My quart of Varathane Tuff Guy finally went to gel.  I use this on my wraps.  I am thinking of replacing it with Helmsman Spar Urethane.  Does anyone use this on wraps?  Any information or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  (Hal Manas)

I've been using The Helmsman Spar as an overcoat on my wraps since day one.  I use Mike's walnut oil for the first couple of coats, to really penetrate the threads (really helps eliminate the teeny bubbles), then the Helmsman goes on right on top of it.  I usually thin the Helmsman about 15%, and lately, I've been applying the finish with a fly tying bodkin.  Seems to go on nicer than using a brush, though a brush worked well too.  (Mark Wendt)

I use Helmsman too and I warm it, and like Mark I thin it ( 10% in my case). Once I put the first coat on I use a clean, old T-shirt and using a little pressure wipe off the excess. I find that it drives the varnish into the wraps even better and I get a good first penetrating coat that way.  (Bill Walters)

Same for me, although I used a knitting needle to apply the varnish but have since switched to a "bamboo brush" -- a piece of bamboo planed to a sharp wedge shape.  (David Van Burgel)

That is what I use.  (Tony Spezio)

I use it. First coat I cut 50%, 2nd and 3rd I cut 25%, then I use uncut.  I use good mineral spirits to cut.  (Timothy Troester)

I go to the local arts and crafts store and get a can of good, artist grade turpentine.  Smells good too.  (Mark Wendt)

I use Naphtha, and cut it 3-1, it thins a little better than mineral sprits. I also use Naphtha to cut the Helmsman at 35% for a wipe on finish and it does a pretty good job.  (Denny Reiter)

Actually, as I recall, I start with a tablespoon of varnish and a tablespoon of thinner. Second coat I do 2 tbs of varnish and 1 tbs of thinner then 3 of varnish and one  of thinner then go to the full varnish.  (Timothy Troester)

I use Spar varnish on my silk wraps, mainly because it makes them go translucent. The Helmsman Spar Urethane tends to work a little like a color preserver. It keeps more of the original color of the silk.  Which is OK, too. But, I like the way the spar looks on the wraps a little better.

Try wrapping  some silk on a piece of cane and coat one with spar and the other with the urethane and you will see the difference.  (Dave LeClair)


I was asking about oils & varnishes for finishing wraps.  One suggestion made by an artist friend is to mix some linseed oil into the wrap varnish.

Upon arriving at my local artist shop I discovered it comes in boiled and raw states any clues from anyone as to which one would be best?  (Nicholas Kingston)

Air and heat treated.

It's not really boiled. When you boil tung oil for instance the oil becomes a very thick substance that isn't workable any more. Try to find the non polymerized versions and the drying time is a lot longer.  Most wood finishing oils come with a lot of added catalysts in it that sometimes whiten the color after it dries. non polymerized oils takes up to three months before it is fully cured. It needs air and indirect light to cure

You need an oil that fully hardens though in my opinion. Olive, palm and for instance peanut oil do not dry at all and are most of the times used as very small additions to soften the varnish a little.

The hardest oils would be:


Where tung oil is your best option in my opinion. It does not darken with age as linseed oil does. Linseed is the shiniest of the 4 I mentioned, but disintegrates over time.  (Danny Heus)

Trying again:

There's an established method to mix Tung Oil 50/50 with quality Shellac, and rub this vigorously into the blank till the friction warmth dries it out. You can do this twice a day. About six tries is probably enough. A low gloss and not your high build, bulbous finish.  It is said to be relatively waterproof, but nothing matches wax, I hear.

Have a look in the Rodmakers archives under varnish.  (Sean McSharry)

Well, but then you do what the old-timers did with their firearms (Kentucky Rifles, etc.) and rub on another coat of linseed oil.   "Once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and once a year from then on."  You might need to rub it out again afterward, I don't know. 

I scrape the varnish of tool handles and refinish with boiled linseed oil, though I don't keep oiling, just a few coats and I'm done.   I like the not-so-shiny finish on tool handles, they are easier on my hands and not as apt to slip or turn at the wrong time. 

Linseed is the shiniest of the 4 I mentioned but disintegrates over time.  (Neil Savage)

How is this actually mixed do you know?

