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How close is close enough for your final planing?  I finished my butt section earlier this week and was either right on or ± .002" (mostly under toward the thin end).  I figured that if I goofed with the strips any more, I was going to do more harm than good.   (Scott Turner)

    Well, as you could only remove further material, it was a good idea to stop.   :-)

    Truth is, accuracy of this phase must be viewed in light of ultimate ramifications. For instance, if that shallow spot is matched by heavier spots on adjacent strips, the station might be glued into a position which makes the section stiff there. Another ramification is that your taper might behave as a faster taper, at closer range. In fact, there's a place for a rod like that.

    In any case, working with wood to tolerances that close is damn good work by any usual yardstick. But always you are after accuracy, or you aren't building what you want to build.

    The faster your tapers, the more something else is important however -- and that is where an intersection is manifested, below which bending cannot dramatically increase. Here, although accuracy, and particularly weak spots are highly important (in the latter case, to eliminate), design is far more important. After all, the design of many rods deviates from an ideal far more than two thousandths.  (Mike Montagne)

    Well, check out some of the classic rodmakers rods and I think you will find that within ±.002" is not too bad at all and is certain to cast pretty close to what you modeled the taper after.  There are some modern rodmakers who think that ± .001 is the target, and I've gotten that close before all the way up and down the rod (well, maybe not toward the butt section).   I think you are doing fine.  Don't sweat it.  (Rick Crenshaw)

      Oops!  I see that you are talking strips, not completed rod!   My bad. ±.002 on each strip means you might be off as much as .005 or .006 by the time you finish glue up.  If you are undersized by .002", you need to just go ahead and glue up what you have.  You might only be off by .002 or .003" if you are careful in removing the glue after cure.  You really ought to be able to get close to .001" on your strips if you set your forms right and scrape carefully.  Still ought to be a pretty close rep of a classic taper if you are modeling after one of those.  Some of those rods vary quite a bit.  (Rick Crenshaw)


I know there will probably be a bunch of opinions on this one.  But it seems to me that hitting tapers within .004" works just fine as far as action goes.  That being said I bet that only holds true  if the taper drop maintains the 0.004".  For instance a rod built 0.004" over its entire length would be more likely to resemble the target taper than one that is 0.004" over at one station, then right on at another, then 0.004" over at the next.  Is it better to be consistently wrong than occasionally right?  (Lee Orr)

    I'll go for consistently wrong. LOL.

    The taper at least will mimic what you intended to build with the only possible negative outcome being that the rod may be a touch quicker in action or at worst, perhaps one line weight heavier(being consistently over).

    I do have to say I have monkeyed with a few tapers by adding or subtracting a few thousandths here and there and have made up a few fairly interesting tapers that way. I averaged a couple Dickersons of different lengths a couple years ago and came up with a real nice 7'9" 5 wt taper.

    I guess my answer would be: what are you attempting? A new taper or a copy or imitation of the existing one? If a copy then the consistent few thousandths over will do (with the earlier caveat). If a new or different type action then a few thousandths here and there may accomplish that.  How's that for a "no answer type answer"?  (Dewey Hildebrand)

    I'm sure you will agree that it is better to be consistently right.   :-)  Much better than consistently wrong or occasionally right.

    That said, I think once a person makes a few rods he comes to grips with some combination of techniques that makes hitting the desired numbers consistently a reality.  (Harry Boyd)

      True.  I'm just curious as to which accuracy is more important.  Target dimensions or maintaining the taper drop.   Granted hitting both is the best situation.

      I can't help but think that taper drop is more important.  After all 0.002" over at one station and 0.002" under at the next makes the taper off 0.004" not 0.002"  (Lee Orr)

        You will have to specify where on the rod the differences are. .002 off on the butt section - no difference. .002 off  near  the  tip section - big difference.  (Darryl Hayashida)


Well, I am on my first rod and am nearing the final scraping of the splines for the butt section.  I have only cut myself once so far.  Its been scary but I kept going and things are coming together nicely, so far.

Question: What is a reasonable tolerance for planing, scraping, sanding to final dimensions?  The Archives contain one email that says .004 was acceptable for Garrison.  Is this good enough?  (Dave Gerich)

    Aim for .001.  Garrison's book makes that very, very clear.  See his section on "Final Planing", page 78 in my edition of A MASTERS GUIDE...  (First edition, 1977).  See especially the statement on p. 80,  'Take your micrometer in hand and mic the strips at the marks, checking the results against the calculated taper for the rod you have decided to build.  You may find that some strips have not been planed to the proper diameter by one or two thousandths, and this is the time these errors should be corrected.'

