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Has anyone out there ever built a rod with a wooden handle so as to match the reel seat spacer. If so I was wondering about durability of the handle and if there were any effects to the rod and its "balance." I am sure there would be more weight there as opposed to a cork handle. Any insights out there as to whether this is feasible or not would  be appreciated.   (Bill Bixler)

    Check out J.D. Wagner's site.  Scroll down to just under the "Introducing Our 1999 Presentation Rod" to the section called "Another Interesting Project"  (Mark Wendt)

    I've done many of them, and actually, I think you'll be surprised how light the handles really are.  When finished, they are gorgeous, and contrary to what many would think, the varnished wood handles are easier to hang onto when they're wet, than wet cork.

    Somewhere I've got a picture of the last one I made, a 6' 3 wt with burl maple handle and reel seat. (Bob Nunley)

      Did you say VARNISHED?

      I had just worked out how a wooden handle could indeed be light and grippy enough, but varnished? Oiled, I could understand, but from experience of old and truly terrible English rods of the nineteenth century, varnish is evading me.  (Robin Haywood)

        Yep, varnished.  With a tung oil spar varnish.  Works great, looks great, takes forever to do (8 coats and a couple of weeks of drying time between each coat) and looks like a million dollars.  Now, most could get by with less coats, but the system I use to varnish only puts a coat about a half a thousandth total thickness on per run, so with 8 coats, you're only looking at .004 or so varnish, IF I don't do any sanding between coats.  Well worth the time and effort, though.  The finish is tough and, like I said, not near as slick as you might think it is. Needless to say, since it takes so much extra time to do these grips, even though I think they look fantastic, I don't do them unless it's a special request... an expensive special request!  (Bob Nunley)


Any of you fellows tried making turned wood grips for your rods instead of the usual glued up cork grips?  If so, I'd appreciate suggestions on woods to use (or avoid), do's and don't, or anything else that might be helpful/interesting.  Pros and cons, maybe?  (Bill Benham)

    I have a beautiful Heddon model #60 with a Circassian walnut grip. These were made by Remington Arms for Heddon and have three checkered diamonds on the grip.  Not very practical, but they were custom ordered and usually intended for presentation rods.  (Jerry Young)

        Interesting!  I thought all 60's had wooden grips exclusively, right? I have seen a fair number of Heddons and have never seen the wood grip on any other model , but then I am fixing rods for fishermen to use and not presentation. Could you have ordered the wood grip on another  Heddon like  the 1000?  What's Circassian?  Why do you say they weren't practical? I thought the grip was light and not slippery  to grip.  (Rich McGaughey)

    After restoring a Heddon 60 I have had the same idea of a wooden handle.  The one on the 60 was made by Remington Arms - had a beautiful diamond design like a gun, made from walnut. I thought the cast on this rod was good. The wood didn't seem to be real heavy compared to cork.  There's a picture of it in Sinclair's Heddon book.  Good luck and let me know if you build one.  (Rich McGaughey)

    I made two rods for Bill Ballan back about ten years ago, they both had a one piece grip and reel seat, made out of Cherry Burl. I had a slide band and pocket cap on it.

    Bill liked them a lot. It was very easy to make and after you figure your dimensions, you just cut the butt section and drill a hole into the front of the grip and epoxy the butt right into it.

    It looked real nice and it didn't feel any heavier than a cork gripped rod.  (Dave LeClair)

    I am currently working on 3 rods, all with wooden handles. They are not fancy, nothing more than cigar shaped (lathe turned) handles modeled after cork handles, separate but matching real seat spacers. I have used Walnut, Cherry, and Red Wood Burl on flamed cane. They all look beautiful on the rod and are entirely different than cork. None of mine are totally complete yet so I cannot tell you how they fish. Here are some observations and advice:

    1. Be prepared to spend a lot more time in making your rod. Working and finishing a handle  is just like finishing the rod blank.

    2. If you have a concrete floor, pad the floor in the area where you work and try not to drop your newly finished handle (ask me how I know that one). Had to start over on a walnut handle that was done and looking great, set me back about one month.

    3. If you are making handles the way I did, separate spacers, make the handle and spacer from the same piece of wood. If you do not, you may wind up with different finished shades.

    4. I do feel that there is more weight in the butt end of the rod therefore affecting the balance of the finished rod especially when you attach the real. I do not know if this is good or bad, others with more experience can comment.

    5. I do worry some about the durability of the handle and its finish as attested by the dropping episode. How well it will hold up to the rigors of fishing is yet to be determined. You should be able to polish everything much the same way you would the rod in the event of minor dings.

    6. I do like the looks.  (Bill Bixler)


I'm seeing more wood handles for rods rather than cork lately, and I've even started considering it myself although I'm thinking of wrapping with rattan.

My question is obviously there's no flex into the handle at all with the wood compared to cork - right?

So wouldn't it be correct to suggest then there's a fairly large hinge/right there at the end of the wood handle???  How much difference would such a handle make in the noticeable action of the rod.

I wouldn't want to muck up a good rod by choosing wood for the handle.  (John Silveira)

    I have been using oak bark and red pine bark. The oak bark is pretty rigid. I can feel the rod with both grips. I am also very pleased with the feel of the grip "in-hand." I was surprised! I did not expect that.  (Timothy Troester)

      Does anyone have a tutorial on how to do this with bark?  I have access to acres of oak and pine bark here in central WI, so I wouldn't mind giving it a try.  (Scott Bahn)

        Not exactly a tutorial, but if you check out this forum thread, the first post and the next to last post (second page) explain how I made mine.

        It's almost too easy.  My second grip I glued up with Titebond III, and turned in a cigar shape.  It's now on a PMQ that I hope to fish next weekend.  I treated it with Thompson's Water Seal, which darkened it a good bit, but gave it a really nice feel.  Contrary to most people's expectations, there is no pitch in the pine bark, and it feels a lot like cork.  The handle is light, soft and flexible.  If you have access to some pine bark, give it a try.  (Paul Gruver)

          Is this pine bark a prepared material like a composite? Where is it obtained?  (Steve Weiss)

            Well, mine came in bags from the garden store. Medium red pine bark mulch. A big bag for 3 or 4 bucks and I averaged 2 grips a bag picking out of the big pieces using a hole saw on them. The rest of the bag I sold to the neighbor which was almost the whole bag.  (Timothy Troester)

              They work great.  Take a 1 1/4" hole saw to make the rings, then trim then or sand them  flat. I have a little jig that I use on the  band saw to clean them up.

