Tonkin Scared Straight

Anyone who keeps a lot of bamboo around knows that things do go bump in the night. At first you may think somebody is trying to break into your shop or house repeatedly, instead you find more often than not it’s your culm co-habitants. Loud pops, snaps, and bangs in the middle of the night not only set off alarms systems but scare your visitors to death. Essentially the culms are checking, meaning they are naturally splitting because of temperature change, moisture content, and age. After a new shipment arrives the Winchester comes out because I can never tell if somebody is breaking in or it’s my Tonkin bundles having a party. Either way ADT knows exactly when I get a new shipment. There really is no way to stop bamboo from doing it’s thing until you decide to split it yourself. They will having their little gatherings and chatter away until they “check out”, which is my way of saying they’ve decided to go silent. When the “get to know you period” is over and they have acclimated to the environment, they stick around for a while, approximately 3-5 years. This is how long I keep them in tact before splitting them to make into a fly rod. Like the ritual of opening a bottle of wine, I usually stare at the culm and site down it for a while before splitting it, a kind of mental visualization. Every culm has it’s own personality, like kids, some are easy to handle while others are a constant uphill battle. Inevitably they all become rods and get straightened out, like it or not. The day you bring in a new bundle till the day you set them free you are merely a host, a foster parent, and eventually a parole officer keeping them on the straight and narrow. 


Ferrule Woes

It was a pretty afternoon at a bamboo rodmakers gathering in the late 90’s up in the Catskills, I was actually listening in on a conversation between a few rodmakers about how they couldn’t get a little Leonard rod apart. Evidently there was a stuck section where the male ferrule and the female just would not budge. I watched three guys nearly turn blue trying to get the sections apart. I was having visions of arterial spray shooting across the rod rack as one of them had a vein in his neck bulge as he gripped both sections. I started getting a little worried about the rod because one of the guys had his hand over the guides, so I innocently interrupted. Having worked on many older rods not only taking them completely apart but being able to put them back together I knew that the ferrules had multiple consistencies of copper content. Generally speaking nickel silver is a combination of 65% copper, 18% nickel, 17% zinc. Early ferrules often had higher amounts of copper which caused the ferrules to oxidize easier thus making them stick. One of the guys knew me pretty well so he stepped back thinking I was gonna put some good old fashion Hawaiian muscle into this. Instead I reached into my Coke cup that was near empty and took an ice cube and gingerly rubbed it on the female ferrule, twirling the rod as I went along like an umbrella to cover all of the surface area of the female. I’ll admit I got a lot of scoffs and dirty looks, being the youngest guy in the crowd, but a small crowd gathered and the bets were on. After about two minutes I dried my hands on my shirt and pulled the ferrule apart on the first try. I got a few claps but of course the discussion on what actually happened began. I quickly explained that the cold ice shrank the male section before the female based on wall thickness making it easy to pull the two sections apart. Then some guy said that the female would shrink first followed by a few expletives, at which point I slowly backed away and went off looking for some scraps of food. I tend to be more of a sponge than a leaky faucet in such circumstances. I tend to spend my energies making rods, not getting mired down in long winded debates. The “Gatherings” always offer a wide array of personalities and opinions, I tend to interject points of view with a kind of lightheartedness, after all we are all there to share and hopefully laugh. The only bold incident I ever witnessed was at a gathering where a fairly well known rodmaker was criticizing a young ladies rod, a Paul Young taper as I recall, and it was her first rod. She was really proud of it and it was a very nice rod. This guy decided he was gonna be rude and continue berating it, until another guy stepped in and pretty much threatened to beat the b’jesus out of him if he didn’t shut up. Typically this kind of thing never happens, but occasionally when you have lots of opinions under one roof something is bound to happen. Needless to say the discussion on sticky ferrules is a somewhat interesting one based on not only the age of the ferrule but the type of nickel it has been milled from. I learned my little Shaman ice cube trick while trying to unstick a Granger rod, desperate and nearly in tears. Since then I’ve passed it on to a few people, I dunno if it’s my own original trick, but I invented it out of shear desperation, Gods honest truth. Generally speaking ferrules seem to get stuck in hot weather, after sections have been together for prolonged periods of time, or they have oxidation on either the male or inside the female sections. The trick is to be patient with these older rods and don’t force anything ever together or apart. Most of my rods that I make all have what I call “easy fit” lapping. This simply means you need not be a power lifter or take steroids to get your rod broken down and in your car. Some makers make the fit very tight but my test is whether my wife can easily take the sections apart, once it passes the test then I’m done. The last thing I want is a client calling me in Argentina with no way to get his rod home because the ferrules are stuck!


