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Thursday, May 23 2019 @ 07:28 PM EDT

It all starts with a 12 foot culm of bamboo

Joel Anderson
Hi All

Here is a copy of a series of posts my good friend and fisherman Joel Anderson did on the Fly Fishing in Maine web site showing how to make a Bamboo Fly Rod.  He is a very good writter and he does make very fine Bamboo Rods.  I hope all will read this and enjoy what he has done to help show some of the technigues used to make a cane fishing rod.

This story is multi pages long (20) so it is not a short read.





It all starts with a 12 foot culm of bamboo

By Joel Anderson


The sport of fly fishing and the associated arts of fly tying and rod building have provided me with so much pleasure and so many friendships through the years, I figured it was about time to give back. But how? Then I recently read something that said the most successful volunteers are those who donate their time doing something they love and at which they have some level of skill.

Unfortunately, beyond my professional career, most of my personal skills reside in hobbies of very little value to others. The truth is, if it's trivial and you can't make any money at it, I'm an expert. I can cast a fly into the next county, but as it turns out, there is no money in it. I can tie the heck out of a fly, but the average professional fly tyer makes less money than a migrant farm worker. I can strum a little guitar, but no one is ever going to confuse me with Eric Clapton, or even pay me to play. The one skill I do have that might be worth a little money to others is the ability to build a bamboo fly rod.

With that in mind, I contacted the one person I know who spends an inordinate amount of her time volunteering to help others, Kathy Scott, for advice. Kat was very receptive to the idea of a bamboo rod raffle and we talked about fly fishing related non-profit conservation groups that might benefit the most from the proceeds of a bamboo rod raffle. I really liked the idea of encouraging teenagers who have displayed an interest in fly fishing, so I decided on the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited Trout Camp as the benefactor.

Kat said if I would build the rod, she would contact TU and get them to handle the administrative end of the process. That sounded great to me. Then I hit Kat with a hair-brained idea of chronicling the process of building the bamboo rod, soup to nuts, on FFIM to generate some interest. Perhaps we could solicit input from the members on taper choice, wrap colors, hardware, spacer wood, and the like. "If you want to go to all that work, I think it would be great to educate people at the same time." Kat expressed with enthusiasm.

So now the task at hand is to turn a 12 foot piece of bamboo into something both beautiful and useful; something that another fisherman might cherish as something truly special. Something that may serve as a family heirloom to be passed along to a son or daughter one day. My goal is to have the rod ready to be viewed and cast at Superboo. That's less than two months away, so I better start splitting cane. Ever wonder why bamboo rods are so expensive? You are about to get a glimpse.

It all starts with a 12 ft bamboo culm:


Bamboo Rod Build Part 1-Splitting Cane


With the understanding that this kind of detail may be far too tedious and uninteresting to some individuals, I'll title each of these segments as "Bamboo Rod Build Part #" If this is not your thing, by all means avoid these posts.

I've never liked the name "split cane rod". Before I knew anything about bamboo, it made me think the rod itself was easily split or broken. So why is it called split cane? Because a bamboo rod section is made up of six sections of bamboo that are initially split from a bamboo culm, then beveled into 60 degree equilateral triangles, and eventually glue together. Vince Marinaro labeled his rods "Split and glued by..." It would have been more accurate, however, to have labeled them "Split, beveled, and glued by...", because the bevel is the most important part. It's what determines the taper or action of the fly rod. Bamboo rods, IMHO, are significantly less fragile than folklore would have us believe, and far more resilient than manmade materials used to make today's modern graphite fly rods.

The first thing we have to do is to decide if this is to be a 2 pc or 3 pc rod. Since I find nickel silver ferrules a necessary evil that are prone to failure, I dislike three piece rods. For that reason only, this is an easy decision for me. The rod will be a 2 piece.

With the number of rod sections determined as two, I find the node (growth ring) closest mid point on the culm and make a mark one inch on the butt side of that node:

Then, using a hack saw, I cut the culm into two 6 foot sections:

The butt end of each section is now marked to differentiate, tip section blue, butt section black. Notice the wall thickness difference of the two sections:

At this point, if the rod were to be flamed, there would be considerable node filing to be done. Since this rod will be "blond", not flamed, we will proceed to the splitting. I align a six-way bamboo pie splitter at the tip end of each section and, with a quick strike with a rubber mallet, start the first split:

Then each section is numbered to maintain a record of relative positioning:

The spilt is continued down the culm section using the two handled splitter:

The end result is six perfect strips, approximately 1" in width:


Bamboo Rod Build Part 1- Splitting Cane Continued

Before we continue, I thought I'd offer just a little info on the bamboo itself. The cost of a raw bamboo has little to do with the price of the end product. Even good Tonkin cane, which only grows in a very small area in Southern China because of climate requirements, is only about $30/culm (including the shipping). If everything goes perfectly during splitting, a maker can build two 2-tip rods out of a single culm. That's $15 for for a two-tipped blank! Try buying a top notch graphite blank for $15. A set of ferrules will run you about $40-$60. After that, the expense is no different from building a graphite rod. The expense then is in the intense labor (usually 40 hours or more) required to turn raw bamboo into a fly rod. So let's continue with that labor.

