"Rod Building Basics"

By: Got Stripers
Febuary, 1999

Here is a basic guideline for building your first rod. The list of material below is geared for low first cost and efficiency. The first thing you should do is search for rod building supply companies and get your hands on some mail order catalogs. I get all my supplies from a friend who is a commercial rod builder. Before that contact, I was getting my supplies from Dale Clemens Custom Tackle 610 395-5119. Here's the short list of the essentials.

 Some means of holding the rod securely, while allowing it to rotate freely for wrapping the threads and drying the finish. I made my first one myself out of scrap pine, some small rollers from the hardware store, some nuts, bolts and wing nuts. They sell wrapping jigs, but I now prefer the ball bearing rod supports in the Clemens catalog, which list (old 95 catalog) for $98 a pair. You would need at least two, although I use three because it's easier when working with longer rods.

 A variable speed drill and drill clamp. They sell clamps for drills, however I made one cheap, which works fine. I bought 2 very large stainless hose type clamps, bolted them through the end of my worktable between two 2x4 blocks so the adjustment nut is on top. When I need to sand down my handles, I just pop the drill through the clamps and tighten them down until the drill is secure.

 A cheap rod drying motor. I think mine cost me $15 bucks and I've been using it for years. You do need to buy one designed (low rpm) for this purpose.

 Get two 1/2" threaded rods about 20 inches long (longer if you will be making longer handles). Lock two nuts against each other on one end of the rods and bury the nuts in a 2" x 6" piece of 1/2" plywood, with a spacing about 4 inches between the rods. Where the rod butt will go I like to route out a depression to help hold it in place. Take a block the same size and drill two holes (same spacing) for the threaded rods and a hole about 1 inch diameter centered between the other two. This will be used to glue the cork together in small 4-6 inch lengths before reaming them out to go on the blank and also for clamping the rod after the handle is installed, more details later.

 A thread tension device, which you can pick up through the supply catalogs or even at your local Singer sewing machine store. My thread tension device is as crude as it is functional. It’s a piece of 6” x 12” x ½” piece of plywood. On one end I’ve pounded through 4 nails for holding my thread spools. In the middle, but off to one side, I have a small 2x4 block bolted to the board. Bolted to that is an 8 inch piece of 1 x ¼” hardwood strapping, which has the thread tension device inserted through a hole in the end. I want the thread tension device above the level of the rod in the rod support rollers. I have small ring eyes screwed to the board and up the arm for the tension device to route the thread.

 Clamps, or in my case lead diving weights. I use the lead weights to keep my thread board and my rod supports from moving around on the workbench. I prefer the weights to clamps, because they keep the work steady, but allow me to move things around.

 Some means of reaming out the cork to match the taper of the blank. The cheapest way is tapered files, however that can be time consuming. I went to a local machine shop with 4 sections of old rods about 18 inches in length each, with different diameters from very small to large. They made me tapered metal rods to match with ends that would fit in my drill chuck. To that I used contact cement and long narrow ¼” strips of 40 grit cloth sandpaper. I glued these on in a spiral up the rods leaving about a 1/8” gap between. In retrospect, I should have had them put these on a lathe and make them into tapered files at the same time.

 Some means of securing the rod to the drill for spinning and sanding the handles. I had the same machine shop make me a 4” long radically tapered tail stock center, similar to those used on lathes. This allows me to secure various diameter rods to the drill, more on that later.

 Sanding blocks and paper. Take the same 40 grit cloth sandpaper and clue it to 2 or 3 lengths of 1” x 1” hardwood or plywood block in lengths of 4”, 8” and maybe 10”. These will be used for the rough sanding and shaping of the handles. You will need some 150, 400 and 600 grit sandpaper for the finished sanding.

 Get some Flex Coat 2 part epoxy glue for the handle and reel seat.

 Some Flex Coat 2 part wrapping finish.

 Some U-40 cork seal.

 A package of finishing brushes.

 A package of wood mixing sticks.

 A package of disposable measuring/mixing cups.

 Some 1” masking tape.

 Thread burnishing (smoothing) tool.

 Color thread you want to work with and some color preserver.

 Rod blank, butt cap, set of guides, reel seat, tiptop, winding check and hook keeper if desired.

Ok, let’s build a rod. I’m going to keep this simple and in a logical step by step fashion.

