Bamboo Bonzai

Construction of a Cane Rod, Part III.

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In my last column we covered the splitting and straightening of the cane strips. The picture shows a progression from the roughly rectangular form of a split strip, to the formation of an equilateral triangle, to the binding and gluing of the six tapered triangles that form a rod section. This rod section has been glued with dark glue, resorcinol, which emphasizes the glue lines.

Most manufacturing methods follow this same progression, so the first step is to transform the cane strips into an equilateral triangle. There are as many ways to do this as human imagination permits. Rodbuilders that produce a few rods a year can plane the strips by hand into this configuration with just a small wooden jig to hold the strip at the proper angle. Most professional builders rely upon machinery to assist them in this step. The machines used do not have to be elaborate or expensive. I've seen rodbuilders that have rigged up a simple mill with a router, and such a machine can be produced in just a couple hours and at little cost. This type of machine works by feeding the rectangular strip into a cutter at the proper angle to begin forming a sixty-degree angle on the strip. With each pass the strip is flipped from side-to-side so that cane is removed equally from each side of the strip. A surface planer can also be modified to perform this chore quickly and easily. In addition, special cutters may be used that can cut both sides of the strip at once thereby producing a triangle in only one pass through the cutter.

I remember reading an author claim that rods that are produced by hand are 'sexier' then those made either partially or totally with the assistance of a machine. While this is only one person's opinion, it is patently silly. There is nothing 'sexy' about standing at the bench for hours at a stretch planing strips by hand; in fact it's an invitation for carpal-tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Rodbuilding hobbyists that dream of building rods for a living had better investigate the use of machines to assist them long before they progress deeper into rodbuilding. No less a man then Hiram Leonard knew that he couldn't produce rods in an efficient manner by hand methods alone. Only so many hours can be invested in the building of a rod. The time and effort that is saved by using machinery allows a rodbuilder to concentrate on other aspects of the building process and produce a superior product. No builder from the 'classic' era of cane rods produced an appreciable number of rods over the length of their career without machinery to assist them.

Another silly argument against the use of machines involves the misconception that the fibers of the cane will be cut 'across the grain' unless the strips are made by hand. This is more hogwash that gets perpetuated by authors that are too lazy to do their homework and actually research what they write. The cutting of the strips occurs in exactly the same way whether by hand or machine: with cane being removed from both sides of the strip. If the strips are split and straightened by hand this will simply not occur.

Once the strips have been formed into non-tapering triangles they are temporarily bound together with string and placed in an oven for heat-treating. The heat serves to drive off moisture and temper the cane. Once the cane cools the string is removed and each individual strip is then ready to be tapered.

If a rodbuilder keeps all construction variables constant (heat-treating regimen, adhesive type, etc) the only determiner of the line weight the rod is rated for and its overall 'action' is how much bamboo is present at any given point along the length of the rod. This is known as a rod's taper. By convention rod tapers are measurements expressed in thousandths of an inch, and are laid out at five-inch intervals along the length of a rod. Typically these measurements are begun at the tip and progress back toward the butt end of the rod. If one wishes to copy an existing cane rod it is a simple matter of taking the measurements and duplicating these dimensions. There are no big secrets to rod tapers and their derivation isn't 'rocket science.' In our next column we will look more closely at rod tapers and how the tapered strips are formed. ~ J.D. Wagner

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