Lessons on "Graphite"

Or, more correctly – carbon fibre (I like the British spelling). This morning I gave a lesson to Dick Murtland, a golf-club guru with Adams Golf, who has done more with the manufacturing carbon fibre and shaft making than anyone I know (or have heard of).

First and foremost, our clubs (rods) are NOT made of graphite – graphite is merely the powder or powdery solid form of pure carbon (atomic #12 for those chem geeks out there like me). The material they are constructed of is carbon fibre in sheet form. What drives the costs up is the type used – mainly its tensile strength. The higher the tensile strength, typically the greater the modulus (number of fibers per square inch on the sheet), the lower the weight, and the higer the cost. Your higher end rods will be made with these types of material, which gives us the cool strength-to-weight ratio we all love.

Another interesting tidbit I garnered was how the thickness of the fibre is supposed to be uniform throughout the length of the rod, butt to tip.  “But Bart, that doesn’t make sense – the tip is much smaller than the butt.” That statement is true, but the THICKNESS of the fibre is the same – it is just rolled over a smaller area at the top. The thickness of the rod decreases, but the fibre sheet does not. This is why rod makers must be careful with sanding – you can end up with flat spots where the fibre is thinner than in the rest of the rod, resulting in a weak spot.

I have a few other questions for Dick the next time I see him, about things like Boron and the like,  and I will be sure to post the answers once I do – a great lesson for me, and he will be double hauling by his trip to Argentina!

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3 Responses to Lessons on "Graphite"

  1. jw says:

    i think it would be cool if they mixed in some of the glow in the dark powder with the graphite powder. it would be easier to find my rod at night after a few beers at the boat launch

  2. Joel Hays says:

    hey Bart -

    cool stuff! Now, here’s some real chemical geekness . . .

    Boron has never “taken off” as a sole rod component because of its goofy metalloidal proprties. It’s in the same group as aluminum and shares similar proprties like incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio. And, it’s a smaller atom than carbon so you think that would extrapolate out to a lighter rod. Unfortunately, the bonding characteristics of boron make it difficult to produce a small fiber. A boron fiber IS very strong, but it’s also big. One boron fiber is about 15-20x larger than a carbon fiber (it’s about the same size as a fiberglass “S”glass fiber).
    When a manufacturer like Winston uses boron, it’s usually sandwiched between two graphite sheets, and usually only in the butt section. What boron probably DOES give you is some great dampening characteristics as well as a favorable strength to weight ratio. Other manufacturers achieve the same result with more,”finer” graphite fibers in ever-increasingly complex lay-ups (like the TCX!).
    what a geek!

  3. Ken Morrow says:

    regarding modulus, if u survey the rodmakers, u will find that virtually all flyrods are made with 1 of 2 modulus cf’s: im6 or im8. the higher the mod, the more brittle it becomes. thus the cf becomes more susceptible to breakage at the same time it becomes lighter. there is a trade-off here. and each rodmaker has 2 find what they believe is the ideal balance…especially if they provide unconditional lifetime warranties.

    furthermore, whether im6 or im8 cf is used, u will also discover that every rodmaker orders their cf fabric rolls from the same 2-3 suppliers. and that decision is made on a production run by prod run basis according to price quotes, availability, shipping costs, delivery dates, and so forth.

    the upshot here is that it’s pretty much all the same stuff and the big difference in fly rods boils down to only a few factors that are pretty much ignored in most of the modern marketing:

    1. design and finish of the blank
    2. selection, fit, and finish of the hardware
    3. warranties

    design of the blank is probably the most significant in terms of performance. choice of components and fit and finish of hardware would be the next most important to functionality, but only noticeable if substandard materials are used, sloppy assembly takes place, or extremly high end custom components are used. warranties are a matter of long-term cost to the customer and rodmaker and that relationship. what is best for each is highly subjective. and that is a topic for a whole separate set of discussions or articles.

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