Good as new
  |  First Published: September 2003

ONE of the joys of rod building is being able to start with a handful of parts and end up with a finished product that you’ve built yourself. Equally rewarding is restoring an old favourite fishing rod, or one that’s been passed down to you – and that’s what I’m going to take you through now. The rod may be anything from an old cane rod to a solid fibreglass rod, but for the purpose of this exercise we’ll have a look at re-doing a fibreglass rod, hollow or solid.

The first thing you need to do is strip the rod back. Do this with care so you won’t damage the blank underneath the fittings.

Make sure that you have a good sharp blade in the Stanley knife. A cheap blade will dull and fold quickly, and you’re more likely to do damage with a blunt blade than a sharp one. Speed the few bucks extra to get a quality blade.

The guides come off first. Before you start hacking away though, put a pair of safety glasses on. Even though you’ll be cutting away from yourself, bits of old varnish and epoxy end up flicking out in all directions.

To minimise the likelihood of cutting into the blank while removing the old guides and binding, start by cutting along the top of the guide foot. That way, if you cut too deep the knife will only end up pressing against the steel frame of the guide.

With the binding off the guide frame, the guides usually just fall off. If this doesn’t happen just give the guide a bit of a wriggle and that should do the job. Next, unwind the rest of the bindings left where the guide was. Pull a loose end and the blank will spin around as the thread unravels. This way the sharp knife edge doesn’t come in contact with the blank.

To remove the tip, which is usually glued on, heat it slightly with a lighter. Make sure you heat only a little at a time, until the glue has softened enough for you to pull the tip off. Heat it too much and not only will it melt the glue holding the tip on, it will melt the resin in the blank and that few centimetres of tip will be no good – and all you can do then is cut it off. Take extra care on thin graphites. Sometimes it’s better to leave the tip on than try to remove it and possibly damage the blank.

As far as the butt assembly goes, you may not want to remove it all; it just depends on what sort of material is there. Old wood butts that extend up into the blank are best left on. Remove the old varnish from the wood, give it a bit of a sand and revarnish and you may be pleasantly surprised with the result. The older butts commonly used include red cedar, camphor laurel, Tasmanian oak and silky oak. If you sand back the silky oak and put a few coats on it looks magnificent.

Older rods have nickel-plated brass (or chrome) reel seats. You have two choices here – cut the old one off or give it a polish. If the seat is still in reasonable condition the best option is a good polish with some CLR from the hardware store. Pour the CLR onto some steel wool and start rubbing away. Most reel seats come up pretty well from this treatment. If you have some really old guides that you want to put back on the rod, drop them into a jar of CLR and they should come up fairly well.

To completely remove the old winch, use a coarse blade in the hacksaw and cut spirally around the winch, taking care not to cut beyond the thickness of the metal and into the blank. You’ll probably have to go up one way and down the other so that you get a crisscross pattern with the cut. Once you’ve done this, get in there with a screwdriver and twist the screwdriver blade sideways. This will pop open the gap and break the bond with the glue – usually!

Once that’s off you’ll find that some type of packing has been used to fit the reel seat on. The most common packing materials are string, cardboard and masking tape. While you can reuse the packing, as you’ve gone to all the trouble of pulling the rod down cut this old stuff off. With your sharp knife cut along the length of the blank to remove the packing, not down into it where you may cut into the blank. Always remember to cut away from you.

The grips are the easiest to get off. Use lengthwise cuts down the cork or Eva grip, the same as when you were removing the packing below the reel seat. If you’re using a longer blade the cut will be like removing a sliver of grip material as the longer blade will cover the width of the grip.

Some grips will just pop off (leaving you wondering how they ever stayed on there) while others have been glued on so well it’s quite a task to remove them. I always avoid cutting too close to the blank. While this is necessary sometimes, it’s very easy to cut just that little bit too deep and remove a lump of fibreglass. Be careful and take your time.

What you’ll have now is a bare blank that needs to be cleaned back before you start the rebuild, and that’s what I’ll cover in the next Rod Builder’s Corner. In the meantime, if you want to replace those old runners with the same kind in better condition, start looking around the second-hand shops and pawn brokers. You’ll be surprised at what you can pick up – and you can even add a few more old rods and reels to your collection to restore.

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