Archive for the ‘September 2010’ Category

New Thread Coatings

*I had planned to finish up the series on the RodMaker facility here in North Carolina, but today’s rain precluded taking any good outdoor photos. So we’ll take a break and talk about thread coatings for the time being. I’ll return to the previous series, tomorrow, weather permitting.

10 months back a  heavy package showed up here at the RodMaker offices. Inside were two 1-gallon containers filled with epoxy resin and hardener. Both of them were absolutely clear as a bell. Water clear, in fact.

Just a few days prior to the arrival of that package, I had gotten a call from a salesman at one of the largest furniture coatings companies in the world. He asked me if I would take a look at an epoxy which his firm believed would be perfect for finishing thread wraps on fishing rods. I told him I’d be glad to do so, but went on to warn him that thread epoxies are a dime a dozen these days. Everybody has one and many more are repackaging existing products under a variety of names. In short, I explained to him that what he seemed to think was such a lucrative market, really isn’t. Just too many players involved nowadays. But he would not be deterred and shipped me a 2-gallon kit that afternoon.

So how is it?  Well, it’s probably the best epoxy I’ve ever worked with. It’s certainly the very clearest I’ve ever seen. After something like 4 months in direct sunlight it has yet to amber or yellow the least bit. It’s still perfectly water clear. I mean that – perfectly water clear. Every rod builder through the doors these past few months has seen it and commented on just how water clear it really is. All want to know where they can get some.

Of course, I’ve seen other epoxies that were clear (although not this clear) and then suddenly went south almost overnight after sufficient UV exposure. So even though this product seems promising, I’m not about to tell them to bet the farm on it. Particularly since the cost per ounce is predicted to be about 1/3rd more than any other thread epoxy currently out there. (They do plan to be in High Point for the Expo!)

A couple years back, Ralph O’Quinn, who knows a few things about exterior coatings, told me that there was a product being used in the aerospace industry that would function perfectly as both a thread color preserver and top coating all in one step. He also said that it would remain water white clear forever and that you couldn’t scratch it, dent it or make it check or crack. Ralph claimed it would be the ultimate coating for thread, blanks, etc. But according to him, it would never make a go in the rod building industry due to its $18 per ounce wholesale price.

Sometimes the products we want are, in fact available, but their price keeps them off the market. It’s a shame, but the limited size of our craft and the willingness of only a few participants to pay for the very best means that at least a few top notch products will never trickle down to us.

Tom Kirkman


RodMaker Home part 2

Among other things, my dad was a woodworker. I grew up in a home that had a workshop and to this day can’t imagine any adult male not having some sort of workshop to knock around in. I had acquired several hundred square feet of my own shop space by 1988. The current RodMaker building offers many times that original amount, however. In addition to the nice suite of offices, the current building offers plenty of room for dedicated shop areas of different types. Although I never considered it an absolute must, it’s nice having separate shop areas for rod assembly, dirty construction work, and photography.

The rod assembly area itself is climate controlled and features high ceilings (10ft.) to better accommodate the movement of longer one piece rods. The room is long and narrow (20ft. x 10ft.) Assembly and storage tables run the length of one wall while a mobile rod assembly station occupies the opposite wall. Since these photos were taken, a complete rod and blank storage system has been built and hung from the ceiling (this will be covered in an upcoming issue of RodMaker).

If you read yesterday’s blog, you no doubt noticed that I mentioned that the RodMaker building has a full 6,000 sq.ft. of warehouse and shop space behind the office and apartment areas. Shortly after locating here in 2006, I settled on 1,000 sq.ft. in a back corner for use as a general machine and shop area. There is some amount of luxury in being able to do various tasks and not have to worry about cleaning things up immediately.

Although I maintain a separate room as a photography studio, the actual set-up is not at all fancy – nothing you couldn’t do in your own home shop. Taking good photographs has more to do with a firm knowledge of photography basics (aperature, exposure and depth of field) than with equipment. About 75% of all the photos that have ever appeared in RodMaker were taken on this table with this old flourescent tube light.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the outside premises including the 200 ft. casting lane.

Tom Kirkman


RodMaker Home part 1

The original RodMaker Magazine offices comprised all of 900 square feet. In just a few years the place got more than a little cramped. Taking photos for the magazine required moving shop equipment out of the way.  Doing any shop work required putting away assorted administrative fixtures and paperwork. I decided that when I moved to larger quarters, they wouldn’t be just a bit larger, they’d be a whole lot larger.

