Basic Rod Building Questions & Answers:

Often, we see the same types of questions being asked by those who are new to the craft of Rodbuilding. We hope that this FAQ will provide you with a fast and ready reference to questions you might have. You might find the answers you need here before posting your question to the message board.

*For more information on any of these questions, please use the "search" feature on the message board for more and varied answers. Of course, if you want a more specific answer, or don't quite understand something, please feel free to post your question!

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1. What tools do I need in order to get started in rod building?
2. How do I locate the spine of the blank?
3. How do I spine the short, stiff butt sections of my multi-piece rods?
4. How should I find the spine on a multi-piece rod?
5. Where should I locate the spine on my rod blank in relation to the guides?
6. How do I make a rod stable under load?
7. How do I get rid of bubbles in my finish?
8. Should I thin my finish?
9. How many guides should I use on my rod and what size should they be? Where should I put them?
10. Is it possible to slow down the action by adding more guides to the blank?
11. Will using double footed guides make a rod stiffer?
12. Is there any difference between glue and adhesive?
13. How tightly should my guides be wrapped?
14. Do I need to wrap the ferrule in any way?
15. What can I use to take up the space between my reel seat and the blank?
16. What is the best adhesive to use for rod building?
17. Are the high modulus graphite rods brittle and do they break easily?
18. What does the term "Action" refer to when used to describe a fishing rod?
19. How can I remove a guide from my rod?
20. How should I go about mounting EVA or Hypalon grips? Should I heat or boil the grips to make them stretch?
21 I applied my two-part epoxy to my thread wraps and even after 2 or 3 days it is still tacky. What went wrong and what can I do about it?
22. I am finding that custom rod building is addictive. Is there any known cure?
Books for the rod builder:

1. What tools do I need in order to get started in rod building?

For basic rod assembly, very few tools are required. Some single edge razor blades, a fine Scotchbrite pad, some sort of V-stands (make your own or buy commercially), a coarse round file and a brush for applying finish are about all you need in addition to your blank, components, adhesive and finish. As you progress into the craft, you may wish to add more in the way of specialized tools or wrapping stands/jigs/lathes.
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2. How do I locate the spine of the blank?

There are tools on the market, referred to as "spine finders" that allow you to do this quickly and easily. However, you can also find your blank's spine manually.

Place the butt of the blank on a smooth surface. Support the extreme tip end with the fingers of one hand. With your other hand, apply pressure to the middle area of the blank. Put a decent bend in it. As you do this you will find that the blank attempts to roll into a position where it wants to stay put. Any attempt to move the blank out of this position, while it is under pressure, will result in the blank trying to remain or returning to this same position. The OUTSIDE of this curve is referred to as the "effective spine" and should be marked for reference.
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3. How do I spine the short, stiff butt sections of my multi-piece rods?

You would want to spine them the same way as you do your other sections. However, these short and stiff sections can be difficult to bend easily enough to find the spine.

Since most of the spine effect is generated by the top half of the rod, sight down/along the butt section by eye and determine the blank's natural bend or curvature. Mark the outside of that curve as the effective spine. It won't be exactly on the spine, but it will be more than close enough.
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4. How should I find the spine on a multi-piece rod?

Locate the spine for each section individually. Mark each piece accordingly and assembly the rod aligning each spine mark. The ferrule overlap may result in a slight change in overall spine effect. Since you are going to be fishing the rod fully assembled, adjust for any slight deviation and remark the sections as needed.
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5. Where should I locate the spine on my rod blank in relation to the guides?

There is no wrong position to locate your blank's spine. Where you do put the guides in relation to the spine, however, will result in certain performance characteristics being either enhanced or reduced.

There are three viable options as to where to locate the spine.

1. Spine on top - This option gives a bit more power on the forward cast but a bit less for line lifting (fly) and fish fighting.

2. Spine on bottom - This position puts the spine into strong play (better tracking) on the forward cast and gives you slightly more power for lifting line off the water (fly). Opponents of this method say this position will lead to rod twist when fighting a fish. This is not true, however, as guide position alone determines rod stability. (More on this topic can be found in the next question.)