              My wife got a little ticked at the bark mulch around the house with holes in them. I had to go find them and throw them out --  what a waste. (Gordon Koppin)

            As Tim suggests I started out getting bags of bark mulch (extra large chunks) from the garden store and the pickins are slim but you get enough pieces in a bag to work - and they're pretty beat up by that time.  Best bet, especially if you live near a sawmill where they make log homes, etc. is to go to the sawmill in your ramblings and see if they have 'slabs', i.e. the sections of bark that are cut off in preparing the logs to cut the lumber.  They may let you pick through this pile for nothing - as this is the 'product' that winds up in the mulch bag.  Living as far south as you do the slabs are apt to be fairly thin as NM has mostly Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine - but you may run across some Doug Fir or Spruce.  (Darrol Groth)

              You have to watch out for the non traditionalists when using bark grips.  I made a rod to celebrate the Idaho Centennial seventeen years ago.  A friend bought it at auction.  Several years later he came to me with a complaint that every time he used the rod his hand got too sticky.  I was devastated until he took pity on me and told me he was just joking.

              I think the first recorded use of bark as an alternative grip that I have heard of was a Dutch builder, whose name I can't recall, although somewhere I have it.  I have made  bark grips both from rings and also from solid turned pieces. Solid wood grips are not new.  I got a rod from Japan about 25 years ago that had a one piece grip and reel seat of Japanese Chestnut.  Gorgeous.  However many of the 18th and 19th century rods had nothing more than a swelled butt for a grip.  A couple of brothers (Stutzman) in Idaho have been retailing strikingly beautiful solid wood grips for about the last twenty years  There is really nothing new about these alternative grips, however, I am intrigued by the GRITS byproduct grips my friend "Corn Cob" Groth speaks of.  Question is before or after?  Schucking that is?  (Ralph Moon)

              I should have chimed in earlier. Birch bark. It makes very thin rings, but is as soft and durable as cork, looks very nice and different. Before getting into bamboo I was building custom graphite rods out of my disappointment in high priced ho-hum rods being pitched by the major manufacturers. In my search   for    information    I    came      across and subsequently subscribed to the magazine RodMaker. I have found the forum to be every bit as helpful an courteous as this email list. If any of you take a few minutes to go to the web site and go to the photo gallery you will be truly amazed at the quality and craftsmanship the members put into their rods. I know 99% of the content is graphite rods, but the reel seats, grips, wraps and inlays are first class. You have to sign up (free) to view the photos, but I have never received any spam from them.

              So back to the birch bark. There was an issue last year in the magazine about it and the forum and photo gallery documents the experiences that the members have had with it. It is something different and I think it would look very classy on a bamboo rod. (Scott Bearden)

        I recommend using Minwax wood hardener on the rings. The pine bark I used tended to flake and shatter. The oak and walnut chipped bad. Soaking in the hardener minimized this. Once you get the barked clamped up it would be less of a problem but in the process I had a lot less loss. I did have a picture on Todd's tips site but it is no longer there.  Oops!  Best advice is to use hardener outside and mask up when working with bark. It is dirty, full of pollen and mold. An added benefit of using hardener is that it kills the molds, algaes, lichens and moss that grows on trees.  (Timothy Troester)

          I didn't do anything special to mine. At first when I finished I thought I should have stabilized it but so far it's been bashed around pretty good and is still holding up. You'll notice in the picture the little pits.

          Lowe, Jim 14F2

          The bark it seems has the little pods the size of a poppy seed and they started to flake out on the thumb rest. I wiped a little varnish on and wiped it off and that took care of the problem. I'm sure I could have used CA glue and might in the future.  (Jim Lowe)

            I think once glued and clamped the bark rings are pretty stable but I thought that in the process of forming and shaping each ring to be pretty tough on the material I was using. It red pine bark I was using would is more likely to flake apart and some times disintegrate the more I sanded it and handled it. The hardener helped it stay together I think till I got it glued up. My most recent oak bark grip was still a bit crumbly I thought so I did varnish it and then sand it off so all the divots and variations were filled with varnish and I felt better about it. I guess I did what you did.  I am excited about using the different kinds of barks. I have several more ideas for grips too and am looking forward to trying them and sharing the results. All my bark grips have been received well and I have gotten good reports of durability from use.  (Timothy Troester)

    I've thought about this because I read that the "hinge" is important to the roll cast, but I've been fishing for over thirty years and I've always been able to adjust my hand/cast  to the rod to obtain whatever I needed to get to the fish. I'm not the worlds authority or anything like that, but think about it, you're not swinging a baseball bat and even if you were, you could always check swing and bunt. For me it's a matter of fishing with what I've got and adjusting to it. I don't fish aggressively nor do I need to cast 90 feet. Maybe I'm all wet but I say build it, and the fish will come.  (Ren Monllor)

    I met a man that had tried various woods for handles, and I was very impressed with his ash bark handles.  He actually took the thin bark from the ash tree if I remember correctly and cut small circles out and then drilled each one and glued them all up on a clamp using 50-100 circles I would guess, and then shaped it down with a lathe like cork.  The grip in the outcome was amazing!  It was very light a spongy like cork yet it had a beautiful variegated color.  I would like to try this but haven't had a chance, it looks really interesting at the least.  I know he had tried birch bark before as well with good success, but ash I believe was his favorite.  (Caleb ???)

    I have collected some pine bark and was going to try some or all pine bark for a handle. I got the idea from Larry T. some time back and thought I would try it. I think it will be different and could make nice trim rings in between cork.  (Barry Janzen)

      Take 1 1/4 inch hole saw in a cordless drill or drill press and drill the rings out.  Clean them flat and glue them up. Sanding on a belt sander. Cut them on a band saw or make a 2x4 jig to slice them into flat sections.

      About all there is to it. (Gordon Koppin)

    Darrol Groth has a pretty cool grip he makes from cactus skeleton with a graphite liner.  He should chime in here. (Gordon Koppin)

      That grip that Darrol showed at CRG last year was Cholla Cactus which someone mentioned this morning or last night.  It was, indeed, COOL and I'm going to use one on my next rod.

