How to build a fly rod
Selecting the rod and components
Selecting the right components on your fly rod blank is an important part of building fly rods. For a discussion of component selection please see Flycatcher website and review the how to sections under each component within the rod builder section.
You want to build the very best fly rod you can. That means working in an optimal environment.
* Find a place that is quiet to work. The experience is meant to be savored! * Have a work surface long enough to handle the rod you are building * Have materials for emergency clean up: isopropyl rubbing alcohol, clean rags, etc. * Make sure your work area is well lit. Have a magnifier if it will help. * Have a comfortable chair to work from. You'll do a better job. * Have a very clean, dust-free and dry work area. Wet thread sealer is a dust magnet. * Inventory your parts before you start. Nothing worse than coming up short at the wrong time. * Have patience and enjoy the journey. It is part of the experience. * Enjoy yourself.
Finding the spine
A fly rod without the reel seat, grip and guides is called a rod blank. The rod blank is made of graphite fibers trapped in a plastic resin. It is constructed by wrapping sheets of this fiber impregnated resin around a tapered steel shaft called a mandrel. The resin wrapped mandrel is baked in an oven to melt the plastic resin and create a solid rod of graphite encased plastic. Rod blanks made in this way will have variations in stiffnes depending on which direction you bend the tip. This is due to inevitable inconsistencies in the manufacturing process. The point of maximum bend is called the spine of the rod. It is important for the rod builder to minimize the impact of these inconsistencies.
There are three ways to do this. The most accurate way is to buy the rod pre-marked for spine. Flycatcher Zero Balance™ uses computerized alignment to zero in on the spine of each rod section. If your rod is not pre-marked, it can be spined by holding the rod section on a table or the floor vertically with the thickest end on the floor. While holding firmly push down on the top of the rod section and note the direction it bends. The inside of the curve will approximate the spine. Do this with each section of rod blank that has enough flex to make it feasible and note the location on each section.
An alternative way is to lay the rod section flat on a table. Hold the thickest end down tight against the table and raise the thinnest end up. Roll the rod along the table while holding the end up. Feel how hard the rod pulls against your hand as you roll it and note the location where it feels to 'flex' the most. This point approximates the spine and is along the inside curve. Mark the location on the rod section. Preparing the reel seat
The reel seat inside diameter should be larger than the butt end of your rod blank. How much larger will differ depending on the rod blank and the reel seat. Before cementing the reel seat in place it is important to shim up the blank to get the reel seat to fit snuggly. This can be done with masking tape or fiberglass dry wall mesh tape. Wrap the rod with the tape in two locations: one nearest the butt but far enough from the end to clear the butt cap; and one nearest the grip. Build up enough tape so that the reel slides snuggly over the tape.
Wait until you have prepared the grip for installation before installing the reel seat. Preparing the grip
Cork grips are cored with a hole usually .25" in diameter. The cork will need to be cored out to fit the rod taper so that it both fits snugly and slides far enough up the rod to meet up with the reel seat. Use a rat tail file to core the cork. Take your time and check the fit often. Be careful to core the middle section of the cork without over-coring the ends (a common mistake). Once the grip can be pushed on to the rod blank within one inch of its final location you can stop. The rod epoxy will help it slide the last inch.
Downlocking reel seats butt up flush with the cork grip. Uplocking reel seats fit into the body of the grip. If you have an uplocking reel seat and your grip has not been cored out you will need to do that before installing the grip. Measure the outside diameter of the reel seat hood. Use a hole saw and portable drill to core the cork. Selecting the winding check
The winding check is a decorative cap on the tip facing end of the grip. Winding checks come in polyethelene, aluminum, and nickel silver. Polyethelene has some give to it, but aluminum and nickel silver checks need to be fitted individually to each rod.