3. Disregard spine and locate the rod's stiffest axis so that the fish is pulling against it (A blank's softest and stiffest axis are not necessarily 180 degrees opposite each other). This usually locates the blank's natural bend in such a way that the butt and tip are "up" and the belly of the blank is "down". This puts the maximum amount of power into play for fish fighting but may result in slightly less casting accuracy/tracking.

6. How do I make a rod stable under load?

The only way to create a stable rod under load is to locate the guides on the bottom of the rod. Under load, the line will seek the lowest point, regardless of where you locate the spine. The greater the load, the greater this effect will be. By their very nature, all fly and spinning rods are inherently stable. Casting rods with guides located on top, are inherently unstable and will try to twist when put under load. A spiral wrap, which transitions the line from on top to the bottom of the rod, will create a perfectly stable casting rod.
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7. How do I get rid of bubbles in my finish?

The best way is to keep from creating them in the first place. Mix your epoxy slowly but thoroughly. Keep brushing to a minimum or even consider using a hard surface tool such as a spatula for applying your finish. If you still get a few bubbles, you can often remove them with the gentle heat from an alcohol lamp or butane lighter. (ALWAYS USE CAUTION WHEN WORKING WITH ANY OPEN FLAME!) Hold the flame a few inches under the finished wrap and rotate the rod as you move the flame back and forth. The gentle heat will temporarily thin the finish and expand any bubbles, making them rise to the surface and releasing from the finish. Do not let the flame touch the finish and do not overheat the finish.
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8. Should I thin my finish?

Generally there is no need to do so. In fact, most of the epoxy finish manufacturers recommend against it. If you need a less viscous finish for easier application, slightly warm the bottles containing the hardener and resin. You can do this in a microwave oven (tops loosened and heated for no more than 10 seconds - use caution), in a pan of hot water, from the heat of a hair dryer, or by putting them in your pants pockets for about 15 minutes (you have to be wearing the pants for this to work).

Higher working temperatures create an intially thinner finish, but one which sets up faster. Cooler temps result in a thicker initial finish but one which takes longer to set-up.

The depth of thickness on your wraps is more closely related to how much finish you apply, rather than to how thick the finish mix is.
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9. How many guides should I use on my rod and what size should they be? Where should I put them?

You should always use the fewest and smallest guides that will still perform the required task. Guides which are too large only add weight and rob the rod of efficiency and performance. Using too many guides does the same thing.
You want your guides to be just large enough to pass the required line and any connecting knots or loops. Any larger than that is not necessary. You also want to use enough guides to provide adequate stress distribution for the blank. A general rule of thumb for most rods is to use one guide per foot of rod length plus a tip-top. Obviously this will vary depending upon the type of rod and whether you are building a casting, spinning, surf, troll or fly rod.
Guide spacing or placement needs to be optimized for each specific blank. This is why any guide placement or spacing charts should only be used as a starting point and not as exact spacing for your particular blank. You will want to tape on a set of guides and load the rod in order to make sure that the line doesnıt touch the rod when it is heavily loaded. Nor do you want the line creating sharp angles or flat spots between each guide. If such is the case, you need to adjust the number of guides you are using and/or adjust the spacing of the guides already in use.
More specific answers to guide sizing and spacing can be found by doing a search on the main boardıs archives.
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10. Is it possible to slow down the action by adding more guides to the blank?

This is a common misconception among both rod builders and fishermen. Action, or taper, is inherent in the design and final structure that is the rod blank. You cannot make a fast action rod any less fast by adding additional guides. What you will accomplish by adding these extra guides/weight, is the reduction of efficiency and performance of the rod blank, making it feel softer and causing it to react more slowly and dampen less quickly.

