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I was just wondering if anyone that has experience with Helmsmans Spar Urethane would be willing to share their experiences and techniques that they have found work (or have found don't work).  For example, how much do you like to thin for coating your wraps, how much for dipping your rod?  What temps do you prefer your varnish to be at when dipping, and what temps for drying.  How long between coats?  How many coats?  What kind of humidity levels do you have where you are?  Are you using a drying cabinet?  What temps in there?  In short, I am wondering what has and has not worked well for you, and why you think that is.  (Carl DiNardo)

    I've used Helmsman on a couple of rods now, and I'm pretty happy with the finish.  I use mine in a drip tube, and have so far found it the spar to be relatively easy to work with.  I wouldn't let the spar go below 70 degrees F, otherwise you have a harder time avoiding blemishes (not really full blown runs, but irregularities in the finished surface where the finish doesn't spread quite as equally as it would if warmer.)  I do use a drying cabinet, and keep the temps around 90 - 95 degrees, and haven't had any problems with that.  In the winter here, since I have an unheated shop, unless I'm out there with the space heater running, the shop temps can dop down into the low 40's, and the drying cabinet can struggle sometimes to keep that temp, but the spar seems to be pretty good as long as the temp in the cabinet is kept above 70.  I usually let the Helmsman go for almost 24 hours between coats, then knock down the finish before I dip again.  Cleans up the small blemishes, and the roughing up of the finish by cuffing it down allows good adhesion for the next coat.   In the winter,  humidity goes down into the 30 - 40% range, but in the summer, we have humidity readings up in the 90%'s.  So far, knock on wood, humidity hasn't been as big a factor as the temperature.  For wraps, I thin it 50-50 for the first few coats, then full strength on the last coats.  I like the stuff.  Bob Maulucci turned me on to it.  (Mark Wendt)

      I may have showed Mark, but it is used by many others who showed me its benefits. I do the same roughly as Mark, except my cabinet is at about 110. I also use spar (MOW) on the wraps often, and the helmsmen is a good match to it.  (Bob Maulucci)

        I, too, use Helmsman Spar Urethane. I find that if I need to sand the final coat that I can't get the shine back up to its original luster. There was a thread on something called Flitz (or something like that) to bring the luster back up.  Could someone let me know how to get it? None of my suppliers know  anything about it.  (Hank Woolman)

        P.S. I've used Meguires, Perfect It, etc. Butcher's Wax has done the best so far.

      I do almost the same as Mark with a few exceptions. I like to heat the dip tube up to 80 degrees F, I find I get better coat at that temp. I have a small space heater placed near the tube for that job. If you heat the Urethane it will expand so don't fill the tube to full. I like to put two to three coats on tips and three to four coats on butts. I thin the Urethane for dipping at 4:1. I let the rods hang in the dipping cabinet for at least 6 hours, at that time I'll move the rods over a heating vent. I like to wait 72 hours or more between coast. I have found that if I try to sand before that the Urethane is still soft and doesn't sand good. Take your time and fight the urge to rush through this part of rod building.  (Al Spicer)

    I thin 20 % for dipping and warm my dip tube over one of our hot air furnace vents or near the wood stove.  I like to dip in the winter and don't use a drying cabinet.  The temp. above the dip tube is usually about 80 after I have been running the wood stove a bit.  I wait 24 hours and then sand with 600 grit. to flatten the surfaces without hitting the apexes.  Some boat builders and painters here in Maine have told me that Helmsman doesn't have the UV protection that some of the spar varnishes have but it seem to give a pretty nice finish for me.  (David Van Burgel)

