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Wondering if anyone can point me to resources for the design/construction of mortised butt rods--  as in what I've seen from Lon Blauvelt (and I will contact him directly, too) not the mind-blowing stuff from Mr. Wagner (not ready for that yet.)  (Joe West)

    I've done a grand total of one morticed rod.  Once I figgered it out, it seems pretty straightforward.

    1.   Decide how much swell you want.  Let's assume you want a swell of .150 over a few inches.

    2.   Plane butt section as normal, with no increase in the taper in the area you want swelled.

    3.   Cut six pieces of the material you will use for the inserts (let's assume walnut).  For a 2-3 inch swell, cut them 14"-16" x 1/2" x .075"  (In reality, you can get by with five of this size and one piece 14"x 1"x .075", but that's almost too complicated to explain)

    4.   Create a 60 degree point on one thin edge of each of the walnut pieces.  If you only use five pieces, the wider one serves as two.

    5.   Carefully taper each walnut piece to a fine point at one end.  I measured the taper each half inch over 2.5" for a 2.5" swell.

    6.   Match the six 60 degree points on the walnut pieces.  Viola!  You now have the basics done and only have to glue the whole mess together.

    7.   Bind the bamboo strips, beginning at the ferrule end, up to a few inches above where the swell will begin.

    8.   Insert one piece of walnut between each two pieces of bamboo, carefully pushing forward till the points line up with where you want the swell to begin and exactly in line with each other.

    9.  Blast the whole mess with your heat gun.  As you do, add some binding cord just in front of the swell and work towards the reel seat end.  You want to pre-bend the bamboo a little to make gluing easier.

    10.   When you have the entire thing bound up to the walnut inserts, it's decision time.  Do you trim the walnut inserts now?  Or do you wait till after gluing.  I carefully trimmed them down on a disc sander, but left them considerably oversized.  To aid in binding, I placed a toothpick on each piece of bamboo.  If you sand all the way down, there's a risk of going too far.  Continue wrapping string till you get the whole thing bound.

    11.   Heat gun 'em again, to pre-bend the bamboo some more.

    12.   Take the whole thing apart.  Slather with glue.  I suggest a glue with a LOOOONNNGGG working time.  Bind again.

    12a.   You could  glue the six walnut pieces together at their 60 degree points as one step; then glue the bamboo in as a second step.

    None of this is original with me.  I got help and advice from a number of people, notably Robert Kope, Jeff Hatton and others on this List..  You can also use wood inserts the same height as the bamboo strip triangle, and fill the center with a balsa wood dowel.  Or, you could leave the center hollow.

    I think this looks neat.  I can guarantee you it stops the action completely if you use blonde cane inserts with flamed strips.  I'll be doing one for a customer in a few weeks, and hope it comes out as well as my first attempt.  (Harry Boyd)


I have read the article in the latest Power Fibers about mortised rods. There is a picture of a rod with the while handle and reel seat being 12 strip. This looks great and I would like to do one of those. I would think a slim handle like this would be nice on a shorter rod such as a midge or something like that. However, I do have a question about the reel seat. It looks like there is a butt cap and sliding band to hold the reel. What is used to prevent the 'reel seat' from getting nasty marks from the sliding band and the reel foot? I usually use PU varnish, but I am sure that it will not prevent the cane/wood reel seat from getting damaged. Or would it?  (Geert Poorteman)

    That rod is a thing of beauty. Both are in fact. They've also worked out a much easier way to do it than I've been doing the job so I kick myself when I see it.

    There's a finish you can get that's a combination of varnish/wax and shellac that is applied with a cloth while the object is spun in the lathe. The wax melts with the heat and hardens. I've been using it with reel seats for a while now and it works very nicely. Reel feet don't mar it and it can be buffed to a sheen again.

    I'd imagine it's waterproof enough in the long run but seems fine for my Dickerson 7614 and Driggs tapers I use all the time and I'm pretty rough with my gear. You know entire rod immersed in  the river and the Driggs broken and repaired several times etc, the reel seats look to be in better shape than the rest of the rods.  (Tony Young)

      I was fiddling with some strips yesterday and found another way to make the insert. I use my splicing block, and plane the splice but only to the middle. Then I turn it and support the tip on the ridge of the block and clamp the rest tightly  in the clamp and plane the other side. It works. I think I'll make a little rod like that one.  (Geert Poorteman)


Tried a mortised rod last month.  I think I had an inflated estimation of my skill...  After preparing the tapered wood (nice strips of koa), I tried to bind them in.  They stayed in place, but when I got to the swell I  found great big gaps in front of the strips.  So, I panicked and pulled the strips and bound the rod, sans mortise.

Anyway, is there something I missed?  I feathered the tips after tapering. The taper was about 5" long and the strips were the same width as the bamboo strips.  Does it normally take a lot of pressure and stout string?  I was just using normal binding thread and normal tension.

Any suggestions for the next one?  (Jason Swan)

    According to Al Medved, who demonstrated his mortising technique at SRG 2005, and also demonstrated in a recent Power Fibers article, it takes very strong binding pressure by hand (as much as the binding string can take, or perhaps your muscle can take) just before you reach the swell. Al did multiple wraps of string just before the swell began. I am about to try this too, and I remember Al Medved saying that the strong binding pressure was the key to the process.  (Paul Franklyn)

    Kevlar thread and as much pressure as you can muster.  (Tony Young)

    I will throw 2 cents in here on this one.

