How to make a Fly Reel

Blue Zulu

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55º 44.3’N 003º 43.4’W
I thought I would share with everyone on the Forum the Step by Step process of making a 3 Piece Style, 4inch Wide Drum Fly Reel.

This style of reel has become popular of late in the States and especially amongst Steelhead Fishers. Ed Ward even has a Narrow Drum Perfect hanging from his Loomis Dredger in his DVD – Skagit Master.

With collectors paying silly money for an old one, and the latest reproductions just as expensive I decided to see what all the fuss was about and make my own.

I decided to use 8082 T6 Bar stock to make my reel, which is stronger than 6061 T6 that a lot of American Manufacturers use. I also set myself the challenge of making it entirely on my 1960’s Lathe and hand tools.

The Main Frame/Cage

Centre drilling prior to machining

Cleaning up the Bar Stock

Parting as deep as possible

Cutting the remainder by hand

About 2 ½ lb

Machining the inside of cage

Profiling the outside

Milling out the windows (only using my dividing head as my rotary table is too big to fit on my vertical slide)

After some hand finishing

View from winding plate side

The Reel Foot

I have decided to make the foot to the AFFTA Spec so that it should fit most rods.

A lot of the older reels have huge feet and some people actually fish with their reel taped to their rod with electrical tape!

Squaring up some alloy for the reel foot

Machining to thickness

Drilling locating holes

Using a ¾” Ball Nose Slot Drill to profile the Foot

Making a mandrel to hold the foot

Ready for machining

First taper complete

Second taper complete

Using a Fly Cutter to radius the foot base for locating on cage

Counterboring for heads of fixing screws

Completed foot

Fits nicely on the cage

Bearing Assembly

Starting off with a 2” Piece of Brass

Turn to size


Ream to size

Form a groove for the ball bearings

Insert some Stainless Steel Ball Bearings and form a cup around them by a process called spinning whereby the metal is forced into shape by applying pressure from a polished tool as it rotates.

I still have to drill and fit 3 retaining screws, but things are starting to take shape


I decided to make the Spool out of a hard black plastic called Delrin. It is used to make items such as bearings and gears and it does not absorb moisture as much as Nylon so can be used in marine applications. Also it is nice to machine.

Roughing out to size

If you keep the tools sharp you can get a good finish without the need for papering.

Setting up for drilling the holes in the spool. I am sure whoever made the original model of this style of reel had a warped sense of humour by making a 13 hole pattern. As you will have probably guessed 13 does not go into 360 degrees exactly. The worm drive on my dividing head is 60:1 so I need to turn the handle 4 and 56/91 turns to advance the spool to drill the next hole. Luckily the outer ring on plate N0.1 has 91 holes, so all I need to do is turn the handle 4 complete turns and 56 notches.

I am using a stub drill which is a lot shorter than say a normal jobbers type drill bit. This prevents the bit from wandering and saves using a centre bit to start the hole.

Almost complete.

I think the black ads a bit of colour if you know what I mean.

Spindle and Gear

I decided to make the check gear teeth out of some silver steel which is a type of tool steel that can be hardened then tempered if required. Because it is a pawl type arrangement and not a train of gears then there is no need to cut an involute profile. I have used a 60 degree double angle cutter and 40 teeth makes it a nice easy 1½ turns of the dividing head per tooth.

Drilling out a piece of 40mm Silver Steel

Roughing out a piece of brass

Pressing the ring of Silver Steel onto the spindle and securing with retainer. I will drill some round key pins at a later stage

Turning the groove to fit the ball race

Threading the end of the spindle

Set up for cutting the teeth using a dividing head on the vertical slide on my lathe

First cut

After three cuts per tooth

Finished spindle and check gear

This is where it goes

Winding Plate

I decided to make the winding plate out of Delrin to match the spool. I was a bit worried that the thin disk of Delrin would not be up to the task so I needed a way of strengthening it. I decided to make a serpentine shaped handle that would provide the strength and then the Delrin would just be a cover plate bearing no load.

Clean up some 4” Alloy and turn a small boss to secure to spindle and part as deep as possible prior to sawing off by hand

Drill and Tap

Saw by hand and face to thickness

Mark out the serpentine shape

Saw roughly to shape

File to shape

Turning and threading the counterweight before parting off and chamfering

Turn, chamfer, drill and counterbore the Delrin for the handle

Turning a flat disk of Delrin on a mandrel

Completed winding plate assembly

I’ve still got lots to do but couldn’t resist a sneak preview

Check Mechanism

I am starting off with the shoe for the check spring by turning a ring of aluminium and parting off to size

Set up to cut out a groove with a flycutter

Super Glue the ring inside the reel cage and set up to drill hole for rim tension adjuster

Tapping the shoe with a 6BA Tap

A couple of hours work to make this little bit of metal!

