Bamboo Tips - Tips Area
Finishing - Varnish - Man O' War

< Home < Tips Area < Finishing < Varnish < Man O' War


I dipped a rod in April in new MOW spar. I am ready to dip two new rods, but found the varnish crusted over in spite of my efforts to prevent it happening. The question is- If I filter out the crusted varnish is the stuff still useable as is? Or do I thin it or write it off as lost?   (Ron Revelle)

    Find a used plastic bottle (water, soda, etc.) that has a screw top, put a little vinegar and baking soda in the bottom. All you need is a couple ounces of vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda. Let the pressure build up and release with the screw top a couple times - purging the oxygen - then "pour" the CO2  gas into your varnish can - just the gas, Not the vinegar!  CO2 is heavier than air and will settle down over the varnish even if you don't completely displace all the air in the can. When done, toss the bottle in the trash. I have cans of varnish that are several months to over a year old and none of them have a skin over them.  (Darryl Hayashida)


I have used Last 'N Last until this point and I have to redo my tubes and it's a haul to the nearest dealer. I was wondering what all of you who are using MOW think of it. Are you all happy with it? Any problems/tips regarding usage, cure time, finishing? I seem to recall some people having a problem with it collecting at the edges after dipping. Any verdict on the cause or was this an isolated incident?

Any help is appreciated because the local hardware stores are swimming in the stuff and it's cheap.  (Eamon Lee)

    A couple years ago, I switched from MOW to Last N Last and I've been much happier with the Last N Last with my low-tech rod tipping set up.  (PVC tube, a few feet of cotton string and binder clip). 

    I think I recall some years ago someone on the list mentioning that the MOW formulation changed to reduce the VOCs.

    I tried different dilutions of MOW and never got to the consistency I like and had some globs/runs in the finish.  I've used the Last N Last right out of the can w/o dilution and I never get the runs(!). 

    It may make a difference that it's usually warm and humid where I live, my workshop is in the garage, and most of the rod varnishing gets accomplished in the summer.  

    I have a some French doors on my house that I can use the excess MOW on every couple years.  (Can I still call them French doors or are they Freedom doors?)  (Eric Koehler)


I just picked up two quarts of McCloskey’s MOW. Am I to understand That It'll need additional treatment other than thinning with mineral spirits to get satisfactory results? If so, then I'm certainly looking for feedback here. Thanks in advance.

    I use MOW "straight out of the bottle." Same with Polyurethane. I have never had a problem with it being too thick. I have thinned it before and applied what would kind of be called a French finish (many coats wiped on  , say 10 coats) but I don't do that any more. I don't think you will have any problem using it straight. I think you only want to make sure that it is at least 65 degrees to put the coat on.  (Martin Jensen)


I recently bought two quarts of Man O War varnish.  they gave me semi gloss by mistake. I bought it out of state, so there's no question of taking it back.

Question; is there a product that I can add to the semi gloss varnish that will give a full gloss finish?  (Mark Dyba)

    No.  The satin and semi-gloss versions have "flatteners" added, which are particles (silica? maybe?) that reduce the amount of light refracted by the varnish surface.  If you don't stir the varnish, these will tend to settle to the bottom, but a small amount will always be present.  These particles are too small to filter out.

    Try a test and see if you like it.  The effect may be the same as if you went through a rubbing compound regimen without bringing it all the back up to gloss.  (Rich Margiotta)

    No, there is an additive that takes down the glare that you will not be able to filter out.

    I finish all my rods with semi-gloss.  I don't care to spook the fish with the glare off of a polished/glossed rod.  If you keep it in a dip tube, just make sure to shake it up every once in a while so the particles do not settle to the bottom as it's a pain to clean the bottom of your  dip tube once they settle to the bottom.  (Scott Bahn)

      If I get to a paint store and find Helmsman spar, how can I determine if it old or new formula?  Would the can show a manufacture date?  When was the new formulation produced?  Is the label different?

      I found some old Varmor in a paint store a few years back, and now that it's almost gone,  I figure I can look for old Helmsman in out of the way paint and hardware stores.  (Greg Reeves)

        The last I got had a round sticker on top of the can with something written in Spanish.

