Dick Kantner

Dick Kantner

Andy Dear | Monday, 31 May 2021

Several decades ago, Guitar Magazine dubbed and up and coming six string virtuoso named Danny Gatton, “The World’s Greates Unknown Guitarist”. I am not exactly sure why the moniker they gave him stuck with me all these years, but when I sat down to write this short retrospective about Dick Kantner, that phrase came to mind. Dick Kantner may very well have been “The World’s Greatest Unknown Blank Designer”.

  Prior to the six years I wrote these columns for RodMaker Magazine, I had become good friends with a fellow named Ralph O’Quinn. Ralph had been a chemical engineer at Boeing with a specialty in aerospace adhesives and coatings. Ralph was also a lifelong rod builder, and more importantly one of my mentors in the epoxy industry. When Ralph read the interviews I had done with Jimmy Green, Tom Morgan and Kerry Burkheimer, he implored me to contact Dick Kantner who was a good friend of his.

   For the uninitiated, Dick Kantner is the man who started Composite Developments and its fishing rod division Graphite USA.  Upon meeting Dick I quickly realized that this was probably going to be one of the more interesting interviews in the series just based upon Dick’s background. Dick was not a fisherman turned rod designer, rather he gained his expertise in composites working in the aerospace field, and then adapted his expertise to not only the fishing rod industry, but a wide range of composite sporting goods items.

   For all the time Dick spent in aerospace, his greatest accomplishment was the time he spent at NARMCO, as well as his intimate involvement alongside famed Skunkworks engineer Kelly Johnson  constructing the intricate composite skinned fuel tank system of the then classified spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird. Anyone interested in reading about this incredible aircraft can check out the Wikipedia link here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_SR-71_Blackbird

  After Dick left the aerospace industry he began to apply his composites knowledge in building some of the first composite sporting goods equipment including tennis racquets, bows and arrows, ski equipment, golf club shafts,  and of course fishing rods. Although Jimmy Green and Don Green (at Fenwick) are widely acknowledged as being the first to construct the first graphite fishing rod, there is a very valid argument to be made that Dick Kantner actually predated them in that race. However, because of Fenwick’s massive budget, they were able to mass produce their HMG series, and bring them to market first.

  Dick also deserves credit as being the man to introduce the concept of carbon helical core construction to the rod industry. While everyone else was using woven fiberglass scrim to create hoop strength in their rod blanks, Dick was using the concept of the carbon helical layup to great effect. Without going into the how’s and why’s of why the helical layup is superior, the end result is that of a much lighter laminate with a superior strength to weight ratio and resistance to deformation under stress. In fact Dick used to have an advertisement of a 4WD truck running over one of his blanks that was no worse for wear after the abuse inflicted by the truck. I have been involved over the years with several manufacturers utilizing the helical construction technique, and I am convinced it is far superior to any woven scrim…fiberglass, carbon or otherwise for producing superior performing product.

 My recollection of Dick is that of a REALLY smart guy with a quiet, humble demeanor. He was a true gentleman that freely shared his knowledge and history in the composites business. It was in fact Dick Kantner that put me in touch with his close friend Press Powell for the next interview in the series, which I’ll highlight next week.

Hope you all have a great week,