Mechanized Versus Manual

After writing my entry called “Driven by Process” I received several e-mails in regards to “Production rods” and differences with hand planed rods. Another much discussed and heated topic among cane enthusiasts and makers. Quite simply a skilled craftsmen with a milling machine can put out a very fine rod that is very very accurate based on its given taper. A maker that uses simply a traditional block plane and a set of forms can also put out a very very accurate taper. Cosmetically speaking can you tell the difference? In many cases yes based on what is called “grain run-out”. Depending on the skill of the maker using the milling machine he is going to have a cutter running the length of the strip on the enamel side of the cane at some point. Some do not. Depending on their skill you may see grain run-out you may not. The question arises how deep is too deep when it comes to biting into the power fibers after the enamel is removed. Inevitably this will affect the performance of the taper based on the depth of the cut into the power fibers. If you look at the quintessential “production rods” of past eras using a Montague rod as an example you will see “grain run-out” on many of these rods. You will see what I call a lack of nodal contrast because the cutters feather the nodes out very wide into the top layer of the power fibers. In other words the cutters are set a wee bit too deep. Can you spot such a rod out in a line up of rod blanks? Yes, easily after a simple inspection. Does this affect the action of the rod? It would be very hard to make a sweeping generalization on this one. This is where the debate escalates. This again all depends on the skill of the craftsman and his level of skill using his chosen power tools.

I make rods in a more traditional manner so prior to tapering I address and dress nodes one by one. I do not “level a node” using a cutter I use a bastard file and press the nodes. Prior to final planing I remove the enamel side till the fibers “ghost” then make the final passes with my plane to achieve the final taper dimension on the two opposing surfaces of the strips. If the enamel is not removed prior to the final passes the tendency is “an over-built” final dimension. This methodology was practiced religiously by makers such as Vince Marinaro. Again there's many ways to skin a cat when it comes to the final planing process. Many makers have their own proven practices. Many work very well. Getting back to the original question what are the differences in “production (milled) rods” and hand planed rods? There are noticeably differences cosmetically and to some degree quality depending on the skill of the craftsman using either a milling machine or block plane.  
Be observant, open minded, and cast a lot of different rods constructed using different processes and you can decipher some of the fine nuances within this fascinating craft.
                                  ~Clint Bova