Okay bamboo fans (Anybody still out there?), when I last left you, we had six beautiful 1" strips of bamboo from both the butt and tip section. Now the trick is to spilt each tip strip into four 1/4" strips (24 total) and each of the six butt strips into three 1/3" strips (18 total) . As with skinning a cat, there's a thousand different ways to split bamboo. This system works well for me. It's from the late George Maurer's book: "Fundamentals of Building a Bamboo Fly Rod".

The next thing I'll do is remark each strip on the underside of the strip to maintain relative position. This should be done at about the midpoint between nodes:

Next I'll take my heavy knife and cut off the remains of the inner-nodual dams on the pith side of the strip. Always cut away from yourself (ask me how I know):

Now I move to my 1" belt sander and sand flat the remains of the underside (pith side)of the node. All this work will greatly facilitate further splitting:

Bamboo likes to split in half and resists splitting in thirds because of pressure differentials. Tips strips are now split in half by locating and marking the center of each strip at about the midway point, a couple of inches above a midpoint node:

Then, using my heavy bamboo knife, I center the knife over my mark and sharply strike the knife with a rubber mallet to start the split:

A flathead screwdrver is then placed in the split and the knife is removed:

Leaving the screwdriver in place, I move to the end of my bench and lay the strip pith side down, anchoring the screwdriver in a 2x4, and start pushing the strip into the blade to continue the split. Any time the split wonders off center, I simply force the strip against the thicker side and that usually brings the split back on center. It's important to keep the pith side of the bamboo strip flat against the table to ensure the strip edges will be as close to 90 degrees as possible:

Once I get to one end of the strip, I reverse the strip end to end and finish the split going the other direction:

Now I do the same split to the other five tip strips and I end up with twelve 1/2" strips from the tip section of the culm. The same process is employed for the butt strips, only they are cut into thirds at this point, which is a bit more challenging. Your resulting twelve tip strips should now look something like this:

Notice the blue marker is indicating a leaf node which will render that portion of the strip unusable.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part II, The Final Split

Building a bamboo rod is not difficult. It does, however, require a great deal of commitment and attention to detail. I was the dorky kid who had a natural affinity toward complicated, detailed things. For example, I enjoyed esoteric board games that came with ½ inch thick instruction booklets. It's probably for the same reason that I gravitated towards fly fishing, fly tying, and eventually bamboo rod building. I love the detail. Although the goal is rarely, if ever, achieved, each rod begins as a detailed pursuit of perfection. In his fine book, Casting a Spell, George Black quotes Hoagy Carmichael about the pursuit of perfection in bamboo rod building: "A good rod, a really good rod, is one where you make maybe nine mistakes." My hope is that this rod will have only nine mistakes.

Continuing with that lofty pursuit, we now have to do the final split to the twelve tip strips, which are presently ½" in width. Incidentally, I love splitting cane. If I could find employment doing nothing but splitting cane, I'd take it in a heartbeat. It's very calming and therapeutic, and, at the end of the process, it is extremely satisfying to hold 24 perfectly split bamboo tip strips and 18 butt strips.

On the back side (pith side) of the strip, there is now a slight hump, which is remnants of the inner nodular dam:

These humps are planed flat with 10 or 12 passes with my trusty Stanley 9.5 block plane (the rod maker's best friend) outiftted with a finely tuned (sharpened) Hock blade:

Now the strip is turned enamel or "bark" side up for the final split. This final split will be done at slightly more deliberate pace because there very little room for error. Using the same technique employed for the first strip split, at roughly the middle of the 1/2" strip, I find the center of the strip width (a flexible ruler an be used here) and strike my knife with the rubber mallet to start the split:

Once again moving to the end of my bench, I anchor the srewdriver in the 2x4 and from the middle of the strip working towards one end, I continue the split. This time I've anchored the screwdriver very close to the bench edge and work up closer with my hand to gain more control of the split. Again, it's important to keep the back side of the strip flush against the 2x4 to ensure square strip edges:

Now I reverse the strip end to end and, working from the middle of the strip towards the other end, I finish my split. If the split starts to wonder off center, I simply push the trip against the thicker section to bring it back on center. If all goes well with the remaining splits, I'll soon be holding 24 tip and 18 butt strips:

Okay, Boo Boys, we've got a start, but there's still lots of work to be done...


