Behind the Scenes at Orvis: The Raw Graphite Freezer

Have you ever seen $50,000 worth of graphite in a freezer?

Me neither. Until two weeks ago, when Kirk and I got a tour of the Orvis Rod factory.

What you're looking at is rolls and rolls of raw sheet graphite, destined for future fly rods. After asking three different shop employees how much this pile was worth I heard three different answers. I honestly don't know whether this is $20K, $30k, or $100K worth of graphite in a freezer. I think they were being squirlly on purpose about the answer, but my gut tells me that the right one leans toward the higher amount. Regardless, it was impressive to see this much raw graphite, especially considering this was one of two walk-in freezers loaded with the stuff.

Raw graphite must be kept cool, because the resin that holds it together is heat sensitive. Even bringing it into room temperatures causes the resin to activate, making it slightly tacky to the touch. This is how rod blanks are held together at the molecular level. Of course there's the painting and epoxy, but it's the impregnated resin that does the real work when rolled on a mandrel. Rolling graphite on a mandrel (then throwing it in an oven to bake) is what I'm doing in the image below. When that resin reaches a certain temp it hardens, keeping the graphite hollow and hard and allowing the rest of the rod building process to take place. So, while we'll never know how many future rods were in that freezer or how much that graphite was worth I will tell you you that walking through the Orvis rod factory gave me a much greater appreciation for how fly rods are built and why they can be pretty darn expensive. The steps involved are dozens more than you would ever imagine and the procedures taken to ensure the components are first class and well taken care of were unbelievable to witness first hand.