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I have just completed my forms (HURRAY!) after my second attempt.  I didn't get the holes perpendicular in my first attempt, and after a futile attempt to file them to make the surface parallel to the holes (waste of time) I gave up and just started over.  Considering that the steel is so cheap, and that I was going to be filing for a long time, it was the right decision to make.  I was much more careful the second time around in drilling the holes.

One thing I'll mention because it might be helpful to you is that I didn't follow Tom's plans to the letter.  The main thing I did differently was to draw file the top and bottom of the forms before I drilled the holes.  I guess I was concerned about those surfaces not being perfectly flat, possibly causing the holes to be skewed.  I'm not sure if this made a difference on not.  And of course you run the risk of screwing up the holes and having wasted all that time filing.  I think that's why Tom steps are in the order they are.

You should probably check the surface of the forms with a straight edge before you scrap them.  The true test to see if the holes aren't parallel is if the two sides don't stay flat as the forms are separated (i.e., one side rides up higher than the other.)  If this is the case, and the amount of the skewing is unacceptable, then I doubt that reaming the holes is going to fix things.  But if you don't see a lot of skew as the forms separate you might be OK.

I'm only speaking from my experience here and certainly am no expert on the subject.  Maybe some of the other list members can add to what I've said.  But I can say I've been there, done that, and hang in there.  Making steel forms by hand seems to be the most labor intensive and tedious part of rodmaking.  Hope this helps.  (Keith Brewster)


Finally, I am almost complete on my final forms.  If you recall, I made them from 1" X 1" 1026 bar.  Also, you may recall that I was having a heck of a time filing them flat.  My plan was to take them to a local machine shop here in Houston and have them surface ground on a long bed.  They told me to get them bolted up and then bring them over.  Problem was, I needed to get the "inside" faces flush in order to bolt them.  This machine shop is about 100 miles from my house, so I didn't want to drive over there repeatedly. So on Harry's advice, I bought a vixen file.  After at least 15 hours of filing, I made next to zero progress.  No doubt, I was disappointed and nearly ready to throw in the towel.  One of the things I noticed was that every two strokes or so with the file, I'd have to whack the file to get rid of the fine rust dust that was coming off the bars.  These were the bars that sat outside for a couple years....

On a whim, I got the bright idea to take my belt sander and just knock off all the rust, down to bare metal everywhere.  I did not have the intention of trying to flatten the bars, just get rid of the rust that was acting like graphite lube.  What a difference!!  Now the file started to bite in and make those little curly shavings that Harry had promised.  Within an hour or two, I had the bars flat.  Since then, I have drilled, tapped, pinned, and bolted the bars together, and I have sanded and flat filed the tops and bottoms of them.  So right now, I am in the process of filing the grooves with a triangular file as described on Penrose's site.  Only a year later, and I have my forms!  I did lay a 9-1/2 on there and the wider bars make a great flat base for a newbie to start planing on.  Thanks for everyone's advice!  (Troy Miller)


At the risk of asking a stupid question (where's my sign?), how flat is flat enough when filing the surfaces of my planing forms.  He I am, all set to start groovin' and I decide to draw lines across the forms as I make a couple of last passes with the mill fill.  What do I notice but that I have a cant to both edges, or in other words, I am high centered.  I kept flipping my forms over as I worked them with my vixen file, and I was just pleased as punch to see the long curls of metal coming off.  It didn't occur to me that I was filing the edge more than the middle.  Since I was flipping the forms, I managed to bevel both edges.  It is not much, maybe .01" to .015" (OK, to you’s guys, that's a lot, but I'm still a rookie).

So, anyway, after spending more hours flat filing than I care to think about, do I need to go back and try and do better?  Will that mess up my planing.  Knowing that precision is the key to great rods, I think I already know the answer.  Maybe a better question would be, how did you guys manage to get your forms so flat?  (Jason Swan)

    I'll try to handle this question. I've had real problems making forms and have spent a lot of time over the forms with a file, but I'm not going to tell you that I know what the heck I'm doing.  The tedious nature of making forms has given me a chance to think about what I was doing but some of you brighter fellows might want to set me straight and tell both Jason and me the truth.  Anyway here is my take on the matter.

    I'm not sure that I would say precision is the right word but your results are the same as what most of us get.  Considering everything you do to make a form is by hand and the only measurements you make to judge your progress is done by "eyeballing" your work, you can't be precise from one side to the other on the form or even from station to station.  In my opinion you want to strive for consistency rather than precision.  Knowing you have the same error all the time you can remove the error later as you plane and measure your strips.  But if the error isn't consistent, you don't  know whether or how to remove it.

