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Tuesday, February 19 2019 @ 12:36 AM EST

It all starts with a 12 foot culm of bamboo (Continued)

This is the continuation of the "It all starts with a 12 foot culm of bamboo" by Joel Anderson.

It all starts with a 12 foot culm of bamboo

By Joel Anderson


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XIII, Straightening

The first thing people check when you hand them a ferruled rod is the rod's straightness. The straighter the blank comes out of the binder, the less challenge you'll face during this next phase in the process.

Although it has very little bearing on the casting qualities of a rod, cosmetics, including straightness, are nevertheless very important. Bamboo is a natural material and, as such, it is almost impossible to achieve a perfectly straight blank. However, this process will result in sections that are very straight to the eye:

Although straightening bamboo sections can be extremely frustrating beginning makers, I have come upon an approach that greatly facilitates the process for me. Using the flattest surface I can find (in my case, the kitchen table), I place a section on the table and, working from the center of the section, I roll the blank on to each flat until I see the tip end rise up off the table:

Next I run my finger down the blank until the tip end is forced down flat against the table. This tells me exactly where the bend is locate. I mark the top of the blank at that location with a pencil:

Now I move to my heat gun and heat up that area until is is almost too hot to handle:

I bend the section in the opposite direct of the bend and hold in that position for about 10-15 seconds. Then place the section flat against the table and press firmly against the table at the area and hold for another 10-15 seconds. I'll often rotate one flat in both directions and press there for 5 seconds or so. This seems to help the straightening process:

I then work my way up the section to the tip until all bends are removed. Then I reverse the section, end to end, and work from the center towards the butt of the section. Sometimes this process goes quickly; sometimes it can take an hour or more. Again, it all depends on how straight the sections are to at the start. With patience, you will eventually achieve the results you seek.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XIV, Ferrules

Here we are in segment XIV of the series and there’s still have plenty of work to be done before this rod is ready for the first cast. Are you starting to get a feel for the time and commitment involved in building a bamboo rod?

The next step is to cut the sections at the ferrule stations and install the ferrules. Because our hold screws kept the strips exactly where we want them, finding the station is easy. Remember, because this rod is hollow fluted, it is critical that 2” of solid bamboo remain at the ferrule stations. Because my tapered strips typically end at station 13 on my anvil, I had marked the each strip on the enamel side at this point after the final tapering was completed. This makes the ferrule station self-evident:

To supply support and to prevent splintering, I wrap the area of my cut with masking tape. “Then, using a 24 tooth hacksaw blade, I cut almost through the bamboo. I then invert my section in the vise and cut through from the other side to prevent splintering:

A few passes in one direction off the tip of the section rounds the edges and further prevents splintering.

Ferrules are then fit by measuring their depth with a toothpick and marking that length on the blank ferrule station. Then I make a second mark at the ferrule “shoulder”, the line just above the ferrule tabs:

Using 400 grit sandpaper, I round the edges of the bamboo just above the shoulder line. As I proceed, I check the ferrule fit often:

Once the ferrule slides onto the bamboo up to about the shoulder line, I begin to slope the shoulder of the bamboo with my sandpaper. This process is followed very deliberately until the end of the bamboo meets home solidly with the water plug inside the ferrule. The trick is to achieve a snug, but not too tight fit. If the ferrule is too tight, too much epoxy will be squeezed out during fitting. If the fit is too loose, the ferrules will not be secured properly.

Now I prepare the ferrule for installation by first feathering the tabs with 800 grit sandpaper. This will provide a smooth transition for the silk thread from the bamboo to the ferrule:

I then score the inside of the ferrule with a wire brush and needle point to make sure the epoxy holds well:

After the prep work is done on the ferrule, I clean the ferrule's interior well with acetone. This will ensure proper epoxy adhession:

Using high grade 2-part epoxy, I apply the glue to the bamboo and the interior of ferrule. I push the ferrule against a solid surface until an audible "Pop" is heard, indicating any entrapped air has been forced out.

