The Three Most Common Mistakes In Fly Rod Building

Posted by Bob W. on 19th Jun 2015


During my career in custom fly rod building, I have seen some of the strangest and ill conceived custom builds that will boggle the imagination. Heck, even some of them have been mine. I have to admit that I've made all of the mistakes that I will be discussing in this article; some only once, some more.

I organize rod building into three categories; Building The Rod, Wrapping The Rod and Finishing The Rod. I have selected one or more of the most common mistakes in each of these rod building areas. This article is to help you avoid this problems and therefore eliminating some of the mistakes I've made in the past. I have also provided some advice on how to fix and help you avoid these pesky annoyances.

MISTAKE #1: Improper rod blank preparation and layout.

Improper blank preparation covers a lot of different operations and steps. First, you must make sure that the sections are the proper length. Some manufacturers trim the blank sections to accommodate the tip top and reel seat assembly; some do not. If the tip section with the tip top in place, (but not glued) is longer than the butt sections, you will have to trim the tip down with a cut off disc such as a Dremel type tool or something similar. Do not use a toothed saw blade of any type as it will tear out carbon or glass fibers and you will not be a happy rod builder. I use a high speed cut off disc and by rotating the blank during the cut, I don't have to worry about ruining the blank. This applies to any number of sections, whether it is 2pc, 3pc or 4pc or more. If the tip section is longer that the other sections, and if you ever drop the rod in the case, the weight of the entire rod will most likely break the tip top off. Or worse, you can even shatter the tip section further down the shaft.

Another blank prep mishap is not reaming your cork grip to the proper taper and therefore you won't get a good fit of your preformed grip. Depending on the type of reel seat you are planning on using, whether it is up-locking or down-locking you will have to plan on the proper layout for the reel seat. Measuring up from the butt section if it is the same length of the mid or tip section, mark the blank where the grip with be glued. If the butt section is shorter than the mid section or tip section, allow for the discrepancy and mark the blank accordingly. This will insure that your sections are all the same length and that you will decrease the risk of the mysterious broken tip section.


The final part of blank prep is making sure that your guides are placed in the proper guide size alignment. Too many times I have seen larger guides are placed ahead of the smaller sized guides. Double check to make sure you have the right sizes by laying the guides on a flat surface at eye level and you will be able to see the different guide sizes. Rule of thumb; smaller guides go toward the skinny end of the blank. This one will sneak up on you and you won't notice until your buddy or your customer points out the very obvious goof.

MISTAKE #2: Thread wrapping goofs.

There are too many wrapping mistakes to list here but one of the most common mistakes are 'Gaps'. Thread gaps occur when you don't have the right angle during wrapping and you will create gaps or spaces between the thread. Be careful when wrapping to lay each successive thread wrap tight to one another without crossing over the thread itself. When you burnish or tighten the wraps you will find that your thread wrap is not the length you want. As a result of tightening the thread you have decreased the overall length of the wrap.


That brings me to the second most common problem in wrapping is what we call an 'Overwrap'. The overwrap is where the wrapping thread wraps back over itself and creates a double layer of thread. No big deal unless that giant hump in your wrap is okay. Just be careful when rotating the blank during the wrapping process.

Another wrapping annoyance is improper singeing of the thread. Nylon and silk thread have tiny fibers that need to be singed with an alcohol lamp or some clean flame lighter. If the wraps are not singed then all those little fibers become hard spikes and if that happens, you can always carefully trim off the spikes of thread fiber and varnish or epoxy finish. Although these goofs will not impair the function of the thread wrap they certainly are unsightly.

MISTAKE #3: Finishing problems.

Finishing mistakes are a bit tougher to conceal than wrapping goofs. Just as the name implies, the finish is the final step and what you or your customer will have to stare at for the rest of the rod's life. The most common error is improper mixing. I have witnessed some extraordinary bungled finishing jobs because the rod builder did not take the time to properly dispense the right amount or did not mix the finish properly. Varnish finish type rod builders can ignore this part as it mostly applies to the two part epoxy finishes. I have a particular sequence of steps that will eliminate the risk of the epoxy finish not curing properly. First, make sure you dispense the right amount of part A and part B into an approved mixing vessel, cup or whatever as long as it is approved for the epoxy you are using. Second, I allow the finish to 'rest' and come to room temperature before the actual stirring starts. After a couple of minutes, I will mix for a full 3 minutes making sure that I get all the part A and part B mixed together. After the 3 minutes, I allow the mix to rest again for a couple of minutes to allow the air bubbles to percolate to the top and dissipate. No reason the apply air bubbles in your mix to your thread wraps. Everybody knows that thread wraps will turn dark and somewhat translucent when the epoxy is applied unless you have treated the thread with a color preserver of some sort. The problem with applying the epoxy directly to 'untreated' thread is that the epoxy is continuously curing as you are applying the finish. By the time you get to either the butt section or the tip section, depending on where you start the epoxy finish has started to cure and will not saturate the thread wraps evenly and you will have a different thread tone from one end of the rod to the other. To eliminate this problem, I take the time to 'Pre-Treat' my thread wraps. Not using a color preserver but using spar varnish to get the same color tone as if I applied the epoxy directly to the threads. By using this spar pre-treatment, I accomplish three things; first, the spar is very viscous and penetrates through the thread wraps to the blank itself. Second, the color tone is now even on all my wraps and third, the dried spar varnish is a harder surface for the epoxy to easily flow and level out on the wraps. By following this pre-treatment you will be amazed how easy the epoxy finish flows over the wraps and your finish will be professional grade. You most likely will still have apply two coats of epoxy to get the glass like finish we all admire.

Another finishing mistake that I would like to cover is not rotating the rod during the drying phase. You will need to rotate the rod for at least 2-3 hours so the epoxy finish will not sag and has a chance to level out. Even when I did a complete varnish finish I rotated the rod after about the 3rd or 4th coat of varnish just to help dry and level.


SUMMARY: Easy to avoid.

All of these 'Mistakes' if you will are relatively easy to avoid if you take the time to properly layout your grip, reel seat and tip length, wrap with patience and take the time to mix and apply your finish. Have patience and you will have a professional looking custom build.