Just a Few Guide Notes…

Written by : Posted on April 26, 2016 : No Comments

Just a few guide notes for now….

On Sizing Tiptops: Here’s some basic info you need for synthetic and bamboo blanks. Tips are sold in nominal 64ths of an inch, by one-half/64 increments, e.g., 3.5/64, 4/64, 4.5/64…you get the picture. To fetch this nominal size from the blank on your bench, you need to do math. For those of us immersed in imperial measure, start by taking a reading in thousandths of an inch. You might get a reading of 0.070. This number, 0.070”, equates to 4.5/64″. The math on that, if you don’t have the formula inked on your rodmaking bench, is x.xxx” x 64 = xx.xx/64”, so in this case it’s 0.070” x 64 = 4.48/64 and then you need to round that UP to the nearest tiptop size which is the 4.5/64. Since you don’t want to reduce the measurement of a tip in most cases (exception to the rule coming up!), you should ignore standard rounding rules and always round UP to the nearest one-half/64 increment. Especially if you are working on a graphite or glass blank. Yes, with round blanks you can gently scrape – never cut – a thin scrim of clear coat away where the tip will reside. I’ve done this and it works just fine, and allows you use a snug-fitting, smaller diameter tiptop. However, taking this action will void your warranty, so I recommend using the next tip up the scale unless you could care less about the warranty. Now, if you’re working on bamboo blanks, which have those lovely facets inherent in the polygon of your choice – quad, hex, oct – you have a serious choice to make.You bamboo makers can either measure the flat-to-flat dimension, or the corner-to-corner dimension; you pent guys are always going to measure flat-to-corner, so ignore this info. For all makers using polygons that feature an even number of sides and corners, there are benefits and drawbacks to either choice of measurement. If you measure flat to flat, as I do, your measurement will be smaller, so you’ll wind up ordering a smaller tiptop (typically 0.5/64 smaller than a corner-to-corner measurement on the same blank). This is nice, because it keeps your tiptop tube snug to the blank, and it keeps the size/scale reduced, which I think looks nice on cane rods. But, and here’s that exception to the rule I mentioned above, to make that smallish tiptop fit, you need to scrape (not cut) the corners of the polygon, essentially turning the blank round within the short span covered by the tiptop tube. The only downside? You’ve just removed powerfibers and marginally reduced the strength of your blank. It’s never given me any trouble, but my fishing tends to be for smaller fish – trout, bass, panfish. If you’re fishing for freshwater bonefish (carp), salmon, channel cats, or anything big enough to snap a rod while doing battle with them, then you may want all the powerfibers you can muster. In this case, measure the tip of your blank corner-to-corner, or apex-to-apex if you prefer that phraseology. Your tip will slip over the corners of your blank, no scraping needed, all power preserved. That’s nice. The only downside here is that, visually, the tip may look a bit big. Do you worry about these sorts of things? Another thought: unless your bamboo blank is darn near perfect – and it should be, right? – you should take the average of all three flat-to-flat, or corner-to-corner, pairs. That’s for hexagonal rods, obviously. You quad and oct makers have something slightly more or less to contend with. But before you do anything else, please go scribe that formula onto your bench where you can see it. It works for ferrules, too. Really, anywhere you need to convert a thou measure into a sixty-fourth measure. x.xxx” X 64 = xx.xx/64″. We should probably have that formula engraved on little nickel silver placards, with a hole punched at either end, supplied with two rosehead copper nails so you can lodge it against the surface of your bench, forever.

While we’re on formulas, if you are using metric measure, you need to first convert your millimeter spec into thousandths of an inch. Try this on for size: x.xmm X 0.03937 = x.xxx”. Sample: 1.8mm x 0.03937 = 0.070″. And now you’re right back where this example started, with a 70 thou tip. Fun stuff. Why did I hate math in school? Probably because it was disassociated from reality. And that, friends, is why I homeschool(ed) my kid(s). Right now I’m down to one homeschooler, but three of the four have been through the wringer. If you have kids and you’re thinking you ought to homeschool, yes, you should.