    I am sure there are other quotations I could find in his book and report to you and others on this topic, but for now this one will do.

    I regard this statement of Garrison's as one which should be the rod builder's goal at all times.  I have come to disagree with Everett Garrison on many topics from hand planing, node placement, tapers, binding, Super - Z ferrules, wrap colors (just to name a few) but his observations on the subject of planing accuracy and on resorcinol glue are two topics on which he was absolutely correct and with which I will never argue.  I have made up a copy of the above statement from Garrison's book and placed it above my planing bench just to remind me.  (David Parker)

      The process I have found which has resulted in the greatest accuracy for me is to (1) plane the strips to 0.030" over, then (2) plane to final dimensions, then (3) mark and measure the strips at each station -I have found that they will be .001-.003" over target.  I then set the forms for 0.001" under the final dimension.

      My last blank was spot on (.001-.002") at each station.  (Lee Orr)

    I'd urge you to strive for the best tolerances you can achieve without resorting to scrapping your efforts.  Remember that Garrison was at best a perfectionist, and at worst OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).  First rods are always a learning experience.  I drag my first rod to every show I do as a way to show folks that anyone with reasonable patience, average manual dexterity, and the ability to read directions can build a workable fly rod.

    To answer your question, keeping one's triangles as close to equilateral as possible is more important in making a good rod than striving to be within "x" thousandths of an inch of your target dimensions.  If you keep the triangles within a few thousandths of equilateral, your rod will be just fine.  For tips, I measure each station three times, from each flat to each apex, and try to make certain the average of the three measurements at each station measures within .001" of my desired taper.  If any of the measurements for tips is out more than .003", I start over.

    For butts, I shoot for .002" and .004".  Of course, I sell a rod now and then and thus am forced to be more anal than some.

    Incidentally, except to remove a little enamel from the strips I no longer use a scraper -- though many good rod makers swear by them.  I find that with a very sharp, well-adjusted plane I can take the strips right down to the forms and don't have to deal with the chatter and fuzzy edges that I always got with my poor technique with a scraper.  (Harry Boyd)

      Must say, Harry, how much I agree with you on the scraper statement.

      I find that my L-N scraper is a very valuable tool, and I would hate to be without it; but I find it is useful only on the enamel surface of the strips, and VERY occasionally for a bit of resurrecting of a "chipping" node.

      I think that the irregular surface and furry edges left by even a beautifully sharp scraper is unacceptable, and likely, even, to contribute to visible glue lines.

      To those who haven't performed the "feel test", just try running your fingers along a surface that you have "finished" with a scraper.  I'll bet that your first action after doing this is to take out a properly sharpened plane and use it on a very fine setting to try to fix the surface.

      Which will probably work!

      And the reason for the parentheses back when talking about "chipping nodes" is that, IMHO, if you use a properly sharpened and tuned plane,  and prepare your strips adequately in the first place, you are quite unlikely to encounter this particular problem in any case.  (Peter McKean)

        My experience is that when ever  I try the "feel test" I end up breaking out the Band Aids!  (Doug Easton)

      Indeed, this is key to avoiding gaps between strips, which, at best, are a pain in the butt to correct, and, at worst, will mean remaking one or more strips.

      Always a good idea to measure the flat-to-apex dimensions before your strip reaches its final position in the form, so you have enough left on the strip to make corrections, if necessary. As Harry said, if you keep your strips equilateral within a couple thousandths, it'll all work out nicely.

      As far as dimensions go, if you must err, err to the large side.  Small corrections in dimension can be made in final sanding, and if you are within +0.004" or thereabout of the desired diameter all the way 'round at each station, you can bring it in with judicious application of the sanding block (measure often!  :-) ,  and not cut too deeply (IMHO) into the power fibers.

