FLY ROD BUILDING CHECKLIST
FLY ROD BUILDING CHECKLIST:
_____RUNNING GUIDES (see chart below)*
_____STRIPPING GUIDES (at LEAST one)**
_____CORK RINGS OR PREFORMED CORK GRIP
_____ROD WINDER (OPTIONAL)
_____WINDING CHECKS (OPTIONAL)
*SAMPLE FLY GUIDE SPACING CHART
Rod Length and Guide Placement from the Tip Down to Center of Guide (in inches)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
6 1/2′ 4 9 15 21 28 35.5 45
7′ 4 9 14 19.5 25.5 32.5 40.5 50
7 1/3′ 4.5 9.75 15.75 22.5 30 38.25 47.25 57
7 1/2′ 4.5 9.5 15.75 22.5 30 38.5 48.5 59
7 3/4′ 4.5 9.5 15.75 22.5 30 37.5 45.5 54.5 65.5
8′ 4.5 9 15.25 21.75 29 37 45.75 55.25 65.5
8 1/2′ 4 9 15 22 30 39 49 60 71
9′ 4.5 9.5 15.25 21.75 29 36.5 44.75 54 64.5 76
9 1/2′ 4.5 9 14.5 21 28.5 37 47 57 70 83
10′ 4.5 9.75 15.75 22.75 30.75 39.25 48.25 57.5 67.75 78 89
** Recommendations of the blank maker should be used, if possible. Guides are usually tapered
from the size opening of the stripping guide down. The choice of guide sizes is pretty much up to
the desires of the rod builder. A short, freshwater rod might begin with a 10mm stripping guide
and taper down, while most saltwater rods are tapered from 16mm stripping guides on down.
FLY ROD BUILDING INSTRUCTIONS
These instructions were compiled from Red Stick Fly Fishers’ rod building articles and
instructions, along with some text and photographs taken from books and internet sources and
modified for content. Those sources include Larry Lee’s series of rod building articles from the
California Fly Fishers Unlimited newsletter, “On The Fly”, L.A. Garcia’s “How to Build A
Custom Fly Rod”, and Hook and Hackle’s rod building articles.
BASIC STEPS IN BUILDING A FLY ROD
1 – Prepping the blank: cleaning and finding approximate guide locations and seat/cork positions
2 – Prepping the guides: filing down the feet to a smooth, non-sharp edge
3 – Find spine (spline) on each section and mark blank.
4 – Establish reel seat and cork grip positioning using masking tape bushings and cork reamers.
5 – Glue seat and grip in place with waterproof epoxy. Allow to dry standing up.
6 – Temporarily place guides on blank with masking tape or other adhesive.
7 – Wrap guides, ferrules and hookkeeper.
8 – Smooth out wraps and straighten guides if necessary.
9 – Apply one or more coats of color preserver to wraps if desired.
10 – Apply one or more coats of rod finish to wraps until desired build-up is achieved.
PREPARATION OF THE BLANK
Clean the blank using a solvent, such as nail polish remover until the blank is smooth and free of
Assemble the blank sections together. Using a tape measure and a white marker, mark a dot at
the location where each guide will sit according to the Guide Spacing Chart. This is a temporary
mark only, and after the spine is located, the locations will be remarked properly. The purpose
of this temporary mark is to avoid putting “tape rings” that mark the spines in spots where the
guides will sit.
Once the temporary marks are made, disassemble the blank and make a wrap or two of masking
tape around each section of blank, at least a couple inches from the ends and from any dots
where guides will sit. These tape rings will be used to mark where the spine is.
PREPARATION OF THE GUIDES
Before you place the guides on the rod you must grind or file the guide feet. This will remove
any burrs or sharp edges which could cut thread or scratch the blank. It will also make it easier
for wraps to climb up and over the guide feet.
DETERMINING THE SPINE
The first major step in building a rod is determining the spine, or spline. Once determined, the
rod builder faces a decision – where to align the seat and guides. Since the seat is a fairly
permanent fixture, this decision will affect the casting and action for the life of the rod.
