Monday, August 17, 2015

How to determine if your rod is worth rebuilding

Since this is the first article. I want to first say: Please look at the "Introduction to this site" tab above.  It details what we are aiming to accomplish here and what everyone should look forward to.

For those of you who saw this post early on, you'll know that I have modified it greatly.  I will continue to modify it until I feel it has sufficient information relating to the subject and then I will edit it to be a complete article.

For the purposes of determining if your grandpa's rod is worthy of rebuilding, here are the basic rules laid out in the order of importance as follows:

1. Are there any areas where the rod was crushed?
2. Is the tip broken off more than a couple inches from the top?
3. Are there any deep scratches, gouges, or tears where the fibers are showing?
4. Is the handle coming off?  (If so, requires a complete rebuild).
5. Are the guides salvageable?

1. If the rod has been crushed anywhere except for the very tiptop, then there's nothing you can do.  This is because a crushed spot even if only very slightly, will cause a soft spot in the blank.  It also means the internal fibers are torn severely. This type of blank is generally a lost cause. There are extreme measures that can be taken (cutting the rod and placing a ferrule between the two sections), but I generally will not even attempt these repairs as they ruin the rod's action and are still a liability for future blank failure.

2. If the tip top is damaged and it's only a couple inches, this usually isn't significantly noticed unless the rod is short and a pretty heavy rod already.  If so, they missing two inches can be noticeable.  For most other rods, 2 inches won't be noticed.  However, if there's 6 inches or more, you'll significantly notice issues with the action of the rod when rebuilt because it will be so much shorter.  For one, the action of the rod will be stiffer. But the most obvious thing is that the tiptop will have to be changed to an odd size.

Tiptops usually have a tube that goes over the end of the rod blank.  This tube is sized to match the ring size.  If your rod is shorter, it will be larger and therefore need a larger tube size on the tiptop.  At the very least this could cause the tiptop to look strange in the final product.

3. The kind of scratches or gouges that are fixable are those where the fiber is not moved or frayed in anyway.  Generally these are places where the rod has been banged on an object but not severely.  The surface fibers are obviously damaged but they don't show signs of crushing, fraying, or tearing.  These type of issues are generally solved by making sure there is thread wrapped over that spot later when you re-wrap the guides.  However, if the fibers are frayed and showing, then the rod cannot be saved.

The issue is that any spot where it's been gouged the flexing of the rod will continue to weaken that area until the rod breaks.  It may not happen right away, but it will happen.  Even wrapping over one of these areas is not a guarantee of any sort. You might be able to add a piece of a graphite sleeve to that section of blank like a ferrule, but the rod could still flex enough over time to extend the damaged area beyond the strength of the ferrule.  The moral of the story is if the fibers are frayed or damaged, the only use for the rod is as a museum piece.

Sometimes you won't know completely if there are serious issues with the blank until you strip the rod down to just a bare blank.  There is a specific way to do that which I'll get to in another article, but for now, once you get the rod stripped down, then you'll need to go over the rod with a wet/damp cloth and a magnifying glass to see if there are any deep scratches or gouges.

That pretty much covers what I look for to see if the blank is worthy of a rebuild. However, there are other factors that might influence your decision such as how good the handle is and are you planning on saving the guides. So the real question you need to be asking yourself at this point is this:

How far do you want to go? 
- Did you just want to re-wrap the guides?
- You don't mind stripping down the rod but you don't want to redo the handle?
- You want to clean the rod down to the fiber and start over?

I just want to re-wrap the guides:
If you just wanted to re-wrap the guides, then you'll be wanting to put the guides back in exactly the same spot as before.  The reason for this is because the original varnish will be damaged or modified by taking the guide off and it will look odd to move or add guides without cleaning all of the varnish off. I generally don't recommend a simple re-wrap unless the rod was already a custom made rod or you are simply replacing one guide. The reason is that the guide placement on 95% of the factory rods out there is faulty.  Think of it this way: You have a 95% chance of improving the guide placement by adding guides.

If the rod has salvageable guides, then you may be able to add a couple guides to make the set more complete.  We'll get to that in a later article in the discussion of re-wrapping the rod and guide placement.

The handle is in good shape so I want to clean everything off and start over.
This is a decent scenario.  But how do you make sure the handle is really good?  One way to do this is to put a reel on the rod and then use the reel to place *some* leverage on the reel seat - not too much!  What you are looking for is to see if the reel seat moves at all.

Next, take the cork or foam handle sections in your hand and twist them.  Try to feel if there is any movement in the handle.  If ANYTHING moves, you need to replace the entire handle.  Why?  Because if they used inferior glue on the fore grip, you can assume they used the same inferior glue on the butt grip and the reel seat. If you end up doing a great job of putting the guides back on, you could get 10-20 years of use out of your rod.  Will your old handle last that long?  It's an important question!

I've torn apart many handles through the years.  It really is a pain in the neck when the handle is well made.  But when you tear apart the handle on your old "high dollar" rod and find out that there is cardboard or cork between your reel seat and the blank.... yes, you just thought your rod was responsive.  Imagine how it will feel when the reel seat is thoroughly connected to the rod blank instead of sitting on cardboard!!

I want to start over completely!
The best scenario is to completely wipe the blank of all traces of the factory.  The basic steps are: Remove the guides.  Remove the handle, Remove the old varnish, and completely clean the rod of all dust right down to the fiber level.  EXTREMELY important -  Do not attempt to remove the handle, remove the varnish, or even clean the rod until you have read my future articles on these subjects!  The obvious thing is that if you slip removing the handle you could cut the blank. Another often unknown error is to use solvent to remove the varnish.  Solvent should *never* - *ever* touch your rod blank.  It will damage it forever.  The harshest solvent you can use is rubbing alcohol and I recommend using it sparingly.

All in all, a complete tear down is very time consuming but produces the best results.  When you are done, your rod will look brand new and very likely will be built much better than the rod you started with! The thing to note on this is that factory rods often start out with a decent blank, but what they do to the rod after that is often atrocious and negligent all in the name of expediency.  They need to produce a certain number of rods per day, per hour, etc.  You can't do that and produce quality products - I don't care if the company is TFO or G. Loomis. The reason a TFO is $250 and a Sage is $1100 is because Sage hand builds their rods. Because of that, their rods are VERY good. Hence the price tag!  Read this article for more info:

I will get into a lot more detail in other articles on these subjects. This article is just to help you decide how far you want to go on rebuilding your special rod.  Is it worth it to you? Are you only trying to make it work, or do you want a work of art?

These are questions for you to decide.  Hopefully this article has been of use to you!  Please comment and add your advice as well! Criticism is welcome as long as it's constructive.  :)

As always, feel free to ask questions! Send me rod pics with any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer them in between articles.


  1. Which fishing rod is suitable for a beginner? It says a spinning reel is easier to cast for beginners at is it my answers? any recommendations from you? Thanks?