solely to the fact that it's so highly thinned.  You can get the same effect by thinning your favorite varnish with high quality mineral spirits or naphtha -- that's how woodworkers make a wiping varnish.  Plus you'd have the UV inhibitors (assuming you use an exterior varnish) which Tru-Oil does not have.  Fixing surface scratches is the same with thinned varnish coats as it is for Tru-Oil just steel wool and reapply by wiping in both cases.

          I have no data on this, but my guess is that varnish (because the cross-linked molecules in the film include a resin) is superior for water vapor exclusion to polymerized oils.  The data I've seen from the Forest Product Labs only tested pure tung and linseed oils (not polymerized) and they were both horrible at keeping water vapor out.

          Another problem with polymerized oils is that they love to set up in their containers when opened.  You really need to use Bloxygen after every application or decant to smaller containers.

          Bottom line:  if you like wiping on finishes, thin a high quality exterior varnish and use it.  As with Tru-Oil, you need a lot of coats but they go on and dry quickly.  I still like to wait at least overnight between coats -- dry to the touch is one thing, but all polymerizing finishes continue to cure after the solvent as evaporated.  (Rich Margiotta)

            Would thinning work with Helmsman Spar Urethane? Do you know what the mix ratio should be to make a wipe on varnish or urethane?  (Chris Hei)

              50-50 with naphtha as the thinner is what I use with spar urethane and MOW spar when I wipe.  This is also good for reel seats.  (Rich Margiotta)

                I don't know about Tru-Oil having UV inhibitors or not but considering the fact that it was developed for finishing gun stocks it has to be a tough finish! I refinished the stock on a 16 gauge Fox Sterlingworth that my Grandfather left me and I've put that gun through more in the last 22 grouse seasons (since refinishing it) than most bamboo rods will see in 50 years and it is holding up quite well. As far as using Bloxygen, I've never used it and my experience is that the bottle has to be at least 1/2 empty before I've seen any skinning over. When that happens I just remove the clotted up film with a plastic knife like you get at McDonalds and to make sure that no hard flakes get onto the cloth I'm using for wiping I just pour the Tru-Oil through a cut off piece of the many discarded pantyhose that my daughters left behind when they moved out on their own.  (Will Price)

          I either use my fingers or a paper towel (Bounty seems to work well, no adhesion problems so far.)  I like to rub with my fingers to build up a bit of heat, helps it set up.  Just use waterless hand cleaner to get it off my hands.  (Neil Savage)

          Use a lint free cloth or your fingers.  (Lee Orr)

    Would you pay $53 plus some change for a quart of spar varnish. That is  what your $4.99 for 3 oz. Tru-Oil cost.  (Jerry Drake)

      Given that I only make a rod or 2 a year, the quart of spar goes bad before I come anywhere near using it up.  The little bottle of Tru-Oil also sets up, but it's only a couple of ounces wasted.  By the way,  Tru-Oil is available in larger quantities (8 oz. or gallon) if you really want that much at once.  (Neil Savage)

      That's one way of looking at it but that 3 oz. bottle is good for at least 4-6 rods and broken down that way it only cost me between .85 cents to $1.25 per rod to finish. I'm sure that 3 dips in varnish eats up at least $1.00 worth of varnish and it's not necessary to have a drying cabinet (another expense even if home made and using light bulbs which burn out and need replaced). In fact I just hang my sections up suspended from an old metal cloths rack right here in the computer room. I'd put the smooth, flawless finish (no dust particles, lint etc.) I achieve with Tru-Oil up against any varnish finish I've ever seen and having done both finishes I feel that the Tru-Oil is at least twice as easy and a whole less time consuming than varnishing.  (Will Price)

    I have played with a brush or two in the last fifty years so I have had considerable experience with brush technique; but as a rodmaker/builder, I have only finished a dozen or so rods, and really cannot claim to be an expert.  But here are two methods of application that I have found work well for me.

    I have brushed on MOW unthinned with an artificial sable brush and applied rather liberally and then put the blank horizontally in one of those rod drying rigs turning at 11 or less rpm and gotten a beautiful high gloss finish with no sags or whirlpools etc. but the finish was a little too thick for my taste if I applied more than one coat. Dried to touch in 6-8 hours.  I am anxious to see some dipped rods so I can make a comparison.