    I have been using Helmsman for all of the rods I have finished except rod # 1. What I do is heat my room to 80 degrees for two days. I have everything that I will be using in that room including the rod. That will stabilize everything to the same temperature. I find 80 degrees F to be right in the ball park. I use Helmsman Urethane Spar high gloss varnish. It needs no mixing. In fact the label says  do not stir. I also use a drain tube. When I start out with new varnish I don't thin a all. After using it for a few rods if it looks like it is starting to thicken I will thin it a little. I can't really tell you how much, I go by the way it flows. I use the background from my aircraft spraying days. The drops just roll on top if the varnish in a certain way. When the varnish gets to where I think it is too thick, I just discard it. Thinning at that point is a chance of messing things up. I apply several coats by hand and steel wool the rod till it is smooth before I glue the cork and wrap the guides. If I want the wraps translucent I apply as many coats of Helmsman needed to fill the wraps. If I want opaque wraps I use Gudebrod 840. When I am ready to dip the rod it is wiped  down with Denatured Alcohol just before dipping. The varnish is put in the tube strained through a paint strainer and a piece of panty hose. Through the panty hose put in the paint strainer. The bubbles dissipate quick due to the warm temperatures. The rod is inserted and I wait about ten minuets before draining. I only apply one finish coat. More than one coat the way I do it looks too much like plastic to me. The finished rod actually has about four coats of varnish on it.

    I have not been dissatisfied with any of the finished rods. Have not had a run or any place that had to be sanded out. Just lucky I guess. Finished rod # 50 and 51 just before my surgery. Have three more rods to dip.

    I am totally satisfied with the Helmsman, but then again, I am just a newbie.  (Tony Spezio)

      Whoa!  This may be a longer road than I thought...  At what point does one become an experienced maker???  (Jason Swan)

        An "experienced" maker is one who is tired of making rods.  Prior to that point, I've found that experience is just the accumulation of mistakes that makes you want to get to the next rod.   (Bill Harms)

          That's about right. The most experience makers are those that have had enough. An oldie but a goodie was told to me by a violin maker I once met. He told me there are about the 150 main separate operations in making a violin and the "masters" got about 120 of them as right as possible by human hands can be on any single instrument. The trick is to try to get them all right yet knowing you never will.  (Tony Young)

            Someone once told me that "experience is that quality that permits you to recognize when you've made the same mistake again."  (Ted Knott)

          An "experienced "rodmaker is NOT one that makes no mistakes but one that learns how to hide them.  (Marty DeSapio)


I have a question regarding Helmsmen Polyurethane.  Over the past few years I have built several rods which I have varnished with Helmsmen poly.  I use the dip method and have been using the same varnish now for a little over 2 years.  Yesterday I put a first coat on a rod and when I went to put a second coat on today (18 hours later), after lightly sanding, I gasped in horror as I was able to scrape away the varnish as if it didn't cure properly.  I used the same method that I have been for the past rods which all came out perfectly.  Varnish the rod, let cure overnight, second coat, cure overnight, third coat.........   What went wrong?  I live in Massachusetts where it is frigid cold and dry but the inside temperature of the house is 70 and my drying cabinet was about 75-80.  Could my varnish be bad?  Should I let the varnish cure longer?  (Jim Maselli)

    Dump the Varnish.

    Helmsman is what I use and find it will deteriorate. Rather than take a chance on messing up I just replace it when it

    thickens up a little. Cheap insurance.  I believe the can says Urethane and not Poly.  (Tony Spezio)

    I use it also. DUMP IT! I open 2 cans a year whether I use it up or not. (Timothy Troester)


The instructions on the new formula Minwax Helmsman Clear Gloss Spar Urethane require that it be stirred before and during use. Because I store mine in a copper dip tube, stirring is difficult. Thinking that it might have  something to do with the UV protection, I emailed Minwax. Here's their reply:

Ron Grantham,

Thank you for your inquiry with the Minwax web site. We appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

If you're working with the gloss, stirring is not necessary. Stirring is only necessary with the satin and semi-gloss sheens, because of the flattening agents added to these two. It has nothing to do with affecting the UV protection.



Minwax Technical Support  (Ron Grantham)

    Thanks for the info. When I was setting up my dip system, I looked for a finish that did not require stirring, because, like you said, stirring would be difficult! I came up with Helmsman and Zar. The Zar finish was almost clear, looked good, but a company tech said the UV absorbers could surface if left in a area where the sun don't shine (closet). I didn't want that to happen, because I have a bunch of rods that are spending most of their lives in the closet. So I went with Helmsman till they came up with their new forum la. Recently I found the spar varnish at Ace Hardware. It says on the label, do not shake or stir. I was planning to switch the next time I changed out the varnish in the dip tube. So now I can put it off for a while.  (David Dziadosz)


Hi guys, For quite some time now I've used Helmsman Spar Urethane clear gloss varnish cut 50% with mineral spirits on the first 2 coats to get transparent wraps.  Fairly thick (before thinning) medium dark amber color just a normal varnish look. Instructions were no stirring necessary before or during use. I ran out of Bloxygen and the bottom 1/3 of the can jelled. The other day I was in Lowes and picked up another can. I opened it last night and when I dipped a spoonful out to put in a little bowl to mix in with the mineral spirits and the varnish was paler than the lightest lager beer you ever saw and THIN.

