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Since I can't yet seem to summon the finesse with a brush that Bill Harms has, I’ve been experimenting with Minwax Wipe On Poly and so far like it.  I apply with very soft cloth and rub it in.  Doesn't seem to do as well if "painted" on.  Haven't had any trouble with dust.  The product specifies that it is not intended for exterior applications, but I got to figuring - how often are my rods soaked anyway?  Never.  Was trying, without luck, to find out from Company specs, archives, etc.  What particular additive makes it "wipe on" and differentiates  from regular and quick drying varnish.  Would one of our brethren with more knowledge of varnish please address this?  (Darrol Groth)

Post Script:  This query prompted Daniel Durocher to suggest I read Bob Flexner's book: Understanding Wood Finishing, 1994, Reader's Digest, and I've been very grateful for the suggestion.  The book is only $16.00 from Woodcraft and you can get used copies for super cheap nearly anywhere.  Great book - with wonderful bonus section on the humble, yet indispensable card scraper.   May God Bless George Barnes and the card scraper!  Later, I have seen quite a few references to this book in the Archives. So we rediscovered the wheel again.

    I would imagine it is much like Formby's tung oil finish.  If I remember correctly the Formby's is a wipe on varnish   Wipe are varnishes are 1/3 varnish, 1/3 tung oil and 1/3 thinner.  I have used it on wood cases in the past and it is real simple, no runs or drips but requires multiple coats.

    I would think you could make your own using your favorite varnish and then adding tung oil and thinner.  (Tim Wilhelm)

      Some commercial wipe-on varnishes are, as you suggest, oil/varnish mixtures.  (BTW, all varnishes, except water-based ones, have oil in them already.)  Others are just thinner and  varnish.  Formby's is the latter.  (It's a tung oil-based interior varnish that's been heavily thinned.)  You can tell which is which by how it dries.  If you get a hard film as if you had used pure varnish, the mixture is thinned varnish.  If you get a softer film with a low gloss sheen, it is oil/varnish.  (Rich Margiotta)

    It's a wipe-on varnish because it's been thinned enough to allow this type application.  (Rich Margiotta)


I wondered if others have had success with wipe on varnishes. I have been wiping on Interlux Classic thinned with the 212 thinner, and it seems to be good so far, very little dust and a good classic looking finish, although not very glossy.

Has anyone had good results with a spar thinned and used this way? I am wondering if a touch of Japan Drier would help, and if this finish would eventually be able to be rubbed to as glossy a finish as a dipped rod? Does wiping seriously reduce the protection a spar would normally give? I know that there are specialty wipe on varnishes, but I question their use outdoors.  (Bob Maulucci)

    I have had good luck with Mike Brooks rod varnishes.  He has a wipe on one called Mike's stuff which dries really fast.  He also has a classic rod varnish which when thinned 50/50 with turpentine it can be "dribbled" on using a small plastic bottle with a small funnel like top.  The dribble method really works great and gives a great finish.  I used  Mike's stuff to seal the rods and then wrapped them and then dribbled the varnish over the top.  I would  think  that  you  could  do  the  same  with Man-O-War or other spar varnishes since they are tung oil based as is mike's varnish.  (Tom Mohr)

    Yes, I have turned both Man-O-War and spar urethane into wiping varnishes by thinning 50-50 with naphtha (faster evaporation than mineral spirits).  You won't need driers -- since it's thinned it will set up faster than pure varnish.  The gloss is the same as the pure varnish and it polishes  the same.  However, be aware that you'll need about twice as many coats, since you've thinned it.  I've only used this method prior to wrapping on guides.  I don't do it much anymore since I'm happy with dipping.  (Rich Margiotta)

    I don't think that the method of application would affect  the integrity of the final finish.  I would think that almost any varnish can be wiped on, but the appearance may give problems.  The one problem I can see is that it is difficult to get an even coat by wiping some varnishes, and therefore you  might have what we were talking about a few days ago, liquid varnish under a partly cured layer.  Tru-Oil, is a very good wiping varnish and gives a very nice finish, but at a little greater expenses of labor.  I have used a gelled varnish for wiping and while it does work, Again it is hard to get a uniformly smooth finish - hence more work.  I hate to be a traditionalist  all of the time, but dipping is easy effective and I ask myself why look elsewhere.  (Ralph Moon)


Well, as usual, I am way behind on my rodmaking and CRR is upon me NOW.  I need a quick wipe on varnish for a few rods I have nearly ready.  I'm not looking for perfection, but need a working, functioning finish for a FISHING rod, not a presentation piece.  Those who know me, understand that my motivation for rodbuilding is fishing and given the choice for time, I'll ALWAYS fish before building.  My son is coming with me and I'll need a few more back up rods so...