        On the top side of the can it said "New".  (Tony Spezio)


Usually I use Formby’s Tung oil to finish my rods.

This time I used Man O War and the results were not what I expected. Obviously I did something wrong.

Before dipping I wiped down the shafts with alcohol to remove whatever grease and dust there might be on the sections.

I called McClosky and they said to thin with no more than 1 cup of mineral spirits per gallon. Did that.

Had a flow rate a little slower than the recommended 4”/min.

I’ve only dipped once,  but this is what I’ve gotten so far…

It seems like the varnish  did not adhere to the bamboo in certain spots  and it seems to be bare. There are also many super tiny spots where the same thing has occurred.

There are Itsy-bitsy, tiny ripples perpendicular to the direction of the shaft on the bottom three or four inches of the tip sections.

The corners where the flats meet, it seems, didn’t take much varnish either.

I varnished yesterday afternoon about 4pm. I’m thinking about sanding the flats tomorrow morning then re-dipping afterwards.  (Ren Monllor)

    I have been using Man O War and for less than a year but have good results.  I thinned it Turps about 20% and draw at 4” a minute.  It seems to work good for me.  I know you don’t care to hear that though.

    The first blank I tried to finish, I used the turkey baster method which went on way to thick and it caused the perpendicular marks down the whole length of the blank.  I’m guessing that it went on a little too thick towards the end and that is why it caused the ripples.  I waited for a whole month before trying to sand off the varnish and it still wasn’t long enough so I stripped it with Citrus Strip and started over.

    I have never had the issue with the bare spots on the blank but have read quite a bit about it.  They call it fish eyes and it is caused by having some sort of contaminant on the blank before dipping.  I know you said that you wiped the blank down with alcohol so I’m not sure why there would still be any contaminates on the blank or not.  (Greg Reeves)

      Usually the "fish eyes" are produced by a contamination of silicone. You can avoid that wiping the blank with a anti silicon cleaner like used in car paint shops.  (Marco Giardina)

      I know this is a dead horse, but

      Why do you thin? The varnish was formulated by a bunch of chemists (any brand) to achieve a flow rate that is balanced with the rest of the resins for a specific surface flow. When we mix varnish all we do is aerate the mixture which begins to kick the varnish. Inconsistency in the mixture (thinner added) can cause spots in the coat. If you clean the blank with anything, make sure you give it plenty of time to evaporate, maybe 1/2 hour, before you dip.

      I know we all love Wayne but 4 in per min is way too fast. Slow down to 1 in/min, or maybe less on the final pass, you will lay on a much thinner, more consistent coat. There is no fast way to finish a rod and get consistent results. Maybe the reason we think we have to thin is because our draw rates are too fast.

      I know the "thinner" guys have made millions of rods that are much better than mine so take this with salt.  (Jerry Foster)

        I'm in the same camp as you, I use Last-n-Last Marine Spar Vanish and have never needed to thin it.  I just ensure the varnish room is between 85 and 90 F, and use a draw rate of 1" per minute.  I have almost never had any problems with the finish using this method.

        Just another $.02.  (Wayne Daley)

        Some (less expensive) varnishes recommend 'stirring' before, and during use. My choice of varnish is the Sutherland Wells brand and I don't find a reference to stirring on the can. I don't dip ~ only a rod a two a year at most, and I hesitate to thin or stir the varnish. Is there any advice to be offered?  (Vince Brannick)

          I forgot to mention that I use LnL gloss heated to 90 Deg. go to the thrift store and get a used electric blanket with variable temp controller..$6.00..cut it apart and get the heating wire out and wrap it around your dip tube.