    Being high in the center could cause an inconsistency.   As you file your groove, your triangular file will want to cant to one side or the other.  If it always cants to one side, the groove will be slightly off perpendicular to the surface of the form.  If, as you file the groove, you are somewhat random in how it cants, then the groove will be slightly greater than 60 degrees.  We're talking still in the .001's and if you flip your strips as you plane, some of that will disappear and it may never be noticeable.

    You could also have created an inconsistency later when you set your depth on the form as the indicator will want to cant to one side or the other.  Again, if it is always one way it is a consistent error and you can work it out of your strips.

    I'd recommend draw filing it with a smooth mill file, not to increase the precision but to put a really good surface on the forms.  Draw filing, where the file is held perpendicular to the surface and then pulled to you, is used to put a smooth surface on a piece of metal.  I've noticed on my forms that the surface feels a lot slicker after draw filing.  The vixen file seems to leave a little courser surface.  Now keep in mind, this is only up one step in precision measurement.  No longer is it eyeballing but now I am making a "precision" measurement with the end of my index finger.  It just feels slicker but it also seems as though the plane slides over it easier and the edge of the plane blade catches the form a little less.

    I think you can use your forms as is, as long as you are aware of the problem and can work any possible errors out later in the process of planing rods.  If you continue work on the forms by draw filing, don't try to force the file to cut down the middle or to one side or the other.  You can't control the file's cutting to .001 of an inch.  Instead continue to mark the form with a line at each station and you are done with the filing once each pass of the file "scratches off " the same amount from all parts of the line.

    Again, that is my opinion, someone with more knowledge might have a different answer.  (Tim Wilhelm)

    What I would do is get a piece of flat wood to mount the vixen file on.  On one side attach a narrow strip of wood to make a 90 degree side. Make this strip as wide as needed to clear the screw heads. If you used flush screws the strip can be as wide as the form. Screw the two sides of the form together as far as they will close. Use the 90 degree side as a guide to keep the vixen file flush with the top. It should clean up real fast.  (Tony Spezio)

    Flatten the top. You MUST flatten the top. A high spot anywhere is a nightmare. Take a new file,  a good sharp one, and go after it, but flatten it out before you file your groove. WAY too many problems with a form that's not flat. Making a really good cane rod, without glue lines and voids, is tough enough, without working with form that aren't true. Stay with it!  (Jerry Andrews)


I started filing my forms tonight.  I filed until I got an even file marking.  Then I put a ruler over it and light was poking through, so then I mic'ed about every 4" and I had these kinds of measurements in sequential order (these are just estimates): .744, .745, .748, .747, .744, .747, .750, etc.?  Should I be filing them all down until each measurement is equal to the lowest --.744? Is there any room for error, will .745 be as good as .744.  I guess I should note that this is the first flat that will be butted up against each other so I can start drilling the holes for tapping.

Also, is there a more efficient way to making sure that you file evenly or is this all just part of the process?  Thanks a lot.  (Kris Fox)

    In my opinion the thickness of your bars really doesn't matter.  What is important is that the side you're working on is all in one plane.  Your measurements could, and probably are, affected by irregularities on the unfiled side of the metal.

    I think we get into trouble making forms when we try to shape the metal by removing a lot of material from any one place.  Just knock down the irregularities and imperfections in the steel and get both sides in the same plane.  Since you are working on the inside faces of your bars, it is less important for them to be in the same plane form one end to the other then it is to be in the same plane from one side to the other.

    Take a black Marks-A-Lot or Sharpie and draw a line across the bars every 5 inches.  You can mark it more frequently if you want but every 5 inches gives you the information you need.  Make a few passes with the file and look at the lines.  You should see that the file is cutting equally on each of the lines and at all points on each line.  Switch up every once in a while by turning the form 180 degrees and filing in the other direction.  If holding your file so it crosses the bars at an angle right to left, make some passes holding it at a left to right angle.  Don't use a lot of pressure cause you run the risk  of leaving the center high though.  Instead try to achieve good even pressure the length of the pass.

    You can also mark your lines and then use a mill file to drawfile the surface.  Drawfiling is done by placing the file 90 degrees to the work with tang of the file to the left hand side and then pulling (drawing) the file towards you.  (Clean the file frequently)  Again you are looking at the lines to make sure that an even amount of material is being removed from each one.  After a few passes, low spots are indicated wherever the lines remain dark.

