I have purchased a pre-made handle. You can also purchase cork rings and shape the handle yourself. Either option works fine. But no matter what you choose, the handle will probably not fit on the blank. You will need to ream the hole in the handle to fit the blank.
I used to use circular files that I had in my toolbox. Eventually I purchased a cork reamer. I should have purchased one much sooner – it is easier than the file, and the fit is better.
The cork reamer is tapered to match a rod blank. And it is very coarse, making quick work of the job.
Using the cork reamer, work your way through the handle a little bit at a time. After a few turns, back the cork reamer out. Repeat until the cork reamer has gone through the handle. I recommend you do this outside if possible. It makes quite a mess! Also take note that if it will ream cork, it will also ream the skin on your hand. Don't ask me how I know that!
Using the Cork Reamer
When the cork reamer is through the grip test the fit on the rod blank. The photo below shows the handle fitting on the blank, but it will not slide to its' final position.
Testing the Handle Fit
Keep reaming the handle until it fits properly. The handle should slide to the base of the blank, leaving enough of the clear for the reel seat. The proper fit is shown below.
Handle in Proper Position
Notice that the rod blank extends through the reel seat when done.
Handle and Reel Seat with Blank Extending Through the Reel Seat
On this rod I actually slid the handle down another approximately ¾ inch. This was to accommodate the fighting butt. The fighting butt inserts into the end of the reel seat, touching the end of the blank.
Handle and Reel Seat Installation
Now that the handle fits properly it is time to epoxy the handle and reel seat into place. The first thing you will probably notice is that the inner diameter of the reel seat is larger than the rod blank diameter. The rod blank will need to be built up to the correct size. There are graphite inserts that you can purchase. If you use these you will need to ream out the inside of the inserts so that the fit the blank properly. Another method is to use masking tape. When the epoxy is liberally applied it will hold properly.
Build up the blank in two locations. You want the space between for the epoxy. It will help set the tape into place. I like to build up the blank with a single piece of tape until it is too large for the reel seat. Then I pull some tape off, one wrap at a time, until the reel seat fits properly. I then do a dry fit of the handle and reel seat. With this dry fit in place, I place a small mark on the blank at the front of the handle so that I know the proper location when I put epoxy on the blank.
Blank Built up with Masking Tape
With the dry fit successful, it is time to mix the epoxy. I use a 5 minute quick set epoxy. With this reel seat and handle I will do the epoxy in two stages. The reel seat has an end ring that will be recessed into the handle. I will mix up one batch of epoxy and put the handle and end ring into place. Once these setup I will mix up a second batch and install the reel seat and fighting butt.
Mix the epoxy per directions. I use packets that contain the A and B mixtures in equal parts. I simply cut the ends and squeeze the contents of both packets into a mixing cup. After mixing apply epoxy to the blank where the handle will go. Do not apply any epoxy past the mark on the rod where the front of the handle will be, as it will be very difficult to clean off. With the epoxy on the blank slide the handle into place. I recommend that you cover whatever surface you are doing this on, as the spouse typically is not happy if you ruin the table.
With the handle in place I put a little epoxy in the recess and on the outside of the reel seat ring. The ring needs to be positioned correctly – there is a small cutout for the reel. This needs to be aligned with the spline of the blank. I carefully place the ring into the recess on the handle and let the epoxy set.
Handle and Reel Seat Ring Epoxied in Place
Once the epoxy has set I mix up a second batch of epoxy. I liberally apply the epoxy to the blank and masking tape. It is okay if there is a lot of epoxy on the tape – when you slide the reel seat on it will push the excess into the gaps. The reel seat is then slid into place. Note that some reel seats need to be aligned with the spline. This particular reel seat does not need to be aligned, as the ring in the handle recess has already been aligned.
Now that the reel seat is on, I apply some epoxy to the inside of the reel seat and onto the fighting butt. The fighting butt is slid into place. Any excess epoxy is quickly wiped off with a wet paper towel, and the epoxy is allowed to set.
Handle, Reel Seat, and Fighting Butt Installed
Close up of the Reel Seat and Fighting Butt
I am pleased with the components and final handle / reel seat layout on this rod.
Important note: This is typically the time to put the winding check on the rod. If you put the guides on first you will not be able to slide the winding check up against the front of the handle. I did not put it on at this point for this rod because I am doing a wrap underneath it, that will be shown later.