    The second technique I found that works well for me is what artists call "dry brushing" and "scumbling."  On rods or canvas it works the same way.  Dry brushing is what the  name implies, you don't use much medium (the varnish etc.) on the brush bristles. Scumbling is a brush technique in which you use random patterns as you apply the liquid. So here is how I have been doing it:  My wife found a new dollar store at the mall which has hog bristle round brushes in various sizes, ten for a buck.  Now we have all been taught to use only the softest sables etc. with varnish but it turns out that ten cents each and made in China these bristles ar a bit softer than the ones I usually use in my oil paintings and they are great for varnishing rods. They come in about size 14 or 12 down to about a two or three.

    I charge the brush with varnish (which seems to belie my dry brush concept), and quickly unload it down the shaft until it is empty.  Then I make a second pass with the empty (dry) brush and further spread the varnish to a thin coat with no particular concern for parallel strokes (which is scumbling), and work the varnish just scrubbing the stick hard enough to bend the bristles thirty to forty degrees until I have a nice thin satin coat. A few long light strokes make for the finishing touch.

    As Rich says, "steel wool and reapply" if you wish. Also there are some dryers which are still knocking around my studio after twenty years or more, which I intend to experiment with. One drop in a ounce would kick that drying time up considerably.  (Dick Steinbach)

    How do you prevent the reduction of the covering in the corners of the rod? I would have thought that rubbing it with this and that would put more or unequal pressure on either the corners or flats at least resulting in varying covering thickness.  (Don Anderson)

      I've never used Tru-Oil on a rod, but have used it on scores of reel seats.  The coating is so thin that I doubt you would notice any difference in thickness at corners or centers.   Though you could probably measure thickness differences with a specialized micrometer, I don't think a run of the mill dial or digital caliper would be precise enough to tell the difference.  (Harry Boyd)

      I usually put the first coat on by wiping on lengthwise. The second coat I put on by starting at the tip and spinning the rod with my left hand as I bring the saturated cloth patch down the section. Once the second coat is dry, I lightly steel wool (#0000) all of the sections, wipe down with a rag lightly dampened with paint thinner and repeat the process at least three more times, except I don't steel wool after the last 2 coats. Usually the rod is done at this point. Smooth, flawless and ready to go. Occasionally, I will polish after the 8th coat with the blue 3M polish or Meguires plastic polish to remove any specks that might have stuck on the rod, but most of the time the finish is free of any particles or imperfections. I think this is due to the very quick tacking of the Tru-Oil. Total time invested in finishing a rod this way is probably 2 hours maximum spread over a couple of days, because the maximum drying time on this product between coats is 5 hours. There has been weekend days when I've put three coats on. I always go over every square inch with a 10x magnifying glass and the build is even and smooth on the flats and the corners. Like I said in an earlier posting, I used this product to refinish the stock and forearm on my 16 gauge double barrel and that was 22 years ago and the finish still shines and is pretty much intact, and that gun has been through more bad weather, briar patches etc. than what a fly rod will see in 50 years of use.  (Will Price)


What is that Birchwood-Casey's Tru-Oil made of?  It's mostly boiled linseed oil and what else?  Stain? perhaps a tiny bit of varnish maybe? Does anybody have any suggestions?  (Dick Steinbach)

    Its a "unique blend of linseed and natural oils" according to what they say on their web page. What's a natural oil, isn't petroleum natural?  (Larry Puckett)

    From Birchwood Casey's web site, Tru-Oil composition by weight:



    Mineral Spirits 8052-41-3 >56%

    Modified Oil Mixture <33%

    Linseed Oil Mixture <11%  (Neil Savage)

      Neil gave the ingredients from the Birchwood Casey web site, in adding to that, linseed oil (regular)is not considered to be a real tough protectant BUT when it's polymerized(a fancy way of saying boiled) the molecular structure is changed and it's considered to be a very good protectant. On Jeff Wagner’s web site he states that his Patriot series has a hand rubbed polymer finish(I would guess that it is possibly Tru-Oil as I have never seen the word polymer on any hand rubbed varnish products).I have a 16 GA Fox Sterlingworth shotgun that I refinished the stock on 25 years ago and it is still holding up. I would say that gun gets more rough treatment in 1 year of going through grouse coverts than a bamboo rod gets in 50 years. It is SO EASY to use that I don't know why anyone would want to varnish a rod(because it's always been done that way dies hard I guess).If I laid a rod finished with Tru-Oil next to a rod that has been varnished I would bet the ranch that the only way ANYONE could tell the difference would be to scrape finish from each rod and have it chemically analyzed.  (Will Price)

