Thursday, October 18, 2012

What I did last weekend (and it wasn't fishing)

Last weekend I didn't go fishing.  It's not because I didn't want to go but I had signed up and paid for something in the spring that would keep me from fishing this weekend.

I was in Wisconsin.  Milwaukee to be exact at the Rod Building for Beginners Class.

I walked into the hotel and turned into a conference room where I was told to write my name on a name tag and pick a solid color thread and a metallic color thread.  Then I was to sit at a station that didn't have someone sitting at it already.  

I have to say I was excited.  I was going to learn something new; I love learning new things!  I wasted no time in unpacking my plastic baggie of parts.  There was a cork handle, rubberized cork butt-cap, cork foregrip, reel seat, a bag full of guides plus a tip-top guide.  Another small baggie contained small slices of surgical tubing.

The instructors began the class by handing out 6'6" medium action rod blanks.  Long, tapered, dark-grey in color and nearly impossible to keep from poking the rod tip into the ceiling in the conference room.  We then learned one of the things that makes a custom rod better than a factory produced rod.  A factory decides where to place the guides based on the straightest side of the blank.  A rod builder figures out which side of the rod has the spine, marks it, then places guides based on how the blank naturally bends. This means a custom rod works with the naturally stronger part of the rod on the back so when under the load of a fish the custom rod will be stronger.

Next we took our cork handle and slid it down the rod as far as it would go without forcing it.  Pull the handle off the rod blank and ream out the center hole with a textured-grit stick or an Extreme Reamer

Once the hole was large enough to slide down the rod to the base without slipping off it was time to mark a line on the blank at the top of the handle.  Next the reel seat gets slid down on top of the handle to make another mark and finally the cork foregrip was reamed out to fit snugly atop the reel seat.  Another mark was made at the top of the foregrip.  Then all pieces were removed and we received a cardboard square with a glob of epoxy (quick setting since this was a one day class) and two popsicle sticks.

The lines I had marked before were there so I could "paint" on a layer of epoxy from the base of the rod blank to the first line.  Once epoxy was on the blank I had to slide the newly reamed handle back down the length of the rod and twist it around in the epoxy to allow it to penetrate all the cracks and grooves in the cork before it landed in it's home at the base of the rod blank.  With some of the extra epoxy I spread a layer inside the butt cap and twisted it to its final resting place at the base of my rod.

For the reel seat we used masking tape to act as arbors.  The instructors all work at MudHole so when one told us to use masking tape another corrected him and called it specialized rod building tape.  He was joking of course just like he was when he referred to the the plain old razor blades in our kit as special rod building razor blades only available from  Once the reel seat fit snugly but not tightly over each arbor.  This is the first time I need to pay attention to the line I drew when I figured out where the spine is.  I drew a few inches lengthwise in china marker on the inside curve of the blank because I was building a spinning rod.  

I received another glob of epoxy and two more sticks.  I buttered up each arbor with a liberal coat of epoxy and globbed more into the spaces between the epoxy-buttered tape arbors.  Sliding and twisting the reel seat down the epoxied arbors until it rested against the cork handle and the dots that show where the reel will go are lined up with the china marker line.  This needs to line up with the backbone so the reel centers on it once the rod is complete.

The files we were given in our pile of tools and clamps were used to grind down the front edge of all of our guide feet so they were thin.  That allows me to place the guides then wrap them in nylon thread to hold them in place once I mark their locations on the blank.

I melted a sliver of hot glue into the tip-top guide and twisted it on the top of the blank.  The rest of the guide locations were marked on a long strip of paper then transferred to my blank with china marker.  For the purposes of the class this was a decent placement for all guides but was layed out to allow favor the last guide closest to the reel.  The guide closest to the reel needs precise placement and can be best tailored to the custom rod by knowing what make/model/size of reel will be used with it.  In this case it was placed in as generic a location as possible to work with a wide range of fishing reels.  The small pieces of tubing get stretched down the length of the rod to each of the guide markings.  Then the guides are lined up so the front of the guide is even with the mark on the blank and the tubing is stretched up the guide to hold it in place.

The solid color thread I picked was set in a tension spring loaded contraption on the hand wrapping setup.  The first guide was lined up with the spool and the thread was wrapped around, crossed, then run down the blank and taped to it.  Now the rod is rotated or turned around to wrap the thread completely around the blank once, then again, then a few more times before the tag end is cut snug to the wrapped thread that is trapping it down.  More turning to advance the thread up the guide foot and up the guide until I need to cut the tubing or pull the tape off then wrap more until the guide starts going vertical.  

About five or six turns before I get to the part of the guide that starts upward from the foot I place a loop of thread on the bottom of the rod blank below the guide then wrap the five or six wraps up the guide.  Keeping the tension on the string I cut it from the spool then while keeping tension put the new tag end through the thread loop.  Finally I pull the tag end under the wraps to make it be trapped under the wraps on the bottom of the guide.  One careful cut with the razor blade makes the tag end disappear into the wrap.  Each guide was wrapped down to the blank then the metalic thread was used to accent and make smaller wrapped lines below the main guide wraps.

Instructors from MudHole were moving around the tables in the class offering assistance and their expertise in the rod building arts.  They wanted to be sure we were all progressing at a decent rate and also that we were understanding the steps we were learning and their importance in creating a quality custom rod.

After all the guides were wrapped I held the rod up to look up the rod.  I made an imaginary line from the tip-top guide to the dots in my reel seat.  All the guides were wiggled and adjusted to line up along this imaginary line.

The final step in the building process is to mix up some thread epoxy to seal in the threads, locking them in place so the guides don't move and so the threads don't unravel. This is done on a rod dryer.  A rod dryer is just a motor that turns at a very slow RPM.  The slow turning allows me time to paint the epoxy on the thread and over any decals or other wraps I do on the rod to seal them away from moisture and abrasion.

The class rods were put on a large spinning dryer which allowed half of the total rods in the class to load on to each one to spin all night.  This allows the epoxy to dry in a uniform round way as it doesn't stop spinning until the epoxy is dry.  At least in a perfect world it doesn't stop.  Some time during the night our dryers were unplugged and all the epoxy on our rods sagged leaving epoxy stalactites on each epoxied area.  These stalactites were clipped off the rods for us by the MudHole staff.  We received brief instruction on how to fix our rods to make them pretty but they were cured and functional so I could fish with it now if I wanted to.

So here are some pictures of my blog color themed rod; it's a 6'6" Medium power spinning rod.

Day two we were able to pick up our finished fishing rods and attend two sessions with the MudHole instructors where we got to observe two advanced techniques to add some visual appeal and further create the custom experience.

I enjoyed my time learning how to build rods so much I ordered some ice rod kits to build in the coming weeks.  Then my fellow DuPage Angler Pro Staff members are interested in rods built to their specifications.

I can already tell I'm going to enjoy this facet of the hobby just as I enjoy the catching facet.  I love to learn how to do new things and thanks to I can build custom fishing rods!