Introduction: Custom Wooden Composite Fishing Rod Handle

About: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at night. I have an unhealthy obsession with making things and believe, firmly, in sharing what I le…

There's nothing so valuable as a piece of personal memorabilia, with all of the history that goes with it, and nothing as sad as when it reaches its end of life, or no longer has a practical use. So when a family member asked me to refurbish his favorite fishing rod, I knew I had such an item. For as long as I can recall, he's always kept this rod around, lending it to me on a few occasions for impulsive and impromptu outings, and even my own son when we packed him in the boat on his very first fishing trip. Needless to say there is a lot of history attached to this piece of fiberglass and plastic that didn't deserve to end up in the landfill.

The rod is a Shakespeare Denso Lite 56" with a plastic grip style handle that was cracked just under the reel seat. I had originally considered replicating the handle exactly, but since I had carte blanche to be as creative as I saw fit, I opted for a more unique design with sleeker lines. I also toyed with the idea of using metal hardware for the reel seat, since it's readily available from any outdoor supply store, then figured that a 'vintage' rod deserved to maintain a 'vintage' look. This meant creating a locking mechanism, for the reel, that didn't require a threaded sleeve or nut.

The wood I used is cherry, which was rescued from some old bed posts, with a purpleheart core which was glued together and spun on a lathe. The handle was created in three sections; The foregrip which houses the rod, itself, and also acts as a recess for the reel foot...the center, which is a solid piece of cherry, acting both as a joiner for the three sections and as the reel seat, and the rear grip which houses the lock block for the reel foot.

(**Now, I have to apologize for some of the pics which may be, a bit, on the grainy side. I had, somewhat, of an issue with my camera and didn't realize that many of the the images were lower than my usual standard, until I uploaded them, and very nearly didn't end up posting this instructable. However, I did manage to clean some of them up, and figured the value of the tutorial exceeded my obsessive need to be perfect. If you have any questions, or don't find them descriptive enough, feel free to fire away in the comments, or message me directly and I'll answer them to the best of my ability.)

**Note: When I give measurements, I often talk in decimal points rather than fractions of inches and, very occasionally, in metric MM, for clarity. I will occasionally resort to fractions for common measurements such as sockets, wrenches etc, but only when it's practical to do so.**

Step 1: Tools and Supplies


  • Wood lathe (optional but, trust me, this is a whole lot easier than carving by hand or spinning on a drill which I'll describe later)
  • Router with 3/4" straight bit. (again optional but useful.You can do this with a dremel or carve it by hand.)
  • Drill Press (Nope, not necessary either but being able to make straight holes is darn useful. You can substitute a hand drill if you chose)
  • Belt Sander (For shaping the reel seat lock block. Not necessary, makes the process faster)
  • Dremel (A craftsman's best friend)
  • Table Saw/hand saw/jigsaw, etc. (You'll need to cut wood)
  • Vernier Caliper (No shop should be without, at least, one.)
  • Measuring tape
  • Wood Clamps
  • Drill Bits including 3/4" and 1" forstner or spade bit
  • Coping Saw


  • Hardwood 12" long x 1.5" square. (I show how to make this project as a composite of two materials, but it can be accomplished using one type of wood.)
  • Wood Glue
  • 5 Minute Epoxy
  • Sand Paper 150, 220, 400(wet), 600(wet)
  • Wood Polish (I'll post a recipe for a good beeswax polish in the tutorial which is a modification of my traditional polish you can find here.)
  • .25" thick adhesive foam strip. 1.5" long

Step 2: Extracting the Rod

The solution to removing an rod from its handle is with subtle amounts of heat, tho not too much or you could scorch your fishing rod.

For starters, I sliced off the handle to see just how far the rod was embedded into it, which ended up being roughly 1.5". Plastic is an excellent insulator, so I skinned the remaining handle down, just before it reached the rod itself, then clamping it, I applied heat evenly over the remaining sleeve. Once I was satisfied that the glue securing the rod in the sleeve was sufficiently melted, I began, gently, twisting and pulling the rod until it extracted itself from the sleeve.

At this point, it was just a matter of a bit of cleanup, scraping away the excess glue and giving the tip of the rod a gentle sanding with 220 grit paper.

Step 3: Creating Your Composite Wood

As mentioned before, you can create this handle using a solid piece of 1.5" square hardwood, however to be a bit more decorative, I sandwiched a piece of .25"x1.5" purple heart between two pieces of .75"x1.5" cherry strips. I then brought all three pieces to the bench sander and smoothed down the cut marks until the boards married up nicely. I then applied a liberal amount of glue to all of the boards and clamped them together.

