Rod Building Instruction – Winter 2016

Done-Seats_640We hope you enjoyed Jim Cooper’s presentation last Saturday, along with Brian Chavet, describing the process of rod building and introducing our opportunities this Winter.

To recap, at Elkhorn we are committed to small class sizes so you receive the full benefit of our knowledgeable instructors.  Classes are scheduled for small groups at times convenient for you. Tools and equipment are available for your use, such as rod wrapping stations and the rod turner for applying the epoxy finish.

The class begins with a session in which you fit a grip and reel seat, and assemble the butt section.  Next, you learn how to align your rod sections with the spine, mark your rod guide spacing, and make thread wraps to secure the guides.  Last, you will mix the epoxy and coat your thread wraps.

The fee for our small-group rod building class is $75, of which $25 can be applied as a credit towards the purchase of any Elkhorn rod blanks or components.  We have blanks available for most of our product line, and can certainly provide a suitable blank for any length and line weight.

If you would like to build a rod, fill out and send the form below with your contact information, and we will answer any questions you have and help schedule you for instruction.


12: Rod Repair

Repair Ferrule 640In the back corner of a display area at an antique store in Ouray I noticed a collection of fishing rods. As usual these were mostly bait and spinning rods, but there were a couple of bamboos. One was a Japaneses rod of no value, and the other a Shakespeare three piece. Its reel seat, cork, and finish looked surprisingly good. Assembled, it was straight, and had a decent action. This was a nice fishable bamboo fly rod with a $100 price. It was missing one guide, and when taken apart one female ferrule pulled loose. I offered $80 and went home with a project.

This scenario can put a bamboo rod in your quiver for less than a $100 when a new rod can cost $500 to $5000. It is the same rod your dad or granddad fished, and can give you a new experience on the stream – after you get it repaired. So let’s apply our rod building skills to repairing it.

Loose ferrules on old rods are almost assured. The builders were using hide glue that loses its grip over the decades. In that case the fix is easy. You can see that the wraps have a gold trim band. As I removed the original red thread, I took care to leave the gold in place. This meant I didn’t have to find both red and gold silk thread. Note, bamboo rods were and are almost always wrapped with silk thread. It can be found today in shops and catalogs.

First remove enough old glue from the bamboo to allow the ferrule to slide in place with ease, but take care. Removing too much “wood” or causing it to be out of round can result in the ferrule not being aligned with the axis of the rod. In other words, a permanent bend in the rod.

Next apply epoxy and slide the ferrule into place. Turn it as you go to spread the glue. Wipe off the excess, and let dry. When wrapping the ferrule, I started the wrap against the gold band and packed them tight. The rest of the wrap was completed as usual.

The biggest challenge in old rod repair can be finding replacement components. Shops and people who do rod repair can help, and my friend, Jim Tilmant, was able to find a guide that matched both the color and size of the missing one.

Repair Wrap Start 640In wrapping the guide, I again started against the gold band and completed the guide wrap as was done many times building the three previously discussed graphite rods. Color preserver was applied to the thread tag ends, which were trimmed after drying.Repair wrap comp 640

Finish on bamboo rods has always been varnish, often spar varnish. In this case I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, an oil and urethane product. I have used this on both bamboo and fiberglass rods with good results. The new wraps were saturated with color preserver. And then three coats of varnish was applied. Older rods tend to have crazing in the finish around the guides. This has the appearance of cracks. A couple of coats of new varnish over the old will make all, but the worst crazing, disappear.

When all is said and done, we have a inexpensive bamboo rod ready to fish. The same skills could have been applied to fiberglass or graphite. In many cases broken rods can be fixed, and bamboo rods that are not straight can be straightened. If you have a rod needing repair beyond what you are comfortable doing, bring it into the shop. There are people who can replace a guide, or completely refurbish a valuable rod.

This ends the series on rod building. I will soon be writing on other subjects, so stay tuned.

11: Decorative Wraps

Wrapping a rod is a learning experience each time unless you do it more often than I do. I hope this blog will serve as a process reminder for all of us. In this post I will discuss decorative wraps, often called Trim Bands and Inlays, and at the end provide references to good online descriptions.Wrap Loops 640

I will wrap from left to right, producing the completed band seen in the last picture. The main thread is red. There will be yellow and black trim bands, and a metallic gold inlay. These are colors that I have on hand, and all together they look pretty good. Start by taping the two trim colors to the blank with four or five inches working area between the tape and a couple inches of thread past each tape end. Tape down two loops, one for each band. Start the main thread with four to six tight wraps to assure it stays in place.

I plan on two wraps of black and four wraps of yellow. Remove the tape over the loops and release the black thread from its tape. Wind two wraps of black thread by hand. I wrap away from myself here. Run the end of the black through a loop while holding it in position with a spare finger. Then pull the loop to the right, pulling the black thread under the main thread. Repeat this for four wraps of yellow using the second loop.Wrap Inlay 640

At this point the tag ends can be trimmed and covered with wraps of the main thread, but I like to continue the red thread leaving the tag protruding. This allows me to pull the tag ends tight if needed. If using a color preserver, I place a drop at the base of the tags to lock them in place.wrap Rt end 640

Continue turns of red until eights wraps from the left end of the inlay remain. Place the inlay color, gold, under the red, and wrap eight more turns over the gold. Now, make three turns of gold by hand. I wrap these toward me so that they don’t tend to unwrap the red. Be sure to wrap these turns over the red thread. Lock down the inlay by wrapping a few turns of red over the gold. Assure that the gold wraps are tight, and pack the red wraps to the left. Trim the gold thread leaving an eighth inch. Turns of red will cover this end. When the red has reach eight turns from its end, place two loops under the thread, and finish the eight turns. As before, do the two black turns over the red, and use a loop to pull the end under. Finish with the four yellow wraps, but this time place both the
red and yellow through the loop and pull them under. Dab the tags with color preserver and walk away. Upon return, trim all the tags and you are done.

