Fly Rod Building 101:
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THE ROD BUILDING SEQUENCE
At Los Pinos Custom Rods/Custom Fly Rod Crafters we divide rod building into 3 parts: building, wrapping & finishing. Building is preparing the blank section, including mounting the tip-top & grip, wrapping is attaching the guides & finishing is applying the protective varnish or epoxy coating.
First; determine that the blank you have is what you wanted by checking tags and markings on the blank shaft, usually the butt section.
Second; make sure all of your components are appropriate for what kind of rod you're building, fresh or saltwater?
Note: Not all of the above is necessary; check the rod building sequence to determine what tools & materials you may need. Patience is absolutely essential.
1. Prepare the blank:
a. Check the length & make sure the tip & butt sections are approximately the same length, if not, trim the longer section with an abrasive cut-off disk or with the edge of a file, do not use a saw of any sort as the teeth will tear the graphite fibers.
Note: Typically trim the tip section 1/2" shorter than the butt section, when you glue on the tip-top the sections will be equal.
b. Find the guide side by holding the blank section (tip or butt) at a 45 degree angle and with a slight downward pressure rotate the section and you will feel the weak side of the blank come up, this is called spining whereas the "spine" is opposite the weak side or on the bottom and the guides go on the top side (the concave side).
Note: Spining the rod & placing the guides in the "casting plane" ensures an accurate casting rod.
c. Repeat for the remaining section or sections for multi-piece rods. Mark the guide side on each section with a China marker.
2. Mount the tip-top:
a. Using 5-minute epoxy glue place the tip-top on the tip section in line with the guide mark. Clean up excess glue with denatured alcohol & lint-free wipes.
Tip: Cleaning up excess epoxy glue with alcohol works only when the epoxy has not cured!
3. Measure & mark for reelseat:
a. Measure the length of your reelseat and mark the blank from the end of the butt section & lightly scribe a mark using the thread burnisher or place a piece of masking tape to indicate the end of the reelseat next to the grip. Do not glue on the reelseat at this time! You will need the end of the blank for turning while the rod is drying & the added weight during wrapping is unnecessary.
Note: Depending on the thickness of the reelseat butt plug, you may have to trim a bit of the butt section prior to final reelseat assembly.
4. Measure & mark for grip:
a. Measure the length of the grip, then measure up the blank from the reelseat mark & scribe the blank again at this measurement.
b. Scuff the blank with sandpaper or Scotch-Bright pad from the forward scribed mark to the end of the butt section to give a good gluing surface.
5. Mounting the grip:
A. Using a preformed grip:
a. If necessary ream out the cork grip hole with a tapered reamer to get a good even fit with the grip; not too tight & not to loose.
Tip: A tapered blank needs a tapered hole in the grip for a proper fit.
b. Glue grip with 5-minute epoxy glue making sure you have enough glue throughout the length of the grip.
c. Clean up excess glue with denatured alcohol.
CAUTION! Some chemicals such as acetone & MEK may damage the blank finish.
B. Building the grip with cork rings:
a. Determine the number of cork rings needed for the length of grip desired.
6-1/2" long grip = 13 (1/2" thick) rings.
b. Ream out the rings to a snug but not too tight fit on the blank.
c. Glue rings with slow-set epoxy glue and install a cork clamp to ensure a tight fit and thin glue lines. Clamping also insures the rings will be perpendicular to the blank shaft.
d. Clean up with denatured alcohol.
e. After the glue has dried, spin the blank section (lathe, drill motor, with steady rests, etc.) and sand the cork rings to the desired shape.
Tip: Start with 40 grit and finish with 400 grit.
f. Fill the imperfections in the cork with cork filler putty or a mixture of glue & cork dust and re-sand to finish the grip.
6. Install the winding check (optional):
a. Place the winding check down to the grip but do not glue; the wraps and the rod finish will hold it in place.
7. Mark the guide spacing:
a. Mark the blank with the China marker at the correct guide placement for the length of rod you are building.
Tip: As a rule of thumb; the number of guides (not counting the tip-top) plus one for every foot of length of rod.
