Embarking on the journey of building your first custom fishing rod can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor. Contrary to the daunting perception often associated with this craft, renowned rod builder and editor of Rod Maker magazine, Tom Kirkman, asserts that creating a high-quality custom rod on your first try is not only feasible but also quite likely. This article, guided by Kirkman’s expertise, aims to demystify the custom rod building process and encourage anglers to delve into the art of rod building.
Kirkman, a veteran in the field with decades of experience, offers a practical and accessible approach for beginners. He emphasizes the importance of starting with basic, inexpensive materials and tools, and advises against the premature investment in expensive equipment. According to Kirkman, the quality of a fishing rod stems more from technique and craftsmanship rather than the sophistication of the tools used. His approach is rooted in the belief that simplicity and patience are key, especially for those who are new to this craft.
Throughout this article, we explore Kirkman’s invaluable advice on choosing the right materials, keeping the building process simple, the importance of patience, and the advantages of customization. Kirkman’s guidance serves as a roadmap for first-time rod builders, encouraging them to focus on mastering basic skills and understanding the fundamentals of rod building. Whether it’s selecting the right components, learning the techniques of assembly, or applying the finishing touches, this article provides a comprehensive guide to making your first custom rod building experience a successful and enjoyable one.
Choosing The Right Materials And Equipment
When it comes to selecting materials and tools for a first rod building project, Kirkman emphasizes starting basic. “I wouldn’t spend a tremendous amount of money on tools and equipment. Until you decide, ‘I like this, I enjoy it, and I’m going to stay at it,’ then it’s time to do more,” he says.
Kirkman recommends beginning with simple, inexpensive starter items like a pair of homemade V-blocks cut from wood or cardboard and a basic thread spool and cup assembly. “You don’t need much else to get started in this,” he notes. Rod building classes are also beneficial since they provide all the necessary equipment, plus a dose of reassurance. “Taking a class or course takes some of the fear out of the project,” Kirkman says.
It’s also important to avoid the temptation to purchase expensive power tools or machinery upfront. “Having better equipment, while nice, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to build a better rod,” Kirkman explains. The quality comes down to technique, not technology. By keeping the initial investment low, first-time builders can minimize risk while gaining confidence in their skills.
Keeping It Simple
When just starting out, Kirkman’s main advice is to avoid complications. “I wouldn’t get too distracted. Don’t get in over your head,” he warns. Focusing on basic assembly without decorative flourishes is the best approach.
Kirkman recommends beginners “stay simple, stay basic.” Copying an existing factory rod design is a sensible starting point. “If you’ve got a factory rod you like, copy it,” he suggests. Builders should also limit themselves to “a single color guide wrap and basic assembly” without tricky techniques.
Doing too much too soon can lead to frustration and discouragement. Kirkman recalls builders who were “terrified” about challenges like applying epoxy finishes. But he notes that his very first rod had “a perfect epoxy job,” because he “did almost nothing” and simply brushed it on. By keeping expectations modest, first-time rod builders set themselves up for success rather than failure. As Kirkman advises, “don’t make it complicated. Too much information could be a bad thing.”
Patience Is Key
Building custom rods well requires repetition to develop skills that come naturally to experienced craftspeople. Kirkman acknowledges it took him “10 or 15 minutes per guide wrap” on his earliest rods, but now can complete one in just “25 seconds.” For novices, “your workmanship is going to improve as you go along,” he assures. But it’s important not to rush the process.
Patience is also important on a day-to-day basis. “There’s some days where you seem to be firing on all cylinders; everything works. Other days, everything you do is wrong,” Kirkman notes. Rather than struggle through, it’s best to “put this down for a preset. I’ll come back to it tomorrow.”
Kirkman advises beginners to “aim for the best rod you can” while avoiding excessive self-criticism. As he says, “I haven’t built a perfect rod yet. Even the best names haven’t.” Success comes down to “how careful you are, and how precise you are,” not frustration over minor flaws. By focusing on good quality over speed or absolute perfection, first-time builders can achieve great results.
While factory rods aim to satisfy average consumers, custom building empowers anglers to fully tailor a rod to their unique needs and techniques. Kirkman notes that OEMs are “forced to build rods for the average angler fishing with common and average techniques,” but “no individual angler is average.”
Through customization, an angler can experiment with different lengths, actions, and materials to get exactly the performance required. As Kirkman explains, custom builders have “total quality control.” In his words, “You want a longer or shorter handle? Done! You have a special need for some different ergonomics? Done!”
By building rods specifically for specialized applications like sight fishing or small stream trout fishing, instead of mass market styles, custom rod builders gain a major advantage. As Kirkman says, “building yourself lets you create a technique specific rod that you just can’t find on the rack.” Even if your first rod isn’t perfect from a technical standpoint, having it designed according to your specifications can make it the “best” rod you’ve ever cast.
Resources For Success
For those embarking on their first custom rod building project, Kirkman recommends utilizing several key resources. He endorses books as excellent starting points, especially Boyd Pfeiffer’s “Complete Book of Rod Building and Tackle Making.”
Kirkman also believes strongly in the value of community. “Taking a class or course helps calm people down,” he says. Local rod building clubs provide support for new builders as well.
Rod Maker magazine, which Tom edits, serves as “the preeminent king of rod building instruction.” Its vast library holds inspiration for all levels.
Events like the International Custom Rod Building Exposition can also give builders opportunities to see techniques in person. As Kirkman notes, attending “helps you see it’s not as difficult as people may think.”
Armed with good resources and supported by experienced builders, first-time rod builders gain confidence and guidance for success. Kirkman’s ultimate message is that “you can do this…other people are doing this every day.” With the right approach, anyone can dominate their first attempt.
Final Thoughts On Dominating Your First Custom Rod Building Attempt
In conclusion, building a custom fishing rod on your first attempt, contrary to popular belief, is not only achievable but can result in a rod that rivals factory models in performance. Tom Kirkman’s insights throughout this article highlight the importance of starting with simple, cost-effective materials and tools, focusing on basic techniques, and maintaining patience throughout the process. By emulating a favorite factory rod and avoiding overly complex designs, first-time builders can set a solid foundation for success. Patience is crucial, as even seasoned builders like Kirkman started with longer guide wrap times, only to improve with practice. The ability to customize a rod to one’s specific fishing style and needs is a significant advantage that custom rod building offers over mass-produced models. This personalization ensures that the rod is tailored precisely to the angler’s techniques and preferences, enhancing the overall fishing experience.
For those embarking on this rewarding journey, resources like Boyd Pfeiffer’s “Complete Book of Rod Building and Tackle Making,” local rod building clubs, and Rod Maker magazine offer invaluable guidance and support. Events such as the International Custom Rod Building Exposition provide opportunities to learn and grow in the craft. Kirkman’s parting message is one of encouragement and empowerment: with the right mindset, resources, and approach, anyone can create a custom rod that not only functions well but also brings a deeper sense of accomplishment and connection to the sport of fishing. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, the journey of custom rod building is accessible, rewarding, and a testament to the creativity and skill that fishing enthusiasts can achieve.