You have heard the saying about skinning cats, and while cleaning fish I have seen the belly slit from throat to anus, and the other direction. Wrapping is the same way. I have shown one technique here. You can find others among builders and in the literature. You should look at Scott Youschak’s “Guide Wraps and Trim Bands” part 1 and part 2 on the internet. Search his name with “Trim Bands”.Wrap Comp 640Wrap w Tags 640

We have blogged through building three rods and decorative wrapping. Now I hope you someday experience the difference between, “The rod that Grand Pa made for me.” and “The rod that Grand Pa bought for me.” The next post discussing rod repair will be the last in this series. With that, I hope you will stop and say hello if you see me out fishing. I will likely be using one of these three rods.

Read previous Post: Summary

10: Summary

The rods are complete, I have been fishing them, and all is good. Watch the Saturday Fly Tying announcements. One day soon I will bring the three in for show-and-tell after the demo. For now I want to review what is important and what I have learned in this process. This I know from experience, you will learn more doing it and writing about it than just doing it.

Starting at the butt end, if you build a rod like the 8 wt with a large gap inside the reel seat, make or buy bushings to fill it. Find reel seats that are sealed on the front so that epoxy can’t get under the front ring that holds the reel. Before applying glue, make sure you have an assemble process to assure that the reel hangs below the spline and the best side of the cork is up. Start gluing with Acetone on the bench by your side along with cloth and Q tips. Some builders do the grip/seat step first and others last. It doesn’t matter unless there are guides on the butt section, but you do have to mount the grip before wrapping the butt section.

Mark the spline along with the guide locations, prep the guides, and arranged in order for assembly. Tape the guides in place very close to the proper alignment, I wrap from the large end to the small of each section. Guides can be adjusted under the wraps if little thread tension wass used. More about that below the first picture. Using a color preserver on the wraps is an advantage. Place a drop on the end of a needle, and then on each tag where it comes through the wrap. Once dry, they are locked in place and can be trimmed flush. During this process I find it hard to maintain a consistent length of wrap over all the guides. Do your best.

I mentioned placing a Kevlar thread wrap under the visible wrap on the female ferrules of the 8 wt. I didn’t. It’s not easy to wrap over a previous wrap, and I will just be more careful about the ferrules loosening when hauling big line.

When it comes to finish, I like Lite Flex Coat because it works well using several thin coats of finish, which is my preference. It allows me to saturate the thread and further trim tag between coats. If bubbles appear, have an alcohol flame or heat gun handy to easily remove them.


Three things are important when wrapping a rod. The width of wraps, trim bands, and inlays should be consistent. There should be no gaps between individual wraps of thread, and there should be no overlapping thread wraps. These all depend on good light and good thread control. I found midway through the second rod that using a bobbin to hold and control thread worked well for me. It was particularly good on the small front section where tension will bend the rod. I use both bobbin weight and hand control to apply tension. Note, I also use my hackle pliers for grip and weight on the tag when needed. Those fly tying tool can be re-purposed.

Sometimes this all seems complicated, and in addition to the three aesthetic needs above, the thread ends must be locked under the wrap so that they don’t loosen before finish is applied. I learned that as a guide foot is wrapped, a gap between thread and the rod will form on each side. The loop that is normally placed under the last eight or so wraps so that the tag can be pulled back under the threads is best placed in this gap on the far side of the guide. It can then be easily pulled through, and the tag end pulled tight and under the threads away from you. Find a method to lock the thread ends that works for you. Use dividers to measure widths, and get started. Before you know it, you will have built a fly rod.


This finishes the initial rod building blog, but there are still two subject that I want to cover in a followup. Decorative wraps with Trim Bands and Inlays add a personal touch to a rod. These are not hard to do, and I will cover (touch upon is a better description) these in a blog post. Also, the skills learned to build a rod can be applied to repairing a rod. I will discuss how a bamboo rod with a loose ferrule and missing guide was repaired. These two repairs turned a $80 rod acquired in an antique store into a perfectly good fishable bamboo fly rod. It doesn’t get us the expensive and very good bamboo rod that can be purchased new, but it gets us the rod that our fathers or grandfathers fished.

Read previous post: Completed Rods

9: Completed Rods

  All three are complete and taken for a wet-run. The Rainbow is the first fish on the 6 wt, and the Brown the first on the 4 wt. I went out one afternoon for Carp with the 8 wt and had some opportunities, but no takes.1st-fish-4wt

Each rod casts its standard weight-forward line well, though I will try a half weight heavy line on the 4 wt when I get the chance, might also give a double-taper a try. The feel of a rod’s cast in your hand is an individual thing. A slow rod will feel faster when underlined, and a fast rod will feel slower if overlined. The 4 wt is intended for Front Range stream fishing, so a double-taper line may improve its accuracy and roll casts in the short game. Ah, the choices we have to make.

The group photo shows a collection of wraps from the three rods. They are all done in the same colors and styles.Done-Wrap_640

In the past I have inked my name on rods that I have built, but this time I had them laser engraved by Laser Imaging in Loveland. The result on the metal 8 wt seat is particularly pleasing. Elkhorn can have this done for any rod you build or own. It looks pretty cool.Done-Seats_640

The next post will summarize things that I have learned along with a few recommendations. I feel good about learning as I go. It makes the effort worthwhile. Not only have I learned from the process, but your comments and questions have added greatly. There was a request to write how-to instructions for a wrap with a highlight color. I have been thinking about doing this with just enough words and no more – it’s coming.


Read previous post: Reel Seat – Extra

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;

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

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.


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Next:    Guide Spacing