Bamboo Flyrod Finishes

Bamboo rods are actually very durable and one should never worry the rod to death. My rods have a very high grade Marine spar they are dipped in. With four coats of spar varnish and wraps that sit on two layers of spar there is little to worry about. Spar is a great medium that is very forgiving because it can be polished and feathered. Spar dries, but like pitch and artists oils, it remains flexible and polishes well. If your rod becomes spotted with water marks or even scratched you simply take 1 part rottenstone and 2 parts tung oil mix it together and wipe on with a soft piece of t-shirt material. Slowly buff it evenly, then wipe down the entire rod with warm soapy water. Make sure you use the mixture sparingly and do not get any on the grip or hardware. I typically do this free of charge for my clients after several years of use, and sometimes re-dip if the rod is in need of a new coat. My personal rods are so heavily used that the tips get sanded and re-dipped every five or so years. I only fish with bamboo and with less than a half dozen rods so my quiver takes a real beating. Occasionally I replace guides, this never really presents a problem because they sit on two layers of spar with two coats on top. This allows no penetration of water to mold the substrate. All my thread tunnels are filled which helps keep moisture out of the wraps completely. Moisture is a bit of a naughty word when it comes to bamboo but what people have to keep in mind is that moisture is in everything its a matter of keeping it at bay. Rods should never be stored wet, they should never be kept in a moist place like in a garage or basement for prolonged periods of time. I have restored many rods that were stored in garages and attics and the long term affects can be devastating to say the least. Finishes tend to crackle and gum up, wraps loosen, sets occur throughout the length of the rod, and moisture can play an evil part in this metamorphosis. Simply keep your rod dry and store in a cool place. Rotate the tips when it is heavily fished, and take it out of the tube every so often and hang it up on both corners of the bag so it hangs straight. Usually you can find a space in a bedroom closet. I just hang them on the wall over my fly tying table. I also have a nice rack I made about fifteen years ago out of cocobolo that keeps the rods upright on the wall. Never ever store or even leave a rod in a hot car, it is one of the worse things you can do. I use aircraft grade epoxy for most parts of my rods including the gluing up of the splines. Aircraft epoxies sre very heat resistant, some rod builders although use Titebond 3 which is not as heat resistant and will actually delaminate at extreme temperatures. I got a call from a guy a year ago that had a rod from a fairly prominent builder out west that uses Titebond and evidently the rod was left in the trunk of his car for four or five hours. The owner of the rod said it delaminated in two spots. The rod probably would be fine under normal circumstances but trunks of cars get very hot and can get up to 140 degrees in the summer. It is simple common sense, treat a cane rod like you would a musical instrument, or fine shot gun and it will last a lifetime and then some with simple care. The horror stories are usually out of negligence, the mantra is “fish it, wipe it down, hang it, and store it”.

To keep the ferrules clean
, take a Q-Tip and put a little denatured alcohol on it and wipe the inside of the female ferrule, use the opposite side of the Q-Tip to wipe off any excess alcohol. Never put anything else in the female ferrule other than the male counterpart. Wipe the males off as well and keep them clean. Remember rods are intended to fish not worry about, just use common sense.