I looked on the can and saw a little label up by the top of the can that said NEW & IMPROVED 25% faster drying time and more UV protectors. Looked at the instructions and they said stir well before use and occasionally during use. I proceeded to read every single word on the can but it didn't state anywhere that it was now water based, but recalling some of the threads over the last few days I believe it must be as I've never seen any brand of varnish this thin and so pale of color that it was all but clear (no blueish tint though as some mentioned). To more adequately describe how thin this stuff is I would almost be afraid to thin it even in a dip tube! Does anybody know if Helmsman Spar is now water based and if so, is the oil based version still available?

The only thing I know for sure is that when something says "New & Improved" you can usually bet your A DOUBLE SCRIBBLE that it AIN'T.  (Will Price)

    The can should tell you what the base is, just look for thinning and clean up instructions. Your nose should give you a good guess, too.  (John Channer)

    I hope not, I will be picking up a couple of cans this week.  (Tony Spezio)

      Well I finally got time to see about getting some more Helmsman.  All the cans on the shelf had that small label on the top of the can, "New and Improved." I just left it on the shelf. The last can I bought was over a year ago. I also noticed in the "instructions for use," "Do not thin." I could not find what the varnish base was. Have you used it on the wraps or final coat yet.  (Tony Spezio)

        Go to your local paint store and buy your varnish.  Try and find McCloskey if you can.  I gave up on Helmsman some time ago as I kept getting crappy results.  If I had a can of Helmsmans here I could tell you if it was water based just by smelling it.  I also never, ever thin with mineral spirits & use nothing but turpentine to thin my materials.  Thirty plus years in the coating industry has taught me a lot about varnishes & if it improved it usually means they have taken something out of it.  I am going by Home Despot (not a misspelling) tonight & check out a can of Helmsmans & let y'all know if it is water based or not.  (Bret Reiter)

          The Minwax web site says clean up with mineral spirits, so it's still solvent base.  Back Yard Yacht Builders Association says:

           "As a brightwork finish for your boat, I cannot recommend this product.  In my case, it began to flake and peel after only a few months after application (4-6 coats applied).  It looks very nice when applied but just can't take the sun. Interior applications are still looking good after 2+ years."  (Neil Savage)

            Don't know 'bout the Back Yard Yacht Builder guys, but I've been using regular Min-wax poly on my rods for over 20 years. Not the first sign of trouble with any of them, and one was done back in 1976. Get any degree of gloss you like by combining high-gloss with semi-gloss in various mix-ratios.  (Bill Harms)

          I've recently started using Helmsmans heated to 80 degrees in a 2" dip tube thinned with 14 oz of mineral spirits. Gotta tell ya, the finish is nothing short of great. I'm a new member of the list and have been reading about the interest in water-based finishes. I looked up the Minwax site and didn't see anything that appeared to be a water-based finish. I'd be interested in trying a water-based finish for all the obvious reasons so I'd be interested to hear other's experiences with these products.  (David Margolis)

          From that Internet thingy...Minwax Specifications.