On Finish: If you’re looking for the common snake, it’s chrome, standard wire; these are the most popular, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that they probably catch the most fish. If you’re hunting for the best snake, look at the TiCHs…dark, subtle, and durable; yes, you get what you pay for with these. Ponder this: you’re waving that rod back and forth over the waters – do you want it to be shimmering like a bangled belly dancer, or would you prefer it to pass overhead, unrecognized and unnoticed, the very shadow of death? And, we should add, if you’re a catch and release angler, that also makes your rod the harbinger of the life to come, a life wiser through lived experience, and, for you, that angler wielding the rod, there’s now one fish more challenging on the morrow.

Single foot vs. traditional two-footed snakes? While we are very likely to add single foot guides because some rodmakers swear by them (they are lighter, if you’re worried about grams), they aren’t our first choice. If a line wraps around a single-foot guide, that guide can be pulled out from beneath its wrap. It happens. Then you’re in a pickle, which is fine, and minor, if you’re fishing in your backyard. But it’s not fine if you’ve traveled to Alaska, or Patagonia, or anywhere where all your spare tackle isn’t. Traditional snakes are much more likely to stay anchored in their wraps. Build more durable rods. Use both feet. Build traditional rods. Use both feet. We’d argue there’s another reason for the popularity of single foot snakes besides the weight reduction. They make for cheaper rods. Not necessarily cheap in the sense of poorly made, but cheap in the sense of less expensive. Use single footers, and use fewer of them, and you’ll save a few pennies on material costs, but a lot more on labor. You’re building a custom rod – don’t be cheap by cheating yourself out of the most beautiful, functional rod you can make.

Quantity? We’d rather have one snake too many than one too few. Our rule is simple. Take the “foot length” of the rod, and round up if you’re in the middle of a foot, then add one more snake. So a 7’6″ or 8′ rod would have nine snakes, plus the stripper and the tiptop. Don’t forget to double up if your rod has two tips.

Size? We’ll give you one complete example and you can scale up or down. For a 7’6″ 5 wt, we’d use a 10mm stripper, which we think goes nicely with a #3 snake as the first in line, to make this snake set: 1x #3, 2x #2, 3x #1, 3x #1/0. If the rod is 6 or 7 weight, start with an 11mm stripper and a #4 snake. If the rod is a 3 or 4 weight, start with a 9mm stripper and a #2 snake.

Spacing? This rod should be as individual as its maker. We didn’t plane out your blank, and if it’s glass or graphite, we didn’t roll it. You’re holding the blank. You know if that blank has got a jumpy spine that must be respected, or if each flat of your hex is so nearly identical that spine isn’t your problem. You know if it has some wonky curvature that might dictate a few things. You know where the ferrules are. You can tape guides in a test pattern and grass cast the rod, nudging them up or down as needed. You can perform static line tests. All you need are some basic numbers, a rough but suitable starting point. Hunt the internet for a guide spacing calculator. They’re not hard to find.

Restoring a rod? So, it’s 9 feet and has six snakes. Should you replace the six, or revamp entirely and use the ten snakes it ought to have? That’s a ticklish question. If you’re actually restoring it, you should maintain the original spacing. If possible, you should clean the old guides in naval jelly, refinish them, and put them back on. But if you’re basically re-inventing that rod, installing new ferrules, and a new agate stripper sized for modern lines rather than silk lines, then just do it right and put on a full set of snakes. Remember, the old production houses used as few snakes as possible to keep costs down. The catch, though, is the ghosting. There’s little worse, visually, than an old rod with a new guide pattern that has ghosts of the old pattern dancing all around the new wraps. Those ghosts are the pale remains of the guide wraps you removed, wraps which blocked the sun’s UV from from those little spans on the blank. With great caution, you need to do your best to exorcise those ghosts; scrape, then sand, then steel wool the blank and do your best to even out the color without going deep into the power fibers. Then wrap. Giving a fresh start to vintage tackle is an honorable thing. It was intended to catch fish and you’re giving it a second chance. Just be respectful if you own a masterwork; some small percentage of bamboo rods, and a few glass rods, are best left untouched, or, at most, carefully refurbished by a pro who can match the quality of the original maker’s work.

