Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Morning At The Orvis Rod Factory

When I arrived in Vermont to spend a few days with the friends at Orvis, Shawn Combs, Rod & Tackle Divisional Merchandise Manager, ran me through the itinerary for the week which involved some time at the Orvis home office in Sunderland and also a morning visit at the Orvis Rod Factory in Manchester.  Of course there was some fly fishing penciled in between meetings to round out schedule. 

I've long had a interest in seeing what happened at the Orvis Rod Factory and the visit was the full treatment involving not only seeing each station and step of how the entire line up of Orvis fly rods are built but also spending time with Don Swanson, Director of Manufacturing, Sam Orvis, Manufacturing Engineer, and Frank Hoard, R&D/Graphite Production Manager.  Each of these individuals bring different talents and a side of the process to the table and it was neat to get their perspectives as well on what they do and why they do it.

It would be tough to cover everything in a post here of what we spent over the three hours doing at the Orvis Rod Factory but a few highlights to note were...
  • Depending on the season, each week the Orvis Repairs Department handles somewhere between 200 and 800 fly rods that are sent in for repair.  Some of the stories of how the break happened even make it up on a "Wall of Fame" as many of these tall tales are pretty darn creative...
  • On a wall of replacement blanks, one of the only bins that was empty was "Misc. Glass" which goes to show that fiberglass fly rods just don't break all that often.  In fact, my Superfine Glass four weight (which had minor glue issue with the cork reel seat) was the only glass fly rod in the process of being fixed out of several hundred others.
  • I rolled a GRAPHITE blank section and surprisingly my hands didn't fall off.  HA...
  • There may be plans for a one (or several) fiberglass fly rod projects in the future from Orvis.  They continue to be impressed with customer interest to the Superfine Glass line up and I wouldn't be surprised to see the family grow with models added or "Limited Editions" released.  More on that later...
  • For something that I've always thought was mostly done with your hands, there is an incredible amount of "tech" involved in the process of (fiberglass/graphite/bamboo) blank making and fly rod building.  Each step has been analyzed to minimize waste of materials, shorten build times or the motions taken during each part of the process, increase production and in the end heighten quality and consistency in the product with fly rods that are made to high standards over and over and over again.
  • There is an incredible amount of history in the Orvis Rod Factory and it was neat to see that isn't lost in the process of forward progress and innovation. 
  • One of the biggest surprises during this trip is that Orvis runs pretty lean on developers on the fly fishing side of the house and your fly rod, fly reel, waders and boots, packs and other gear are all designed and perfected with a small core group developers that are continuously multi-tasking between projects both short and long range.
  • The Orvis Rod Factory may be the only (or one of very few) large scale fly rod factories in the United States that is continuously building fiberglass, graphite, and bamboo fly rods under the same roof.  How cool is that?
Walking around the shop I took a few photographs which I thought would be good to share with those who haven't had the opportunity to see what happens behind the old wooden store front of the Orvis Rod Factory.  The entire shop was humming with activity the morning that I was there.

Thanks again to Shawn, Don, Sam, and Frank for taking the time to show and walk me through every room at the Orvis Rod Factory.  I was beyond impressed and it was great to see how and where the Orvis fly rods are made.


Jay said...

Definitely a big part of fly fishing history.
My love for Orvis started when I was still at high school in the early 1980's.
Hope to visit the factory too one day.

Cameron Mortenson said...

Jay... Orvis was a large part of my fly fishing history as well. As a poor college student, I saved enough money for a Rocky Mountain 8'6" five weight outfit which of all the damn graphite that I would later have before the fiberglass kick started, I wish I had kept it.