Building Bamboo Fly Rods - Part 1, Harry Boyd - Global FlyFisher

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The Global Fly Fisher Guide to
Building Bamboo Fly Rods
A multi-part series by Harry Boyd


Part 1 - An Introduction


    

An "Otter Creek Special," my favorite 8 foot 5 weight rod for fishing big waters
 

The Flyfish@ 2000 Bahamas Giveaway Rod. Rick Fick built the blank for this rod, and I made that blank into a rod. It was given away as part of an effort to help raise money for kids in flyfishing.
 

Since Hiram Leonard and the earliest days of fly fishing in our country, the allure of fine spilt bamboo rods has been part of the magic of our sport. The natural beauty of a well-built cane rod speaks for itself. Fine bamboo rods tie one directly to the rhythm of water and nature in ways at which synthetic fibers only hint.

You don't have to be a sophisticated fly-fishing yuppie to get hooked on cane rods. Most people who enjoy bamboo rods enjoy the fishing as much as the catching. Often they own several types of rods, but come back to cane. They like to own it, and love to fish it. A fine bamboo rod pleases many of the senses: sight, smell, and certainly feel. Something about it just feels right.

- Joe Loverti
http://www.caneflyrods.us

Some of you who read this series of articles will find yourselves building a quality cane fly rod. In this series of articles, I hope to show you the way I build rods. Rodmakers are a varied lot. Some make things as simple as possible, they do what works. Others approach rodmaking scientifically, from an engineering point of view. I hope to show you a little bit of both approaches.

Making a bamboo rod requires 40-60 hours of hand labor, though your first rod will take longer. Don't let that time commitment scare you away. Most of the work can be done in increments of an hour at a time. Any investment of so much time demands that from start to finish, no shortcuts are taken. Tolerances are measured in thousandths of an inch!

    
Rod Building Components
Only the best components for bamboo fly rods.
 
A wealth of books have been published and re-printed in recent years dealing with bamboo fly rods.
 

Quality work demands that no compromises are made in materials. Only the finest nickel silver hardware and ferrules should be used on bamboo rods. Only select hardwoods should be used for reel seat fillers. Cork grips should be hand-formed from the finest cork on the market. Only the finest, small diameter silks should be used to wrap hand-made hardened guides.

Not so long ago, tricks of the trade in making rods were kept close to the vest. Everett Garrison and Hoagy Carmichael changed that when they published "A Master's Guide to Building a Bamboo Fly Rod". My friend Wayne Cattanach learned rodmaking through trial and error, and brought this arcane art down to earth when he published "Handcrating a Bamboo Fly Rod". Today there are scores of website, articles and books dedicated to helping you build your first rod. In this series of articles I'll point you towards many of the most useful resources available.

A wise man once said "the hardest part of painting your house is opening the paint can," or getting started. Building a bamboo rod begins with gathering the necessary tools and components. From the over 1000 species of bamboo on earth, only one has all the qualities for making a great fly rod. Tonkin Cane, grown commercially in a small hillside region along the Sui River in China is the only material suitable for building bamboo rods. Charles H. Demarest, Inc. has imported cane for rodmakers for over 80 years. I get all my bamboo from the kind folks at Demarest.

Rodmaking bamboo comes in "culms" or sticks, twelve feet long and about two inches in diameter. Since it is a natural material, not all bamboo should be used. Often cane arrives from China with burn marks, leaf nodes, and "grower's marks" - a series of Chinese characters which identify the grower. These less than perfect culms can often still be used, but care must be taken to use only the best parts.

Once the bamboo is selected it is split into narrow strips. To make a two piece rod with two tips requires 18 narrow strips. Each strip contains a number of nodes, which must be flattened, smoothed, and straightened. Each strip is then hand planed into a 60* triangle and heat treated to give the bamboo even more resiliency. Finally a taper is planed into each strip, and the strips are glued together forming a rod section. Once the hardware is installed and the rod is varnished, you have a treasure to enjoy for years to come.

Split strips of bamboo
Split strips of bamboo taken from a culm.