        I just spent an hour on the tips site and reviewed everything I could find on the topic and of course my questions were well answered there along with several similar formulas. It seems that 56% of the product is mineral spirits, 11% is linseed oil (probably boiled [polymerized]linseed oil I suspect), and 33% is a "modified oil mix" whatever that means. Those who use it are strong advocates, and love it, and extoll its virtues.  (Dick Steinbach)

          Garrison (or Carmichael) suggests Tru-Oil for finishing reel seat fillers.  P. 131, left hand column.  I like it because I CAN tell the difference between it and my varnishing, which isn't too great.  No runs, sags, drips, dust etc.  Also, if it does get damaged it's easy to repair, unlike varnish.  Just rub on a couple more coats in the damaged area.  Kind of like touching up latex paint Vs oil paint.  (Neil Savage)

    In another life, I did a lot of gun stock finishing.  I always liked using Tru-Oil because of the ease of application, I would wipe it on with the palm of my hand and level with 600 grit between coats, and how easy it was to make repairs to finished stocks.  If a stock was banged up or the finish became worn, you could scuff the remaining finish with 600 grit and apply additional coats of Tru-Oil.  It would make the stock look brand new. You did have to be a bit more careful with stained wood, worn areas would look lighter unless you restained, and silicone stock wipes would cause problems with adhesion.  I usually would polish the finish on a power buffer after it had cured well.  The buffer turned a 12" loose muslin wheel at about 700-800 RPM and was loaded with Brownells 555 polish. quick passes and minimal pressure was used to keep from melting the finish. this gave a high gloss without looking like plastic.  (Harry Walters)

    This sounds very interesting.  If you finish with Tru-Oil, what do you use on the wraps?  Do you varnish separately or use Tru-Oil on them, too?  (John Dotson)

      You can use Tru-Oil on the wraps, but take care to thin it a little first. The advantage of using the product on wraps is that it does a good job of minimizing the "shimmers." The potential downside, however, is that if you apply it in coats that are heavy, it will wrinkle and crinkle as it dries.  (Bill Harms)

        What do you use to thin it? - mineral turpentine? lacquer thinners?  (Stephen Dugmore)

          Either turp or mineral spirits for thinning.  (Bill Harms)


How many coats of Tru-Oil do you think is sufficient to give good protection? After five or six coats it's looking pretty good. Yet, there doesn't seem to much build up as compared to a couple coats of spar. Finishing out a rod on an experimental taper and don't want to go through my normal finishing process of impregnation, with it's two month cure time.  March and early black stone flies are just not that far off! (Tim Pembroke)

    Tru-Oil is pretty thin stuff but 6-7 coats should be plenty.  (Rich Margiotta)

    I keep putting it on until I'm satisfied with the look.  (Neil Savage)

    The thinness of the coats is one of the beauties of Tru-Oil or Formby's tung oil varnish.  Unencumbered bamboo! I've used both. I have them on rods I have fished a lot, a real lot, and they have held up very well.

    100 years from now when my rods are selling for 100,000 dollars a section on eBay, bamboo rod makers will be discussing on innergalacular cyber lists whether Garrison or Troester was the real deal and whether dipping or wiping is the best means of applying finish. They won't be able to decide.    (Timothy Troester)

    I normally do about 10 coats - buff lightly with 0000 steel wool between coats and let each coat dry for 8-12 hours. I let the final coat dry for a few days,  then rub on a few coats of gun stock wax. Every year, clean the rod with Pledge and apply some more wax.

    I have rods finished this way that I've fished hard for years with no problems.  (Tom Bowden)


Larry Tusoni warned me offlist about the oil in steel wool, and how it can cause problems with finishes. Out of curiosity, I sent an e-mail to Birchwood-Casey asking them about using steel wool to buff between coats. I thought my fellow Tru-Oil junkies would be interested in the response.