FIND THE SPLINE: Wrap a band of masking tape on the rod blank about 2 feet down from the tip. Roll up your shirtsleeve and place the rod on your forearm so that 80% of the blank is hanging off on one side. Hold the tip in your fingers of the other hand and spin the rod very quickly, while at the same time bouncing the rod off your forearm with the other arm. When the rod lands back down on your forearm, it should want to come to rest at the same place every time. Do this enough times to make sure the rod is coming to rest at the same place. Take a pen (not pencil) and mark the top of the blank on the masking tape. Top is towards the ceiling now. That is the spline and casting guides go on that side and spinning guides on the opposite side. Other methods for finding the spline are on the web, but this is the most effective I have used.

GLUE UP THE CORK: Figure what you want for a handle, both above and below the reel seat. Let’s say you want 10” below the reel seat and 6” above the reel seat. Mix up a very small batch (don’t need much for this step) of 2 part epoxy. Put the cork in 4 stacks, 2 @ 5” and 2 @ 3” and make sure you don’t put any glue on the cork rings on the bottom or top of each stack. Use a brush and put a small amount in on the cork rings to glue the rings together. Slide the stacks on the two threaded rods, put the top block on and run down the nuts and tighten up the assembly. Let them set overnight and you should be able to slide 4 glued up sections off as long as you didn’t go to heavy on the glue…oops.

SETTING UP FOR HANDLE ASSEMBLY: I like the thick wall rubber butt caps, but at this point we have to determine where the bottom of the handle begins. Position the butt cap on the end of the rod and mark the blank. Take your 1” masking tape and start turning it around the end of the blank just inside of the mark. Continue building the tape ring, until the diameter is slightly larger than the ID of the butt cap. Insert the smallest reaming rod in the drill or you will have to do this manually with a tapered file. Put the drill on high constant and ream out one of the 5” cork sections to match the taper of the rod, go slowly and check often. I like the drill because I can take a caliper and determine fairly closely how far up that cork should go to get close. Check the fit often by sliding the cork down the rod to see how you are coming. When you get close you might want to finish with the tapered file. You might find that the taper is close at one end but loose on the other. Small corrections can be made at various stages of this process with the hand file or turning the section of cork on the drill, but again go slow. Once you have the first piece set on the blank just above the tape ring for the butt cap, proceed to do the same thing with the next section. If you were building a Tenn. Handle, you would continue to do the entire handle. If you have a reel seat, then we stop here to glue on the handle section below the reel seat.

GLUE & CLAMP THE HANDLE: At this point I put my tail stock center in my drill and push the rod butt up the taper as far is it will go. Secure the rod at 2 or 3 points with the roller assemblies and make sure they are clamped to the bench. I take some ½” packing tape with the filament reinforcement and spin this around the tail stock center, up over the tape ring for the butt cap and back down. I then spin the rod in the drill and take some 40-grit paper to roughen up the blank where the handle goes. Mix up enough 2 part epoxy to generously coat the rod blank and the inside of the cork handle. After you do that slide the two cork sections down the blank and into position. Take a rag soaked in acetone and clean the epoxy off the blank and the cork. Put the butt in the clamping device and slide the rod tip through the center hole in the top block. Slide the top block down the threaded rods and started tightening the nuts. Get them good and tight and then clean the blank and cork again. One note, cork will compress when clued, so you should keep this in mind when getting to the foregrip. When you go to roughen the blank at the foregrip, stop a good ½” before the end of the foregrip. Let this set overnight before proceeding to the reel seat and foregrip.

SETTING UP THE REEL SEAT & FOREGRIP: Slide the reel seat down the blank and put a piece of masking tape on the blank on the tip end. At this point I like to put the rod back on the drill and roller supports. Take some calipers and get the ID of the reel seat. Take the 1” masking tape, spin the rod on low rpm and start building rings on the blank to match the ID of the reel seat. Leave about a ¼” between the rings and stop the last ring about ¼” from the tape marking the end of the reel seat. Slide the reel seat down and check for fit. It shouldn’t have to be forced on, but shouldn’t slip on without effort either. Leave the reel set in position and follow the procedures above for reaming out the cork foregrip to match the blank diameter.

GLUE & CLAMP THE REEL SEAT & FOREGRIP: Follow the procedure above for the butt section of the handle, but note a couple of cautions. Don’t roughen the blank any closer than ½” to where the foregrip ends, because the cork will compress when clamped. Make sure your reel seat is lined up with the spline mark we made earlier. If it’s a casting rod the top of the reel seat should be lined up with the mark. If it’s a spinning rod the reel seat should be on the opposite side. In the later case, you would be best to take some tape and wrap it around the blank close to the mark for the spline. Take the tape off and lay it on the bench and measure the diameter of the blank. Mark the center point and put the tape back on the blank so you are then marking the exact spot 180 degrees from the spline. Clean off the epoxy and set the rod in the clamp and get it good and tight and clean it off again. Let it sit overnight before sanding.