Installing the reel seat, grip, and winding check
Using a 2-part epoxy designed for rod building (such as U-40), mix according to manufacturers recommendations. Make sure you mix thoroughly. Apply the epoxy to both the inside of the reel seat and along the rod surface. Make sure you fill the gap between the tape shims thoroughly. The mesh tape is particularly nice because you can apply the epoxy right through the tape shims to create an even better bond.
Slide the reel seat over the shims. Any excess epoxy that squeezes out can be easily wiped off with a clean towel and rubbing alcohol. If you were able to find the spine on the butt section, align the reel seat so that the reel (when attached) will run along the spine. Insert the butt cap into the reel seat making certain both the butt cap and reel seat are well epoxied.
Epoxy the rod blank in the area where the grip will be and continue up 1 inch beyond the where the top will rest. This will assure complete coverage of epoxy. Twist the grip as you slide it into place to make certain the expoxy gets good converage.
Finally, the winding check can simply be slipped over the end of the rod section and glued at the top of the grip using the same rod epoxy.
Allow the rod section to cure over night.
Preparing the guide feet
It is important that the feet on each of the guides are adjusted so that the wrapping thread covers them appropriately. Two things will assure this: beveling and flatness. To bevel the feet use a fine metal file. File each of the feet so that each one has a gentle slope for the thread to walk up. Then check each foot to make certain it sits flat against the rod. If the foot is bowed use a tack hammer to flatten the foot. The guide is now ready for assembly with the rod. Determining guide placement
There are guide placement tables available on various sites on the internet. Don't use them. Guide placement is highly dependent upon the action and taper of the individual rod. The best way to do guide placement is the get the rod blank already pre-marked for guide location based on Flycatcher's Zero Balance guide placement tool.
If you must place the guides yourself it is best to hand adjust the guides. Start by fixing the guides to the rod using masking tape. Be certain to place the center of the guides directly over the spine of the rod. String the rod with line and flex it. Take a look at the contour of the line along the rod. Starting at the top, move the guides up or down the rod to make the line contour match the rod contour as closely as possible. When you are satisfied, mark the locations for each guide in case one of the guides comes free of the rod blank during the next steps.
Installing the guides
Temporarily tape the guide in place allowing as much of the foot tab to show as possible. To wrap your thread it is best to keep the feed thread taught. To do this simply place your spool of thread behind a heavy book and run the thread through the middle of the book. The drag of pulling the thread through the book will keep the thread taught as you work it onto the rod blank.
Begin wrapping thread around the rod blank about 1/4inch from the end of the foot end. Wrap masking tape around the rod where the thread wrap is to begin. This will act a stop for the thread wrap making wrapping easier and assuring consistency. To begin, wrap the thread over the top of the rod around to the back and up over thread.
While holding the tag end against the rod, rotate the rod away from you, wrapping the thread around the rod several times.
Once the blank is wrapped with enough turns that the thread holds tight, cut the tag end off of the thread using a razor blade. With a thumbnail, work the threads up tight against each other around the entire circumference of the rod. Continue wrapping and pulling the threads up tight. Make certain that you do not accidentally overlap the threads as you wrap them.
Continue wrapping up to the guide foot and pulling the loops tight up against each other. At the guide foot make several wraps up over the foot BEFORE pulling the threads tight. This will help keep the loops from working themselves up under the foot.
When you are four or five wraps short of where the guide foot meets the guide body, insert a doubled over piece of thread under the thread wraps with the loop end in the direction of the wrap advancement. Continue wrapping up to the guide body.
Cut the wrapping thread leaving a 5 or 6 inch tail. Insert the tag end through the loop in the doubled over piece of thread.
Pull the doubled over thread back through the wrapped thread bringing the tag end of the wrapping thread with it.
With a razor blade, cut off the tag end of the wrapping thread as flush as possible to the wrapped thread. Take a (cigarette) lighter and melt any thread ends that are protruding from the wrap.