Any recommendations or suggestions?  I don't have time to order more Mike's Stuff.  He did give the formula at SRG, I believe, but I was busy and failed to write it down, now I've forgotten it.  (Rick Crenshaw)

    From Mike himself:

    "A formula for an excellent, fast drying (cure time under 1 hour - tack free in 10 minutes) rub on varnish. Mix 1 quart Waterlox Sanding Sealer with 8 ounces turpentine. Add 8 ounces of a good grade of polyurethane (Varmor R10 is excellent, but Daly's Super Spar or Helmsdale will work). Mix well. Decant into a small 2 ounce bottle because this will kick almost overnight in a sealed bottle. (so...tape the lid shut with electrical or plastic tape!) Pour the rest back into a tightly capped can and refrigerate. Wet a rag with this mix and wipe down the rod until it starts to tack. Then, wipe it off. This is an off-the-shelf equivalent of Mike's Stuff and works just great.

    This other is a classic rubbing varnish formula that dries a bit slower but is wonderful as a finish for reel seat inserts or rods. Mix 1 part each of boiled  Tung  Oil  (contains natural Alkyd resins), turpentine, and plain varnish (Waterlox classic or Epifanes are great here). Cap in a can or jar and allow to set for 24 hours, shaking every so often. Then, use as any wipe on varnish. This yields a lovely classic golden "glow". On a wood reel seat insert, spun on a lathe, it will dry in no time at all and is just about the toughest stuff you will ever use."  (Chris Carlin)

      Is this a one coat finish or can it be applied as multiple coats?  (Bob Williams)

        I think it should be applied in multiple coats.  I usually rub on around 6 coats if it is the only finish I'll be using on the rod, but have done up to 12.  If I'll be dipping the rod, I apply a single coat immediately after sanding to seal the blank.  The best thing about this finish is it cures so quickly you can easily do a half-dozen coats in a day.

        I normally apply it to a raw blank using steel wool for the first several coats and a cotton cloth for the remaining.  Rub on liberally until it just starts to tack up, then wipe clean using a cotton cloth.  (Chris Carlin)

    Any oil-based varnish can be turned into a wiping varnish by thinning it with pure gum spirits of turpentine, mineral spirits, or naphtha. (I like naphtha for this  since it  evaporates the quickest.) A 50-50 mix is a good starting point and you can probably get away with a 60:40 (varnish:thinner) mixture. Don't wipe this mixture off -- just lay it down smoothly on all flats with a lint free cloth (I like gun cleaning patches.) You'll need about twice as many coats as if you brushed/dipped straight from the can, but they dry quickly.

    So just pick a good spar or spar urethane and go from there.   (Rich Margiotta)


Having just completed varnishing my second rod with 7 coats of Tru-Oil, I recently noticed at the local hardware store that Min Wax has a Wipe On Polyurethane product. Is there anyone out there who has used this product and is willing to share their experience with us/me? Comments regarding finish quality, durability, curing times, number of coats, etc. would be much appreciated.  (Mike Tracy)

    There is an article in the most recent issue of Fine Woodworking on wipe on finishes .... the Minwax comes out pretty much "on top".  (David Van Burgel)

    Wiping varnish is just regular varnish that's been thinned so it can be wiped on with a lint-free cloth rather than brushed/flowed on.  You can make your own just by mixing a varnish 50-50 with high quality mineral spirits or naphtha.  The Minwax product is made for interior application, but it should work fine. Personally, I'd choose a good spar or spar urethane (like Minwax).  You'll still need 6-7 coats because it's so thin.  (Rich Margiotta)