User comments
From: DE LESPINAY · delespinay·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted October 28th 2010

For those interested, I wrote a e-book on all phases of construction, step by step, with illustrative videos.
The title : MY FLY ROD


From: Jay Stopher · mjstoph·at·sisna.com  Link
Submitted September 3rd 2010

I bought two boxed RoKo fly rods in on the Ginza in Japan in 1950. One is a four piece wrapped rod the other is a eight piece. I have never used them and mailed them to USA in 1950. Are they classics? I can't find any info on them maybe someone can give me some information. Thanks


From: Tyce · tyce_chapin·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted June 28th 2010

I only want to purchase very lightweight tips, not all the parts of the rod, for construction of lizard catchers. Is it possibe to only buy the lightest two sections for my unique needs?


From: Danirl A Dembinski · ConstrutionGod·at·aol.com  Link
Submitted May 5th 2010

Dear Sir.
I am a custom rod builder that is getting into bamboo. I have taken class's and even learned to split the bamboo and glue and I wonder if you have any pointer's for me. I am looking forward to hearing from you.


From: Bernie Stark · bkstark1·at·msn.com  Link
Submitted March 24th 2010

Dear Mr. Boyd
I started building bamboo about 10 years ago. I took some instruction from Darrel Whitehead and Mr.Bellinger in oregon. Things were going very well until three years ago when my partner and son became ill and passed away.I would like to build a clientail of buyers that would like to buy great quailty bamboo rod blanks as my son done most of the detailed wraps that I can no longer do to perfection due to my eyes. Do you have any sugestions that might help me? Thanks Bernie Stark
I appologize if I am out of line asking you thru your web site.


From: Ilkka Virta · ilkka·at·ilkkavirta.net  Link
Submitted August 12th 2009

Dear Sirs,
I am looking for a quality rod joints for my split cane rods. Do You have, or do you know where I could get them ?

regards, Ilkka Virta


From: jim harrison · jimharrison201·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted August 4th 2009

Turbular cane blanks with ferrules installed are available at Wal-Mart, Academy, and local sporting goods stores that are manufactured by B & M. These have a factory finish made in Taiwan. Asian craftsman have dropped out of the finishing market, preferring to work with fiberglass and graphite rods. Try reviewing the Martha Stewart and Boy Scout manuals on finishing these cane rods. It saves hundreds of hours of labor .


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted March 11th 2009

Gabrial,

I have to ask: does this look like a shop? If it does, we're doing something terribly wrong!
This is a non-commercial online magazine, and we're selling nothing.
If you want to buy tools for bamboo rod making, you will have to turn to shops, which sell such stuff. Follow the links in this article and the comments or use a search page on the web to find lots of other resources, amongst those most likely some shops.

Martin


From: GABRIEL BOATENG-APPIAH · gabbya2001·at·yahoo.co.uk  Link
Submitted March 10th 2009

Please kindly send me a quotation for a machine used in producing slices or strips (1-2mm thick) from bamboo. If you have any kindly add a brochure and specifications.
Counting on your co-operation


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted January 18th 2009

Dear bamboo enthusiasts.

It seems that a good deal of questions in the comments to Harry Boyd's articles on bamboo rods have to do with getting hold of materials and tools.

We can't do much to help you there. Building split cane rods is a rare and exotic craft, and the materials and tools cannot be bought in any hardware store. In fact, many rod builders make their own tools or have inherited them from other builders.

I will spend a few minutes doing what you could have done yourself: search the web for resources. Here goes:

When it comes to cane, there are precious few suppliers world wide. Andy Royer's Bamboo Broker is one of them. Andy was featured in the DVD Trout Grass, which can be recommended to any potential split cane rod builder. Some rod builders also sell cane - some as whole bamboo pieces, som as split and prepared parts - kits so to say.

Regarding methods, tools etc. start by visiting Harry Boyd's own site. He offers classes and some tools as well as tips on getting on.
Then try Bamboo Rod Making Tips, which has tonnes of information, lots of articles, tutorials, images of tools and links galore.
You can also simply search the web and find great sites such as Thomas Penrose's site on building a bamboo rod, which has instructions for building your own tools and much more or simply look at all the articles on split cane and bamboo that we have here on the Global FlyFisher.

