Anyone that knows me knows that I have always been someone that takes care of my things. My fishing gear is no different. Even as a young kid, I used to take a lot of pride in keeping my rods and reels in the best shape possible. I'd always try my best to avoid scratches and dings, and I'd frequently clean the cork handles of my rods to avoid them darkening too much. A friend used to occasionally poke fun at me for "babying" my stuff so much, but hey, I like keeping my gear looking great and it only increases the resale value—no harm in that! Despite my best efforts, however, I was never quite satisfied by the condition of my cork grips after prolonged usage. They would always show some darkening or staining and at least some pitting was always an issue. Not cool!
Several years ago, I was introduced to U-40 Cork Seal. As you'd expect from a sealant, it's designed to penetrate the surface of the cork and reduce chipping, pitting, and other unsightly signs of wear. On top of strengthening the cork, it helps keep cork cleaner and makes cleaning the cork easier. Since I've started using U-40 cork seal, I do feel that my handles both look better and seem to have less wear than in the past.
Application is very simple. I find that a small paintbrush works just fine. Under good lighting, I typically put a small amount on the lower half of the brush and coat just a few inches of the handle at a time while working my way up or down its length. A light amount is all you need—it is watery and you don't want it to run and drip. Just one single coat does the job. I'll put it on both the cork and the dark composite cork, but I take care not to get it on any of the reel seat, rod blank, the black foam end of a fighting butt, etc. I don't know what effect it would have (if any) if it dried on these surfaces, but I don't really want to find out either!
It takes me about 10-15 minutes to carefully apply the sealant to a handle and fighting butt (if equipped with one). After the cork is thoroughly and evenly coated, I'll scan for any imperfections or uneven spots and brush them out if needed. To be on the safe side, I usually just let the rod sit overnight before handling it. I like to be extra cautious and ensure the cork is fully dry.
After the sealant has dried, the cork can take on a richer appearance with a lot of the detailing and marks becoming more pronounced. This probably also depends on the cork quality/type used as I noticed some rod grips don't look too much different afterwards while others take on much more of a "wet" look. In addition, the cork will have a little more "textury" feel to it which I also really like.
One 2-ounce jar can be used to treat many rods and offers some solid protection for just $5.49 from TackleWarehouse.com. I have immediately applied U-40 to every cork-handled rod I've bought the last several years and believe it has helped keep my grips in nicer condition overall. Give it a shot sometime and you may become a fan, too!