Example: a 9' rod will have 10 guides.
b. Guide spacing measurements are to the center of the guide, measured from the tip-top with sections assembled.
8. Wrapping on the guides:
a. Check that the guide feet have been properly ground to a tapered front to allow for a smooth wrapping transition up the guide foot & remember the smaller guides go toward the top of the rod, no kidding.
Note: Typically 3 to 4 sizes of snake guides are used.
b. Check that the thread is under the proper tension (use a thread tension device or makeshift a tensioner with a cup & phone book). The proper tension will allow you to adjust the guides after you have wrapped both feet for final alignment.
CAUTION! Too much tension can damage the blank.
c. Make sure the wraps on each side of the guide are equal lengths by measuring
from the bend of the guide and not the end of the guide foot.
d. Using the blind thread wrap technique, similar to a whip finish or the nail knot.
Start the wrap by crossing the thread over itself. Continue capturing that section of thread until the wrap is approximately 1/8” long. Then closely trim the tag end. Continue wrapping up the guide foot and stopping to within 1/8” (6-8 turns) of the end. At this point place a loop of thread opposite the guide and the loop should point to the center of the guide. Continue wrapping over the loop to the end of the wrap. Maintain wrap pressure with your finger and release the thread tension and cut approximately 3 inches of thread to place through the loop end. While still maintaining pressure, pull with the loop from under the thread wrap and then trim the tag end with your x-acto knife.
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e. Check guides for proper alignment after all the guides are installed by sighting down the rod. Redo those guides that are not in alignment.
f. Burnish the thread wraps to close any gaps & remember to burnish from the edges of the wrap to the center.
g. Wrap on the hookkeeper.
Tip: Typically the hookkeeper is installed in line with the guides.
h. Use only nylon or silk thread, no cotton or polyester! Size A is the recommended thread size for fly rods.
9. Install the ferrule & tip-top wraps:
a. Ensure that the ferrule wrap(s) are installed. As a minimum 1/2" long for both sides of spigot ferrule and for the female ferrule of tip-over or sleeve type ferrule. The tip-top wrap is usually the same length as the uppermost guide wrap.
10. Inscribing the rod:
a. Using a Gel-Roller-Pen or pen & ink, inscribe your custom rod with your name and all other pertinent information. Allow to dry, then coat this area with protective rod finish.
Tip: Do this step in between the first & second epoxy coats to prevent ink bleeding onto the thread wraps.
11. Apply the rod finish:
a. If you are using rod varnish, apply thin coats and let dry the manufacturer’s recommended time between coats. You may have to apply 6 to 10 coats depending on the desired look. By using thin coats you will not have to rotate the rod while the finish is drying.
b. If you are using 2-part rod epoxy finish, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and measure & mix the finish in approved mixing cups only.
CAUTION! Using unapproved mixing cups or syringes may result in the finish from curing properly. The syringes are used make sure you have equal amounts of part A and part B. Do not clean the syringes but do draw the plunger from the bottom shoulder of the syringe approximately 1/2" and let drip into separate containers.
CAUTION! Do not let the syringes come into contact with each other.
Tip: Average working time for epoxy finish is about 20 minutes.
c. If using epoxy finish, the rod must be rotated for about 2 hours and usually 2 coats of finish are adequate.
Note: After two hours the finish is set but NOT dry, DO NOT TOUCH! Allow 12-24 hours between coats.
d. Apply rod finish over any specification markings or inscriptions.
e. Clean your brush with lacquer thinner or epoxy brush cleaner.
f. Allow rod finish to completely cure prior to fishing, About 1 to 2 days.
12. Mount the reelseat:
a. Using masking tape build two tape arbors to make up the difference in the blank diameter and the reelseat bore diameter.
b. Using 5-minute epoxy glue, apply glue over the masking tape arbors and apply glue inside the reelseat.
c. Check alignment of the reelseat to make sure the hoods and/or the mortise is in line with the guides.
d. Don’t forget to protect your investment with a rod bag & a good quality rod case.