You can get shellac in a variety of ways, mixed or flake. I get it as dewaxed blond flakes  and mix the method to suit the job. Any suggestions? Or is the premixed stuff OK?  (Tony Young)

I'm pretty sure I first saw this idea from Ralph Moon. Anyway I have an e-mail from him dated 18 February 2004 (to Marcelo): "Use tung oil and white shellac in equal parts well shaken and apply with a soft cloth and rub briskly. It is actually like a French polish, but I know my wife's rod is almost 25 years old and still looks as good as the day I finished it."

I looked at the Hock Finishes site and found useful information on shellac. It's from the times of the Pharoahs and is now gathered in India mainly -  a beetle.  Hock urges using the highest quality materials so I sourced some high grade alcohol and dewaxed white shellac flakes from an outfit in Sydney called SA & S Stimson at Balmain. It makes up in a couple of minutes. Hock also mentions a bottled shellac but I could not find it here.

The final mixture needs only to be a small quantity, and you need to shake it each time before you charge the little bit of cloth. As mentioned, you rub it to get warm, and for tips rub in one direction only to  avoid breakages. You can reapply in a couple of hours, but the underlying coat(s) should be really dry. About six coats should do. This method only works where you varnish the blank before the wraps. It's impossible to get the varnish dry right up to the handle, so just do the best possible. It will certainly be covered with wraps and tung oil spar varnish anyway over those wraps.

I notice that Powell used this method. I also notice that Winston applies the wraps after the blank is varnished.

I plan to get some yellow shellac flakes as this should make a blond rod the sort of yellow you see on some middle era Leonard rods. (Sean McSharry)

Here's a really stupid question.  What are the "breathability" characteristics of wax?  I know we talk about "sealing" the rods with varnish, but there is a certain amount of breathing that is allowed, even with varnish. I'm talking about ambient moisture reentry.

Anyone know about this?  (Todd Talsma)

According to a study (see pdf file here), paste wax offers almost no protection against water vapor either.  Liquid water, yes, but just about any coating will do  that.  Interestingly, paraffin was the best coating they tested.

All finishes will allow some water vapor exchange (breathability), but some are better than others at slowing the exchange down.  For long-term viability, that's what we want, but if you store your rods under dry conditions, there's probably not much to worry about.  If you're selling rods, then I would think you'd want to use the best barrier.

The purpose of wax in woodworking is to protect the finish and to give it a shine and depth, not to protect the wood.   (Rich Margiotta)

Here is a chart taken from "Understanding Wood" by R. Bruce Hoadley that was originally published in "The Wood Handbook" by the US Department of Agriculture.  It shows Moisture-excluding effectiveness of various finished.  Others included in the chart and not shown here are acrylic and latex paints, marine enamel, pigmented varnish, etc.

Moisture-excluding effectiveness of various finishes on ponderosa pine*.

Finish Coats 1 day 7 days 14 days
Linseed Oil 1 12 0 0
  2 22 0 0
  3 33 2 0
Tung Oil 1 34 0 0
  2 46 2 0
  3 52 6 2
Paste Furniture Wax 1 6
  2 11
  3 17
Shellac 1 65 10 3
  2 84 42 20
  3 91 64 42
  6 95 85 73
Nitrocellulose Lacquer 1 40 4 1
  2 70 22 8
  3 79 37 9
Spar Varnish 1 46 6 0
  2 80 36 15
  3 87 53 30
Urethane Varnish 1 55 10 2
  2 83 43 23
  3 90 64 44
  6 93 76 62
Paraffin wax, brushed 1 97 82 69
Paraffin wax, dipped 1 100 97 95

* Sapwood was initially finished and conditioned to 28 degrees C (80*F) and 30%RH, then exposed to the same temperature at 90% RH. /p. 208

Also a brief snippet regarding slowing moisture exchange:

"Although a primary objective of finishing treatments is to prevent moisture exchange, no finish is totally effective at doing so.  Given enough time, moisture will be absorbed into wood from a humid atmosphere or will escape to a dry atmosphere through any finish.  But as discussed earlier, the important role of the finish is to retard the rate of exchange enough to buffer the temporary extremes of high and low humidity.  The effectiveness of a particular finish may also be affected by the number of coats applied and the time of exposure to a different humidity level." p. 207


