7: Finish

 Finish-tools   The Finishing step for first rod, 6 wt Traveler, is complete. It started with the materials and a means of slowly turning the rod. I used High-Build Flex Coat, which is available at Elkhorn. It comes with the syringes that allow you to mix precise amounts. High-Build allows you to completely finish the rod in one coat, but I have always used several. When I do the 4 wt rod I will try Lite Flex Coat. It is formulated for lite coats of finish. I have a rod turning motor that runs at about 6 RPM. These can be purchased online, and there is a system at the shop that might be available for use.

Finish-woFinish material placed directly on the thread will darken the color. If placed on white thread, the thread becomes transparent. This is often done on bamboo rods. The color can be maintained by first applying a color preserver, also available from Flex Coat. See the dramatic difference in the two photos featuring the Elkhorn logo. It is a matter of taste, and I chose the more subdued look.


I have to admit to having wraps come loose, especially when they are the first wraps on the rod tip, and that section has been moved around my work area. Before re-wrapping these I placed a coat of finish on all other wraps to lock them in place.Finish-wrap

Remember having very short thread stubs remaining after completing a guide or ferrule wrap. This is how we fix that problem. Clip them off after the first coat, and they disappear under the next. Thelast problem to address is bubbles in the finish. Mixing with the plastic end of a brush helps prevent them in the first place. If they still appear, an alcohol flame or hair drier will heat the finish while the rod turns, and these bubbles will disappear as well.Finish-clip

Two remaining posts are planned. One will cover the completion of all three rods with a summary of techniques I have found either valuable or to be avoided. The other post will cover repairing a rod. In this case a recently acquired Shakespeare bamboo that needs a guide replaces along with a ferrule re-glued.

Read previous post: Grip and Seats

6: Grip and Reel Seat

I’m back from Southwestern Colorado, which included my first day fishing the San Juan in New Mexico. The fish count in the Juan is beyond belief, and I landed over thirty of those Rainbows. Now, back to rod building.

The grip is not the business end of the rod, but function is critical and aesthetics valuable. Select a grip style that matches the rod size you are building and feels good in your hand. Look at the grips on rods in your fly shop, but remember that they conform to the norm. I chose a half well grip for the 4 wt., and full well grips for the 6 and 8 wt. You can build your own using ½ inch thick cork sections, then sand it to fit your needs. Color and character can be added by mixing types of cork. The process requires gluing, clamping, and shaping the grip. If interested, contact me for help.GripSeats640

Like building a sub-sandwich, there are still more choices – reel seats. “The bigger the rod, the beefier the reel seat,” is a starting point. This is a matter of both looks and function. I have chosen all up-locking seats for these rods. The reel is locked in place with a threaded knob on the butt end. Down-locking seats are common on bamboo and vintage rods. The seat for the 8 wt rod has a fighting butt that is screwed into the reel seat. This is a great comfort when landing a sizable fish and allows cranking the reel with the rod anchored against your waist.

The cork grip, build or bought, will have a ¼ inch hole that must be enlarged to fit over the rod blank. The tool pictured with the blue handle is made for this. I start here. I have also accumulated a set of round tapered metal files that can be mounted in a drill. Set the drill to rotate counter clockwise. This is very important, otherwise the file will screw into the grip. As you expand the hole, turn the grip a quarter turn in your hand often so that the hole doesn’t become oval shaped. WheCorkFit640n finished, it should be a snug, but not tight fit. Themoda butt end of the grip will need to accomte the reel seat. This is easily shaped with a Dremel Tool. As I purchased the grips and seats from the same supplier, this had been done for me.

Locating the grip on the blank starts by placing the reel seat on the blank, then sliding the grip into position. The blank should extend to the end of the seat with the end cap in place. Use masking tape to mark the upper location of the grip. Next, wrap a layer of tape around the blank at both ends of the seat. This will cause the seat to be tight and centered. Now, choose the upside of the bank and mark a line on the tape. Place a very small corresponding mark on the grip, depending on what side of the grip you want facing up. The reel seat must be mounted so that the reel hangs down. Place alignment marks on the seat, cork, and tape. Finally, rough up the blank with a file or sand paper where glue will be applied.