The book "Fundamentals of Building a Bamboo Rod" by George E. Maurer & Bernard P. Elser can also be recommended. It has a list of suppliers amongst other things. We have it reviewed along with other rod building books in our book section.

Of course classics like "A Master's Guide to Building a Bamboo Fly Rod" by Hoagy B. Carmichael, "Handcrafting Bamboo Fly Rods" by Wayne Cattanach and Ray Gould's "Tips & Tapers" as well as his "Constructing Cane Rods: Secrets of the Bamboo Fly Rod" are also available used in many online bookstores. Do a search for title and author, and you will most likely find them available many places.

In other words: we are far from the final resource when it comes to split cane. There are many books and web sites out there as well as workshops and classes where you can learn splitting bamboo and making it into fly rods.

Martin


From: steve streun · stevestreun·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted January 18th 2009

I am very interested in making custom bamboo rods for trout fishing. This is my passion. I need to know were to get the equipment that i need to make the rods. I pla on making them for myself and if they are good enough madey sell them. I have been reired sence 1990 and i am very good with my hands. Please help me with my problem.
thank you


From: terry · justbaits·at·btinternet.com  Link
Submitted September 16th 2008

where in the uk can i by tonkin poles.


From: Boris · bebica7·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted August 18th 2008

Hi there!
I want to make bamboo fly fishing rod, I use to make bow and arow, I think I will be able to make bamboo fly fishing rod, but problem is where I can find to buy the bamboo. I live in romania and I didnt find here bamboo. Can you give me some adress of firms or where I can find it.


From: Jon Kirby · zanne·at·pathcom.com  Link
Submitted March 28th 2008

Very informative series. I have a Rick Fick rod that is in need of a ferrule replacement. I haven't had any luck locating him. Would you have any leads? Thanks . Cheers, Jon


From: Kevin Conyngham CPA · kevinccpa·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted October 27th 2007

Thank you for some very useful information. I just started building bamboo spinning rods and collecting a few old bamboo fly rods from ebay. Why have'nt bamboo spinning rods been popular? I like a big pole 8 to 9ft for bass and trout. I'll let you know how my first turns out. Where is the best place to purchase a Winchester Bamboo Fly pole?
Thanks again,
Kevin


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted August 6th 2007

Jim,

Assessing the value of a split cane (bamboo) rod on a mere description is close to impossible. You will need to take it to someone who knows about rods or present good photos to such a person. A general description of the process of valuing a rod can be found on Flyanglers Online.

Martin


From: Jim Lokhaiser · bdloky·at·zoominternet.net  Link
Submitted August 6th 2007

Sir: I recently returned from a week long vacation to Keystone, Colorado. I tried my hand at fly fishing while there. In conversation with the guide that we worked under I told him about an old fly rod that my father passed on to me many, many years ago. I was advised to look at the handle area of the rod to possibly "date" the rod. The only inscription on the handle is: "I Deal" by Heddon. Can you determine the value of this rod as an antique by the inscription? I would appreciate a reply. Jim Lokhaiser, Butler, Pa.


From: Larry Harmon · okok159·at·bresnan.net  Link
Submitted July 7th 2007

Hi!
I'm looking for DvD ( VIDEO ) that show a Garry "ROD BINDER" WORKING?
THANK YOU AND HAVE A SAFE DAY!!


From: BURTON POOLE · ARGUS257·at·ADELPHIA.NET  Link
Submitted May 6th 2006

NEED INFO ON SOME RODS MY GRAND DAD GAVE ME LONG TIME AGO ALL THEY SAY IS THOMAS AND THOMAS


From: Charlie Wong · maizee.wong·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted April 27th 2006

HI Benjamin Arnold,

From your discription, it appears that what you have in hand is a Japanese made casting/fly combo set of bamboo rod. With the
"short-fat" mid section - long tip 30" --- you get a casting rod
"short-fat" mid section - "long-mid" mid section - Long tip --- you get a fly rod. The fly rod setup may have 2 tips so all your 5 sections are accounted for. I have 2 sets of such combo rods thats why I am quite familiar with it.

