Salomone: Repairing minor damage to your cork handle
Vail Valley Anglers
Anglers who fish enough inevitably suffer from minor cork damage. Major cork damage like complete breakage, large gaps or crushed sections benefit from professional repair from the rod manufacturer. Vail Valley Anglers or your local fly shop can help get this type of damage fixed correctly. Minor damage from repeated grip, hooks stuck into the cork or the “rod in your teeth” victory photo can all be repaired at home.
With a few common items most households have and a minimal amount of time involved, anglers can handle the job effectively do it yourself (DIY) style. A little prep on day one and the rod will be ready to fish the next day. It’s a quick project that takes minimal time but reaps long-term rewards in the life of your rod. And it always seems like it’s a favorite rod that develops the wear.
The longest amount of time involved with this repair is the drying time. The steps needed to complete the project can be dealt with rather quickly. I’ve found no need to hurry the drying time. The next day has always been acceptable. And the final steps to complete the project on the second day take only a couple of minutes to finish.
The supplies needed are minimal. Common wood glue is needed as the binder. A small, flat tool like a popsicle stick or an old kitchen silverware knife are good choices. Sandpaper (320grit), an old emery board or fingernail file are good finishing tools. A large flat file is the best tool for gathering enough cork material quickly to start.
Cork can come from a variety of sources. Be creative. It could be an old fly rod handle you found in the river. A discarded cork bulletin board works well. Even a used cork drink coaster can be used in a pinch.
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With the fine side of the flat file wear away some of the cork material onto a paper plate or other disposable flat surface. The cork material should be a fine dust to be the best filler. The coarse side of the file makes large, chunky pieces of cork that don’t fill gaps and holes efficiently. The coarse cork material requires more work in the final steps to clean up and finish. If you are using a piece of cork-like from a bulletin board or drink coaster, lay the file flat and rub the cork material on the file.
Mix an adequate amount of cork dust slowly into some of the wood glue. It’s easy to add more glue if you need to but very hard to take away. Or you end up having to make more cork dust filler. The consistency should be a thin paste. It should be malleable enough to be pushed into crevices in the cork handle.
I sat down to repair a rod for an upcoming trip to the saltwater. I decided to look over some of my other rods and found three that needed some damage control. I repaired all three rods at once with a minimal amount of cork/glue material.
Slowly fill gaps, holes or places where lost filler has fallen out with the cork/wood glue paste. Work it down to fill as much as possible with your flat tool. Overflow repair material can be wiped off the handle with a damp rag or paper towel before the glue sets. Clean the excess glue up while it’s damp and not dry. Dried glue and cork takes a little more time and effort to clean up once it has set.
After filling the damaged areas, I allowed the rods to cure and dry overnight. The next morning I was able to finish the handles with just a few minutes of work on each one. I used 320 grit sandpaper to lightly sand the repaired areas. Excess glue and cork material is easy to remove but so is the cork, so go lightly. A foam sanding block, old emery board or plain sandpaper are all good materials to complete this final step. A helpful hint is to give the rod handle a little spin when sanding.
Following these easy steps extends the life of your rod. Repairing minor damages is easy and rewarding. Take the time to look over your favorite rod. It might just need a little love before the summer comes to prepare for those anglers that need to chew on the cork for a photo.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including, Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.