TuffTackle Diablo 9000 : The Review

Hello all

The reel in review today is a "store brand" reel. These are different from the reels we all know in that they are basically generic reels made in China by an OEM company, then retailers from around the world order them in quantities and have them painted in their choice of colours and marked with their own brands. Those retailers can choose a limited number of options on those reels such as different handle grips, greased or dry drag washers, different drag knobs, etc., but the reels are inherently the same regardless of the brand they bear.

To illustrate that, here is the reel reviewed today, Tuff Tackle Diablo

And here is the exact same reel with a round grip, but this time it's branded "Latitude SDS Pariah 9000" for another retailer

And again the same reel, this time branded "Pelagic Hypafin 9000"

Once more, with the original handle but no drilling in the spool, branded "Sumax" by a Brazilian retailer

These are just a few examples, but the reel comes bearing several other brands.

The same thing goes for another generic reel introduced in the Chinese OEM company's catalogue this year, and is now being sold under many names including "TuffTackle Diablo Sniper 10000", "Black Marlin BM6500", "Latitude SDS Pariah 10000", "Ajiking Wahoo 9000", and "Pelagic Hypafin 10000". Here is a quick collage of some of these clones with different handle grips and colour schemes

Just google any of those names for more information about the locality of each clone. I'm sure they will pop up carrying other brands, and some fishing charter companies will be branding them too. I will be reviewing a reel of this second group at a future point, but for now let's get back to the first group and the reel reviewed today.

The Diablo 9000 clone is a big spinner similar in size to Daiwa Saltiga 6XXX and Shimano Stella 18K/20k. At 28.5 oz (809 grams) it's slightly lighter than the Saltiga, and I'm comparing it to the Saltiga because it was the reel they loosely based this Chinese reel on. The simple design of the Saltiga has inspired a lot of reels, including Accurate's TwinSpin. The Diablo is sold on Tufftackle's website for AU $269, but they list them for AU $169 on ebay, and it's quite easy to buy one at this price since many go without any bids. $169 is what I paid for mine. Tufftackle's ads state that their reels are a replacement for Stella and Dogfight, and they add that their reel could be used to catch Marlin (?). Of course with such big claims I had to get one and find out myself what was up.

Here is the box of the reel

Of course I appreciate their efforts to cut costs, but this is obscenely cheap. And when I say "cheap" I am not measuring it against a box like this...

...but rather against this

My "high-end" RD 400 spinning reel which sells new for a whopping $9 comes in a printed box with such rubbish as "Sense of Power" and "Smooth Performance" printed on it. So how much could Tufftackle have possibly saved by putting the Diablo in this cheap plain box? When I received it I almost tore it apart thinking it was an outer mailing box!

When I first took it out of the box, I felt some small parts falling in my hand. I pulled the spool out to check what was going on, but it would not come off. I tried for some time, and eventually the spool came off and I could finally figure out the identity of the parts that fell in my hand earlier

The fallen parts were the drag clicker, its spring, and a dysfunctional retainer! The retainer is not a part that simply broke, rather it's a part that CAN NOT work by design. The brass stud that the clicker is mounted on (lower left in the above photo) is smooth and has no cap or a slot to hold the retainer in place. How did they expect that thing to stay in place in beyond me.

Of course I was not going to spend money on this $169 reel or even bother with a decent fix, so I just put everything back, gave the stud a hammering to deform its head creating a stop for the retainer, and as an extra measure I put some super glue on top of it. The lower ball bearing of the spool can be seen in the above photo too. The spool runs on 2 ball bearings.

Took the drag stack out to see what was keeping the spool from coming off earlier

Interesting number of parts in here. Lower spool ball bearing (#2), upper spool ball bearing (#3), carbon fibre drag washers (#4), drag seal (#5) which double tasks as a retainer for the drag washers, a brass spacer (#6), and a mysterious rubber O ring (#7). The drag washers are very similar to Carbontex washers, and overall the drag was smooth and performed exceptionally well. There are quality issues here though; the drag seal (#5) is bigger than its recess, so it doesn't fit correctly and bulges in places creating spaces that allow water to enter. Also the drag washers are kept in place by that same seal instead of an independent retainer, therefore you have to put two fingers on that seal when putting the spool back or else the seal will pop out along with the drag washers. But the real problem here was the O ring (#7); I had never seen anything like it and had no idea what it was supposed to do. I tried placing it between the bearing and the brass spacer as it was, but then it was impossible to put the spool back on the shaft. I tried more but that O ring kept getting wedged between the shaft and washers, then after lots of head scratching I realised what the Chinese engineers originally wanted.... This