Bamboo Rod Build Part III, Taper Selection

Okay Cane Cronies, if you stayed with this thread this long, you now get to voice your opinion on taper selection. A few ground rules first, as determined by the maker. The rod will be 6.5 to 8 feet in length. Bamboo is THE rod material in this length range, IMO. Any more than 8 feet, and the weight of bamboo becomes an issue. Bamboo tends to become "clubby" in longer lengths, IMO, especially if the blank is not hollowed (more an that later). As far as a rod shorter than 6.5 feet, although I have built a 6 foot, 2 weight (Medved Bulldog Pup) and a 6.25 foot, 4 weight (Young "Midge") from cane and very much enjoy them both, such rods are again too specialized for this project. The rod will be 4 to 6 weight. Any heavier or lighter will again be too specialized.

I also want to stay with a tried and true taper of a relativeley well-known maker, such as Payne, Young, Dickerson, Garrison, or FE Thomas. The name Ken Crocker was mentioned because of his Maine roots. But, to be honest, few people have name recognition with Mr Crocker and the ultimate goal here is to raise money to benefit young fly fisherman. FE Thomas' Maine roots certainly deserve some consideration.

Personally, I'm leaning towards a progressive taper (gradual drop in taper from butt to tip, very smooth to cast) from Jim Payne. Perhaps a hollow-built Payne 102 (fantastic all-around 8 ft, #5, with reserve power in the butt for distance, yet a delicate tip for fine, upclose presentations) or a Payne 101 (7.5' ft, #5). Two other Payne tapers worth consideration are the Payne 98 (quick actioned 7 ft, #4/5) or a Payne 100 (7.5 ft, #4 with the buttery smooth presentation of dries and wets so often associated with a fine bamboo rod). But I could be convinced otherwise...


Bamboo Rod Build Part IV, Node Staggering

With the most difficult decision out of the way (taper selection), the next step in our process is to stagger the nodes. Garrison called nodes "Job's gift to rodmakers". They represent at once the hardest and weakest point in the bamboo culm. They are prone to chipping during planing and because power fibers do not run true through nodes, there is typically nodual crooks that have to be straightened. There's also a serious hump at nodes that has to be flattened. Some makers have gone so far to eliminate them altogether by cutting them out and gluing nodeless strips back together before planing. George Barnes was a proponent of nodelss building later in his rodbuilding career.

Personally I've grown to love nodes. While they were the bane to my existence as a beginning rodmaker, I've learned some techniques to successfully deal with them and I like the interest they add to the grain of the bamboo.

Payne, like Garrison, typically used a "spiral" spacing of nodes, where all nodes are are least 1.5" apart. Most modern makers use either 3x3 or 2x2x2 spacing. As mentioned earlier, the goal is to get at least 4" (preferably 5" or more) at each ferrule station and tip top. To employ a 3x3 spacing, the the nodes are placed approximately an equal distance apart:

2x2x2 spacing separates nodes by a minimum of 2":

While I usually prefer a 2x2x2, sometimes the node spacing of the tip section of culm will just not allow for it and still provide the clear bamboo at both stations. It's easy to get the spacing you need from the butt section because there's only one ferrule station for which to plan (nodes under the grip have no effect).

Having selected a 7.5 foot taper, a quick look at the node spacing in my tip strips reveals the only possible spacing will be 3x3. Nodes for the butt section are spaced about 6" apart and then a line is drawn across the tip:

Then the tips are cut with a hacksaw:

The results of these cuts is shown here:

Now I break ranks with most bamboo rod hobbyists because to taper my strips, instead of conventional planing forms, I use a Morgan Hand Mill (more on that later). For now, that means I will need to determine the point at which a hold down screw hole will be drilled. I compare my strips to the milling anvil, mark where the hole will be drilled, and make another mark one inch below the first mark. I then cut off the bamoo strip at the second mark:

Now I move each strip to my drill press and drill a small home at the remaining mark:

This will become my reference or "zero station" for all further tapering. Since the strip will be held securely on a HDPE anvil by a screw, I don't have to give a further thought to keeping nodes where they belong:

The same basic process is applied to the twelve tip strips, making sure there's at least five inches of nodeless bamboo at both the ferrule and tip top station. As it turned out, I have 5" of clear bamboo at the ferrule station and 6" of clear bamboo at the tip top. I'm a happy camper!


Bamboo Rod Build, Part V, Strip Prep

Okay, my bamboo brethren, if you've stayed with me this long, you are either a glutton for punishment, lack any real life of your own, or you have a genuine interest in the process. I'll take a leap of faith and assume there's at least a few of the latter category remaining. If you can stick it out until the end, you may have what it takes to build your own rod. BTW, if you send me your Maine Fishing License number, I'll make sure you get your certificate for Continuing Educational Units.

The next portion of our process, node preparation, is easily the most tedious, but I promise if we can get through this work, it start to get interesting. Soon we'll be turning these high-grade tomato stakes into something resembling a fly rod.

