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Rodmaking Process

an Overview

(some steps still being photographed and documented )

Freestone Rods

The bamboo

My rods are all made from Tonkin bamboo, imported from China. Tonkin is the traditional choice of bamboo for rodmaking (although there are other species that have been used). A pre-requisite is that the bamboo has dense 'powerfibres' in the outer layers of the bamboo. It is these fibres that give a rod its strength and flexibility.

Node filing

Nodes, what Garrison referred to as "the curse of Job for rodmakers" are initially filed flat with a mill bastard file. Care has to be taken not to file more than is strictly necessary

Alongside are images of nodes before and after filing.

Flaming (if opted for)

Flaming, by means of a propane torch, imparts a colour to the bamboo. There are different views as to what the flaming process actually does to the physical properties of the bamboo. Some makers believe it can weaken the cane and others are adamant that it actually strengthens it. Almost all are agreed, however, that at some stage in the process some sort of heat curing regimen is imperative to drive out moisture in the bamboo and 'stiffen' it up. Flaming is considered by many to be part of this process and there are rodmakers who 'extreme' flame. Flaming has a long history in rodmaking with many old flamed rods still in service today. I do not see flaming as part of heat-curing and believe it should be done carefully and lightly.

With six strip rods my customers have a choice of a lightly flamed or blond finish. Blond rods can also be toned by other means.

Culm cutting and node staggering

The length of the final rod, the number of sections to the rod and the final position of the nodes (node staggering) in each section, determines the length of culm to be cut.

Node staggering is traditionally arranged 2x2x2, 3x3, or spiraled.


The length of rod and the final position of the nodes determines the length of culm to be cut and split. Once the culm length is established, it is split in half by 'driving' and twisting a knife or blade down the culm, allowing the split to develop 'naturally'.

.... halves.

.... then the dams are broken out with a gouge or with pliers.

the halves are marked so that adjacent strips can later still be determined.

the half strips are now split into thirds, making six strips in all. On bigger culms the strips can be halved and halved again.

.......and into half and half again making a total of 24. Bigger culms can easily be split into 32 strips

Node preparation

Removing the inner pith of the node to allow for later straightening (displacing).

Strip soaking

Some rodmakers soak the strips in water at this stage. This makes for easier node straightening and planing. The thinking is that heat curing thereafter will drive out the moisture again. In my experience it makes no discernible difference to the end product whether the strips were soaked or not.

Node straightening

The nodes are gently heated until just pliable and are then carefully flattened (displaced) and straightened in a vice or press. The internodal sweeps and curves are straightened by gently heating and bending contrary to the existing curve or sweep.


The sharpness of the plane blade is imperative. The blade must be sharp enough to shave with at all times. There are many methods for sharpening blades. I find a leather honing wheel with diamond paste to be a quick and efficient way of sharpening high quality steel blades. 'Softer' steel blades can be sharpened with a sharpening paste instead of the diamond paste - they just need to be sharpened more often.

First angle - planing

The first angle is planed on a first angle roughing form. This form has a groove with an angle (just under 90 deg) set such that a 60 degree edge can be planed on one side of a strip.

Rough strip - planing

The strips are planed into equilateral strips in a roughing form or on a beveller. The beveller speeds up the process. A centre gauge is used to check the strips for 60 degree angles





A beveller speeds up the process of planing strips. The beveller alongside is dual purpose. The maple and perspex component shown lying on the table is for first angle and rough bevelling. The alumimium component shown at the top is used in conjunction with the wooden form on the table for planing to almost final taper (see below). These are based on bevellers designed by Al Medved and Jack Byrd respectively


The rough strips are bound together for heat treating.

Heat treating

Here the strips are heated in a heat gun oven. The temperature is monitored carefully with a candy thermometer at 3 points in the oven. Although a crude looking affair the three temperature readings are consistently within 2 deg C of each other. The time the strips spend in the oven is also monitored precisely.

Setting the planing form for final planing

The forms are set for final planing by means of a depth dial indicator with a 60 deg contact point. The depth dial indicator is first zeroed accurately with a vernier. This is done because the tip of the contact point may be microscopically snubbed which would lead to inaccuracies.

The forms themselves consist of two 6ft parallel steel bars with 60 degree tapered bevels on the inside corners - making a tapered 'v' groove when assembled. One surface of the bars is used to make tips and the other for butts, with mid sections (for 3 and 4 piece rods) being made on either surface depending on the size of the rod. The butt side grooves are, of course, correspondingly deeper than the tip side. The bars are connected at 'stations' with pins and push-pull screws. The distance between the two bars, and thus the depth of the groove, can be set at each station by adjusting the push pull screws.

