Rough finishing can be done with 80 and 120 grit abrasive paper, working down to 220 grit, and also for the first couple of sealer coats, and then 320 and 400 grit for final finishing. Aluminum Oxide sandpaper lasts longest is your best value.
Finishes are usually, oil, shellac, varnish or lacquer. These are all reasonably water resistant or waterproof, and will offer various levels of protection to the wood to prevent weathering. They are primarily intended as sacrificial coatings, to reduce wear to the wood itself and may eventually need repair or replacement. They also bring out the color and grain of wood. Many people prefer an oiled look with the grain pattern of the wood readily apparent. Any finish is better than none.
Oils are easy, but need to be redone from time to time. The amount needed is so small, and you may already have something on hand. Tung oil based oils, are usually a version of tung oil varnishes with additives to make it dry. It’s a tough durable finish that can be wiped on. Linseed oil works, but darkens over time and needs to be reapplied often (museums have quit using it). Mineral oil which is used for cutting boards and salad bowls, Watco oils, Danish oils, “natural” nut and bean oils, and gunstock finishes are probably all suitable depending on the amount of maintenance you’re willing to invest, and the type of look you want. Surface preparation needs to very good, and any blemishes will show with an oil finish, so they need to well scraped or sanded smooth (220 grit or finer). Although oils may get absorbed by surface fibers and pores, they do not go very deep into the wood and saturate the cells, as some products may claim. Oil has the advantage of only needing a couple old clean rags to apply the finish, but take care to properly store and dispose of oil soaked rags.
Beeswax and Carnauba wax are also excellent finishes used by many traditional and contemporary furniture makers as the only surface treatment needed. Again, another finish that needs to be re-applied occasionally
Lacquer can be easily sprayed on from an aerosol can available at hardware and paint stores, dries fast, and is usually water clear and without the yellow caste, or darker tints that many oils and varnishes have. Several coats can be quickly applied in less than an hour. It’s reasonably durable and easily repaired, easy to remove and redo. You might also be able to get a local furniture refinishing shop to spray it for you at a reasonable cost.
I favor marine varnishes or spar varnish, (Epifanes, International) whether they are a polyurethane based, or tung oil based type “long oil” varnish because while they are not as hard a surface as a “short oil” furniture varnish, they are much more flexible, tougher, and easier to apply. Marine varnishes also tend to have an amber cast or color to them because of the high UV filter content, which is not usually noticeable except on very light colored woods. I have used $25.00 Badger hair brushes and spray equipment, but get the best results with a good quality disposable 1” (25mm) foam brush (not the cheap plastic handle ones). Varnish is also very easy to repair and touch up, or remove and redo if necessary. It is also available in aerosol cans like lacquer, and can give an acceptable finish.
Shellac is easy to apply, dries fast, is tough, and is available in several shades from light to dark. You can order it premixed instead of using the flakes and denatured alcohol. Shellac finishes are water resistant but can be softened by alcohol, so don’t spill your beer or margarita on it.
I use at least 4 coats of varnish and usually 6-8 are needed to get a smooth glossy finish. The first couple of coats are usually thinned to seal the pores and get completely into the lacing holes (and lacing groove if used) to seal the exposed end grain of the wood and help waterproof the net. Most of these first coats get sanded away as the surface gets smoothed and leveled, and the pores in the wood start to fill. The succeeding coats can be applied thicker and lightly sanded (320 and 400 grit) to remove dust, runs, and the inevitable insect or two that always seems to be there. Be careful when sanding edges not to go through the finish, and chamfering or rounding all sharp edges helps prevent the finish from wearing through with use. The lacing holes may need to be cleaned before you start lacing the netting to the frame, with a paperclip, toothpick, or awl, if the finish clogs the holes.
“Hand rubbing” usually refers to hours of fine finish sanding, and/or polishing, with pumice and rottenstone and numerous other rubbing and polishing compounds from 3M, Meguire’s and several hundred other commercial and retail automobile finishing and refinishing products, but it’s probably worth the time and effort to bring out the grain, figure and color, of many exotic woods and burl woods, as most any gunstock maker will tell you. On the other hand, you can always use the “just dip it in somethin’, and let’s go fishin’ ” approach.
On a final note, unless you’re in the Army, there is no “one correct way” to make a landing net. Use your imagination and inventiveness to create your own design or style. Break the rules. If you are going to go through the effort, don’t try to make a cheap version of something you can buy at the store for $15.00. Please contact me if you get stuck or need more information.
If you are considering making nets for sale, you might first want to look at the “List of custom wood fly fishing landing net makers and builders” to see other nets for sale on the internet.
I will be adding to this as time permits, please check back soon.
These pages were last updated 3 April 2008
Please contact me if you need more specific information.
How to build a custom wood fly fishing landing net
CLICK HERE TO PRINT A TEXT ONLY VERSION (Word doc)