October 3, 2013

Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth tenkara rod -- review, part I

I received my Sawtooth tenkara rod today from the Tenkara Rod Company. My rod came as part of the Sawtooth Package: rod, line, flies and line holder. I purchased this package though Kickstarter and I was excited to see another Idaho based tenkara company's product firsthand.

The Tenkara Rod Company is a new tenkara startup based out of Boise, Idaho. Boise is on the other side of the state from me so I don't get over there very often -- maybe once a year, if I have to. I however, saw that Tenkara Rod Co. had a Kickstarter project going and so I decided to "invest" and purchase one of their first rods. I wasn't the only one to do this, as their Kickstarter project reached its goal in record time.

The rod package came via USPS in a crush resistant mailing tube. Included was a Sawtooth 360 cm 5:5 rod, rod tube, rod sleeve, 10.5 foot furled line, three kebari-style flies in a plastic case, and a 70mm Meiho line holder.  The rod tube and sleeve are stylishly done in black with the company name and logo.

The Sawtooth Package

The furled line,  made for Tenkara Rod Co by Zen Outfitters

The three flies and case.

The rod is handsome, especially for what I would consider an entry level rod. I don't know exactly who designed the rod but aesthetics was important to that person. The Sawtooth doesn't look like any other rod I own. It has 9 sections (includes handle section), with every other section alternating between dark and light brown coloration. The finish is glossy and well done, with no obvious defects. The handle section has the company name, rod name, and fish motif on it. It looks very professionally done with the typography and overall layout being executed by a style conscience graphic designer. That in and of itself is not usual for an entry level rod.

The handle is cork, of moderate quality -- there is a lot of filler and some irregular surfaces. The shape is the standard reverse half-wells style so popular to this level of rod. Although I'm not a fan of this shape on tenkara rods, this handle does fit my hand better than some tenkara rods with similarly shaped handles. The handle is 28 cm long. There is a gap between the cork and the female portion of the butt cap. This could have been executed better by just adding a little epoxy to fill in that gap. The winding check is golden metal with knurling (I have not seen this with a winding check, but it seems to work aesthetically).

The handle

The winding check. Note the cork quality issues.
Poorly executed fit between the handle and the butt cap insert. Note the cork quality issues.

The 1st or tip section is solid and the dark brown lilian is attached via a micro-swivel; again, another nice amenity not usual (but not unheard of) in an entry level rod. The lilian is without a terminal knot but is long enough for you to tie on in if you so desired. Also, it is a little frayed on the end -- I corrected this with a quick touch of a lit match. Of note, the epoxy which attaches the lilian to the tip is thick enough that section 1 can't be withdrawn through section 2. Personally, I like a rod that disassembles completely to aid in cleaning and drying.

The tip plug is wood with rubber insert. It fits snugly. There is no fluting so to allow it to be inserted when the line is still attached to the lilian.  The butt cap is gold (anodized) metal and has the company's name on the outside. Fine knurling aids in its removal. There is a center drain hole. Of note is that is not a rubber damping plug on the inside of the butt cap.  This seems to be an overlooked item in a rod that has such thought out design aesthetics. In addition to allowing the collapsed sections to rattle, since the drainage hole is centrally located it allows the butt of section 1 (the tip section) to poke through (see image below)! I can see this predisposing this small part of section 1 to break. The hole should be offset from center, or better yet, a rubber insert should be installed on the inside of the butt cap to prevent this from happening. I have already fixed mine with some closed cell foam I had on hand.

Tip plug

Inside of butt cap -- where's the rubber insert?

Butt cap with drain hole
The butt of section 1 (tip section) can slide right out the drain hole. I can see this breaking off!!

My rod is actually 350 cm when fully extended, not the advertised 360 cm. Collapsed, it is 51 cm. Weight without tip plug is 88.1 g. On the Common Cents Scale (CCS) it is 22 pennies. This gives my rod a Rod Flex Index (RFI) of 6.3. This is much higher of an RFI than a typical 5:5 rod, rather that puts it on the upper end of the range for a 6:4 rod. The Tenkara USA Iwana 12' has a RFI of 6.4 and it's the classic, benchmark 6:4 tenkara rod (IMO). Most 5:5 rods I have measured have an RFI of 3.5-4.5.

RFI comparison chart

Casting the rod is easy. As predicted by the CCS and RFI, this rod does not cast like a more traditional 5:5 rod; it is stiffer than that. Rather, it casts like a 6:4. I compared it to some other 6:4 rods that I have and the Sawtooth is stiffer, or faster in action, than they were. This again reinforces the point that you can't just go by a rods flex point designation, you must measure the rod. The rod has some tip oscillation at the end of the cast, but not more than you'd expect from an entry level rod. Also, the rod is slightly tip heavy but not too bad.

Since I use level lines mainly, I tested the rod with #3, #3.5 and #4 fluorocarbon lines and an unweighted fly. The rod cast each of these lines easily, but it loaded best with the #4. That should not come as a surprise, since the rod has a higher RFI number. I always felt that my Iwana 12' cast best with a #4 line as well.

