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Tony Spezio from Arkansas is the maker of a rod with a Cholla Cactus grip.  He had it with him this weekend.  I even had a chance to pick it up and was amazed how light it is and how nice it feels.  You are correct about one thing.... Tony is one of those guys who thinks out of the box and then shares his creativity freely.  We are the beneficiaries.  I can't tell you how many good ideas I have garnered from Tony over the years, far too many of which I don't remember the source and fail to credit him.   (Harry Boyd)

    A bit on the grip.

    The grip is on a linear taper 7' two strip quad made with a thickness planer and router. I made this rod in Sept. 93. It also has a square bamboo ferrule. Check Power Fibers back issues.

    Jimi sent me two pieces some time ago, I still have one piece left.

    Turning the piece was a bit tricky, it would just explode. It came apart three times and each time I glued it back together. At that time all I had on the bench was Gorilla Glue. It would foam and start to fill some of the holes in the cactus. It was too hard to get it all removed so I filled the whole thing with the glue and then finished turning it. That made it pretty solid for drilling the center hole.

    I was going to smooth out all the depressions but was told I should leave it as is. I think that gave it a nice effect.  (Tony Spezio)

    This is the skeleton from a cholla cactus and is literally almost lighter than air.

    I tried using one and every time I tried to sand/turn it literally would fall apart and decided that cork would be better.

    I'm guessing that Tony has to make a spacer of cork or mount it on a mandrel and glue the heck out of that with a PU or something else to keep that skeleton in one piece.  (Ron Hossack)

      I'm guessing the Cholla you got hold of was way too punky.  The stuff that Jimi has is just right and quite a bit heavier than air - in fact the basket weave strips can be a dense as pecan.  Interestingly, Cholla has a soft inner pith that sloughs away during curing that leaves a ready made center tube - the trick is finding straight pieces.

      A couple years ago I saw Tony's grip and had to try it.  It's unfortunate that Tony's started coming apart on him because the basket weave spaces add a lot of character and function.  You can see one if you wish on the 'Brush Hog' at the Colorado Rodmakers Reunion site.  Click on 2005 pics, and then on rods.

      Sometimes the knots are useful too - though somewhat phallic  :^)  Bill Harms recently used Cholla to great effect on, of all things, an American Fork and Hoe steel rod.

      You can depend on getting good dense Cholla from Jimi.  I really have an appreciation now for his supply because ever since I got some I have been scouting N. Texas for the stuff - and good stuff is very hard to find.  Either its still living or weathered to the point of utter deterioration.  Straight, dense chunks are about as rare as fiddleback.

      First thing I do is wire brush off all the dried skin and crud.  Then I use a Dremel wire brush to clean out the spaces.  If the piece is straight enough it can be mounted on a pine dowel mandrel and on the lathe - but I dared not touch it with gouge or pointed tool.  Just work it down slowly with a file and/or coarse sandpaper (holding your mouth just right) to the desired shape, then smooth it out.  Staining brings out the weathered flecks in the wood.  Very pretty and the spaces lend a good grip to otherwise wooden handle.  One problem remains - gluing it on the blank in such a way that you can't see globs of glue in the spaces - haven't quite solved that one yet.  (Darrol Groth)

        I sure didn't notice any glue problem at all! If it was there, it blended in so fine!

        What did you use to glue it on the blank? Just a stupid question, AR Tony feel free to chime in, is the natural hole small enough or does it need to be drilled out? Did you use a spur in the chuck and a live center tail stock? Did you simply ream out the hole with a rat tail until an arbor would fit snugly? What size arbor did you use? Did you make the hole to fit the rod? I assuming you did, but if you didn't how did you shim it up? Without it showing of course!  I'd very much like to make a desert rod to use on desert fish out here in the great wasteland! Sorry for those of you who may live out here and take offense at that! But hell, it's going on November and it's still pushing 100, Damn! Going to take a Cholla Cruise tonight (after it gets below 90!)  Yeah, I know, I'm supposed to figure all this out like you guys did, but hey! It's me!  (Mike Shay)

          Yow!  Welp, the center hole, though straight, is never perfect so the problem is fitting it on the rod shaft.  I guess you can ream it but I didn't want to get too cute.  Did it on a wood lathe.  I just use whatever dowel will fit tight enough to prevent spinning  In my fumbling I used Gorilla glue because I knew it would fill in the gaps(to blank) and form a good bond.  Then you have the problem of it foaming out the spaces.  I sat there with Q-tips and dug as much foam out as I could.  Later I burred out what I could with Dremel.  Still had some gobbers left in the deep part of spaces so I just stained the holes/glue dark in order to mask it.  I'm sure you or more accomplished brethren could find better ways.  Hope this helps.  (Darrol Groth)

            You will learn some cuss words working with this., I will try to remember what I did. There is a center hole, it is not straight though. I drilled out the center with a hand drill, a bit at a time with an extra long drill bit. had to take it real slow. When I finally got the 3/8" hole through for the arbor, the skeleton was placed on the arbor. The arbor was chucked up in the lathe with the tail stock live center on the other end of the arbor.

            The bit I used was a blunt round nose bit with a relief ground just behind the rounded cutting end. I can send you a photo.

            Things went well for a few cuts then a section exploded. Glued it back and turned some more. Each time I glued it, it filled more holes and as I said in the last message, I finally filled the whole thing.

            I glued it on the rod with Two Ton Epoxy.  (Tony Spezio)

    The handle material is called  Cholla cactus,  pronounced "Chollow." It is indeed a very fine material, however, there are only certain pieces that can be used. I provided Tony and Darrel with the material. I have particular area's here in NM that the material grows to the particular density and size to be useful for rod handles. Altitude, annual rainfall and seasonal temperatures play a very important roll in getting a material that is suitable for turning as well as strength. I have been using it for over 25 years in making knife handles and accessories. If anyone is interested in obtaining some of the material I can provide it, as well as tips and techniques on using it as well as turning it. As I said, I have been working with it for a long time and there are a lot of pieces of the plant that may look good, but will explode when turned or crumble over time. I have considered providing some rough turned with the center hole pre drilled, rather than the bare stock for turning.  (Jimi Genzling)


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