The lower bearing was supposed to stay on the shaft, the brass spacer on top of it, and both kept in place by that rubber O ring. But that lower bearing fits so tightly in the spool that when you remove the spool the bearing stays stuck in it, pulling out the spacer and the O ring with it! To pick up the loose parts all drag washers need to be taken out, and then parts could be placed back on the shaft until the next time you remove the spool and have it all happening again. Eventually I had to throw away that O ring and the lower bearing now just stays in the spool. I don't know how to describe that sort of engineering without using foul language, so I'll just move on.

The back of the spool

The spool shows several manufacturing imperfections like this, and the holes drilled in the skirt have sharp unfinished edges. These are not really troublesome at this price, but just mentioning them for the record.

A side by side comparison between the handles of the the Diablo and the Saltiga 6000. The resemblance is obvious.

Spools too have an uncanny resemblance. The Chinese reel has a larger line capacity than the 6000, closer to the capacity of the 6500/Expedition/Dogfight. If you look closely at the seal on top of the Diablo's spool you can see how it sits skewed as described earlier.

The bail wire is also similar to the Saltiga's in thickness, but while the Saltiga's bail wire is hollow, the one on the Diablo is solid. Credit must be given to the toughness of the Diablo's bail wire. I was dropping whole squid to groupers near a wreck, and at one point I had to make a powerful side strike to set the hook because someone was taking his time passing his snagged rod over my head, and BANG! I slammed the reel, bail wire first, on the boat's rail. I checked it expecting a tragic scene, but the thing was as good as new. Top marks for this resilient wire.

Speaking of the bail, right out of the box there was a problem with it. When I opened the bail I felt no resistance from the bail spring for the first 15-20 millimetres of the opening stroke, but after that initial distance I could feel the spring's resistance. When new and oiled the bail will close no problem, but once the reel is used a bit and oils dry, the bail won't fully close and will stop about 15 millimetres short of full closure. Here is the bail mechanism

This is how it looks when the bail is fully closed. Note the distance between the spring and the wall marked by the red arrow.

Now look carefully at what happens for the first 15-20mm of opening the bail

As seen in the above photo, for the first 15-20mm of the bail's opening stroke the spring does not compress, but rather it bends providing no resistance until it hits the wall, then it starts compressing and producing the normal resistance for the remainder of the bail's opening motion. Again we are not talking about something that got broken in transit, but a design problem that they must have been aware of at the factory and at the retailer's depot, unless of course they have never opened the bail of any of their reels. As with the fallen clicker, I was not ready for any fix that would cost money or time, so here is what I did

I got a plastic straw (red arrow) from the local pub, cut a piece of it, then wedged it tightly to fill the space between the spring and the wall. This way the spring has no space to bend and will start compressing as soon as the bail is opened. Dodgy work, but after many opening and closing cycles of the bail that fix still holds perfectly. The red X marks the bail auto-return lever. The reel does not have a brake to stop the rotor during casting, so I just removed this lever to make sure no premature closures would occur. I never use the auto bail trip anyway, always close it manually.

Nice touch. The Chinese reel has a service port (red arrow) similar to the one on the Stella. Should be useful to spray grease inside periodically.

The gearbox

One of the ball bearings of the drive gear (#1) sits in a slightly oversized housing, so it moves around and the gear's shaft moves with it. The other drive gear's bearing (#2) fits better in its housing. A metal plate (#3) keeps the traverse cam from shaking and rattling. The Saltiga does not have this plate because the manufacturing tolerance is pretty tight and shaking is minimal, but in cheaper reels this plate is a low cost alternative to tight manufacturing tolerance. #5 is the lower rail of the traverse cam, and #4 is the stud on which the emergency stop pawl is mounted. Will come to that later.