          Any varnish other than gloss (semi, satin, flat) has some kind of solids which must be kept in suspension. I have tried most of them with various results. Usually a hardened over tube in a couple of months. Results may vary. (Jerry Foster)

    Sometimes when you are doing finishes & wipe down with a solvent of any type before applying the finish you will get these results.  Fisheye or whatever.  Make sure when you wipe down with a solvent to dry the rod shaft too.  I used to see this a lot when I worked in the body shop when I was a kid. (Bret Reiter)

    I don't think Alcohol of any type, Isopropyl or denatured Ethanol, is a good solvent for grease or oil.  I use mineral spirits to wipe down my parts before varnishing.  But then I don't dip.  I use a rubbing varnish.  (Larry Swearingen)

      Larry is right. I’ve mentioned this before but it needs mentioning again.  The only oils alcohol is good for is body oil, maybe fish oil.  Any other kind of lubricating, motor, silicon oil, etc will just be smeared around.  In addition, most alcohols contain some amount of water and they attract water when evaporating so if you don’t allow your rod to dry long enough, you’re applying varnish over WET “wood”.  (Al Baldauski)

        My guess is that there is something in the alcohol that made your rod fish eye.

        You shouldn't use any solvent for painting that has been used for anything else. For all you know a family member may have used the same bottle of alcohol to clean silicone off his new windshield wiper blades.

        I have found that the best solvent to use as a final wash before painting is Dupont #3812 enamel reducer. It works great. It dries fast and no film.

        Isn't mineral spirits an oil based product?  (Wayne Caron)

          I want to thank you all for your responses. I know there’s definitely a problem and it’s probably not with the varnish.

          I’m going to sand  to level off what I’ve got then re-wipe, possibly with acetone as it leaves no residue or some odorless mineral spirits.

          What sucks is that 95% of the rod looks beautiful but what sticks out is really like a sore thumb.  (Ren Monllor)

            Careful with the acetone it will take off all the varnish.  (Joe Arguello)

            The most common source of silicon contaminates is rags that have been washed and then dried in a drier that even just once had a drier fabric soft sheet put in it. Buy painters rags and throw them out when dirty, it's false economy to use old T shirt that has been washed and dried a hundred times. It might also help to keep in mind that all forms of alcohol have some percentage of water in them.  (John Channer)

          Scared me too John.  (Ralph Moon)

          I never thought of that but I believe that there's a real good chance of that having happened as I use old T's to clean and wipe.. Well, I'll be moving them all into the machine shop and I'll be getting painters rags first thing in the morning.   (Ren Monllor)

    I lightly sanded the sections yesterday using a fine grade fingernail thingy from my daughters box of stuff. Then wiped them down with 0000 steel wool. I got a 5 lb. box of wipe rags from Lowes and rubbed the finish with denatured Alcohol. Let them dry for about an hour and varnished in a drain tube set to as slow a flow as I could get. The finish is much, much better this time around. I mean it really looks nice.

    I’m wondering if those little pot marks weren’t where a bubble had attached itself to the blank then burst, leaving a round mark with very little varnish where the bubble once stood.

    I also heated the varnish a little with the heat gun and found bubbles rushing to the top of the tube and bursting. Shop temperature is always at a steady 75 degrees F.

    I’ve got a cup warmer device (like a miniature electric stove, but made just to keep a cup of coffee warm) and am wondering if I should heat the varnish before putting it into the tube in the future.

    At any rate, I say thank you to all who answered my query.  (Ren Monllor)

      Don't start draining the varnish until ALL the bubbles have risen to the top of the tube and popped, or you will get just what you suspect, a little pit where the bubbles that stuck to the rod popped as the varnish dried.  (John Channer)


I’m using MOW varnish. It says don’t thin on the can.

What’s the final word on thinning it for use on wraps???  (Ren Monllor)

    Don't.  (Joe Arguello)

      I guess I should expand on that one word statement, but you did ask what's the final word .....he he! Anyway I have been fiddling with this kinda stuff for quite some time and it seems that the best results I have gotten after all that is to use my Spar right out of the can, I do this for both wraps and dipping. Now that being said I live near Denver, CO so I'm sure that 'your milage may vary' depending on where you live, temp, humidity etc. Oh and don't forget the MOJO of the waters of the Big Thompson.  (Joe Arguello)

    I have thinned with Turps for a while and it works fine.  I have found though that on wraps, I am going to be sanding them flat anyway so I have switched to straight from the can in thin coats.  When dipping, I have it thinned in my tube.  (Greg Reeves)

    It's not a question that can be answered definitively, if it needs it, do it, if it doesn't, leave it alone.   (John Channer)