**Note on Clamping: I prefer to stagger my clamps every 4", or so, alternating from one side of the board to the other. This ensures that there is even pressure all across the piece, and that every seam is closed up tightly, preventing unsightly gaps in the composite.

**In Case of Gaps: Proper clamping should prevent it, however they can happen, no matter how careful you are. I've often found that it's much easier to tackle them now, as your boards are setting, rather than waiting until your in the midst of shaping them. You can pull your boards apart, clean the glue off and re-sand them, or if the gap isn't terribly dramatic, you can fill it. Just take some of the saw dust, left over from cutting, and mix it 1/1 with wood glue to make a thick paste. Now squeeze a very thin bead of glue along the gap and let gravity draw it in. Finally, take your paste (which should be almost mailable by hand) and start pressing it into the gap until the bead of glue starts squeezing out, filling the seam perfectly. The initial bead of glue acts as a, sort of, lubricant, allowing the more dense paste to draw farther into the seam, thereby filling the gap more deeply.

Step 4: No Lathe? No Problem

Using a lathe, for this project makes it profoundly easier, however there is no rule that says it can't be carved by hand, if that's the only resource you have. Many of the earliest examples of fishing rods, in my research, were carved by hand, with the finished product looking as good, if not better than it's machined counterpart. If, however, you want that 'tooled' look then there is an easy, tho temporary, solution.

The Drill Lathe:

The drill lathe is the earliest form of DIY lathe work. It consists of mounting a hand drill into a vise thereby stabilizing it. A board is mounted 8" away from the drill with a hole tapped into it, roughly the diameter of a 3/8" metal rod at the exact height of the drills chuck. Next, a 8" piece of 3/8" threaded rod is cut and tapered to a point. The opposite 2" of the threaded rod are bent 90 degrees to create a "handle". The threaded rod is then inserted into the hole in the board where it should tap its own threads, holding it securely and making it's protruding length adjustable. If you've drilled your hole too large, you can install a nut on the drill side of the board to secure it from pushing back into the hole. Finally, install a counter sink bit into the chuck of the drill to act as the 'headstock' of the lathe.

The lathe works by compressing your work between the points of the counter sink bit, and the threaded rod, using the rod as an adjustment to secure the piece in place. A simple tool rest can be made out of any scrap piece of wood set to the height of the center line of your work. **Note: Just be certain to add some lubrication to the threaded rod point. Most lathes actively spin at the footstock end, and you don't want friction burning your work.

Step 5: Turning Your Handles

Now is the time to think about your handle shape, before you even consider applying any tools to the wood. My usual plan is to mount it into the lathe and stare it, incessantly, for an hour or more, but that particular technique may not work for everyone. My suggestion is to look at your other tool handles in your shop. Many of these manufacturers design for comfort, so they make a good platform for your own final shape. Test different designs out, draw them out on paper but remember, you can take wood away, however putting it back is a whole lot harder.

The Front Handle:

The front handle was created out of a 4.25" section of my composite stock. It's comprised of two sections. The forward 'handle' part which is 2" long and 1" wide at its thickest point, and a rear 'socket', which is 2.25" long and 1.5" at its widest point. Part of the function of this 'socket' is to attach it to the rest of the handle with its other function being to act as a recess for the reel foot. I'll go into this more later on when I talk about drilling it out. The handle tapers, slightly, toward the rod end to provide a comfortable transition.

The Rear Handle:

The rear handle (last image) was designed more like my lathe tool handles with two wide ends and a tapered center. The overall length is seven inches, with its widest point being 1.25" thick and its narrowest only .9" thick.

Grip and Design:

It's important to remember that unlike foam or cork, which are commonly used on modern rods, wood can become slippery when it gets wet. One way to resolve this is to add patterns and lines to your work that act as traction for your hand. There are many specialty tools, you can find, that will allow you to create patterns on wood, however, I prefer the smooth simplicity of symmetrical, evenly spaced gouge lines to perform the same function. The end look is entirely up to you, however just be aware that some form of patterning will be necessary to maintain grip on your fishing rod.

Step 6: Sanding and Polishing

All sanding and polishing happens right on the lathe and is quite simple. A .5"x2" strip of sand paper is cut, and the lathe is turned on. Now draw the sand paper over the piece, ensuring you get into all the crevasses and line marks, allowing the spin of the lathe to do all the work.

