Ferrule Advice

Written by : Posted on October 25, 2017 : No Comments

If you have the least question about ferrules – if you’re new to ferrules or only moderately experienced – please, please read this information at least once. I promise, it will help to prevent mistakes and misunderstandings. Thanks!

Welcome to the Golden Witch Ferrule Advice Ramble! I need to let you, the rodmaker or restorationist reading this page, know that I have lost clients because of ferrules. Ferrules are finicky, challenging, yet almost invariably necessary and worthwhile little beasts. Once mastered, ferrules reveal themselves to be marvels of metallurgical joinery, brilliant in both design and – if you buy good ones – manufacturing tolerances. Barring a few one-piece rods and the ancient rods with spliced joins, fishing rods utilize ferrules. I’ve lost clients because otherwise sane men and women become incensed when they order a ferrule set and it arrives “in the wrong size” or because “the males are too tight – this ferrule wasn’t made properly.” Use your imagination and add lots of cartoon vulgarity: *^&#@!!*&%@##%!!!! Preachers curse at ferrules. Ladies hiss obscenities in their presence. It’s not necessary if you slow down, read everything you can on the subject to prepare yourself, expect a challenge, and channel your inner monk.

Most ferrule problems stem from user mistakes and user misunderstandings; since January 2014, I have dealt with precisely one female ferrule that had a manufacturing defect – and that was an incredibly rare occurrence in my eighteen-plus years of selling ferrules. I want you to understand the basic challenges of selecting a ferrule set, mounting ferrules, and lapping ferrules. If you are prepared for these challenges, you’ll be far less likely to feel that you were led down a primrose path by a snake oil salesman. Trust me, working on ferrules your first several times can be straightforward, but it will not be easy. Expect this. Please. And, also, if you’re certain this far into my blather that this shoe doesn’t fit you, then please just skip back to the ferrule page and start ordering – I’m not here to insult any seasoned maker’s intelligence. But I get more questions (good!) and complaints (to be avoided!) about ferrules than any other product I sell. These things are confusing until you’re comfortable working with them.

Picking Straight Ferrules. I’d say 90% of new rods are made with straight ferrules. That’s our ACW Nickel Silver Ferrules, or Super Swiss Ferrules, or Truncated Super Swiss Ferrules, with the latter being used primarily on 3, 4, & 5 piece rods. The nominal size, i.e., the size by which a ferrule set is described & sold, of all straight ferrules has NOTHING to do with the outside diameter of the male ferrule slide. When I receive complaints from folks who say they measured carefully and ordered the right size – yet received the wrong size, darn it! – most of the errors can be traced back to someone who is ordering replacement ferrules, or duplicate ferrules to make a rod similar to one they already own. See the similarity? In both cases they possess a ferruled rod and they are measuring the ferrule and not the ferrule station. This does not work with straight ferrules. When ordering straight ferrules you must measure the ferrule station – the wood, the bamboo, the cane. I urge folks to measure about ½” into the ferrule station to account for the minor amount of taper over the span of the station. If the tip and butt stations are not identical (they rarely will be), worry about the butt station and don’t worry about the tip station as long as it is 8-10 thou (or less) smaller than the butt station. If the jump is more than 8-10 thou between the butt and tip, you probably don’t want a straight ferrule. So, measure the ferrule station Flat-to-Flat, NOT Corner-to-Corner. If the ferrule station hasn’t already been turned down to a cylinder, it will be and those corners are going the way of the dodo bird. Ferrules come in increments of 1/64”, or about 0.0156”. After converting to 64ths, you’re quite safe rounding your ferrule station measurement using the rule your elementary teacher taught you…if the tail digit (in this case, the tenths column) is 4 or less, round down; if it’s 5 or more, round up. Here’s an example. You measure Flat-to-Flat and get 0.175”. Multiply your spec in thousandths by 64, to convert to 64ths: 0.175” x 64 = 11.2. So you have 11.2/64 and you want to round down to 11/64 and order that size ferrule. In other words, the nominal size of a straight ferrule is equivalent to the O.D. of the ferrule station. While we’re on rod math, here’s a rule to break, never mind your elementary school teacher: Always reduce your fractions. Nope, not if you’re a rodmaker. Please break this rule. Nearly all rodmaking parts are sold by nominal 64ths of an inch – this includes ferrules, winding checks, and tiptops – and none are available in 4ths, 8ths, 16ths, or 32nds. I can do the math for you if you need to order a ¼” ferrule, but if you want to find it on-line, you’ll be ordering a 16/64th ferrule; equally, a 4/64th tiptop won’t be listed on this website as a 1/16th tiptop…although it is very likely to be listed as a 4.0 tiptop because the assumption amongst component manufacturers reselling in the US is that a part’s size number indicates fractional 64ths of an inch.