When creating a blank, materials are attached and wrapped around a mandrel. The spine is
usually the result of where the material is bonded to the mandrel, or where the material is
finished off, or both. The spine will resist bending.
Guide placement is based on the spine. Traditionally, guides have been placed on the side
opposite the spine, aka the belly. One school of thought suggests that lighter weight rods have
the guides placed on the belly (2 thru 6 weight lines) and heavier weight rods have the guides
placed on the spine. Guides on the belly help with tippet protection, while guides on the spine
allow anglers to lift up a lot of line off the water. For saltwater rods, the guides should always be
placed on the spine or the belly or else the finished rod may exhibit sideways torque. For
freshwater rods, some leeway on guide placement might be used, for example, blems with tip
curvature which you want to straighten out.
There are two methods for determining the spine:
(1) Lay the blank horizontal with the bigger end on a table. Use the left hand to put upward
pressure near the smaller end, and the right hand’s index finger about two-thirds down the
blank to maintain a mild bend. Then with the left hand turn the blank 360 degrees. You
should notice one, maybe two, “jumps” when turning. Try to find the critical spot where the
blank can jump left or right with the slightest turn. The spine will be on the inside curvature.
Mark the tape at that spot.
(2) Place the blank section standing up straight with the tip section at the top. Using the palm of
your hand, place downward pressure on the blank. The section will flex. The inside of the
curvature will be the belly, the outside will be the spine.
When marking the spine, beware. If you plan to place guides on the spine, no problem. If you
plan to place guides on the belly, then you don’t want your spine marks confused with your belly
marks. So make the spine marks small, or use a red pen. Then make the belly marks long and
using a black pen. How do you mark the belly after you’ve marked the spine? The belly will be
180-degrees, or opposite side, of the spine. Some rod builders eyeball it. A more secure method
is to use a donut ring and line one ring marker with the spine mark. The belly mark will be made
in line with the ring marker on the opposite side.
AFFIXING REEL SEAT AND CORK
Often the reel seat comes in pieces. It’s better to glue the pieces together prior to affixing onto
the blank then trying to glue everything at once. Using sand paper, rough up the areas where the
wood insert will overlap. You might also use tiny strips of masking tape to insure a tight fit, and
give the glue something to permeate. Have a solvent and paper towels handy to clean up any
glue that oozes to the outside.
Once the seat is assembled, place the reel seat – with end cap or butt seat attached – on the end of
the butt section of the blank. Using a white marker, mark on the blank where the reel seat ends.
If adding a fighting butt, put just the fighting butt on the end of the butt section and mark where
it ends. This is to locate where the seat bushings will be added. Seat bushings will hold the seat
firmly in place.
Using masking tape, make three bushings spaced so that the first and last bushing are ¼-inch
from the reel seat markings. The middle bushing will be evenly between the two. To make a
bushing, wrap the masking tape round and round over itself. Continually check for fit by cutting
the tape, then sliding the reel seat on. If too many wraps, remove until snug. If too few wraps,
Put the reel seat (and fighting butt if applicable) back on the blank. Now slide the cork down the
tip end of the butt section. If it doesn’t reach the reel seat, then the cork reamer must be used.
Ream out a little bit at a time until the cork goes down to the seat very tight. If the cork slides
down the first time (too loose) – OR- either end of the cork grip has spacing between cork and
blank, then masking tape can be used to make a snug fit. The best solution for a loose grip is to
cut lengthwise 6 to 8 inches of tape about ¼” wide, then spriral that piece of tape such that there
are gaps where the blank is exposed. This will allow a snug fit, but also leave gaps where glue
can settle in.
