Finding the best raw materials is always a major concern for me. I gave up on most “manufactured” hardware years ago just because it was not appealing to me on many different levels. So to make my process and craft more meaningful and exact I decided to take matters in my own hands and customize all hardware based on the particular rods specifications. When you are ready to cut a beautiful piece of wood you always have to visualize where all the figuring is positioned prior to the cuts. Taking the time to do this is well worth it and the end result is a gorgeous spacer not just a run of the mill spacer.
One aspect of making fine split bamboo rods involves the selection of raw materials that transform themselves into not just a great rod but a stunning rod. When everything comes together there is a special cadence, from proportion, weight, fulcrum, taper, and all the details that follow. I make no excuses for anything that does not look right, ever. When it comes to yet another detail about wood selection for reel seats I get pretty particular.
(Above: Larger 6.0"L x 2.0"W x 2.0" blocks of spalted maple ready for cutting and turning for flared reel seats and standard spacers)
I use “Prime Cut” wood selection, which means I take a larger 1.50" to 2.0" thick section (typically from a 6.0"L x 2.0"W x 2.0"W) of a larger stabilized block and cut into the selected grain that I see the best contrast and variables when it comes to figuring. When I do this I get waste, but the waste then goes to a custom knife maker, my waste cuts are perfect sizes for knife handles and are ready to profile since they are already stabilized. I take larger cuts from the blocks because it gives me more options on the lathe based on where I want a flare and other orientations such as the mortise and cork check locations. Again I work with the figuring, the size of the wood does not dictate or pose limitations to what I can and cannot do.
(Above: Large 24.0"L x 9.0"W x 3.0"H rare spalted curly Koa from The Big Island of Hawaii)
A few years ago I came across a very rare spalted curly Koa block from Hawaii. It made about 15-20 seats that are one of a kind. Looking carefully up and down a blank and deciding where the best figuring is going to be is very important because you want the most striking figuring you can get in a very small footprint. Reel seats are not large so it takes some pondering and alone time with the wood before I feel confident I can get the best looking seat. I often look at the grain on both ends and visualize the end grain hitting the circumferences of the profile. It's time consuming but well worth it, the reel seat is the one part of the rod that gets the most human contact other than the grip. Watch anyone that picks up a fly rod you will see that their eyes almost always go to the seats and hardware first and then travel up the rod, much the same way we look at a person at first glance.