It’s all in the preparation
  |  First Published: December 2004

Most of the rod recipes I write up in Fishing Monthly are made on blanks that are readily available in Australia. However, it’s often hard to find a shop that carries even a half-decent range of rod blanks and components.

A good tackle shop will make the extra effort to track down what you’re after, but in many cases there’s a delay of a few months to get the blank you want, even for some Australian-made blanks. There’s not much we can do about that – it’s hard for the manufacturers to keep good stock of everything when the range is so extensive, and a run of each model usually needs to be done.

But if you want to have a go at rod building it doesn’t really matter what you build the first time around. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a tackle shop with a few blanks, try slipping down to the weekend markets or a second-hand shop. They often have good quality second-hand rods that just need some tarting up with new guides and thread work. That’s exactly how I started – with a few old bits and pieces to play with. That was nearly 30 years ago, and I still get a buzz out of building rods.

To help you get underway, I suggest that you start with a shorter rod of around 2m or so as you will find it easier to handle. If you’re buying a blank for the first time it’s also better to get one that’s designed for use with a spin or Alvey reel, as you’ll find it easier to work out the guide spacings. As long as you don’t go over the top, the final cost of the rod won’t be too high.

Like many hands-on hobbies, a lot of the skills you learn will come from your own trial and error as you progress to building first-class custom work. I guarantee that every experienced rod builder out there got as frustrated as you do with their first few attempts – especially at binding, when you end up with more thumbs than fingers, and binds that just keep on unravelling!

What will help you no end is careful preparation before each step in the building process. For starters, you shouldn’t expect a nice, smooth, clear epoxy finish if you start off with a dusty blank and eat greasy chips while you bind and drop cigarette ash everywhere. It just won’t happen.

Always have clean hands and try to avoid binding in hot, sweaty conditions. Clean the blank down with general purpose thinners or a silicon solvent to ensure the blank is clean and free of grime.

When you glue up, which does get messy, take the time and use a few rags to ensure that all the excess glue is removed. It’s much easier to remove wet than dry.

I like to grind a nice rounded leading edge on the feet of the runners. This makes them easier to bind on as the thread leads up the guide foot, and you’ll find that you’ll also get a better and more even laying of the thread. A good bed of thread leads to a better covering and laying of epoxy.

I highly recommend that you use a good quality FUJI guide. That way it’s there for good, and even if you do cut the threads off at a later date it’s more than likely a quick clean will see that runner good for plenty more seasons to come.

As far as threads go, I prefer to use Gudebrod thread as the colours are true and consistent. It’s easier to work with darker colours, and the more typical strong colours like blue, red and black are always good to work with as they contrast well with metallic gold trims.

There are three mainstream grades of thread: ‘A’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. ‘A’, being the finest of the three, is hard to use on a rough blank and is more often used on smooth blanks and custom work.

The mainstream binding is done on ‘C’ thread, though a lot of rod builders use ‘A’ thread underbinds and ‘C’ threads as overbinds.

‘D’ thread is pretty coarse and is typical of the cheaper small rolls of threads that are used for repair work. On the finished rod you can still see the coarseness of ‘D’ thread, whereas a rod finished in ‘A’ thread looks like one big block and often fools non rod-builders into thinking it’s a piece of tape wrapped around the rod.

Keeping everything clean and tidy will pay off when it comes time to epoxy the rod. When epoxying, mix it on glass, or in a glass jar. Mix slowly but thoroughly, as a fast mix will see the introduction of a lot of small bubbles which will end up trapped in the finished job.

The first coat should always be ultra-thin, soaking right into the thread. Three or four thin coats will give a much better finish than one thick one. Don’t epoxy in a windy or dusty area, and allow the rod to keep turning for at least four hours, or longer in cooler areas.

If you take your time all the way through, you should be very happy with the end result. That old second-hand rod might just end up being your favourite.

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