      But here's my question:  All hardwood grips I've seen have been varnished to a gloss finish.  Doesn't that make the grip "slippery when wet"???  Darrol's Cholla grip has the advantage of the open space to provide grip but other materials don't have that.  (Al Baldauski)

        The bark can get a little more slippery than cork but it has not been a problem. I would think the wood would be very slippery especially if varnished to a gloss. Pretty easy to make and cheap if your wife does not look at the house  plantings.  (Gordon Koppin)

        I made a grip out of redwood (ie. Giant Sequoia) bark earlier in the year. Its been holding up well the past several outings.

        Lowe, Jim 14F2

        I got the idea from Chuck Irvine's rods.  (Jim Lowe)

    I wouldn't call it a hinge, because, as I understand it, a hinge is formed by a slight decrease in the rate of taper in the lower third of the rod to facilitate a roll cast. The result is a bit more flex at that point in order to provide a bit of a kick to the roll cast. A wood grip stops all flex at the front of the grip, thus effectively shortening the action of the rod. You might call it the ultimate swelled butt.

    OK - I'm seeing more Wood handles for rods rather than cork lately, and I've even started considering it myself although I'm thinking of wrapping with rattan.

    My question is obviously there's no flex into the handle at all with the wood compared to cork - right?  (Steve Weiss)

    With many tapers the butt is stiff enough it shouldn't matter whether the grip flexes or not.

    Has anyone tried balsa wood? It's light, and probably a feel more like cork than rattan or some of the denser woods. Which reminds me, in Spanish the word balsa means raft, as balsa-wood logs made the best rafts. Balsa wood, madera balsa, was what maybe might make a good flyrod grip. Personally I'm searching out good wines with non-cork stoppers just to take the heat off the cork demand. Three Blind Moose Merlot is the one I'm sipping now at 2-something AM after work: dry, not expensive, the nose a bit thin but covers the palate and lingers well and pleasantly.   (Henry Mitchell)

      I collect all the Champagne corks I can find around the holidays.  I even have the guys at work or at the local fly fishing club collect them for me. Little 2x4 jig and you can cut both ends into a ring. I have a whole bag of them that I cut up when needed. The cork is a composite so it is not as clean as real cork. REALLY CHEAP.  (Gordon Koppin)

    I've been playing around for some time with various kinds of grips, mainly Cholla cactus since I first saw Tony's efforts with Jimi's samples and Doug Fir bark after seeing the neat things Bill Fink has been doing for quite some time.  I sent some pic's to Todd hoping he might post them on the tips site for those who might be interested.  Credit really goes to Dave Collyer for figuring out how to dress the Cholla up (the rod pictured is actually his work) so it works best.

    Since Bill gave me a sample of very thick Doug Fir bark I've been on a quest for a reliable source for it - quite an adventure - since I've learned that such substantial bark comes from old growth trees which aren't logged very much (fortunately) and when they are the bark usually winds up in the mulch pile.  The rings made from it are stunningly beautiful being tiger striped - even in chevrons if you are lucky.  Also pictured are some very unusual grips made from that slaked corn product we Southern boys are so fond of which must go unnamed.  I'm sure Bret Reiter will really like this grip.:^)

    Anyway, to add my answer to the original question, I don't think the form of the grip alters the action of the rod appreciably - however, Jeff Hatton prefers no grip at all so he can feel everything that's going on.  Again it may be a matter of taste.  (Darrol Groth)

      Todd tells me that he posted the pics (here) of other things that can be used for grip material on the tips site, interspersed with some inserts I had turned.  The slaked corn provides a very good non-slip surface and can be gnawed if one runs out of cheese crackers.  (Darrol Groth)


I’d like some thoughts and feedback, pros and cons, on cork grips vs. wood grips.

I’ve used cork for all of my rods so far but, with of quality cork being what it is and its price going through the roof, I’m considering manufacturing wood grips for my rods.

Breaking it down to dollars and cents,  14 rings at about $3.00 a piece. will produce a grip for $42.00 I have in stock a piece of beautiful Lacewood 24”x8”x2” that cost me $6.00. It’s not rocket science and I think it would look very nice. Add to that, the little extra weight when slid onto the end of a  9”, 3 wt. and it could be a winning deal.  (Ren Monllor)

    A wood grip does add a certain bit of flair. But, I have found that no matter what finish is applied the grip feels very slick in the hand.  It almost feels like a cork grip with way too many coats of cork seal on it.  Perhaps if it were stabilized then it would feel different?  And, yes, I agree that the little extra weight helps balance the rod nicely--and you can't beat the price of wood vs. cork!  (Don Peet)

      If you are going to make wood rod grips then you should learn to "Checker" the grip as in gun stock checkering. Heddon made a presentation grade rod, the # 60 Deluxe, with a Circassian Walnut with hand checkered details to improve grip. Michael Sinclair's Heddon book claims that the wood grip in only 1/2 oz. heavier than a cork grip of the same size.  (Larry Swearingen)

        And then there's Grits.  Mixed with epoxy or table top vinyl provides an excellent non-slip surface.  Tony S. uses the cobs, I use the ground kernels.  Pics on request off List.

        I use Cholla quite a bit and have no problem with slip or discomfort.  The holes provide air circulation and good grip.  Doug Fir (piloted by Bill Fink) makes a very pretty grip - though the really thick, desireable bark is hard to find seeing as how it comes from old growth trees.  It's lots of fun to experiment with different materials - I wonder if that spongy bark on Fla. Eucalyptis trees would be any good.  (Darrol Groth)

        Weight of a wood handle a problem??

        I'm surprised no one has tried..."HOLLOW BUILDING"!!! Outside the "BOX", huh??  (David Dziadosz)

    I guess I'd start with a nice, light, forgiving wood like butternut. I made a frame out of lacewood for a painting. Be ready for splinters. It was like juggling porcupines. Should make a good grip though.  (Frank Stetzer, Hexrod, Taper Archive, Rodmakers Archive)

      My only experience with a wood grip was when casting a rod made by Jeff Hatton.  Surprisingly, the varnish on the grip seems to warm up with your hand and make for a steady and comfortable grip.  (Brian Morrow)

        Heddon used to offer a wooden grip on their rods & Nunley has used wood before.  from what I have seen from using these rods with said grip I found very little difference @ the end of the day. Go for it. (Bret Reiter)

          I've been making grips from pine bark mulch chips and oak bark gathered from fire wood. I've been getting good feed back and a couple of fellas are telling me they prefer the pine bark grips over the cork. they say it is less slippery when wet. go figure.  (Timothy Troester)

    I have also seen some nice looking grips made from cylinders of Cholla and from rings of the bark of ponderosa pine (from garden supply mulch), and from cottonwood.  Both of the latter are pretty, regionally available, and they have characteristics similar to cork expect they are a bit heavier.  (Bill Lamberson)

    Just make the thing! Then tell us how much better it feels in your hand. Others will chime in on how much better you can feel the fish with a wood grip.

