Building Rod Handles

Charlie S

Confrimed Reprobate
I have been working on some of the rods I'm building for a charity auction benefitting Project Healing Waters this year and thought some of you might be interested in my methods, not that they're especially good, but they work for me. I start in the winter making reel seat inserts such as the one pictured here. It will be on the 9ft 2wt fast action rod. I will, at a later date, provide the information on how I make and finished the inserts if anyone is interested.

When building cork handles it is extremely important to get the best cork rings available. I have a big supply that I picked up years ago, although I have to admit that the very best rings have long since disappeared. The really good rings are very hard to find and expensive as well. This is the quality of ring that I am now working with and it is still available at various places.

I start building my handles on a ¼” stainless steel rod, about 16-18” long. I buy the 3 foot rods and cut them down. First I add rings to the steel shank until I have enough for a handle. Almost all my handles for fly rods are from 6.5 to 7.5 inches long. The dark rings in this picture are burl cork rings for decorative purposes and are accented by thin burnt cork rings on each side of one and on the back side of the other burl cork.

After I have the rings on the shank I carefully glue them up. I don’t want to get too much glue on the shank because then it is difficult to break the bond. After the cork is glued up I add a loose fitting and smaller ring on each end. This provides a pressure point that won’t mark the corks unnecessarily. I have adapted a clamp by drilling holes in it so the shank will fit through. If you do this, be sure to get a clamp that has plastic ends…it is almost impossible to drill through those with metal ends….I know. Put shank in clamp and close with enough pressure to squeeze out excess glue and keep rings very tight to each other. By the way, the handle in this photo is that for the 9ft 4pc 9wt rod that will be auctioned.

After the glue has set up remove the clamp. Then it is on to sanding. I use the following setup: This has my rubber abrasive wheel I use to smooth down guide feet in before I started doing the rod handles….

With the handle ready to sand. This is the handle for the 8ft 6pc 3 wt that will be auctioned.

After the sanding is complete. I later went back and sanded the handle a bit more to make it a little smaller in diameter.

After that I fasten a vise grip to the shank and hold the handle tightly. A quick twist usually breaks the handle free, just so long I didn’t get too much glue on the shank. A little is inevitable but also holds the handle in place during sanding.

The next step is to inlet the handle for the reel seat. I got a neat inletting tool from Dan Craft Enterprises, 48354 West Oak Road, Westfir, OR 97492. He has a new model out right now at a bargain price of $48.00. If you have ever tried to use other methods to inlet cork handles you will REALLY appreciate this tool. It is designed to handle every fly reel seat I’ve ever had to inlet and many regular spinning reel seats as well. Dan has a website where you can order one. I have no business interest other than I like the tool.

Ready to inlet:

If you double click on this photo it will show a video of how fast this really is:

The finished inlet, done in about 10 seconds.

The last thing to do is to size the handle to the rod. I have used miles of strips of sand paper trying to get something that was reliable. I finally talked a machinist friend into showing me how to use his milling set after work hours and I built a reamer that does all the fly rods I make. I have a larger, longer size for other rod types and spey rods but it is the same design. You can note the ¼” extension on the end. This keeps the reamer in line with the handle making it perfectly straight through. The best thing about this tool I made, and I'm VERY proud of it, is that it now takes me about 10 seconds to ream out rod handles in the taper needed.

Again, double click on this photo for video display:

After this the handle is ready to glue up on the rod along with the reel seat.

One finished rod to show how it looks...this is one of four for Project Healing Waters:

If anyone has any questions, happy to help out. I have no secrets. Ask on the board or PM if you want. I hope I didn't use too much bandwidth but thought the readers here who build rods might be interested.

Charlie S

Confrimed Reprobate
Leaving on a three week fishing trip thru Eastern Calif, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming, on the way to Colorado. Then a daughter's wedding, and then elk and mule deer hunting in Colorado. Sometime in November when I am making inserts I'll do a series as above for inserts...hope that isn't too long. Many different ideas moving through the little grey matter I have to try out and share (if they work out...LOL). Hope this isn't too long for you folks.
Thanks Charlie,
A great series of your work, and you'll be in good company in Spokane. Several very good builders there plus two excellent flyfishing clubs, especially the Inland Empire group.
Thank you so much for this post. I am new to rod building and this was extremley helpful. I hope one day to make rods as beautiful as those shown.
I am impressed with your tool building. I would like to know if you a machinist that could make them. If so please send me his number. If you know how much it would cost to have them made that would be nice. It made all your hard work look great and your craftsmanship shows.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Charlie, amazing stuff. Thanks for sharing. I'm a hack at rod building and would like to improve. Maybe I'll try to use some of your methods here to improve my game.