To build a functional and professional quality rod, you’ll need minimal skills, a few important tools, materials for the rod you wish to build and a small measure of patience. You can build a quality rod in about two days and save up to several hundred dollars.
Once you learn the rod-building basics, you’ll find that each additional rod is easier to build—and saves you more money. The best part of this process is building a custom rod unlike any that you can purchase. Plus you can build rods to sell for profit or to give as gifts to friends and family.
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The top question you’ll need to answer is what type of rod to build. For fly rods, for example, you could possibly need a rod to match the streams where you fish. A 9-foot- long rod that works wonders in Montana might not be the best choice for fishing a small laurel-choked Appalachian mountain stream in West Virginia.
To determine the rod that you want to build, do your research to select a make, model and length to meet your fishing style. If it’s a fly rod that you desire to create, you’ll also have to determine the fly line weight. For example, the most popular fly rods are 4 to 7 weights and 9 feet long. You also have to determine the rod action—classified as medium or fast—based on your casting style preferences. If you have questions about rod models and actions, visit a sporting goods store and test cast their rods. Most stores will rig up a rod and let you cast it.
Look closely at the length, eyes, handles and the number of pieces of the rod that seems to best suit you.
If you travel, a four-piece rod might be the best for your trips, but a two-piece is easier to assemble. Next, you’ll need to decide what type of handle feels best in your hand. All questions need answers before you buy the blanks and the components. Some stores can also help you obtain the tools and materials you’ll need for this project.
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Common tools for rod building (you have some of these in your workshop) include sandpaper, an X-Acto knife and a roll of masking tape. Specialty items that can be purchased from many rod material sources or local hardware stores include a cork reamer (round or rat’s-tail rasp) to expand the hole in a cork handle. You may also need a bottle of wood putty. From a specialty shop or craft store, you’ll also need to consider purchasing rod stands, or two uprights to hold the rod as your work. This can also be built from wood planks or 2x4s with V-shaped notches covered in soft felt. You’ll also need a rod wrapper (or bobbin) to hold the spool of thread. Once you have the tools, it’s time to lay out the eyes and rod components.
Basic rod parts include the blank or shaft sections, the reel seat to hold the reel, the handle or grip, and the guides to hold and manage the line as it passes along the rod. Specialty components you might consider include: the winding check—a small collar placed in front of the grip to create a smooth appearance—and a hook keeper that is normally located in front of the grip to hold your fly.
You’ll want to carefully consider some basic rod-building details before you begin. Most rod blanks are black, gray, green, blue or brown. The thread for wrapping and securing the guides on the rod are available in any color of the rainbow, so here’s your opportunity to customize. The line guides are available in single-foot and double-foot designs. The double-foot guides require wrapping on both feet to hold them in place on the rod. Most rods have two or more of these near the handle. This double-foot eye requires twice as much wrapping time and can result in stiffer and heavier rods.
One of the best ways to select properly matching rod-building components, especially when attempting your first project, is to purchase a pre-selected kit. Many kits include the grip and guides to fit a specific blank, plus the layout measurements that provide exact details on where to secure the line guides along the blank. Some rod-building kits also include the wrapping thread and finishing solution—a varnish-like clear coat that’s applied to threads after wrapping. After you have the materials and tools, it’s time to build a rod.
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ROD BUILD BY THE NUMBERS
#1: Lay out and inspect all materials. You’ll also need to determine the rod’s spine by holding the blank or rod sections at a 45-degree angle with the large end against a smooth surface, like a tabletop. Place the smaller end in the palm of your elevated hand and roll it back and forth until you feel the blank settle or jump into a pronounced curve—that’s the spine. Wrap a piece of masking tape around the blank and mark the spine’s location on the tape. Do this with all rod sections for multi-piece rods. The line guides will be attached opposite the spine.
#2: Following the recommended guide layout measurements, wrap a piece of 0.25-inch-wide masking tape around the blank at the locations where the guides will be placed. Mark the tape with a felt pen to indicate exactly where the guides will go.
#3: Next, prepare and install the reel seat. First lightly sand the butt of the blank and then wrap layers of masking tape to build up several thick collars around the blank until the reel seat fits tightly into place. This snug fit helps you feel a fish on your line and is important.
Using the cork reamer, open the cork grip’s inner diameter until it slides onto the blank’s large-diameter butt section and stops firmly against the reel seat. Do not open the hole too much, but create a snug fit. Once you have those parts prepared, coat the blank with two-part epoxy and quickly assemble the reel seat and grip onto the blank. Permit these components to thoroughly dry, possibly overnight. This is also the time to install the small winding check collar in front of the grip for that professional quality.
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#4: Next, install the guides from the handle to the tip. Temporarily secure the guides to the shaft with pieces of masking tape or a glue stick. Place the blank on the rod stands and begin wrapping the thread about 0.25 inches away from the tip of the guide’s foot. Take your time and keep the wraps uniform, snug against each preceding wrap and tight as you work toward the guide’s foot and up onto it. Remove the wraps of masking tape or rubber bands when your thread reaches them. Carefully trim off any excess wrapping thread with the X-Acto knife.
You can sight down the rod from the butt or grip area as you build it to ensure proper guide alignment. You should be able to easily see through the series of open holes. Wrap the blank’s open end where rod sections join to ensure strength.
#5: Once the grip and guides are wrapped into place, secure the tip on the rod with hot glue. Add any decorative thread wraps, decals and other garnishing such as your name with a fine tip marker.
#6: After a final check for uniform guide alignment, begin applying the rod finish solution with a small brush. Most finishes come in two parts—finish and hardener. Mix carefully. Again, take your time and do a professional job as you cover the thread wraps with the solution. After all wraps are coated, place the rod back on the stands and rotate it every 15 minutes to help the finish evenly dry. The rod can be rotated less as the liquid begins to dry. After drying, add a second thin coat and again turn the rod frequently until it dries. Dependant upon humidity and the finish type, each application could take up to 2 hours.
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ROD BUILDER’S HOOKUPS
Here are several sources for more details and detailed step-by-step instruction to help you select the right rod and build it.
Flexcoat.com: Offerings include affordable books and videos about rod-building techniques. Look at the Start To Finish Fly Rod Building booklet by Ryan Seiders and Dan Smith. It has great details and easy-to-follow drawings.
Stcroixrods.com: This site provides an informative How To Build A Rod book, details on guide sizes and spacing, and kits and blanks for building many styles of rods.
Orvis.com: Orvis offers rod-building and instructional materials to help you build a fly rod.
Mrfc.com: The Madison River Fishing Company in Ennis, Montana, has a wide selection of blanks, rod-building materials and delivers great customer service.
When you decide to start your build, these videos will help explain the basics.
This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN ™ 2015 issue #174. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.