Applying the Varnish

To finish the rod we now need to apply varnish to the whippings and the blank.  I suspect if you got ten rod builders/restorers in a room and asked them how to varnish a fishing rod, you would get ten different answers!

Some will tell you to thin the varnish before applying, some will say you should apply the varnish with a brush, others with your finger, some may even recommend dipping the rod in a varnish bath, or even spraying the varnish on to the blank.

Do you need to varnish the whippings before the rod, so the whippings get more coats? And if so, how many times? What varnish should you use, how many coats in total?

At the end of the day, the right way for you is what works for you. By a process of trial and error, I have found a method that allows me to finish a rod with varnish to a standard I’m happy with using relatively inexpensive varnish and without specialised tools or a drying room. You need to find a method that works for you, but I’ll describe here my method and that’s as good a way to start as any.

Firstly, I dont thin the varnish as many recommend – I use it straight from the tin.  Maybe I dont get the depth of shine in the finish that others do, but then I’m not usually working with the most valuable rods. I have used several different varnishes with good results, but I find I get the best results with the ‘International’ brand of Yacht Varnish. It doesn’t alter the colour of the blank very much, and its easy to apply and doesn’t run if its not applied too thickly.

When I want a darker finish, I use ordinary Ronseal outdoor varnish.  Its not so easy to apply as its thicker and you have to be more careful, but when I want a deep rich finish it does the job well.  For a high shine I use clear gloss, but I have used the satin version when I wanted a non-reflective finish.

I apply the varnish with a small artists paintbrush – no more than 3mm thick so I have a lot of control. Maybe it takes longer than with a thicker brush, but it works for me and I’m pretty quick at it.

I apply two coats to the whippings alone before varnishing over the whole rod including the whippings with four more coats.  Between coats I remove any minor imperfections by rubbing over the blank VERY gently with the finest grade of wire wool. Irrespective of what drying time is says on the tin, I always wait 24 hours between coats.

Varnishing the whippings is fairly easy as you’re working in a clearly defined area – just start at the edge and apply varnish by rotating the rod with the brush held against the whipping.  Make sure the varnish is evenly distributed by going over it with the brush before moving to the next whipping.

After the whippings have had two coats and thoroughly dried, I start at one end of the rod and apply varnish to the whipping at that end.  When I reach the end of the whipping, I apply varnish directly to the adjacent part of the blank, again by rotating the rod, but I then brush up and down the blank up to the next whipping while rotating the rod as I find it easier to get an even finish. Once I reach the next whipping I repeat the process until the whole rod section has been varnished.

Effectively I treat two adjacent whippings and the rod between them as separate sections. That way I am always working with a small area which I find makes it easier to apply the varnish evenly.

With some varnishes you may need to rotate the rod during drying to avoid runs or build up of varnish, but with ‘International’ Yacht Varnish I have found that as long as I do not apply too much varnish in each coat,  I can just prop the rod against a wall and leave it to dry.

The pictures below show the Allcocks Gold Label Wizard I’ve been using for this project, both before and after the restoration. It now has a new top section made by slightly shortening a section from an old salmon fly rod, and a new ferrule between the top two joints.  The taper of the replacement top section doesn’t exactly match the original – its thinner in the tip, but only slighly so the action will be similar, it might even be a little quicker on the strike when trotting for Dace.  Everything else is original, so although its not quite the Wizard it was, I doubt many people would be able to tell, either by looking at it, or fishing with it.

Before and After

Before and After

If you’ve been with me from the start of this project, I hope you’ve found it useful, and are confident enough to think about restoring a rod of your own.  I’m not going to tell you that cane rods are superior to carbon, although many will, but there is something different about cane, and although I do use carbon rods and poles, I enjoy using cane rods, centrepin reels and quill floats some of the time, probably for much the same reason that some people like to drive vintage cars.

Vintage Fishing Rod Restoration Guide

Available in paperback and for the Amazon Kindle

Make Your Own Traditional Fishing Tackle

Available in paperback and for the Amazon Kindle


Cane Rod Restoration Service


Hand Made Traditional Fishing Floats