The best analogy I can make for you is to compare your situation with that of a high performance sports car. Let's say you find this car to accelerate too quickly, stop too abruptly and corner too precisely. So you toss a few hundred pounds worth of sand bags into the back seat. Suddenly, the car won't accelerate as quickly, will take longer to stop and won't corner as nicely. You haven't changed the specs of the car one bit - the engine still retains the same amount of power, the suspension works the same, the disc brakes rotors are the same size, etc., etc. But you have adversely affected its performance by adding all that extra weight and reduced its overall efficiency.

If what you want is a softer rod that reacts more slowly and dampens less quickly, then adding these extra guides will certainly help you towards that end. But it will still be a fast action rod, just less efficient than it was before you added the extra weight. If you truly want a rod with a slower action, I would suggest purchasing such a creature to begin with. And if what you are looking for is simply a softer feel and less responsive rod, then drop down a level or two in the modulus department and you should have what you want.
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11. Will using double footed guides make a rod stiffer?

Actually, it will make the act softer overall. All guides, whether single or double footed, will soften a rod to some degree as the weight they add has a greater effect on rod efficiency than does any stiffening that does occur between the guide feet.

Let's put this into perspective. Let's say you're building a simple 6 foot spinning rod. I'd guess you're going to use about 6 guides or so and to make things interesting let's assume they are of ultra-stiff frame construction. What is the total area between the guide feet? Add up that space on each guide and I'll bet you'll come up with a combined total of something less than 3 inches. So on a total rod length of 72 inches you're going to stiffen less than 3 inches! In other words, the total amount of stiffening going on is pretty much immaterial - you'll never notice it.

But you will notice the reduction in rod efficiency caused by the overall weight increase made when you added those guides. The bottom line is that this reduction in efficiency caused by the weight of the guides will have an overall greater effect than any few inches of stiffening will.
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12. Is there any difference between glue and adhesive?

If you want to get technical, there is a difference between a glue and an adhesive. In the strictest sense of the words, glues are based on polymers made from natural sources, while adhesives are based on polymers that are chemically synthesized. As an example, Elmers is really a glue, but an epoxy is technically an adhesive. In most cases, the terms glue and adhesive are used interchangeably by nearly everyone. So If you are instructed to use an epoxy glue, you can be certain that while the terminology is incorrect, the intended product will work fine.
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13. How tightly should my guides be wrapped?

The general rule of thumb is that once wrapped, you should be able to move/align them with slight sideways pressure. If you cannot move them without undue stress and strain, they are too tight and could possibly damage the blank under use. Wrap them snug, but not overly tight and you should be okay.
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14. Do I need to wrap the ferrule in any way?

Yes, you should make what is known as a "ferrule reinforcement wrap" on all ferrules, both of the tip-over-butt style and the spigot/plug style. Use A thread and wrap tightly for a length that is equal to roughly twice the diameter of the ferrule opening. Make sure to get the wrap close to the edge, within 1mm if possible, as this is were any split-out would begin.
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15. What can I use to take up the space between my reel seat and the blank?

Most commercially made rods utilize spacers made from masking tape. Tape is quick and easy for making spacers but may not be the best product for this job.

Fiberglass drywall tape is a better alternative as the open grid allows epoxy to flow down into and throughout the structure. Bands of rod wrapping thread also make good spacers. For taking up larger amounts of space, arbors made from commercially available "brick foam" (commonly referred to as "graphite arbors") are available. Arbors can also be made from cork or wood.
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16. What is the best adhesive to use for rod building?

There are several that will work well. Any of the liquid 2-part slow cure epoxies are excellent for all around rod building chores. Gel-type epoxies such as Rod Bond and Kardol also work well and do not run or drip out of assembled joints. 5-minute type epoxies are normally reserved for use in mounting tip-tops. Hot-melt glue is also used for mounting tip-tops, but can allow the top to move or spin if the rod is kept or stored in areas of high temperature.
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17. Are the high modulus graphite rods brittle and do they break easily?