Above all, have fun. Don’t take any of this too seriously, except for respecting the work of old masters. Other than that, these words are just opinions, a jumping off point from which you can make a splash of your own.

Ok, it’s the Ides of March, 2016, and I’m adding to this ramble on guides.  Here are some notes on grinding snake guide feet….same process applies to most small feet on strippers and hook tenders, too.

Grinding TiCH or any other snake guides. Really, I don’t think any of the snake guides have properly prepared feet…if they come ground, they tend to be overground, often with grim bits of flashing or at least burrs. Anyway this is a snap to fix and something I should write up for the website…and here it is, as part of the ramble on guides. I’ll check the wording on the site, too, as the current batch of TiCH snakes does have a light grind, but they plate right over top the burr raised on the bottom of the foot, so this still leaves plenty of room for DIY improvement.

You need diamond burrs for a rotary tool (Dremel, Foredom, etc.); my preference is for cylinder burrs, say 8mm-10mm OD. Hold the guide upside down so you’re looking at the bottom of the foot. Safety notice: the minute you touch the burr to the foot, metal filings are going to stream upwards into your face, so wear protective glasses or even goggles; a dust mask isn’t a bad idea either. Focusing your eye on the toe of the foot – usually blunt or lopsided – roll the burr on the “underside” (actually the top of the foot, since it’s flipped in your hand) of the toe’s edge and it will quickly put a nice arc across the front of the foot, rounding off the two corners if you started with a blunt toe. As you do this, keep the burr canted just a bit off of vertical, then as the foot silhouette comes into a nice form, a curve evenly arcing across the toe, start to cant the diamond burr at a steeper and steeper angle, rolling it under the tip of the guide foot and working from one side the other. After a few passes (check frequently by flipping the guide right side up), you’ll have created a near perfectly tapered toe featuring a bright “fingernail” or “crescent moon” arc between 1/16” – 1/8” long that goes from the knife’s edge of the toe up to the top of the snake foot. There will be a burr on the underside edge, and the toe will be sharp enough to slice thread or your fingers. I use the coarse (green) polishing paper to knock off this burr and to buff over the ground toe a few passes, which both smooths out the minute texture from the fine diamond burr and it dulls that edge just enough to make wrapping a snap, and not a cut. [Paragraphs like this make me wish that burr didn’t have two meanings which crossed paths so often in component work.] Now you have bright toes on dark guides if you’re working with Black or TiCH snakes. This can look quite distinctive with translucent wraps – proof that you worked your feet – especially if you take care to create a uniform arc of brightness. If you don’t like the bright toe, you can blue the feet or darken them with indelible marker….just be sure to test your markered feet with your finish of choice to be sure the marker won’t lift/bleed when wet with your varnish. Test everything, all the time, whenever you try something new or alter the least step in your “known” process. You’ll cry if you bleed black ink into every one of the thread wraps you spent hours perfecting, just because you didn’t take the time to do some test wraps as a way of proofing your process. On to bluing as option: Some of the steels blue nicely; others don’t. The steel used with the TiCH snakes is resistant to most (all?) commercial cold bluing solutions. The best way to deal with the bright tips of the feet, if you want to make the investment, is to buy a pen plating system such as jewelers use, then apply something dark, like a black rhodium plate.

The feet of guides really are easy to deal with once you get the knack, and it’s not a tough knack to acquire. If you’re taking the effort to work a few practice pieces, I’d get a descending scale, but in the less expensive black guides. You can even nip the feet blunt and re-grind. If you start with a #3 or #4, then work your way down to the smaller sizes, you’ll probably be an expert after four or five guides. I’m obsessive about safety…wear eye protection, and be cautious of your grip…if a guide catches and spins you want it to spin out of your hand onto the shop floor, not into your fingers….I’ve been impaled with snakes and strippers several times over the years and the awareness that it can happen is often enough to prevent it from happening. I hold the guide with the lightest, loosest possible grip that still allows me to maintain control, and I release my fingers instantly if I feel a hiccup between the grinding burr and the guide foot.