Finally, make certain your guides are all aligned on the rod. If they are not you should be able to gently rock the guide or shimmy it underneath the thread wrap to get it better aligned. Wrapping Ferrules
If you wish you may wrap the (female end) the ferrules of each rod section with thread. This is primarily a decorative move but it can add a nice touch if you like. It will (minimally) add weight to your rod, however. Wrapping the hook keep
Align your hook keeper with the guides on the rod and tape it in place directly above the grip. Wrap the hook keeper in exactly the same manner that you wrapped the guides. Installing tip top
The tip top is the top most guide on the rod. The tip top has a sleeve that fits over the end of the tip section of the rod. Use rod epoxy to glue the tip top to the rod. Make sure to feed some of the epoxy down into the sleeve before assembling the components. Also make certain to align the tip top with the other guides on the rod. Be careful that you place the rod on a flat surface with the tip loop facing down so that as the epoxy dries the tip does not rotate accidentally. Alternatively, there are fast drying (5 minute) epoxies that could be used.
You can add decorative thread wraps to the tip top if you like. Just remember that every little item adds weight to the rod.
Before you apply the epoxy sealer to your wrap, you might want to consider applying color preserver to the threads. Without color preserver the epoxy will soak in to the threads darkening them and providing a somewhat translucent look. Many people like the look so the choice is yours. Even with color preserver the threads will darken some.
Paint on two or three coats of color preserver allowing it to dry thoroughly between coatings. Multiple coatings is important because any area you may have inadvertantly missed will be highlighted through the wrap coat at a time when it is most difficult to fix.
Sealing the threads
Use a two part epoxy sealer specifically designed for sealing thread wraps. Flex Coat Lite is a good choice. You can use a high build or lite build coat and achieve excellent results with either one. Lite build sealers require multiple coats but they allow you to build up the layers more gradually controlling the thickness better, and they let you correct for imperfections between coats (such as a stray thread).
Before painting on the sealer it is important to create a drying fixture. The sealer that you put on the threads will pool to the floor facing side of the rod as it is drying. Turning the rod periodically will keep the sealer in an even layer over the threads.
To build a fixture get a cardboard box that is two feet across or so. Cut notches an inch or two deep in the middle of each end for the rod to rest in. Make sure that you can lay the rod in the notches in such a way as to not have the threads touching the cardboard. Make certain also that the notches are cut equally deep so the rod rests parallel to the floor. This will be your drying rack.
Mix the two part epoxy sealer according to the instructions from the manufacturer. Make sure the sealer is fully mixed and is cloud free or it won't set up properly. The epoxy should be room temperature or higher (72 degrees F) as should the room.
Throwaway brushes are fine to use to put on the epoxy. Extend the epoxy out beyond the threads by 1/8". It is best to use a small diameter artist brush to feather the edges of the coating. Work quickly but don't rush. These epoxies stay workable for a good 30 minutes or more.
Any air bubbles that may reside in the sealer should work themselves free as the rod sets but if it looks like this may be a problem, a hair dryer on warm/low can be used to coax the bubbles out.
With the rod in your drying rack, turn the rod 180 degrees every 5 to 10 minutes. Do this for the first hour. In the second hour turn the rod every 15 to 20 minutes. In the third hour turn the rod every 30 minutes. Let the rod cure for 12 to 24 hours before applying another coat. Sealant final coat
You can add multiple coats of thread sealer to the guides if you follow a couple rules. First, check the sealed threads for any protrusions that may exist. If there are any, slice them off with a sharp razor blade. Second, when applying an additional coat make certain that you completely cover the old coat. You cannot simply do touch up with this epoxy, it is critical that you do a complete coat.
At this stage a small amount of thread sealer can be applied to the location where the tip top mates with the rod in order to provide a smooth seamless transition (unless you already applied thread wrap to this section).
Dry the rod in the same manner as prior coats. Let the rod cure for several days so that the thread sealer cures good and hard. Finally
Once the rod has fully cured string some line and go fish.