"If there is anything worse than no moisture barrier at all, it's an uneven moisture barrier, which allows moisture to be absorbed or desorbed unequally in different areas of the wood." p. 209

As an interesting example, on a particularly long and rainy day last summer I watched a set of wraps that were color preserved with 3 coats of polyurethane spar varnish then coated with 2 dipped coats of marine spar varnish actually get slightly mottled in a few places from moisture absorbing into the silk.  There were no breeches in the varnish, and after the rod sat inside for a while the mottling disappeared.  (Chris Carlin)

Urethane and shellac are almost the same. Interesting.

Leads me to another question. Has anybody ever tried hand rubbing shellac under varnish?  I have got as far as doing the French polishing a butt section of a Driggs reject due to it being a bit gappy in in section but haven't dipped it yet. Looks bloody brilliant and makes the resorcinol lines look like tipping on wraps and the gaps gone which is what was behind me trying it but I wonder how the shellac will hold up to flexing. Any thoughts?  (Tony Young)

I impregnate and finish with a tung oil finish. Or use a polyurethane resin.

Bamboo finished with varnish narrows the fluctuation of moisture content.

Bamboo finished with tung oil has a somewhat wider range but it is still a waterproof protection. Waterproof and wood being hygroscopic is a different matter. Although I might be wrong in what have researched and read.

The big advantage of tung oil is that when it cures the molecules bond together and do not build up, making it a finish that is very easy to maintain.  Like Neil Savage described.

Didn't Powell use an oil finish?  (Danny Heus)

The information in my previous email refers to the moisture-excluding characteristic of finishes.  That is, the ability of a finish to impede the transfer of water vapor.  There is also the moisture-repellant component that prevents liquid water from coming in contact or absorbing into  the  wood.   Any  finish  we  use   is moisture-repellant, but some are better at moisture-exclusion, or slowing the fluctuation, than others.  (Chris Carlin)

Varnish is a cooked mixture of a drying oil (tung, linseed, walnut, soya) and resin (amber, phenolic, alkyd, polyurethane).  Thinners and metallic driers are added.  It and the drying oils cure by via some kind of oxidation (presence of oxygen).  In varnish, there is a crosslinking of the molecules to form a film finish.  It is this film that gives varnish its water vapor resistance.  Drying oils don't get it.  In other words, by cooking the oil with a resin, you get a new beast.

The point about ease of maintenance of oil finishes is a good one.  Since rods don’t stay exposed like outdoor furniture, I think we tend to worry a bit too much about all this.  Keep them dry and store in a dry environment.  (Rich Margiotta)

By the way...

Pure linseed and walnut oils are both inferior when it comes to creating a vapor barrier. Both linseed and walnut oils will dry, but pass vapor easily.

Again Tung is your best choice.

Buy pure tung oil and use an aquarium pump to partly polymerize it (speed up the drying time). Put it in full sunlight and turn the aquarium pump on for a day or so.  It needs a bit of experimenting but reading your posts it seems you like that.  (Danny Heus)

According to the Forest Product Lab tests that were done several years ago, pure tung oil offers almost no resistance to water vapor intrusion either.  Polymerization may help, but commercial processes use really high temperatures.

In any event, you should be using oils for the first 1-2 coats to achieve translucency, then overcoat with a good varnish.  (Rich Margiotta)

