Building A Cane Rod, Part VIII.
In our last column we discussed the
mounting and turning of the grip. All that remains is to varnish the
rod and wraps and seal the guides. The good news is that today it
is possible for a beginner to achieve better finishing results then
the vast majority of all 'classic' rods if they wish to pay
attention to the details and invest the time and effort necessary. A major
reason for this is that most people dip-finish their rods. Although dipping
is by no means foolproof, it does substitute for the years of experience
necessary working with a brush and the results are as good or better then
hand methods. Indeed, many of the classic rods that were finished with a
brush fall far short of the quality that can be achieved today. This may seem
to be heresy, but it is true and in no way denigrates the skill that it took
to finish a rod as well as some makers did in the past.
Dipping, however, is not a foolproof method to achieve a theoretical
'perfect' finish. The more you work with varnish, the more you realize that
it can be finicky and seemingly have a mind all it's own. In addition, the
manufacturers of varnish will, from time to time, change their formulations.
I have had the experience of opening a can of an old favorite finish to find
that the color and odor (which is a reflection of the ingredients) has
changed despite assurances from the supplier that they have not tinkered with
the formula. Right!
Today, most makers are finishing their rods with a polyurethane varnish. I
have heard cane aficionados turn up their noses at the use of polyurethane
rather then spar varnish, declaring it to be a form of plastic! Well, guess
what? All spar varnishes made today that incorporate alkyd or phenolic resins
are also forms of plastic! The choice of what's 'best' is entirely up to the
maker, both spar varnishes and polyurethanes are widely available and produce
excellent results. I would however, when restoring a classic rod, always
choose a spar varnish as the finish. This is probably more out of a respect
for tradition then any practical reason.
Regardless of what you choose to use you stand a good chance of producing a
superior finish if you have a quality dipping setup and are willing to
experiment with different types of varnish. The components necessary include
your finish, a dip tube placed in an enclosed area, a reversible motor to
withdraw the sections and a means to keep the temperature of the enclosure
constant. It is not necessary to spend a ton of money on special dip tubes,
DC motors and rheostats, or HEPA filters to achieve great results.
A dip tube can be inexpensively constructed out of a length of PVC tubing
with an end cap cemented in place. A simple reversible AC motor is easy to
find and the withdrawl speed can be governed by turning an arbor to the
proper diameter. Most people seem to favor a rate of about 4"/minute.
Enclosing the setup will allow one to accomplish two things: keep the
temperature of the varnish constant and eliminate problems with dust. The
viscosity of the varnish and its cure time is a function of temperature. It
is not necessary to varnish at high temperatures. It should be remembered
that most varnishes are formulated to work at room temperature, and thus they
will perform best at the recommended application temperature range. A few
ordinary light bulbs can serve as a heat source for the booth. The enclosure
also functions to seal out drafts. It is obvious that dust is heavier then
air, so if drafts are eliminated dust will settle to the floor. As long as
the rod sections are clean before dipping and the varnish is kept free of
contamination your dust problems will be minimal, and any minute problems can
be safely removed by rubbing out the finish after the varnish cures.
I've spent hundreds of dollars experimenting with different types of
varnish-both polyurethanes and spar varnishes. Virtually all have produced
very good results right out of the can or with a little thinning. The
differences between types can be very subtle, and for a builder the decision
of what product to use can be a matter of availability and personal taste.
Two possibilities exist for the dipping process: varnish the blank first
without the guides in place, or wrap and seal the guides first and then
varnish the rod. There are advantages to both methods. On one hand,
varnishing the blank without the guides in place can be a little quicker. As
each section is withdrawn from the dip tube, one must stop as each guide
clears the varnish surface to allow excess to run off the guide. So dipping a
section without the guides in place means that the section can be pulled out
without stopping. On the other hand if one wraps and seals the guides after
varnishing, more coats will be needed on the wraps to build a sufficient film
thickness and more care is also necessary to do a neat job.
Small imperfections that might remain after the last coat is applied can be
removed with fine abrasives. I start with 1,000 grit wet-and-dry automotive
sandpaper, followed with an automotive rubbing compound to remove any traces
of scratching from the sandpaper. In the old days, rods were frequently
rubbed down with rottenstone (a very fine abrasive) to a semi-gloss
appearance that produces a nice warm look and also helps to hide small dust
In our next column we'll wrap and seal the guides, and then we'll finally be
ready to go fishing!
~ J.D. Wagner ~
© 1999, J.D. Wagner, Inc.