      I'm with Rich. I would use a wipe on made form an  exterior product. I use Interlux Classic, Pure Tung Oil, and good turps all mixed in equal parts. It makes a good multiple coat wipe on. I polish down to remove any blatant glare. The Minwax stuff seems a bit to shiny to me. I say that because with using it as a wipe on, it is not a uniform shine, it is streaky at best. (It is hard to put into words). The spar mix is a nice warm looking finish. Personally, I think it looks very classic and I would say that wipe on varnishes are quite underrated. They are much easier than the fuss of other methods. Do they protect as well? I think the question might be, does any varnish really protect the rod as much as we think  it does? Short version, it's good enough.  (Bob Maulucci)

        I dip, but anything around this place that is made of wood sees this stuff at some point. I put one thin coat on the blank before working on it, just because it makes me feel better. This link is from Woodcraft, but the product is widely available. I can avoid a chemistry class, and it comes in gallon jugs!  (Larry Blan)

        I used Formby's tongue oil varnish as a wipe-on on all the first rods I built and on the rod I fish the most and it has held up very well. Just one more choice I guess. The helmsman as you have observed is very bright. I rub it out when I use it and then am very pleased with it. (Timothy Troester)

        I use to do almost the same, using and old cabinetmaker recipe called the "three third rule": a third of spar varnish, a third of linseed oil, a third of turpentine.

        I got a very thin finish, looks like a genuine Pezon & Michel I own.

        I make some impregnation experiment using the same recipe, simply leaving the rod in the mixture without any pressure or vacuum process. The result looks promising. I don't have yet long term results.

        Have you tried impregnation on your side? I'm curious to know if some one has tried same experiment.  (Jean-Claude Lebraud)

          I have not tried the linseed oil, but it sounds similar to the thirds formula I like. I have tried a bunch of impregnation techniques and formulae. I like the Landmark finish and the method from Hal Bacon the best. I can dig up the info if you’d like. I have been wiping the last few rods, so the cure rate is fuzzy.

          Good to hear of your success.  (Bob Maulucci)


There has been some discussion of late about wiping on varnish. I think most everyone thins the varnish prior to wiping on. I don't often use this technique but do at times do to some circumstances. I thought I would share the method i have been using because it has worked well for me. I wipe the blank down with rubbing alcohol then use a small piece of paper towel to wipe off the bubbles. There will be some and they will still be some often after applying the varnish. Then using a small piece of dense, soft foam I saturate this piece in the varnish then using a three finger configuration, I wrap the foam around the blank and run the foam from top to bottom. Usually it takes one pass but I sometimes use two passes. The alcohol helps lubricate the blank for varnish application and the softened surface, I think, aids in adhesion of the varnish. I have just not been pleased with the thinned varnish. Of course, I do this prior to wrapping guides. i have used Bill Harms brushing technique when applying varnish over a rod with guides when refinishing. This method I have also had success with but I find it a little more nerve-racking. Using Bill's method, I have found it more necessary to become "one" with the rod. The hardest part of this method for me was coming up with the appropriate mantra.  (Timothy Troester)


Does anyone utilize wipe-on finishes whether store bought such as Tru-Oil and Formby's tung oil, or turn a varnish into a wipe on by thinning it enough with something such as Naphtha? I have utilized wipe-on finishes exclusively for all of my woodworking projects due to their ease of use  and nice  results.  (Ron Delesky)

    Absolutely.  Just thin your favorite rod varnish about 50-50 (I like naphtha, like you).  Man o' War and spar urethane work just fine (the ones I've used) and I'm sure it will work with all oil-based stuff.  Wiping works best before the guides are wrapped.  You probably know this already, but you'll need many more coats with such thinned finish.  (Rich Margiotta)

    I have used helmsman as a wipe-on without thinning it and have had good success. I have also used Formby's tung oil varnish and ace spare this way.  (Timothy Troester)

    I've finished my last two rods with Daly's Seafin Teak Oil. I rubbed in several coats of tung oil, scuffing the finish with 1000 grit between coats. You wipe on a thick coat of Seafin, let it sit for about 10 minutes to penetrate, wipe off the excess, and let it dry 24 hours. I applied three coats.