    BTW, drawfiling puts a real nice surface finish on the forms.  It isn't as aggressive as using the vixen or curved tooth file so it takes awhile to remove any amount of material, but it leaves a real smooth, slick finish.  A good finish is less important on the surfaces you're working now, but I think it makes the plane slide over the form with less effort when you do it to the "working" surfaces of the form.  (Tim Wilhelm)


Instead of drawfiling the top and bottom surfaces of the steel forms as described in the Penrose instructions using a file is it really a dangerous mortal sin to use hand held sanders to do the job? 

Has anybody ever tried doing this?  I have been putzing around with a belt and random orbital sanders and fine sandpapers and it seems to be going well.

Also, am I correct in assuming I can make 50 inch forms if I don't plan to make rods over eight feet? Thanks for your input.  (Richard Steinbach)

    Drawfiling is far more accurate than a power sander. Don't be in such a hurry. If you're going to make bamboo rods, you'll need lots of patience.

    An 8-foot rod will require a planing form of at least 56" -- that's roughly 48" for the half-section, plus 6 inches or so for staggering the nodes, plus an inch or two for trim on each end. It takes very little extra effort to make a slightly longer form.  (Ron Grantham)

    "It takes very little extra effort to make a slightly longer form." Of course "little effort" is in relation to how much effort it takes to do the rest of the form. Which is not very little indeed.  :)   (Jim Lowe)

    Using a belt sander would be my last choice because, to me anyway, it is very easy to round over the edges/ends of the forms.  Drawfiling although slow is a much better choice.

    To me, a 14" Vixen file, some times called a "Body File", is better than all. The pattern on the file is )))))))) It cuts much faster than a regular file and because of it's length it works like a jack plane and keeps thing flat. If you use a Vixen file you will notice it has the same cutting pattern on both sides and is very sharp. Mount it on a 1"x2"x16" with knobs/handles and plane away. Watch your fingers, it likes flesh as well as cold roll.

    If you are going to take the time to build your own forms I personally wouldn't make a form less than 60". If you make 8' 3 piece rods you will soon know the wisdom in this statement. I also like forms made from 1" stock. To me it is a much more stable platform to work from and less chance of planning over the sides.

    Todd's Tip Site (here) has information on setting up the forms to cut the groove.  (Don Schneider)

    My plan is to use this form as a learning experience. If it turns out all right I will use it for small rods and get more metal to make a big one. I plan to do one inch rather than 3/4".

    I wonder how brass would work out as opposed to steel? Anyone have any thoughts on that issue?

    Don Schneider suggested getting a Vixen file and rigging it like a Jack Plane and that sounds like a great idea which I intend to follow up on.  (Richard Steinbach)

      I made my second set of forms out of 3/4" brass stock-6 footers.  The brass is a lot easier to machine and file and over-all works a lot nicer than steel.  It also catches a pane blade much easier in the process of working your strips.  I would recommend using a plane with a grooved sole or fashion one with tape on the sides to avoid the nicks.  Brass is also about two and half times the cost of steel unless I got really taken. They look nice, they will never rust, and they hold a setting just as well as my steel forms.  But somehow I go to my steel forms first...

      Don is also right about the belt sander technique.  It will crown the surface of your forms and you then run the risk of your groove not running square to the top of the forms.  You will then need to use a Vixen file to make the appropriate repairs.  I offer this advice only out of my own previous experience/aggravation/waste of time/cursing-the list goes on.

      Just keep plugging away - they will get done and yes, you must have the patience of a saint from all of your prior experience.   (Brian Smith)


I've finally received the key stock I ordered last month and I've begun the filing down of the plane forms.  As per Penrose’s web site info, I clamped the two bars together on a flat surface and began filing the tops of the bars. I later switched over to Wayne’s instructions and began using an India stone on both pieces, still clamped together. Well I ended up with a high spot where the two bars meet. I've separated the two bars so that they are about 2 inches apart and have begun lapping with the stone again.

Is there anything else I should be aware of, before I turn these bars into shims? It seems as if there are soft spots on the metal. Is this possible?  (Ren Monllor)

    If money is not a problem take them to a machine shop and have the surface ground, but first drill and tap your stations.  Send them with the bolts tightened and you'll have a perfect flat surface.  Trust me, it’s well worth it.  Hand filing takes too long. I did it that way and my forms turned out great!  (Bill Tagye)

    How high is the high spot? I would imagine everyone who has made forms has had high/low spots to a greater or lesser degree. I certainly had high spots when filing the internal faces of my bars. When they were pinned and bolted I again had high spots on one side and corresponding troughs on the other. If it is not too extreme, elbow grease will flatten them out. If they are too extreme and you really can't make headway, I would suggest getting the bars skimmed in a reputable machine shop (internal faces and then again after pinning and bolting). Finally give them a light filing yourself before starting the grooves.  (Stephen Dugmore)