In our last episode, I left you with 6 butt strips and 12 tip strips. Nodes were staggered and the strips were cut to length (1/2 rod length plus about 7"). The next few steps in the process will have a large bearing on outcome of our finished product. The more attention we spend on strip preparation now, the less problems (ie, glue lines) we'll encounter later.

Few things in life are as satisfying as planing bamboo with a finely tuned block plane. The only comparisons I can draw upon are the feeling hitting a baseball flush with a wooden bat, or perhaps the perfect loading of a bamboo rod. When it's right, there's almost no effort involved. BTW, the day MLB legalizes aluminum bats is the same day I'll go back to graphite.

Although I do my actual strip beveling with a Morgan Hand Mill, it is critical that the strip edges be square before beginning. The strip on the left has been squared:

Laying the strip on edge, I plan the sides of the strips until they are as close to square as I can reasonably achieve.

Once the strip has been squared, I move to my 1" belt sander and lightly touch the enamel side of the node to remove the nodual ridge:

Now I'll sand the node with 220 grit paper until the belt sander lines are removed:

Once all the nodes are sanded, I'll use a variable speed heatgun set on 500 F to heat the node. After about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, the bamboo will become pliable, almost rubberlike:

Now using a 4" bench vice, I place the strip with the enamel and pith sides against the flat metal sides of the vice and gently apply pressure. Too much pressure will crush the node and ruin the strip:

The strip is removed from the vice after 10 seconds, briefly reheated, and placed back into the vice with the enamel side up to straighten the node:

Side view of a node before flattening:

Side view of the same node after pressing:

Now I sight down the strip and take out any pronounced bends or sweeps by applying more heat and bending he strip in the opposite direction:

I repeat the same process to the other 17 strips (18 strips, 3-5 nodes each, 3-4 minutes per node, plus straightening time, do the math) then bundle the strips together.

Now I'm gonna let you in on a maker's dirty, or more accurately, "wet" little secret. The strips are then immerced in water for 24-48 hours, which will temporarily soften the bamboo, making the strips, and especially the nodes, much easier to deal with during the initial beveling phase:

While the strips are stewing, I'll start to work out the math of my chosen taper:


Bamboo Rod Build, Part VI, Hardware Selection

With my annual Christmas shopping out of the way this morning (go to Best Buy early, drop a bundle, and get out before the crowd descends) it's time for some more decisions to made about our rod. We've got to get some hardware ordered if this rod is to be ready for Superboo. Although hardward and wrap color choices have no bearing on how a rod will cast, it's a very important step in adding a personal touch to a rod.

Below are some past choices I've made for rods I have built:

Spacer wood, L to R: walnut; maple burl, rosewood; zebra wood; cedar; cork; cocobolla; tiger maple; zebra wood; zebra wood; zebra wood; cork. As you can see, I'm a big fan of zebra wood.

Although sliding bands work fine on lighter rods, I prefer a positive locking screw nickel silver reel seat on 7.5 ft rods and longer. I also prefer the more modern looking uplocking reel seat for longer rods.

As far as cork grips are concerned, I like the simplistic look of a standard grip, but superfine (reversed halfwells) are nice too. All my grips are flor grade now.

Hook tenders should be saddle and ring, IMO, although most of my earlier rods have a standard loop tender.

Wraps: I prefer earthtone shades of gold, tan, brown. I also love the look of cardinal (deep red) wraps, which are very classy and appear jewel-like when the sunlight hits them just right. Bright red is okay, but just a tad on the gaudy side for my taste.

Nowadays, wraps on bamboo rods are almost always silk, preferably Gossamer (6/0) or Naples (4/0). Unlike the modern graphite fly, where wraps tend to be bulbous or football shaped, the look we are trying to achieve with bamboo is as flat and understated as possible. That look is just not possible with nylon. I also like tipping (5 turns maximum) to compliment the wraps.

Winding checks should be hex shaped and nickel silver.

As far as stripping guides are concerned, I prefer low profile tungsten carbide over agate. Less is more with bamboo, IMO, and agate strippers are just a bit too gaudy for my tastes. But if someone has a nice understated agate stripper they want to donate to the cause, we can talk.

I'd love to hear the opinions of others on this subject.


Bamboo Rod Build. Part VII, Rough Beveling

When I got the bamboo bug a few years back, I did some research to decide the best approach I should take to build rods. I read about the Morgan Hand Mill (MHM), which was designed and marketed by Tom Morgan, former owner of the Winston Rod Company, and I quickly realized it was exactly what I was seeking. Morgan is a brilliant man. Amazingly, he developed many of his ideas for the MHM over the past decade through the hands of others while suffering almost complete paralysis as a result of multiple sclerosis.

