Thursday, March 26, 2009

Handling qualities

With my 'good' knee still giving me a bit of grief I've been staying away from the water this week, so I have time to get on with plenty of work. Pity I'm still waiting for blanks to turn up. However, that means the rebuilds and repairs get done quicker as I tend to put off work like that until I have plenty of time as you can never be sure what it will turn out like. One of this week's jobs has been fitting cork handles to a set of four Fox boat rods.

Over the last couple of years or so there seems to have been a swing back to cork for rod handles. Ironic that this should come about at the time supplies of decent quality cork for the job are going into decline.

These particular rods are being rebuilt because the owner didn't like the slim Duplon and the small reel seat. There are lots of well made blanks being produced in the far east, they say the best come from Korea but China is supposedly catching up fast. The finished rods, however, are often fitted out with less than brilliant rings and fittings, and 'gloopy' varnish. Not all, but a fair proportion. A shame the blanks aren't available as some are really very good indeed. Still, it provides me with a bit of work rebuilding them for anglers who know how they want their rods to be.

In the carp world the trend recently has been for ultra slim handles, to the extent that many are now built with just shrink tube for a butt grip. Back in the Dark Ages when we fished with fast taper fibreglass rods this wasn't a problem as the butt was more than an inch in diameter and gave you plenty to grab hold of. On a modern carbon rod the diameter is much less and, I find, feels 'wrong' in the hand when casting. I suppose these handles look pretty sat on rod pods. Which is what seems to matter most to a certain breed of angler these days.

The fashion appears to have crossed over to pike rods though, and these Duplon handles, while nice and hard, are (were!) very slim. The owner also found the length a tad too short. Nothing wrong with keeping rod handles short. But there are limits. As in most things connected with fishing tackle there has to be a compromise. The customer wanted the handles extending by an inch and a half - which actually worked out at just a quarter of an inch more than my standard boat rod handles.

When stripping rods down it's surprising what you find underneath the fittings and epoxy at times. No surprises with these four. As with many mass produced rods built in the far east the reel seats were fitted over cardboard tubes rather than the spaced rolls of masking tape that most custom builders use. Nothing wrong with the tube method provided it is done correctly. This means having sufficient glue to seal the tube to protect it from water ingress, and enough space allowed at each end for the glue to bond the reel seat to the blank. I guess it is a fast and simple way of doing the job.

When insufficient glue is used and water gets to the cardboard it will go soggy, rot, and the reel seat work loose. It's not only cheap rods that are built like this. I have repaired one quite expensive 'American' lure rod that had a handle come loose that had been fitted in this way.

As can be seen a careful spiral cut is made round the reel seat so it can be 'peeled' off the rod. The application of heat from a heat gun also comes into play. These reel seats proved to be made from a softer plastic/composite than I have come across before. Being so slim, the heat soon transfered to the underlying glue and I was able to slide the remains of the seat down off the blank without having to cut the whole seat. With thicker reel seats this is rarely the case - more so if masking tape rolls have been used and the accompanying extra glue bond between blank and reel seat.

The blanks cleaned up nicely where the whipping on the rings had been, which made the refitting of the rings much easier. Even the screen printing which the owner wanted removing came off easily with some thinners and elbow grease. Had that been under a layer of varnish it would have required some fiddling and fettling. The cork and reel seats went on easily, so everything went smoothly. Not always the case with jobs like this. Sometimes unexpected horrors are discovered that cause headaches.

All that remains now is to slap some varnish on the whippings and the rods will be like new again!

If my knee improves, the wind abates, and things generally warm up I might get to go fishing next week. I bet a big pile of rod blanks descends on me from on high to prevent that though...