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Basic fishing rod construction

Basic fishing rod construction

To build any basic rod, there are 6 main steps that need to be followed. They are listed below in the order they needed to be completed in for successful rod building.
1.    Choosing the blank and components. - There are many different styles of blank and components to suit different types of fishing. 
2.    Finding the Spine. - This is the art of finding the stiff side ( spine ) and soft side of the blank before starting assembly.
3.    Component assembly. - Installing the butt cap or gimbal, butt grip, reel seat, fore grip, winding check (optional), and tip ring.

4.    Guide selection and spacing. - There are many different frame designs and ring materials to chose from depending on the type of rod being built. Sizes and spacing are individual to the blank being used and how it's to be used.

5.    Binding on the guides. - Thread selection includes colour and thread size and material. Underbinding, trims, and decorative binding as well as the bindings that actually anchor the guides to the blank.
6.    Finishing & drying. - Single low build finish, or 2 pot high or low build epoxy finish
1st step -  Choosing the blank and components.

The first step in any rod construction is gathering all the components together. The "Blank" which is the backbone of the rod must be chosen carefully so as to ensure that the finished rod will perform up to expectations. Blanks can come in various materials, tapers and actions which give the finished rod it's unique characteristics. The other important components to consider are the type of guides ( frame design and materials ), the reel seat and the size and materials of the grips. The rest of the components are less important to the performance of the rod.

2nd step - Locating the spine.

To find the spine of the blank, you can use a specially made spine finder, or as most people don't have one of these available to use, there are 2 methods that I tend to use depending on the action and stiffness of the blank in question.

For stiffer blanks like Butt sections,  I tend to use method # 1 and for fast taper blanks up to 2.1 metres long I use both method # 1 ( left photo) and method # 2 (right photo).  The more flexible, fast taper blanks are more critical to get exactly right. If the spine is not correctly located before the start of construction, the twisting forces generated when the rod is under load can lead to catastrophic failure of the blank.

Prepare the blank by firstly wrapping some masking tape around the blank 25mm up from the base of each section and also further up the blank near the tip to mark the spine, once you have located it. Make sure that the base of the blank is flat so it can rotate freely and if necessary, touch up with a flat file.

In method # 1 I rest the butt end (large end) of the blank on a smooth hard surfaced floor or bench and push down near the centre of the blank so it forms an arc with the tip pointing towards the ceiling. If you then roll the blank while under pressure, you can determine which way the blank bends easiest. The effective spine will be 180 deg from position of least resistance.

Method # 2 involves holding the blank vertically in front of you on the hard smooth surface and simultaneously pushing away the centre of the blank while using the flat of your hand to pull the tip of the blank towards you. The blank will naturally roll so the spine comes to the top of the blank.

 If you have a multi-section rod, this procedure has to be repeated for all sections separately. The stiffer butt sections will not bend as easily as the tips, but you should still be able to find the spine. I always re-check multi-section blanks after assembly for total peace of mind.

Occasionally, there will be more than one spine detected on a blank so in this case we chose the most prominent one as our effective spine.

3rd step - Component assembly.


Most rod construction starts at the base or butt end of the rod. All components should be laid out next to the blank and the blank marked where the components would naturally sit. The grips that you have may need to be cut to length and reamed out to fit the taper of the blank. If a gimbal is to be used, some of the blank may have to be left exposed at the base ( this depends on the method of attaching the gimbal and the make-up of the blank).

It is important to understand that the effective spine is normally at the top of the rod, so if you are making a rod for a free spool reel that sits on top of the blank, the reel seat and guides will also be placed on top of the blank with the tip ring facing upwards. For a spinning rod with a fixed spool reel, the components ( reel seat and guides ) are placed underneath the spine, or 180 Deg around the axis of the rod.

The "Roberts wrap" can be used to build a rod with the reel seat and butt guide on the top and then have the majority of the guides and the tip ring underneath the blank. To learn more about the "Roberts wrap"visit the "guide development page".
Grips eva and cork finished(copy)

Once the grips are shaped to fit, they are fitted with 2 pot epoxy glue. The butt grip is slid on to the blank and glued into position. The chosen reel seat is then lined up and glued to the blank ( sometimes inserts or an arbor have to be used if the blank diameter is much smaller than the reel seat.) Small gaps can be taken up with tightly wound masking tape. Before the glue sets, I like to re-check the spine of the rod and adjust the reel seat slightly if necessary. The fore grip is slid on to the blank and glued in place. At this stage, the basic components are in place and we fit the tip ring lining it up with the spine marking and the reel seat hoods. If a gimbal is to be fitted, now is the time and the slots have to be aligned with the reel seat. Masking tape is used to prevent any movement post glueing. At all stages during the construction process, it is important to make sure that you work cleanly and do not leave any glue residue on the components.
4th step - Guide selection and spacing.

guide collage ppad 600w(copy)

There are many different styles of guides for use on all different types of rods, and it's important to use the correct guides for the job. It is easy for people to think that the stronger and heavier the guide frame, the more durable they will be. This is somewhat true when dealing with heavy boat or game rods, but when building graphite casting rods for instance, the guides must be able to flex with the rod and not put undue pressure on the blank when under load. Using incorrect guides can at best affect the action of the blank and at worst lead to premature blank failure.

The number of guides and their placement on the blank is critical to the performance and reliability of the finished rod. A rod using an overhead free spool or level wind reel will require more guides with closer placement than a traditional spinning rod with the reel slung underneath. The reason for this is that the guides must prevent the line from "slapping" the blank while under load. There are some examples of guide placement on the Examples of guide spacing page. It must be noted that too many guides can be as problematic as too few. The action of the blank can be affected by the stiffness of the guide frames and also the extra bindings, especially if they are under-bound. The Guide feet must be modified so they can be easily bound on to the blank and do not damage the blank.

NB. Guide placement on spine. With the spine on the top, most rod builders place the guides for Fly rods & Spinning rods ( with fixed spool reels ) on the bottom and for Casting rods and Boat / Game rods, ( with free spool or trolling reels ) the guides are placed on the top of the rod.
5th step - Binding on the guides.

This is where the guides are secured to the blank and the colour scheme can be customised to the purchaser's requirements. There are many types and sizes of threads that can be used for different purposes. Metallic and solid colour thread can be used for trims and under-bindings.Smaller diameter thread is used for under-bindings and trims as it is easier to bind over when attaching the guides and more threads can be used when making narrow trims in the centre and ends of the under-bindings.

Over-bindings that secure the guides require stronger thread than trims, so normally "D" or even "E" size thread is used for this. Once the guide spacing and placement has been sorted out, the blank is marked and the under-bindings and trims are completed. A light finishing coat is then applied to the bindings and the blank is put aside to dry.

Once the under-bindings are dry, the guides are bound in place over the top and aligned with the spine and tip ring. When this is completed, the rod is ready for the final stage - Finishing.
6th step - Finishing & drying.

The finishing stage of the rod is critical, as this is where everything comes together and the rod takes on it's final appearance. There are different finishes to choose from including single pot finishes and high or low build two pot finishes. The appropriate finish must be used for appearance and performance sake. Light action graphite fly rods for instance use a low build epoxy or single pot finish while for larger casting and boat rods  it is best to use 2 coats of a high build 2 pot epoxy finish. When repairing or rebuilding older rods, its is sometimes best to use what was available back in the time it was built. I have various different finishes that I use depending on what result is required.

All the above finishes are applied by brush to a rotating rod which is then placed in a drying machine that rotates at approximately 12 rpm. This process can last for up to 4 hours to ensure that the finish coat does not drop or sag while it is curing and hardening.
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