How Fishing Rods Are Made

by Joe Douglas, Black Dog Custom Rods, 208-699-5893,

Joe DouglasHave you wondered from time to time just how fishing rods are made today? The simple answer is pretty much like they were in the 1800s and 1900s, with the understanding that the technology used to design rod blanks, and the tools utilized by the maker have advanced considerably over the years. Early on rods were made using various types of wood to create a shaft that typically tapered from a round base to a much smaller tip, to which some form of string or rawhide, and a baited hook were attached. It worked quite well. As they did in those early years, we still do as they did; only with shafts of materials like metal, wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber, bamboo and various other products. Today a rod weighs less, is stronger, has more flexibility than before, and comes in multiple pieces to allow for easy transportation.

Today, most fishing rods are manufactured via assembly lines in factories, with skilled workers at every step in the process. Most rods are produced this way and thousands of identical rods roll off the assembly lines. The goal is to produce affordable, dependable rods that can be used effectively by any customer. This is a good thing as it contributes greatly to healthy exercise, fish for food and family outings. There are lots of different rods built this way on the market; as a rule, they all perform well.

There is also a subset of rod makers who, in one variation or another, build their own rods. Some buy imported bamboo culms and split thin pieces from them that are worked by hand to create the proper shape for, say one of six smaller shafts that fit together to form the single shaft for a bamboo rod. Some buy finished shafts from those guys to make their own bamboo rods. Some buy the components needed to build a rod from suppliers of rod shafts made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, wood, metal plus a variety of rod building components like cork handles, reel seats, guides, tiptops, ferrules, thread, finish, and dozens of other products.

I am one of those who buy the necessary parts and pieces from a wide variety of sources and turn those pieces into fishing rods, by hand, to produce what we consider high quality rods that come with a lifetime warranty. Our prices are reasonable, we have a decent following and many happy return customers. Building rods can be a hobby or a business depending on your goals. If you wish to relieve stress from your job of work, building rods is an excellent way to forget the day’s worries and dive into the task of building a rod. If you wish to start a business building fishing rods, you will need training (this article is only a teaser as to the process).

Before you start any work, if your rod has multiple sections, wrap one inch wide masking tape around the butt end of each of the sections. This protects the open ends and helps avoid stress cracks forming.

Also, if your project involves ferrules, now is the time to size them and fit them onto both ends of the rod sections, make sure these fit snug. Make sure you have the ferrules aligned to match the shaft alignment; this will assure a straight path through the length of the rod. Glue the ferrules to the shaft using “tiptop and ferrule glue” available at all rod building suppliers.

Rods are built from the butt end upward toward the tiptop. The handle, or the reel seat, depending on what type of rod you are building, is installed first. The first step is to determine the straightest alignment along the rod shaft. Once you have a straight shaft, you glue the handle, or reel seat, to the shaft.

The rule of thumb for guides for most rods is “one guide per inch of rod, plus one more guide”. This may need some adjustments, and possibly an extra guide or two, to provide support for the ferrules, if needed. The idea is to form an arc that does not allow any guides placed so that the pressure on the bent rod will force the line below the arc formed. This will enhance casting and fighting a fish on the line.

Wrapping the guides is fairly easy, but does require some practice to produce smooth wraps and solid wraps. Wraps do not have knots holding them in place. They are held in place by friction, which means the force with which you tighten the threads. There are special products made for coating the wraps to protect them from UV light and water. Polishing the rod also help preserve it. If you plan to make or restore a bamboo rod, you will need to learn how to apply varnish.

Behind all these things is a great deal of science and design to provide the rods we use today. Want to learn more? Contact us for our rod building classes (click on our ad below)!