Thanks to Larry, and also to Birchwood-Casey for their quick reply to my question.  (Tom Bowden)

Your fellow Rod Maker is correct Tom.

With out the oil on the steel wool , the steel wool would rust.

If you are having a problem we suggest washing the steel wool with a cleaner degreaser.  It could be flushed with our Gun Scrubber or washed with dishwashing liquid and water.

Truly Yours,

Birchwood Casey

Mike Morgan

Product Development, Sporting Goods

Birchwood Casey

7900 Fuller Road

Eden Prairie, MN 55344  USA

TEL. 800-328-6156 x-7986  FAX. 952-937-7979

-----Original Message-----

From: Tom Bowden []

Sent: Thursday, February 09, 2006 11:53 PM


Subject: Steel Wool and Tru-Oil

I've used Tru-Oil as a finish on bamboo fly rods I make. I follow the instructions on your label and buff lightly with steel wool between coats. A fellow rod maker recently told me that all steel wool contains oil, and that this could potentially prevent the finish from sticking. I haven't experienced this problem, but wondered if Birchwood Casey has done any research on this. Should I be concerned?


Tom Bowden

    You can also get oil-free steel wool in the paint department of some stores.  (Neil Savage)

    Woodcraft may sell oil-free steel wool, as well as bronze wool. (Steve Weiss)


I'm not up on moisture blocking properties of Tru-Oil but I understand that Tung Oil is near the bottom of the list for that particular quality. I just think it makes a nicer finish than varnish alone. A friend recently told me that he adds Penetrol when he does a Tung Oil finish on his wood projects. He uses two parts Tung Oil to one part Penetrol. He feels the Penetrol helps the Tung Oil penetrate better. I know it's a good idea to add about 10% Penetrol along with 5% Acetone to spar varnish to thin it but had not heard of it being added to Tung Oil before.  (Wayne Kifer)

    The bad rap that the oil finishes have is a result of a Forest Service study. They tested numerous finishes, and the oil did indeed rank near the bottom. However, the test was conducted using the same number of coats for each finish (2, as I recall). The test did not study a properly applied oil finish, tung or otherwise.  (Larry Blan)

      The FPL reported results with 1, 2, and 3 coats of each finish. The study can be found here.

      Tung oil's numbers are -1,  -1 and 2 for 1,  2, and 3 coats, respectively. A minus number means that it actually promotes water vapor uptake.  (Rich Margiotta)

      That's very interesting Larry. May I gather then that multiple coats do indeed make a difference? I understand most makers use 3 to 5 coats before adding an additional coat of spar. You also stated "properly applied." The procedure I'm familiar with is apply the first coat to a warmed rod section. Additional coats applied after slightly roughing the surface with 000 steel wool or 1000 grit sandpaper. Is there a superior method I'm not familiar with? Also, is Tru-Oil superior and is it compatible with spar varnish?  (Wayne Kifer)

    I think you meant Naptha or mineral spirits rather than acetone as an additive for spar varnish.  (Harry Boyd)

      I did mean mineral spirits instead of acetone. I'm forever getting the two confused. Fortunately not in use yet. LOL  Just plain old CRS I expect.  (Wayne Kifer)

    There is some lengthy discussion on Tru-Oil in the tips site. My biggest question is why would you want to varnish the rod over top of the Tru-Oil? It's totally unnecessary! I've used Tru-Oil exclusively for about 7 years now when restoring rods, and on every one that I've built (6) in the last 2 years. It is a tougher finish than varnish, gives better protection against moisture than varnish, and requires almost no work to touch up if needed. I use a minimum of 8 to 10 coats, lightly scuffing every OTHER coats with 0000 steel wool. That sounds like a lot of work, but takes A LOT less time than 3 coats of varnish. You can finish a rod in one weekend with Tru-Oil because it only takes about 2 hours waiting time between coats and about 4 hours. time to set up enough on the coat that gets steelwooled. As I've stated before on this list I did the stock on my grouse gun 30 yrs. ago and it's still holding up, and that gun sees more rough treatment and inclimate weather in one hunting season than a bamboo rod will see in 50 years! And yes it's compatible with spar. Once I have the desired finish on the rod, I then wrap the guides on and finish them with Helmsman Spar Urethane. It would take a chemist to tell if a rod had varnish or Tru-Oil on it because they don't look any different! Try it one time and I'm sure you'll like the results.  (Will Price)