13. GOOD LUCK! & GO FISHING!
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THE SPINING CONCEPT:
Spining the blank. This simple process has caused much confusion and debate within the rod building community. Understanding why there is such a thing in the first place may help to eliminate a lot of the confusion. The act of ‘spining’ is finding the differences in the wall thickness of the blank after the flat graphite (carbon fiber) cloth is wrapped around a tapered steel mandrel and then oven cured. The mandrel has the rod designer’s line and length taper specifications ground to within thousands of an inch. The designer dictates the amount of graphite cloth (combined with a resin scrim) that the finished rod blank will have, how much overlap the cloth will have. The graphite materiel is cut into a tapered pattern, which will be wider at the butt end and narrower at the tip end. Because of these ‘ends’, each blank will have end spots, which will feel like ‘high points’. These high points, which typically run the entire length of the blank, are what we call a spine or spines. Just like the spine in your body, it is a stiff area in your back but different in blanks in that you may encounter several spines depending on how the graphite cloth is applied, or ‘laid-up’ on the mandrel. When the graphite is wrapped with heat shrink tape and oven cured, a ‘natural curve’ will appear along the rod shaft. This natural curve will be apparent when you sight along the axis of your blank and it has a definitive curve to it, if not you’re lucky and accidentally got a straight one. Also the curve will be more visible when you rotate the blank shaft when sighting down the length of it. This natural curve is also called the weak side, where the thickness of the graphite materiel is less than the other side, or the strong side.
So far we have a weak side and a strong side as determined by the amount of graphite material wrapped around the steel mandrel. You can check this weak side by holding the blank at a 45 degree angle with your one hand near the tip and then by pressing down and rotating at the same time with fingers of your other hand. The resistances you feel on both sides are the high points or spines. Remember the opposite side of the weak side is the thicker part of the blank and will result in more power in lifting and fighting big fish as the graphite resists compression as a result of more materiel. By putting your guides on the natural curve side, you will prevent the rod from twisting in you hand. If the guides were put off to the side this would cause the rod to twist during the cast resulting in inaccuracy, this is why guides are typically put 90 degrees to the spine as one manufacturer states but this will result in the same thing as putting your guides on the weak side.
Maintaining casting accuracy in trout fishing is more important that lifting power as in big game saltwater fishing. By properly placing your guides your rod will track properly through the casting plane. Whether you decide to place your guides on the weak side or the strong side is a matter of individual decision but the awareness of a spine or spines and what they are will give you a better understanding of rod design and will help you create a finely tuned rod.
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Selecting A Fly Rod/Blank
Which is the right one for me?
Are you looking to build your first fly rod, upgrading your present rod, or seeking a new rod for a special kind of fishing you want to try?
From a bewildering array of lengths, actions, line weights and brand names, we can help you choose the rod, which best suits your fishing needs, casting style and budget. Remember, no one rod will do it all! The choice of your new fly rod depends on the type of fishing you want to do with it.
Rod Line Size
Let’s start by understanding the different line weights a fly rod will carry. Many fly fishers do not realize that rods and fly lines should balance each other. A rod that is designed for a 5-weight line may not perform as well with a heavier or lighter line.
Line weights range from the lightest 00 through a monster 16. Rods for lighter line weights give more delicate presentations to spooky fish in clear water. They make playing smaller fish more exciting and challenging. Their shock absorbency helps keep big fish from breaking light tippets.
Rods which carry heavier line weights are more powerful for longer casts, windier conditions. They handle heavy flies and sinking lines in deep water. They have the backbone to control large, powerful fish in fast currents.
The tradeoffs are delicacy versus power, in presentation and landing fish. Factors to consider in deciding what line size you need are:
Rods are built in lengths, which commonly range from 6 to 10 feet; spey rods can reach 16 feet. The rods at the extremes of this range are very specialized. If you want a rod for a small brushy stream, a short rod works best in tight situations, both for casting and for playing fish.
Longer rods keep backcasts high, for instance, while float tubing. They control line better on larger waters, they maintain tension while playing larger fish, and apply more leverage to land fish. Long rods perform roll casts better.
Consider these factors:
Other important features of rods are performance and action. Performance is the ability of a rod to work effectively under a wide range of fishing conditions. The best rods cast accurately at all ranges, mend line easily and present your fly however the situation demands. They combine the best attributes of both sensitivity and power.