      Just a word from my experiences....  It really takes a world of nicks, shavings, and other damage to planing forms to render them in need of a touchup.  Tuning one's forms is one of those jobs that we may think we need to perform more often than we really DO need to.  With my first set of steel forms (self-made) I felt like I needed to "touch 'em up" after every three or four rods.   I probably "touched 'em up" 5-6 times before I realized that what I was really doing was harming my forms far more than helping them.  Eventually I managed to wallow out the carefully drilled and reamed holes for the dowel pins.  That allowed my forms a little play.  Even that little bit of play was enough to cant the bars and foul up my angles.

      I now encourage students in my classes to keep making rods on the forms until they start having problems.  Then and only then should the forms be "touched up."  In other words, once you get those forms "right" don't take a chance on messing them up by seeking to make them simply look better.  (Harry Boyd)

      My forms are 5 years old and have never been "touched up." After 40 rods they're dinged badly but still work great.

      I've often thought that at some point I'll ask my friend, a master machinist with lots of high-end CNC machines at his disposal, to flatten the forms and regrind the angles. Has anyone ever tried this? It seems to me that this would be better than hand filing.  (Tom Bowden)

        Much better, but probably quite unnecessary!  (Peter McKean)

        From what I've read, the most screwed up forms come from professional machinists.  IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT!  (Neil Savage)

    As far as the forms go, there are no machine shops around that could grind them smooth because of the length of the forms, so it's something I'll have to do by hand.

    At present I'm removing quite a bit of metal because I've a low spot the entire length of the bar where the two bars meet, about 3/8" wide. It's about .004"-.008" low at the center, so it's just going to be slow going for now. I reclamped as per Penrose’s method and found the discrepancies from real high to real low all but disappear. I’m now using a diamond honing stone (coarse grit) and seems like it's cutting a little truer than with the India stone. Steve, before I reclamped the bars the low to high spots were what seemed to me like almost 1/16" in difference, now that the pieces are reclamped they're back to a few .001's difference so I'm going to continue lapping, then drill and tap before ever removing the clamps again. My biggest surprise really is how far out of square these puppies were. I just hope that the canted sides don't ruin the drilling. We'll see.  (Ren Monllor)

      It just occurred to me that when making forms it is a good idea to give each side of the bars a light filing to take off any dinged corners, burrs etc. before you clamp for the first time. I can't recall if Thomas Penrose's instructions included this. If you didn't do this, it could be that you had a burr or two pushing them out of square.

      Am I correct in understanding that you have finished the internal faces and are reclamping the bars in their final position? If so I would drill, ream, pin and tap before continuing the lapping. There is a chance that the bars might shift ever so slightly in the drilling process, especially as you may find you have to shift clamps around to get the bars in the press. You will almost certainly have to lap the face again after assembly (as well as the face under the clamps) so rather do it then.

      With regard to the drilling and tapping, carefully check your drill press table for squareness to your bars by drilling test holes in offcuts of your bars and measuring the distance from the hole to each face of the bars on both sides of the bar. If that is correct you should be fine. If you don't have offcuts I guess you could drill small test holes through the forms themselves in a place where you won't be pinning and tapping. I did my bars on a Shopsmith so could adjust the angle of the table. I am not sure how you do so with other presses if you find the setup is out of square. Possibly shims under a drill press vice?  (Stephen Dugmore)

      Bar stock has never been a precision material. The actual tolerances are quite large.  The domestic mills have always done a pretty fair job, to the extent that we think of it as being square, straight, and parallel. Unfortunately, due to changes in the market over the last few years, there is a lot of imported bar stock around. Some of it pushes the tolerances pretty hard. My metal books are packed away from my last office move, or I'd toss out the specs.  (Larry Blan)

      The forms are the real issue.  CRS bar stock is not square, it's larger in one dimension by a couple of thousandths and frequently twisted.  Penrose's instructions are the ones to follow, but when you clamp the bars together for the first time, make sure that you have the same face from the original 12' bar on the inside so you are starting out with bars that are identical height.  If you examine the end where the bar was cut in half, you can see which face was on the bottom of the bar when the saw finished the cut.

