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Splitting - Hand Splitting

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I think that splitting by hand with a knife or froe is the best method to produce the most quality strips. When I first split my strips, I look the culm over and split it into four pieces. This hand splitting with a knife allows me to make the splits in the place where I want them to be, based on the imperfections in the culm. If I were to use a multiple splitting device, the splitter would determine where the splits would take place. This may seem trivial to some, but I'd ask them, what do you do with 23 perfect strips and four or five bad ones? If you plan your splitting properly, you'll probably end up with enough strips to make two (24), two tip rods. It may look neat to watch Glenn Brackett use a splitter the way he does, but I can assure you of this, Glenn throws out more bamboo each year then the majority of us use. Time is important to a professional builder but not so important to the majority of us part timers. On the other hand, if you build nodeless or you use strips from different culms to produce your rods, a splitter may work very well for you.    As for a check split, I'll say this. I have several older culms of bamboo sitting up in my rafters. These culms had a check split put into them some years back and they now are in what I consider to be terrible condition, Some of the culms have developed five of six new splits, not my idea of the proper way to store bamboo. What I'd suggest, is to split all of your culms, shortly after getting them, into 3rd's or 4th's or whatever. You're going to have to do this anyway, as you proceed with building and it will stop the unwanted splits from taking place.  (Jim Bureau)

    I split my bales up pretty soon after getting them. I do not try to split around too much, but I do try my best to get the splits as close to leaf nodes and questionable dark spots as much as possible. There are major benefits to starting out with 8 or 10 nice equal strips before cutting down to smaller sections. If building a quad, I save two for each butt section giving me four butts. I split the tips end of the culm into 8 with the Hida and then into 3s giving me 24 strips, enough for 6 tip sections. With the splits I throw out (a lot), I get 2 rods out of a culm pretty easily. Then I have left overs for one tippers and demo "Frankenstein" things.  The splitter is safer than check splitting and going the whole way by hand. When in 8s, I can take the nodal dams off very easy on my disc sander. No gouging or chisels needed. Also, as radical as it seems, I flame the sections after they are in 8s. I have a Craftsmen MAPP gas torch tip/hose that I use with propane and the width of the flame is exactly the width of my splits. It is so much easier to run the torch straight down the length of the strips than to try to rotate it over a curved section. I use saw horses to support the strips and can shift them to get the whole strip.  The splitter is easier than trying to divide the culm in half or quarters by eye. The initial splits are all square to the culm. I can cut to length after I stagger my nodes. I never feel bad to throw out a culm or section. I see no advantage to wasting time splitting around stuff when bamboo is so cheap. Just like in fly tying, I found that the best lesson I learned was to throw out bad feathers instead of struggling to make them work. Even in small quantities, I figure that of the 4 bales I have in the shop, 20-30% of the cane is just bad. I can live with that.  (Bob Maulucci)


This fabulous system of splitting should be attributed to Mr. Sean Moran. He explained it to me last year by telephone and I then posted the information on the list. It is one of the best tips I've ever received on this list and am thankful to Sean for sharing it. Here's a summary of his technique as posted:

Forget the knife in the vise. In fact, you only need the knife to start the split. The splitting is done with your bare hands (actually, wear gloves)


  1. Split the culm in half and then quarters as you usually do.
  2. Knock out the damns.
  3. Mount a strip into your workbench's woodworking vise with about a foot sticking out the end. If you don't have a woodworking vise, you'll need to rig something up, perhaps with a small bench vise. You want to have a way to hold the strip, enamel side up, in place so that both your hands are free.
  4. Using a knife, start a split exactly in the center and perfectly perpendicular to the strip.
  5. Once the strip is a few inches down the strip (in fact, I needed to get the split past the first node), put aside the knife and continue the split by pulling the two sides of the culm away from each other using your hands.
  6. Now here's the really neat part: if you pull apart with equal force using both hands, the split will likely travel down the middle. If it does begin to wander: hold the smaller strip facing straight out (parallel to the jaws of the vise) and bend only the fatter part away from the split. The split will immediately travel back down the middle.
  7. Split halves into halves, etc. For tip strips, I had no problem getting down to .20 ". In fact, you could easily go smaller if you want. The problem will not be the splitting, it will be having enough left of the strips to work with!


Halve your culm pretty much as usual, and knock out the internodal dams.  If you are in  the habit of filing the nodes at this point, go ahead.  Personally, I find it easier and tidier to do that when the strips are down to 1/2" or so, as I seem to cause less collateral damage to the cane on either side of the node that way.