    Cork is getting damn pricey! What's the worst that can happen?

    My two pennies...I like cork. I also like Jeff Hatton's rods. What does this mean?  (Mike Shay)

      That was another point, the fact that  the  grips  will  be  going  on wet-fly fly rods and I thought you’d feel more than with cork.

      Ehhhxellent, thank you my conflicted friend…..  (Ren Monllor)

    Personally If it's a cost thing I would rather give up the fancy agate stripper, and the trim wraps and pay whatever I have to for the cork, it's traditional and you guys know how I feel about that. Secondly maybe a rattan grip would be OK. I just think cork belongs on a cane rod. I would even accept a not so nice cork handle rather than a wood handle. I think that the older rods didn't have such nice cork, I beleive we just got spoiled.

    Anyway that's how I really feel about it. Honest!  (Joe Arguello)

      I couldn’t agree with you more on the fact that we should hold to tradition. I mean, I’m pretty stubborn on that fact, ask my ex, she’ll go on and on.

      I too,  like rattan grips ,but are we hiding something under it or are we doing it for aesthetic reasons.

      You know, Tony Spezio said to me early on, ”if there’s a flaw, break the piece over your knee and start again”,  this way there is no temptation to use it on another part of the process. I stick to that because I want my rods to be the best I can make, not just for myself but also for the client. And I say this because, it was bought to my attention by someone known in the business that “ I have no reason to flame my rods,  as I have nothing to hide and all to be proud of (I’m not too crazy about flamed rods). I guess I’m just trying to stay honest to myself and  to the fine tradition of rod making.

      Back to the post, for reasons already posted, weight, balance, sensitivity, am I doing a disservice to try and make a better rod for the wet- fly angler?????? I don’t know.

      I’ve been wrestling with this for the better part of six months, I just haven’t posted it, I guess, out of fear of seeming a PUTZ.  (No Wise Cracks, Thank you….)

      I don’t know……. (Ren Monllor)

        Putz, shmutz!  They ain’t no bamboo police gonna raid your shop, y’ know.

        But, now, what’s this about flaming hiding flaws???????!  Some of us happen to LIKE flamed cane, particularly the George Hamilton flame job:  nice and smooth and attractive, but you can see  whatever you need to!  So!

        Ammonium chloride?  That’s something else.  (Stevan Yasgur)

          You know guys just because I'm a traditionalist doesn't make what I do right - or wrong for that matter! I'm the kinda guy that uses a rawhide mallet because it just looks right. As well as a Bunsen burner. I also like SRMC strippers and boat guides! Call me crazy but I sure have a lot of fun with this. I look at some of the stuff you guys do.......mortised handles, alternating colored strips, engraved hardware, and who knows what else and I think that is really cool! Just not my style. Rod makers today are really thinking outside the box and doing some stuff I really think is cool (sometimes I'm even a bit jealous!). I guess I was just born 100 years too late, I like blackpowder and I enjoy blacksmithing also, like to make fire with flint and steel (Grandson get a kick out of that one) Anyway what we do is what sets us apart and gives us something to talk about when we get together. So if you have a hankerin' - make that wood handle, you will either like it or not, I can assure you someone will think it is the neatest thing they ever saw!

          Well thanks for putting up with my rant.    hic-up!  (Joe Arguello)

            Right on!  Wouldn't it be boring if we were all doing the same thing?  As far as 'tradition' is concerned, I feel that our main 'tradition' is innovation.  Here's to all the crazies out there that continue to innovate.  Or is everyone still using hide glue?  By the way, anyone have a good source for Calcutta cane?  (Ed Berg)

    I haven't actually made wooden grips, but it seems to me that boring a straight hole that fits well over a tapered hexagonal section will be lots of work.  My brain isn't too good at figuring that kinda thing out....  (Harry Boyd)

      Nothin' sez you gotta put it over a tapered hex shaft.  I don't even do that with my cork grips.  I turn the reel seat station and the grip station on the butt section down to .375 for the butt sections big enough to take that, or whatever the reel seat insert is drilled out to.  Doing that also insures I get good adhesion all the way around the shaft, with little to no glue pockets.  (Mark Wendt)

        I didn't find it very difficult to center the hole in the blank.  I simply used a drill bit in a tail stock drill chuck.  Since we are talking bamboo rods here, we can go with a little bit larger hole than the 1/4" hole that is standard for cork.  On my 4-wts I used a 5/16" drill.  It's just enough larger to drill more true.

        Since a standard grip is 7" long, a 4" drill bit is all you need.  I simply rough out the blank between centers, keeping it at least 1/4" oversize, then switch to chucks, 4-jaw in the head stock, and drill in the tail.  Chuck up the blank, and start the drill in the hole made by the live center.  Crank the tailstock in until the drilled hole is just over 3.5" deep.  Then, back out, reverse mount the blank, and do it again from the other end.

