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Who was it that was making rod grips from tree bark, and if so how, did the different grip materials work out?  (Mark Dyba)

    A few years back I made some grips with tree bark.  First got the idea from a cherry bark grip on display at one of the Roscoe gatherings.  Mentally filed the idea away because I couldn't think of where I could find mature trees big enough to have such thick bark.  The following spring I was spreading some ponderosa bark nuggets around some plants and noted some of the nuggets were thick enough to cut out rings.  I used a hole saw to cut rings, put these in a counterbored pocket in a board, planed them flat, drilled and installed them as you would cork rings.  The appearance of the finished grip is unique and looks good.  A year later I donated the rod to a TU fund raiser.  I've lost track of the rod, but for the year I used it there were no problems.  The problem is getting bark thick enough to work with.  Perhaps some of the western guys know of a source.  (Ted Knott)

      I have made a number of bark grips, both with rings and carved.  For the most part they have been great, but by far the nicest I have ever seen were made by Dennis Higham of rings.  They were a joy to behold.  The first bark grip I ever saw was made by Niek Hardeman from the Netherlands.  That was about 1982 or 1983.  As for bark, I usually use Western White Pine.  A local lumber mill slabs it off and it is free for the asking. As for carved grips, wood or bark, rather than using a lamp auger which seems to me to be somewhat awkward, I think that since the average grip is only about 7" that by just getting an extended length twist steel drill is much easier to do.  Simply bore from one end for three and 1/2" then reverse your stock in the three jaw chuck and bore from the other end.  You will never be dead on, but a rat tail file will quickly bring it all together.  (Ralph Moon)

      I remember you talking about the bark grips and it stuck with me.  I have since found a source of cottonwood bark in pieces big enough to make grips. The cottonwood bark is slightly heavier than cork but is about 1/5 the price and can be turned, sanded and even carved easily.

      I got myself a piece and I'm planning to make a grip to put on the rod I'm doing this winter.  (Joe Behar)

    I am quite happy with grips and seats I've made from Douglas Fir bark, from Montana, where they build log cabins from it. The texture is much like cork, so is easily worked up. The appearance is striking, like tiger-striped. I've found that with use the figure turns dark, but a couple of coats of spar solves that. I've also used large pieces from  course mulch, as per Ted.  This also works well but is darker with not much character. Doesn't need varnish though.

    There's a lot of other kinds of bark out there. Check some out. Maybe we can break the cork monopoly and bring jobs back to USA.   (Bill Fink)


I have a question for you old hands and furniture makers among you. I have made a grip for a fly rod from red pine bark mulch. This was a lot of work and a real pain in the ass but the grip is very pretty. The grip looks a lot like cork but is very red and lots of grain. I have been planning to varnish the grip like I have heard others do but it seems very solid but on the other hand a coat of something would bring out a lot of color in the grip.  I am considering to apply some Butchers Bowling Alley Wax on the grip. Butchers is a very hard wax and I have used it on rods before. It's nice stuff. What would be some of your thoughts about applying wax to a grip?  (Timothy Troester)

    Maybe I'm not sure of what you're saying. Are you talking about the mulch you'd put around flower beds? And If you are, how did you bind the stuff together or with???? I ask because it will make a difference as to the finish you could use.  (Ren Monllor)

      Yeah, that stuff. I picked out the big pieces and used a hole saw to cut out some round disks. The big bag cost 4 dollars and I have enough rings to make about 2 grips. I ended up dipping the disks one at a time in wood hardener from Minwax because they were pretty flaky and I thought this would make them easier to work with. I think I am glad I did that. They were harder than cork and took longer to shape into a grip than cork.  (Timothy Troester)

    I'd do a good coat of BLO and then decide what you want to do. You can varnish it, do an oil finish, or wax it from there. The BLO will soak in, it won't sit on top like a finish. Test it on a piece, but it is a very good way to highlight the grain before finishing. I don't see a thing wrong with waxing it, as long as the grain won't hold wax that can't be polished off.  (Larry Blan)

    On the one pine bark grip I made, I used a single coat of Tru-Oil.  Worked like a charm.  Additional coats would not soak in.  Tried it.  (Harry Boyd)

      If it is already saturated with Minwax hardener, it probably won't absorb any. I think I'd just be tempted to polish it and wax it at that point.  (Larry Blan)

    What do you mean by pine bark mulch?  Do you mean you somehow glued-up, shaped, and bored pine bark chips like I use around my shrubs?  I'd love to see a picture if you wouldn't mind sending me one.  (Aaron Gaffney)

      They were medium sized chunks. big enough to cut a ring out of. When I get this done I will try to get a picture posted on Todd's site.  (Timothy Troester)

    Having seen Harry's pine bark grip, it's a beautiful thing, very interesting looking.