I am using MOW (no thinner) in my dip tube and use Bloxygen after every dip.  Still, it skins over completely in about 10 days.  Any one else have this issue.  (Rick Hodges)

    If you're having that trouble, I can think of two possible reasons.  First and most likely, you are not sealing the container completely.  Somehow oxygen is getting to the varnish.  If it's in a dip tube, try an appropriate sized rubber stopper (thanks John Channer).  Second, it's my understanding that once a varnish starts to "kick," not much can be done to resurrect it.  The first skimming over may have caused the varnish to go bad.  (Harry Boyd)

    I've seen this too. When I do wraps I transfer a couple ounces to an airbrush bottle (bought at hobby shop) and it skins over in 24 hours no matter what I do and I also use Bloxygen. I also transferred a qt of it to a glass canning jar that is sealed and treated with Bloxygen. In that arrangement it has not skinned over and its been in there a couple years. I suspect that you are getting oxygen in the dip tube when you use it and it mixes with the MOW and skins over even though the Bloxygen is put in on top of it. You might try adding a little turps on top before adding the Bloxygen and see if that helps to prevent the skinning.  (Larry Puckett)

      I have a PVC tube that I use for dipping. I put a threaded fitting on the top and use a threaded cap.

      The thing that I do to keep air out when I am done is put a little turpentine in after I am done and when I screw the cap on, I use fresh Teflon tape to seal it each time I am done. I crank the top on pretty good with a wrench.

      As long as you do not use semi gloss varnish it lasts for years for me. I just add some fresh everyonce in a while. Don't ask me how I know about semi-gloss varnish.

      By the way I wrap the tube in heat tape and put a rheostat on it to heat the varnish to about 90 degrees before dipping. This may create some vacuum in there driving air out as well.  (Gordon Koppin)

      I've been using a dip tube for 12 years and have had to toss 3 tubes because the varnish finally went bad. At first I had some problems with it skinning over and starting to gel, but since I found some rubber stoppers that fit an inch and a half pipe connector that I use for a top fitting and got in the habit of floating a teaspoon or so of turps on top of the varnish when I'm done with a rod I haven't had any problems at all. I think this batch has been in this tube for 4 years now and still fine.  (John Channer)

        I've said this before but maybe it's time to say it again. I machined a plug for my dip tube That takes up the space between the varnish level and the top of the tube. Cut two grooves in the plug for two "O" rings, near top and bottom. Drilled a 1/16 weep hole in the plug top to bottom. When finished using the dip tube, insert the plug and push it down till varnish comes out the weep hole. At this time there is no air in the tube. If you are worried about air getting into the tube through the weep hole, I think its overkill but put a tooth pick in the hole. Never had any skimming problems.  (Don Schneider)

          Thanks to everyone for your comments.  Don, your plug sounds like a great idea.  I will probably make one.

          For those that add a bit of turpentine, or even those that don't, do you stir up the varnish if it has been sitting for awhile?  I thought this was not necessary.  I am reluctant to add the turps since the small jar I thinned with turps (the good stuff for artists) for doing the wraps turned to Jell-O after about a week and I mixed up another jar with the same eventual result.  A similar jar of straight varnish has not had a problem.

          For whatever reason, my batch of varnish has apparently gone bad and I will dump it before doing another rod.  I may have contaminated it but I sure don't know how.  I am a little reluctant to try MOW again because of my experience this time.

          This can was purchased in November and was not opened until March when I filled my just completed dip tube set up.  I dipped my first rod over the next week or 10 days, applying bloxygen and closing with a threaded cap after each time it was opened.  About 10 days later I noticed the skin had formed.   I left it alone until 2 or three weeks ago when I was ready to dip my second rod.  At this point I poured all the varnish out into a clean can, cleaned out the dip tube with mineral spirits and let it dry overnight.  I double filtered the varnish and put it back into the tube.  Proceeded to dip the rod and the first coat came out pretty good.  After that the finish just got worse with each dip.  Again after about 10 days, the skin over was back.