Mount the half culm in a wood vice with the curved, convex, enameled side facing upward. Mount it in such a way that there are only about 6-10" protruding from the vice toward you. Do not over tighten the vice - you want it just firm enough to stop slippage of the culm toward you, and to prevent rotation in the vice while you are working on the job. Do not over tighten to the point where you crack or even stress the culm.

Take your preferred weapon (you may very well call it a "froe" but I call it a bloody old broken butcher's knife which I have ground down to a sort of very flat double edged chisel sort of thingy) and a mallet.

Very carefully measure the midpoint (or the 1/3 point or whatever you choose, but I think it's easier to halve it; but I did both, and both worked well) and start the split, making certain that it's vertical, by tapping the splitting tool along about 6" or so. At this point, at the risk of overstating the obvious, your split will be stopped about 2" to 6" short of where the culm is secured in the vice.

Put down the splitting thingy, and don your leather gloves, which will prevent slippage, cuttage, and bleedage, and swearage!

Grasp one piece of the cane in each hand, and gently but firmly pull them apart from one another. Keep it all level, and try to keep an equal pull on either hand. When the split gets down there to the vice, loosen the vice and pull the culm out another foot or so, retighten, and repeat the split by pulling the bits apart again. Don't rush.

And so on and so on, "walking" the split down to the vice each time until you are at the end of the piece, at which time you have 2 pieces, and you can start again, this time with much greater confidence.

Now the point that was made by Richard and Bob in their descriptions is that there is a little bit of magic in this business, and it's this - WHEN ( NOT "IF", YOU'LL NOTICE ) THE SPLIT STARTS TO WANDER TO ONE SIDE, you can mostly correct it, and the way you do it is this : hold the side toward which the split is "walking" ( which will, of course,   be the narrower of  the 2 strips at this stage) firmly with your gloved hand, and apply firm pulling pressure on it ALONG ITS LONG AXIS. That is, you don't pull it away to the side as you would in normal splitting. You just hold it, I guess, in its natural position, AND YOU PULL ONLY THE THICKER PIECE TO THE SIDE TO CONTINUE THE SPLIT. You will find that the split walks back to the middle, at which stage you go back to bilateral pulling and thus continue splitting.

I found that somewhere along the route I lost one strip which seemed to taper out to nothing; and I had a couple of thinnish ones, but usable. I think that the unavoidable loss was that the original check split, as well as the halving split, may not have followed the natural planes of cleavage of the cane as well as the subsequent hand splits.

I think that covers most things that were in the originals. Bob, I think doesn't use the vice, but straddles the culm like a hobby horse while splitting; and one of them was adamant that he only ever halved the pieces, never thirds. I found the vice to be a nice stabilizing point, and didn't have any difficulty in "thirding", but of course there is no guarantee that the next one I do will be as easy as this one was. I think that, with a little foresight you could split around leaf nodes,  wormholes and other abominations in the cane, but have not as yet had to try to do that.

I don't know if you can make sense out of that. Sorry to the members of the list for the length of the note, but there seems to have been some interest,  and for some reason  (my fault,  I guess), the attachments don't seem to be getting through.

Go for it. (Peter McKean)


Speaking of splitting, the original description of the vise-and-hands method says you must always split in halves, never in thirds.  This seems reasonable since you are trying to keep the split in the middle by pulling the thick side.  Anyway I tried splitting some 3/4 inch strips into thirds, by pulling mainly on the thick side to keep the split from running out.  It worked fine and I got twelve 1/4 inch strips from four 3/4 inch strips.  You don't have to  just split in halves.

I'm not sure of Sean Moran invented this method or if it has a different pedigree but whomever it was should get the Nobel Prize for rodmaking.  (Frank Stetzer, Hexrod, Taper Archive, Rodmakers Archive)

    I have been splitting thirds since culm #2. After talking to Sean, he mentioned “bend the fat side.” It works like a charm. A hint, put the split end of "fat" side against a post or work bench and put some body weight against the fat side of the culm. The split will stay in line and not travel off to the narrow side. I agree, you do get a number of extra strips that way.   (Tony Spezio)


After trying a few methods of splitting cane I finally got around to Bob Nunley's method of splitting by hand. The only change I made was to place the cane just behind the node in a vise instead of holding between my legs (knowing that Bob was accident prone I wasn't going to chance any pinching)......:-)). I would then split to the node, break thru and move the strip up in the vise to the next node until I had split all the way

My first effort of splitting a tip section of culm I was able to get 24 strips. I'm confident that I can now get 2 rods worth of cane out of a culm. If I'm going to make a blonde rod with minimal imperfections there will be some sorting involved to weed out strips with water marks etc.  (Jim Tefft)

    I have been doing exactly the same after getting the tip from Peter McKean. Works very well and you get a lot of control.  (Callum Ross)


Some years ago I wrote an account of the method I use for hand splitting culms, which I read about in various places on the list.