    I have used Butchers Wax on wood reel seats without any other "finish" on them, makes them shine, also found it made them swell a little.  (Pete Van Schaack)

    I've used Douglas fir bark for grips and they are pretty, with lots of tiger-stripes. It works up rather much like cork. But the grain gets dirty fast. So I varnish them with good success. I'll try your Butchers Wax next time.  (Bill Fink)

      Interesting, I would like to try this... Does anyone have any pictures and/or procedures for making a grip from bark and other material.  (Dave Alexander)

      I have made a number of White Pine Bark Grips.  Better when carved than made from rings.  I don't feel the need topcoat them, although  nearly did once.  On The Idaho Centennial Rod the owner asked me what I used to get the pine tar gum off my hands.  Turns out he was pulling my let.  Why would you want to coat it anyway?  (Ralph Moon)

    I just went through a frustrating experience. The hardest thing I have tried to do in building rods since I started losing my sight was the gluing up of this bark grip. I ended up with glue everywhere on me on the clamp on the rod and just destroyed my virtually perfect finish on this rod and I have had to just revarnish it. I came upstairs last night and decided that I was going to have to start putting grips on before I varnish. I wouldn't ruin the varnish on my rod with epoxy any more. Then I thought, gee, lots of guys put grips on before they varnish. Then I realized, everybody I know puts grips on first. Now, when in the world did I start doing the opposite? I thought, “Well, somewhere along the line I started doing this this way.” Then I remembered. I used to hand rub finish on the rod, then I started wiping varnish on by hand. The reel seats were in the way. I was so used to doing this that I didn't think to change. There have been a lot of rods under the bridge since then. This old dog is learning a new trick. There it is. I suppose the lesson is to back up a bit every now and then to see just whether or not what you are doing is making any since.  (Timothy Troester)


Can anyone provide a blow by blow account of how you drill out the rings for a bark grip.   I found some nice thick ponderosa and red pine bark last winter and its been drying ever since.  Last weekend, I took a hole saw to it and found that I get very uneven rings.  My plan is to sand it on a  belt/disc sander to even it up.  Yet, I haven't attempted that b/c I end up damaging the ring when I try to pry it from the hole saw.  Anyone care to share their experiences and offer some tips for clean cuts and clean release from the maw of the hole saw?  (Matt Baun)

    The easiest way I have found to remove the rings from the hole saw is to remove the nut after drilling each ring and pushing the drill bit through rather than trying to pry the ring  out through one of the access holes. A little bit time consuming but it works well.

    To square up the ends I built a cross cut sled for my bandsaw. This makes the cutting of squared off ends a simple task. If you are not familiar with one just Google "cross cut sled". Much better than trying to square them up with a sander.  (Steve Shelton)

    I used a drill saw and then sanded flat.   (Jim Lowe)

    Why not dispense with the hole saw.  cut the bark into squares and mount them on a mandrill and then do them round on a lathe.  I think in power fibers there is a description of this technique.  (Ralph Moon)

    On pine bark, I've had my  best  success  just  cutting  out square-ish chunks with a hand saw.  The problem is to find a 1" cross section of sound bark with no separation of layers.  When trying to use a hole saw, I found this much harder to do.  With a cross cut saw, you can move your cut a bit and adjust to variations in the bark.  Once I get the squares, I then drill a 1/4" hole in the center of each, and glue them up.

    To knock off the corners, I chuck up the mandrel in the lathe, and use 80 grit sandpaper to  knock off the corners.  Once that's done,  a skew or gouge can be used to round it down and shape it.  Bark is very soft, though, and it doesn't take much cutting.  I leave it a good 1/4" oversize, and do the final shaping with course sandpaper.  (Paul Gruver)


I know that Harry makes Bark grips and I recall hearing of others on the list that have done this. I am just about to enter that zone, I have a limitless supply of Fir and Cedar bark in the tide line driftwood along my local beaches, and have tried making some plugs with reasonable success. Does anyone have a detailed description of the process, or even pics would be better. I have found that it is easier to cut the plugs with a hole saw when the bark is wet, it is messy with sludge, but to cut when dried produces some very fine nasty powdery residue, that is not good for my Asthma.

What if any finishes have been used on these bark grips? The one on Harry's web site looks  polished!!!! Is this correct?  (Keith Paskin)

    I've only made one or two.  The one on my site is from Douglas Fir.  It has one light coat of Tru-Oil as a finish.  I have a little more Douglas Fir bark, but would love to have more.

    Mike Biondo made the rings I used in that grip.  Perhaps he will jump in and share the process with us.  (Harry Boyd)

      I've been told that a grip can also be made from birch bark. It is quite thin.  I am not sure how to even attempt that.  Would the bark need to be cut into small circles and glued together like very thin cork rings or would the bark be used more like a veneer.  (Ron Kubica)

        I am quite sure that this technique is in a Power Fibers release.  In any event the bark was not circles but squares.  Then turned on a lathe.   White Pine bark is excellent.  It is thick enough to cut 1/2 " rings, and is quite firm.  i.e. it would not need to be stabalized. I have made grips both from rings and fully turned solid.  (Ralph Moon)

          Ralph's description of how-to for birch bark is the way I have done mine.  I cut the bark into 1 1/2" squares with a untility knife, drilled a hole in the middle, and glued them together on a mandrel that I waxed.  Then I mounted the mandrel and turned the chunk into a grip.

