My first company, Lamar Fishing was formed during the summer of 1997. The intent was to build high-end semi-custom rods for sale to the discriminating fisherman...not all that different than what Paul does with the Hot Torpedo series. It became apparent pretty early on that "being nice" to fishermen who abuse their gear and then expect you to bear the brunt of the replacement cost was NOT my forte. Around that time, the advent of the imported mini-lathe was just beginning to infiltrate custom rod building, and I was an early adopter of what the mini-lathe had to offer. I had taught myself how to make all different types of hand-turned accouterments for custom fishing rods. And, during the process had developed several tools to aid in the process. One of these tools was a "grip turning mandrel".
To the uninitiated, there are two ways you can make a grip for a fishing rod. One involves gluing the cork rings directly to the rod blank, and shaping the grip while on the blank. This method however necessitates that you have a way of spinning the rod blank at a high speed to shape the cork. Aside from being an expensive setup, the risk for damage to the blank is much greater with this method. The other method involves shaping the grip off of the blank on a shaft that is mounted in a lathe. This is a much safer method that is cheaper to do...so much so you can actually do it in a hand drill if you desire, and more importantly, it doesn't risk any damage to the blank. Enter, the grip turning mandrel. I don't claim to have invented the grip turning mandrel, as Clemens Tackle at one point had a similar product for sale in their catalog. However, because Clemens never seemed to have them in stock, I took to making my own on a machinist friends metal lathe. It basically involves taking a piece of VERY straight steel, in my case I used 18" long blanks in various diameters, made for manufacturing drill bits, and counterboring each end with a 60-degree center drill. This 60-degree female cone shaped recess will mate up perfectly with the 60 degree live center in the tailstock of the lathe, allowing the rod maker to mount the cork on the mandrel and achieve VERY professional and precise results when turning parts for rod grips.
Around 2001, word somehow got out in the rod making community that I was making these mandrels in a variety of sizes, and virtually overnight I was inundated with orders. I made the first sets for purchase on my friends lathe until I saved up enough to buy a metal lathe of my own, then I was off and running. Over the next seven or eight years I made well over a thousand of those mandrels, that were usually sold in a set of 5 different sizes. I felt certain at some point the mandrel business would taper off, but the introduction of the low priced imported mini-lathe facilitated a large wave of rod builders who because of the low cost of the equipment wanted to try their hand at turning grips and reel seats. Not only was it gratifying to see my product bringing so much enjoyment to those involved in the craft, but it was also equally exciting to see the accessories that the builders were making with a tool that came out of my shop. This was the beginning of my product development business that eventually grew into a much bigger entity. One that just a few years later in 2004 would produce the first instructional resource on the DVD platform into the rod building craft, specifically tailored to the custom rod builder wanting to learn how to use a lathe. As an aside, my old pal Bubba was one of my first mandrel customers and the one who produced, directed, and edited the aforementioned DVD titled, The Wood Lathe In Rod Building.
So last week as I chatted with Charlie about the new guide wrap finish, he says "by the way, you probably don't remember me, but I purchased a set of grip turning mandrels from you back in 2003". I replied "no kidding, do you still use them?" To which he answered, "Andy I use them weekly, and they are one of the most valuable tools in my shop". I was speechless, and didn't really know what to say, except to thank him for sharing that, and that almost 20 years later the fact that he was still getting weekly use out of one of my products still gave me the same sense of satisfaction that it did in 2001 when I first got started in the product development business.
Who knew one could build an entire career out of drilling a hole in the end of a steel stick? Yet here we are....
Hope you all have a great week and are staying safe and healthy.