          I guess my whole point is.  Did I just get bad varnish or is this typical of MOW?  (Rick Hodges)

            MOW used to be the best stuff until they put out the "New and Improved" stuff about 5 years ago! Anytime they improve something means they just found a cheaper way of making it,  and it is typically not near as good as the old stuff. I used MOW for years now I won't even consider it. Just my .02 on this Sunday morning. What I look for in a spar is one that states on a can not to stir. I am currently using Old Masters and I have heard good things about ACE spar. One more thing is always use the gloss stuff. I don't have time to be messing with a varnish that is high maintenance.  (Joe Arguello)

            When I first started making rods, I had similar problems with Ace Hardware Spar, which I've been told is MOW.

            The first time it happened to me, I realized that the dusty can of varnish that I got off the shelf at the store had probably been sitting there for "awhile".

            The second time it skinned over, I realized my tube wasn't properly sealed. I also found that the varnish itself was something of a dust magnet.

            Not wanting to live with frustration, I decided to switch to polyurethane and construct  a tube with a solid closing device -- a thumbscrew operated clean-out plug.

            The poly does not attract dust & makes a great finish.  The clean-out plug seals the tube air tight.

            Life is now good.  (Paul Julius)

            The only thing critical with making a airless plug for your dip tube is the location of the bottom "O" ring. What ever the height of varnish you maintain in the dip tube, the location of the bottom "O" ring should be located on the plug so that it is at the level of the varnish before the last 1/4" of the plug is fully inserted. Tip: Use a quality Aircraft grade "O" ring, the cheap ones don't last or work well. The only other thing I would suggest is put a large eye bolt in the top of the plug to use as a handle to remove the plug from the tube. Clean the plug with whatever thinner you use for the varnish before insertion.

            I thin/mix all my varnish in a bucket at one time. Usually have about a pint left over after filling the dip tube. I use this to top off the varnish level.  (Don Schneider)

        To who use the teaspoon of turps approach. Do you mix the contents of the tube before your next dipping job or do you rely on convection currents to mix the contents between uses?  (Larry Puckett)

          Lemme jump in here. I only add thinner if I think I need it, but I threw a couple ball bearings into the tube when I first filled it and a day or a few hours before I dip I flip the tank end for end a few times till I hear the rattle of the balls and the glurp of the varnish flowing end to end. Then I set it back into its rack until I dip. No bubbles left when I get to it.

          I also heat the tank as does Gordon, but not as hot as I used to. I think John Channer suggested actually READing the can's instructions and since then I heat the tank and drying cabinet to only the 80's (or so) and now I get no more runs in my varnish! (Thanks John!)

          I guess this may be useless for you guys with the tank anchored in your garage floor?  (Art Port)

          Not usually, depends on what sort of mood I'm in at the time. I do the tips first, tip top up, and I figure the skinniest part of the rod should have the thinnest coat of varnish on it. By the time I get to the second coat it is stirred well enough to suit me. What the heck are convection currents anyway?  (John Channer)

            So, does this Bloxygen product work or not?

            The manufacturing directions say a 2 second squirt should be good for a quart can.

            • qt. can exposed surface area = 9.6 sq. in.
            • 1.5 in. dip tube surface area = 1.8 sq. in.

            I have been giving it about 1 sec. or twice the necessary amount.

            Assuming that Oxygen is the problem and that my cap may not be a perfect seal, I can see where daily temperature fluctuations could cause an in and out flow of air as the pressure changes.  But, wouldn't the blanket of Argon (Bloxygen) which is twice as heavy as air still sit at the bottom and cover and protect the varnish?


            Is it the varnish?


            Something else entirely?  (Rick Hodges)

              Bloxygen works IF you have an airtight seal. If you don't, it won't.

              And, there's a good chance the varnish has lost it's stability & is ready to kick at any sign of oxygen.  If you've thinned the varnish with turps or mineral spirits, you've got to keep it airtight or it'll kick.  Bloxygen is no substitute for an airtight seal.  (Paul Julius)

        Does anyone know of any brands of spar that WILL NOT "green up" over time if used in a copper dip tube??  How about polyurethane?  (Steve Yasgur)

          I've been using MOW for years, and have left it in my copper tube for years.  Never had the problem.  (Steve Weiss)


Site Design by: Talsma Web Creations

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