    I've used/abused one of these rods quite a bit this year - fishing in saltwater and rinsing with hot water after each use. The finish has held up well - so far I like it better than the Tru-Oil I've used on several rods. But time will tell. (Tom Bowden)


In lieu of the dip tube or brushing on varnish, do any of you rub in spar varnish with your hands?  I tried this on my first rod and it looked pretty good.  I did about 7 coats of Tru-Oil and then did 2 or 3 light coats of thinned out spar.   I'd be curious to hear if anyone else rubs the varnish in by hand and what their results were?   (Matt Baun)

    I put varnish on with my fingers. I use a plastic squeeze bottle to apply a liberal dripping to the rod. Then I turn the rod around in my hands while distributing the varnish on the six surfaces of the rod.  There must be too much varnish on the rod at this stage. Then I wrap my index and thumb around the rod and try to squeeze as much varnish off as I can, while pulling the rod between my fingers. Repeat a couple of times and then turn an turn and turn, till the varnish has set. I usually put between two (for tips) and four (for butts) coats on. I suppose dip drip and drop tubes give a slightly better result, but I don't sell and am usually too eager to start a new rod to bother too much about cosmetics. But it looks OK.

    I put varnish on before wrapping, and when wrapped, I use a similar technique. I have a cardboard box with V slots cut in the top. I rest my rod there. I then use my plastic bottle to apply a more than liberal coat of varnish on all wraps. Then I let the varnish drip off, and I remove the last drop hanging under the wrap. Then I turn the rod occasionally until the varnish is somewhat dry. Leave to dry till next day.  (Geert Poorteman)


For homemade wipe-on varnishes, just use your fingers and wipe the excess off with a bit of paper towel. It will take several coats before it looks like you are getting anywhere...

If you are using Mike's stuff, you apply it with steel wool and rub until it tacks up. Good stuff, but you must store it in the fridge after opening or it kicks.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

    If you don't like immersing your fingers in varnish and stuff, which I don't, try using "makeup removal" sponges.  As I remember you have enough females in your house that  you must have a few of them available already. They work for both application and removal of excess.  (Doug Easton)


Those who do use rub-on varnishes, is the friction of rubbing on a second, or later, coat enough to bond the layers or do you sand in between coats? (Henry Mitchell)

    I sand or steel wool between coats just as much to make sure that I get complete coverage as to improve adhesion. It is much easier to see what areas have been covered since the roughed up areas show up well against the new finish. I sand on early coats with #600 to smooth out any uneven places and use fine steel wool before the final coat.

    I put enough finish on (thinned varnish) that there isn't very much friction. I put on an excess and wipe off  quickly before the varnish gets sticky and without a great deal of pressure.  (Doug Easton)

      For what it's worth, I've always rubbed the first 3-4 coats in with 0000 liberon steel wool and then the last  coat with a clean cotton cloth.  I think the idea behind this is that you are improving adhesion as you go and then don't have to scour the surface in between coats.  I think this was a tip from Chris Carlin.  I have done this a few times with very good results.  (Don Peet)

      Do you use you fingers with a pad of some sort or just naked fingers?  (Timothy Troester)

        I use my wife's paper table napkins to wipe off and I put the varnish on with a foam brush or a wad of napkin. The hardest part is getting the right viscosity. I have been using the Minwax gloss varnish thinned with a thinner sold at Value Home stores. The thinner is supposed to improve flow. I can get you the name later If you are interested. I expect it is something like Penetrol.  (Doug Easton)

          Penetrol is an additive for oil based paints that improves flow & open time.  This is used especially in warm weather applications for painting to stop from getting lap marks when brushing or rolling paint.  It can also be used for spraying to give a nice flow to the product.  In latex it is called Floetrol. It is made by the Flood Company.  (Bret Reiter)

    Thanks for all the replies.

    I've found a cheat: In a marine store they have an Epifanes product, Woodfinish Gloss, that allegedly doesn't need to be sanded between coats. Report to follow, rod hasn't been planed yet, it'll will be a few months.

    I do plan another dip-tank, when I can better control its environment.

    But, as it's already getting cold in the shop, this winter in Maine I'll rub on the varnish. Regardless, I'll still hedge my bets by dipping in a sealer first.  (Henry Mitchell)


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