I use waterproof marine epoxy to hold it together. This is the gutsy part. Mistakes are fatal. Spread glue over the blank where the grip sits, slide the grip in place and rotate to evenly distribute glue. Clean the reel seat hole if as necessary. Spread glue inside the cork where the seat fits. Now, cover the two bands of tape that center the seat, and fill the gap between these with glue. Slide the reel seat into position, turning to distribute glue, and fit the end cap. Run a length of tape down the side of the grip, over the end of the seat, and up the other side of the grip. This holds the grip in place while the glue sets overnight.

WARNING: don’t let glue dry in threads or where the reel fits into the seat. Acetone, Q-tips, and tooth picks are your friends when it comes to cleanup.

 Grip640In the next post, I will discuss final wrapping and finish. Fishing with the rod is in sight.

Previous: Guide Spacing

5: Ferrules

5: Ferrules

I’ll mention a couple of points about wrapping ferrules and the tip-top. When wrapping the tip-top, start at the tip-top and wrap away from it. This allow you to pack the wraps tight against it, and it’s easy to finish the wrap at the desired length.

Ferrule wraps start away from the female end of the blank and wrap toward the end. This allows you to get as close to the end as desired. I leave about a 1/16 inch unwrapped. Remember, we will be putting finish on these wraps and can’t allow finish into the ferrule. Also, starting away from the blank end allows you to pack the wrap against a guide wrap as you see on the upper two rod sections. Note, no wrap is necessary on the male ferrule, but if you do wrap it, leave at least a ¼ inch gap between the wrap and the female ferrule when the two sections are assFerrule Wrapsembled. This allows the female ferrule to be pushed further onto the male as wear occurs.

About those wraps. Trim thread close, but don’t worry about very short tag ends. A quick flame will burn most off. If any remains, it will cause a bump in the first coat of finish. This can be trimmed off and the next coat will cover the trim mark. See the loose thread on the top rod section. My wrap is coming loose, and I wanted you to see that that doesn’t just happen to you. I will have to re-wrap that half of the guide. By the way, the red bands are red tape that identify these sections as part of the same rod.

Ferrules can be identified as Tip Over Butt, Butt Over Tip, and Spigot. Spigot ferrules are rarely seen. The one pictured here is part of the 5 wt fiberglass rod I built a few years ago. It is solid, sleek, and won’t loosen like machined ferrules will. Read about it here; http://airstreamflyfish.com/fly-fishing/fly-rod/3-spigot-ferrules/.Ferrules

The Butt Over Tip is the most traditional, and is on every bamboo rod I have seen, and almost all fiberglass. I don’t believe I have seen one on a graphite rod. It means that the butt section is female and fits over the tip-ward male section. They work best where the rod is a continuous tapper from butt end toward tip. Fiberglass blanks were manufactured in this manner as one full length piece, and then cut where the ferrule would be placed.

Today all graphite rods are built with Tip Over Butt ferrules. The quality and consistency of manufacturing makes this possible. It is also why you can bring your broken section into Elkhorn and leave with a new section. The part are interchangeable. The B ferrule in the photo is in interesting transition. It is a very early Shakespeare graphite 10 wt with a larger part installed over the tip-ward section to form a female ferrule. This suggests that the blank was built in one piece and then cut. They must not have wanted to use a machined ferrule, so they created what you see here. I cast this rod last week, and it works fine.

The next post will be about assembling the handle and reel seat. Then we move on to finishing the wraps, followed by fishing the rod.

Read previous post: Guide Wrapping 

4: Guide Wrapping

The tedious work has started – guide wrapping. It is also what makes our hand built rod stand out from the factory rod. Before we begin, there is preparation work to do, and it is very important. Each guide must be prepped. I file the bottom of each guide with a mill file and then hone it with a fine stone. The edges and top of the tip are honed also. There must not be any burrs that can catch a thread, and the tips must tapper to a fine edge so that the thread wrap will easily ride up onto the guide. I file down the tops of the strip guides for this reason. I am using high quality guides from American Tackle, and there is little prep required, but other manufacture’s guides may require more. Don’t skip this step.