The MHM is an incredibly well-made and versatile rod making tool. I was espeicially interested in being able to hollow build my rods (more on that later), and the MHM is one of the best tools on the market for that purpose. Swelled butts, one piece rods up to 7 '9", hollow-building, star hollowing, bamboo ferrules, etc, almost anything is possible with the MHM. The beauty of the MHM is that as long as proper attention is given strip preparation, the unit mills both pith edges of a strip at the same time to a perfect 61.5 degree bevel.

Incidently, the reason for 61.5 degree, as opposed to 60 degrees angles is related to an old carpenter's trick. When six 61.5 degree strips are assembled, the outer edges touch first, greatly reducng the chance of creating unsightly gluelines.

While this is certainly not to say that the MHM is the only tool that will make a good rod, it meets my needs perfectly. If you want to learn more about the MHM, please check out Tom's site: www.troutrods.com. Tom's site provides an excellent overview of the MHM.

As opposed to the MHM, tapers are set on conventional Garriso-style planing forms by spreading two steel bars apart or pulling them together with push/pull bolt. The steel bars each have a mirrored 30 degree bevel on their inside edges, together creating a 60 degree bevel. The more the bars are spread apart, the larger the strip diameter will be at that station. A depth gauge with a point is used to set the taper at the various 5" stations. Strips can only be planed on one side at a time, so they have to be constantly flipped to get the correct bevel on each of the two interior pith edges and it can be difficult, especially for a beginner, to maintain perfect 60 degree angled strips. The enamel side is never planed with either a MHM or conventional forms because precious power fibers, which are most plentiful at the surface just beneath the protective enamel, would be removed. The power fibers are what gives bamboo its famous strength and elasticity.

Using conventional forms, however, the enamel or bark of the strip is sanded off just before final planing so the strips fit tightly in the form. Morgan recommends leaving the enamel on the strip when using a MHM until after final planing and glue-up. The taper is adjusted by about 0.002" to allow for the thickness of the enamel to be removed at the end of the porocess.

Conventional planing forms manufactured by JD Wagner:

Conversely, a taper is set on the MHM anvil by push/pull screws located under the form that raise up the anvil to set the taper, again, measured at 5" stations with a depth gauge. The MHM is outfitted with two disposable carbide blades that are set exactly 61.5 degrees apart, allowing the MHM to planed, or, more accurately, scrape bamboo from both interior pith edges at the same time. The enamel side of the bamboo always remains face down against the anvil, protecting the valuable power fibers. Morgan Hand Mill:

Okay, let's bevel some bamboo. The bamboo strips have been soaking for about 24 hours; which will make it much easier to bevel. Because the strips dry quicky in ambient air, they are remove one by one from the water. First we set the taper at 5" stations along the anvil using the push/pull screws to raise or lower the planing form:

Next a wet strip is secured to the anvil with a screw:

The cutting head is forced down by turning the lead screw on the top of the mill clockwise in small increments. One full rotation of the screw would equal 0.050", with each mark on the dial representing 0.002". Initially, the wet strips can be milled as much as 0.020" per pass:

Once an apex is formed on the top of the strips, a hold down shoe attachment is added to help keep the strip in the proper milling position on top of the anvil:

Milling the wet strips to a rough taper, approximately 0.070" over final taper, goes very quickly with wet strips:

Peridocially strips are checked with a dial caliper, which is fitted with a 61.5 degree block for easy measuring of the angles:

Once the first strip has been milled to the desired rough taper, the hardstop screw is set so the cutting head cannot be forced down any further. This makes cutting subsequent strips very easy; you just keep milling the next strip until you hit the hardstop. Because of this feature, strips milled on a MHM are amazingly consistent. The rough tapered strips are bundled together in the original defined order and held temporarily with masking tape:

The rough taper strips are now bond together, using a Garrison-style binder, to prepare them for heat treating:

Twenty pound test dacron backing, wrapped twice around rough strips, serves as the drive belt, rotating the strips forward as a hand wheel is turned. Meanwhile, a separate cotton glace string is pull off its spool and wrapped around the roughed bank proportional to the tension supplied by the drive belt. This will hold the strip together tightly during the heat treating phase to promote straighter strips:

Once a rough tapered section is wrapped end to end, the drive belt is reversed (back to front) to rotate the section forward in the opposite direction. The strips are wrapped in both directions to prevent twisting:

The same approach for the 12 tip strips, using a different anvil because the tip strips are narrower.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part VIII, Heat Treatment

Heat treating bamboo sections removes excessive mositure, temporarily relaxes power fibers to promotes straightness of the strips, makes sections resistant to taking sets, and adds the critical element of resiliency or stiffness. Too much heat will ruin a strip; too little heat will not have the desired effect.

According to George Black's "Casting A Spell", Maine's own Eustis Edwards is given credit for being the first rod builder to experiment with heat treating bamboo to enhance its natural qualtities. Later, according to Black, FE Thomas copied Edwards' ideas to eventually create his famous browntone rod.