I won't argue the fact that today's high modulus graphite rods are not as durable as rods made from lower modulus fibers of a few years ago. But the decrease in durability is not the result of "brittleness" as might be suggested. The first graphite used for the production of fishing rods had a much higher modulus, although a much lower tensile-strength, than fiberglass. Still, its strain-rate was strong enough to provide adequate durability and its higher modulus made it extremely sensitive. In those early days of graphite rod making, it was hard to climb the ladder to even higher modulus graphites because as the modulus increased, the strain-rate decreased. Put simply, the stiffer they got, the more brittle they got, just as you suggest.

But a graphite fiber known as IM6 changed all this. With IM6, not only did you have a higher modulus, but a higher strain-rate as well. For the first time it was possible to produce a lighter, more sensitive rod without losing durability due to brittleness. Most of the high modulus graphite fibers used in blank making today are higher both in modulus AND strain rate than is IM6. As such it would be incorrect to refer to them as being brittle, even when compared to early graphite or fiberglass. Still there is no doubt that it is easier to break a high modulus graphite rod than it is to break a fiberglass rod.

If it's not due to brittleness, what is responsible then? The answer is fairly simple. With a fiber that is stiffer by weight, you don't need to use as much of it to achieve the same stiffness, as you would need if using a lower modulus fiber. So you now have less material in the blank which normally translates into thinner blank walls. Thinner walls won't take the amount of impact that thicker ones will without damage being done. Yes, you can reduce the diameter and beef up the walls, but you lose some stiffness by doing that and then have to add more fiber to make up for it and... well you just start to back up at that point.

So the fact is, most modern high modulus rods aren't brittle, but they do possess thinner walls than their contemporaries of several years ago. They have been designed to offer the highest level of overall performance possible while still offering what is hoped to be adequate durability.

If you or your customers are breaking many of the rods you build on really high modulus rods, the fault lies in how the rods are being handled. Unless greater care is given in the use and handling of these rods, you would be well advised to drop back to a lower modulus series of blanks that are better able to withstand being dropped or banged around. As in so many things, you must sometimes be willing to give up one thing in order to get another. With the very highest modulus rods, you give up the ability to really beat and bang the thing around, but you gain a much more efficient fishing tool. Somewhere out there, you will find a blank series that will withstand the punishment you have decided to give it, but understand that this increased durability will come at the price of some loss in performance.
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18. What does the term "Action" refer to when used to describe a fishing rod?

Used within the confines of fishing rod terminology, "action" is the term which describes a blank's taper or relationship of butt to tip diameter/size/ power. From that you gain an idea of where most of the blank's initial flex will occur.

A fast action rod will flex initially in the upper 1/3rd of its length. A medium or moderate action rod will bend initially in the upper 1/2 of its length. A slow action rod will bend initially over its entire length.

Some rod builders and many fishermen, do mistakenly refer to Action as Speed. Speed, however, is better described by Damping which references how quickly a blank recovers or stops after being set in motion. (The technical definition of Damping refers to any system which when set in motion, creates a force which inhibits that motion. There is more on the term and how it is used in reference to fishing rods in earlier issues of RodMaker.) It would be a mistake to use the term Action to describe Speed, as the terms would then make no sense except within their own material categories.

For instance, speaking across the board and including the highest modulus graphites, it would be impossible to have a fast action bamboo or fiberglass rod when compared against a high modulus graphite. Neither is going to recover as quickly as the graphite rod and thus the term "fast action" would have no constant meaning. But we know that such things as fast action bamboo and fiberglass rods do exist, and this is because the correct use of the term refers to the blank's taper - butt to tip relationship - and where the initial flex of the rod takes place, not recovery speed. This is something that is constant, regardless of the material used to construct the blank.

Thus we say that Action is taper while Speed relates more to recovery or damping. The two are not the same, although it is true that fast action rods will ordinarily recover more quickly than slow action rods of the same material will. This may be where some of the confusion between the two terms has arisen. Normally when you see the terms Fast, Medium and Slow listed in the various blank catalogs, you are looking at the description of a blank's taper and where you can expect most of the initial flex to occur. Speed ratings are rarely given and are best arrived at by thoughtful examination of the material used in the blank's construction.
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19. How can I remove a guide from my rod?