          For my taste, the look is a bit too much on a bamboo rod.  I prefer the more understated look of cork.  That said, birch bark can make a beautiful grip.  Looks aside, the best feature is the feel in the hand.  The bark feels like suede, and makes for a very sure grip both wet and dry.  The worst feature is weight.  They are heavier than cork.  (Tyler Beard)

            What glue did you use for the grip?  (Rich Jezioro)

              Thanks for all of the input on the Bark grips, especially the pics. When I have completed my first bark gripped rod, I will post pics and feedback. Meantime more  beachcombing for exciting tree bark.  (Keith Paskin)

              I used Gorilla glue.  (Tyler Beard)

      I made a rod this past summer with a yellow pine bark grip. I didn't take pictures of the process. I used a 1 1/4" hole saw on my table mounted drill press. It is a very messy process, lots of dust and dirt. After all the discs were cut I made a press out of partial board and lucite. I used a 3/8" heavily waxed dowel to keep things reasonably aligned. You really have to wax the dowel heavily to avoid the glue from sticking. My first grip I made  I used a 3/8" piece of threaded rod - guess what happened!

      After the glue set I turned the grip on my lathe. I was fairly pleased with the results. When all the other steps for making a rod were done I decided to dip the grip along with the rest of the rod. I would not do this again. I had to sand the grip some after the varnish dried to make it less slick. Living in south Florida I used what I had in the yard which was southern, yellow or Dade County pine for the grip. I also made a real seat for this rod out of some live oak from a tree that was in a friend's yard that  had been knocked over by hurricane Wilma. I gave the rod to a friend of mine to fish the back country for snook and redfish. So far he has been afraid to use it when he goes over to his place in Chockoluskee, FL. It is a modified Dickerson 7613. He has caught some lady fish and other smaller fish with it from his sea wall on the Intercoastal Waterway that runs through our town. I really want to see how this rod will handle a 28" snook or a 24" redfish. I keep telling him not to worry about breakage, that I will make any repair needed. I just want him to give the rod a good workout and to push it to its limits.  (Phil Crangi)

    I have made all my rod grips with local fir and pine bark cork. I get mine from a local mill and I know the guys well enough that they let me rummage around the shaving machine. Makes it easy to haul these out of the mill since they are huge pieces. Just be careful not to bring home any with worm holes as these will bite you in the posterior.

    I read some of the input as to the nature of the making of rings and everyone seems to be in the same vein when it comes to cutting and making holes, but here is my process. Sorry to bore you with the details.

    I let the bark dry naturally outside in my shed, out of the sun and elements but with lots of air between. This makes the cutting easier and keeps me from having to replace my band saw blade frequently. Using my band saw 3/4" blade I cut the bark into chunks bigger than my hand but less then the size of my table on the band saw (10x9 workable space) Run the pole(tree) side of the bark opposite the guide and be careful when cutting, not to remove one of your fingers in the process. Keep the guide the distance away from the blade the exact thickness you want your rings. Cut away and make double the amount of "bark flats" of what you think your going to need. Using a hole saw with a drill center (mine is a 1-3/4" i.d. with a 3/16" drill bit) I then cut out my "donuts" of cork rings. I use my drill press for this process and have made a jig for holing the "cork flats that were cut. This allows me to get many rings from one flat. I do use a filter mask that I got at a local army surplus store with replaceable filters, so my "allergies" don't act up with the dust that is created in this process.. Once all the rings are cut I put them in oven bags with a zip lock and then burp them  once a day for about a two months. This allows the rings to fully dry and shrink and do whatever they are going to do. After that I just keep them in wood boxes out of the plastic, so they don't get too dusty or moldy.

    Rod use:

    I glue my rings on the rod in the traditional manner just like if they were cork and use what ever glue I am using at the time. In the summer I like Titebond lll and in the winter Gorilla Glue. That's just me. Once the grip has dried on the rod I lathe it to what ever shape and size grip I feel like making for the rod. On the final pass, to get some gloss, I just use an old leather belt and run the lathe with the smooth leather side acting as the polishing tool. Does a nice job of closing the pores of the "cork" until someone gets to use it and adds their own oils from their hands.

    That's it. Hope this helps. Sorry about not having any photo's but just don't ever take any when  I'm busy making noise.  (Rudy Rios)

    I have been making pine bark (I think they are red pines) grips for a few years.  I get the bark right off a dead trees.  use a whole drill to cut the plugs.  I then flatten them.  First I use a razor knife to get them close to flat and then sand paper on a glass plate.  Glue up as You would a cork grip I use gorrila glue.  I then turn on the lathe.  Ream out with a standard cork reamer ,  I coat it with a outdoor deck sealer like Thompson water seal. They come out beautiful.  I get a lot of complements.  They wear great and have a nice feel and look.

    Here are some pictures.  (Rick Barbato)


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