While it’s true that you can build a great casting rod without any embellishments, most rod builders will at some point feel a desire to “fancy up” their creations. If you’re building a one-of-a-kind rod, it just feels like it should stand out from the crowd. If you’re a rod builder, it’s natural to start researching how to paint your own rod blanks. But getting a quality end result requires a shop full of equipment that is beyond the means of most DIYers. That’s why we sat down on a recent episode of Mastering Rod Building with Don Sharar from the Backbone Custom Rod Company to discuss custom painting rod blanks. Don has been building custom rods for the past 11 years, and in this article he’s going to share what goes on behind the scenes to make those gorgeous paint jobs you see on Instagram a reality.
The Difficulties Of Custom Painting Rod Blanks
While Don made it clear in our interview that he wasn’t necessarily trying to discourage DIYers from custom painting rod blanks, it was his observation that unless builders had experience with painting (particularly in automotive spray booth paint work) they were unlikely to be satisfied with the results of their labor.
“I put information right on my website regarding what my basic processes are,” Don says. “I don’t mind telling people that information. If they have experience with painting, especially if they have experience with automotive style painting and stuff like that, then they’ll probably know what to do with that information. If you have zero experience with it, then you probably also have zero equipment, and you’re gonna have a big learning curve. It can technically be done. We serve an industry of world class do-it-yourselfers, right? My clients build their own fishing rod. But it’s really just one of those things where sure, you could technically figure out a way to do it yourself. But at the end of the day, it’s far cheaper and safer to just have that part done professionally.”
One of the barriers to most home builders is that in order to not rob performance from the rod, a paint job has to be incredibly thin. How thin?
“A typical 7ft inshore spinning or bass rod that I paint has .07 ounces of paint on it,” says Don. “I tell folks that and they say, “Ok, well, how much paint is that?” A dime weighs .08 ounces. So does a single razor blade in a disposable razor. So, my rods have less than a razor blade’s worth of paint on them.”
Applying an even coating to a rod with such a small amount of paint requires special paint, special tools, and a high degree of technical knowledge, not to mention practice.
In order to get this micro-thin paint job applied evenly, you need a High Pressure, Low Volume (HVLP) spray gun. While you may have a compressor and spray gun in your DIY arsenal, yours probably isn’t up to the task of applying a clean coat to a rod.
“A lot of people hear HVLP and think, “Ok, low pressure… so I don’t need a big, expensive compressor to do this.” But what they don’t hear is the “High volume” part,” reveals Don. “But to paint a rod you’re using a really high volume compressor. You also need an air dryer system, which is basically like what you have in your refrigerator, that takes the moisture out. You need a good oil filter, because any compressor is gonna pass a certain parts-per-million amount of oil too. And oil and paint flecks will ruin your paint job. You might get lucky and spray a couple of rods and think, “I don’t know what Don’s talking about, because mine came out great!” And a couple will come out great, and then you’ll get fish eyes in your paint job. And people ask me why and I have to tell them, “Well, a big burst of oil or water came through your line.”
Another very important factor to consider before you begin painting your rod is that the paints used present a health hazard. You may think that paint is similar to working with the epoxies you use to protect the wrappings on your rod guides, but Don says that materials safety is a bit more involved with aerosolized sprays.
“If you’re working with epoxy,” he explains, “for the most part you have your little cup and your little brush and you’re not working with much material. But when you’re painting, it’s airborne. It’s gonna get all over you. It’s just one of those things. I work in the middle of South Florida, and we’ve had probably the hottest summer I remember, but when I go into the clean room to paint I’m wearing a full suit and a full double respirator. You want to keep that paint off of you as much as you can. The isocyanantes that are in the clear coat that make it get hard? It can paralyze your lungs. You don’t want to mess around with that stuff.”
“If you do go the DIY route,” Don continues, “and you’re spraying one out in the garage or whatever, just take care of yourself. Absolutely wear a respirator, and at the very least wear gloves. Because that stuff gets absorbed into your skin just as easily as it can get in your lungs.”
Building A “Clean Room”
One the rod is painted, don’t think that you’re out of the woods just yet! You may not have ever thought about it before, but your workspace is filled with particulates. Dust, hair, and errant gnats can all ruin a perfect paint job as it dries. In addition to worrying about keeping particulates off of your rod, you also have to worry about keeping ultra-fine aerosolized paint particles off of undesired surfaces.
“I joke that garage builders don’t have to worry about the alphabet soup that I have to contend with,” Don chuckles. “The EPA and the DER and what have you. But what folks do have to worry about is the HOA. If you’re out in your yard spraying a rod and a neighbor winds up with a dusting of paint on their stuff, they’re probably gonna call and complain! And if you get some overspray on the W I F E’s car…you’re gonna have a real problem on your hands.”
Final Thoughts On Custom Painting Rod Blanks
It’s natural to want to do as much as possible yourself when building a rod, but eventually you always run up against a point of diminishing returns. Just like it’s beyond the ability of most builders to roll their own fiberglass or graphite blanks, getting a really good paint job is difficult, especially if you’ve got your heart set on some of the detailed, fish-themed or wood imitation patterns like Don showcases on his website.
When you factor in the cost of buying paint, a HVLP sprayer, proper PPE gear, and building a clean room, Don’s prices start to look pretty good, especially considering his excellent reputation and quick turnaround time. If you’ve got a custom build coming up that needs a little extra “pizzaz” head over to backbonecustomrod.com and check out his work today!