Love of Wood
many reasons for a person to build their own fly rod from a blank
and a set of components. Like many hobbyists, I started because
I could build tackle cheaper than I could buy it. I didn't have
any illusions that I could build it better. However, as I learned
more about the components of fly rods and what is available, I
realized that I could build a better rod, and still build
it more cheaply than I could buy it.
of us, rod building is more of an assembly process than a building
process. Either we don't have the tools or the expertise to make
our own components. While some of us will glue up and turn our
own cork grips, that's as far as we might take it. We buy our
components, choosing to spend our time learning and perfecting
rod construction techniques.
As we build,
we develop an eye for component quality. From defect free cork,
to straight as an arrow blanks, to nicely machined reel seats.
When it comes to reel seats for fly rods, I've always been drawn
to those with beautiful wood spacers, especially those with swirling
One day I
got talking with Dave Lewis about his rods, and he mentioned that
for his best rods and best customers, he got his seats from a
builder named Bob Venneri. Those seats were spectacular - both
the machining of the nickel silver parts and the beauty of the
wood spacers. I could see how Bob's seats combined with Dave's
exceptional thread and epoxy work resulted in rods that were far
superior to mass produced factory rods.
I had no
illusion that I could make rods as nice as Dave, but that didn't
stop me from lusting after the beautiful woods in Bob's reel seats.
As time went on and I looked at more and more custom fly rods,
I saw more of Bob's work. Almost without fail, builders would
use his seats on their very best rods.
As a lover
of wood - a Norm Abram wannabe - I am drawn to the woods that
Bob uses and have always been curious about how the woods are
selected and how the seat spacers are made.
of Bob Venneri's fine reel seats.
Cherry Burl in an Up/Down Slide Band seat. Of all the woods that
Bob uses, this is my favorite. The swirling eyed burl and the dark
veinations of the spalting are so beautiful.
Up/Down Slide seat with a birch burl spacer. Every piece of this
seat is made by hand in Bob's shop - one at a time.
seat with a cherry burl spacer.
Tiger Striped maple. The stabilization process and buffing really
bring out the grain and depth to this wood.
Striped dyed a beautiful reddish brown makes for a beautiful seat.
The up-down slide band seat allows the angler to choose how his
reel is mounted, to better balance the rod.
in a Candy Store
October, Steve Schweitzer came out to the house for a weekend
of fishing and fly tying. As luck would have it, we had a few
inches of rain the days before Steve arrived and everything was
high and chocolate brown. We tried for awhile to fish, but it
just wasn't worth the bother. We had hoped to meet Bob Venneri
for some fishing on the Esopus, but we decided to turn it into
a tour of his shop instead.
us into his house and commenced to tease us with bags and bags
of his reel seats. Poor Steve walked away quite a bit lighter
in his wallet, as he had a bunch of rod projects he was working
on for friends and simply could not pass up the opportunity to
hand select seats for them all.
It was then
that Bob brought out his bamboo rods. Apparently him and his friends
have been fooling around with making rods, in the hopes of one
day selling rods or even making blanks available to rod builders.
As you would expect with Bob, the quality was unbelievable. I
had the pleasure of casting one of his shorties in the yard -
what a delightful little rod it was.
Venneri (left) showing Bob Petti some of his fine reel seats and
one of his bamboo rods.
of wonderful reel seats. You can see the little group of five seats
that Steve has set aside for himself.
offered to show us around his shop, Steve and I literally jumped
at the chance. I know Steve is a woodworker, so I can only imagine
how excited he was.
As Bob walked
us through the shop, he told us about his days in a job shop,
where a customer would come in and ask for something - anything
- to be made. He wouldn't know from one day to the next what he'd
be expected to make - or whether he'd have the tools to make it.
It was a job of problem solving - how to get from a pile of raw
materials to a finished product in the least amount of time and
lowest cost possible.
It was only
natural that Bob would build some parts for himself and his rod
building friends. It's clear that he has a love for making things
- something I can certainly appreciate. Since he had the tools
and the know-how, it was just a matter of applying his experience
in the job shops to create the tools and jigs to make his reel
seats, from raw nickel silver and chunks of wood to finished product.
are burls - pieces Bob gets from local wood cutters. The majority
of the woods Bob works with are havested locally.
uses his bandsaw to cut the burl blocks into 1x1x4 inch pieces,
called blanks. He picks through the pile and selects those that
will be sent for stabilization.
of stabilized blanks. The stabilization process brings out the natural
grain in the wood, makes the burls easy to machine, and makes them
impervious to water.
stabilized blank are bored out and chucked into the lathe to be
turned to final shape and size. Bob always leaves his seats a bit
long, so the rod builder can cut them down to fit the rod and reel.
designed this jig that fits on his router table and allows him to
cut the mortise in reel seats, which helps hold the reel securely
the spacers have been turned, the mortise cut, and some final sanding
completed, they are sprayed with an acrylic finish and set aside
spacers are buffed to the final desired sheen on a couple buffing
shop has some rejects. These wood spacers did not pass Bob's stringent
have a vague idea how blocks of wood are turned on a lathe to
a cylindrical shape. Working with metal on a lathe is something
else entirely. Very few of us have seen a metal lathe, let alone
seen someone operate one.
Bob work on his metal lathe is truly watching someone comfortable
in their environment. His motions are quick, smooth, and confident
as he moves the cutting tools into place, applies sulphur smelling
machine oil to the turning stock, and swaps out one tool for another.
As with any master craftsman, he makes the process look much easier
than it really is. At one point I asked him if Nickel Silver was
a soft metal because his tools cut through it like it was butter.
He smiled and said "Nah", implying that what I took
as easy was really the result of many years of experience.
raw material for the metal parts of a reel seat is Nickel Silver
turning stock and threaded rods.
is checking out some of the nickel silver stock. These hollow metal
threaded rods are the only parts not machined in Bob's shop.
of silver chucked in the jaws of Bob's lathe, ready to be turned
and have the knurls cut.
at the lathe, holding a file on the stock as it is turned by the
The big milling machine, where Bob cuts the slots in his threaded
rods to fit alongside the mortise in the wood spacer.
finished nickel silver parts, ready for buffing and packaging.
might figure Bob uses a computer driven "CNC" machine
to punch out gobs of reel seat parts one after another. Not so.
Every piece of Bob's seats are done one at a time, by hand. With
the help of a friend or two, who handle various chores such as buffing,
he turns out a couple hundred reel seats per year. Many go to
a select few retailers, the rest being sold directly to rod builders.
does have a bunch of standard styles and sizes, it is possible
for a rod builder to contract him to build something unique. Some
professional rod builders have Bob make them seats that are unavailable
for retail sale - special seats for their special rods. Without
his one-at-a-time hands-on techniques, such customization would
at the very least be cost prohibitive, if not downright impossible.
web site for more information on his reel seats, as well as a
listing of rod builders who use them and retailers who offer them