Ever wonder how fishing rods are made? Tim Romano and I recently got a VIP tour of the G.Loomis factory in Woodland, Washington, where we were shown the A-to-Z of how some of the best rods in the world get made. Some processes are amazingly high-tech, while others still very much old school. –Kirk Deeter The G.Loomis plant is one of only a handful of large-scale fishing rod manufacturing facilities still operating in the United States. Every one of the thousands of rods (in over 500 different casting, spinning, and fly fishing models) cranked out by G.Loomis every year is still built by hand. There’s a tangible family atmosphere within the plant; there around 100 people are on the G.Loomis staff now, and they each average more than 12 years of experience with the company. G.Loomis has built its reputation on leading edge rod design, and (like Sage, and a few others) is located within the state of Washington, in close proximity to Boeing and other aerospace companies. The graphite and resins used to build space-age aircraft (literally) are also perfectly suited for producing fishing rods. As in aerospace, the goal is to find optimum strength and tolerances to withstand pressures, while at the same time, producing products that are as light as possible. In a plane, that translates to efficiency. For the angler, that translates to casting power, as well as increased feel and sensitivity.
I couldn’t help but ask Bruce Holt, Loomis’ communications director, what justifies some American-built rods to cost sometimes hundreds of dollars more than those manufactured in Asia and elsewhere. Wouldn’t the rod plant in Asia be doing the same things? “The methods are basically the same, but there are refinements in the process here, especially related to computerized quality control, that help set us apart,” he said. There’s also a ton of resources poured into research, development and design by G. Loomis, before any rods are made. The G.Loomis rod design team is led by Steve Rajeff, who is widely considered one of the best casters (all types of rods) in the world. How good is Rajeff? He once “out drove” PGA pro Fred Couples. Couples hit the ball with a driver, and Rajeff “cast” the ball with a rod. He cast a lure (literally) out of the park at Yankee Stadium. And he’s broken world fly casting records many times. It’s fair to say that few people understand the elements that go into designing rods–and how to get the most out of rod performance–than Rajeff does.
One of Rajeff’s jobs is to test the tolerances of different rods, by breaking them in an almost Medieval contraption. Watching beautiful rods shatter and splinter after being bent beyond reason caused us to wince…it was like watching crash tests at the Porshe factory. Click to the next slide to see video of the machine in action.
The first step in the actual manufacturing of a rod is to cut pre-pregged graphite (a blend of graphite and resin) from flat sheets, in exact accordance with the specific pattern for any given rod. It’s really not much different that cutting fabrics for a dress pattern. The graphite is then wrapped around a metal rod called a mandrel. The graphite is wrapped, with pressure, around the mandrel between four and 12 times.
Rods are wrapped so that the “scrim fiber” in the graphite supports hoop strength and keeps the tubular structure (rod) from collapsing. Imagine, for example, a paper towel tube: If you flex it, it easily collapses because it has no hoop strengh. The scrim fibers in a fishing rod are what allows that rod to bend under great stresses, then bounce right back into straight form. Think of it like flexible re-bar in your fishing rod.
Step two in the rod building process is to encase the wrapped blanks in cellophane, in order to prepare them for baking in an oven. The cellophane wrap forces any unnecessary resin in the blank to the surface when heated. Click to the next slide to see video of the high-speed wrapping machine in action.
In the oven, rods are like glass balls… semi-molten, until they “cure,” meaning the materials turn over and become hard. The cellophane also keeps everything in form during the semi-molten stage. Rod blanks are loaded into specialized ovens on tension racks (pulled taught at both ends), and baked at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour.
After the blanks are removed from the oven and cooled, the mandrels are extracted: they call this “pulling the blank.”
Then the cellophane is hand-cut off the blank, in effect taking the newly born rod blank out of its protective cocoon.
The rod blanks are then sanded. Rod builders use computer-controlled water sanders that can calibrate sanding depths to within 1/1000th of an inch. After the blanks are sanded, those used to make models like the G.Loomis NRX, GLX, and IMX rods go right into production. Others are sent to a different room to be painted.
From there, the rods are trimmed to length, and stored in an area called “The Supermarket,” which is an inventory of rod parts. This is where the transition from “raw materials” to “rod pieces” is actually made.
G.Loomis buys its cork grips pre-shaped from a plant in Asia. Here, they are reamed specifically to fit different blanks.
They are then attached to the rods by using two-part epoxy, which is precisely blended according to a computerized gauge.
With the handles on, a technician then marks the blanks exactly where guides should be placed on the rod, and puts a tip-top at the end.
Next, the logos are put on the rod with a silk screening machine, and the price labels are wrapped on the rod handle (even though the process is far from over). At this point, sets of guides are matched with “travelers,” the rod piece kits that are ready to be wrapped. Loomis has 18 rod wrappers who work from home. They are given the kits, and then wrap the rods according to very specific “recipes.”
When the rods are brought back to the factory, there is no resin on the wraps. The finishing process involves applying epoxy by hand as the rods are spun on a wheel. The first coat fully saturates the threads to ensure durability.
The rods are then inspected before a second, more cosmetic epoxy finish is applied.
The rods are then placed in a rotating chamber where they are dried for four hours each.
After the drying process, the rods are inspected once again before being packaged and sent off to one of eight distribution points to be shipped throughout the world.
Ever wonder how fishing rods are made? FlyTalk bloggers Tim Romano and Kirk Deeter recently got a VIP tour of the G.Loomis factory in Woodland, Washington, where they were shown the A-to-Z of how some of the best rods in the world get made. Some processes are amazingly high-tech, while others still very much old school.