Rod Building Gone Wrong: Custom Cork Fishing Grips

Find out the most common mistakes while gluing and turning cork grips, and how to avoid each mistake for a cleaner, smoother finished grip.

7 Things to Remember Before Building Cork Grips

In rod building, there are some really cool ways to customize fishing rods for performance and appearance alike. This is certainly the case with building custom cork fishing grips.

Piecing together a cork grip and shaping it to comfortably fit your hand is one of the most rewarding ways to merge performance and appearance.

With that said, there are many, many right ways to turn a great cork grip. But there are also some methods that hurt more than help, so let’s review some things to keep in mind before building your own cork grip.

1. Check the Condition of Each Cork Ring

Bringing a classic look and feel to fishing rods, the characteristics of cork make it a staple rod component for custom rod builders all over. Easy to work with and customize, cork serves as a versatile grip material that truly looks as good as it feels.

But part of the beauty in cork grips comes from its varied texture and exterior.

Let’s say you are piecing together a cork grip from scratch, then you will start with just individual cork rings. These cork rings come in various sizes and range of really cool colors.

Choose the classic cork finish, or go bold with darker burl and even blue swirl options.

From there, you can alternate these rings to create a pattern or get really inventive with checkerboard cork grips.

When it comes to creating a pattern with the cork rings, it’s important to lay out the rings and consider which rings will be best for each location of the grip.

Look for Voids in the Grip

Voids are common in cork and nothing to worry about beyond its effect on your grip.

When making grips from cork rings, checking for voids in the exterior is a good practice for shaping better grips. For example, a full wells cork grip will need a solid cork ring towards the top.

This is where your thumb consistently applies pressure while casting and a void here will create a real pain in your grip. Put your best exterior cork rings where your thumb will press and you’ll have a much better finished grip for fly fishing.

The same method works for other applications as well. Just place the cork in the best condition where your palm and fingers impact most.

2. Why Wax the Mandrel?

Well for starters, waxing the mandrel will keep it cleaner so that rod builders can use the same mandrel repeatedly.

Mandrel Wax is cheap and the benefits are well worth it. One quick application of mandrel wax will save you a lot of time and cork in the long run.

Get your Mandrel Wax from Mud Hole…

Pulling the Grip Off Cleanly

Besides keeping the mandrel clean and in proper working condition, waxing the mandrel helps keep the epoxy from bonding to the mandrel itself.

In other words, it’s really hard to remove the finished cork grip when the epoxy along the inner diameter bonds to the mandrel. To help keep the mandrel clean and interrupt this bond, wax the mandrel prior to adding the cork rings for a much easier experience.

Note: There is more about the proper grip removal technique in tip number 7.

3. How NOT to Glue Cork Rings Together

The easiest way to ruin a really good grip is to apply too much epoxy glue in between each cork ring.

While the glue serves to bond each ring together, a little goes a long way in this scenario and more glue will only create more problems.

Pick up ProPaste at Mud Hole to glue up your cork grips.

More Epoxy, More Problems

When it comes to gluing cork rings together for a custom grip, only apply enough glue to make the inner surface shine. Although it should shine, it shouldn’t have any significant glue build up whatsoever.


Since the cork rings must be compressed together, too much glue between the cork rings will force epoxy to run between the mandrel and cork as well as on the outside of the grip.


While the outside of the grip is easy to sand clean, removing the cork grip from the mandrel is basically impossible if too much epoxy bonds to it. This will most likely break the cork grip before coming off the mandrel.

Avoid this problem by just using less glue!

4. Comparing Standard Cork and Cork Composite

As previously mentioned, the range of cork rings offered at mud hole includes many different options.

From color changes to differences in size and density, each selection of cork rings brings a different set of specifications to consider.

The Weight Difference

Next to appearance, the weight of different cork rings is the most noticeable characteristic. Standard Cork Rings, like the SCR1 Select Grade Cork Rings, are much lighter than Cork Composite Rings, such as Rubberized Cork Rings.

Although the composites come in really cool tones, these rings are heavier and more dense than traditional cork. This just means a entire composite grip will add a lot of weight to the finished rod.

However, if incorporated as modest decoration, these composite rings bring an enhanced appearance and a balanced, comfortable performance.

Sanding Cork vs Composite Cork

In addition to weight, the density of composite rings is much thicker than that of standard cork. This means that standard cork will sand much faster and easier than composite cork.

Is this a deal breaker for using composite cork?

Like the weight difference, it’s not a deal breaker and rather, it’s just a characteristic to keep in mind when designing your cork ring pattern.

A Quick Tip for Using Crafty Cutters

Because of the difference in density, the cork composite rings also make for better edges when inletting the grip for a reel seat.

Since inletting removes some inner diameter from the cork for the reel seat, it’s better to use the denser composite because it will hold up better and remove material to leave a smooth circle.

On the other hand, sometimes standard cork rings don’t work as well as edges because the crafty cutter will crack or split the outer wall of the cork. This damage keeps the reel seat from fitting correctly into the bottom of the cork grip.

5. Add Colored Cork Rings for Decoration

Most of the fun from customizing cork grips comes from creating imaginative patterns with the many different cork rings.

From dark and light tones to actual colored burl and composite rings, the choices in Cork Rings give rod builders the chance to assemble a truly custom cork grip.

6. Shape Cork Grips on Lathe or Power Drill

An crucial aspect of of rod building is the ability to adapt your tools to fit your need. Most of this reasoning comes down to access.

The RBS Rod Building System has certainly improved the capabilities of any rod builder with a system that will grow and adapt to the user’s requirements. But when it comes to shaping a grip, not every angler has immediate access to a lathe.

While a lathe is the most popular tool to shape custom fishing grips, there is another option for rod builders to shape grips without a lathe.

Setting Up the Power Drill to Shape Grips

Using a power drill and an added support like the RBS Support Stand, you can use one hand to trigger the drill’s rotation and your off hand to sand the spinning grip.

Simply set up the drill and support stand, then beginning turning your grip for a custom shaped perfectly for your palm.

7. Removing Cork Grips from the Mandrel

Depending on the inner diameter of the grip, there are different sized Mandrel options to match.

Alongside pre-waxing the mandrel, the proper technique to removing the grip from the mandrel is necessary to avoid any damage to the cork as well as the mandrel. Epoxy glue can be cleaned off from the mandrel, but it’s easier to just use wax and the right method of removal to preserve its condition.

Although the proper form isn’t foolproof, it does often help get the grips off without impending damage.

Use the Right Form to Avoid Busting the Cork

To remove the grip from the mandrel, start by getting a firm grasp on the grip with both hands. Make sure there’s a sturdy, flat surface nearby and hit the mandrel square on this surface.

When the mandrel is hit square on the flat surface, the grip will break free from the mandrel and slide off with ease.

Then you’re ready to ream and install your new custom grip!

Check out these 4 Steps to Shape Custom Cork Grips for more on the RIGHT WAY to turn cork grips…

Create Your Own Custom Cork Grips