One of the biggest challenges faced by a beginning bamboo rod builder is how to properly heat treat bamboo sections in excess of 50" without breaking the bank on one of the commercially available ovens. For this reason, most home bamboo ovens are self-made. Borrowing ideas from various plans found on the Interent, I assembled my oven from 4" stove pipe, 2" stove pipe, stove pipe caps, 1/2" plywood, heavy aluminum foil and foil tape, 2x2's for framing, sheet metal, metal wire mesh, and pizza oven insullation saved from a dumpster by friend for the purpose.

Inside the oven, the 2" stove pipe is suspended within the 4" stove pipe. Pizza oven insullation is packed around the 4" pipe. With a heatgun setup on one end of the oven, the air path created forces the hot air down the 4" pipe on the outside of the 2" pipe. At the other end of the oven the air path reverses. The hot air now goes through the 2", which holds the bamboo sections, and eventually vents out the top through a 1" black iron pipe. Even though the interior temperature can approach 400 F, the exterior plywood barely gets warm.

I originally set up the oven to also serve as my planing bench, which it did nicely until I built my new work bench in the basement. I present to you the famous (or is that infamous?) Anderson Bamboo Box:

My family is well aware that one day I want to be buried in this thing

A variable speed heatgun is inserted into a a hole cut into the sheet metal on one end:

The heatgun is initially set to the next to highest setting:

It usually takes about 20 minutes for the interior of the box to come up to the desired temperature of 350 F. Temperature is monitored using a candy thermometer with its probe inserted into the 2" stove pipe at the mid point:

The temperature is manually adjusted to maintain 350-360 F throughout the process.

On the other end of the oven, the 4" stove pipe cap is removed, and the bamboo sections are inserted, resting on wire mesh placed at the bottom of the 2' pipe, then the 4" cap is replaced, and the door is closed to keep in the heat:

The sections are heated for 7 to 8 minutes at 350 F, and then the sections are switched end to end to ensure even heating. After another 7 to 8 minutes at 350 F, the temperature is lowered to 325 F for an addtional 5 minutes. When bamboo reaches that magic critical temperature, it gives off a wonderfully sweet stir fry aroma.

The sections are removed, rolled to promote straightness, and then allowed to sit for a day or two to regain ambient moisture before work continues.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part IX, Final Plane

Before I begin the next segment, I'm going to ask you to indulge me a bit with a little holiday story.

I was in the office one day around Thanksgiving, talking with my friend Paul about Christmas gifts. He mentioned that Ray, his 75 year-old father-in-law who is a passionate fly fisherman, always gets the few obligatory “grandfather gifts” and then spends the rest of the time watching other family members rip through presents. “The one thing in life Ray really appreciates is fine fly fishing tackle.” said Paul.

I’ve fished with Ray a few times and he is a great guy. “You know what, Paul, let me build him a bamboo fly rod. I've got a roughed blank already to go and I can have it ready by Christmas." I said.

Paul talked to his wife and they were both very excited about the idea. Paul's wife asked that the rod be inscribed, "Fish fear you; we love you".

The gift was presented much like the BB gun scene from the movie “A Christmas Story”. Ray at first was a little dumbfounded, but according to Paul, the rod was very well received.

Ray stopped by my office a few days ago to thank me for the rod. As I explained the details of cane rod making and his rod in particular, Ray occasionally glanced with pride towards the case that contained his new rod. Here are the emails that Paul and I exchanged shortly thereafter:

Me: Ray stopped by to thank me personally for his rod. It was very rewarding to see how much he appreciated the effort. "Best gift I've ever received!" he said with a gleam in his eye. We did well.
Paul: I knew it would overtake the Oklahoma Sooners jacket (the former best gift) by a mile!
Me: You are on your own next year!
Paul: Old Spice gift set

Way to bring that bar right back down where it belongs, Paul!

Okay, Team Tea Stick, let's turn these exotic strips of grass into a fly rod blank. We now have 1 butt section and 2 tips sections that have been rough planed to about .070 within final taper and baked at 350F for about 20 minutes. The moisture removed during air drying and heat treatment "shrinks" the once wet strips to about 0.060" over finished taper.

