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'm sure there's different tools you can use to apply it, but 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—its 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 any dark composite cork rings a handle may have, but I take care not to get it on any of the reel seat, rod blank, the black 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). As it dries, I also make sure to slowly spin the handle looking for shiny or wet spots which I will keep going over with the brush until everything appears dry. Then, I'll clean the brush and set the rod aside to fully dry. It seems to dry pretty quickly, but I usually just let it sit overnight before handling it. I like to be extra cautious!
After the seal has dried, the cork will take on a richer appearance with a lot of the detailing and marks becoming more pronounced. It also gives the handle somewhat of a more "textury" feeling which I really like a lot. The two cork pictures I've included show a brand spankin' new EDGE fly rod grip/fighting butt that I treated just a few days ago and have not handled since. You'll notice the cork shows a bit more "character" as opposed to the light, bright color typical of a new unsealed grip.
One 2-ounce jar can be used to treat multiple rods and offers some solid protection for just $4.99 from TackleWarehouse.com. I have immediately applied this stuff to every cork-handled rod I've bought the last several years and believe it's helped keep my grips in much nicer condition. Give it a shot sometime and you may become a fan, too!