Friday, May 2, 2008

Building a Fly Rod: Part 2 - Tools and Supplies

You have now decided to build your own fly rod. You go to stores, look online, and ask a lot of questions. Just what do you need to buy anyhow? Do I need a powered rod wrapper with foot pedal? How about a drying rack with multiple motors?

As if that was not enough, what about the components themselves? What blank should I buy? How about a reel seat? What size tip?

Depending on who you talk to you will get different answers when you ask what is needed. The items below are what I use when building a rod.


Lets talk about the tools you will need first. Here are the items I use when building a rod.

Tools Used. Not Shown – Tape Measure.

  1. Wrapping station. This is not a requirement. For many years I did not use one. I eventually built my own so that I would have a place to keep everything organized.

  2. Thread tensioner. Some sort of thread tension system is needed. However, it does not have to be complicated. Some folks buy elaborate thread tension systems, others simply place a book on the thread between the rod and the spool. I have even heard of someone sitting on the thread to add tension. This gives a whole new meaning to the term Butt Wrap. I use an inexpensive thread tensioner that is basically a screw with a spring on it. It has a peg on the bottom designed to sit in a hole drilled in a block of wood. You can see one of them in the photo above. I think they were about $5 each.

  3. Razor blade. A sharp blade is a must. Some folks use X-Acto knives. I use a single edge razor blade.

  4. Masking tape. A lot of non-permanent marking will be taking place. Masking tape is excellent for this. The tape shown above is blue painters tape. It leaves less residue when removed from the blank.

  5. Scissors. You will be cutting a lot of tape. Have some scissors nearby.

  6. Tip glue. This is for gluing the tip on the rod. I have heard of folks using a hot glue stick also. I have always used the rod tip glue – it has worked well for me. It also does not hurt to have some of this in your stream side kit along with an extra tip to make a quick, on-site repair in the unfortunate event your rod tip is broken while out on the water

  7. Cork reamer. You will need this to file the handle so it fits the blank. For years I used round files that I had available. These worked fine, or so I thought. I finally bought a cork reamer. It greatly reduced the time I was spending filing out the grips, and the handles fit the blanks much better. I highly recommend a cork reamer.

  8. Mixing cups. You will need to mix epoxy and rod finish. Mixing cups are handy to have, although not a necessity. Many folks mix the items on foil.

  9. Small brushes. I use these for putting the rod finish on when I am done. You can also use a small plastic spatula designed for the purpose.

  10. Measuring tape (not shown). The rod blank will need to be marked at certain positions. A tape measure (or measuring stick) is essential.

  11. Drying motor and chuck. This is a slow (typically 6-12 rpm) motor that slowly turns the rod after the finish is applied. This allows the finish to level on the wraps for a nice look. I have built many rods without a motor, simply setting the rod on soup cans placed on the table. Then turning the rod ¼ turn every 15 minutes until the finish starts to setup.

These are the tools I use. Many other tools are available. But in reality not many tools are really required. And of the ones that are, there is a good chance you already have something around the house that can fill in as a substitute.


Now that you have an idea of the tools required, what about the supplies themselves? Here are the parts I am using for my current project.

Supplies Used to Build a Fly Rod

  1. Blank. Choose the blank based on the rod you want. If you are fishing for trout in mountain streams, a 3-5 weight 8'6” rod blank may be just what you need. If you are fighting 100+ pound Tarpon in the ocean, you may want to look at a 12 weight 10' rod blank. I am building a rod for Bass and saltwater flats (Bonefish, Redfish) fishing. I selected an 8 weight, 9' Sage Z-Axis blank. I selected a 4 piece as much of the fishing will require that I carry the rod on a plane.

  2. Handle. Typically these are made of cork, although there are many different materials available. The style shown above is a Full Wells grip.

  3. Reel seat. These range from very plain to extremely exotic. For this rod I chose an aluminum reel seat. I usually use wooden reel seats on my fly rods, but this rod needs to stand up to saltwater use.

  4. Reel seat end cap or fighting butt. A fighting butt is shown above, and is typical on rods 7 weight an above. But it is your rod. If you do not want one you don't have to have it. Or if you want a fighting butt on a 3 weight, it is your choice. Many reel seats include an end cap sized to fit.

  5. Guides. The fly line needs to be held by something! I selected a set of titanium coated guides. This particular set includes 10 snake guides and 2 stripper guides. I will not use the stripper guides included in the set, I have purchased larger stripper guides for this rod.

  6. Tip. The tip is typically not included with the guides. This needs to be purchased in a size to fit the blank you selected. Most blank vendors will give you the tip size required for the blank you order.

  7. Hook keeper. This is not required, but I typically put them on my rods. Most hook keepers are simply a U shaped eye that you tie on near the handle. I personally like a hook keeper made by Fuji that folds against the blank when not in use.

  8. Winding check. This is a small ring that slides over the blank and sits against the front of the handle. It is nice to hide any gaps that may occur if the handle was not reamed well. Many winding checks are rubber rings that can be stretched to fit the blank. The winding check shown above is a small silver ring. Because this particular winding check cannot be stretched it is important to have the diameter of the blank where the check will sit against the handle.

  9. Thread. This is what you use to tie the guides onto the blank. Two colors are shown above. I am using a standard size A thread for the main wraps. I have also purchase a metallic thread that will be used for trip wraps. You can be as plain or ornate as you wish on the wraps – it is your rod.

  10. Epoxy. This will be used to glue the handle and reel seat into place.

  11. Rod finish. This is put on over the thread to hold the guides in place. This is the last step in building the rod.

You may also use color preserver on the threads if you wish. By applying the color preserver before the finish the thread will maintain its color. Without color preserver the thread will typically go a very dark color. This is similar to the color the thread turns when you get it wet. The metallic thread does not need color preserver.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of the supplies you will need. If you are building your first rod you may want to look into a kit that includes all the components. It is the simplest way to get that first rod under your belt.

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