Part one– We decide to build ourselves bamboo rods
Lee picks up some cane and gets some much needed advice from an expert
After Hamish’s infectious enthusiasm to build a PMQ got the better of me, the first thing we needed was cane. I googled tonkin cane, full of expectations of cheap bundles being sent directly to my door. I searched and searched, but all I could find was the opportunity to buy a shipping container full of the stuff, which, despite being attractive to me, was not really practical for a number of logistical, financial, marital and biosecurity-related reasons.
Hamish had also done some research, and in his true pragmatic style had emailed a local bamboo flyrod maker to see if he could part with a few bits of cane. Enter Nick Taransky. Nick has been building rods for a few decades, and is the perfect person to see should you want to embark on building a hex, quad or PMQ. Based near Canberra, Nick makes beautifully handcrafted bamboo rods using traditional methods. His rods are works of art, and after picking one up and marveling at the craftsmanship, I can understand why there is a two-year waiting list to get one. Nick uses – and can sometimes provide – quality Chinese tonkin cane, which he sources from a well-known rodmaker in the US.
Nick agreed to sell us a few culms of quality tonkin cane. I met up with Nick on a cold Thursday night, and he generously and enthusiastically showed me his workshop and some of his masterpieces. He took me through the basic processes of splitting, flaming, chiseling nodes and sanding the cane, and some of the more complex principles of planing and binding. Most of this complex stuff went in one ear and out the other, but I have managed to remember a few important things.
I had to wait a day or two before getting stuck into the cane, but managed to find nearly a whole day to play around. I started by cutting the culm into desirable lengths. The culms were 12 foot long, so I went with a 7 foot section with which to build a few 6 and a half foot one pieces, and a 5 foot section for a two piece. I then split the cane. Note that at this point, one would usually flame the cane before splitting it, but I didn’t have the tools so decided I could flame later. The culms that we got off Nick had a ‘check’ split in them, which is made down one side of the cane to allow for expansion and drying of the culm. The idea is to start splitting directly opposite the check split, then repeat. You want to ensure you’re always splitting near the centre of a section, as this helps to ensure the strips end up nice and straight and the knife (or splitting edge) doesn’t ‘walk’ across the fibres, resulting in weak and often useless strips.
I had a bit of trouble with this, partly because I was using a large machete I bought in Thailand, but also because my technique was poor. Hamish has figured out that it is far more effective to place the splitting blade in the bench vice, allowing you to control the ‘bend’ in the bamboo. If it sounds complicated, don’t worry; you’ll know what I mean when you give it a try.
Next was straightening and sanding my strips. I didn’t have a heatgun or gas torch, so instead used a butane camping stove. It worked a treat for straightening, but doesn’t do much in terms of flaming. Looks like I might be making a few ‘blonde’ rods, unless I get a flamethrower for my upcoming birthday, which is highly unlikely.
A few things to remember. Chisel or sand the nodes on both sides so that they are flat. Think about the need to offset your nodes so that they aren’t close together (this will increase the strength). Sand off the enamel on the outside of the strip so you have only just exposed the power fibres. Sand (or plane) off most of the pith on the pithy side of the strips. Make a few spare strips as you’re bound to bugger a few up.
Anyway, this is pretty much progress so far. Hamish has started planing and gluing, so will leave it up to him with Part 3 to get stuck into details about properly preparing your strips and deciding on tapers.
However, I’d just like to reiterate what a nice guy Nick is. Incredibly generous and passionate when it comes to his craft. If you’re keen for some materials, or want to go the whole hog and buy a truly special fishing tool, get in touch with him. His website is: http://www.taranskybamboo.com.au/