SANDING THE HANDLE: Put the rod back on the stock center on the drill and make sure to run the reinforced tape several times back and forth to secure the rod. Make sure your roller supports are secured to the bench and the rod will not be wiping when the drill is turned on high rpm. I temporarily staple some straps to my work vac floor attachment to the bench to collect the dust while sanding. Run masking tape over the reel seat to protect it. Turn on the drill on constant high rpm and take a sanding block that will work the length of the handle. Work the butt section first and then the foregrip. Apply even firm (not hard) pressure to the sanding block and frequently check (with calipers) that the diameter is even the length of the handle as you go. When you get to the diameter you want, take 1” folded over strips of the 150, 400 and 600 grit paper and work them up and down the handle until you get a nice even smooth finish. If you want the foregrip tapered then position the sanding block at the taper desired until the grip is even and the size wanted, then touch up with the finer grits. Round off the edges near the butt cap end, edges by the reel seat and the front of the foregrip and the handle is done.

APPLYING THE GUIDES: Time and this forum, doesn’t allow me to go into the details of wrapping guides. Do yourself a favor and get a good set of Fuji Hardloy guides, which are excellent and very durable. Don’t skimp on the number of guides, most commercial rods in my opinion are usually short on guides. I recommend you get some surgical tubing in various diameters and cut it into small sections. Use these to put the guides on temporarily to get the right spacing. There are formulas for guide spacing and I’m not going to get into that now. As a reference, my 6-1/2 foot casting rods have 7 guides, plus the tip and my spinning rods of the same length have 6 guides. I prefer to put a thread underwrap on the blank before putting on my guides, but that’s up to you. The underwrap gives me an artistic tool, gives me a little cushon at the guide foot and softens the action up a little. Once all the guides are wrapped, then move them around slightly as needed to get them all lined up and centered on the blank on the spline or 180 degrees depending on the rod. Apply a coat (2 or 3 are recommended) of color preserver and while that dries melt the tip ferrule stick, get some inside the tip top and on the blank and push the tip top into position. Tie a matching wrap below the tiptop and you should be ready for another coat of color preserver. Epoxy the butt cap on at this point as well.

FINISHING THE ROD: Now is the time to look the wraps over well and take some tacky cloth to get any dust or link off the guide wraps. Clamp the rod drying motor to the bench, along with the roller supports. My rod drying motor didn’t come with any means of securing the butt. I bought a large flexible rubber salt water butt cap; with an ID just under most fresh water butt caps I use and slit it. I cut a small length of plastic plumbing tubing that was just under the diameter of the drying motor shaft. I used a small bolt of the same diameter as that shaft and ran that through the center of butt cap, slapped a nut on and ran them both into the tubing. Push your rod into the slit butt cap and use electrical tape to wrap around both butt caps to secure the rod. Mix up the 2-part rod finish in an amount suitable for the number of guides. Turn on the drier motor and make sure the rod spins freely. Start with the largest wrap and begin applying the finish. Two coats are recommended so don’t put the first one on too thick. You want to brush it out good and just coat the threads. Work the finish over the end of each wrap so it goes on to the blank for about 1/16”-1/8” on both ends. Before you move on to the next guide, cup both hands under the wrap and blow on the finish which will usually remove any tiny bubbles that are left. The next day inspect the rod and any thread ends that are sticking up with bulges in the finish, take a sharp razor blade and just slice that off without cutting into the threads. Use the tacky cloth to remove any dust or lint that might have fallen on the wraps and repeat the finish process. Take care and time with the final coat. Now is the time to brush on the cork seal and wipe any excess off with a paper towel.

If you are going to wrap a decorative butt wrap ahead of the cork forgrip, then I recommend a winding check. This should be slid down the rod and into position before the guides go on. Included in that decorative butt wrap, you might want to include a hook keeper. This work should be done after the guides are wrapped and finished at the same time.

There are many books on wrapping the guides, however the above should get you started in the right direction. Aside from my $100 pair of roller supports, the cost to get started is very low and the roller supports are something that can be made at home. Nothing is more satisfying than catching fish on a rod you built and I hope this will hope you achieve that goal.

Tight lines and good fishing.


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