Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Building a Fly Rod: Part 7 - Putting Finish on the Wraps

The rod is almost complete. The handle and guides are all on the blank. You are ready to take it out for a spin....almost. The next step is to put the finish on the rod.

The finish is typically an epoxy finish that locks the threads and guides into place. If you choose to use a color preserver it should be applied to the threads before you apply the finish. I am not using color preserver on this rod. I like the way the thread darkens without the preserver.

Remove any Tag Ends

Some of the wraps probably still have noticeable thread sticking out where you cut them with a razor. These should be removed before you put the finish on. If they are left they will be seen on the final rod.

To remove the tag ends you apply heat. This is best done with an alcohol burner that will not leave carbon residue on the threads as a match can. Rotate the rod over the flame and you will see the tag ends disappear. Keep the rod moving when it is over the flame – you do not want to burn the wrap. If you do burn a wrap cut it off and redo.

Setup to Apply Finish

You now need to set up the rod so that you can apply the finish. This rod is a 4 piece rod. I have decided to finish it in two parts – I will put finish on the bottom two sections and let it dry, then I will put the finish on the top two sections.

I am using a drying motor. This is a small motor with a chuck attached to hold the rod. It turns at about 6 rpm. The rod is attached to the chuck using rubber bands. The other end rests on a stand. Make sure an empty portion of the blank is resting on the stand so that you can easily apply the finish to the wraps.

Handle Attached to the Drying Motor

Tip of Section Resting on a Stand

When the rod is attached to the motor make sure it is level. The finish is self-leveling. To obtain the best results with the finish the rod must be level.

If you do not have a motor get some soup cans and set them on the tables. With the rod resting on the cans you can apply the finish and rotate the rod by hand.

Apply the Finish

It is now time to apply the finish. The finish comes in two parts and must be mixed prior to use. I am using packets that contain a predetermined amount of finish. I cut both packets and squeeze the contents into a mixing cup. The contents should be mixed well. As you mix you will notice air bubbles forming. This is normal. Give the finish a couple minutes for the air bubbles to go away. You do not want to apply the finish with the air bubbles present – they will also be present in the final rod.

Once mixed start to apply the finish. I use small brushes to apply the finish. Do not put too much finish on at one time! Let me repeat that – do not put too much finish on at one time! When the rod is done you want a nice, smooth, level finish. If you put too much finish on you will end up with football shaped wraps instead of nice, level ones. How much is too much? Try to put as little on as you can while still covering the threads. You are better off doing multiple coats with a small amount of finish than trying to put a lot of finish on in fewer coats. On this rod when I was done with the first coat you could still see the threads. I actually put three light coats of finish on the rod to get the nice, even coats I wanted.

Although using a brush, I try not to brush the finish on. I want to apply the finish. With a small amount of finish on the end of the brush I hold it against the threads while the rod turns. Remember that the finish is self leveling. It can level itself much better than you can. Do not try to add finish here, or remove it there to make it level. Let the finish do its' work. As long as you do not apply too much it will level itself.

Apply the finish to each of the wraps. Do not rush the process. If you do not finish the wraps before the finish starts to get tacky set the finish aside and mix up a new batch.

The pictures below show the finish application to some of the wraps. The photos are actually of the third coat. You can see how dark the thread went after the first coat of finish was applied. The metallic accent thread retained its' red color.

Applying the Finish to the Hook Keeper and Winding Check

Applying the finish to the Decorative Wraps

I like to extend the finish slightly beyond the wrap onto the blank itself. I also make sure I get some finish underneath the guide where the wrap stops. On the ferrule wraps I try to get finish as close to the end of the blank as I can without getting any finish inside the blank.

Here is a photo of the rod after the first coat was complete. If you look closely at the hook keeper you can still see threads. After the second coat the threads were no longer visible. And the third coat leveled the wraps and gave it a nice, finished look.

First Finish Coat Applied

With the drying motor I let the rod dry overnight. The finish is set up enough the next day to remove the section from the motor and do a coat of finish on the next section. I alternate the sections until I have three coats on all the wraps.

If you are using the soup can method apply the finish. Turn the rod 90 degrees every 15 minutes for a couple hours. After a couple hours start turning the rod 180 degrees every 30 – 45 minutes. As the finish sets up you can turn the rod less and less.

Sign the Rod

This is an optional step. But it is a custom rod that you built. With the rod complete I like to write my name, month, and year on the rod. Actually I like to have my wife write my name, month, and year on the rod. On this rod this was written opposite the Sage logo, in between the decorative wraps.

Using a fine-tip paint pen, that you can procure from a craft store, write on the blank. If you are not happy quickly wipe it off. Note that a cork reamer makes a great practice piece for this.

After the paint has set a couple days I like to mix up some finish and apply a very light coat over the signature. Make sure it is light so that it does not cover the circumference of the blank.


Now that the finish is on the rod wait for it to dry. I like to give it 4 – 5 days to make sure it is completely set. In some instances the mix may be off, and the finish will not dry. It will remain tacky. If this happens mix up another batch of finish and apply another light coat on top.

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