I then aligned the tab serrations with the edges of the bamboo. Then I wrap binding tightly around the ferrule to secure the fit as the epoxy cures (24 hours):


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XV, Ferrule Lapping and Final Cuts

While there are just three weeks before Superboo, our bamboo fly rod is progressing very nicely and will be ready in plenty of time. As mentioned in an earlier post, the actual build is well ahead of the text & photo overview of the project. All hardware has been installed, the rod has been wrapped, 4 coats of varnish have been applied to the wraps, and each section has been dipped in varnish once.

I had a chance to cast the rod last Saturday during a brief reprieve in the weather, and I have to say, this is an impressive taper. Well-balanced and smooth, yet powerful, it’s easily one of the most versatile bamboo fly rods I’ve ever had the pleasure to cast. It’s almost become a running joke between my sweetheart Jaynie (also rod bag maker extrodanaire) and myself in that every new rod is “My best ever!”, but this one truly is something special. I can now see why Hutch offered to commit a very illegal act in return for possession of another: “…a 5 wt, 7.5 foot rod is perfect for so much and I would kill to have another.” Strong words. As a matter of fact, although the maker was leaning towards the Payne 101, that comment put the vote over the top.

Although I was able to cast a whole 90 foot fly line with this rod, let's face it, most of our actual “fishing” is done in that 20-50 foot range. With that in mind, distance isn’t usually as important as other casting qualities of a rod. Along with the reserve power in the butt section, this rod also has a delicate tip (0.065”) that affords it a very nice “bamboo touch”, which should make up-close fishing a pleasure.

Also, I absolutely love what hollow-building does to a bamboo fly rod and this one is no exception to that rule. I’m anxious to get the opinion of this rod's casting qualities-from those who are familiar with a solid-built Payne 101. IMHO, hollow-fluting not only makes makes a cane blank lighter (20-30%), but it also makes it smoother, quicker paced, and more responsive. The total weight of this rod with all hardware installed, BTW, is just 4.2 ounces.

Okay, Troop Tonkin, let’s continue the process of finishing out this bad boy. In this segment, we are going to fit or “lap” the ferrules, dry fit the tiptop, and cut the sections to final length.

Because individual makers have their own idea of the perfect ferrule fit, most come slightly oversized (0.001") and require lapping. Beyond glueup of tips sections, fitting or "lapping" ferrules is the second most intimidating step in builing a bamboo rod. It just one of those things with which you have to gain some real world experience. You do it once or twice, srew it up, realize your screwup, buy a new set ferrules (at $60 a pop, no pun intended), and hopefully do it right the next time. The key component to doing right, as with most areas of rod building, is to move very deliberately. Once metal is removed, it can't be put back on again. Because I don't own a lathe, my fitting is done by hand and can take an hour or more. Starting with 800 grit sandpaper (fine sand paper is usually found at auto supply stores) I start sanding to about the halfway point of the male slide.

I check the fit often as I proceed and also take micrometer measurements to ensure a uniform removal of metal. A drop of WD40 as a lubricant will help at the stage of the process. I make a mark at the insertion depth on the male slide each I check the fit. Then I keep sanding in that area of the sldie, working towards the shoulder. Once I'm able to slide the male all the way to the end line, I sand the ferrule with 2000 grit sand paper and, finally, I finish with a few turns of 0000 steel wool:

With patience, you eventually reach the end of the male slide. If done properly, your fit should be smooth all the way. You shouldn't have to force ferrules together or apart. The force required to join ferrules should be akin to, as Harry Boyd puts it, "tightening your belt one size too tight." There should be a distinctive "POP!" when ferrules are pulled apart

Now I can cut my sections to final length. Since all hardware has to be mounted for proper measurement, I first I dry fit the the tiptop. Here's the formula for figuring the proper tiptop size: Tiptop size= tip section diameter measurement (measured flat to flat) x 64. In this case, the tip measurement is 0.065" x 64= 4.16