      Also realize that you will gain in diameter due to the glue between the splines, anywhere from 0.002-0.006" or more, depending on the glue and your technique.  If you set the form to the exact spline dimensions, you will most likely come out somewhat oversize when you unbind and clean the excess glue off the section.  (Todd Enders)

        Having earned a living making violins for years I have to say that the worst glue joint you can come up with is a sanded glue joint. You will never have clean wood with sand paper, it always leaves fuzzies. After sanding either wood or bamboo wet it with a damp sponge and then let it dry, that's your gluing surface- thousands of short fibers. Your glue joint will never be good gluing short fibers to short fibers. I think that to me the problem is that people are using the wrong angle on their scrapers. A scraper is a mini plane blade and should cleave the wood/bamboo and leave a glass like surface. If you have chatters or fuzzies or anything other that a clean surface you don't have the proper angle on your scraper and you don't have it sharpened correctly. There is no way that sand paper can ever match a scraped surface done correctly, gleams like a freshly planed surface done with a sharp plane blade. Sand paper, rocks glued to paper.  (Patrick Coffey)

          As I stated before, I don't use a scraper to remove material from strips down to the proper dimensions...  but I'd like to know more about how to set up a bodied scraper for its most efficient use.  Do you think you might offer a few pointers about angles, sharpening, etc.?   (Harry Boyd)

            I am all ears, would like to hear about the proper way to use the 212. I would rather use it than have it sitting on the shelf.  (Tony Spezio)


I just finished blank number one, a 7' 6" Martha Marie. While not perfect, I am quite pleased with the lack (mostly) of glue lines for a first effort. Stunned actually.

Here are the measurements: Goals and Actual on all three sides:

Station              Goal                      Actual

    1                    .070        .076        .074        .075
    2                    .095        .097        .094        .095
    3                    .118        .124        .123        .123
    4                    .135        .136        .135        .134
    5                    .147        .147        .148        .148
    6                    .163        .163        .166        .165
    7                    .180        .183        .182        .182
    8                    .197        .197        .199        .199
    9                    .211        .211        .211        .211
   10                   .232        .231        .234        .235
   11                   .240        .240        .244        .236
   12                   .248        .247        .248        .244
   13                   .262        .261        .261        .264
   14                   .280        .282        .278        .277
   15                   .295        .297        .293        .290
   16                   .300        .302        .301        .296
   17                   .300        .297        .299        .300

Questions. Would this rod be worth finishing out? Would it perform anywhere near what it is supposed to be? I have already proven I cannot grow tomatoes worth a damn. Stations #1 & 3 are way over specs, is it possible to sand them down some to meet specs and still be good? Other stations exhibit a difference from flat to flat of up to 8 thousandths, does this difference render the rod substantially out of sync?

Don't worry about hurting my feelings, I will never complete this rod as the cane is from Pier 1 Imports, $8.00 for a culm and a half. This is just for practice.  (Steve Shelton)

    Pretty darn good, I'd say.  If you wanted to sand a bit off to bring some of the stations even closer, you're only talking about .003" on a side, so unless you are already into the power fibers you aren't likely to hurt anything.  (.003" off each flat = .006" total.)  I'd guess that any of the lower end commercial rods from 50 years ago didn't hit the numbers any better than that, and maybe not the high end ones either.  (Neil Savage)

      Actually, even if you WERE already into the power fibers, sanding to bring all flats into conformity with the target dimensions would cause no harm. If the rod is oversized by some small amount, it will be just that much "faster" and heavier than designed.  So, while sanding into power fibers is generally a big no-no, doing so on a finished rod that is only barely oversized in a couple areas will only make the rod cast as intended.  Not to worry -- the next ones you build will be closer.  (Bill Harms)

    Good job, especially for your first rod. we have all had rods that came out not at the specs we wanted.  (Patrick Coffey)

    Of course finish it!

    I wouldn't even worry about the stations that are over. The fist one I am assuming is the very tip? It's going to be under the tip top, and the tubes on tip tops are usually about an inch long, so that one won't affect anything. The third one is close enough and since the stations on either side are right on even if you sand down the third station to specs you won't notice any difference.  (Darryl Hayashida)

    I finished a 7’ - 6”, 6 wt. Martha Marie a month or two ago (I used Chris Obuchowski’s submission to Hex Rod). I was "over" on several stations.  I'll have to dig up my "after" measurements, but I think you were a lot closer than I ended up being on the taper measurements.  Did you make the 5 wt. or 6 wt. version of this rod?

    Despite being "over" in areas, the rod is very pleasing to cast (OK, better than pleasing - a certified casting instructor friend at a fly show double hauled the entire 109' of WF line out off the rod – the “ping” of the leader’s nail knot against the sign above the concession stand was pretty darn neat!). 

    Chris and I cast his 6 wt. Martha Marie (VERY close to the measurements on Hex rod) alongside of my “over” MM on the Deschutes last month and they cast very similarly.  As a marginal caster, I couldn’t tell much if any difference.  So sometimes you just get lucky with your mistakes. 

