Fishing rod blanks are made of a carbon fibers composite or prepregs (= pre-impregnated) produced by the chemical industry with a long and costly procedure. The vast majority of carbon composites are not used to make fishing rods but have endless applications in larger sectors of the industrial world like the automobile and aerospace industry.
A composite is basically a material made of two or more different materials. In a carbon composite the carbon fibers are reinforced in a polymer matrix (e. g. polyester or epoxy).
But, first of all, is the raw material made out of carbon or graphite? Can we say graphite or carbon blanks? Answer: actually we can say both. We can say carbon thinking of the atoms, the “material" at the base of the “stuff" we hold in our hands, and we can say graphite as well thinking of the molecule and thus the structure that the carbon atoms have.
So, in a carbon fiber composite, the raw material, the “carbon" is in its graphite form: hexagonal rings bond together in a ribbon structure (yes, not exactly in a plane like in the graphite of a pencil). The structure is very flexible, resistant to stretching, strong, and light. Perfect to make a fishing rod!
A fishing rod company which makes their own blanks must know which composite to order since the prepregs can differ in purpose, composition or fiber type, orientation, resin content, and weight per square meter.
Sometimes, along with carbon fibers other fibers like glass-fibers, boron or ceramic are mixed together to form different layers And a fishing rod blank manufacturer can often use three or four different prepregs at the same time, each for a different section of the rod.
Now, there are many types of carbon fibers: IM6, M8, M55, M40, M40J, M46J, T300, HR40, and more. Each have their own properties: which are the modulus and the strength. Good fishing rods have generally speaking a high modulus, a high strength, and intermediate percentage of fibers.
Modulus is the ratio (expressed in millions of psi, “pounds per square inch", a measure of a force on an area) between stiffness and weight of the graphite blank. The higher the modulus, the more energy the rod can store and release. The energy is a way of saying the speed and the power of the rod. Think of a swimmer on a diving board and try to imagine to variate the properties of the jumping board and you will see what it is. The higher the modulus, the more expensive is the blank and also more brittle the blank after an impact. Some also like to say that modulus is the resistance to flex. The higher the modulus, the more expensive is the blank and also more brittle the blank after an impact.
As a consequences, if you are new at building custom rods, stay away from top modulus blanks and rather use a mid-range modulus.
Now, let's go back to the carbon composite and let's say you are a fishing rod manufacturer and are going to make a blank. When it arrives, it is tough but “floppy" it. To transform it into a fishing rod, you need to do three things: design its shape, apply heat and pressure, cool it down and finish it.
A lengthy, sophisticated process which requires machineries which the average hobbyist cannot afford. But anyone can buy rod blanks of the same quality of their brand names today directly from the manufacturers themselves or their wholesaler.
Bamboo rod makers, on the contrary, can make their own rod from the raw material, “tonkin" cane, keeping control of all the elaborate process at every stage, especially when it comes to design the taper and so the action of the rod.
Tonkin cane is actually bamboo of the Pseudosasa Amabilis species and the best quality comes from bamboo plantation in the South West China.
So, you only need to find a bamboo broker, or importer to start making your own bamboo rod. An enthralling experience which is witnessing a Renaissance today.
Alessandro Brunelli is an independent bamboo rod maker and writer. For more information about how to make cane rods see his website http://www.upon-bamboo-fly-fishing-rods-and-reels.com