Building A Custom Fishing Rod By Jim Hudson To me a custom rod is a piece of real artwork. A custom rod can be and is built for an individual style and type of fishing. It is built with only one thing in mind and that is to give the owner a beautiful and precise tool to use for an exciting chase for their targeted game fish. A machine does not touch the custom rods I build until the drying process is started, and this is unique to my rods. Each one is assembled by hand right in my own home. Each piece is inspected by hand and hand-milled to fit. Only in the drying stage do I allow a machine to touch my rods. This is what makes them one of a kind. If I will not use one of my rods for myself, I will not put it out on the streets or in the hands of another fisherman. Those of you who know me know that I love my custom rods and own many of them. A custom rod can be built for an individual to match their needs and wants; to match them for their need in performance style. This is what makes them so special along with the fact that no two are identical. To me rod building is a five-part process. First I decide what I will be using the rod for that will determine what action i.e. catfish, shark, bass, etc. That will determine what type of rod blank I will need - a fast, moderate, or slow action blank. Then I decide if it will be casting or spinning. That will tell me how many guides I will need and what type to use. Then comes the blank. To me this is one of the more important parts. You most match the blank with the type of fishing you plan on doing as well as with the line weight you are planning on using. This is so you can get the best rod possible to fit your needs. Then you have to decide on the handle whether you want cork, EVA foam, or a ready-made handle like a Uni-Butt or pistol grip or even wood. Lastly is the reel seat. The type of reel you want to use will help you determine the type of reel seat you will need. Then once you have all the above-mentioned information you can start the building process. The building process has 10 steps. First, you must prepare the blank and find the guide side or the spine of the rod. These two steps must be done before you do anything else. Then I will mount the butt grip and the reel seat. Now if you are using EVA foam, you should mount the tip next and if you are using cork, you should mount the fore grip next. The foam will pass over the tip with ease unless you are using an over-size tip or roller tip. The cork will split and break if the tip is too large for it. You should start with the guide placing on the blank and the wrapping should come next. You can do the fore grip wrapping before you mount the fore grip if you are using a foam grip but never do it first if you are using cork. Here again, the cork will split and break and the cork sealer will react with the epoxy with which you seal the wrapping. If you are not careful, you will have to remove the fore grip and start over to fix this problem. Once you have the found the spine and have the butt grip, reel seat, fore grip, tip, and guide layout in place you can start the wrapping process. Once you have it wrapped you will need to apply a color preserver to help keep the true colors of the thread you are using and let it dry for at least 10 hours. While it is drying, it is best to keep the rod turning at no more then 9 rpm. Then you apply the epoxy to lock the threads in place and protect the threads. The epoxy is what locks the guides to the rod and it must dry clear and be strong. You also must keep the rod turning to ensure the epoxy dries smooth and even. It is best not to turn the rod more then 7 rpm for this. It will take 24 hours to complete the drying process. I will go into the process I use a little more in detail. PREPARING THE BLANK You must check the length of the rod and or rod sections and make sure there are no cracks and chips in it. Make sure there are no bubbles and that the blank is smooth (make sure that it its meant to be smooth first some like the Ugly Sticks are not always made to be smooth.). FINDING THE GUIDE SIDE When a rod blank is manufactured, the graphite fabric and or fiberglass overlaps in places it is rolled onto a metal mandrel. Since the graphite is thicker in places along this seam, the blank does not have uniform stiffness around its entire circumference, and tends to have a natural curve. It's important to align the line guides with this natural curve or spine to insure the rod will track along a single plane through your entire casting stroke as well as when you are fighting a fish. I recommend putting the guides on the inside of the spine (the weak side) for a spinning rod, and the hard side of the spine for a casting rod. Never place your guides off to the side of this spine, as the rod will tend to twist in your hands when fighting a big fish and cut down on the casting distance of the rod. PLANNING THE ROD Before we get serious about sticking all these parts together, it's necessary to do a little measuring and marking, and create a rod blueprint right on the blank. We have already marked the guide side on the blank, and later on, we will mark the guide spacing. Your next step should be to measure the length of your butt and reel seat, and mark the blank with masking tape to indicate where the reel seat and grip meet. MOUNTING THE