Peanut Butter & Chocolate

How many of you are old enough to remember the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup advertisement? The one where some guy eating a chocolate bar walks around a corner and bumps into a guy who’s finger scooping peanut butter out of a jar. They look up and as they regain their senses, one shouts “You got peanut butter on my chocolate bar!” The other responds with “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” All ends well as they taste the combination and decide that something delicious has just happened.

Back in 2003 I began searching for a good do-it-yourself method for creating flocked grips. For those unaware, flocked grips are made from embedding short nylon fibers onto an underlying base, generally of cork.  Such grips had long been available from a couple of commercial sources and were often referred to as “the Cadillac of rod grips.”  But there was no simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself method for rod builders to create their own. If you desired a flocked grip, you paid the price – which often exceeded $30 for a single grip!

Borrowing and then modifying a process used by custom furniture makers for lining drawer bottoms, I developed the method I was looking for. I published an article on the technique in the Volume 7 #4 issue of RodMaker.

Shortly thereafter, I decided that there was no need to use expensive cork as the core for flocked grips.  I turned to Jason Brunner at St. Croix Rod Company and inquired about the company’s then new urethane-foam reel seat arbors. Being extremely light and extremely rigid, easily shaped and very inexpensive, this material seemed to be ideal for my purpose.  I began experimenting with mixing, pouring and shaping my own urethane foam to use as flocking cores. Hold this thought…

Down in Texas Andy Dear had purchased a large quantity of cork grips from the old All Star Rod Company operation. In an attempt to salvage some of the lesser quality cork and create something more novel at the same time, Andy had begun experimenting with glass and carbon sleeving as a covering for the cork. Hold this thought…

In 2006, shortly after researching and publishing an article on Rod Grip Ergonomics (Volume 10 #3) I began toying with the idea of fitting a fly rod with a carbon fiber grip. The increased rigidity it would provide over a standard cork grip was bound to increase control and reduce fatigue. Trouble was, any such grip would be limited in size and shape to the commercially available non-tapered carbon tubes often sold for making Tennessee handles. Or so I thought.

One afternoon while conferring with Andy on another matter, we spilled our current projects to each other. In an instant, peanut butter and chocolate collided. A unique idea was borne that day – combining a lightweight, rigid, shaped urethane-foam core with an outer skin of carbon-fiber. Within 72 hours afterwards, the first urethane-core/carbon-fiber skinned fishing rod grip was a reality.

Maybe not exactly delicious, but innovative and important nonetheless, that first grip appeared on the cover of the Volume 10 #5 issue of RodMaker. An article on making your own cores and how to “skin” them followed in the Volume 10 #6 issue. Now you know how they came to be.

Tom Kirkman


Additional Photos of foam-core/carbon-skinned grips. Copy and paste each URL into your browser’s address window.


  1. NJ on August 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Good to know this history! If more stuff like this had been documented when it originally took place we would know a lot more about who came up with what and how long different things have been around.

  2. B. Sizemore on August 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    In time I think these handles and grips will become one of the most important innovations in the history of fishing rods. Twenty Five years from now we can look back and be proud that it came from a couple of custom rod builders.

  3. Stafford M on August 31, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I read the original article on this where you stated that these were up to 40% lighter than the same sized cork grip. But in the last issue Bill Colby had weighed some to compare and also said they were lighter but not nearly by that much. Comment???

    • Tom on September 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

      How much weight difference you realize has to do with the density of foam you use and the product you use for top-coating the skin. I stand by my figures just as I’m sure Bill stands by his. It is doubtful that we both used the same products (foam and top-coating) to make our grips. What we both did agree on, however, is that the foam core, carbon skinned grips are lighter than comparable cork grips.