Hi Russ, The spar varnish you sent is amazing and has done a couple of repair/rebuild jobs for me which were very successful…. Yours truly, Malcolm B. (Canada – but this was shipped to a US Address…it’s the only way)
NOTE: Please do not order this product if you are having your order delivered outside the continental United States. If this item is in your cart and your shipping address is outside the continental U.S., your order will wind up being blocked by the system and you won’t be able to check out until you remove the varnish. Thanks for your understanding.
We love this varnish. If you want the best available in a natural oil and resin spar with a high solids content that relies on the more expensive (and far superior) polymerized tung oil rather than on linseed oil or other less desirable fillers, then just buy this varnish. This is the spar that is used on the wraps of every Golden Witch cane rod. We have been exceptionally happy with the results and so will you!
Works for dip finishing as well.
Steve has been asking all kinds of good questions about finishing. Until I have a chance to write up a proper Ramble, here’s my most recent response. If you pay attention, you’ll discover Steve’s questions by way of my rambling answer:
Steve, finishing is one of the greatest cans of worms you could ever open inside of the rodmaking world. No-one does it the same and everyone is right, making everyone else wrong. This isn’t just splitting vs. sawing strips where there are two basic camps. With finishing, there are several thousand camps. The best thing I can tell you is that most ways of moving forward will yield a fishable rod. Pick a method. You’re either lucky or you’re not, depending on your perspective, because you have the option of choice. When I was learning in Daryll’s shop, it was his way, end of story. Bare blank. Wrap the guides. Finish the guides. Dip over everything (usually three coats on the tips and four on the butt). I added the alchemist amber varnish to help drive out micro-bubbles, but other than that I use DLW’s methods for most of my rods. This is demonstrated in our DVD set. But you have the freedom to pick up Howell’s book, or books by Maurer or Cattanach, or any number of others and go their way. I’m a heretic for saying this, but I really don’t think it matters which way you move, so long as you finish the rod and start to discern what works for you. If you like a method, stick to it. If you don’t, try another method.
Be wary…huge difference between rotten stone and pumice. Pumice is relatively coarse, so you can use that between coats and it will add tooth for subsequent coats. Rottenstone is much finer and is ideal for knocking the gloss off a high gloss finish….or bringing back a “less than gloss” finish if you wind up having to sand off a run/sag of varnish in your final coat, which can happen, even if you’re super careful when dipping.
You can dip with any of the exterior poly-spar or spar varnishes, but not with finishes that are engineered to be hand rubbed like Tru-oil or any of the ‘Danish’ rubbing oils. For the most part, if the finish is used on the brightwork of wooden yachts, it’s good for a bamboo rod finish.
It is easier, by far, to work a finish on a blank without guides. That’s why LOTS of folks go this route. I have used this method on our one-piece “Cricket” rods which are short, yet too long to dip in GW’s dip tank. What you may discover, however, is that it’s tougher to wrap silks over a varnished blank than over a bare blank. If you finish the blank first, be sure you have a hard cure (this could be several weeks of curing, or curing in a UV cabinet) before you wrap. The harder the cure, the less your thread will bite into the varnish. There’s just no two ways about it, it is harder to wrap over varnish because the thread catches on the finish in a way it doesn’t catch on the polished surface of a bare bamboo blank and this makes it tougher to pack and burnish the wraps.
Really, this is one of those cases where you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Or, as I tell my kids, life tends to be in balance….if this bit is easy, something else will be difficult. There are also aesthetic considerations. Some fellows prefer the look of discrete guide wraps finished individually over what looks like, and is, a previously finished blank. Other fellows – often the ones selling high dollar rods – prefer to have an uninterrupted sheen that flows down the rod….yes, the sheen undulates at the wraps, but it is unbroken because when you dip over the finished wraps you’re encasing everything in those three or four coats of varnish. Overdipping offers a very specific look and offers great protection to your guide wraps, signature wrap, decals, feather inlays, etc., but it is a beast when it comes to making repairs and the repair will not look ‘a piece’ of the original rod. Conversely, guides finished individually over a pre-finished blank are much easier to repair. You need to pick your poison. There is, to my knowledge, no perfect finishing system, only competing systems which all have significant pros and cons.
It is definitely NOT insane to do a matte blank with gloss wraps. That is a valid look, and a popular look. Quite frankly, it’s better for fishing that a fully glossy rod. Bear in mind, as a maker sometimes you’re catching fish, and sometimes you’re catching anglers. If you were headed to Yellowstone or anywhere with truly spooky “PhD” trout, I’d knock all the gloss down, blank and wraps, and I’d blue the hardware and use a matte clear coat, or even just an oil finish (this latter isn’t terribly durable because oxide bluing on nickel silver more aesthetic than functional when compared to true gun blue on steel which is durable with only oil as a protectant).
