Times Change…

The biggest difference between modern 21st century rod building and that of a couple or three decades ago is the plethora of parts and pieces available to current custom builders.

Not so very long ago custom rod builders were required to possess a great deal of creativity. They had no other choice – the selection of parts available to them was limited enough that modifications of certain components was almost always a necessity. This was particularly true where rod blanks were concerned. If a builder wanted a specific length, action and power, it was rare that he’d find that exact combination. The only way to get it was to extend, or more often trim, to arrive at the desired length. In fact, where modifying a rod blank these days is the exception, it was the rule back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Component colors? Forget about it.  Guide frames were black or chrome. Glass rod blanks were painted yellow, black or white. Graphite models were available in one color – natural charcoal grey. If your customer wanted a color theme to match his boat or similar, you achieved it with thread – the only thing that came in a variety of colors.

Times change and lately where custom rod building is concerned, they’ve changed for the better.

Tom Kirkman



  1. Michael Blomme on January 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Good afternoon Tom,
    I was reading this blog about changing times and noticed that you indicated the colors of fiberglass blanks came from paint (black, yellow, or white). The blanks I built on in the 1959 to 1964 were Harnell, SilaFlex and Conolon ( I don’t think they had been bought by Garcia at that time). The Conolon blank was a dark honey color and the color was present all the way through the material rather than be only on the surface. This was true for the SilaFlex except the color was dark yellowish. The Harnell was different. The Black was rather thick but a cross cut section revealed a grayish brown. The blanks were sold as being made from a phenolic resin similar to Bakelite. The one thong all of these blanks had in common was the inertness of the surface. I routinely used acetone and Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) to remove the liquid rod cement that was used in that era as well as varnish or the lacquer that was used for color preserver.

    When I broke a fly rod I had built on a Harnell blank I cut a piece and immersed the piece in acetone and later MEK for 72 hours and there was no softening of the surface.

    The surface of modern rod blanks will not stand up to that treatment. When 3M company came out with their first graphite rod blanks, I purchased one and treated it with acetone during clean up and was surprised to find the surface material becoming soft and I could see some of the material lifting off. That was when I switched from using acetone for clean up purposes.

    While I certainly don’t want to go back to that era on terms of the wide variety of materials we have today, I do wish the surface material of blanks were more inert. The trade off might be the loss of all of the colors we have today. Just a few comments from an earlier generation of rod builders. One other thing that was different was the ability of rod builders to communicate with each other as readily as we do today.


    Mike Blomme

  2. Liebes-SMS on September 17, 2011 at 2:26 am

    Excellent topic and blog entry.