This Week's View

by Deanna Birkholm

February 19th, 2001

Miller vs. Planer

Upstream or down, wet or dry, bait or fly, C & R or C & F (catch and fillet), to mill or plane; the battles rage on . . . in some quarters. But, 'to mill or plane?' What the heck is that?

It seems back in the late 1800s a fellow named H. Leonard had been making some fly rods. He had been using a hand plane to shape and form the pieces of cane, it worked just fine. But unable to be content with the 'status-quo,' he decided to invent a machine which would produce the little sticks which make up the rods in a more uniform way. And a heck of a lot faster too. He did, he called it a milling machine.

Thus was born the revolution in the bamboo rod making world, it has never recovered and probably never will. I think it is a good thing. It pits the orthodoxy against the heretics. Always good for innovation and the venerating of the past. The results are always interesting and continue to promote the trade/art for infinity.

Today we see this relationship in many forms of recreation. Bow hunting comes easily to mind, so does gun hunting. Both have devotees of the old ways and the newest, the champions and denigrators abound in both camps. Of course there is no right or wrong here. Personal choice and opinion rule all decisions as to what a person chooses to use at any given page in his lifetime.

Is it wrong to use black powder or a long-bow? Certainly not, under respective conditions. It is no more wrong to use a long bow than it is to use a hand-planed fly rod than it is to use a milled one. The problems start when some contend that one is better than the other. Some things should be left to hand work, removing ear wax comes to mind, so does nose hair. Sewing machines have their place - and so does hand tailoring! Getting from Detroit to Chicago might be best left to machines though. True, some will opt for a bicycle ride, or even walk, but I think you get my point here.

Is a milled fly rod better than one hand-planed? Well, yes. And no. Better for what? And when, and where, and on and on. Each of the above can be a hunk of junk, or a great treasure. That depends on a whole lot of things; like who made it, when, with what, for which market and other variables as well. Can one produce more uniform strips with a milling machine? Probably, but again it depends on who and how it is done! I think it is great some have chosen to build long bows, to bore black powder guns, and yes, to hand-plane fly rods too.

For me, intent is my biggest point. What is the intent of the miller or planer? They diverge here at a very sharp angle. The planer making one at a time, with loving care and pride in his ability, even artistic talent. Does the planer try to 'reinvent the wheel' so to speak? I think he does, and enjoys doing so. He does it on purpose. The miller produces finely tuned perfectly formed casting tools, without imperfection in the shaping, forming and assembly. Is he tempted to improve his milling machine? You know the answer to that one. Each has their own intent and agenda.

Are either better than the other? I don't think so. They are as different as fish and foul. But, not better, or smarter, or more anything. One planes and one mills.

Let the wars rage on. ~ The LadyFisher

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