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Preparing Cane Strips and the Thickness Planner

By Ron Kusse, Master Rod Maker


This article is in response to the many email's I received about a photograph in an article I wrote about a month ago here, entitled, My Rod Shop. The photograph was of my son Eric and me putting strips through the 'thickness planner.' I had such a large response by email and phone about this machine that I decided to explain a little more of it and show some detailed pictures of how it works. I think with some mechanical ability most people, after seeing the close-up pictures in this article, will get the principle of this machine and will be able to build a similar machine for themselves. If you want help building this simple machine I will try to answer your questions by phone, however that should not be necessary.

The earlier rod shops did not share very much in the way of knowledge or tools which they made. Jim Payne had a machine to size the thickness of cane that did the same thing in principle although was far different from the one I made. H. L. Leonard Rod Company also used a thickness planner and was again very different from Paynes and mine. Years ago you couldn't buy a rod-making tool, you had to make them yourself. Now you can buy them in various places including the Internet; millers, planning forms, planes, ovens and a whole host of rod building aids. In the past, rod-makers, out of necessity, made all of their own tools and did not share the design of them with others, it was just considered part of being a rod-maker.

The first photos show how a strip is prepared for milling. It is probably not much different in my shop than most people do already; however the last step is to put the strip through the thickness planner. This makes the strips more precise and easier to put your angles on, whether by milling, beveling or hand planning. I find the better the strip is prepared, the better the end result will be.

The thickness planner is a rather simple machine and for $100 and a days work one can be made. I built this one over twenty years ago, there is very little to wear out so it is still running well. I use a one horsepower motor turning at 3450 rpm. Attached to the motor shaft is a collar to connect the one inch end mill to the shaft. It is important that the end mill turns into the direction that the operator is PUSHING it through. You can adjust this with the wires on the motor. If you cut with the strip it will fire out the other end like an arrow... either sticking into the person pulling the strip or into the wall of your shop. We timed how long a strip takes to go through the planner, 17 seconds a strip. It is a very fast machine. When finished, every strip will be within one thousands thickness tolerance from end to end.

I would not presume to say this is the only way it should be done, as after all there are many ways of doing things, but this is the way it's done in my shop.

My helpers for this were my finance, Caroline Knecht, who is always there when needed and my good friend Ray DuBois, an avid fisherman and rod collector who has a great interest in how rods are made and occasionally will come down to lend a helping hand when an extra one is needed.


This is a strip of thick wall cane. It actually mics about .370 between nodes. You can see where the interior dam was knocked out and on the other side of this is the node itself. The way I prepare my strips is the same as it was done by the Payne Shop and the Leonard Shop. The cane pole is split in half so that the split will follow the grain of the cane. A guide is then set on the table saw with the proper distance for the width you want to cut the strip. You press the split part of the strip against the guide and push it through the table saw. In sawing the strip keeping the split edge against your guide will insure the cut will follow the grain of the cane. The following photos and captions will show how in this shop this prepares the strip to be put through the miller without any strain on the machine by taking up more material than is absolutely necessary.


Caroline is using the 6 X 48 inch belt sander to sand the interior dams down to the level of the rest of the strip. Until this is done you cannot press or file your exterior nodes.

Ray is pressing the nodes in the node presser. After he has pressed the nodes he will straighten the strip using his hands and occasionally using the node presser. The propane torch is used to heat the strip so it will bend and stay in place without cracking or splitting during pressing nodes and straightening.


Caroline is filing the nodes with a 14 inch mill bastard file. When she is finished the best way to check a node after it is filed is by running your bare finger over the area of cane where the node was. If you can't feel where the node was it probably is good.


This is the thickness planner photo taken from the exit end of the planner where the cane strip emerges after being sized. The spring and cantilevers are used for the two hold downs before and after cutter.


This is a view of the cane feed end (entrance) of the thickness planner showing the hold down to keep the cane flat against the bed and the adjustment for thickness. The hold down pressure is about 30 pounds.


Ray is micing the strip before putting it through the thickness planner. It actually mics out at .370. With one pass through the thickness planner it will be reduced to a very precise .220 the entire length of the strip with less than one thousands variance.

The thickness planner in operation. This is a push pull machine. Caroline is feeding the strip into the machine under the cutter and Ray is pulling the finished strip from the other end.


Here are some strips that have been put through the thickness planner. There are four strips at .220. There are four narrower strips at .115 and then there is one strip that was put through to see how thin we could make it through with precision and that one is .045. All strips were within one thousands of each other according to what the machine was set for and the planned surface is actually a polished surface. ~ RK


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