|Building Custom Rods: Getting Started By Eric Martin |
Have you ever bought a factory assembled rod and shortly thereafter found yourself thinking, “I wish it was different” or “I wish this length was offered in that action”? Like so many other mass produced products available in today’s marketplace, originality and performance of factory built rods takes a bit of a back seat to streamlined efficiency and cost savings on the production end.
Just as a stock vehicle will still get you from point A to point B, a factory built rod will, no doubt, still catch fish. However, take that same vehicle, upgrade the suspension, exhaust, tires, wheels, and other options, customize it to your specific needs and applications, and you dramatically increase performance while also adding a bit of personalized style. The same holds true for the benefits gained from using a custom built rod; specifically, one you build yourself.
Building custom rods is both rewarding and fun. Through careful selection of each component, you can create a rod that from tip to butt cap is a one of a kind original. Perhaps a split grip design with skeleton reel seat and micro titanium guides for the ultimate lightweight rod. Need a heavy duty trolling rod with tough, double foot corrosion resistant guides that can handle a lifetime of saltwater abuse, a composite rear grip to withstand the damage caused from downriggers, and an extended cork foregrip for better gripping comfort and leverage? Build it!
Maybe you simply want to wrap up special sports team themed rods, create a one of a kind graduation present for a child or thank you gift for a lifelong fishing friend. There is no limit to your options and creativity as a custom rod builder.
Another great aspect of custom rod building is that it is a relatively simple and easy process that can easily be done at home, which is why AnglersWorkshop will transform you from reader to rod builder that will guide you step by step through the entire build process. From rounding up the necessary materials and equipment to applying the final coat of finish; everything you will need to begin building custom rods.
- Wrapping Stand: First and foremost is the wrapping stand. The wrapping stand supports the rod through the build, from wrapping guides to applying finish epoxy. Basic stands are typically made of wood, with a support on each end and a thread spool holder in the middle. Some allow for a bit of adjustment between the stands and also have a moveable thread carriage. These basic stands are great for the beginning rod builder as they are cheap to buy or build yourself, easy to operate and work well with limited available space such as on a desktop or card table. If you decide to stick with rod building, there are some great advantages to stepping up to more advanced power wrappers. Power wrappers are motor driven and controlled by a foot pedal. They allow for faster wrapping, greater precision work, easy adjustments and travel of the thread carriage, increased stability, and up to eight feet or more of available work area. People dealing with issues from carpel tunnel, arthritis or mobility issues with hands or fingers also tend to prefer power wrappers because they eliminate the need to turn the blank by hand while wrapping. Some power wrappers are also capable of compatibility with small mandrels to allow for lathe turning of custom grips built from cork rings. Most power wrappers also play a crucial second role in the build process by doubling as finish dryers, some even with variable speeds.
- Finish Dryer: A finish dryer is critical for achieving that glossy smooth finish on your thread wraps. It rotates the rod continuously, allowing for perfect, uniform distribution while the finish epoxy cures. There are many commercially available models to choose from, or, like a manual wrapper, you can build one yourself with a few scraps of wood and a 110V motor. Speeds between 4RPM and 10RPM work best for drying, while faster speeds are great for wrapping and applying the finish. Variable speed motors that offer multiple speed options are a great choice.
- Misc. Equipment Needed: The rest of the “foundation” equipment is a bit less glamorous. A good set of calipers will help with measuring areas of blanks for ordering and fitting components, and also checking the lengths of your wraps for consistency. You will also need a set of coarse sanding grit cork reamers for boring out cork grips so they will fit your blank. Masking tape is great for marking areas on the blank for grip, reel seat and guide locations and building arbors for reel seats. A tape measure for laying out guide spacing, a calculator in case you need a little help converting measurements, matches or an alcohol torch for singeing ‘fuzzies’ in your thread wraps and for popping bubbles in your finish epoxy, some quick set two-part epoxy with a 15-30 minute working life for gluing your grips and reel seat in place, and last but not least, a good pair of sharp, fine pointed scissors.
- Build-Specific Materials: Next is what I refer to as “build specific” materials. These are the materials that are specific to the style of rod you are building, i.e., heavy-duty guides and EVA foam grips for an offshore boat rod, or a glossy, sleek blank and fine thread for a fly rod. These are the materials that require a little more consideration, and add a great deal to the personalization of the rod.