Placing the guides on the rod blank is next, and it is critical. The guides must be placed on the spline side or the exact opposite. They must be aligned with each other so when looking from the top or bottom, no single guide appears misaligned. I use eight inch masking tape to hold the guides in place. After wrapping one side of a guide, I recheck its alignment. If it is not correct, it can sometimes be moved under the wrapping. If not, start over. Get this right, otherwise a misaligned guide will bug you every time you look at your rod.Guide Prep 640

Thread Start 2 640I’m going to describe how I start a thread wrap. It is the first challenge you will face. I use a piece of solid turquoise colored material for advisability. The wrapping station is a common Flex Coat product. You see the thread and tensioners in the background. They are set very low. The rubber band over the rod blank keeps it from turning unless you turn it. Note I have changed from a black accent color thread to yellow. It will really stand out. Start with three or four hand wraps over the top and around in the direction that you will build the wrap. Pull the tag end left under the thread and then over and slightly to the right. Now turn the rod the same direction as the hand wraps, keeping tension on the tag. You will see a tight wrap form and feel the tension in the tag suddenly increase when the start is complete. You can release the tag end now. Continue wrapping to the right of the tag end a couple turns and then cut off the tag with a razor blade.

Continue wrapping until about eight turns from the end. At this point you need to place a loop under the thread wraps so the the end can be pulled back under to finish. Now that I am fly tier, I have a bobbin threader to use, but a loop of thread or monofilament will also work. Once the remaining wraps are complete, put the thread through the loop and pull it back through.First Wrap 640

Pull Thru 640I won’t describe how to do accent wraps, but you can find description and videos on the internet. I have completed the first and hardest guide wrap. It’s hard because it is the first guide below the tip and the guide is large compared to the rod diameter. Notice the lumps under the wrapping. See the loose thread wraps on the right. These can be packed tight before finish is applied. I start my wraps 3/16 of an inch from the guide tip, and I should have placed two more wraps at the guide loop on the left.

In the next post, I will have finished guide wrapping on the three tip sections. I will be ready to discuss ferrule wraps and different types of ferrules. Then it will be back to wrapping guides on the two middle sections of three rods.


Previous: Guide Spacing

3: Fly Rod Building, Guide Spacing

When I picked up the rod blanks at Elkhorn, Brian provided a guide spacing chart, which listed the distance from the rod tip to each guide. This makes the job easy, but take care that you measure from the tip top guide. That moves the guides ½ inch forward from where they would be if measuring from the end of the blank. This is significant because it allows more space to wrap the ferrule separate from the guide closest to it. See the blue tape in the photo. It locates the center of the guide 1 and 1/8 inches from the ferrule. The green tape shows the location from the blank tip.Ferrule640

It is personal preference of mine to not combine the ferrule and guide foot wrap. This allows me to do an under layer wrap of Kevlar thread over the female ferrule, dramatically increasing its strength. I once split a female ferrule when it loosened during a double haul cast with a nine weight rod. I will explain this under wrap in more detail in the next post.

The green tape on the rod blank is for identification. Remember, I working on three different rods, and mixing the blank section would be a big inconvenience.

Rod blank suppliers like Elkhorn typically supply guide spacing data, but if not I can help.

The spreadsheet pictured below was developed when I had no spacing guidelines for a three piece fiberglass rod. The example would be for a nine foot four piece rod. All dimensions are from the tip except the first stripping guide to the butt end. You enter the information in yellow and the results are calculated. The location of the first guide and the stripping guide can varied until guides don’t fall on a ferrule. 32 inches to the strip guide and 3.5 inches the the first guide are good starting points. I varied these until until the 5th and 8th guide fell equal distance from a ferrule. If you would like a copy of this spreadsheet for your own use, email me at jimc@AirstreamFlyFish.com, and I will send it.