First we remove the cotton binding string that held our section together for heat treating. With the finish butt anvil mounted on the MHM base, we check, adjust, recheck, and then triple check the taper for accuracy:

The first strip is mounted, using the same screw hole we drilled at the beginning of the process. This unchanging "zero reference" point ensures that the taper of each strips is exactly the same , which results in amazing measurement consistency and accurate node placement:

Next, the strips are slowly planed down to about 0.015" over final taper, at about 0.001 to 0.002" per pass, no more than 1 increment on the lead screw dial. The strips are checked often with the dial caliper/measuring block combinations:

When all six strips are brought to within 0.015" of final taper, the cutting blades are rotated to fresh cutting edges:

We progress with the final planing very deliberately, taking off no more tha 0.001" per pass and checking measurements often to make sure too much bamboo is not removed:

The tips of the the butt strips brought to a final plane measurement of 0.100" plus 0.002" to allow for enamel removal, which is typically 0.002" deep. Once I reach the desired taper on the first butt strip, the hard stop is set for repeatability on subsequent butt strips. Below is a ferrule station measurement of a butt strip. A perfect 0.102":

The same process is followed for the tip strips, with the final planed tips only about 0.033":

Next step, hollowing.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part X, Hollowing

Hollow building bamboo fly rods is a concept that has been around since EC Powell's patent in 1933. Later, Lew Stoner of Winston took the idea one step further when he developed his hollow-fluting method.

So why do some go to the trouble of hollow-build their bamboo rods? In my experience, hollow-building a bamboo rod creates a rod that is 20-30% lighter than a similar solid-built rod. Hollowing a rod also provides better balance, and, most importantly, it makes a rod that is smoother and crisper to cast. Although the stationary math may tell you differently, in my experience, hollow building a cane rod actually makes the rod's action faster, and much more responsive.

Although the advantages of hollow-building are most evident in rods 5 weight and heavier, I recently hollow-built a 7 ft, 3 wt rod, based on a taper that Tom Morgan graciously shared, The rod's total weight is just 3 oz. and it's one of the finest casting 3 weight rods I ever has the pleasure to use:

The first element at work here is the elimination of "swing weight" that has to recover during the bending action of a rod. Since most the resilency of bamboo is supplied by power fibers plentiful at the surface, scalloping off the apex, espeicially in the butt section of a rod, eliminates much of "pith" weight that contains significantly less power fibers and, as such, is just "along for the ride".

The apexes are scalloped, rather than flat planed off, because scalloping retains wider "glueing edges", which help ensure the rod's integrity: Here's a picture of how the butt end of our hollowed rod will appear:

There's also another factor at play here, a factor I knew existed but never saw acknowledged publically until I found a blurb on well-known maker Bill Harms' web site. The vaults created by hollowing add an additonal element of resistance or stiffness to a rod because the same bending force is applied to a smaller surface area. It's the same physics at play that makes us all a little nervous when a woman walks across our hardwood floor in spiked heels.

Although some makers recommend increasing the taper of a rod when hollow-building by 2 to 4%, I've had excellent result by using the original taper. I just seem to end up with a smoother, more responsive, better casting rod, IMO.

The MHM using radial cutters to flute or scallop the pith side apex off the strips:

A spring-loaded roller is added to keep the strips in place on the anil as the strip is hollowed:

A zero taper is set all along the top of the anvil. Most makers like their rod sections to be solid for 2" at the ferrule stations. Since the strips are already tapered, the fluting cutter automatically digs into the the apex at a consistent depth that lessens as the tip end of the strip is approached. Shims, in this case 0.030" orange plastic strips, are installed under the flexible HDPE anvil to raise up the strips only in the areas we want to hollow. Notice how there are no orange shims near Station 13, which will be the ferrule station of our butt strips:

Typically, tips strips are taken down to a wall thickness of 0.060", while butt strips are fluted to a wall thickness of 0.070". The wall thickness is measured with a micormeter fitted with a 0.500" tip. The measure shown of 0.572" here shows I have achieved my desire wall thickness for my butt strip plus approximately 0.002" for enamel than will be sanded off later:

Once the first desired hollowing is achieved on the first strip, the hardstop is set so that the remaining 5 strips will be hollowed to the exact same depth:

Finally, after the strips are hollowed to the desired depth, the interior of the flute is cleaned with a wire rush:

Six butt strips, ready for glue-up:

The same process is followed for the 12 tip strips. Since the tip strips are much smaller in height than the butt strips, the hollowing actually stops about a third of the way from the tip station.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XI, Glue-Up

Glue-up is probably the most intimidating part of rod building for the beginning maker, especially those darn fragile looking tips. When you first consider the task, your thought is always, "How can it be done without without breaking those damn tiny tips?"

My first couple of glue-ups were borderline traumatic experiences. The first attempt seemed to go pretty well, until I woke up in the morning and, upon first inspection, discovered that one of the strips had rolled during binding and the enamel side was now on the interior of the section. Hours of work wasted.

During the second attempt, I didn't pay enough attention to the order the strips should be bundled and the nodes were together throughout the whole rod. While it really didn't really hurt the rod's action, it was not the result you want to see. I used too much binding pressure during my third attempt, which resulted in a snapped tip. Luckily, the break was beyond the cutoff point, so all was okay.

As with everything in life, practice and experience are the best teachers. Now glue-up night is merely exciting, even fun. This is when all the work applied to beveled strips pays off and the strips will soon become a finished fly rod blank.

