Inking Signatures

Written by : Posted on March 19, 2016 : No Comments

Inking Signatures…On Pre-Varnished Blanks & More

This ramble is going to start off with a simple question and a response by Russ.  We’ll probably add more detailed information over time.  For the moment, this is a good example of why we don’t take tech questions over the phone – because responses evaporate as they’re spoken – and a good example of how we will respond if you email us.  It might take a day or two, but if someone here knows the answer, or can guide you in the right direction, you’ll get a thorough response.   Eventually, it is highly likely that your question will be the stimulus for another ramble, like this one, and that way many makers can benefit from the time it takes us to respond.  Really, it’s good for everyone.

I forgot ask you for some advice earlier, hope you don’t mind – I’m working on a pre-varnished blank, and wondered what the best way to go about signing the rod might be. I’m a bit nervous about trying to scuff the area and sign, would hate to possibly damage the blank. Also not sure if I could just sign directly on the finish as it is. Thanks for any suggestions – very appreciated!

Great question. I hate to assume anything when I wasn’t part of the process, but I’d bet that there is no wax coat over the varnish since your blank maker would have expected you to wrap and finish the wraps (which would be a problem if the blank was waxed). If there is a wax coat, you’d need to remove that, at minimum, before signing.

Next (another assumption coming up)…assuming you haven’t put the grip & seat on yet, you have your practice area…that bottom 9 inches or so of the rod. Ideally, this will have been finished the same as the rest of the blank, and it should be the same color, so you have plenty of room to sign and sign again, and varnish (this is where you make certain your chosen varnish doesn’t lift/bleed your chosen ink), until you’re happy with the process.

You can certainly try signing directly over the varnish. Whether or not you succeed will be related to the type of finish (primarily the gloss/sheen….high gloss will tend to bead the ink more than a matte or semi-matte finish) and the type of pen/ink. If you can write directly over the varnish, you’ll still need to seal it with a fresh layer of varnish, or the ink will quickly scratch off during use. But if you seal over an unprepared, cured, finish, you’ll risk a finish delamination between the layers. Varnish needs tooth – surface roughness at a micro level – to bond a fresh layer to a cured layer.

The above said, here’s what I’d do. Most importantly, start by not worrying about damaging your blank. The blank is a canvas, artistically, and a tool, in terms of ultimate function. Blanks get damaged by dogs, car doors, and yanking flies out of trees, not by guys and gals who are carefully finishing them. In other words, anything you “do” in terms of finishing, within reason, you can “undo” if needed. I think you should knock the sheen off the area you’ll be signing…you might ink several flats if you’re doing a rod model, length/line wt., recipient or maker data, and so on, but you need to remove the sheen on every flat inside the span you’re inking. First, use masking tape to put clearly defined “ends” on your work area, so you don’t scuff beyond the minimum necessary – perhaps ¼” to ½” beyond the first and last letter of your longest bit of inscription, not too close because you don’t want to crowd your ink if you follow my #2 suggestion below. Wrap the tape neatly, with crisp edges perpendicular to the length of the blank; you can even burnish down the inside edge of the tape to help hide the tape’s adhesive so it can’t easily pick up debris. Everything you do to the finish will alter the finish….the difference between good and bad workmanship is making the slight differences seem intentional, which is only a matter of making those differences actually intentional by clearly defining where things start and stop. The tape dams are your barrier. You’ll want to scuff each flat to the same degree…if you don’t, some flats, when re-varnished, will have a decidedly different glow in the daylight, not to mention the fact, as discussed above, that you’ll risk a finish delamination anywhere that you apply fresh varnish to a cured, but unprepared, gloss layer. By scuffing, I do not mean scratching with grooves visible to the naked eye – I mean dulling the surface, giving it tooth. You can use 0000 or finer steel wool, but only if it is degreased wool intended for wood finishing (this has been hard for me to find). My preference is for the medium (gray) polishing paper followed by the fine (blue) paper….the gray will raise just a bit of white powder and the blue will tidy things up prior to inking. If the varnish is at all wavy, which you’ll notice when you start dulling it and the high spots dull while the low spots shine on, then you’ll need to level the finish first.  To remove undulations, use the coarse (Green) polishing paper to level the varnish, then work down through the gray to the blue paper.  The finish in your inking span should be evenly dull and dead-level at this point, with the dull surface extending perfectly from one tape dam to the other, right up to the tape edges. Your pen should be an archival ink pen of some sort. If you have a practiced talent for script, by all means use a dipping pen or fountain pen with a fine nib and India ink. Another great option is an archival Sakura Pigma Micron pen with a fine point: . Ink away. If you aren’t happy, re-sand thoroughly (but gently!) to remove the ink and start over. You’ve got several shots at this before you wear through the varnish, if you work with a light touch. Once you’re satisfied with the inking, and you’ve cleaned up any little drips and blown off any residual dust (don’t use a tack cloth…they leave their own residue), put the rod section in a drying motor and apply the very thinnest coat of finish. This is really nitpicky, but if you feel the inside edges of your tape dams had exposed adhesive which picked up little bits of sanding scrunge, you should remove them and re-tape so you don’t bond detritus into the very edges of what will be your first, protective, coat of varnish over the wraps. For the protective coat, I’d use heat & thinner thinned spar varnish. Turn until dry then cure for three days. Now remove the tape dams. You’ll see that slight raggedy edge, and you need to mask that with some more intentional work. There are two basic methods.

1) The harder way is to apply additional super thin coats of finish and feather them into the blank finish….this works best if you know and purchase the exact finish the blank maker used; you’ll need to end this process by using a rottenstone and oil (non-polymerized!) slurry to get an even sheen on the whole blank (including the tips), at which point you can wrap and finish the guides. If you want a higher gloss finish, you can rebuild that easily with automotive surfacing compounds after the guides are in place and finished.

2) My preferred method would be to install two “intermediate” wraps, one at either end of your signature span, exactly covering the juncture of the original blank finish and the re-varnished signature span. This is, of course, easier to accomplish if the “edge” between the sig-wrap varnish and the original blank varnish is clearly defined, narrow, and perpendicular the blank’s length; a three-turn wrap should be able to hide the juncture line. With these wraps in place, continue to varnish just the signature span, including the wraps, with successive layers of varnish until the wraps are fully protected…probably three or four coats if you use Gossamer silk for these boundary wraps. Remember, all the rules of finishing apply here….rotate until the varnish sets up, cure for three days or longer at room temps in the 70s, or higher, buff off the sheen with 0000 wool or fine polishing paper between coats, and use a small, short, stiff-bristled brush (like the little Detail Master brushes we sell) to keep varnish thickness to a minimum (you don’t want alligatoring) and to ensure that your finish ends on the “far” side of the boundary wraps with essentially no spillover onto the blank. Once accomplished, you’ll still use the rottenstone and oil slurry to blend the freshly varnished span in with the rest of the blank prior to wrapping and finishing the guides. What you’ve done here is create a visual obstacle at each end of your signature wrap that messes with the light – creates reflections & intentional undulations – at exactly the points where you have switched from one finish to another. Once you’re done making the rod, and you’ve brought the surface back to your chosen level of luster, there won’t be any eye-catching discontinuity, just a decorative signature span that is otherwise integral to the rod. Where the light glimmers and wavers as the surface glow rolls over the boundary wraps, the distortion will look intentional, not haphazard, because it was intentional.

If you’re ever inking bare blanks, the process is much easier…same pens, same ink, apply a supremely thin protective layer of varnish (the whole way around the blank), feather that finish into the blank, then finish the entire blank using the same varnish, ideally by dipping.

That’s it for the time being.


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