Once shaping is finished, go over your work using 150 grit sandpaper, ensuring all course tool marks are removed, then repeat using the 220 grit paper to remove the sanding marks left behind by the courser paper. The next stage is wet sanding. Wetting your 400 grit paper, continue sanding the piece, then switch to the 600 grit wet sandpaper. You'll know that the piece is well sanded as it will take on a slight gloss look to it from the ultra fine sanding.

Finally it's time to polish. Using a piece of canvas cloth, and your high grade beeswax polish, continue with the lathe running in the same technique you used for sanding until the wood starts to appear shinny. Continue over your work for another few minutes until the heat from friction causes the wax paste to sink into the wood, creating a permanent shine.

Polish Recipe As Promised:

  • 1tbsp beeswax
  • 1tbst Shea butter
  • 1 tsp of castor oil
  • 1tsp of almond oil


Melt your beeswax in a Pyrex dish in the microwave or in a double boiler. Add the Shea butter and continue heating until dissolved in beeswax. Add castor and almond oil and heat for another 30 seconds to ensure all ingredients completely infused. Mix regularly. Let cool in fridge for 30 minutes.

Step 7: The Reel Seat

The reel seat is created out of 1"x1"x4.5" piece of cherry. The first step is to find the center point of each end and make an indentation for the drive and tail centers on your lathe, install it and round your piece. Next, you'll need to figure out the length of the foot on your reel. In research, I've found that they range from 2"-2.5" and on rare occasions, up to 3". I decided to create mine so that it would accommodate reels with a varying foot length of between 2" and 2.5" as these are the most common.

I first marked out a section for the socket to go into the fore handle at 1", then measured 2.25" for the foot and made another mark. The remaining 1.25" would be the socket for the rear handle. To make the line more visible while the lathe is in motion, turn it on and press your pencil to the wood. This will make a perfect line around your piece.

Next, remove your piece from the lathe, and set it into a vise. Using a square, draw a line dividing it in half along its length. Now, make an indentation in each end, as you did before between the terminations of each end of the line and the center of the spindle where you created the first indentation. The reason for this is that when it is set back into the lathe between these two new indentations, it will spin off center removing material from only one side of the spindle, and leaving the other side untouched.

We will be using this offset to create the seat for your reel which is build with a concave base. Here's where I start talking metric and where the vernier calipers come in handy. Your two lines that marked out the dimensions of your foot should still be visible with the piece spinning off center. Using a parting tool, bore down the insides of each line to a depth of 5mm making them square, then using a round tool or gouge, reduce the material between these two reductions. Your spindle should look like image #3.

I recommend doing your sanding and polishing, on the mid section only, at this point as your piece will need to be off center, as it is, in order for the machine to facilitate cleaning up this indentation.

Now reinsert your spindle using the original two indentations centering it again. Using the parting tool, reduce the end designated for the fore handle to 3/4", tapering it slightly at the end. Reduce the end designated for the rear handle down to 5/8", again tapering it.

Step 8: Drilling the Fore Handle

The first step is to drill the socket hole for the reel seat section. Mount your handle vertically into a drill press and install a 1" spade or forstner bit into the chuck. If you don't have a drill press, don't worry. If you're careful, you can do this by hand, or you can refer to my instructable on how to build your own drill press here;

Using the 1"" bit, drill to a depth of .5" into your socket end, then switching to a 3/4" bit, and continue drilling to a depth of 1.5 inches total. This will create your socket and recess your reel seat creating the necessary groove for your reel foot to rest in.

Next, invert your piece and, again, secure it into the drill press. Using your vernier calipers, measure the diameter of your rod end and locate a bit that is exactly the same size. Mine was just over 7mm. Recalling the depth that it was set into the old handle, (1.5") drill down to that depth.

Finally, set your handle into a bench vice with the socket end facing upward. Find the middle of the piece that divides the socket exactly in half. (Honestly I just guessed where half was. Precision isn't important in this one) Next, measure down one side .5" and mark it. Now using a coping saw, cut out a concave notch starting at the top of the socket and finishing out the side, not unlike the mouthpiece on a flute or recorder. You can clean the cut up by hand, however I used the end wheel of my bench sander to give it a perfectly smooth and rounded appearance. Finish your cut up with some sanding and polishing.