GRIP If your grip does not fit your rod blank, you will have to ream out the grip hole with a tapered reamer. Remember that a tapered blank needs a tapered hole in the grip for a proper fit. A tapered reamer is the best tool to use for this job, but you can make do with a round file. The most common mistake for a beginner to make during this step is to bore out the hole too much near the ends, and not enough in the middle, creating an ill-fitting grip that will eventually rock back and forth on the blank while casting. Pay close attention to what you are doing and do not let this happen to you. The grip should be snug to the blank at every point along its length. Once the grip fits correctly, spread epoxy over the surface of the blank where the grip will rest, and slide the grip down over the blank to its permanent resting place. Remove any excess epoxy with denatured alcohol and lint-free wipes. Slide the winding check down to the grip but do not glue it in place, as the hook-keeper wraps and rod finish will be sufficient to hold it in place. MOUNTING THE REEL SEAT When your final coat of epoxy has cured, the last step will be to mount the reel seat. As with the grip, it is up to you to make it fit your blank. You may have to use a tapered reamer or round file to bore out the hole in the reel seat if the seat is too small for your blank. If the seat is too large, use masking tape to build two tape arbors to make up the difference in the blank diameter and the reel seat bore diameter MOUNTING THE TIP-TOP Use 5-minute epoxy to secure the tip-top to the rod tip section. Make sure it is in line with the guide marks you made on the rod section. Scoop some epoxy into the tip-top and slide it back and forth on the blank to squeeze out any air trapped inside and make sure the glue is spread evenly. Excess epoxy can be removed quickly and easily before it cures with denatured alcohol and lint-free wipes. Do not use other chemicals such as acetone, as they may seriously damage your rod blank. WRAPPING THE ROD At this point, your grip and tip-top should be permanently affixed to the blank, the winding check should be resting against the grip but not glued in any way, and the guide side of the blank should be clearly marked. If you are not to that point yet, go back to the previous session, and get up to speed. In this session, we will mark the blank for guide placement, and wrap the guides and ferrules. GUIDE PLACEMENT A guide spacing chart, china marker, time, and tape measure are needed at this time to mark the correct guide placement for the length of rod you are building. Guide spacing measurements are to the center of the guide, measured from the tip-top. Check that the guide feet have been properly ground to a tapered front to allow for a smooth wrapping transition up the guide foot. Some guides will come from the manufacturer ready to wrap, others will come will need some work with a file before you can start wrapping. APPLYING THE ROD FINISH There are two kinds of rod finish - rod varnish, and two-part epoxy rod finish. Both are used to cover thread wraps and inscriptions, and give a rod that glossy, finished look, but they have different strengths and weaknesses. In the days before graphite rods and epoxy finishes, rod makers used rod varnish to finish their wraps, and bamboo rod makers used rod varnish (typically an exterior gloss spar) over the entire rod section. Today, rod blank manufacturers use an epoxy exterior finish on their blanks, and there is no need to put any kind of finish on the blank itself. You only need to finish the wraps and cover any inscriptions you may want on the rod. Most rod manufacturers use only epoxy rod finish, as it is a relatively quick, two-step process. However, if you are not extremely careful when applying epoxy finish, you may end up with blotchy color due to an uneven distribution/saturation of epoxy. When using two-part epoxy rod finish, follow the manufacturer's instructions to carefully measure and mix the finish in approved mixing cups only. Unapproved mixing cups or sticks may introduce foreign chemicals and result in the finish not curing properly. The rod must be rotated for at least 8 hours after the epoxy application, or gravity will cause a buildup of finish on one side of the blank. I have a machine that turns my blanks constantly while they dry. Apply your varnish or epoxy with a good finishing brush 1/8" to 1/4" wide. Use a flowing motion to spread the finish, rotating the blank, and moving the brush in line with the grain of the thread. You want to achieve a smooth, even finish, so avoid side-to-side motions, and apply the finish sparingly. You can always add an extra coat if you use too little finish. Too much finish is a much harder problem to solve. Let the finish soak into the wraps--do not try scrubbing or working the finish into the thread as you will end up with air bubbles, and a messy, bumpy finished product. INSCRIBING THE ROD Many custom rod builders inscribe their product with their client's name and other pertinent information like rod weight and length. It is also a great way for the hobby builder to add a special touch to a rod. Use a Gel-Roller-Pen or pen and ink to write directly on the blank. Do this step between the first and second rod finish coats to prevent ink from bleeding onto the thread wraps.