There are many opinions on the best glue for rod building. I stick with one of the tried and true standards, Urac 185. It's the glue with which I learned and, most importantly, I've never had a failure or delamination. The glue is buff colored to start, but once the walnut powder activator is added, the mixture turns a beautiful caramel color, almost like warm butterscotch, with a wonderfully similar consistency. While I'm sure the stuff is toxic and carcinogenic as hell, I still enjoy working with it:

First we have to cut off the wider hold down portion of our strips. To make sure all strips are cut off at the same point, I insert my hex driver in the screw hole and draw a straight line above the swelled hold down area of the strip:

Then, one strip at a time, using a hacksaw, I cut from the enamel side of the strip, snapping the strip in an upward direction just before breaking through with the saw to prevent splintering:

I then soak an area of a leather glove with mineral spirits and run the strips though throught the leather, always in one direction, butt to tip, to prevent damaging the strip. This cleans the strip and removes stray fragments of bamboo from the pith side of the strip:

Aligning the strips at the butt, I bundle them together in the original predetermined node spacing and then check to make sure the nodes are in the correct placement:

The strips are secured temporarily with three strips of masking tape. The tape is then cut with a fingernail in the between the same two flats to "filet" the strips and expose their inner apex:

The glue is then mixed at a ten to one weight ratio, glue to walnut powder:

Using a toothbrush, the glue is spread liberally over the the strips:

A cotton swab is used to removed as much excess glue from the hollowed area of the strip as possible:

The strips are then rolled together and and cotton string is tied around the strips at the locations of the masking tape. The masking tape is then removed so that I don't have to stop in the middle of the binding process to remove it later:

I then move to my binder, wrap the drive belt around the ferrule end section twice, front to back,attached the cotton glace string from the roller and begin turning the hand wheel to advance the section through the binding process. At the end of the first bind, half-hitches are added to secure the binding string:

The drive belt is then reversed, back to front, to advance the strip forward in an opposite rotation to help prevent twisting of the sections. Once bound, the sections are checked closely for mistakes. If a strips "rolled" during binding, for example, the sections can be seperated, cleaned with warm water, allowed to dry, and then re-glued and bound.

The sections are then wiped with a damp cloth to remove as much of the excess surface glue as possible. Then the sections are rolled on a flat surface and checked for twists, which is corrected by twistiong the section in the opposite direction. Typically, as long as excessive pressure is not used during binding, twisting is not a problem.

After the sections are straightened as much as possible by rolling and running a wooden block down their length, I hang them in my "Drying Cabinet", a glass hutch with a 100 watt light bulb placed at the bottom to keep the cabinet warm during the 24 hours required for the glue to set properly:


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XII, Blank Sanding

Our glued and bound sections have been in the drying cabinet for 24 hours to allow for proper curing. Now it time to remove the cotton binding and sand our sections to remove surface glue and the bamboo enamel. For me, this piece of the puzzle is as close as it comes to that excitment we all felt as a kid unwrapping a present at Christmas. Soon this mess of bamboo, cotton string, and glue will look like a fly rod. The grain or "power fibers" will be exposed and the beauty of the cane will be revealed. I'll also be able to check my measurements for accuracy.

Care must be taken (read "leather gloves should be worn"; do as I say, not as I do) when removing the binding string because the dried glue is extremely sharp. Using a block plane, I cut the half-hitch knots from the tip of my section:

The binding then unravels quite easily:

One of the hallmarks of a well-made cane rod is well defined and sharp (as opposed to round) edges. To achieve this look, I remove the felt padding from my sanding block. Starting with 220 grit sand paper, I work each flat until the enamel is removed. At this point in the process the partially sanded enamel takes on a "purplish haze", which is often referred to by makers as "hazing". The usually takes about 10-15 passes on each area of the flat to remove the 0.002" deep enamel. Sandpaper is changed often, on the butt section that means after every flat is sanded. It's important not to sand into the precious power fibers any more than absolutely necessary to remove all enamel.:

This process is followed by a few passes with 400 grit sand paper and finally a few passes with 0000 steel wool to finish the blank.

I can now check the flat to flat measurements at each station to see how close we came to the original taper. If we did things right, these flat to flat measurements should easily be +/- 0.002" of the original taper:

The sections are then closely inspected, preferably in daylight, to find any remnants of the the enamel that needs to be sanded. Everything looks good, so far. I can already tell this rod is going to be something truly special.


Continue this story HERE

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Dave V

Wednesday, January 27 2010 @ 11:24 AM EST

Pretty sweet post. I have always wanted to fish a bamboo rod . There sure is a lot of work and love that go into those rods. Good story Lee  Update me on the price or if he even sells his rods. Dave V

Eat Sleep Fly Fish


Friday, June 11 2010 @ 11:08 AM EDT

Great post. Lots of info and pics. Finished product is outstanding. Thanks for putting it up for all to enjoy. 

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