Picking Step-Down Ferrules. All the varieties of Step-Down Ferrules we sell comprise that remaining 10% or so of all ferrule sales. These are all sold by a nominal size equivalent to the O.D. of the male ferrule slide – NOT the ferrule station. Yes, just the opposite of straight ferrules. Earlier generations of rodmakers knew we’d be confused and they are chuckling at us from the great beyond. Yet there is a certain logic to measuring the two groups of ferrules and determining nominal size as we do. Straight ferrules are usually used on new construction and what do you have to measure most of the time? A blank blank, i.e., the naked ferrule station. But with Step-Down ferrules, most of the time, you’re replacing a set of vintage ferrules. These might be Standard Step-Down Ferrules (straight female, stepped male), Restoration Step-Down Ferrules (stepped female & stepped male), or any of the Reproduction Ferrules that trace their visual heritage to specific makers such as Leonard & Payne. If you’re replacing ferrules, then the rod in hand usually has adorned ferrule stations, i.e., they have a ferrule glued, maybe even pinned, in place. You can’t get to the ferrule station as easily, but you can sure get a spec off the male slide – and that’s what you do. Measure the O.D. of the male slide. It will be, for example, 0.217” and that multiplied by 64 gives you the nominal size you need to order. Just don’t forget to round up or down. Try it: 0.217” x 64 = 13.88/64, or 14/64th nominal. As a historical note which effects male slide diameters, the classic rodmakers of yore didn’t have supply houses from which to source ferrules. They made their own, often using rolled nickel silver sheet stock (look for the solder seam running the length of the cylindrical parts), or they drew their own seamless tubing. In turn, this meant they could scale the ferrule, exactly, to match what they perceived was the ideal taper for a given rod. If that meant their ferrules had a male slide of 13.88/64 rather than a nice, even 14/64, so be it. And, once again, I emphasize that modern ferrules, while made to incredibly tight tolerances, won’t be perfect matches for vintage ferrule sets.

Picking Replacement Ferrules. This is my warning and my offer of assistance. Regularly, folks want to buy a male, because they lost one, or a female, because their original plated-brass number split. Can’t do it. Not piecemeal. We do sell male and female ferrule parts ala carte, but that’s for rodmakers who accidently butcher a part during installation or lapping, or for creative folks who make one rod butt and two pairs of tips. When actually replacing ferrules on rods older than the one you bought ferrules for last month, you need to replace the entire set, every time. Even if the male slide, say, is the right diameter, the slide length will be too short or too long. New parts just never fit old parts. Please don’t waste your time or mine trying to make the impossible happen. Buy a new set and be done with it. Now, since you’re buying a new set and I just pointed out that it won’t match an old set perfectly, that means you’ve got your work cut out for you. It is the inexorable way of the universe that the new ferrule set you buy will require you to alter the ferrule stations on your rod. You’ll have to trim them to length, or turn them down a hair, or maybe even build them up a hair with a layer of silk and epoxy. Expect this. With that warning hanging in the air, here’s my offer of assistance: please, send me your old ferrule set by insured mail, signature receipt required, and I’ll gladly pick the closest possible match. I do this every week of the year that the shop is open. On any given day, I have roughly 800 sets of ferrules in the shop ranging from as small as 8/64 up to a massive 28/64, and there are nine styles currently available – that’s a lot of variety to choose from. Inventory fluctuates, but what I don’t have, I can usually have in-hand within 10-14 days. If you don’t want to send me your old ferrules, which is particularly reasonable if you’re overseas, then make up a good set of drawings and note as many measurements (in thousandths of an inch) as you can. I’m happy to help with this process.

