A short while ago I decided I wanted to buy a bamboo fly rod blank and finish it myself. Since I have never done this before I had no clue what to do, except relying on my very knowledgeable fly fishing friend, Eric Peper, as well as Dennis Stone, CatskillJohn, and the Classic Fly Rod Forum. I ended up buying a bamboo fly rod blank from Dennis Stone, D.R. Stone Rod Co..The rod is a Granger 8642 taper, 3/2 (3 piece rod with 2 tips) for a 5 wt. that was ammonia treated and it is absolutely gorgeous looking! I had Dennis add the reel seat, tip top guides and cork handle that I wanted. He also sent to me all the guides I needed in the appropriate sizes and where to exactly place each guide on each section of the rod. All I had to do was the simple part, right?
After getting feedback on the Classic Fly Rod Forum I decided to order a spool of YLI #50 silk thread in Antique Gold from Rushbrooke Strand. Since this YLI #50 thread is slightly bigger than Pearsall’s Naples thread everyone on the forum told me it would be easier for me to do the thread wraps with.
I bought a pint of Spar Varnish from Ace Hardware for varnishing the thread after the thread wrapping was all done. I also bought a roll of 1″ masking tape too. It was recommended to buy 1/4″ masking tape but I couldn’t find it and I figured I could easily cut thinner strips when needed. A long handled Dairy Queen plastic spoon became my burnishing tool, which I rarely used. I found my fingernails worked fine to keep the thread wraps packed tightly together. i used my thumbnails a lot to keep thread wraps tightly together.
While waiting for my blank to be finished I decided I should practice winding thread on a rod. I have an old, junkie-looking bamboo fly rod that my wife had gotten years ago at a flea market for a couple of bucks, so I used that to practice thread winding. I made a rod holder out of some old 1″ by 4″ wide wood boards and I made a spool holder with a couple of screw parts and a small spring from Ace Hardware and an old screen door holder we had laying around. (I did try running the silk through a book as well but I decided I liked my spool holder better.)
The practice winding definitely helped me understand what I needed to do. It takes practice getting the thread started, then lining it up correctly and last securing the thread end when done winding a thread section. I looked at a couple of books and a couple of websites but nothing really explained everything clearly. As you can clearly see below I definitely needed to practice.
My bamboo fly rod blank finally arrived on Friday (it is beautiful!!) and so I decided over the weekend I would get all the guides on and thread winding done. I used Dennis’s guide measurements he sent me and taped all the locations for the guides. Dennis had the tip tops already on for me. Now it was time to do the windings for real.
For those who read this and have never done this before here is what I did. I had magnifying eye glasses, small sharp scissors, one-sided razor blades, masking tape and I made a short thread loop and set it to the side to use to tie off the thread wrapping when done. I also used three lights around me to give me good lighting to see what I was doing.
I began each thread section by pulling the thread off the spool and over the top of the rod section and made one complete loop around the rod with the thread. Then using my thumb and finger pushed the thread over the loose thread end as I continued slowly winding. This trapped the loose thread under the thread windings. After about 5-6 winding I used a razor blade to cut the loose thread which is now trapped securely underneath the windings. When about 6 wraps were left to do I would tuck the thread loop under the wrap and keep wrapping. Once the wraps were complete I would pinch hard with my thumb on the wraps, cut the thread free from the spool with my free hand and than push the cut end of the thread through my loop. While holding the loose end of the thread tightly with one hand I used my other hand and pulled the thread loop back underneath the wraps which eventually pulled the cut end of thread underneath as well.
Thread winding is a slow tedious process and takes your full concentration. If my thread wraps didn’t look right or overlapped I would unwind the thread wraps back onto the spool to a point where the thread windings were done right and then start winding over again from that point. The spool holder really helped save some windings and definitely some time.
I decided not to grind or file down the toes of the guides. A lot of rod makers grind them flatter to make the thread transition smoother. I felt they looked pretty flat and I also didn’t want to grind off the finish which might make the toes rust faster over time. Plus, if I took too much of the toe off I would have to dump that snake guide and I had no extra to use. In the end they seemed to work fine for me without any extra work.
A real tricky part is using a sharp single-sided razor blade to cut off this tag end of the thread that is now sticking out from the windings. Three times when wrapping my rod blank I cut the thread windings by mistake and I had to start all over again. it helps to wear a pair of magnifying glasses to see close up what you are doing. The other part I found touchy was doing the thread windings on the top section near the tip. The rod tip has a lot of give and makes it more difficult to wrap tightly near the tip. Plus, getting the guide toes to sit properly on the tip sections is also tedious and takes lots of patience.
By late Sunday morning I was done with the wrapping the thread and securing the guides. I did not work non-stop, I did take breaks. I would guess maybe 7-8 hours total doing all the thread winding for the entire rod blank. Here are a few photo shots I took when done with the thread wraps.
This first photo I used Red Gossamer thread for tipping. I also did the red tipping on one top section so I can tell the two top sections apart. (By the way, I had to ask Dennis and Eric what tipping was, I didn’t know. Also, Eric informed me to tip one of the two top sections so I could tell them apart for rotating tips on a daily basis.)
This is the agate stripper guide.
Here is the first snake guide which goes up against the ferrule on the butt section.
After I thought I was all done I was told by Eric I needed to do my own signature wrap, so I added my personal signature wrap.
I had purchased from my local Hobby-Lobby store a brush kit for just over $10.00 which had small brushes in multiple widths. The box said it was originally for watercolor but it worked perfectly for varnishing. I have enough brushes for adding 5 coats of varnish and throwing away the brushes after each coat. No clean-up mess!!
So Sunday afternoon I started varnishing all the thread wraps. I was amazed how fast the silk thread soaked up the varnish.
So hopefully by the end of this week my new bamboo fly rod will be ready to use. I hope to break it in during the Henrdickson hatch and maybe with a classic-tied Hendrickson dry-fly, with real urined-burned fox fur. Stay tuned!