For some years I had my eye on a building just down the street. About 8,000 square feet with 2 acres of property surrounding it. Several times I inquired about buying the property from the Italian furniture component company that owned it. Each time I inquired they shot me down and said they had no interest in selling. But I kept my eye on that place.

In 2006 I noticed a large dumpster outside their side dock and wondered if perhaps this meant they might be moving. My inquiry was answered in the affirmative. They gave me a quick walk through. A deal was done the next day.

So what do the RodMaker offices look like on the inside?  Nothing too fancy yet spacious and accommodating. There’s even a full 700 sq.ft. live-in apartment with bedroom, kitchen and full bath (no more commuting back and forth between Winston-Salem and High Point during Expo week!). Separate rooms for magazine production, administrative tasks, rod shop, photo studio and a whopping 6000 square feet of heavy shop and warehouse area. Not to mention a 200 sq.ft. covered dock on one side of the building. Great for doing dirty work outside.

From my private office window, I look out over a wooded acre that has been home to deer, foxes, wild pigs (yes, wild pigs) raccoons and possums. It includes an 80 yard shooting range (targets only). This office is where the magazine layout is done.

The main office/reception area is where your orders are taken and filled, subscription renewals updated and all manner of bills paid. The walls are adorned with display cases featuring antique fishing lures and tackle. It is rare to stop by in the late afternoon or early evening and not find at least one or two rod builders or fishermen sitting and visiting.

Just down the long hall to the right in this photo is the real meat of the place. It’s where the dust flies and rods get built. We’ll take a peek at it tomorrow.

Tom Kirkman


The Expo Crew

The International Custom Rod Building Exposition is a lot of work. I start on it each year around the middle of May and finish up 10 months later, just a few hours before the doors open for the event.

However, for all I’m able to do during the many months preceding the Expo, there is no way I could pull off the Expo itself with having many more “feet on the floor” than just my own. For that, I turn to several good and trusted friends whom many of you have probably met in passing, but know little about.

From Left to Right:

Jim George is a retired NC Highway Patrol Trooper. Always looking for extra work these days, he’s happy to help out at the Expo. He’s in charge of the money. I can’t think of anyone better to handle it. You couldn’t slip a bum nickel past him in the dark.

Wayne McGinnis is another retired Highway Patrol Trooper. We became fishing buddies way back in the early 1980’s.  He handles the ticket gathering and hand stamping and refuses to allow me to pay him for his services because that would mean he has a job – something he swore off when he retired.

Rodney Powell is a big wheel in the Food Lion Grocery Corp. He oversees a good portion of their renowned energy department. We fish together quite a bit. He’s my right hand man during the Expo, taking care of anything that comes up that I’m not around to deal with.

Christine Farley has been our regular waitress for our Monday lunches at the Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery for 5 or 6 years now. It’s a natural that she’s on hand at the Expo each year to sell tickets. Guys seem to like her. It’s also funny to note how much longer her ticket line always is compared to George’s.

None of these folks are custom rod builders, but without their help the Expo wouldn’t run as smoothly as it does. They are a big part of the pleasant Expo experience that so many of you have come to expect each year.

Tom Kirkman


Change of Address

Dear RodMaker Magazine:

I have not been getting my issues. I moved a few months ago and filed a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service. Why haven’t my magazines been forwarded to me? I’m getting other magazines that have been forwarded?

A Subscriber

I get several such letters each week. It’s an ongoing problem because few folks understand which mail is forwardable and which is not, nor will they take the time to read the change of address notice printed on the masthead of each issue of the magazine as well on as the magazine website. So I’ll explain here.

RodMaker is mailed by 3rd Class Presorted Standard Mail. It’s slow but inexpensive (keeps the subscription price low). The only downside is that it’s not forwardable. Filing a change of address with the Postal Service makes no difference where 3rd Class mail is concerned – they don’t forward it, they destroy it.

This is why it’s so very important that you alert me to any change of address. Equally important is that you do it at least 30 days prior to your move. You see, 3rd Class Presorted mail generally takes about 20 to 40 days from the time it’s mailed to when it arrives in your mailbox.  I need that change of address before it goes in the mail. Once it leaves here, it can’t be redirected.

From the RodMaker Masthead:

RodMaker is mailed by Presorted Standard 3rd Class Mail. It is no forwardable and as such the publisher requires a full 30 days notice of any change in address. The publisher will not be responsible  for replacing issues missed due to address changes.