To me it is still the simplest and most effective method I have ever used, though I am sure that this is a field of endeavor where "horses for courses" and "strokes for folks" applies.

The account was on the tips page, and though I have not checked, probably still is.  I am not going to rewrite it, as, in Tony's words, it takes longer to type it than it does to do it!

In support of the method, I will just say that I can prepare a culm in minimal time, and these days I am very, very annoyed indeed if I have more than one strip wasted from the culm due to runout.  I will also say that I can get strips for two matched sets of tips out of the tip section of  the culm, with a spare or two, without too much trouble.

There is some skill to be acquired if this is to be a viable technique, but this whole business is a matter of acquiring skills, after all!  (Peter McKean)

    Do take a look for the method it is the best and easiest that I have tried including sawing IMHO.  (Tony Young)

      One of those "skills" I learned was to go ahead and split for an extra section.  If I don't use it, I've got it for another rod.  If I do have problems, say in final planing, I've got the "spare pair" to replace my screw up.  (Terry Kirkpatrick)

    I'm with Peter.  I have kicked around sawing but it is just another piece of equipment I have to drag out and setup.  By the time I would be finished, I'd be in the hole as far as time goes.

    I can get a two tip and another one tip rod out of a good culm by splitting.  The only time I run out strips is when I try to split off the edge of a large strip.  Splitting anyway other than 3rds or 1/2’s will result in constant run outs.  (Lee Orr)

      Different strokes for different folks.  Only takes me a couple of minutes to set up the bandsaw to cut strips.  I get through a culm sawing as quickly as I get through splitting, and I save a lot of time not straightening nodes and such as I used to.  With the router based rough beveler, I can saw, press nodes, rough bevel, and have my strips in the heat treating oven in much less than a couple of hours.  (Mark Wendt)

        It is more of a space issue for me. I am very limited and have to set up and take down my band saw every time I use it.  I can see where it would work well, but I also don't seem to have the problems with splitting that other folks have.  I'll try it one day, but for now the old pocket knife fits in a drawer better than my saw.  (Lee Orr)

          I can understand that.  My shop is too cramped to even think about adding another floor based tool.  My bandsaw was in the shop before I started making rods, so I built the shop around it.  My setup time consists of clamping the resaw fence to the saw fence, and adjusting the distance between the resaw fence and the blade.  Turn on the dust collector and the saw, and away I go.  (Mark Wendt)

    Does anybody use a pie splitter?  I use a 6 section splitter to get 12 -18 strips depending in the diameter of the culm.    (David Gerich)

      I have two of them, only used them once.  (Tony Spezio)


I'm a neophyte at rod making and recently I cut (or possibly butchered) my first culm to make two tip sections for a rod that has a usable butt. The culm I used is sorta thin and I got maybe 16 good strips out of it (well, just maybe...). I cut 18 but two looked too thin at one end. Not all were uniform and I'm not quite sure how necessary that is, but common sense tells me that more uniform is probably a good thing. I noticed that some strips seemed fairly square while others tapered to sort of a V on the bottom pith side and I'm questioning if that is normal, or if I may need to watch my cutting angle. I used the nail in the block technique to cut the smaller strips. (Keith Clinton)

    Check out the video on splitting found here.  I break the cane apart by hand as described in the video and it's greatly improved my ability to reduce wasted strips & steer the split.  It's a great technique and has really reduced the number of over or under split strips.  (Jon Babulic)


How to split by hand:

Saw a bunch of posts about splitting and thought it was worthwhile to revisit this technique.

Split out one inch strips with the froe or a stubby screwdriver. Knock off nodal dams with the froe. Pretend it is a machete and just chop.

Most of the time, you can split into half inch strips without a problem, still using the tool.

Once you get to half inchers, plane the inside to remove excess material at the nodal dams.  The final split goes better if you do this.

Start a split with a knife or chisel by putting the strip on a table and splitting straight down. I use a knife and a hammer. Put the 1/2 inch wide strip in a vise, enamel side up, with the first node on your side of the vise, about a half-inch out from the jaws. At this point only about 8 to 14 inches of the strip are between you and the vise.

Bend each split out by hand  (at the  same time with even pressure) evenly as if you were using a dowsing stick. It should split evenly. If it starts to wander, bend the fat side. Hard.

The split should pop through the node. Advance the strip to just beyond the next node and repeat. I hardly ever lose a strip this way.

You should get nice 1/4 inch strips that are very consistent. And it is fast.

I learned about this from Bob Nunley during one of the few times he was actually out of the emergency room.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


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