Since I dislike removing any bamboo from the tip section to accept the tiptop, I typically upsize my tiptop by one half size. A size 4.5 tiptop fits nice and snug:

Another hallmark of a well made rod is rod sections that are of exact equal length. If you find a rod that has a tip section slightly shorther than the butt section, chances are the tip sections was repaired somewhere along the way. The formula for achieving exact equal sections is easy:
Section=1/2 rod length (w/all hardward mounted) + 1/2 male ferrule slide length. The male slide of our ferrule is 3/4". Since the rod is 90 inches (7.5') our sections should be 45" each plus 1/2 of the male slide (3/8"), for a total of 45 3/8" each. I then measure exactly 45 3/8" for each section:

The cuts are made carefully to avoid splintering the bamboo and then sanded to round the edges:


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XVI, Hardware Installation

From this point forward, the rod build is not unlike assembling a graphite rod. The next step in the process is to install all the necessary hardware, starting with the reel seat.

We chose an up-locking nickel silver reel seat with a maple burl spacer from REC. This unit comes unassembled, so we must glue the parts together:

I typically start by applying several coats of Tru-Oil to the spacer, allowing at leat 1 hour between coats, to bring it to a high gloss:

Next I rough up the interior surfaces of the nickel silver components to ensure proper adhession of the epoxy:

Using high grade 2-part epoxy, I carefully glue all parts together:

After sufficient set time for the epoxy, I prepare the bamboo butt section for the reel seat. Using a file, I round the bamboo edges until it accepts the reel seat snugly, but not too tight. We don't want the glue to be squeezed out during the install:

While some makers like to assemble their own cork grips from 1/2" "blanks", I typically buy my grips pre-assembled, opting for only the finest flor grade cork. Although there are many choices in the grip shape, I prefer the "standard" look.

Using a rat tail file, I ream out my cork grip to slide up from the tip of the butt section to the reel seat. You have to use care to make sure the tip of the cork is not over-reamed so much that a ugly gap will show even with a winding check in place. I usually use shrink wrap on the cork before this process to keep it from getting dirty:

Finding the spine of a rod is a lot easier than some make it out to be. Placing the butt end of our section against the toe of my shoe, I gently press the tip of the section. This causes the section to curve in one direction. I place masking tape on the outward convex, as this will be the "weak" flat on which the guides will be installed.

To make sure the reel seat is installed at the right angle, I clamp my butt section to a table before I glue the reel seat in place. The reel seat is pushed on until it firmly meets the end of my butt section. A reel frame helps me make sure things are "square" while the glue sets:

Next I measure the cork grip against the blank, make a pencil mark, and apply epoxy from this point up to the reel seat:

I use a cotton swab to remove any excess glue before the final push to seat the cork firmly against the reel seat. I add a properly sized nickel silver hex winding check with a drop of epoxy:

After the epoxy sets, the three sections will be ready for wrapping:


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XVII, Guide Wrapping

I was never really interested in "assembling" graphite fly rods because guide wrapping is the main job, and I didn't much care for that particular task. While it still is not my favorite part of bamboo rod building, I've grown to dislike it less.

My first cane rod took me twelve hours to wrap all three sections...and it still looked like crap! Fortunately, I've learn a few tricks along the way. The problem with my first cane rod wrapping experience is that the varnish was applied one day and then I was told to wrap the guides the next. I found out later that the varnished blank must be given sufficient time to cure, which can take a week or more, otherwise the thread will cut into the tacky varnish and it will be impossible to burnish (pack tightly) the wraps. It was a very frustating experience.

I described my problem to master rod maker Scott Chase at Superboo a few years ago and he suggested wrapping the guides on raw bamboo, varnishing the guide wraps with several coats, and then dipping the whole rod in varnish. I have had far less varnish heartaches since I heeded Scott's sage advice. Thanks, Scott.