        For drilling end grain like this, I've found a carbide tipped masonry drill works well.  The runout at the center, if you exercise reasonable care, is no more than 1/16", which is easily filled by the glue when you mount the handle.  A little bit of work with a round file to true up the hole so it will mount on a  5/16" mandrel, and you're ready to turn.  (Paul Gruver)

          Thank you Paul, I didn’t think it would be a big deal….  (Ren Monllor)

          In addition to Paul’s setup to drill centered holes in cork, one thing I’ve had success with in enlarging holes in cork handles is making a guide using a piece of round metal stock to fit the hole in the cork about 2” long with a center on one end and rounded on the other. Place this guide in the hole.  Place the tip of the drill or auger bit of the correct finished size you wish in the guide center and drill . I’ve found auger bits work better than twist bits. Besides, auger bits drill better in cork or wood and they are longer so there is no need to drill from both ends.  Pretty simple, the guide follows the hole, the drill follows the guide.  Just be careful when you get to the end and ease up on the drilling pressure so you don't get blowout when the drill exits.  (Don Schneider)

            Since I turn the reel seat and grip station on my butt sections. I've found the easiest way to ream out cork.  I glue up all my grips on a mandrel, and form the grip on said mandrel.  After the grip is formed and sanded to my liking, I take the grip off the mandrel.  Depending on the size of the turned butt section, I have to coarse rat tail round files.  I chuck up the correct diameter in my lathe, turn the lathe on relatively slow, and start working the grip up the file while it's turning.  Takes a couple of minutes, and I get a nice round bore, the correct size, the entire length of the inside of the grip.  No need to mess with individual cork rings, making sure they're in the correct order for glue up.  (Mark Wendt)

              I use rat tail files also, but..............I have found if you turn the files counter clockwise thy don't tend to pull the handle into the file. You stilll get a nice cut but they don't want to screw themselves into the handle. If you aren't doing it this way, give it a try you'll like it! As usual everybody probably has been doing it this way all along and I am the last one to figure this out!  (Joe Arguello)

                Yep, I just reverse the lathe so it's spinning opposite of normal.  I think you meant clockwise though.  Counterclockwise is the normal rotation direction of the lathe.  (Mark Wendt)

                  You’re probably right I usually think backwards anyway,  but you got the idea. I always tell everybody "you’re supposed to listen to what I'm thinking not what I say!"  (Joe Arguello)

                    The first few rods I made I used pre made grips on and found them to be a major PIA. I saved my pennies and bought a lathe for the express purpose of being able to turn the grip on the rod, an added bonus was being able to turn ferrule stations easier and more accurately then just using a file free hand.  Most of the cork I get is unbored, so I just use the appropriate size piece of brass tubing in the drill pres to bore a hole then I just twist the rings around the blank to get an easy fit, the corners of the blank do a nice job of reaming the rings out to size. (John Channer)

        That's a good idea Mark and I'm glad I thought of that.  (Jack Follweiler)

        P.S. Only kidding Mark and that is a good idea and I shall do that on my next rod.

          I wasn't the one that thought of it originally.  A few years back I was repairing a rod for somebody that had a bad reel seat and a grip that was falling apart.  Once I got the old grip and reel seat off, I saw that the butt section had been turned under the grip and reel seat.  I can't remember who made the rod, might have been a Heddon, or a Granger, or some other maker.  I thought, hmmm, that's a pretty slick idea.  So, I've been doing it on every rod since.  Sure makes assembling the butt section hardware a whole lot easier, and ensures good adhesion on both the grip and reel seat to the rod.  (Mark Wendt)

            I had an old H I that was that way.  (Tony Spezio)

              I know it wasn't an HI, since I've never worked on one of those.  Might have even been an F.E. Thomas.  (Mark Wendt)

                Whelp that was the case more often than not. I've kept a ledger on all repair and restoration work that I've done that covers over 35 years and has 391 entries to date. If I had to guess (I'm sure not going to sit down and break it down now), I'd say that at least 20% had grip and/or reelseat replacements. The majority of them were turned round, some baby butt smooth others just had the apexes knocked off. While they all didn't have the grip area turned down, every single one of them had the reelseat area turned down so that a drilled out light wooden dowel rod of the proper diameter could be glued to the blank before fitting the Bakelite or metal reelseat on as the reel seats had a much larger opening than any blank. Heck, Montague even did this to their mid and low end grades. One of these days when I'm bored and have nothing better to do I should sit down with that ledger and do a breakdown by Manufacturer of what was done to each rod and make notes as to anything that was interesting or outside of the box on each.  (Will Price)

    I built a red cedar grip onto a 8' 6wt rod a couple of years ago.  It works.  It looks nice.  I probably won't do it again.  This is a personal rod, and I just don't like how the wood grip feels in the hand.  Weight is not an issue, but the hardness of the surface is, even with a wood as soft as cedar.  Also, when my hands get a bit of fish slime on them the wood grip becomes very slick, much more so than cork.

    My best alternative is to use some other kind of tree bark (cork is just bark, after all.)  So far I've had excellent results with southern yellow pine.  It's not quite as soft to the touch as cork, but it does give a bit, and it is easy to hang onto under adverse conditions.  (Paul Gruver)

    Personal opinion:  I love cork but, I am partial to the slightly inferior cork.  I feel it shows more character.  The ultra high end cork just appears fake to me. (JMHO).  Some of the handles being made with wood are amazing.

    I am partial to blond, earth tone colored wraps with agate stripping guides and cork handles.  That doesn't mean I am right it is just my preference.  If somebody wanted me to build a wood handled bamboo rod, I wouldn't balk at building it.  Custom bamboo rods are just that custom.  I do try to keep customers (again personal preference) away from the bright, loud rods.  (Pete Emmel)

    Just FYI... Ron Kusse makes his "Beaverkill Special" with a handsome wood grip; it has a high-gloss varnish.  (Bernard Elser)

      Ah, and don't forget Marcelo Calviello and the beautiful wood grips that he's using.  Very nice stuff!  (Todd Talsma)

        I just put a wooden handle on a 7' 4 wt I'm making for myself. The handle is a well marked piece of pine. It is very light for wood, but I have no idea how well it will hold up. I soaked it in Plexiglas soup to toughen it up and it has a glossy finish from the soup. Doesn't seem to be slippery but who knows until I get to fish it this spring. I put a swelled butt on the rod and no taper under the handle.  (Tom Kurtis)

    I have made some real nice reel inserts from Lacewood. The only wood grips I have used were on Salt Water Boat Rods. I have no Pro's Or Con's. I say make it and see how you like it. There is a rod company here in Flippin that makes some real good looking fly rod grips from Cedar Burl coated with Flex Coat. I have made some from Corn Cobs.  (Tony Spezio)

    I have owned 2 Horrocks-Ibbotson Meteors with wood grips which I liked and have made 1 rod with a bamboo grip.Both of which I liked and they transmitted the feel from the rod to my hand better than cork(which is one of the big reasons Jeff Hatton likes the mortised grip rods so much).The extra weight most cases is negligible and even less in some cases as Spanish cedar weighs less than cork.The big drawback is getting the general public to accept them.  (Will Price)

    The lacewood would indeed look nice for a grip.  Used some for a hex case several years ago and it looks great. Used a scrap to make a verrrry nice fountain pen for a gift last week.  Just remember that the dust from lacewood is toxic,  also smells funny.  (Carey Mitchell)

      I make only wood grips and reel seats now. I find them much more beautiful than cork; far less expensive; elegant, classy etc.  I think it is stupid to spend all your time and skill to make a beautifully crafted. technically perfect rod and then go cover it with fish slime and dirt and hide it in an expensive brass capped or leather covered tube.  What the heck do you want to display tubes for when the rod is the real show piece?