- Blanks: Start by purchasing your desired blank. Nearly all major rod manufacturers produce OEM blanks for the custom rod market. There are also oodles and oodles of import blanks and online auction site bargains. Some manufacturers even offer ‘blems’ or seconds at a significantly discounted price. These are excellent to practice your skills on before dropping serious money on top end blanks. It is important to purchase your blanks first, as you will greatly alleviate the hassle of returning or exchanging ill-fitting components by being able to physically handle and measure key areas of your specific blank prior to ordering the rest of your parts.
- Grips: Next, pick out your grips. Cork, EVA foam and composite grips are very popular. Cork is easiest to work with and comes in varying ‘grades’ based on blemishes and imperfections. EVA and composites are a bit more labor intensive and are more limiting in available options. Specs such as diameter and length are typically stated for each grip, it is simply up to you to choose which you like best. Some grips come with a butt cap, while others feature a tenon that allow you to match whichever style cap you prefer.
- Reel Seats: After grips, you will need to select a reel seat. Exposed blank casting reel seats rely on the blank for centering the reel seat. Measure and mark where the rear grip will end, then measure the blank where the reel seat will be located and select a seat with an inside diameter closest to that measurement. Spinning and fly seats are a bit easier as they cover the blank. Spinning reel seats are sized in mm, with a 16mm or 17mm being a great size for steelhead and salmon sized rods. Most spinning reel seats will require a couple arbors be added to the blank to help center the seat to the blank. Arbors can either be purchased, or made by building up wraps of masking or dry wall tape. Fly seats are usually sized in inches, such as .467”, and are either reamed to fit the blank, or centered with a tape arbor.
- Guides: Guide selection can seem a bit daunting. Guides vary by frame construction, finish, and ring type; each part playing into the weight, durability, application and price of the guide. I will go into more detail on guide selection, sizing and layout on the blank in a following installment of the build series.
- Hook Keepers, Winding Checks: Other small details relating to guides are hook keepers and winding checks. Hook keepers simply offer a place to stow a hook or lure when not in use and it’s up to you whether you decide to include them in a build or not. Winding checks are the small trim bands that go in front of the fore grip, and act as a bit of decorative cover over the blank/grip joint area. Rubber winding checks stretch so exact measurement isn’t as necessary. Metal checks must be matched by measuring the specific area on the blank.
- Thread: To attach the guides to the blank, you are going to need thread. Rod building thread is available in dozens of colors including solids, blends and metallic, and is most commonly available in two sizes, A and D. A thread is the thinnest, and the best choice for smaller, lighter rods such as trout or fly rods. D thread is stronger, and a bit easier to work with for beginners. It is a good choice for salmon and steelhead rods. A 100 yard spool of either size thread is more than enough for several rods. Some thread will allow the finish epoxy to absorb and alter the original thread color. To preserve the color, you may first have to dress the wrap with color preserver. Other threads are designed to stay color fast, and do not need color preserver.
- Epoxy: Finally, it’s time for finish epoxy. Epoxy can vary buy pot life and how high (thick) of a build the final cured product will be. Pot life is simply the amount of working time you have to apply the finish before it starts to become unworkable. Long pot life is great for applying finish to an entire rod, while short pot life and cure time is great for smaller jobs or emergency repairs. High build epoxy sets up a bit thicker than low build, and can work well if only one coat of epoxy is desired on the thread wraps. High build also works well with heavy duty offshore rods. Low build epoxy produces a thin, sleek finish that minimizes weight, especially in the tip section of the rod. Regardless of high or low build, it is important to look for epoxy rated to resist bubbles while mixing and also that resists yellowing from UV exposure. That wraps up the basics you will need to build your first rod. So how do you go about rounding up all these supplies? Don’t worry; there are tons of resources available to help. Online forums and videos, local retailers and fellow fishermen can be of great assistance, but when it comes to one stop shopping, customer service and technical tips, it’s hard to beat rod building super-suppliers like Angler’s Workshop. Every component, from blanks to epoxies, used in this series came from Angler’s Workshop.