As I’ve said many times, I’ll bend over backwards to make sure folks get their magazines. If the Postal Service loses it, steals it or damages it in any way, I’ll replace it on my dime, no questions asked.  But if you miss an issue due to your failing to alert me to a change of address, well… that’s on you.

Tom Kirkman


Volume 13 Issue Number 5

Volume 13 Number 5, our largest ever, is scheduled to mail on October 7th. It includes more articles than any single RodMaker issue has ever featured along with more authors than ever before (including new columnists Billy Vivona and C. Boyd Pheiffer). Here’s a peek at what to expect…

Hidden In Plain Sight – Unique security identification system that a thief will never suspect. Another great custom rod feature to offer your customers. This one will have everybody talking. The possibilities are endless.

Kite Rods – Here’s a great treatise on not only how to build them, but how to incorporate them as a very profitable part of any custom rod building business.

The Sparkler Wrap – A real eye catcher with instructions on how to do it along with suggestions for modifications that can make it uniquely your own. Color photos illustrate just how striking this one really is.

An OverView of Early Rods – A unique historical piece on how fishing rods have evolved over the past  600 years. Did you know that rods were once tossed into the water and pulled around by the fish, only to be retrieved once the fish was tired?

Extend-A-Butt – The optimum butt length for casting and fish fighting is often different. Here’s one method for creating a rear grip that can be extended or retracted with few twists of the wrist.

A Simpler Cork Clamp – A simple idea creates perhaps the most simple and effective cork clamp yet.

Drying Burls – If you harvest or use burl for making seats and grips, here’s a run down of the best 3 home shop methods for drying and preparing them.

Blank Safe TipTop Removal – You’ll wonder why you didn’t think of this yourself!

Hooking the Next Generation – Insight on a successful program proven to get more young people involved in custom rod building.

Fit and Finish #3 – Why perfect thread wraps are easy, and why they build consumer confidence in your craftsmanship.

History – A Simple Winder – The most popular rod wrapping tool of all time, considered the Renzetti of its day.

Color Photo Gallery

Rod Building News

Question and Answers


If you’d like to get this issue with a new subscription, or need to renew, do so this week in order to get this exciting new issue. You’re going to enjoy it.

Tom Kirkman


Still Exciting…

Folks that have been building rods a long time often fall into ruts. I often feel the same way when working on various articles for the magazine. After 30 years in this business, there’s not much I haven’t seen or done. Like most anyone, there are days when my job isn’t very exciting.

But then you stumble on something that gets you excited all over again. Many of the subjects covered in RodMaker have done just that for me.  For instance, a few years ago while kayak fishing a local reservoir with Rodney Powell and Sammy Mickel, I watched as Sammy tossed one of his own custom rods, complete with reel, line and lure, into the drink. Anyone that has ever had a rod go overboard knows how hard it is to locate such a thing even in fairly shallow water.  Add in the cold water of winter, which tends to preclude diving for it, and more often than not you’re out of luck.

Moments after Sammy gave up any rights to his rod, I declared “salvage rights” to anything my Buck Perry Spoonplug might snag. Within just a cast or two, I had retrieved his outfit (mine now) and returned it to him.  At that moment in time I began confronting one of the few disadvantages of kayak fishing.

In a kayak, you don’t have much room. If you drop an unleashed rod it’s going to fall in your lap, or the drink. Those are the only outcomes possible when fishing from such small vessels. The thought occurred to me that one of the most valuable assets to be found on any kayak rod would be some sort of signaling device that would steer you to an overboard rod and which would allow you to easily retrieve it. Talk about a selling point for a custom kayak rod!

Some discussion on the forum ensued, but it centered mostly around flotation devices. In most cases, floating anything other than a very light outfit would require large foam pieces. In my opinion, this was far too cumbersome an option. Thus my quest returned to what I felt would be an unobtrusive yet highly dependable alternative. The next month was spent amid a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in the development of an internal float/signal device. A unit that would deploy only upon a rod ending up on the lake floor or sea bed.  Total success was eventually achieved. You can read more about it in the Volume 11 #6 issue of RodMaker.

About two months ago I began research on a different yet equally interesting project. I won’t spill the beans on it here, however. You’ll have to wait for the Volume 13 #5 issue to learn all about it. It’ll mail the first of October. The thing is, as mundane as some days around here can be, there are other days when this is still a lot of fun. I still find projects such as this recent one very exciting.