Once everything is snug fit, it’s time to glue. A waterproof epoxy such as Flexcoat Rod Building
Epoxy, or Devcon or West Marine 30-minute epoxy is recommended. However, Gorilla Glue is
gaining popularity since it expands as it dries. This helps fill in gaps. Be careful since Gorilla
Glue does expand quite a bit. Too much glue and the stuff will ooze out the joints after all gaps
Allow the butt section to dry by standing in the corner. This is a good time to do other chores,
such as affixing the tip top.
AFFIXING THE TIP TOP
The tip top barrel is placed over the tip of the rod. It should not be too tight or too loose. It is
affixed using tip top glue made by Flex Coat. It is an amber colored glue stick that requires
heating with a lighter before placing on the blank.
Once the tip of the cement stick is in a liquid state, apply it to the end of the blank where the tip
top will be placed. Next, hold the tip top with a pair of needle nose pliers and heat the barrel of
the tip top . When the tip top barrel is very warm (not too hot), place the tip top barrel onto the
tip of the blank with the pliers. Visually line the tip top loop up with the axis of the spine and let
the cement cool for a few seconds (or until tip top will not twist). Lastly, remove the excess tip
top cement residual with your finger nails.
Several words of caution here. Do not use epoxy or super glue to cement the tip top onto the fly
rod blanks, or you will not be able to change the tip top without losing part of the tip of the
blank. By using the Flex Coat cement, you will be able to change the tip top later if you wear the
tip top out. Also, when applying the cement, do not over heat the tip top or the blank. Blanks will
melt when direct flame from a lighter hits them. Also, if the tip top is too hot, it can meld to the
TYING GUIDES TO THE BLANK
For this you will need the following: a rod wrapper, masking tape, scissors, burnishing tool.
The masking tape will be used to hold the guides in place while they are wrapped. The
burnishing tool, made from nylon, is used when small adjustments of the thread are necessary.
The rod wrapper is used to make the wraps. Scissors are used to cut the thread.
A rod wrapper is used to apply tension on the thread to ensure an even and secure wrap. It can
be as simple as thread sandwiched between two books. However, the best wrappers are ones that
allow for tension adjustment. Commercial wrappers are sold by Cabelas and Flex Coat, and
range from manual to electric, costing from $30 to $200. An alternative is a home-made rod
wrapper built using a saw and drill, and constructed from pine or oak wood, screws, springs, a
dowel, hand nuts, fabric (attached with glue) or sticky-back velcro (the bushy side). If
constructed right, the rod wrapper can double as base for the “rod drying turner” which is used
after flexcoat is applied to the guides.
To begin, cut small
strips of masking
tape 1/8” wide or so.
Place one strip
across each foot of
the guide after
insuring the guide is
lined up with the
Take the end of the thread and
start 1/4 to 1/8 inch away from the
end of the guide foot. Make 1 and
a half wraps with your fingers
over the blank and towards the
foot and hold the thread in place.
Now, turn the blank away from
you and twist the thread over the
thread your holding in place. This
will lock it down. Continue to turn
such that each wrap of thread is
tight against the last wrap of
Continue until two-thirds up. At this point, remove the tape holding that foot. Also, insert a loop
of thread or high-strength nylon underneath the last wrap. The end of the loop should extend to
underneath the guide. Continue to wrap again.
When you reach the last wrap, hold that
wrap securely with one set of fingers up
against the blank, just on the other side of
the loop. Cut the thread and place it
inside the loop. Pull the loop away from
the guide slowly until the thread has just
become embedded inside it’s own wraps.
At this point, trim the tag end of the
thread close to the loop. Then pull the
loop away from the guide, but at a 45
degree angle. The angle helps insure that
if the tag end was too long, it won’t come
popping up out of the thread wraps.
If the tag end does come popping out
of the middle of the thread wraps, it
needs to be trimmed as close to the
thread as possible. A razor is usually
the solution. Just be very careful not
to cut the wraps.
A recommended method for
wrapping guides is as follows: wrap
all the upper ends of the guides in
succession. Then make any
adjustments needed so they are
aligned. Then wrap all the bottom
ends of the guides in succession. This
method will makes it easier to
develop your “tying rhythm”.