One client responded to this general advice with sound advice of his own:  Thanks for advice on the guides, I may take it a step back to “old school” grinding. When you fit parts on a pistol or r/c plane, you tend to use fine files. I’ll probably use a fine file to get close and then a stone to smooth and finish. I’m not in a rush…plus I can avoid any more holes in my fingers…I get enough of those from tying flies!  I completely agree that this is a fine way to work; for years and years I filed the guide feet.  This meant snakes, but also all the stripping guides I make.  As our order volume increased, I had to find a faster way to work, while not diminishing the quality.  The diamond burrs eventually became my go-to solution…but all power tool solutions have the potential to bite back, usually worse than hand tool solutions to the same problem, so don’t discount the efficacy of hand files and a small Arkansas stone.

Recently (April, 2016) I had a fellow inquire after snake guide sizes, i.e., the specs of each nominal size snake. And once again, an emailed tech question spawns a response that can benefit many curious rodmakers. A couple points of interest here. First, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no universal or historic standard. “Ought” sizes are tiny and typically start at #3/0 or #2/0. Most series run upwards toward #4, #5, or #6. Ordering a #1 snake from manufacturer A will probably yield a different length, and loop size, from a snake by the same #1 designation manufactured by firm B. For this reason, it’s often best to pick a snake you love, and stick with it. This also allows you to stock up, so if a snake goes sailing off your workbench into that 1970s shag rug, never to be seen again until your spouse steps on it barefoot, you will at least have a spare guide in your bin so that you can finish out the rod without having to order a single snake. I always cringe slightly when a rodmaker orders exactly the right number of snakes, because those little things do get lost now and then. One tip: buy a kneadable rubber eraser from an art supply shop and tuck the snakes, in size-scaled order, into the grey matter. You’ll remember where they are and they’ll stay on your bench neatly organized, snake to snake, as you make progress. Just be sure when you extract the snakes for wrapping that you clean each foot well before starting to lay on the silk.

The various finishes within a given style all hover in the same ballpark sizewise; these are very specific measurements, but they are only a general guideline because there is slight, but discernable, variety from guide to guide, from batch to batch over the years. Below are measurements taken from one exemplar guide of each size/wire weight. For each triplet of specs, I’m giving length from toe tip to toe tip, then height from the bottom of the feet to the top of the loop with both measurements rounded to the nearest 0.005″ increment, and finally there is the wire O.D. Worth noting: guides have a little “spring” to them…the length is measured with the least possible compression but loop height is measured with the feet compressed to the lower jaw of my dial caliper, i.e., with the feet flat, as they would be under pressure from a guide wrap.

TiCH Light Wire:

3/0 0.660″ x 0.205″ x 0.020″
2/0 0.695″ x 0.225″ x 0.020″
1/0 0.765″ x 0.265″ x 0.025″
1 0.805″ x 0.290″ x 0.025″
2 0.845″ x 0.305″ x 0.027″
3 0.870″ x 0.380″ x 0.028″
4 0.955″ x 0.395″ x 0.030″

TiCH Standard Wire:

3/0 not offered in standard wire
2/0 0.750″ x 0.220″ x 0.028″
1/0 0.800″ x 0.255″ x 0.028″
1 0.815″ x 0.295″ x 0.028″
2 0.870″ x 0.330″ x 0.035″
3 0.995″ x 0.375″ x 0.035″
4 1.065″ x 0.415″ x 0.039″
5 1.125″ x 0.455″ x 0.040″
6 1.230″ x 0.480″ x 0.047″

And guys/gals, I mean this in the nicest way: please don’t email me to let me know you bought a snake and the specs are slightly off from this chart. I know it. They’re little pieces of bent wire. If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with. This isn’t particularly good advice with affairs of the human heart, but if you fall in love with some ideal spec from the chart above, yet your #4 standard wire snake arrives with a wire diameter of 0.040″….love the one you’re with. Or figure my caliper was off by a thou when I measured and your snake is the ideal snake.

Now, if you ordered a #4 and I sent you a #3….a snake slithered into the wrong bin and I screwed up by not noticing while packing your order. It happens, rarely, but it happens. Shoot me an email. This is a problem I can fix.

Thanks for reading!


Thus ends this ramble for the time being.





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