Standing for long hours leaning over a bench, planing, straightening strips, pressing nodes, turning cork, and squinting a lot at 8/0 silk thread you realize that time passes very quickly but that time spent working at the bench is time well worth spent. For the processes and manipulations that go on during the course of building three bamboo fly rods at a time, which is how I work for the most part, one also realizes that solitude can be found not only on a river but standing in front of a well crafted bench.
About twelve years ago I had a wild hair and decided to build the ultimate rod making bench. Fred, a master cabinet maker from the west coast, was a good friend I worked with for many years and always wanted to make a traditional cabinet makers bench. One day during the fall of 1998 we decided to go for broke and took a trip to a Homish lumber yard and purchased some very large pieces of beautiful maple. We spent a lot of time designing, customizing the plans, and eventually resawing very large heavy blocks of maple to make two benches 7 feet in length. Having access to our model shop at FITCH day or night we had access to a Powermatic 24” bandsaw, large jointers, massive table saws, not to mention 4 lathes, a five axis router, 4 Hurcos (C&C machines), a large spray booth, mortiser, two large drill presses, a large power planer, and a ton of layout space. We spent roughly three months making these benches that weighed close to 500 pounds a piece. We used traditional mortise and tenon joints and milled all the hardware. We mounted the old large blue Record vises into the benches, which were of the same design and size that were used to build the British Spitfires of WWII, these imported vises unfortunately are no longer available.
Years later my bench has really become a best friend in many ways. It’s original odor of tung oil has given way to the distinct smell of bamboo. The bench is like a Swiss Army Knife because it can transform itself in multiple ways to meet the demands of all the processes involved in building split cane rods. The importance of a good bench is that it becomes an extension of your body.
The bench acts as the ultimate vessel that houses everything you need to practice your high craft. Occasionally I treat it to some indulgence and give it a good wiping of tung oil for being such a good friend.