Tom Kirkman


Women in Rod Building

Considering their generally superior hand skills, it seems odd that more women are not involved in custom rod building. Then again, there may be more than is often assumed.

There are roughly 300 women listed on the current RodMaker Magazine subscriber list. Now that’s only about 2% of the total, but it still represents far more female rod builders than most would imagine. Of course, at least some portion of these have simply subscribed for their husbands in their own names. How many, I can’t really put a number on. My guess would be about half.

Still, there are more female builders than you might imagine and their numbers are growing. Just today I received the following letter:

Dear RodMaker:

After receiving your 1st book in the mail today from Amazon, I would like to subscribe to RodMaker Magazine. Thank you for inspiring me forward to a new craft/career.

Retired Dental Hygienist,


I get a lot of letters each day but this one stood out and I was very happy that another female rod builder has joined the ranks. My guess is that she’s going to be very good at this craft. I sent her a couple back issues as further encouragement.

Tom Kirkman


RodMaker in Canada

Dear Rodmaker,

I do not think it is fair that  rod builders in Canada have to pay half again as much for your magazine as rod builders in the U.S. Why don’t you lower your price and get more Canadian subscribers? Until you do I will pass on a subscription.

Name Withheld

Fair enough. This is a common question received here at the magazine. Let me start by stating that I don’t sell subscriptions outside of the U.S., therefore any subscription offer you have received there in Canada came from a reseller, not me. They, not me, determine the price they choose to sell the magazine for.

Why do they charge so much? Well, maybe it’s not as much as you think.  There is no wholesale price for RodMaker. The standard subscription price is less than a dollar above my actual cost to prepare, publish, print and mail it. So the reseller is not getting any sort of discount. He or she is buying the magazine at the same price you would have to pay if you purchased it direct.

Then, the reseller must have someone reship the magazine/s to them in their country. This can run several dollars per magazine depending on the quantity they’ve bought and had shipped. All told, the reseller may already invested 50% more than a standard U.S. subscription just in getting the magazines to the point where he can resell and reship to you! And obviously, the reseller isn’t doing all this just for fun – he’d like to make a couple or three dollars on a yearly subscription as well.

Why don’t I offer foreign subscriptions to RodMaker direct? Simple, read the earlier blog entry from August 17, 2010 titled, “Foreign Subscriptions” for some facts I doubt you’ve considered.

Finally, I believe that in Canada resells RodMaker for just $39.95 per year. Way back in 1998 and 1999 when I was offering RodMaker in Canada, I was charging $49.95. So this isn’t a bad deal at all. You have consider the cost of moving these magazines outside the U.S. – magazines are heavy!

Tom Kirkman


Direct Mail is King!

What if you gave a party and nobody came? Well, it would obviously be a huge disappointment after going to a lot of work and trouble. And yet, this happens more often than not where rod building events and gatherings are concerned.

The #1 problem in getting rod builders out to an event or gathering lies in marketing. How can you reach a truly large number of rod builders?  None of us likes to spend money that need not be spent, and yet, the reliance of free advertising blurbs on internet forums just doesn’t get this job done. Not even remotely.

I remember when I was gearing up for the first International Custom Rod Building Exposition in High Point – the first one where we were totally on our own. I’d watched other event organizers rely almost totally upon internet advertising to promote their own events. And I’d seen the low turnouts at each and every one of them. I failed to believe that the events themselves were necessarily at fault, and decided instead that the means of advertising and marketing was flawed. “How do you reach the most rod builders? remained the question.

Being involved in publishing, I was well aware that the very best response you generally expect is about 2% of those your advertising campaign reaches. So if I wanted a thousand rod builders at the Expo I’d have to reach at least 50,000 of them.  I knew the internet would never account for more than a few hundred builders, and even that was a stretch. Just 2% of that amount would only net us a few dozen builders (which is what most events marketed on the internet were getting).

I began courting Cabelas for their TackleCraft mailing list. It took some doing, but I got it! Just their previous 6-months worth of rod building component buyers netted me over 30,000 names and addresses. The RodMaker Magazine subscriber list had over 35,000 all total. Eliminating as much crossover as possible, we mailed large format postcards extolling the Expo, to just over 45,000 rod builders. And we got our 2% and more – over 1500 custom rod builders attended that first stand-alone Expo.

Direct mail is still king. This has been proven so many times in the rod building industry in this past decade alone that I’m amused that so many continue to overlook it.

Tom Kirkman