I am not quite set up with a dip tank yet, so I was wondering if Tru-Oil would be a good finish for a blank? I am after a hand rubbed look with adequate protection for the bamboo.  (Paul McRoberts)

    All I can say is "Tru-Oil works for me!"  I use about 12 coats, rubbed out with steel wool after every second or third coat.  I have one rod which I tried the "bottle and balloon" method on.  That worked for the tip but I had trouble on the butt so sanded it down and used Tru-Oil.  I can't see any difference now, though it hasn't been fished much yet.  It works on gun stocks, I don't see why it can't protect a rod.  Regardless of finish, you shouldn't store a cane rod without drying it thoroughly.  (Neil Savage)

    I've used Tru-Oil on 9 out of the 10 rods I've finished.  I really like it.  I apply it just as Neil said, about 12 coats rubbed out every  other coat.    On the 1   rod  that  wasn't  finished with Tru-Oil, I dipped (drained) in spar.  I can't tell the difference between that rod and my  Tru-Oil finished rods.  (Aaron Gaffney)

    I've used Tru-Oil on quite a few rods and it works well, especially if you apply some gun stock wax over it. I usually apply varnish over the lettering on rods finished with Tru-Oil. When the rods get really wet (e.g. fishing in the rain - common up here in the NW), the cane becomes darker under  the Tru-Oil than the varnish, which might indicate water penetration. Yet after a wipe down and an hour or two drying time,  you can't tell the difference.

    Another rub-on routine that I've used recently is several coats of tung oil, followed by 3-4 coats of Daly's Seafin teak oil. This seems to provide a bit more protection than the Tru-Oil, though I haven't used the rods long enough to know for sure. A minor advantage of Seafin is that it's designed to provide a bit of traction for use on ship decks, which translates to better a better grip when you're assembling and disassembling rod sections.  (Tom Bowden)

      Tru-Oil just doesn't seem to seal water out. For you gun stock waving boys who swear by it...bless ya!

      Tom, your own observations tell you that water is getting through it!  Not only that but it passes back out!  (belch, sorry!)

      Now, we all understand that liquid water and water vapor are two different animals right? Just as we understand that wood and grass are two different beasts?

      Tru-Oil is neat stuff, no if's, and's, or but's about it! But what it ain't is...waterproof! Hell, either is Spar!'s a hell of lot better than Tru-Oil for keeping water away from grass! To those of you boys who will write and tell me that Tru-Oil has kept  their  shotgun stocks  in prime  condition after  30 years...YOU are the guys to blame! LOL (luv ya!) Soak your freaking gun in the river and let me know what happened! Better yet...throw your gun in the river and fish it out after a month or so!

      I'm certain that the more coats, the better the protection. BUT...even Tru-Oil recommends that the coat be steel wooled after every application. Those of you that use it know how little "wooling" it takes to remove the finish. Hence we coat multiple times before steel wooling. I wonder why? Maybe because it would take twenty or thirty coats (of course, I have NO empirical data to support this) before it comes close to sealing as well as one or two coats of spar? Hell I don't know. I'm no rocket scientist! Where is Claude Freaner (hell, I prolly spelled his name wrong and he'll shun me) when you need him?

      OK...(belch) I'm done!  (Mike Shay)

        Isn't this why some of the  guys on this list swear by using Tru-Oil and Shellac mixed together and then rubbed on? Because the shellac gives the waterproof barrier?  So the story goes.  (John Silveira)

      So if makers are using Tru-Oil because they don't have a dip tube, what happen to just thinning some spar or poly and rubbing it on the blank? Maybe some folks do not realize you can thin a spar or poly and rub it on with your fingers? Some guys have done that for years and it certainly does not take 12 coats like Tru-Oil.   (Adam Vigil)

        I sometimes thin Helmsman with Minwax antique oil and rub on with a lint free paper towel. I rub off the excess in about 5 min. I do 3-4 coats and rub out with rottenstone after drying at 90 degrees. It gives a lustrous finish which is "close to the wood."   (Doug Easton)

        OK, so we soak our strips for anything up to several weeks, adding Clorox to the water, and now we are going to worry about a bit of water getting to the cane while fishing?  I still like Tru-Oil.  I don't sell my rods, so I can suit myself.  If I ever go commercial I will probably have to varnish since that seems to be what customers want, just as they don't want rods longer than 8'.  (Neil Savage)

          I have some limited experience with Tru Oil both in rods and in refinishing gun stocks, and I think it is a good product that does pretty much what it is claimed to do by its makers.

