Reshaping the Cork on a Fly Rod

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by captbob43, Nov 4, 2013.

  1. captbob43 New Member

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    I was asked a rodbuilding question while fishing the Hoh River awhile back. I will post this as it might be helpful to someone on this forum. This angler wanted to reshape the cork on his Spey rod and wondered if carving it and sanding was the way. The best way is to take the butt section of the rod apart from the rest of the rod, screw a woodscrew into the bottom end of the lower grip, cut off the screw head and chuck the screw in a lathe. If you don't have a lathe you can mount a variable speed electric drill into a vise and chuck the screw into that. Then make a V-shaped support out of 1x4 wood and attach a soft cloth in the crotch of the V. This will support the other end of the rod. It is important to wrap the rod blank a this point with several layers of masking tape to prevent the friction between the blank and the support from marring the finish. With everything in place, turn on the drill/lathe to medium speed and reshape the cork with files and sandpaper. Make sure you check for heat build-up between the rod and the support and take it easy so as to avoid this as it will damage the rod blank. Once you have achieved the basic shape, begin using finer and finer grits of sandpaper until you achieve a very smooth finish. Some folks apply a cork dressing to seal the cork. Personally, I prefer not to do this.
  2. Nooksack Mac Active Member

    Posts: 1,948
    Bellingham, WA, USA.
    Ratings: +110 / 0
    I reshaped the existing grips of several factory rods, and I've built several dozen fly rods, all without power machinery. I sit with a towel across my lap. After protecting the reel seat and exposed butt area with tape, I file away at the cork with a coarse wood file, rotating it after five or six strokes. when I've rough-shaped the handle, I switch to sandpaper, starting with coarse, then progressing through several finer grades. The paper is wrapped around a thick paperback novel: a flexible sanding block. Just remember the basic rule: you can remove cork, but you can't put it back. So pay attention; stop and check it for appearance and hand-fit, frequently.
    captbob43 likes this.
  3. captbob43 New Member

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    Used to do it like that years ago. It certainly works. I feel that part of the joy of fishing is not only enjoying the fish but also enjoying everything about this wonderful passion, whether it's shaping cork by hand, building a split cane rod or making a Spey reel. A good fishing buddy once said, "Even when I'm not fishing, I'm fishing".
  4. Steve Saville Active Member

    Posts: 2,491
    Tacoma, WA
    Ratings: +317 / 1
    If you do this, make damn sure you fiind the exact center of the butt section, whether you use a drill or a lathe. Otherwise you risk an out of balance handle. This task is not as easy as it sounds. Better to take it to a reputable rod builder.
  5. Greg Holt Active Member

    Posts: 154
    camano island, wa.
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    Gotta toss in a technique I used on an existing spey rod with cork that needed turning down:

    I didn't want to remove the rubber butt cap, and putting a screw in it was bad for two reasons--one it would leave a hole, and two--it wouldn't likely be strong enough to hold the center, either on the lathe or in a drill motor.

    Instead, I took a Schedule 40 PVC glue on pipe cap of size large enough to hold the rubber butt cap (you can get close and build up the butt cap with electrical tape if you need to).

    Drill a 3/8" hole in the exact center of the PVC cap and insert a carriage bolt with the square shoulders filed off, and a nut and lock washer to secure it. Wrap the butt cap/PVC cap assembly with blue masking tape to ensure that the rod will not come out of the cap. WARNING: duct tape and electrical tape can pull out chunks of cork filler when being removed, so use caution taping near the cork!!! That contraption can be safely chucked in a lathe or drill motor without fear of failure, using the support mechanism and protective precautions outlined in captbob's posting.

    Collective wisdom is a beautiful thing...
  6. Porter Active Member

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    Kenmore, WA, USA.
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    I don't know but once built leave it alone or custom order before.... it's always touchy tough!
  7. Salmo_g Active Member

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    Your City ,State
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    I use combinations of the methods described above (except doing it all by hand) to make new rods and to turn down the grips on manufactured rods that were too large to suit me. Sometimes I re-size a wooden dowel as a ferrule to turn a butt section. I've done rod sections up to 5' long. I have to make a series of adjustments to find true center; otherwise the wobble can make for too much drama! A variable speed drill motor and a cobbled together jig have served me well for decades.

    Sg
  8. Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

    Posts: 5,654
    Somewhere on the Coast
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    The cork on a "pre-owned" rod I bought had been sanded down. Perhaps too much. It looks a bit uneven.
    Also, I think the rod (9'9" 6 wt Fenwick "Iron Feather") would be better if it had a fighting butt.
    I wonder... Is it difficult to replace the entire cork handle and reel seat?

    I need to find a rod builder who can do this for me.
  9. captbob43 New Member

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    We have done this many times over the years. It's a major job but we rod builders do it frequently. Most reel seats and cork are put on with epoxy, which softens with the application of heat. The judicious and very careful application of heat with a heat gun will soften the epoxy enough so the cork and reel seat can be removed. Sometimes the old cork needs to be cut down enough so the heat can penetrate to the epoxy. If too much heat penetrates the rod blank, your rod will be ruined. So if you try this, easy does it.
    Fighting butts are available with mandrels in place. Build up the mandrel to fit snugly into the rod blank with rings of masking tape. Make certain to have plenty of spaces between the masking tape rings so the epoxy bonds the mandrel to the inside of the rod blank and not just the masking tape. It's important to have the mandrel extend at least 3/4 of the way into the reel seat for support. If you can't find a fighting butt or bottom Spey butt ready-made, glue cork rings to a piece of old rod blank, turn it to shape and proceed as above. Avoid using 5-minute epoxy, as this absorbs moisture and eventually bonding failure can occur. We prefer 2-ton epoxy with a 30 to 60 minute cure time.
  10. captbob43 New Member

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  11. captbob43 New Member

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    There was a commercially-available chuck for holding fishing rod butts. (Try Mud Hole Tackle). The ones we use were made by us 50 years ago. Essentially it's similar to your end cap device but with a difference. Three thumb screws are threaded into the rim of the cap so the rod butt can be held and perfectly centered by adjusting the depth of these thumb screws, like a 3-jaw metal lathe chuck. We usually put a piece of split tubing over the rod butt to prevent the cork from being damaged by the thumb screws.
    Greg Holt likes this.
  12. Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

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    Somewhere on the Coast
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    Thanks captbob43. I might take the rod to a pro if I have this done, instead of doing it myself.
  13. Greg Holt Active Member

    Posts: 154
    camano island, wa.
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    Dang! I'll need to construct/purchase that very device if I have need of turning another completed rod. Good call from one old fart to another!
  14. Jim B Flyfishin' and homebrewin'....priorities ?

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    Tacoma, WA
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