Bamboo Bonzai

Fine Tuning
by Wayne Cattanach

May 18th, 1998

Part of my involvement with FAOL is to host a Chat session each Thursday night. The intended focus of the session is bamboo fly rods and (or) how they are made. A very defined niche perhaps but that is what I know. Over the weeks I have found a couple of chattees that are becoming involved with bamboo in one fashion or another and so I have focused articles at their specific needs. So it is this time as well.

One of the keys to accurate dimensions is having each of the involved tools at their finest. As for the planing forms this means the two surfaces are flat and the 'V' is a correct 60 degree angle and burr free. The following technique works for new forms as well as used. With new forms it will assure their accuracy. On used forms nicks and chatters from scraping can be removed.

To prepare the forms they first should be dismantled and cleaned thoroughly of any debris using a soft wire brush or stiff paintbrush. Then reassembled with the inner faces seated, set them on the workbench. To monitor the progress coat the faces of the forms with either lay-out die or a colored marker.

Two files are used, a flat mill and triangle mill, both receive some adapting before use. For surfacing, a flat mill file 12" to 14" in length works best. To make the filing easier a handle is added. However, not as one might think. To avoid rounding the form surface the file needs to be used as parallel to the forms as possible. The conventional file handle prevents this from happening. Instead a block of wood can be mounted to one of the faces of the file just below the teeth where the file is smooth. This smooth area is not hardened and can be drilled and counter bored for a wood screw to hold the wood block handle. Counter bore until the screw head is recessed. Then the normal handle is bent up slightly to get it out of the way.

A 6" mill triangle file is used on the 'V'. For a handle cut a piece of 1/4" nylon or plexiglass to the same width as the assembled forms and 5" or so in length. To attach the file to the handle epoxy glue it down the centerline of the width of the handle. The precaution here is to be sure the two surfaces are squeezed together avoiding excess glue canting the file off-angle with the handle. Again bend the normal handle up slightly.

Besides the files you will need a file card or brush to clean the flat file. A toothbrush works well to clean the triangle file. And it would be best to have a paint brush handy to whisk the filings from the forms. Finally, as much as I discourage the use of gloves while making rods, this is one of those times where a pair of cloth jersey gloves will protect the hands and not get in the way.

The surfacing of the forms is done first. Lay the file on the forms as parallel as possible, having the front of the file just over hang the edge of the forms and the rear of the file just over hang the opposite edge. File forward with one hand on the handle and the other hand placing a light amount of down pressure at the midpoint of the file. Take a few passes with this file position and then alternate the file so it over hangs the opposite edges from before(forming an 'X' pattern) and take a few passes with this new file position. The file will need to be cleaned after just a few passes and cleaning the surface of the forms will help make the filing go faster.

After a few passes inspect the forms for progress. With new forms a couple of things might be seen. If the forms weren't surfaced after assembly you might see removal at just the middle or at just the edges. This is common due to the inaccuracies of steel manufacturing. Normally if one surface contacts at the middle first the opposite surface will contact the edges first. Also check for flatness using a straight edge. Filing should continue until the entire surface evidences file wear. Both sides are surfaced before attention is focused at the 'V'.

Before the second phase it is recommended that the sharp edges that were just created be softened. Use the flat mill file and chamfer the four corners of the forms. The reason for this is that in the next filing the file will be pulled down the forms with the thumb and first finger resting on these corners for a guide. If they are sharp or have burrs these fingers are sure to suffer the consequences.

If a triangle file is examined closely, it becomes obvious that the corners don't come to a point but are instead flattened. To compensate for this the forms need to be opened enough so that the faces of the file contact the faces of the 'V'. Perhaps the most accurate method to accomplish this is to set this gap using a set of feeler gauges and to adjust station to station. A feeler gauge thickness of from .060" to .070" is needed. The key to using feeler gauges is to have the same resistance to travel at each location.

A general statement is that the triangle file is PULLED the length of the forms starting at the deepest end. But beyond that there are a few fine points. After the file is placed in the 'V' rest the middle finger of the right hand on it to hold it in position. Then a visual inspection of the distance between the form surface and the lower surface of the handle is made to assure that the distance on each side is the same. If it isn't the it needs to be corrected. Finally with the left thumb and first finger pinch the side of the forms and the handle and pull forward. After each pass the file and the 'V' should be whisk clean and the 'V' should be inspected for progress. Remember that with each pass the 'V' is being filed deeper and, especially on the tip side, that too much filing might not allow the forms to adjust to the required numbers. A compromise would be to bring the surface of the 'V' to a 50 present finish. That is 50 present of the surface of the 'V' shows evidence of filing. Proceed with caution.


About WC

The family name Cattanach desends from the Scottish clan of Chattan, which may or may not explain how Wayne came to be the fifth generation living on the family farm outside of Casnovia, Michigan. Professionally a mechanical contractor, Wayne currently works for Forest Hills Schools.

Flyfishing and rod building (after losing the rod he was given) since 13, Wayne has stayed with the passion for 16 years, or for at least 100 rods. Whether writing, doing, demonstrating or teaching, Wayne is extremely involved in keeping the art and craftsmanship of hand made bamboo rods alive ... though he handles his skill and reputation with great humility. When Wyoming rodmaker, Jon Parker noted there is a good chance of Wayne being the next Everett Garrison, Wayne replied, "I laugh - knowing that I won't be around to know if that prediction comes true or not. Instead I think of myself as a modest and casual person somehow being allowed to hang around with a group of highly skilled craftspeople - having fun and watching the adventure unfold."

While with The Planing Form Wayne helped organize the first eastern rod makers get together which over the years migrated its way to Grayling, Mi and is now known as Rodmakers at Grayrock. The TTBBQ is the social ending. Last year Wayne came up with the idea for The Makers Rod.

The Makers Rod will be a 7 foot 6 inch, 4 weight, 3 piece, 2 tipped rod. What make the rod special is that it will be made by 28 rodmakers from across the United States.
The special cause will be stream restoration on the AuSable and Manistee rivers of Michigan.
For the rodmakers it is a chance to show their love for the craft and their concern for our resources.
For some lucky individual it is a chance to own perhaps the most unique bamboo fly rod ever made.

To find out more on the Maker's Rod, including how to enter the raffle to win, click here.

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