          But it is a short cut thing, in my opinion.  If I were to refinish a gun stock as perfectly as I was able, I would sooner use a long  and tedious boiled linseed application, with frequent steamings of the grain.

          Neither the linseed nor the Tru-Oil is waterproof, however.  Again only my opinion, but it is easier to refinish the water marks on a linseed finish than it is on Tru-Oil.

          The big question is whether we actually need the finish on our rods to be waterproof.  I mean, how long do we need to be walking around with wet rods. A bit of a quick wipe with a handkerchief every so often will keep them pretty right, surely ?

          If you don't have either the time, the equipment or the temperament to do a  long-process  varnish on your fly rod, Tru-Oil will do a good job for you. It won't be as durable nor as impervious as a spar or poly-spar finish, but it will still be up to the demands of the job.

          When push comes to shove, it is not a bit of moisture that is the enemy of bamboo - it is the slamming in doors, the stepping on when coming back from having a pee, and the falling on when traversing rocks.  Tell me about a finish that offers protection from all of these and I will be forever grateful, and then and only then will I start to obsess about a bit of water.   (Peter McKean)

            Birchwood-Casey also makes (From their web site)

            Gun Stock Sealer & Filler

            Sealer & Filler seals out moisture and fills the pores in one easy step. A clear sealer and filler lets you choose your favorite stain or leave the wood in a natural tone. Use  Sealer &  Filler  as  the  first  step to a beautiful TRU-OIL Gun Stock Finish. Easy-to-use and dries fast.

            I'll try some and let you all know how it works. 

            They also make a wax that might actually do what we all say wax does, with is be the best moisture block we can use.  (Terry Kirkpatrick)

              If it works for you in Florida, I bet it will work at least as well in Michigan.  At least we don't have salt water to contend with!  (Neil Savage)

        Just on this note of applying the finish by fingers or cloth or what ever, anybody out there doing this with good results? How have you found the best application?   (Tony Young)

          I do all my gun stocks with a finger application & the heel of my hand to rub it in and  get the blank hot while doing so.  I used to do all my rods by applying the finish with my fingers until I started wrapping them first, then I switched to using a brush.  I just varnished 2 rods last night using the brush method.  Too lazy to make a dip tube & I can varnish with a brush faster than you can dip a rod. 

          OK, you say I can't!!!!!!!!!  Well, I don't have all that setup time you do with a dip tube now do I?  Some of you have seen Bill Harms & me varnish by hand at the gatherings.  You have to admit it went pretty fast, even with all the talking to explain it as we varnished.

          I have used both Tru-Oil & boiled linseed oil on my guns & I use True Oil on all my reel seats.  OK, I do mix my True Oil & linseed oil together for my gun stocks now because I just like the look better.  The linseed oil cuts the shine somewhat on the guns, whereas the True Oil leaves too  shiny of a  finish on gun stocks.  (Tony Young)