          Since they specify mineral spirits for cleanup, I'm thinking it isn't water based.  (Larry Blan)

            I have continued to use Helmsman as before and remained satisfied with the product. Now that I think about it I have been adding an additional coat.  (Timothy Troester)

            No, mineral spirits for cleanup is definitely not water based.  I am sure they probably changed some driers in it & maybe they changed the vehicle in it.   (Bret Reiter)

    Always beware "New and Improved"!  (Mike Shay)

    Minwax has a water based urethane for wood floors. I can't imagine that a rod will experience more abuse than a floor or a greater need for protection from water.  (Lee Koeser)

      Different kind of abuse though.  Most floors aren't subjected to the flexing inherent in a cane rod, nor are most floors subjected to UV rays from the sun.  (Mark Wendt)

    I just got off the phone with the tech department at Minwax and Helmsman Spar urethane is still oil based. When I asked about the difference in color I was told that all varnishes will darken to a more amber than original color (which is to say very little color at all in this case) over time no matter if you use Bloxygen, propane or any thing else over it before resealing. When I question came up about the old instructions stating do not stir and the new ones stating to stir I was told that no matter what the instructions stated that it was never needed to stir clear gloss. The techie said you only need to stir the semi gloss and the satin as they had additives in them to cut the shine. The main reason for the new formula is to make the product pass the EPA guidelines in some states and Maryland was one of the states with tougher EPA laws. He said the can I bought that had the pronounced amber color must have been on the shelf for a while. It probably was because I bought it at a "real" hardware store that has been in business for about 60 years and only carries stuff that could be considered belonging in a hardware store. Every employee they have is over 60 and knows where everything in the store is, what it is used for and how to use it! Their prices are a little higher but worth it. Try finding someone to help you in Home Depot or Lowes is hard enough but when you do find a clerk they don't know where any thing is or even if it's a product they carry. Home Depot is now installing several self checkout registers so that you don' even get to interact with another human being even as they are taking the money out of your pocket!!!! Like I said in the original post --- if it's new and improved you can bet the farm that "IT AIN'T".  (Will Price)


Here's one.  I've had something happen that I've not heard discussed before and am at a loss to understand.  Wonder if anyone else has had this experience.

I have a dip tube presently filled with H-man PU gloss varnish thoroughly mixed with 10% orange turps (d-limonene).  I've been using d-limonene for quite a while and never had any problems with it - it imparts that nice Payne aroma.  The last rod I used it on (and first for this tube) came out completely satin as to sheen.  That was curious but the effect was pleasing so I didn't think any more of it.

I got ready Saturday to dip another rod and remembered the previous experience.  Again, I thoroughly mixed the contents of the tube and added 2-3 in. of fresh varnish/turps on the top.  All went well with this rod and it was nice and glossy - but - each section, in turn, unexplainably turned from gloss to satin sheen in the final inches.  This couldn't be known until they had dried enough to examine.

I'm bumfuzzeled.  Anybody got any idea whahappened?  (Darrol Groth)

    Sounds like a fine precipitate may be forming in the varnish. Perhaps a chemical reaction resulting from long term storage of your orange varnish. Just a hunch- You might filter it. (Doug Easton)

    I've never heard or seen anything like that either. If you don't get any concrete answers from the list, which isn't likely to happen since there always seem to be a few who can solve any problem. But just in case it does happen I'd suggest contacting Mike Brooks. He seems to know more about varnishes and their chemical makeup than anybody I've ever talked to.  (Will Price)

      I have noticed that the more mineral spirits that I add to thin the varnish over time as the varnish viscosity increases the varnish got duller so I do not do that any more. I do not know that this applies to your circumstance though. (Timothy Troester)

    I found as I added Mineral Spirits to the older varnish as it was used, I did not get the fine finish that I got when the varnish was new. Now with the "New Improved" Helmsman, It is even worse. I just thinned some to apply to the wraps. The next day the left over thinned  varnish had started to jell and the mineral spirits I used to clean the brush had a milky residue in the bottom of the container. I was able to get some Naphtha, will try that for thinning. This is new varnish I just bought two weeks ago.  (Tony Spezio)

      Seems to me that any time they say "new and improved" it's gonna be worse than before. Just costs less to make and they can sell it for more. (Joe Arguello)


I am wondering if there is a danger of Helmsman Spar Urethane melting in a vehicle in the summer sun?  (Dave ?????)

    Don't know about the newer formula, switched brands...  but the old stuff never melted.  (Mike St. Clair)

    I have not had that problem yet.  (Tony Spezio)

    I’ve used both the old formula and the new formula.  I sometimes “fast cure” my  varnish in my oven at 200F.  No problems.  If your car gets that warm you’ve got other problems!  (Al Baldauski)


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