Mounting Ferrules. Briefly, you want the ferrule station turned down to a cylinder, except for the short span that will reside under the ferrule tabs. Use this portion of the ferrule station to smoothly transition from a cylinder out to the full hex. I prefer my ferrule tabs to fold over the corners of the hex, so the serrations fall in the center of the flats when mounting. The fit should be snug, but not too snug…there needs to be room for adhesive. Use a slow-cure epoxy for best results (Rod Bond by U-40 is my preference), or Ferr-L-Tite cement…both are flexible in thin films after setting. Do not use 5- or 15-minute epoxy. These fast cure products are too brittle to withstand casting. Be sure you groove the ferrule station so you can burp air out when mounting the ferrules, or it’s pretty easy to blow a waterseal. And make darn sure you clean the ferrules out and score them lightly to add some tooth for the epoxy or cement to bond to – and then clean them again. Ferrules arrive in your hands with cutting oil on them from lathe turning, and many have a good dose of flux from soldering – none of which bonds well with adhesive, so if you want the ferrules to stay attached to your rod, clean them until they are perfectly clean. Need more info? There are some great books and DVDs on the subject.

Lapping Ferrules. Oh boy. Ok, this is where I lose more clients and that’s a shame. Some folks, not everyone by any means, get really upset when they order ferrules and discover that the males don’t fit the females right out of the bag. Don’t get upset; I’m happy to help by providing information. If this was perfectly easy, everybody (or nobody) would do it. Please read and understand this: all ferrules that we sell, regardless of maker, or style, or size, have unlapped males. The males are approximately 0.001” oversize. I checked the old version of the website before I started making long-winded updates and it was clear – but not glaringly obvious. All Males Are Sold 0.001” Oversize. This means they do not fit into the females until after you lap them to size. This is truly to your benefit because you get to choose how snug and how smooth your ferrule fit becomes. We tried selling pre-lapped males and invariably folks complained that they were too loose or too tight – and they took too long to arrive. I stopped selling them. The only way you’re going to be Goldilocks-just right-happy, is if you lap the males yourself. It’s a straightforward process. I urge you, strongly, to read good books on the subject and to watch our blank making DVD. Then practice, and practice. You might overlap a male or two. This happens, even to rodmakers who are pros. Don’t get pissed, just buy another male and have second go at the process. You can’t expect to learn if you’re not willing to dig in and work through the challenges.

To get you started, here is my little blurb on lapping that I email to first time rodmakers and restorationists who request information:

Lapping ferrules is straightforward, but with any craft project that relies on tight tolerances, you know the drill: don’t remove too much material, because you can’t put it back on. Unless you have access to a lathe and lapping files (#6 or #8 Cut Swiss Files), you’ll want to use super fine wet/dry sandpaper…nothing more coarse than 600 grit, and I’d want to do final lapping for a buttery slide using 800 or even 1200 grit paper; our polishing papers are great for the final steps of creating a perfectly fit male. Spin the ferrules gently in the fine paper and try to work the entire male slide (length) at the same time so you don’t get high and low spots; some guys “argue” with this and suggest you should fit the tips of the males, then sneak your way up on a perfect fit…if you do this, just be darn sure you don’t overlap the portions of the male that you know fit snugly. Once the male seats to full depth using 600 grit paper, just a few spins in ultrafine paper will make the fit perfect without being loose. Don’t overlap, test frequently, take your time, and figure on spending 20-30 minutes per male slide if this is your first time…you can’t test the fit too often.

However, the last guy I sent that info to before posting it on-line to wrote back to tell me I was wrong….it took him about an hour per male to get a nice POP! In other words, take ferrule lapping as an opportunity to slow your life down. Put your favorite movie in the DVD player, something you enjoy but don’t have to focus on, and really slow down.

Also, I need to add more info based on another note from a fellow who was concerned about uniform sanding of the male slide. When I suggest lapping the entire male slide length at once (my preference vs. sneaking up on a perfect fit starting with the tips), I don’t mean you have to actually sand/file the entire slide simultaneously. Rather, I start where the slide adjoins the shoulder and spin the ferrule in my hand (or in the lathe) at the same time as I move the abrasive – paper or fine file – down the slide length, trying to spend an equal amount of time and energy on every bit of the slide as it passes through my fingers or beneath the file. Test the fit every pass or two – and before you test the fit, wipe the slide clean with a rag to remove miniscule amounts of abrasive dust or metal filings. After a while, you’ll get a rough sense for how many passes you need with your system (your grip pressure, your twist speed, your abrasive) to get close, so you can take, say eight (or eighty) passes, then start testing on subsequent passes. Be careful with this method if you don’t test with every pass, because if you get into a groove with 13/64 ferrules, you’ll find that it’s still easy to overlap a smaller size ferrule using the “right” number of initial passes.