Charlie
From the Far East (The other side of the globe)

Charlie



From: Benjamin N. Arnold · brk.trout·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted February 13th 2006

To Whom It may concern

Hello, My name is Benjamin Arnold, and I have a question in regards to a Bamboo fly rod that I am beginning a restoration project on. To begin with, let me first say, this is by far, above and beyond the oddest bamboo fly rod I have ever seen, and or worked on. What I am trying to find out now, is if I can get help from you as to the manufacturer and any possible value from what I can describe below. I can tell just from the condition that this rod is currently in a few things. First, a half hearted attempt has been previously made to restore this rod, as on one section it can plainly be seen that some wraps were not rewrapped, and it is obvious by fade in the bamboo and varnish that at one time, a manufacturer's sticker used to be present, but is/are no longer present.
Let me describe this rod to the best of my ability, hopefully you can provide me with some answers. First I will describe the bamboo, and right off the bat, you will see that something is bizaar. There are 5 different Bamboo pieces. I am certain that all 5 pieces go together just from the make and design of the ferrules. Of the 5 pieces, three are Tips, and two are mid-sections. Try and follow me here, as this part can be a bit difficult to explain. Two of the tips, one short, and one long, only attach to one of the mid-sections, the one that I call "long-mid". The remaining tip section, which is rather long, about 30" or so, only connects to the remaining mid-section (a two piece rod), which I call "short-fat" because it is only 22" long, and is rather fat. Here is the funny part, the "long-mid" section can if I so desire connect to the "short-fat" mid section and create a three piece rod, with two tips.
Before I describe anymore now, I must next explain the cork hanlde, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. The cork handle is just that, a cork handle, there is no bamboo sections directly attached to it, is just a cork handle, but built into the handle are two female ferrules on either end, and a hook keeper to go with each. Each Female ferrule is of a different size. On the cork handle are two sliding mechanism's, which I presume are for the reel, though their is no traditional reel seat. Both sliding mechanism's are free to move from one end of the cork to the other.
Now, getting back to the bamboo, and combining in the cork, things again get very strange. The two piece rod I described above, with the "short-fat" mid section only connects into the larger of the two female ferrules of the cork handle. With this in mind, you can see that this rod has here, using the larger female ferrule to be three different rods.

1. cork - "short-fat" mid section - long tip 30"
2. cork - "short-fat" mid section - "long-mid" mid section - short tip
3. cork - "short-fat" mid section - "long-mid" mid section - Long tip

Now, again getting back to the bamboo and the cork, using the narrow female ferrule, I can also make 2 different rods.

1. cork - "long-mid" mid section - Short tip
2. cork - "long-mid" mid section - long tip

So, as you can see, I have the ability with these 6 pieces, the five bamboo, and the cork section, to make five different rods. I hope that what I have been able to describe can give you enough information to identify this rod, and provide me with some insight as to the age, manufactuer, and maybe even value, if it were mint. Again, this is the oddest rod I have ever seen.

Thank you for your time, and any information you can provide me would be a great help

Sincerely

Benjamin N. Arnold



--
TIGHT LINES
CATCH AND RELEASE
FFO

BENJAMIN (TU LIFETIME MEMBER)
"In the beginning were the rocks
and on the rocks were the words
of God. Over the rocks flowed the
water. Eventually all things merge
into one...and a river runs through it.
I am haunted by waters."


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted September 28th 2005

Matt,

You can read more about heat treating bamboo with a toaster in Preben Torp Jacobsen's article.

Martin


From: matt · mjaccuntius·at·bright.net  Link
Submitted September 28th 2005

I am wanting to make my own bamboo flyrod. I see I need to heat treat it. Can you give me any ideas on how to do this without an oven? I've see where you can use a steel pipe or make your own. Can you tell me how to do this? Thanks for your time matt



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