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Home Custom Fly Rods How a Composite Fly Rod is Made

How Graphite and Fibrerglass Fly Rods are Made



     For those of you who are just now entering the sport of fly fishing, you may find yourself bewildered by the wide range of graphite fly rods available on the market today ranging from those found at chain stores like Wal-Mart to top-end rods found at exclusive fly shops from manufactures such as Orvis, Winston, Sage, and Thomas & Thomas. Consequently, you may find yourself wondering why these fly rods have such a wide range in price?


     Well, the answer to that question is that manufacturing a good graphite fly rod requires a considerable amount of technical expertise, skilled manual labor, and special materials and equipment. Thus, inexpensive graphite fly rods employ inexpensive materials, cheap labor, and poor quality control whereas top quality graphite fly rods employ top quality materials, highly skilled labor, and meticulous quality control.



Custom Fly Rods



     In addition, the process of designing and producing a graphite fly rod is technically demanding and requires special equipment. To start with, a manufacturer must first decide what length and line weight the rod is to be designed for and then they must develop a taper that meets those specifications. Therefore, they start by choosing either a progressive taper or a compound taper design. The progressive taper design employs a gradual, even, taper that progresses smoothly from the tip to the butt of the rod blank. Whereas a compound taper employs a graduated taper from tip to butt that results in the rod blank being stiffer in the areas where it is needed and less stiff in the areas where it is not (more on this subject later). Then, once the desired specifications are determined, a tapered steel rod called a mandrel is precisely machined to meet the needed specifications and then the building process starts.


     The first step in the actual building process is to cut a piece of graphite cloth which has been impregnated with a special resin, into the shape of a triangle. In the case of progressive tapers, the three sides of the triangle all have straight edges but, in the case of the compound taper only two sides of the triangle have straight sides while the third side will have a compound edge consisting of several straight edges.



Rod Taper Diagram



     Then, after the graphite cloth is cut to the required size and shape, it is laid out flat on a large table and the steel mandrel is placed adjacent to the side of the triangle (left hand edge in the illustration above) and then it is tacked to the mandrel using a special iron to heat and melt the resin. Next, the graphite cloth is carefully and tightly rolled around the mandrel. Once all of the cloth has been rolled around the mandrel, a special type of heat resistant tape is carefully and tightly wrapped around the cloth to hold it in place. Next, the steel mandrel with the graphite cloth and tape wrapped around it is hung tip down from a large rack along with several other mandrels and then the rack is rolled into a large oven. Next, the temperature of the oven is slowly brought up to the point where it causes the resin in the graphite cloth to liquefy while the mandrel and the tape act as a mould. After the resin is liquefied, the oven is turned off and the resin is allowed to cool and harden. After the oven has cooled, the rack is removed and the steel mandrels are taken down and the tape is removed. Then, the mandrel with the graphite cloth still wrapped around it is placed in a special machine which removes the mandrel from inside of the graphite cloth leaving a hollow, tapered, graphite tube. Next, the hollow graphite tube is placed in a special sanding machine which very carefully sands the outside surface of the tube until it is smooth to remove the tape marks. Last, the hollow graphite tube is painted with a special type of paint and then the blank is placed in another special type of oven which then heats and hardens the paint; thus creating a finished graphite rod blank.


    Once the finished rod blank is created, it is passed along to a rod builder who then assembles the various components to create a finished fly rod. In order to do this, the rod builder must first find and mark the rod blank's spine which is the place on the inside of the hollow graphite tube where the edge of the graphite cloth was originally tacked to the mandrel. This edge creates a line down the inside of the hollow rod blank which is slightly stiffer than the rest of the blank. The reason that finding the spine is important is that when the rod blank is bent (loaded) during casting, the hollow tube is inclined to twist ever so slightly to one side or the other because one side is stiffer than the other side and if the guide are not placed on the blank correctly, it can adversely affect the accuracy of the cast. In order to find this spine, the rod builder uses a special tool called a "spine finder" which consists of a hollow plastic tube with a ring of ball bearings encased between two steel rings placed at each end. Thus, each section of the rod blank is inserted into the spine finder and gently bent which causes the rod blank to rotate in such a way that the spine moves to the bottom side of the bend because the spine is slightly stiffer than the rest of the hollow tube and thus is stretches less when the blank is bent. Once the spine is found, it is marked for future reference.



Spine Finder

Spine Finder



     Next, the rod builder assembles the sections of the blank and determines how far in front of the grip he wants to place the stripping guide. Then, he measures the distance from the stripping guide to the tip of the rod and uses a formula based upon the distance from the stripping guide to the tip of the rod blank and the total number of guides to be applied to determine the exact placement of each guide. Next, the rod builder starts with the tip section of the rod and proceeds to precisely place each guide in the correct position along the blank on the side opposite the spine and then uses either masking tape or hot melt glue to temporarily hold the guide in place. Once all of the guides are correctly placed along the length of blank and temporarily secured, the  rod builder performs a "static deflection test" to be certain that the each guide is placed correctly. To perform this static deflection test, the assembled sections of the blank are placed back into the spine finder and a piece of string is run through all of the guides and then pulled tight; thus causing the rod to bend as it would when an angler is fighting a fish. This allows the rod builder to note any sections of the blank where the rod is not bending smoothly and to adjust the placement of the guides accordingly to correct the problem. Once the placement of the guides has been tested and adjusted if need be, the blank is then placed in a special jig and the guide's feet are wrapped in place using a special type of thread to secure them to the rod blank.



Graphite Rod Ferrule



     Once  all of the guides on the top sections of the rod have been wrapped in place, work can begin on the bottom section of the blank. The first step in assembling the bottom section of the rod is to attach the reel seat. In order to do this, the diameter of the blank must first be built up to match the inside diameter of the reel seat. Thus, an arbor is secured to the blank which can be made of graphite, cork, or masking tape rings. Then the reel seat is slid onto the arbor and left in place temporarily. Next, a cork grip is selected and, using a special tapered reamer, the hole through the center of the grip is reamed out to match the size of the bank onto which it is being fitted so that it will fit tightly when slide down the blank and over the end of the reel seat. Then, the stripping guide is wrapped into place in the correct position. After the stripping guide is secured to the blank, the reel seat is removed, epoxy is applied to the arbor and the section of the blank where the grip is to be placed and the reel seat is slid back onto the arbor and rotated so that it matches up with the stripping guide. Then the grip is slid back down the blank and over the end of the reel seat and the epoxy is allowed to cure.


     Once the bottom section of the rod is assembled and all of the guides are wrapped into place, the rod builder next applies a coat of special epoxy to the wraps on each of the guides and allows it to cure thus finishing the rod. Last, the length of the rod and line weight it is designed for are marked on the blank above the grip and a coat of epoxy is applied over these markings and allowed to cure. Once this last step is complete, the rod is ready for the fisherman to use.



Cusom Fly Rod Butt Wrap



     Thus, as you can see, there are many intricate steps involved in making a graphite fly rod and the care with which each step is done, along with the quality of the materials involved, determines both the quality and the cost of the finished fly rod. Therefore, the old adage "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to graphite fly rods!



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