Rod actions are classified as moderate, fast and very fast. Moderate actions give more delicate presentations and cast without amplifying certain casting flaws. They load efficiently and are often the best action for beginning casters. Fast to very fast actions give greater power and accuracy for longer casts or windy conditions.
When considering performance and action in your new rod, these are important factors:
High quality rods/blanks cost more for a variety of reasons. The graphite itself is an expensive material. High performance Graphite IIIe or Graphite/Boron is more expensive than earlier generations of the same material. Design of a quality rod is a process of refinement that requires building and discarding many prototypes before the optimum design and materials are found. The quality of the components, the grip, guides and reelseat, and the workmanship contribute to the cost.
Better quality rods/blanks are simply going to cost more. It’s up to you to decide the best value and price for your individual needs. Buy the best one you can afford. Its versatility and your enjoyment will pay off!
Just in the last few years, two important new developments have entered the world of high quality fly rods. They include, high performance travel rods and combination rods. Up until a few years ago, rods of more than two pieces were significantly heavier and stiffer than two piece rods. Now the standard of performance in many three, four, five and even seven piece rods equals that of two piece rods. Yet these rods fit in tubes half the length, making them so much easier to store and transport. We predict the preferred fly rods of the future will be three, four and five piece rods.
In addition, there are now high quality rods with multiple butt and tip sections that make into rods of different lengths and/or line weights. The cost of these “combination” rods is less than the cost of comparable quality rods purchased separately.
For your new blank/rod purchase consider:
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CARE & FEEDING OF RODS
By following these few simple rules and taking a little time you can keep your rods in beautiful condition for many years. Tackle that is taken care of will perform for its owner when asked to do so. Abused equipment will turn on you when you least expect it or when you have that trophy fish on the other end.
Rule 1. Remember to disassemble and keep rods in their bags & tubes whenever you can. An unattended rod being swooned over to an open door or trunk lid has caused many broken rods. Take the time to protect your investment!
Rule 2. Be sure to store your rods in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Always keep your rods clean and dry when in storage. They can be washed with mild soap & water after a hard day of angling and then polished and dried with a clean soft cloth. Getting the algae and scum from underneath the guide feet can be easily be reached with a toothbrush. The cork grip can be cleaned by using your hands and warm water together with a mild cleanser but be careful not to remove the fish luck on your grip! Before putting away your rod dry it thoroughly and check to make sure that your protective rod tube has a vent hole in the top so the rod can breathe and what little moisture is left can evaporate.
Rule 3. Inspect all of your rods occasionally to make sure that surface fibers are not damaged, particularly in the tip section. It is easy to strike a tip with a hook, rock or tree and nick the surface coating. Cover these nicks with some rod varnish and that will prevent future problems. If you happen to damage the actual fibers of the rod, all is not lost. Cover the damaged area with rod thread and then coat the over wrap with rod varnish. For cracking guide wraps you can overcoat the wraps or rewrap the guides.
Rule 4. The ferrule (the joint) on any rod is the heart and the appropriate care is mandatory. The ferrules should fit snugly but don't try to force them together. Fishing rods with the internal spigot ferrules are designed to have about a 1/4" gap between the male & female parts to allow for future wear. The sleeve over type ferrule (tip over butt) eliminate the need for wear gaps. Both graphite & glass rods should not be left assembled for long periods of time as they will become almost fused together and it will require too much force to disassemble the sections. Lubrication of both graphite & glass rods should be kept to a minimum; cleanliness is the key to happy ferrules. But if you find that you need to lubricate graphite ferrules use only paraffin, beeswax only on glass rods. Under no circumstances should you ever use nose, face or hair oil as a lubricant. The acids in body oils will destroy your ferrules beyond repair. Keep your ferrules clean and free of dirt and scum and they will work properly for many years.
Rule 5. When and if your favorite rod needs refinishing or repair and the problem seems more than you can handle take your rod to a reputable shop. Many repairs can be resolved quickly whereas major refinishing can take several weeks to several months, so try to schedule it during the winter when it doesn't interfere with your fishing.
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