I hope this helps. Maybe the best approach is to flip a coin. Heads you finish the blank, then do the wraps & varnish them. Tails, you do the wraps over a bare blank and dip it all. The key, though, will be to do one for this rod, then the other for your next rod. When you get to the following rod, you’ll already have a preference that’s built upon your own shop experience. – Russ
OLD VARNISH: Hey, if you’re like many rodmakers, you make more stuff than just fishing rods. In our shop we happen to make a fair number of bird feeders and birdhouses, some for the yard, some for FFA & Boy Scout projects. “Old” spar varnish is a wonderful thing for sealing outdoor projects that range from feeders to picnic tables to wooden planters. Because we’re insistent on selling fresh varnish for high end, finicky projects like fine bamboo rods, we wind up with some expired varnish on our shelves – varnish that is still functional for your rougher needs. My favorite “off label” use for good varnish to to cut it 50% or more with turpentine and use it as a sealer on freshly sanded butcherblock maple benchtops. The standard finish for BBM tops is mineral oil….that’s all well and good for your kitchen surfaces, but around rods you’re liable to contaminate a strip of bamboo prior to glue-up, or mar unfinished silks, if you have an uncured oil finish on your benches. Soaking ultra-thinned Sutherland Welles spar into the surfaces (that’s every surface, top, bottom, and edges) will help to keep your heavy benchtops from warping & splitting, plus it’ll make clean-up easier. Most of the benches in the GW shop have been re-sanded and sealed at least twice so far, but the ones that see rougher use are refinished every few years. If you’ll promise not to use it for rodwork, and not to fuss at us when you discover that there is a lump, or a clump, or another defect natural to expired varnish, we’ll gladly sell it to you for half off of retail when we have some. Send us an email and we’ll create a Paypal invoice; UPS Ground shipping rates apply; Continental U.S. deliveries only.
More On Old Varnish – As It Relates To Discovering An Old Can In Your Rod Shop….
This is modified & expanded from a response I emailed to one of our clients who asked about using a can from 2012….
I’m going to give you something of a split response and emphasize that the final choice is yours entirely.
On the one hand, as an authorized reseller for SW, I am going to start by emphasizing that you should not use varnish that is well past its “best by” date. Varnish is one of these things where technique matters as much as product – good technique coupled with good product yields good results. But because even the best product, when used inappropriately (say, by applying overly thick coats, or by thinning more than 10% by volume), will give poor results, there is no absolute guarantee that SW will work in your application. That’s why test finishing, to prove out your methods alongside the product, is essential – even with brand new varnish. But if you use stuff past the expiration date and then lodge a complaint (not saying you would, so don’t take me wrong…I’m writing generally because this is the sort of response that is likely to land on the website … and here it is!), that complaint will fall on particularly deaf ears, here at GW and with the manufacturer. There’s a reason the manufacturers take the time and effort to tag their products with “best by” dates. Varnish, like milk and cold cuts, has a shelf life. You wouldn’t want to drink sour milk or eat ‘rainbow’ ham, so you probably don’t want to varnish your finest work with material that isn’t fresh.
Next up to ponder, since you do have an old can, is an overarching term: storage conditions. If your varnish sat for four years in a garage or other space that ran up and down in temperature seasonally, I’m going to suggest that you not use it. I wouldn’t. At least not on fine tackle. Buying a new can is expensive, sure, but not nearly so expensive that it’s worth ruining the labor you’ll have invested in wrapping all those guides. If, on the other hand, your storage conditions were in the basement, at a relatively stable 55-65*F, then I won’t tell you, sight unseen, that your varnish is ruined. You need to judge that for yourself. Open the can and pour it into a mason jar. Slowly. Look to see if the varnish has separated into layers, developed any inconsistencies in color or viscosity, and so on. If it has gone south, admit it, buy a new can, and save yourself the considerable headache of needing to re-wrap. If the stuff looks good, consider yourself fortunate. But make some test wraps and go through your entire finishing process on those test wraps. Prove this batch of varnish before working on an actual rod. This takes a little bit of time and effort, but it’s exactly what you should be doing with a new can of varnish, too.
If the varnish isn’t ideal, you don’t need to pitch it. Old varnish, re-stirred and mixed about 50/50 with turpentine makes a wonderful sealer for butcher block maple benchtops…work surfaces, not food prep surfaces. Old varnish is perfect for sealing picnic tables and birdhouses, too. Recently we’ve been seeing a rise in folks using old varnish (still “good looking” but past expiration) as part of their recipe for soaking & sealing furled silk flylines. In other words, even old varnish is useful, but useful where clarity isn’t your penultimate concern (protection being your ultimate concern).
So, my best advice to study the contents of your can of varnish, perhaps going so far as to make and finish a few test wraps, then make a good decision that balances the expense of a new can of varnish against the risks inherent in using old varnish. If you determine that the risk is low, go for it. If you’re worried, we have good varnish in stock.