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 Basic Rod Building - Part 1 of 3
Volume 16 Number 1  -  January 1, 2005

By Captain Neil Faulkner

The author's inexpensive (around $8), yet functional, hand-driven rod wrapper built with castors. The small jar holds the thread, and the weight of the book pages apply the thread tension.

You cant imagine the pleasure that comes from catching a fish on a rod that you designed and built! I am sure many anglers would like to have that feeling, but where do you start if you dont have the necessary skills? Your prayers are answered! This is the beginning of a three-part series on basic rod building that will cover everything you need to know to get started building your own custom rods.
During this "mini series", I will cover the following topics:
In part one I will be discussing:
Tools and Items needed
Basic Design, including choosing a blank and components
In parts two and three I will be discussing:
Basic Operations including: spining a blank, static deflection-guide placement, guide prep, thread and wrapping, applying finish, along with installing components and finishing the wraps. So, lets get under way!

Tools & Items Used

Almost every job can be completed by hand. The only motorized task is rotating the rod after applying finish to the wraps. The rod will be rotating for approximately 6 hours. This prevents the heavy epoxy from falling to the bottom of the rod and dripping off. If you are handy with wood working tools, you can make your own rotating device by using a BBQ motor. You need to make a stand for the motor, and 1 or 2 V-Block stands to support the rod. Cover the V-Block grooves with felt to protect the blank. You will have to build a chuck to hold the butt in place. An easier way is to order an 18-RPM Flex Coat Finishing Motor for about $75. Ask about the matching support stand.

You can wrap the thread on the guides without an expensive wrapper. In fact, most of us learned that way. We placed the spool of thread in a baby food jar or similar container. A heavy book lying on the table became the thread tension device. Run the thread from the jar and between 2 pages and to the blank. Increase the number of pages above the thread to increase tension.

The author laboring away at his workbench.

Now we need a system to support the blank as you wrap. This can be a box with V grooves cut in each end of the box. Yes, this is a primitive system, but it is doable. An easier way is to mount 2 castors touching each other on a piece of wood. Make 2 or 3 simple supports like this, and the blank will be well supported. Your fingers supply the power to turn the blank. This is the system my father built and used, and its how I and many other rod builders learned. You can also purchase a Flex Coat Hand Wrapper for about $65. Other companies make similar devices.

We use many tools found around the house. An electric drill motor mounted on a stand can be used for grinding the guide feet. Some of the smaller items we use are small scissors, single edged razor blades, pliers, screw drivers, tweezers, spatulas, tape measure, files, plastic one-ounce cups to mix finish, -inch natural hair brushes or throw away brushes to apply epoxy, Flex Coat brush cleaner fluid if you use good brushes, -inch masking tape, paper towels, sand paper, 91% isopropyl alcohol, and a good cleaning solution for getting epoxy off the blank. To make your own cleaning solution, mix two tablespoons of liquid Joy and four ounces of isopropyl alcohol in a one-quart spray bottle, then add the necessary amount of water to fill thr bottle and shake well.

You will spray the solution on paper towels and clean the area. Do this repeatedly until the epoxy is removed, then spray 91% isopropyl alcohol on the paper towels and clean the area until it becomes squeaky clean. As you get into this great craft, you will add many other tools, supplies, and devices to your collection. When using epoxy, it is a good idea to wear old clothes.

The following supplies can be purchased from most tackle shops that carry rod-building supplies: two-part epoxy for installing grips and reel seats (U-40 Rod Bond), two-part epoxy for finishing the wraps (AFTCOTE by Aftco).

BASIC DESIGN
Choosing Components

In order to determine which blank is the correct one for a certain boat fishing application, you have to ask yourself these questions. What type and how big are the fish being targeted? Where will you be catching these fish in terms of water depth and bottom structure? Will you be fishing on a private or party boat?

You have 3 options when choosing a blank material, fiberglass, graphite, or composite.Fiberglass has been with us the longest. The blanks are very durable, and when flexed (bent), form a parabolic curve. Graphite produces blanks that are very sensitive, lightweight, and very strong in the mid and butt sections of the blank.

The method for finding the spine of a blank will be described in Part 2 of this rod building series.

Composite material is a combination of fiberglass and graphite. It is the best of both worlds, sensitive, strong, and durable. A major reason I build on composite blanks is that this combination stands up to the very strong synthetic (braided) lines.

Once the blank material has been determined, you have to decide on the tip action and line class that suits your needs. The different tip actions are; Extra Fast Action-only-the top of the blank flexes, Fast Action-only the top 1/3 of the blank flexes, Moderate Action-about of the blank flexes.

Line class is determined roughly by the pound-test line that you use. Now you can look in the blank catalog and choose the blank of your dreams. Here is an example of one of my favorite rods for inshore fishing when targeting fluke, sea bass, porgies, and small blackfish. In the Lamiglas catalog, under Graphite/Fiber-glass Blanks, a line will show "CGBT 84 1L-7-1 piece 20# test line-.689 butt diameter, 7 tip size, 4 oz. average weight" and the MSRP.

Grips

Cork or synthetic grips are the usual choices. Cork comes in -inch rings, and you can design/create your own. Pre-formed cork grips are easier to install. Synthetic grips, EVA or Hypalon, are less expensive and hold up under heavy use. Decide the length of the butt grip. You can do this by measuring the length of the butt on a favorite rod.

Measure from the bottom of the reel seat to the end of the butt. For example, if the length is 13 inches then order a 13-inch long butt grip. The fore grip goes above the reel seat, and it usually starts about 5 inches above the top of the butt grip.

We know the butt diameter is .689, and we use that to order the butt grip with a smaller inner diameter (ID). We can order a fore grip with an even smaller ID, since the blank diameter is smaller above the reel seat.

Reel Seats

Not much to choose from here except a spin or trigger grip. The spin seat is the regular one, and the trigger is just that, a trigger. Then you can decide what color the bands will be, frosted or gold. If you have the blank handy, mark off where the seat will be installed and use a caliper to measure the blank diameter in mm. Make sure to add a couple of mm to the blank diameter, as the reel seat has to slide over the blank.

Since this is a boat rod, that dictates the type of guides we need. There are several companies to choose from, Fuji, Pacific Bay, and others. For this rod, I use Fuji BNLG Hardloy ring guides. These guides are user friendly with synthetic line. How many and what ring sizes are the big questions. You can look at factory rods in your local tackle shop. Check the sizes and how many of each size is used. A good rule of thumb is to take the length of the rod and add 1 or 2 guides to the length. So a 7-foot rod will get 8 or 9 guides. The flex of the blank also affects how many guides. For our CGBT 84 1L, I use #s 20-16-12-10-10-8-8-8-8. We could use other types of guides and setups. The tiptop will normally match the guides. The blank catalog said a # 7 tiptop would fit.

You can get all the info you need from a local tackle shop that sells components and/or builds custom rods. Many retailers have their catalogs online, or you can sometimes call for a catalog.

Here is a list of components I would need to build my ocean fluke rod:
Blank, Lamiglas CGBT 84 1L
Butt grip, 7K1312, 13"long-1/2" ID-1 3/8" OD
Butt cap, BC2209
Reel seat, Fuji DPSM 20
Fore grip, 7K538, 5" long, 3/8" ID, 1" OD
Guides, Fuji BNLG 20-16-12-10-10-8-8-8-8
Tiptop, Fuji BPLT 8 (7.5), 8 are ring size and 7.5 are the barrel size.
Some of the numbers pertain to the Merrick Tackle wholesale catalog used by many rod-building shops.

In part two of this series, well continue with the basic operations of spining the blank and using static deflection to determine guide placement.