The drive train, all cleaned

I must say I was impressed by the amount of yellow material inside this reel. Usually two or more major parts will be grey metal, but not in this one. Seen in the above photos are drive gear (#1), pinion gear (#2), oscillation gear (#3), traverse cam (#4), and main shaft (#5).

The drive gear is the single biggest problem in this reel. Many think that the material of the gear is all what matters regardless of the construction method, but that could not be further from truth. The drive gear of the Diablo is bronze, but the construction method is sintering, not machining or forging. Sintering is a process in which the metal powder is heated in a mould to a temperature just below its melting point, particles of the metal then adhere to each other quite strongly, but ultimately creating a very porous part. Sintered bronze therefore is a very good material for bearings and bushings because it holds lubricant in its surface pores, but using it for a drive gear is highly questionable and could only be explained by a desire to produce a low cost part. The sintered drive gear of this reel will withstand wear very well, but putting any considerable load on it will lead to a breakage without a doubt. The pinion of the Diablo on the other hand is made of a safer machined brass. Still in the above photo, the gear has a stainless steel axle (#2), and a ratchet(#1) that engages a pawl if the one way anti-reverse clutch slips, forming an emergency mechanical anti-reverse. An excellent feature of this Chinese reel considering that 2001 Stella FA did not have an emergency stop, neither does the Twin Spin. The emergency stops of the Stella SW and bigger Saltigas though work on the pinion gear to take away undue stress from the drive/pinion gears meshing point, unlike the Diablo's design which is more fitting for smaller reels.

This is the second bit that this Chinese reel wins over the Saltiga. In the Daiwa that gear is cast aluminium, but in the Diablo it's brass which is stronger and more durable. The gear spins on a brass bushing instead of a ball bearing. This is a cost cutting measure, but mechanically speaking I consider it to be an improvement. Ball bearings by nature have a slight play between inner and outer races, thus a bearing mounted oscillation gear will need a complicated support system to keep the gear steady. This particular bushing is better than a bearing in my book.

The traverse cam

Made of sintered bronze as well, and as far as I know this is a world's first. No other ambidextrous spinning reel in current production has a bronze traverse cam. Other than being strong and durable for this particular job, the friction between the stud of the oscillation gear and this bronze cam is low creating a smoother action. In the Saltiga, because both the gear and the cam are aluminium, they needed to put a synthetic washer on the stud to achieve smoothness and avoid rapid wear.

The cam has two ball bearings on its sides to reduce friction when reeling under load. While the concept is sound, the quality of the Diablo's ball bearings takes the whole thing down the drain...

The lower bearing, which is the one that matters most, is of a horrible quality. It ran very rough since the beginning and even removing the shield and cleaning/regreasing it had no effect, leading me to suspect a problem with the balls cage. I couldn't examine or repair it because it's permanently bolted in place. I'd rather have a traditional metal on metal friction than this horrible grinding bearing.

I've been specifically asked about the bearings of the Diablo, and my answer is that all the bearings are of an extremely poor quality. They are either rough or have an unprecedented amount of radial and axial play as measured on a Pratt & Whitney LabMaster device. It is true that -with few exceptions- most spinners have bearings that aren't exactly top quality, but the Diablo takes it to a completely new low. Seen in the above photo are the main gear's bearings (#1 & #2), and the integral line lay actuator gear (#3) which is sintered bronze as well.

Final part of the drive train, main shaft

The shaft is "sleeved". Instead of a full stainless steel shaft, they cut costs by making a shaft of cheap carbon steel (#1) then inserting it in a sleeve of chromium stainless steel (#2). The carbon steel sticks out again at the end of the shaft (#3). Carbon steel is highly corrosive and thus never used in fishing reels. It has a protective finish in the Diablo but still is a potential problem is the finish wears off or gets scratched.

The one way anti-reverse roller clutch is a rough copy of Shimano's second tier clutch used on most of their spinning reels below the Stella line. Not bad indeed and much better than clutches found on many expensive reels. Seen above are the stainless steel brake cylinders (#1), stainless steel locking ring (#2), and the plastic housing (#3). A reliable clutch in here.