Final planing

The strips are planed in the forms. The strips are flipped after every few passes with the plane. The enamel side is not planed. The strips are checked with a micrometer for 60 degree accuracy regularly. When the strip approaches the final dimension, the enamel side is scraped lightly with a scraper to flatten the surface enough to achieve final accuracy. The last few passes are done with a hand-held scraper and or sanded. Finally, what will be the internal apex of the strip, is removed with a single pass of the plane or sanded off lightly with a sanding block.


The final tapered strips are bound again in sequence and checked for accuracy. Inaccurate strips or less than perfect strips are re-made.


The final tapered strips are taped together in sequence with masking tape. The tape is then cut at the join between 2 strips and the strips unfolded onto a surface. The strips are carefully checked that they are free of dust and glue is then liberally slathered onto the strips with a clean toothbrush.


The glued strips are rolled together and fed through the binder.


The glued blanks are rolled on newspaper until they are as straight as possible. They are then hung up to cure. Here they are seen on the workbench after curing.

Blank cleaning

First the string is removed by gentle scraping it off.

.....the blank is then sanded smooth.

Blank straightening

The blank is then finally straightened by gently heating it and bending and/or twisting it counter to the existing bends and/or twists.




If the blank is to be impregnated it is usually done at this point. The blank is immersed in the impregnating liquid and then hung up to dry. Impregnating helps protect the rod form moisture penetration but can also add weight to the blank. I am currently experimenting with a variety of impregnating methods.

Cutting blank to length

The rod section lengths are marked out, the precise position of the ferrule determined and the sections cut to length. This involves determining that the rod sections will be exactly the same length and the rod when assembled will be the correct overall length

Finding the spline

Most blanks have a stiffer side on one flat than the others. This is called the spline (sometimes spine). The blank is rolled under bending to determine when the blank 'kicks'. This reveals the position of the spine. The guides are later located in relation to the spline. The spline position is marked for future reference

Fitting hardware

The blank is now ready to be fitted with hardware.

Fitting ferrules

The ferrules are first prepared and then fitted. Preparation includes, cleaning out the female ferrule with steel wool, lapping the male ferrules to fit the female 'like smoke', thinning the ferrule tabs and finally crowning the tabs. Alongside are crowned (below) and uncrowned (above) ferrule sets.

Ferrules can be 'blued' at this stage if desired.

A ferrule plug is also prepared and fitted

The ferrule stations are then cut on a lathe.

The ferrules are then glued onto the blank and the tabs bound down. Shown are blued ferrules. The shiny 'bits' are the male slides, which along with the inside of the female are not blued.

The grip

Cork rings are first selected and reamed to size with a rat-tail file

The cork rings are then glued onto the blank (or a mandrel) and clamped in a cork-press.

The drawing above the press show the intended final grip and reel-seat

The rod is taped and 'chucked' in a lathe. The grip is then sanded to the desired shape.

The reelseat

The type of reelseat e.g. sliding bands, pocket cap and bands, uplocking, downlocking etc. as well as the reelseat spacer material is chosen and glued to the blank in the correct alignment with the previously determined spline

Guide placement

The number of guides, strippers and their initial positions are determined with a specific formula. Once determined the guides are taped in place temporarily. Line is threaded through the guides and the rod bent as in casting. The position of the guides is adjusted to 'equalise' the distance between the line and the rod at midspan between guides. This reduces pronounced stresses imparted to the rod if the distance is too great at any one point. This is particularly important in the tip section.The rod is then test casted and the guides adjusted again if any fine tuning is required.


Once the final position for the guides has been determined the guides, hookkeeper, ferrules and signature location are wrapped with the selected colour thread. I usually use Pearsalls Gossamer Silk for all my wraps. There is a wide range of different colours and finishes that can be used for wrapping e.g. tippings in different colours, clear wraps, colour preserved wraps as opposed to translucent etc. I usually choose from a standard range of colours which suit the colour of the blank and keep the wraps simple and uncomplicated.

Wrap Finishing

The thread wraps are varnished or epoxied. The rod is turned as this dries. This is done a number of times until the desired finish is achieved

Rod Finishing

The rod is then signed and varnished or oiled. I use a drain tube to immerse the rod in after all the parts that should not receive varnish have been taped over. The varnish is then drained out of the tube and the rod withdrawn and hung up to dry in a dust free environment. The rod is varnished once or twice


The rod is buffed and slipped into its rod bag ready for use.

That's it. There are of course numerous variations to this process

The Rods
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Rod Design
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