December 25, 2020
By Bryce M. Towsley
Things escalated quickly. I proposed a short DIY piece on how to repair a damaged wrap on a rod, and somehow found myself sitting at a table covered with spools of thread, unfamiliar tools, multiple sticky substances (I am not good with sticky substances) and an assignment to build a rod from scratch.
I would like to say it went as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, but it didn’t. Nothing ever does the first time you try it, but in the end I had a great custom rod and a newfound hobby. As intimidating as it appeared at first, this rod-building thing is actually pretty easy.
The secret is to order a Turnkey Rod Kit from Mud Hole Rod Building & Tackle Crafting ($159.99-$279.99; mudhole.com). The kit comes with all the components and tools you need to build a custom rod. Just follow the steps as outlined in the instructions and on the included DVD. Because Mud Hole details the process so well in the materials, I’ll skim over the steps here and talk about the things I learned.
Step 1: Find the Spine
Every rod blank has a spine, which should be properly oriented when building the rod. For a spinning rod like the one I built, the spine is positioned opposite the reel. Place the butt of the blank on the floor, and bend the blank near the tip with it resting in your palm. With the other hand rotate the blank. You will feel it settle into a spot and resist further movement. That’s the spine; mark it for future reference.
Mud Hole supplies a china marker in the kit, but I never could make it work on my blank. I used a Sharpie marker. A little denatured alcohol on a paper towel took it off.
Step 2: Get a Grip
There are two common grip materials, cork and EVA. The MHX kit I put together came with a multi-piece cork grip.
Lay the rod on the table and arrange the grip pieces, as well as the reel seat. Make a mark on the blank at each end of each piece to be used as a reference when fitting.
A series of tapered reamers included with the kit are used to carefully ream the holes in the grip pieces to fit the specific location on the tapered rod blank. Start with the smallest reamer and work up a step at a time until you have the proper fit. Be careful, as cork can split if you force things. I used a cordless drill to turn the reamers, which worked great. You might want to do it outdoors as it generates a lot of dust.
The goal is to slide each grip piece on the tip and down the rod blank until it becomes snug, stopping at the correct location. (The exception is the butt cap, which fits from the rear.)
Step 3: Make It Stick
Here is where the sticky substance becomes involved. Before mixing the ProPaste epoxy I recommend donning latex gloves. Working from the butt of the blank forward, glue the lower grip pieces in place. Don’t forget the winding checks for any open end of cork. These add protection and a finished look. Use a paper towel wet with denatured alcohol to clean up the excess epoxy.
Step 4: Be Seated
The reel seat is made oversize. Once the grip sections below it are installed, use the wider of the two supplied masking tapes to build up the diameter front and back until the reel seat slides over with a friction fit. Cover the seat threads with masking tape then apply enough epoxy to fill the gaps, and install the reel seat. Make sure it’s oriented correctly with the spine. Install the rest of the grip pieces, and let the blank stand overnight.
Step 5: Add the Guides
Prep all the guides to remove any burrs and to make sure each foot is properly tapered, which allows the wrap to make a smooth transition from the blank. Using the chart included in the kit, mark each guide location.
Put the first guide in place, lining up the ring with the appropriate mark. Use the smaller tape to hold it in place.
Step 6: Wrap It Up
Set up the hand wrapper tool with the thread of your choice, and adjust the thread tension. Lay the blank on the supports, holding it in place with rubber bands. Start a little below the foot of the guide and begin the wrap by overlapping the thread several times. Pull the tag end tight and cut it off. Now carefully turn the rod to wrap the thread evenly. Any gaps can be corrected with a gentle nudge from the burnishing tool. Continue wrapping over the foot of the guide, stopping a few wraps short of where you will finish.
Step 7: Loop It In
Lay a loop of thread with the loop end away from the wrap, and continue wrapping over the loop until finished. Hold the thread in place, cut the end, and poke it through the loop. Pull the tag ends of the loop so it draws the thread under the final wraps, and snug it tight. Cut the thread with a razor blade held flat against the winding.
Repeat steps 5 through 7 until all the guides and the hook keeper are installed.
Step 8: Add the Tip
The tip-top is glued on the rod. Shave a piece from the supplied glue stick and drop it into the hole in the tip-top. Apply a little heat from the alcohol burner included with the kit to melt the glue. I should tell you to use padded pliers and not your fingers to hold the tip-top, but you will figure it out pretty quick. Install the tip-top, making sure to orient it correctly.
Step 9: Clean and Customize
Remove all your marks from the rod with a paper towel and denatured alcohol. If you want to add any custom decals, this is the time to place them.
Step 10: Seal the Wraps
Place the butt into the rod dryer, which rotates at 9 rpm. Use the support stand to hold the rod. I also used the stands on the hand winder so that the rod was supported in four locations.
Mix the ProKote finish. With the rod turning, use a small brush to apply the ProKote to a wrap. Start just before the thread and continue slightly past it at the other end. Be sure to fill the gaps at the end of the wrap where the thread goes over the foot.
Coat the wraps one at a time, and use the alcohol burner to heat the finish as the rod is turning. Flash the flame under the coated area, keeping the flame moving. A second or two is enough. This helps thin the epoxy, and lets it flow and flatten. Carefully remove any drips with the paint brush.
Repeat until all the wraps are coated and heated. Coat any decals you have installed.
Step 11: Wait to Fish
Leave the rod turning in the rod dryer overnight so the finish dries evenly. Then install a reel and go fishing.