Clean up some brass for the rim tension adjuster

Knurl (would have used a fine straight type knurl if I had one)

Turn down to size for thread

Form thread

Part off and dome head

Pawl retaining screw about to be parted off

Set up for slotting heads of screws with a slitting saw. Note the improvised use of an angle bracket to get close the headstock.

Drill, countersink and partially part a piece of silver steel to make the pawl

Mark out prior to sawing and filling to shape

Almost ready for assembly

Completed check mechanism

I am not too keen to have any bare brass on show on the outside of the reel as I think the gold clashes with the black and silver. I have decided to nickel plate the rim tension adjuster and the reel foot screws. I have gone for a matt finish rather than the normal shiny finish as I think it matches the aluminium better.

After a scrub with a toothbrush and detergent I wrapped some fine copper wire around the groove in the thread and lowered it into some nitric acid based de-oxidiser and de-smutting solution for 30 seconds.

After a rinse in some de-ionized water I am ready to lower it into my DIY plating tank containing nickel electrolyte heated to about 30deg with nickel anodes running off a twelve volt battery.

I never used any brightening solution and found that twenty minutes was enough to give a nice matt finish.

I think this should match the aluminium nicely.


Instead of a highly polished finish I prefer a matt finish to the aluminium which I achieved by using a scotchbrite pad for the final polish. Prior to anodising I gave everything a good scrub with detergent and rinsed thoroughly.

Each component gets attached to some aluminium wire then the first step of the anodising process is to dip them into some sodium hydroxide de-oxidising solution. Remember these any nasty chemicals so please do not try this at home unless you know what you are doing and remember to wear protective clothing, rubber gloves and face protection and work in a well ventilated area.

Here you can see the solution at work. The longer the item is left in the solution then the more matt the surface becomes

Rinse in de-ionised water then dip in nitric acid based de-oxidiser and de-smutting solution

Another rinse in de-ionised water then into the anodising bath containing sulphuric acid and powered by a 12Volt battery

Bubbling away nicely

After about twenty minutes remove and thoroughly rise in water. If the items were to be dyed then that would be done next followed by boiling in a sealer to fix the colour.

After re-assembly and some final adjustments it is ready to put a line on it and go fishing.

The reel weighs in at 11 ounces and is pictured here loaded with 100yds of backing and a #10 Double Taper Salmon Line.
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Brunei Darusallam
Superb Neil,

Another brilliant post, thourghly enjoyable. I await the next with the bearing mounting.

It's amazing the number of Bridgeport Mills with Steppers and Cnc units attached that are being discarded for free currently, looks like your got space ;)

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Very interesting and entertaining pics - many thanks! :) Gives a little perpective to those who think that a machined fly reel should be a cheap instrument.


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Clitheroe Lancs
Excellent post and as a time served machinist I can fully apreciate the work involved. I just wish I had made my own when I was still on the machines as I dont get to do any machining in the quality dept.

Looking forward to the next part.


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Co. Antrim
Brilliant work there.
Looking at that has been far better than anything I've seen on TV lately.
Cant wait til the next instalment.


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BZ, absolutely facinating, I had never thought how the reels I have been using over the years came to be. To see your work opens a whole new aspect to this fishing business for me. I too am really looking forward to seeing the next installment :cool:.


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This is a great thread Neil, it reminds me of articles in Model Engineers Workshop but more relevant and interesting.

What many people will not appreciate is how much more difficult and time consuming the task is with only the lathe, and how much you are improvising regarding all of the milling work. I like the dividing head improvisation.

The fly cutter on the reel foot base and the fit is really sweet :cool:


If Bridgeport's are going free put my name down, it broke my heart when I had to sell my Series 2 Vari-Speed. :(


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Thanks for sharing that. Excellent thread.

Nice to see someone putting these wonderful lathes to use. I havent used a lathe or mill m/c for 12 years now.

I keep looking at these workshop size ones & think maybe just maybe!!



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Brilliant and fascinating thread.

Looking forward to part 2.

Many Thanks. :)


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I'm also looking forward to the next installment. I'd love to have to tools and know-how to make my own reels.


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What a fascinating thread!

I've never used a lathe nor done any metal work so it was a complete eye-opener.

25lbs, who is a tool-maker, showed me a reel at the end of last season that he had produced, and Bad Bastie (currently doing an engineering degree) has talked about making one.

I take my hat off to you all :)


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Brilliant thread, thanks for taking the time to share this with us. When I left school I served an apprenticeship as a fitter/machinist and although haven't used a lathe or milling machine since then really enjoyed and appreciate the craftsmanship that's gone into the work.
Can't wait to see how it turns out.