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Was wondering what the list's opinions were with regard to varnish (spar marine with tung oil of coarse) vs. some of the spar urethanes or other more modern urethanes being used these days.  I have used both, but have not been building long enough to notice the long term pros or cons associated with each.  As far as application is concerned, the Man o' War or the Helmsman I have used have gone on without significant differences and both look great once dry.  I guess what I need to know is which continues to look good and perform well with age.  (Robert Cristant)

    I like Spar because it's traditional. My only problem is that it has a limited shelf life in the dip tube. Poly on the other hand holds up much better in the dip tube. I now only use spar on restorations. I guess if the old school rodmakers had access to poly things would have been different. (for one thing no melt down.)  (Marty DeSapio)

    I have used nothing but Man O' War for over 15 years as a builder. My first rods still look great, and those are the rods that get used. I have some wall hanger refinish jobs that are 20 years old and are fine. I'm not knocking anything else, but I like the product.  (Tom Smithwick)

    I have been using Minwax poly for over 25 years, and even my earliest rods (still fished) are still nearly perfect.  Traditional spar may do as well, but others would have to speak to that.  (Bill Harms)


After doing some more reading on finishes, I have some questions about plain old varnishes and polyurethane varnishes. As I understand it with plain old varnishes even after they dry and harden you can still rub out or sand and revarnish areas that are damaged (scratched). On the other hand, if you do get a scratch on a polyurethane finish you have to basically take it all down to bare wood since once poly hardens you can't recoat it even if you sand the surface. However the downside is that varnished finishes are not as hard as polyurethane and more subject to damage from scratches and heat. I also read that polyurethanes are just a surface coating whereas true varnishes bond with the bamboo/wood and should be less likely to flake/chip. So my question is what has your experience been with any of these issues? Finally, many recommend using Varathane 900 gloss polyurethane coating wraps - so can you then dip the wraps in varnish afterwards or is the Varathane just to be used when wraps are done after finishing?  (Larry Puckett)

    I use varnish on restorations and poly on my own rods. What I like best about poly is how it holds up in the dip tube. I never get the plug of hard varnish forming in the poly tube. I always get a plug in the varnish tube (over an extended period) no matter what  I do (Bloxygen, mineral spirits). Also, all varnish will go soft over time. I do not believe this will happen with poly. Poly can be polished and even touched up as long as the base is deglossed (sanded)  (Marty DeSapio)

    You can recoat poly any time afterwards, not just within the window of opportunity. Like regular varnish, it has to be sanded for the next coat to bond well. It can also be polished, though it does require more effort than regular spar varnishes. Most of the objection to polyurethane is the finished look, spar varnish has a warm amber glow that just can't be imitated. Poly can leave as smooth and glossy a finish, but it does tend to make things look plastic coated like a drivers license, if you care about such nit picky details. It is more durable, but at the same time, more brittle than spar varnish. Spar will stick to sanded Varathane, so whether you dip first or after wrapping doesn't matter. Varathane works as a color preserver, it will darken the wraps a touch more than lacquer, but they will be opaque, not transparent. You must be diligent in filling the tunnels along the guide feet and closing any openings that varnish might creep under when you dip the rod though, varnish under the Varathane will make a dark blotch in the wrap.  (John Channer)

      Thanks for that answer. I guess I misunderstood a statement on the web site where they imply that urethane must be sanded down to bare wood for repairs whereas Waterlox can be recoated without even sanding. Their marine spar tung oil based varnish sounds quite good and I can get it locally. (Larry Puckett)

    I like it right after old Man of War.  CSE sells it as the old timer's original finish.  (Brian Creek)


OK, I am sending this as a list for anyone to add to since it is not by any means all inclusive.

The best:

Sutherland-Wells Marine Spar Varnish

  • buy direct from them $$$$ but worth every penny
  • 800-322-1245

The others:


  • Made by Valspar
  • Marine Spar Varnish
    • any Valspar dealer
    • Also Valspar Heirloom Oil Varnish
    • Valspar Polyurethane

Ben Moore

  • Impervo 440 Spar Varnish
  • any Ben Moore paint dealer
  • professional independent paint dealer

Ace Spar

  • Ace Spar Varnish
  • made by Ben Moore
  • any Ace Store

Deft Polyurethane (reel seats)

  • professional independent paint store
  • True Value Center/Home centers


  • Varathane Spar Varnish
  • Varathane 900
  • professional independent paint store
  • True Value Centers/Home stores
  • online

Bullseye shellac

  • just about anywhere

Helmsman Spar Varnish

  • just about anywhere HD, Lowe's, Ace, WM, etc

The pure stuff - sample this with a bit of practice before attempting to use. Read the labels and follow directions, or just do what you want. The following stuff can really test your patience.

Danish Oil

Teak Oil

Tung Oil

Rosewood Oil (Penofen)

Linseed Oil

and Japan Dryer - this will help dry the above mentioned oil's but be careful no to use too much. It will make your rod a funny color.   (Rudy Rios)

    Add to the Best Category:


    • European manufacture
    • Expensive but needs significant thinning which makes go much further
    • Buy it at West Marine  (Steve Shelton)


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