Back of the clutch

There is a lever that if moved left will switch the clutch off to allow rotation in both directions. Obviously made this way so that it could be used on other reels that have a selective on/off anti-reverse.

Putting the Diablo back together was a frustrating process because all the plastic parts in this reel are unearthly flimsy. The rubber shield at the rear of the body was shaking right out of the box, but I did not touch it then. Now I was putting it back I casually tightened the retaining screw, and CRACK! The screw broke through the egg-shell thin plastic and that rear shield fell in my hand while the screw stayed threaded into the body!! I tried a spare screw with a bigger head and very gently screwed it in, but CRACK! More of the plastic broke and the shield now had a bigger hole. The whole reel took me 1 hour to disassemble/clean/reassemble, but then I spent 4 extra hours trying to fix that problem. When I gave up on doing it in a way that would keep it looking good, I heated a piece of metal and pushed it into the shield then put a screw through it. Here is the end result

Ugly, but it works.

The golden plastic shield on the rotor was not better. It is two parts, one fits on top of the other, and also out of the box they were shaky. I put a fabric string between them as seen in photo above to stop the play, then tightened the two screws holding everything together, but..... CRACK! CRACK!........ Yes, the two screws also broke the egg-shell plastic on that golden shield, and I had to find a brass washer for each and screw down very lightly stopping just at the first hint of resistance. The problem is not having plastic parts, Saltiga and Stella have those two shields made of plastic too, but the Japanese use excellent composites that are expectedly resilient. Heck, even my many cheap spinners in the $30-$60 range have normal plastic that won't crack like the Diablo's. Absolutely pathetic.

The handle

Pretty generic. The grip does not have ball bearings, but this is perfectly fine as those bearings to me are more of an aesthetic touch than a practical one. I just hate that it is permanently bolted (#1) and could not be taken off for cleaning and lubricating. Marked are the grip's cover (#2), and the reassembled and lubed gear box (#3).

The drag knob

It's metal, and is keyed to the shaft to keep it from turning and changing the drag setting when the spool spins during a fight. The knob itself does not have a mounted drag seal, and it's only up to the skewed spool seal shown earlier to try and keep water out. The holes in the drag knob are not helpful at all since they provide extra entry points for water and grit into the drag.

Finally, the line roller disassembled

The line roller (#1), the single ball bearing inside it (#2), the cover (#3), and the retaining screw (#4). It is important here to point out some contradictions in this reel; the parts diagram shows two ball bearings in the roller, but that belongs to an earlier edition of the reel. Also, the rotor of the Diablo has the printing "7+1" ball bearings, which is also wrong since the reel actually has 8 ball bearings + 1 clutch bearing, not 7+1. That's what happens when a reel is made from various generic parts that go into other reels.

When I took the line roller apart a stinky smell came out of its housing! I looked closely and could find tiny bits of bait and fish scales trapped inside the roller and left to rot (!!!) which was truly disgusting as well as surprising since I clean all my reels properly. I've seen reels before that had water and salt intrusions into the roller, but the Diablo has no protective washers of any kind and the spacing between parts is too big, allowing relatively large bits of fish and bait to get inside the roller. I'm not asking for a world class sealing, just a couple of washers like the ones found on an $80 Penn Sargus would be great. Anyhow, I was so disgusted by the smell I just sprayed everything with WD40 then put it back and went out to clear my lunges.

That's all. Not a replacement for the high end spinners and definitely not worth the price Tufftackle charges since the same reel is sold for considerably lower bearing any of the other brands mentioned at the beginning. I have taken notes of some things that could be done to improve this reel, and will type them here in case the makers wanted to upgrade these reels to something better. The notes are divided into three categories: The first category is the most important and a MUST if these reels were to be usable at all, the second category is less important but will improve it nevertheless, and the third is just to make life easier for the owner.

Category 1

A solid brass or bronze drive gear instead of the sintered one
Two washers on both sides of the line roller

Category 2

Better bearings
No holes in the drag knob
Remove the bail trip lever and leave it as a manual closure only
Fill the space behind the bail spring (where I put the straw)

Category 3

Put a screw in the handle knob instead of the bolt
Better quality plastic parts

Hope you have enjoyed this.

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Alan Hawk
December, 11th, 2009

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