In the next post guide wrapping will be the hot topic.

Guide Spacing



Previous:  What About Spline?

2: What About Spline

Rod axis CropThe first step in rod building after acquiring the blank and components is locating the blank’s spline. So, what is the spline, and why does it matter? Bend a blank section and it will be a little stiffer bending one direction than another. This is because the cross section of a blank is not exactly round. It is more oval shape, stiffer if bent on its long axis than its short axis. Find the short axis by placing one end of a blank section on a hard surface and rolling it with enough force to bend the blank. It will pop to its soft side up. Mark this side with an erasable marker. I do this for the tip section first, then the next section. Next put the sections together, alining the marks, and repeat the bending procedure. The soft side may have moved a little, and if so remark. This is repeated for the third section, but the butt section is ignored. It’s too stiff to matter.Spline

Graphite and fiberglass rods have a spline, but bamboo doesn’t. Manufacturing a graphite blank evolves wrapping glue impregnated fabric around a tapered mandril, similar to wrapping paper towels around a cylinder. There will only be a few wraps, and where the last wrap stops can results in four thicknesses verses three elsewhere. This causes the oval shape. The fabric wrapped mandrel is then wrapped in a heat shrinking material and cured in an oven. It is the mandrel taper, material specifications, and curing that determines a rods line weight and performance.

Now comes the debate. The guides can be placed on the inside of the curve or the outside. Some believe the rod will bend more easily toward the fish and be stiffer bending toward the back cast if the guides are on the inside of the curve. This is the way I do it, but I don’t believe it matters. It is important to place the guides on the short axis. If off axis or on the long axis, the rod may twist when casting and have an affect on accuracy. Some also believe this Threadentire step can be ignored. I feel it is better to have all sections aligned in a similar manner – it can’t hurt.

BTW, the thread colors will be rust and black. I’ve used these before and they looked good, although the rust doesn’t show up well in the photo.

In the next post I will mark guide spacing and discuss how to determine spacing if you don’t have Brian to tell you how guides are spaced on Elkhorn rods.


Previous:  Three Rod Introduction

Next:    Guide Spacing

1: Fly Rod Building

I recently took a photo of a fish into Elkhorn to show Deniese. She said, “Nice fish, but where is the Elkhorn rod?” It wasn’t too long before I took in another. You guessed it, and I’m not going for three out of three. I’m building three Elkhorn fly rods, and will discuss fly rod building here on the Elkhorn website as I proceed.

I’m Jim Cooper. Many of you will recognize me as one who hangs out at the Saturday fly tying demos, and might remember that I worked at the shop Monday afternoons during the summer. It’s not that I don’t have Elkhorn rods, it’s just that I don’t fish 7, 9, and 11 weights on the local water that often. I do fish a 1 weight occasionally, but it doesn’t produce many picture worthy fish, just good days. I had a 5 weight that once rested on top of the truck when I drove off – you know how that turned out.ComponentsRotate

I will build a set of three Traveler series rods; 4, 6, and 8 weight. The components are all pictured here except for the back ordered #6 reel seat. It will be a while before I need that. Why three? Well, who do you know with a set of three custom built rods that that cover all Colorado fishing demands? Besides, if need was that important, I would still be fishing the fiberglass that Dad gave me. And there’s my grandson, he will need rods. Just wait Deniese, there will be an Elkhorn in the photo soon.

In the next post I will discuss finding the rod blank spline and why it’s important. Thread wrap color will be selected, and maybe guide spacing will be started. When I start wrapping guides it will be from the tip to the butt, working on all three at the same time. Wrapping guides on the tip section is delicate, not my favorite step, so it needs to be done first.

I have built a number of rods, and written about it along the way. You can see blog posts about a vintage fiberglass rod at: http://airstreamflyfish.com/category/fly-fishing/fly-rod/. Scroll down to the first post. I try not to get too technical, but at the same time give the reader information beyond how to. Follow along if you have interest in rod building or just want to know more about graphite rods.

Next:  What about Spline?