Step 9: Drilling and Notching the Rear Handle

Set your rear handle vertically in the drill press and install a 5/8" bit into the chuck. Now drill to a depth of 1.25" into the end. It's very important your handle is nice and straight. This part will be the most noticeable if you happen to get its angle wrong so measure half a dozen times before you drill.

Next, install your 3/4" straight bit into your router. It's useful to have it set into a table for this operation, though not essential. The depth will depend on two factors; 1 the height of your reel seat, 2 the thickness of your handle end. This operation can be done when the handle is assembled, but I recommend doing it now to avoid any errors.

Super easy way to assess depth:

Temporarily install your reel seat into your rear handle. Now lay a ruler across the length of your handle so that the end protrudes over the reel seat. Finally, using your vernier calipers depth gauge, measure the depth you will need to cut by resting its end on the ruler, and dropping the gauge down till it touches the seat. Its accurate to withing a fraction of a mm which is more than enough. Love that Vernier caliper huh?

Next you'll have to clamp your handle to a board to give you better control over the cut. I generally use another clamp to set a stop point for the cut so that I don't go to far. You'll have to assess whether you want the line from your composite material vertical or 45 degrees to the reel but once you decide, ensure that its straight. If its off kilter it'll look odd.

Finally, engage your router and make the cut and hopefully your bit is sharp and it doesn't buck. Mine did and I had to remake the handle. Thankfully I had lots of composite material left over I was planning to use for another project.

Step 10: Assembly of the Handle

Assembly is very easy, and is made more so if you use the lathe. With lots of wood glue around the socket of the seat, install it into the fore handle and press it together. Now install it into your lathe and using the tightener on the tailstock, add pressure. You can even spin your lathe to ensure that the two pieces are 'true' to each other. Just use a piece of cloth or even your buffing rag so that you don't get friction burns from touching it as it spins. Leave it until the glue dries. You should be able to buff them together, at this point to give them an even greater shine.

**Note:** It's important, when gluing that you only get it into the socket, and not the overlap piece we created. Glue, in that area, would interfere with the reel foot and would be difficult to clean out.

Finally, insert some glue into the socket for the rear handle and insert the seat into place, ensuring the notch you created lines up with the overlap piece. Again, you can use your lathe to true it up.

Step 11: Cutting the Reel Lock

I cut the reel lock from from a .5"x1" piece of scrap purpleheart, to a length of 1" then used the belt sander to shape it by hand. The top of the reel foot is convex in shape, so I used a dremel with a sanding drum to concave the underside of it slightly, fitting it regularly. I then began rounding one edge to fit the notch I created in the handle, again checking it regularly. Finally, I finished it up with a sanding and polish.

In my horde pile I found what's called a 'Philips Recessed Flat Head Binding Post Screw'. which is basically two parts. The first is a regular machine screw with a Phillips head and the other end is a tube shaped 'nut' with a Phillips head on the end of it as well. I don't want to post an image that isn't mine, but if you type it int Google, it's the first image that pops up and should be available at any hardware store.

Drilling the hole for the binding post screw is simple. You can set your reel lock on your handle and do it as one piece, or drill it first, mark the position for the hole and drill the handle second. Either should work fine. Once your hole is drilled, use a counter sink bit to recess the hole on the underside of the handle so that the screw sits better.

Now, if you're like me, and it's around supper time when you're doing this so you're in to much of a hurry to properly clamp it down beforehand, and the hole comes out a couple mm off center, don't worry too much. You can correct it some by over sizing the hole, then forcing the countersink in the proper direction when you ream it out. If your hole isn't to badly off, moving it over shouldn't be too much a problem.

Step 12: Final Assembly

You'll need to add some cushioning to prevent the reel from shifting in the wooden socket. I used some 1/4" adhesive foam that I picked up from Princess Auto (the Canadian version of Harbor Freight). Don't worry if you can't find adhesive foam. Regular foam that's glued down will work just fine. I first cut a piece that was just under 2" in length by 1/2" wide, then using a utility knife, tapered one end down. This end will go under the overhang for the reel foot. Once that was in place I installed the reel foot lock.

Finally, it's time to install the rod. Mix some 5 minute epoxy and drip it liberally into the hole you drilled into the fore grip. Install your rod, ensuring the writing on the side is facing the right direction, of course, and let it dry.

Step 13: Finished

That's it, you're done. Now all that's left is to get some bait on it and catch some dinner.

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable and thanks for following.

Summer Fun Contest

Second Prize in the
Summer Fun Contest

Before and After Contest

Participated in the
Before and After Contest

Outside Contest

Participated in the
Outside Contest