The main difference between wrapping a graphite rod and a bamboo rod is that graphite rodmakers seem to be shooting for a bulbous, almost football-like shaped wrap, using size A nylon thread and 1 coat epoxy finishes. While that look is okay for graphite, it looks terrible on a bamboo rod. Most cane rod makers prefer a more subtle, flat look that is best achieved with 4/0, or better yet, 6/0 silk thread. Darker colors are problematic for beginners because they hide no evil. Any area not tightly burnished will show unsightly gaps and cause agony for the builder.

The other key to wrapping 6/0 silk thread is magnification, especially for us ol' duffers. I now use my Orvis 5x cheaters for the process.

I typically start the wrapping process with the hook tendor. My preference is a "saddle & ring" style, as opposed to the conventional U-shape style. While saddle & Ring are a bit more challenging to wrap, I really think they add a classic look to a rod.

The first task is to file the "feet" of the guides to provide a smooth silk thread tranisition from the cane up on to the metal. I start the thread with a few turns over itself and then use masking tape to secure the hook tendor in place:

When I reach the saddle, I lift the front foot up so I can wrap under it. The ring is now put in place and held back with a piece of thread:

Each turn is packed snugly back against the last using a burnishing tool. For this purpose, I prefer an over-sized needle glue into a hollowed section of bamboo to create a bodkin.

I prefer the Garrison-style guide spacing, which puts a guide tightly against the female ferrule, thus creating a fulcrum point:

Wrapping up onto the female ferrule is a bit challenging for a beginner as well, but as long as proper feathering of the metal tabs was done beforehand, it's actually is quite simple:

The wraps are secured by a whip finish. Before you complete the last 5 or 6 turns, a loop of thread is place under a wrap. The wrap is continued for the final turns and then cut. The tab end is put through the loop and then pulled snugly under the previous five or six wraps:

While some enjoy the look of jewel-like agate stripping guides, I prefer an understated nickel silver guide with a carbide ring. Again, it's very important to taper the feet of the guides to provide smooth transition from the bamboo up on to the metal foot:

All my snake guides are wrapped to exactly 1/4". A light pencil mark on the cane can be used for the right length:

Garrison despised tipping his wraps as he saw it as a totally unnecessary and comestic exercise. According to Carmichael's book, Garrison would only tip-wrap rods for two close friends, and he bitched and complained through the whole process. It can be infuriating, but, personally speaking, I think it adds a nice touch to a rod. The key I've found is to wet the thread first, wrap exactly fives snug turns over a whipping loop, and not worrying about burnishing the wraps until the end of the process:

Once all tab ends are pulled tightly, I can use my needle to burnish the five wraps snugly against the original wraps. The wetted thread will dry very tight.

Now it just a repetious process until all guides are wrapped:

Because most tiptops will have to be replaced eventually due to wear, they are typically secured with a glue that is easily melted with heat. Hot glue guns work perfect for this application. (Thanks for the tip Hunter & Bearbutt):

Once completed, the wraps are passed through a alcohol lamp flame for a few seconds to remove any frayed ends. Alcohol burns much cleaner than a match or candle, so there is no soot to soil the wraps:

The wraps are now ready for varnish:

Thinned varnish is now applied to the wraps. While some prefer a brush for this process, I like using the same oversized needle:

Any varnish overrun can be absorbed with a clean section of thread:

Once all wraps have a single coat of varnish, they allowed to dry for 1 hour, rotating 180 degrees every 10-15 minutes. Then a second coat of varnish is added:

The wraps are allowed to dry for 24 hours, then a third coat is added. This process is continued for a fourth and sometimes fifth coat, until the wraps are almost glass-like.


Bamboo Rod Build, Part XVIII, Dip Night

Dip night. Probably the most exciting night of the whole rod building process. Soon our rod will be ready for the first fishing trip This is when the beautiful grain of the bamboo will be highlighted by the gloss of spar varnish. As with most areas of cane rod building, it's a bit intimidating at first because of the ease at which it can be screwed up. But eventually most makers work out a routine that works for them.