Use a razor blade to slice through the epoxy and thread on the top of the guide foot/feet. (NEVER cut against the blank, only on top of the metal guide surface.) Peel off as much of the wrap as you can. Then try to grab a strand of thread just off the end of where the guide foot was and unwind the remainder of the wrap.

Most of the epoxy will have been removed when you removed the thread. Some, however, may remain at the edge/s where the wrap was. Use a hair dryer to gently soften this epoxy and with your fingernail or a plastic butter knife, scrape or peel this remaining bit of finish off the blank.
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20. How should I go about mounting EVA or Hypalon grips? Should I heat or boil the grips to make them stretch?

There is absolutely no need to boil the grips nor is there any reason to use any sort of lubricant to install them. Neither is required if you put your adhesive in the correct place. Do this -

1. Drop your grip over the rod tip and let it come to rest. Mark the spot where it stops.

2. Remove the grip and apply your epoxy mostly ABOVE this point. Trail a bit down the blank to the intended resting place, but again, most of the epoxy should be above the point where the grip stopped.

3. Bring the grip down over the blank and epoxy and twist and turn it so that the inside of the grip is fully coated with epoxy. Now grasp the top edge of the grip with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze it as if to create a seal around the blank with the top edge of the grip. Now slide it into place, holding that seal the whole time.

4. As you approach the final resting place (within maybe an inch or two) switch your hand hold from the top to the bottom edge of the grip in order to "pull" the grip into place and restore it to its original length. Pushing the grip on tends to compress it and shorten its length, this motion will restore the original length.

5. Clean up the blank with denature solvent alcohol.

That's about it. You can usually get a grip to stretch its inside diameter about twice the original size in the smaller ID's and about 1.2 to 1.5 times on the larger ones. Always opt for a grip with an ID just smaller than the OD of the blank where it will reside, if possible.
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21. I applied my two-part epoxy to my thread wraps and even after 2 or 3 days it is still tacky. What went wrong and what can I do about it?

An epoxy finish that will not cure even after several days at normal room temperature is not likely going to cure, ever. The most common culprit behind a tacky finish is improper measuring or mixing of the resin and hardener.

It is critical to measure an exact 50/50 mixture. Being off by just a little, either by accident or on purpose (some people add more hardener in the mistaken belief that it will cause their finish to cure more quickly - it won't.) will usually result in a finish that remains tacky indefinitely. By properly measuring and mixing a new batch of finish and then applying a thin coating on top of what you have now, your finish should then cure in the proper fashion.

The syringes supplied or offered by the finish manufacturers are your best bet for getting an accurate mix. (Syringes bought from other sources are possibly contaminated with silicones or other non epoxy compatible substances and should not be used.) Mix a full 3cc's of each epoxy component, even if you do not plan to use it all. A larger mix allows for a greater margin of error an is not as adversely affected by tiny measuring error as a smaller total mix will be. Stir slowly for at least 3 minutes or until the mix turns completely clear. To extend pot life and help in releasing any bubbles introduced during mixing, pour your epoxy out onto a piece of aluminum foil and work from there.
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22. I am finding that custom rod building is addictive. Is there any known cure?

Sadly, no.
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Books for the rod builder:
(Available from most of the sponsors on the message board page.)

Advanced Custom Rod Building by Dale Clemens
Building Your Own Fly Rod by Art Scheck
Complete Book of Tackle Making by Boyd Pfeiffer
Custom Graphite Fly Rod Design and Construction by Skip Morris
Fiberglass Rod Making by Dale Clemens
Fundamentals of Building a Bamboo Fly Rod by Maurer & Elser
Hand Crafting a Graphite Fly Rod by L.A.Garcia
Rod Building Guide by Tom Kirkman
Start to Finish Fly Rod Building by Seiders & Smith (Flex Coat)
Step by Step Rod Building by Flex Coat
The Technology of Fly Rods by Don Phillips


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