I trust that the above information is useful to you and I hope, for both of our sakes, that you’ll take it to heart. Whatever you do, don’t let it intimidate you. Buy a ferrule set, mount it, lap it. Do it again. After a few rods this process will be old hat and you’ll be the person who skips reading all this introductory text. Have fun!

Removing Pins. Here’s my response to a fellow who asked for advice on removing pinned ferrules (actually, removing the pins): First, if the pin isn’t obvious, but you know, or suspect, that the ferrule is pinned, you need to locate it. The easy way to locate pins is to roughly blue the ferrule … Oxpho-Blue on a cotton swab … watch!… if there’s a pin, it will typically be a different alloy, or at least a different hardness, from the ferrule, and so it will blue at a different rate. Faster or slower, darker or lighter, you’ll spot the little circle of pinning wire. Mark the pin carefully with a scratch awl … this ensures you know where you’ll be working, and it can give a little “tooth” to the end of the pin, so your next tool doesn’t skip off and mar the ferrule. Set the ferruled rod into a V-Block (block of wood with 60* groove milled in it, then drilled through in one spot so the pin can drop through. They make fancy delrin or UHMW gunsmith blocks to do this, or you can make one from scrap wood). Align the pin with the through-hole while the V-groove supports the rest of the rod/ferrule. Use a fine diameter pin punch (we sell two sizes that match up with most pins) and a light hand with a small mallet. Tap gently to start pushing the pin through. Maybe two or three taps. Now, pause and look: if the pin is coming out the other side, good. And with scrungy old ferrules this slightly protruding pin may be something you feel, like a burr, more than you see. Keep tapping until the pin is clear. If the pin isn’t coming out, it’s most likely a half-blind pin. Not bad, but more challenging. You’ll want to either: a) switch to a small drill (usually 0.040”) and drill out the pin, stopping the instant the metal shavings turn to bamboo shavings, or b) tap a wee bit more until the pin is “below” the level of the ferrule’s wall, then remove the ferrule. You can leave the metal in place if you’re not re-pinning, but that’s not best practice. Better to drill it out and re-pin in the same hole. With half-blind pins, if you tap too much, you’ll drive the short pin into un-drilled bamboo and split the blank, which is why you need to start slow with the pin tapping and drill the metal out as necessary.

Squeezing Old Females.  First, the question: Hi Russ, Just finishing up partially restoring an old Montague 3 piece rod.  The upper ferrule fits ok but a tiny bit loose and works loose when casting.  Any tricks for tightening a ferrule that is close but a little loose.  Any help would be great if you have the time. Thanks, Mitch.

And here’s my response (edited and slightly expanded, for clarity, from the original email): Hi Mitch, Glad you asked.  I’ve got one trick which may work, but you’ve got to go easy or you’ll risk over-tightening or splitting the female.

Drill out a block of wood (with the block as thick as the male slide of the ferrule is long) so that the hole you drill is equal to the OD of the female ferrule.  Now slice that block of wood through the center of the hole you drilled, preferably on a bandsaw with a thin blade.  The minor width of the saw kerf, once the block is sawn, turns that single block of wood into two halves of a clamping device with an ‘oval’ hole that is barely smaller than the OD of the female ferrule.  Place the female ferrule between the two blocks of wood and place the blocks of wood between the jaws of a vise (you can actually tape the wood blocks to the vise jaws with double-sided tape to make this process easier, i.e., you’ll need fewer hands to hold everything in place).  With great caution, gently squeeze the female, release pressure, rotate 1/4 turn, press, release, rotate, press…. .  When you’ve gone once around the female with just the slightest pressure, but even pressure at each turn, test the fit.  If you need a snugger fit, try the process again with only a hair more pressure.  Remember, in most cases you’re trying to reduce the female ID by nothing more than a thou or two, so it takes a very light hand to accomplish this without over-squeezing the ferrule.

Some restorationists suggest going through these steps with the male ferrule inside the female.  This can help to prevent crushing the female ferrule if you’re a brute with the vise, however you can easily overtighten just enough to lock the male ferrule inside the female. Forever.  I think it’s better to work slow and test the fit often.

As a further caution, old chrome-plated brass ferrules can be brittle, especially if the rod was heavily used.  Ferrules can crack, so just know that’s a real risk. Best of luck!  -Russ

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Thanks so much for reading through the ferrule advice page. Check back now and then, because as more ferrule issues crop up, I’ll respond to them here.

-Russ

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