      Put a gorgeous piece of wood on the handle and  glow with satisfaction at the beauty of it as well as the fond memories of good times it recalls.  Wood cleans up easily and can be hollow built so it is lighter; sure it takes a lot more time to finish properly but I think greed is what is really driving the preference for cork because time is money.  I see all this claptrap about fine craftsmanship and then you go and crap it up with an ugly cork handle.... That just does not make sense!  The tradition argument is also a hollow argument as well. If we really want to do things the way our forefathers did, then just tie a string on a stick.

      Oh, and by the way machinists, engineers, and fisherman usually don't know any more about aesthetics and good taste than I know about machining, engineering and fishing, which isn't much. (That's not my humble opinion, that's my professional opinion).  (Dick Steinbach)

    I have made 3 rods with wooden handles. They are nothing fancy and are made out of walnut (one rod) and cherry( 2 rods). I made them cigar shaped sanded them as smooth as I could, finished them with varnish, and polished them out with car polish, much the same way many of us finish out our rods. I made the reel seats to match. I like the look and fish the one with the walnut handle often. I was worried that they would be slippery but they have not been for me. I agree with what others have said. "Go for it". I also like cork handles and have learned to make them too. Obviously,  there is a lot more labor involved with the wood handle than the cork.  (Bill Bixler)

      I've seen Bill's handles, and they are pretty nice.  We've fished together on a number of occasions, and he's used them all day.  Other than his usual whining and complaining, I never heard any complaints about the handles...  ;-)  (Mark Wendt)

    Wood handles might work well (I've never tried) but I'm not convinced checkering ala gun stocks is a good idea.  Imagine trying to keep the fish slime out of a checkered grip!  As I recall, good stock checkering isn't finished at all, or very lightly  (unlike the stamped stuff on my 12 gauge.)   (Neil Savage)

      I think I would check a grip if I new how. As far as grime in the the checkered grip, I have one more d-ring, unused, on my  on my fishing vest I could hang a soft tooth brush from so as to cleanup the grip before I leave the water just like I use the chamois in my belt to clean my line.  (Timothy Troester)

    Watch it you'll hurt my feelings. I only complain about the weather, work, the terps basketball and football teams and your infatuation with new toyls.  (Bill Bixler)

    The only drawback that I can think of is the very idea that I could have something in my hand that just might become slippery when wet.  Then there were the trips when I fished hard for days on end, Oh the joy!, and my hands felt like they could blister at any time.  I think cork would be more shock absorbent and forgiving on the hands than wood.

    But hey I do not know Lacewood and maybe it's fine.  (Doug Alexander)

    With the price of good cork maybe we should offer various handles. After I read the article on leather handles in the latest Power fibre mag I started experimenting with leather. Have a hunting friend in the tanning industry helped.

    I tried blue wildebeest hide (nice and thick) with 3 different tanning treatments, using the method as per the article, I ended up with a usable handle lighter than wood and a lot softer. I still have some experimenting to do next year but any one interesting in the results are welcome to contact me off list and I will send a couple of photos.  (Gordon Gove)

    I'm still a lurker, haven't yet built my first bamboo rod. I have refinished/refurbished a couple, made cork grips, ferrules, reel seat inserts, and soon will try reel seat hardware.

    I have followed the thread on wood and other alternative handles with interest. Why not make handles with pieces of leftover/cutoff bamboo? I'm sure the same processes used in building a rod could be extended to building a handle/grip. I don't have any bamboo to work from, so I leave it to those with cutoffs or scraps to try.

    On the other hand, if someone has a bunch of cutoffs/leftovers I'd be willing to experiment...  (Chuck Pickering)

      If you go to the link I post, you will see a rod I made with a bamboo grip and a mortised bamboo reelseat. Buying a different type of bamboo that is near the diameter of a grip and then you can turn it down and sand to shape. Different and rather attractive if I do say so myself. On top of that this bamboo has a natural hole through the center so it's not necessary to drill one. Even though it looks slick and slippery, it wasn't, even when wet. Once you get to the link, just scroll down to the middle of the page.  (Will Price)

        I forgot to mention in my other post that the bamboo in the grip is a variety called tam vang. It's very woody and the center hole runs through the culm as there are no solid nodal dams. It's mostly used to make furniture. I also forgot the link in my other post so I included it here.  (Will Price)

    The thing that occurs to me is that it may not be as simple as fitting a wooden grip to a rod that was designed to have cork.  You would really ned to use a taper that was designed for wood, or possibly you would get away with a rod with a pronounced butt swell.

    Like radical butt swells, the wooden grip will not allow the bamboo under it to flex and thus to contribute to the overall action of the rod.

    Put on a wooden grip and you effectively shorten he rod's working length by about 8 or 9 inches unless it's designed specifically for that length.  (Peter McKean)

      Now that is a good observation, I have personally changed the taper on some rods by swelling the butt section because I don't like to feel the handle bend when fighting a large fish. It certainly changes the action of the rod. One other thing is that I found a long time ago that just the shape of the handle and how it fits your hand can make a rod feel much different. I really believe that this difference can 'make an OK rod a much better rod' if the handle fits your hand right. I feel that this is more important than aesthetics.  (Joe Arguello)

        I have always felt that shaping the grip to fit my hand is one of the advantages of making your own  bamboo or building your own graphite.  Our hands are not all the same size any more than our shirts are.  Mr. XL isn't going to like Mr. Small's shirt, why should we expect his hand to fit the same grip?  Read Ralph Moon's article on grips in Power Fibers.  He took a photo of my hand next to my wife's to illustrate difference in size.  Anyone handling our rods will know in a minute whether the grip was meant for me or my wife.  I always shape grips from individual rings to fit the user's hand.  We're not all 'off the rack' people.  (Ed Berg)

        Neither do I, Joe.

