Fly rods come in many sizes and types and are made from a plethora of different materials and composites. One of the most niche, and proven types is the simple bamboo fly rod. The best thing about this kind of rod is that with a little know-how, and the right tools, you can make it yourself, and tailor it to your needs and specifications. The process of making your own bamboo rod is not what I’d call simple, but it is definitely rewarding. If you, like me, enjoy working with your hands, enjoy fly fishing, and enjoy that gratifying feeling when you look at a finished work you have achieved, then stick around because making a bamboo fly fishing rod on your own might just be exactly what you need!
How to Make a Bamboo Fly Rod
Step 1 – Halving and Splitting
Bamboo rods are traditionally made by binding six thinner pieces together. As such, the first thing you need to do once you have sourced your preferred bamboo, is half the stem. The easiest way to do this is with a blunt wedge and a hammer. Place the wedge in the middle of the bamboo stem, knock it in along the grain, and keep knocking it down until you pass through the other side and the cane stem is in two halves.
Once halved, you need to repeat the process again on the halves except you need to mark off and split each half in three equal parts to get six pieces in all. Ensure the wedge or chisel you use is not to sharp or it will easily go off course and ruin the whole process.
Once done, you should have six roughly equally sized strips of bamboo.
Step 2 – Dealing with the Nodes
Bamboo is of course riddled with nodes along its stem and these serve to make the strip weaker and harder to bind, as such we need to get rid of them. This happens in two parts.
Part 1 – Shaving
Address each node on each stem with sandpaper or a file and get it as flat as possible without harming the integrity of the surrounding wood. 220 grit paper should do fine.
Part 2 – Heating and Pressing
Bamboo becomes very malleable under heat and as such it is the most effective way to press and manipulate the nodes and straighten the bamboo strips. The easiest heating method is a simple heat torch with a wide flat nozzle. Fix the heat torch with the nozzle facing directly upward so you can hold and rotate the cane over it. Put it on and hold the nodes over the heat torch where a node is until it is hot enough that the cane becomes very flexible, almost too hot to touch. Now you can use a vice grip or similar method to grip and flatten the area of the node. You will need to repeat this process a couple of times for each node to get them all completely flat.
Step 3 – Bevelling the Strips
The strips are going to be bound and eventually glued together in a circular wood so it is strongly advisable for the sake of ease that each strip is given a 60 degree bevel at this stage of the process. The most efficient tool for this is, of course, a dedicated power beveller. Sand down and bevel each strip to a 60 degree parameter, ensuring that they are all bevelled equally.
Step 4 – Binding the Strips
Now it is time to bind the strips together. There are many ways one can achieve this and even dedicated tools but whether you choose to invest in one or do it by hand the principle is the same. You need to tightly bind the six strips together in their hexagonal combined form, ensuring that the tension is tight and there are no gaps in the length of the combined rods. You can fix a spool to your work bench, hold the rod in your hand, pull and rotate, and slowly move along the rod length, if you lack the needed tools for binding. I suggest doubling back in a Kris-cross pattern to add extra tension. And guarantee a tight bind.
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Step 5 – Straighten and Heat the Bound Rod
Once the rod is bound tightly, place it in a convection oven and heat up the wood for around three hours. Keep the temperature at about 190 degrees Celsius. After about three hours take it out and use a wooden roller to gently straighten any remaining kinks in the wood.
When it is dead straight and looks right, turn the heat up to 350 degrees and pop the wood back in to allow it to be tempered. Leave it in for about 15 minutes.
Step 6 – Glue the Pieces Together
Now what you want to do is remove the line you used to bind the pieces. Once removed, lay each strip down next to each other across a piece of tape. Use some epoxy glue and a brush to cover the inside edge of each strip properly. Now roll the strips up into the circular rod stem again.
Now comes the important part. Once the strips are back into their combined ride, you need to re-bind them using the same method as before. Make sure however, that you do it perfectly, as the strips will stay this way permanently once the glue has set and dried.
Step 7 – Finish up
Once the glue has been dried, leave the rod out in a normal exposed room for about a week so the wood adjusts to normal levels of humidity etc. After that week, remove the binding line and use a light sandpaper to finish off the surface and remove any glue residue.
Check your finishing dimensions and make sure they are as you desire. If not, back to the cutting board to make some adjustments. Keep in mind that these adjustments can be made related to length. The thickness and shape are permanently set already.
Once happy, you can attach the guide eyes along the step of the rod. The most aesthetically pleasing method for doing so is by binding down each side of the guide eye to the rod with some sturdy black kite line.
Now you can make your handle rest. This part is purely preference based. You could wrap it with anything you feel is comfortable and suitable for you. Remember to keep a standard fly rod weight to get optimal results.
Now you can fix your reel on. Once all this is done, rig up the rod and take it for a test!
The basic principles of stripping, planning, bevelling, binding, heating, and gluing, are the core processes that define the success of building bamboo fly rods. How you go about each of these processes is up to you and is essentially going to be a case of trial and error. But once you find your preferred method, the results speak for themselves, and that feeling of satisfaction when you hook a fish on a rod you built with your own hands is truly gratifying. Also, make sure you don’t use it as an alternative to your saltwater fly rod during your inshore fishing expeditions.