Bamboo Bonzai

Building A Cane Rod, Part IV

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In our last column we discussed the preparation of split and straightened strips and forming them into equilateral triangles. The next step in the building process is to taper the strips and glue them together to form a blank.

As mentioned previously, rod tapers are measurements, expressed in thousandths of an inch, of a finished rod section at five-inch intervals along the length of the rod. Most tapers are laid out with the tip end of the rod as the '0' or starting point, and progress back toward the butt. The taper determines how much cane is at any given point along the rod and thus determines the rod's action and the line weight it is designed to cast. Because a six-sided rod consists of six identical triangles, the size of each individual cane strip is one-half of the rods finished diameter.

The traditional tapers used in building cane rods are derived from years of empirical experimentation by rodmakers in an attempt to build the best casting rods possible. Over the years literally millions of cane rods were produced with this goal in mind by some of the finest craftsmen in the rodbuilding industry. Since it is a very simple proposition to obtain these measurements from an existing rod it stands to reason that there are no great secrets when it comes to rod tapers. It also should be evident that unless a rodbuilder is working in some esoteric realm (making semi-hollow five-sided rods, for instance) where there has been limited experimentation there is nothing 'new' or 'unique' under the sun in rodbuilding as it relates to tapers. After all, traditional cane rod tapers represent the collective experience of many very talented rod designers over a period exceeding one hundred years.

The strips can be tapered by either hand or machine methods. In the golden age factories relied upon the use of machines to taper the strips. Most of today's hobbyists use a hand-held block plane and a tool called a planing form to remove the excess cane from the strips and form the taper.

The planing form consists of two parallel steel bars with a sixty-degree groove running between the two bars along the length of the tool. One side of the form has a relatively deep groove for forming large strips for butt sections; the other side has a shallow groove for forming tip sections. It should be noted that a typical rod tip may measure only about .060 inches, and therefor an individual tip strip is a mere wisp of bamboo measuring about .030 of an inch! The sixty-degree groove is tapered- it becomes progressively deeper from one end of the form to the other. In addition, the depth of the groove in the planing form can be adjusted by means of screws that push or pull the forms apart or together. These adjustment screws are located every five inches along the form's length and correspond to the convention of rod tapers being determined at five-inch intervals.

The depth of the groove in the planing form is set to the desired dimensions and the cane strip is placed in the groove.

The equilateral form of the strip conforms to the shape of the groove. The hand plane is then used to shave off the excess cane above the surface of the form. Once the strip has been planed down to the surface of the form, the size of the strip is a mirror image of the depth that has been set in the form. The tapered strip is now referred to as a spline. This process is then repeated to plane the taper into the five remaining strips.

Hand planing can be an extraordinarily accurate way to produce tapered strips if the maker possesses good tools, knowledge of how to use them, and takes the requisite care in forming the strips. The use of machines to form tapered strips requires as much or more talent then hand methods and is more akin to the work of a machinist then a hand craftsman. Finely made rods built by machine represent not only the knowledge and experience related to crafting rods, but also the design and operation of precision machinery.

Once the strips for the rod sections have been individually tapered, the splines are ready to be glued together to form a blank. In our next column we will focus on the gluing process and subsequent steps towards finishing the blank. J.D. Wagner

© 1999, J.D. Wagner, Inc.

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