        I like to feel handles bending under my hand that is! On UK bait or coarse rods with two foot handles this could be something of a challenge before carbon appeared. Tennis racket grips are meant to be of such diameter that your fingers don't touch your palm, but I find this too thick for rod handles, many of which must be much too thick for many people because I have enormous hands, 10 3/4" span, and most makers handles are either just right or marginally thin for me.

        Length matters, but if 7 1/2" is right for me it must be a bit long for many and with cork the price it is. Incidentally, I've never understood those handles that I think many call reverse half wells. I always feel that my hand is sliding  off the front, which it doesn’t, but it makes me grip harder which is fatigue inducing after a few hours. The converse shape, with the taper at the back and the central bulge displaced to a third of the way down I find equally comfortable, and it makes a change from producing yet another full wells or scroll grip.  (Robin Haywood)

        We do that already.  The action length of a rod is usually 10" shorter than the overall length, so the grip and reel seat lengths/compositions don't really matter.  (Mark Wendt)

          I assume we do this because the rod at the point is either effectively under the fulcrum point, or behind it.  (Mark Wendt)


Well, I made the wooden grip for the rod with a cork reel seat and slid it on the blank.

As pretty as it is; as good as it feels in the hand; as well as I can feel every miniscule tick on the rod, I’ve got to say it’s going to take some time to get used to.

It’s weird to me.

It does everything I wanted it to, it’s just so different.

God grant me the serenity to accept…..  (Ren Monllor)


I make wood grips often (actually - far more often then cork) and think they are great - both aesthetically and functionally.  I turn them on a mandrel on a Jet mini lathe (10x14).  I turn the reel seat separately - though have been messing around with a single piece grip and reel seat.  The problem you run into with a single piece grip / seat is boring a straight hole through 10" stock.  It can be done -  but is a little tricky to get it right without going off center.  Just go slow and clear chips often (or use a gun drill).  The other issue is mortising the reel seat.  Again, can be done - but it is easier (for me) to mortise the reel seat by itself on the router.

As for wood type - I've used heart pine, walnut, maple and myrtle wood.  All work great.  I think any hard wood will work.  Soft woods would work as well - but would probably get dinged up after awhile.  (Tim Aaron)

    Boring the hole straight through the wood grip is the problem I have been trying to figure out.  I have not been successful drilling from both sides.

    Does anyone have any good guidance?  (Matt Fuller)

      Drill speed is really important for preventing a bit from wandering. Likely THE most important variable, from what this non-machinist understands.

      I went down into my shop just now to review my speeds charts for drilling.

      If using a brad point drill bit in hard woods the suggested spindle speed for a 3/8" drill bit is 750 RPM. The same bit in soft woods is 1800 RPM.

      Now, if it were me I think I'd entertain the already-given method of drilling when the blank is oversize, chucking her up on a mandrel and then turning down to size.

      To me (it seems) that would remove many "wandering" variables and other troubles (they seem to find me) and assure you concentricity.

      I'm thinking that's the way I'll go if I turn my grips. And that does sound like a blast.  Good luck and I hope this helps some.

      Bear in mind, it's only my opinion.  (Jeremy Gubbins)

      Going from both sides doesn't work for me.  Here is what I do.  Put the square stock between centers and turn a tenon on one end so that I can chuck it in a 4 jaw chuck.  Then I drill a pilot hole (3/16") using a jacobs chuck in the tailstock.  Then drill to final dimension using a 3/8" (or 5/16" depending on the rod) bit - 8" long brad point.  To prevent it from going off center - you need to go very slow and withdraw every 1/2" or so to clear the chips.  If you don't clear the chips frequently - the bit will not stay centered.  Another thing I learned is that auger bits don't work well because the screw tip wants to follow the grain.  I think brad point bits are your best bet.

      Once the hole is drilled - I put it on a mandrel and turn to final dimensions.  This way - even if I went slightly off center - I can true it up on the mandrel.

      Another couple of options that I haven't employed but that should also work is to use a D bit, gun drill or long conventional bit coming through your tailstock.

      If you do go from both sides - one way to tru up the hole if they don't meet is to chuck a 3/8" rat tail file in a hand drill (you have to cut the squared end off to do this) - then  - with the drill in reverse - work the file through the hole.  (Tim Aaron)

        Let me ask this.  If you made a one piece for handle and seat would you still need to take the actually bamboo rod as deep as normal or could you get away with a short set into the handle?  (Steve Fitch)

          That shouldn't be a problem - though you wouldn't be able to turn it on a mandrel if you did that.  Only other possible problem is that if you use burl which is somewhat fragile- I suppose you could potentially snap off the reelseat since you don't have the blank going through there to add support.  Probably wouldn't happen though since there would be very little stress at that point.  (Tim Aaron)

      Just get a long bit. I purchased a 12” Aircraft Extension Bit and it works great.  (Ren Monllor)

      Here is what I do. It may work for you depending on the size lathe you have.

      I first turn the square round. This will be an oversize round. When round it will be chucked up in the three jaw chuck. One end in the chuck, the other end that you have drilled with a 60 degree center drill, in the live center at the tail stock . I check how true it will run by putting a cutting tool up against the wood and turning the chuck by hand. Being that the wood is oversize, a bit off center will not hurt. If by chance it is way off center, you can back off the live center and tap the wood with a mallet to get it closer to center. Then use a long drill bit to drill through as far as it will go. I use a 5" bit that goes all the way through a reel seat insert. Clear the chips as you drill. Reverse the wood and do as above if using a bit that will not drill all the way through. I can usually get a straight hole. It really don't matter if the hole is a bit off, the wood is larger than it needs to be. The wood is them slipped on a mandrel and turned to size. This will true it up with the center hole.

      Hope this is clear enough to understand.  (Tony Spezio)

        ...What Tony said....

        I got a 12" long by 3/8 Blu-Mol drill bit from Home Depot for a reasonable price.  On bamboo rods, 3/8 seems to be a good size, and the drill is substantial enough that it doesn't wander easily.