I've found what I think will be the winner: Stand oil (info from the internet)  "Always thin it with turps though as white spirit can weaken the oil film. Stand is polymerized oil, or oil heated to a very high temperature in the absence of oxygen. This produces a much tougher and more flexible film than linseed oil. However, it takes much longer to dry, but it's worth it. I use it in all my layers, increasing the amount as the layers progress. Sun thickened oil is similar and dries much quicker but the film is not as good in the long term, but it's still much tougher than normal cold-pressed or refined linseed oils. Stand oil imparts a fantastic effect when you glaze your colors/layers, and if you add a small amount of Venice or Strasbourg turpentine the effect is even more striking!! Stand oil gets its name from the fact that, on standing, the mucilage coagulates and separates out from drying oils.  Stand oil, thicker than Linseed oil, causes oil colors to flow out as they dry, leaving minimal brush strokes. Stand oil is an unsuitable vehicle for making oil paint, but it makes an excellent painting and glazing medium when thinned with turpentine and damar varnish. It yields a tough paint film without the yellowing tendencies of refined linseed oil.  Stand Oil Linseed oil that has been heated to about 300° C. under conditions that exclude oxygen is referred to as stand oil. It becomes polymerized - that is, it changes its molecular structure while retaining its chemical ingredients. It has a lower iodine number than the cold-pressed oil, dries slowly, yellows less than the other linseed oils, and forms a tough strong film. It imparts to the paint an enamel-like smoothness and tends to make the paint fuse and blend. Because of its heavy consistency and low acid number, it is used as an ingredient in the dilutent, or painting medium, in oil technique, rather than as a grinding oil, or binder.  made by heating linseed oil, heightens the temperature tolerance and weather resistance and reduces water distention in oils and lacquers  A thick, very low acid oil to be diluted with turpentine or mineral spirits for use in mediums. Imparts strength and elasticity to the paint film and a smooth finish free of brush strokes"  My thoughts on the whole process are that if it slows drying, it will give any micro bubbles time to come to the surface and disperse If the spar/stand mixture is thinned with turps, slightly warmed and carefully applied then i should get good 'soakage', slow even drying and a clear, shiny and flexible coating that resists yellowing - sounds ideal  I'm buying some in an hour to test over the weekend so will let you all know.  (Nick Kingston)

Well, I did the test stick  (and a lot of this will be old news to you - so please bear with me)  (lesson no. 1 - untreated wooden dowel allows air under your wraps messing your finished effect)  I made 3 mixtures (all approximate ratios):  1 - prelim - 40% Stand oil, 40% spar, 20% distilled turpentine 2 - filling - 75% spar, 15% Stand oil, 10% distilled turpentine 3 -finishing - 90% spar, 10% distilled turpentine  1&2 were mixed and the closed bottles put in a 'heat bath' (boiling water over a low heat) for 10 minutes then allowed to cool  I applied 3 coats of 1 2 coats of 2 and 2 coats of 3, the last at 8 p.m. last night with about an hour between each, while turning in a 7 rpm rotisserie  the finish is clear (very faintly yellow in bright sunlight), totally bubble free, flat, barely thicker than the original thread 'lump' and hard as of 7 a.m. I now have the test stick in my 'drying cabinet' (a warm dry space above the gas water heater) so when I get home I'm hoping it will be well and truly totally dried  a couple of things I have noted from this and my other test sticks:  1 - as above - untreated wooden dowel allows air under your wraps messing your finished effect 2 - wet your brush thoroughly in distilled turpentine before dipping it in varnish to eliminate bubbles 3 - warm the varnish gently in the microwave to help 'liquify' it 4 - work from one end to the next 5 - I did three sets of turns per wrap:  1st set of turns to make sure the wraps were wet right to the edges  2nd set of turns to ensure all the wraps were adequately wet  3rd set of turns to soak the thread and 'wet' them enough to counteract the loss of volume due to the high proportion of turpentine  and other combustibles which evaporated 6 - I used a glass to rest my hand on to steady it - making sure that the varnish went where I wanted it to 7 - removal of the brush from the wrap sometimes leaves a small bubble - blowing gently popped it immediately with no sign it was there  If all goes well I will do a final brush finish tonight using mixture 3 to simulate final finishing varnish  if anyone has any comments or suggestions I'd appreciate it.  (Nick Kingston)

If you wrap with silk you will likely find the thread looks different on the rod than on a dowel.  Unless you stained the dowel to approximate the color of your rods.  The silk seems to become translucent with the varnish, and since I flame  my rods, the thread darkens quite a bit when I varnish because the color of the rod shows through.  (Neil Savage)


The best way to check if the finish you are planning to use will be opaque of transparent is to try it on a test wrap first...this is also a good test for the color  of the finished wrap.  (Ken Rongey)


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