While there are many different ways to apply varnish, including by brush, hand rubbed, or even with a turkey baster, I've settled on a dip tube and slow constant extraction by motor as my method. This allows the surface tension to "pull off" the varnish and the result is as close to "glass-like" as can be achieved, IMO.

My "extraction motor" is a simple single D-cell battery operated device that a friend robbed from an old liquor store display. It's second purpose in life was to serve as a drying motor for saltwater epoxy flies and it served that purpose nicely until I started building rods. The key is a slow (3" to 4" per minute) and steady extraction:

My "dip tube" is a simple 1" PVC pipe with a 1 1/2" reducer at the top. String is passed through an eyelet is the celling. This serves as my rod "gallow." The rod sections, including the varnished wraps, are now brushed lightly with OOOO steel wool:

Next, we wipe down sections with mineral spirits to clean them of any residue or fingermarks:

Ah, the markers mark! This better be neat because after people check the straightness of your rod, the second thing they'll look at is the marker's mark. I use the finest tipped pemanent marker I can find for this purpose:

The ferrules are then protected with masking tape:

The varnish is warmed to about 100 degrees by immersing the can into hot water. This makes the varnish less viscous, allowing it to flow better:

The varnish is then carefully poured into the dip tube:

The air bubbles are then allowed to dissipate:

I then mist the immediate area with water vapor to settle dust:

I hook up my butt section to a snap swivel and check the length against my dip tube to ensure that the cork grip will not be immersed in varnish:

The rod section is then carefully lowered into the varnish of the dip tube and the motor base will be moved forward until the winding check just touches the surface of the varnish:

The section is immediately and quickly extracted from the varnish, allowing the varnish to flow freely off the section's tip. Once the varnish starts dripping, the same process is repeated. :

On the third dip, the section is allowed to remain in the varnish for 2 minutes. Then the motor is started to begin the slow extraction process:

Once the section is fully extracted from the varnish, it is placed in a drying cabinet. A 100 watt buld provides enough heat to promote the varnish curing process for 24 hours before the second and sometimes third coat of varnish is applied. The same process is followed for the tip sections:

Once all sections are varnished and safely in the drying cabinet, I breath a sigh of relief, crack a Corona, and toast my good fortune:


Bamboo Rod Build, Part IXX, Rod Sack & the Finished Rod

The last task is to create a suitable rod bag for our treasure because a cheap massed-produced bag would not do it justice. BTW, why do some rod bags come with foldover tops and tie wraps? Does anybody really like these things?

I prefer a Garrison-style sack made from heavy duck cloth of a color that will compliment my rod. In this case, that mean burgundy. Since I have no skills with a sewing machine, I rely on my rod bag lady, Jaynie. Of course she also serves as my PR director, personal photographer, fishing partner, and, most importantly, my best friend and sweetheart.

Our rod is now complete and ready for the first cast. Flawless? Hardly. More than nine mistakes? I'll never tell.

It can't be over emphasized that all of this effort would fall under the heading of "Joel's Incredibly Big Waste of Time" if the resulting fly rod was not such a fine fishing tool. It is. Like most people, I was initially attracted to bamboo fly rods because of their beauty. I think what surprised me the most (and every other fly fisherman who casts a cane rod designed with a thougtful taper for the first time) is that they are just so darn much fun to use. The feel of a well-made bamboo rod loading and the ease at which it casts are things that can't be described; you just have to experience it for yourself. IMO, graphite doesn't come close to that feeling. Do yourself a favor and make a trip to Superboo to see for yourself.

No words have better described a finely made cane fly rod than those of Hiram Hawes, who was both son-in-law and nephew (hey, it was a different time) to the genius Hiram Leonard: "...a useful thing, beautifully made."

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the threads of the build process. I can't possibly expressed how much your kind words of encouragement meant to me.

So now I will take the lessons learned from this rod and move on to the next. Because the answer to the question asked by our own Kathy Scott on the last page of her wonderful book, Changing Planes, “How many cane rods do you need?” is always, “One more."

The finished rod (unfortunately the grain of the bamboo doesn't show well):

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