Besides the guides, there are other areas where
wraps may be desired. Decorative wraps below
the tip top add a professional touch. Keep them
short. Wraps at the ferrules look nice, but more
important, add some strength to the ferrules. It’s
not uncommon to crack a ferrule and never
notice because the wraps keep it intact. Also,
wraps above the cork grip (and winding check).
If you add a hookkeeper, you’ll need to wrap it
just like a guide, with the bottom end starting at
the winding check.
Before sealing your wraps with flexcoat or varnish, consider applying color preserver to the
threads. Without color preserver the epoxy will soak into the threads darkening them and
providing a more translucent look. With color preserver, the threads will retain their original
color. Brush on an initial coat, let it dry, then repeat with a second coat, possibly even a third.
This insures that the threads have fully absorbed the preserver.
Another consideration for using color preserver: at some point if the guides need to be replaced,
the task of removal is more difficult with epoxy-soaked guides.
SEALING THE GUIDES
This step is the one that creates the most anxiety for builders, because a major problem here can
For sealing thread, use a two part epoxy specifically designed for sealing rod wraps. These are
waterproof, non-yellowing, and non-brittle. Flex Coat is the industry standard, and it’s common
to hear builders say “flexcoat a rod”. Flex Coat comes in a high build or “Lite” build coat. Flex
Coat Lite is preferred by builders on ultralight 1-weight to 3-weight rods. Heavier rods may
require multiple coats of the Lite product, but it also allows for a more controlled thickness.
You will need a drying rack, a structure to hold your rod while applying epoxy, and which will
continue to hold your rod while the sealant dries. Turning the rod makes for smooth application
of the sealant, but more important, it keeps the sealer in an even layer over the threads until it is
A manual drying rack can be constructed from a cardbox box. Cut out V-notches at both ends
for the rod to rest in. The box needs to be long enough so the rod is balanced across it’s length
and the tip section or butt section won’t touch the floor. Turning manually requires constant
vigilance over the first few hours, but then again, so should turning with a motor.
Most rod builders do use a turning motor. This can double as a turning motor for drying epoxy
flies. A few items from the hardware store and you can turn your rod wrapping stand into one
that doubles as a rod drying rack. You just add the motor when you’re ready to flexcoat. A
barbecue rotissiere motor is one option. It’s typically noisier than the dedicated motors sold by
Cabelas, Anglers Workshop or other rod building suppliers. But it’s also cheaper.
When ready to flexcoat, mix the two part sealer according to the instructions from the
manufacturer. If using a plastic mixing cup, make sure it’s specifically for epoxies. These are
sold at hobby stores. Otherwise, the epoxy will heat up too much and start to thicken within
minutes. Even with the right cup, it’s STRONGLY advised to pour the contents out onto a sheet
of aluminum foil after mixing. This increases the workable life of the epoxy.
Throwaway brushes are fine to use to put on the epoxy. Extend the epoxy out beyond the threads
by 1/8″. It is best to use a small diameter artist brush to feather the edges of the coating. Work
quickly but don’t rush. These epoxies stay workable for a good 30 minutes or more.
Air bubbles that may reside in the sealer should work themselves free as the rod sets but if it
looks like this may be a problem, a hair dryer on warm/low can be used to coax the bubbles out.
If drying the rod in a manual rack, turn the rod 180 degrees every 5 to 10 minutes for the first
hour. In the second hour turn the rod every 15 to 20 minutes. In the third hour turn the rod every
30 minutes. Let the rod cure for 12 to 24 hours, after which a second coat can be applied
Keep some of the sealant around for a couple days. Test this sample for hardness … do NOT test
the guides on the blank. A fingerprint on a non-hardened coat will be a permanent reminder of
why you shouldn’t have done this! When the sample is so hard a fingernail can’t make any
impression, then the rod is ready to go fishing!
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