    Most of you know that I'm sold on Tru-Oil as a finish. Straight out of the bottle. NEVER mixed with shellac or anything else. Stopped applying with my fingers when they said it could be harmful to your health by repeated contact (hell, just being alive is harmful to your health). I use either a gun cleaning patch or cut a square out of an old cotton T-shirt to apply. I have a dip tube but Tru-Oil is faster and a whole lot easier to get a smooth finish without all the sanding between coats that varnish requires and all the rubbing and polishing that varnish requires for that perfect finish that we all strive for! Mike mentioned that rubbing with steel wool removing too much and maybe that was why so many coats were required. The 0000 steel wool is used VERY lightly, just enough pressure to knock the shine down. 8-12 coats because for me that's the amount it takes for me to get the look I'm trying to achieve. That being said, I can start and finish a rod in a weekend and you can't do that with varnish! During that weekend I'll have less than 2-3 hours total of actual working time in on that rod. It might not be waterproof as a lot of you are saying but water beads up on my gun stocks when I hunt in the rain (and no I don't wax my gun stocks). I have never experienced any discoloration under the finish of any rod or gun. This probably doesn't equate to empirical testing but I've used it on all 7 rods I've built and I am going to use it on # 8 which I hope to be fishing with at this years FYAO on New Years day. I've used it on at least 50 rods that I've restored or refinished for customers over the last 7 years and have had no complaints from any of them about discoloration. The longest running time (and this might qualify as empirical testing) of finish on my gun stocks is pushing 30 years and other than the occasional touch up of a greenbrier scratch it looks as good as it did the day I finished it. I never use Tru-Oil on wraps as it makes them too dark and nondescript looking! I have no financial interest in Birchwood Casey or any of their products but if all of you forward this email to them maybe they'll supply me with free Tru-Oil for touting it so highly. My apologies for such a long post but that's my last one on list about this product. If you want anything out of me about Tru-Oil you'll have to contact me offlist (grinning from ear to ear).  (Will Price)


For those who use/have used Tru-Oil for their rod finish - what do you prefer to use on the silk wraps?  (Wayne  Nalevayko)

    I got a half pint of Varathane 900 from Golden Witch back when they were carrying same & it's still good.  I think any good spar varnish will work, it just needs a lot of coats.

    FlexCoat didn't stick to the rod the only time I used it (at John Long's suggestion) but I used color preserver too.  I'm going to try FlexCoat again  without color  preserver and see what happens.    (Neil Savage)

      I can attest to the fact that the color preserver was your problem, it was for me, too.  (Al Baldauski)

    I just finished doing clear wraps with 4 turn accents using Flexcoat with equal amounts of acetone, so it goes on like water.  Applied yesterday and ready to go today. the first time I used flex coat (no financial interest) I was more than disappointed with the results (it would not cure) finally took it all off, ugh!  The acetone provides a good drying vehicle and I get the thin coverage I want.  (Mike Brown)


Does anyone use Tru-Oil followed by Birchwood’s stock and sheen? Just wondering if the Birchwood wax does anything to improve the finish after the two listed products.  (Gary Nicholson)

    I use the wax on reel seats after 6 to 8 coats of Tru-Oil.

    This is not the same as the “Stock and Sheen Conditioner” by BC. It is their “Gunstock Wax”.

    Makes a nice finish.  (Tom Vagell)

    The stock & sheen conditioner is actually a rub out product containing rottenstone. And it's a fairly aggressive one at that. It will turn that mirror like shine of the varnish and turn it to a satin finish real quick but it does get rid of the imperfections (dust specks, etc).  (Will Price)

      Yes I know I have been using the conditioner, I think it's good stuff.  But I have not had the Wax to try out as yet .Its really the wax I was interested in.  (Gary Nicholson)


I think we discussed using Tru-Oil on the blank instead of varnish some time ago, did we think there were any snags?  (Robin Haywood)

    Seems to me "we" don't think it's traditional, may not be impervious to moisture etc., etc.  That said, if it can keep a gun stock protected from the bumps, bruises, wettings etc. IMHO it's fine for a rod.  Garrison (or Carmichael) suggested using it on reel seats and I'd think they are more prone to moisture than the rod since the wood hasn't been tempered to the point of chemical change as the bamboo in a rod has.  I like it; easy to apply, you can do 2 or 3 coats in a day, and if it does get a scratch or ding, just rub on a bit more oil.  I've made one rod with the tip varnished and the butt Tru-Oil and no one I've showed it to can tell the difference except there's a tiny flaw in the varnish.  However, I make rods for myself and family so I don't have to cater to clients.  (Neil Savage)

    I've used the stuff for ages on all sorts of bits of wood for all sorts of uses, but I want to make a presentation rod for a very old friend who would probably appreciate a less than shiny finish.

    Its only on the blank, not on the whippings.

    So, many thanks for all your helpful replies, it seems we are into a relatively snag free zone.

    I'm currently making a slightly modified Payne CC, reduced to a #5 with two tips, one of which is a little experimental.

    Since the whole thing stands a chance of appearing in a workshop stove surprisingly near my left elbow I shall use it as the guinea-pig!

    A whole month of my life may be saved by not having to make a dipping booth!  (Robin Haywood)


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