I wanted to get the Sawtooth onto the stream this week, but an illness has laid me up. Hopefully next week I'll be able to get some "on the water" performance data for you. But, what I see so far is that the Sawtooth would be a good entry rod. It has some really nice artistic aesthetics, but unfortunately it also has some surprising weaknesses, such as the less than good quality cork, the poor fit of the cork at the butt end of the handle, and the lack of a rubber bumper insert inside the butt cap.  From its looks, I think I can fairly say that we should expect better of this rod. That said, I'm sure these issues could be easily corrected in the next run of this rod. I don't personally know the owner/founders of the Tenkara Rod Co., but from their attention to detail on their website design and aesthetics of the rod, I bet they will fix these few things. I guess we shall see.

Coming up..... part two: stream side performance of the Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth.


  1. Nice initial impressions post Tom. Spending some time with my Sawtooth last weekend, I have to say I'd agree with you on all of what you wrote. Especially the re-rating to a 6:4. I'm surprised about the tip section sliding out through the drain hole. I tried to replicate that on my rod for about 10 minutes after reading your post and couldn't get it to come through. Did yours pass through naturally, or did you have to coax it through? (Oh, re-reading that last sentence is kinda funny). Regardless, a rubber bumper is sorely needed. Damn good looking rod though.

    1. Hey T!,

      Actually, when I first took my Sawtooth out of its sleeve the 1st section was sticking out through the hole, as seen in the picture. I pushed it back through then raised the rod to vertical and shook the rod. It came through a second time. That's with my rod. There might be some slight variation, from rod to rod, in the size of the hole, so this might not happen on all rods. But since it happened on mine I felt it important to note it.

      BTW, I just got a note from CS regarding the flex rating of the original Iwana 12'. He says that it was initially rated as a 5:5 but had to be reclassified as a 6:4. I think the Sawtooth should be reclassified as well.

      Love your Florida adventures.


    2. CS is right. I have one of those 5:5-labeled Iwanas. It's a collector's item now, right? :)

  2. Hi Tom,

    I have been fishing Tenkara for just a few months now. I am really enjoying it and find your site very helpful. I received my Sawtooth and Teton from Tenkara Rod Co. a few days ago. I agree with your initial assesment of the Sawtooth. My tip section also came out the drain hole as I took it out of the rod sock the first time. The Sawtooth is softer than the Teton. I live in the midwest and mostly fish warmwater. I took the Teton out on a small local stream this morning and had great time. I am using the Tenkara USA 4.5 line and it casts well.
    Tenkara is so effecient on my local stream for catching sunfish and small bass. This morning most memorable was a 12" Smallmouth that took a girdle bug (I know, not your traditional Tenkara fly). I look forward to your Sawtooth review part 2.

    Shawn in IN

  3. Thanks for your comments, Shawn. I look forward to the first time I take a nice smallie on a tenkara rod! I've tried but no success so far. Every time I visit my daughter in AR I hit the local stream in hopes for a solid bass. So far, all the bass I have taken have been small. I guess I need to try a Girdle Bug!!

  4. Great review Tom! That issue with the drain hole needs to be resolved. But luckily, it seems like an easy fix. Just make two off-center holes the way some Japanese rods do.

    An insert may be a quick fix but would cover up the drain hole, defeating it's purpose. But if you had two far enough apart, there could be enough room in the center for a cushion without obstructing the drain holes.

    1. Personally, I never understood the purpose of a drainage hole. Many of my rods don't have them and they don't seem to suffer. Certainly, most drainage hole are much too small to allow for any air movement to aid in drying the collapsed rod. I disassemble my rods to dry them. The only rods I have noticed that drain water from them are the ones with drain holes. The other rods, without the holes, never get water inside them! Therefore, I am becoming of the opinion that the only purpose of a drain hole is to allow water into the rod!! This hypothesis could be tested, but I'm too lazy.

  5. Tom,
    Thank you for your comprehensive and critical review of the Sawtooth. I received my Sawtooth yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see someone at Tenkara Rod Co took note of the issues you pointed out. The tip section on mine passes through the second section, a rubber bumper with an offset drain hole has been added to the rod cap, and the cork seems to have filler applied more uniformly. I have not had a chance to fish or cast the rod, just a quick look over last night.
    Thank you for all the reviews and great videos you post. It is always a treat to see something new from you. The videos are always top notch and make being stuck behind a desk at lunch enjoyable. Your astrophotography is quite impressive also, my 10 year old daughter is fascinated by them (as am I). Take care.
    David in CA

    1. Thanks for the nice comments, David.

      Also, thank you for letting me know that the Tenkara Rod Co. has improved their rod so quickly. That's fantastic! It makes a good rod even better!!


  6. I have a theory about the drain holes. I have a few large diameter, long length keiryu rods (20' being the longest) and I can hear air escaping through the drain hole in the buttcap when collapsing the rod. I think that may be the real reason they are put there. To make the rods collapse closed more smoothly especially if the rod is wet. Prevents the vacuum action of trying to slide tapered tubes inside each other with water film making an airtight seal. Just a theory.


    1. I think your theory is sound. I have noticed on some of my long rods that they collapse easily if there is a hole in the butt cap. I have also felt the air coming out of that hole as the rod is collapsed.