    You are going to love this rod.  I have a double taper on it right now, but I’m going to replace that with a weight forward so the close in casting will be slightly easier.  The Martha Marie (MM) is a rocket for casting into the wind and/or casting larger flies such as bass flies (Paul and Martha Young used this rod for bass fishing from what I understand).  The rod handles larger fish very well, but also protects the tippet well enough.  I’d be confident that I could turn a summer Steelhead on this rod if push came to shove.  In the late summer,  while fishing the Deschutes for trout, it’s not uncommon to attach your fly into the mouth of a “screaming to the ocean” summer Steelhead!  (Scott Turner)

    I think your numbers are what they are, just numbers.  Go and finish that rod and go and fish it.  It may be a little off, but you will never know unless you go and fish it.  Go get some cheap components, finish it and at the very least go and cast it. I think that too often we get hung up by the numbers. A trout on the other end will never know if your tip is off by a few thousandths.

    I remember seeing a rod once that was made by a pretty famous rodmaker and it was one of his earlier efforts.  It was not the prettiest thing, it was made from Calcutta cane, but it still is one of the nicest rods I have ever cast.  Beauty is in the eye of the caster.

    You did it.  Celebrate and use the rod, learn from it, your next rod will be much different.    (Mark Babiy)

    A lot better than my first rod which was supposed to be a three weight and turned out a 4 wt. and I am still catching fish on it! Made rod number 2 using the same taper and it came out a lot better, a nice three weight.  I have been using Tony’s idea of scraping the final few thousands with a razor blade and so far haven’t come up with a better solution. Keeps the measurements closer for me.  (Gary Jones)

    Go for it. You probably will be very happy and proud of the rod. Although I am far from an expert the numbers look close enough that I think you should finish the rod and fish it. My first rod turned out to be a buggy whip which was unfishable but the experience building it was priceless and led to many years of a fine hobby.  (Jack Follweiler)

    To answer the question others seem to have skipped, you can sand down the station that are oversized to get to the final dimensions.  You can probably take off as much as 10 thousandths without compromising the strength of the rod much.  A lot of makers take off more than that at the nodes.  However, I would never recommend that anyone ever use cane they wouldn't finish out and fish.  When Tonkin cane costs ~ $15 per culm, it simply isn't worth the time to  practice on cane you would not use.

    When I started out, about 7 years ago, I bought a bundle of 10 culms from Andy Royer.  I picked out the worst one and decided to use that one for practice.  First I practiced flaming and splitting, and to my surprise I got quite a few useable strips.  Then I practiced straightening nodes, rough planing, and heat treating. Then I made my final forms and practiced final planing, gluing up, straightening.  I was somewhat surprised that each step worked out more or less OK and I wound up with a 7' 2/2 4 wt that far exceeded my expectations for a first rod.  I finished that rod out, and now I practice fishing with it a couple of times each year.  I expect that the rod will outlast me.

    You might want to reconsider finishing the rod.  Before I ever got involved in bamboo rodmaking, I bought a 6' piece of bamboo at a local hardware store for something like $3.   It was only about 1.5" in diameter and has pretty short internodes. I still have a chunk of it around, and I pretty sure it's Tonkin cane and it has very dense power fibers.   I'm sure it would have made a good rod.  (Robert Kope)

      My first rod (a 5'6" spinning rod), was from a Tiki Yard Torch. It was short, so I thought all I could make was a spinning rod. I was using George Leonard Herter's book. The shortest fly rod taper in the that book was 7 feet. It said to take a fly rod taper and cut off each end to make a spinning rod. What a mess, but I caught fish with it and it didn't break.  (David Dziadosz)

    A hearty thank you to all of you responding to my request for information. All responses were very uplifting to someone who so far has learned the beginning of this process from reading books, reading this board, and reading Clark's site.

    Everyone says don't worry about the cane, finish it and fish it. Well, the cane is really a problem, but it was intentional. Somewhere  I  read  that  you  can  buy  cheap  cane  from  a non-rodmaking source and use it to practice. That is what I did. Pier 1 Imports is a home  furnishings store selling imported items, most from China and the Middle East. They had cane, three 6' pieces about 2" in diameter. However, power fibers and pith rarely measured more than .200". All for $8.00.

    I knew that there would be a really steep learning curve, and that #2 would (should) be measurably better than #1. Therefore, #1 will become some really sexy fly tying bodkins, or maybe even some ferrule plugs. No matter what, I have no regrets for doing it this way.  (Steve Shelton)


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