        I've used Eastern Red Cedar, and Sweet Gum in the past (really love the sweet gum!), and am working on a black walnut grip now.  (Paul Gruver)

          I use a 12" 3/8 bit as well. I turn a lot of maple, tiger stripe, birds eye, ambrosia, quilted etc. Black walnut crotch and burl is wonderful but I find the Claro walnut is softer and kicks up a lot of harmful dust. There are some pictures on my web site.  (Dick Steinbach)

      For those who might want to make a one piece hardwood handle and reel seat. A long time ago I made a couple wooden flutes on my lathe. The big trick was to drill the 20" hole very nearly on center. It turned out that one of the ways you can do that is to use a device called a lamp auger. If you Google that, you will see that they are available in 3/8" and 5/16 diameter. The shape of the cutting face causes the tool to stay in the center of the stock, rather than follow the grain, as a pointed drill will. The auger is actually a hand tool, which is used in conjunction with a lathe set up. The procedure is as follows:

      Mount the wood between centers, and turn it fully round, but oversize. Change to a headstock chuck, and grip one end of the cylinder with it, keeping the other end in the tailstock center. Set up a steady rest just in front of the tailstock. This can be a proper lathe steady rest, or something you improvised with a wood frame and bearings as found on rod wrapping cradles. It's job is to hold the end of the wood steady and on center as you drill. Using a tailstock chuck, drill a short starter hole in the wood with a drill of the same diameter as the auger. 1/2" deep is plenty. Remove the tailstock, set up a wooden rest that is clamped to the lathe ways 6" or so behind the wood. The wood should have a notch in the center to rest the shank of the auger in, and the height of the notch should be arranged so that the auger is level with the lathe ways. In other words, when the point of the auger is in the starter hole,and the shank is in the rest, the auger shank should be centered and level with the lathe centerline.

      To drill the hole, run the lathe at a low speed, push the auger into the stock with a slight twisting motion and drill a couple inches at a time, withdrawing the bit to clear the chips. If your setup is good, you will stay very close to centered with the auger for a long way. Now mound the wood on a properly sized mandril and turn to the desired shape.

      I see that there is now something called a hollow center that would apparently allow you to use your tailstock instead of the wooden rest to guide the auger. If the thing will fit your lathe, that is...  (Tom Smithwick)

        Here's an article from Woodturning Magazine I'd saved on just this topic in the event I ever found need or courage enough to get this insanely adventurous with my wood lathe.

        Good luck to all brave souls.  (Bob Brockett)

          Several things I make on the lathe require long holes bored such as pepper mills. Many different of bits have been tried and Auger bits seem to work best for me.

          I put the stock, square or round, in a wood chuck on the headstock and a drill chuck in the tail stock. I use auger bits starting with 3" long to 6" long, and then a 12".  When I'm feeling brave and need a longer hole, I will put a pin mandrill in the head stock, reverse the product being turned and put it on the mandrill. Then start drilling from the other end. Yes, switching back to the shortie bit again. Some sanding is usually needed to smooth out the the ridge where the two drillings meet.

          The bits don't have to be expensive. It is easy to find brand new ones at flea markets.  (Rich Jezioro)

        The easiest way is to make the grip/seat in two halves.  Rout a semicircular channel in each half & glue them together around a mandrel. This will, of course leave a seam, but is it any worse than the seams in six strip rod construction?  (Ron Larsen)


Anyone try making wood grips?  How do they feel?  What size lathe do you use?  What is the best wood to use?  Are the reel seats a separate  piece or is it one continuous piece?  (Steven Fitch)

    I make and use wood grips all the time. I prefer them to cork any day, as you feel what’s happening on the other end a lot more, whereas cork is an absorber of vibration.

    I’ve used Australian Snakewood and Lacewood quite a bit as it has beautiful figure.

    I usually make the grip,  a nickel-silver washer, then the reel seat.

    I have a full size lathe and mill here at the house but I’m sure it could be done on a small lathe.  (Ren Monllor)

      Varnished handles on canoe paddles, axes and shovels cause blisters. Do you put any kind of finish on your wood rod grips?  (Ron Grantham)

    About 8-9 years ago I asked the same exact question and my answer came from none other than Bob Nunley. He told me what others have already told you. Wood makes a fine grip that does not slip and I have never got a blister from a wooden handle. I have them on two of my rods and they are the ones  I fish the most. Besides some of the woods already mentioned, one of mine is made from Cherry, the other walnut. I finished them off the rod, the same way I finish a rod, before gluing them on. I made the reel seats from the same matching wood but made them separate. All turning was done on my friends wood turning lathe.  (Bill Bixler)


So far the discussion is about round wood grips.  Does anyone know how to turn hammer handle wood grips?  (Dave Cooper)

    Here's a link to one way.  (Neil Savage)

      It looks like bore a  hole through the center will be a challenge.  (Dave Cooper)

        You could make the grip a bit long, bore the hole, plug it with a short piece of dowel, turn the grip between centers and then cut off the ends.  That is if you really want a hammer handle grip.  I don't think I've ever seen one on a rod...  (Neil Savage)

          After you have it turned as Neil suggests you could saw off one or more sides, esp the one where you fingers will grip it. To give you a classic "hammer handle" grip.  (Dave Burley)

          Thanks Neil,  That sounds like it could work.  I believe is saw a picture of a high model Heddon rod with a hammer handle grip.  (Dave Cooper)

    Heddon apparently did put a 'hammer' handle on a few rods; but, for whatever reason abandoned it.

    As far as turning is concerned, the author of the link adds an unnecessary step to the process. It is NOT necessary to first turn to round. Simply lay out the two points for the two turning axes on each end of a rectangular piece of wood as described in the article, and start turning; thus, eliminating one step as described in the article. Either way, you will have to 'round off' corners. Also, by starting with rectangular stock, there will be less waste than if starting with square, and the turning time will have been reduced.  (Frank Schlicht)

      I suspect you could also use a round over bit or a quarter round bit on your router table as well?? (Dick Steinbach)

      I need to add a PS to the first post.

      I would recommend turning a round tenon on one end to facilitate chucking in a multi-jaw chuck for drilling the center hole, which can be drilled after the handle has been turned. Just be sure to mark the 'dead center' on the back end prior to any turning so you can center drill.  (Frank Schlicht)

        That really is doing it that hard way. If the hole is drilled first, the wood can be put on a mandrill and then turned to shape.  It's really a lot easier that way.  (Rich Jezioro)


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