    Jason you did not apply enough pressure to pull it closed. In addition to binding with the binder I will also bind a second time with a very heavy cotton cord and by hand if I am having problems pulling the strips all together as this will usually alleviate that problem. And I only bind up to just past the end of the mortise strips when I have to run the extra heavy cord (Cotton kite string works well!!)  (Jeff Hatton)

      If you can find Kevlar cord it's great stuff. Wont ever cut at the corners and you can also use it in the oven time and again because it won't burn either.  (Tony Young)

    If anyone is interested in SWAGS I have a suggestion which may be worth tinkering with.  How about using a small hose clamp(s) of some kind to hold those pieces in place while you wrap them.

    A spiral wrap is difficult because you have to maintain constant pressure on the cord, but if you wrap once and tie a good tight knot at the beginning as a clamp, cut the cord and then tie another good tight knot nearby to act as a second clamp and so on working your way down the length of the pieces you should have no problems.

    I would further suggest that after the first two or three cord clamps are in place you use one of those metal strap hose clamps that you tighten with a screwdriver on the other end of the assembly to really bind everything down while you add further cord clamps.

    Using this technique I would assume you would have complete control over the whole process and success would be assured.

    The reason I propose this as some wild guess is because I actually have not yet made a mortised bamboo rod, but I have done a good deal of clamping and binding over the years and it seems to me to be a quite straight forward solution to apply these techniques to this problem. Oh and by the way I have made some rods.  (Dick Steinbach)

      I would suggest a "constrictor knot" as it doesn't want to loosen once pulled up tight.  If you Google it, quotes included, you will find quite a few ways to tie it.  Of course, if you have a decent knot book from the last few years, it's probably in there too.  I've used a constrictor for a semi-permanent hose clamp with good success.  (Neil Savage)

        This looks like a variation on the “clove hitch” which I’ve used a lot in binding and other applications.  The “constrictor” seems to be an improvement and may well become my favorite! (Al Baldauski)

      If everything fits right you should not have to hose clamp it together. (Jeff Hatton)

        I was thinking that myself, but I have never tried to make a swell using extra wood between the bamboo splines. I have made swells by planing the bamboo thicker at the handle, and that went together with no extra pressure at the swell.

        One concern I would have is if it takes that much pressure to close it up, wouldn't it tend to pop open at the glue line in use? There is a lot of stress and flexing in that area during casting.

        Another thing I am wondering about - if you are putting a piece of wood between each spline (making 12 splines in the swell area), is the angle of the splines still 60 degrees?  (Darryl Hayashida)

          ...the angles of the internal apexes should be 30 degrees if they are all equal. If you keep the bamboo at 60 degrees the wood strips are presumably square or rectangular IE. 90 degrees?  (Stephen Dugmore)

            The strips have to fit together at 60 degree and be at 90 degree where the cane will lie.   See Power Fibers, issue #22.  (Neil Savage)

              Not sure I understand what you mean... but the strips are their normal 60 degree triangles, and the wooden inserts start as thin rectangles that are then tapered to a point nearest the ferrule end.  (Harry Boyd)

                Right, Harry.  The bottom of the wood strips have 60 degree triangles on them so they nest just like the strips in the rod.  As I said, check Power Fibers issue 22.  I think it starts on p. 8.  There are some good pictures on one of the later pages.  (Neil Savage)

                  That's one method that's shown in that issue of Power Fibers.  Robert Kope described it.  Jeff Hatton's method is hollow (he inserts a balsa dowel I think) under the handle and reel seat.  Al Medved makes the swell, cuts the rod (with mortise) where the handle starts and then inserts a dowel into the rod which he uses to mount the handle and reel seat.   Check out Power Fibers 22 for Jeff and Robert's methods, issue 23 for Al's.

                  Yes, I do have a finance interest.  (Todd Talsma)

            I can see some major glue gap problems, and the swell part of the rod will be hollow. I think I'll leave wood strip swells to the craftsmen who are better than I am.  (Darryl Hayashida)

              If you make the wood strips rectangle/square the height of the bamboo 60 degree triangle, you can also create a 60 degree triangle on the wood inserts below the rectangle and then have a solid mortised butt.  (Wayne Daley)

                I have been making (my very first) mortised handle. I put flamed cane inserts as showed in the power fibers article to have the twelve splines serve as a handle. After making the rod splines and the inserts, and assembling them with masking tape, I split the tape just as I do with a normal rod. I then had the twelve splines of the handle aligned. I then spread the glue as usual and tried to bind them. I can understand that a normal swell doesn't need extra pressure. But if you imagine the mortised splines, you'll see that the splines, at the swell, are far apart and have to be brought together. Maybe heat treating would be an option, but when I bound them, with double thread and a lot of display of muscle, they were more o less together.  After the glue cured, I undid the binding to find large glue gaps. Gaps!. So I rubbed glue in the gaps and applied a hose clamp, to close the gaps with force. The glue oozed out and a  little additional binding string did the job. Once dry and the string off, I had no glue gaps or lines left, but I had a dent where the clamp squeezed the cane. This dent disappeared overnight. The rod is a week old now and the glue seems to keep.

                The varnish I finally used is polyurethane varnish with curing agent. Its difficult to apply (by finger!), and especially thick coats are problematic. Tiny bubbles develop and I had to remove the varnish twice before I was satisfied.

                The whole process is easier than it looks on paper, and I will have lots more rods with mortised handles. Give it a try! I will especially use it on short rods, such as midges and up to 7' rods, where a slim delicate handle is practical.  (Geert Poorteman)


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