      Go out and buy a new Nicholson mill bastard file before you start.  this is important.  A new sharp file will cut much faster than an India stone or a diamond stone.  Steel filings will come off of the bars like fine steel wool.  Clamp the bars together, draw file one face, reclamp the bars together with the flat surfaces against each other, and then drill the holes for the dowels, and the screws before you start to file on the top and bottom of the forms.  I insert the dowels in the holes as I go to keep the bars aligned.  Once the screws are in the bars you can use the pull screws to hold the forms tightly together with the dowels in place to keep them aligned as you draw file the top and bottom flat.

      I've made a couple of pairs of forms like this and it only takes about 3 hr for all of the draw filing.  The time consuming parts are drilling and tapping the holes and cutting the grooves.  (Robert Kope)


I'm new to rod building and am trying to craft a set of steel planing forms.  I've only just begun (using Penrose's tutorial) and am now draw filing the interior faces.  My question is this - in order to file the forms and prevent them from sliding on the table - I have them clamped down to the table with F-Clamps.  Since the clamp is in the way - I am filing one section of the forms at a time.  If I continue doing this, I'm guessing that the thickness of the bars is not going to consistent because certain sections may get filed more than others.  Is this something that is going to cause a problem down the road?  I imagine I will have the same issue after I drill the holes and begin filing the top and bottom planing surfaces.

Also, just to show how new to this whole process I am, what is the proper way to draw file? I have been holding the file flat to the surface (perpendicular to the forms) and pulling it towards me.  Is this right or should I be pushing it away from me?   (Tim Aaron)

    Use a length of the Anti Slip pad like they use in motor homes between the bench top and the steel.

    You can find it in about any dept store or grocery stores along with Walmart and Dollar stores.  (Tony Spezio)

    I would hold the file with the handle part (tail) pointing away from you, hold the file at a 45 deg. angle to the forms and pull length wise along the form bars. Or stand at one end and pull toward you. And I wouldn't worry at all about the size of the bars being equal or perfect, just get them smooth. Most of the time when you adjust your forms these two surfaces don't touch anyway.  (Joe Arguello)

    I used a bunch of small c-clamps - around 8 I think.  I bought them as a matching set and...

    * Placed the twin bars on a flat surface and clamped them every 8" or so I think.

    * I pushed the clamp over so that the "c" rested against the steel bars.  They were about 30 degrees to the bars.

    * I flipped the bars over so that the forms rested on the clamps.  They were "folded over" until they touched the bars, so there was no "give" while resting on them.

    * File away.

    I finally figured to draw the file along the full length of the forms with the file almost perpendicular to the bars.  I started pushing with the file about 20 degrees to the bars so that I had as much of the file on the bars as possible - to keep the file as flat as I could.  That sucked.  Took me several lives to file down the surface.  I went to almost perpendicular towards the end and the bars melted magically under my hands.  of course, by that stage I had filed so much I was bench-pressing rhinoscerii (well, maybe a small exaggeration).

    I used the same idea when I started drilling and tapping the holes for the adjustment screws.

    * Screwed up all the clamps I had along the bars.

    * Set up the drill press bed with an infeed and outfeed at the same height.

    * Placed the bard on the drill-press bed and removed only the necessary clamps to make the bars lie flat.

    You will "need" a drill press.  Big, floor standing one.  (Greg Dawson)

    If you are really brave you can use one of your planes to smooth your form. I know it sounds nuts, but after working three or four days I just got tired of the filing and tried the plane. It really works, I did all three sides with one blade in one day. It really messed up the plane and blade but I smoothed and resharpened them and they are fine now.

    Use short push strokes and work from one end toward the other. Clamp your form to the bench and use two hands holding the plane.  (Bob Norwood)

      What angle of cut works best on plane irons for cutting mild steel?  :-)

      Just kidding, my blades constantly cut metal.  I think Bob is 100% correct here.  (Harry Boyd)

        Or you might try a Vixen File. Cuts metal like a hot knife through butter.  (Ren Monllor)

          Vixen files are use or were used in the Autobody industry for metal finishing. Unfortunatly this is one of those lost arts. Like everything else money became the motivator and Bondo or body filler is faster. So the moral of this story is a vixen file is perfect for this task and works like a charm for fileing nodes.  (Joe Arguello)

            I still have mine from my Aircraft days. used it on smoothing edges of sheet aluminum.

            It now has been used on four sets of forms. I showed a demo on it at the very first  first SRG on my first set of metal forms I made. See the Power Fibers articles Issues 17 and 18.

            I think you can still get them from Snap On Tools but if I remember right, they were pricey.  (Tony Spezio)

            I have a few Vixen files from when I worked in the body shop back in the late 60's early 70's.  I used this extensively for working the metal on cars, when they still had metal in them & for lead work.  They "DO" cut like butter.  (Bret Reiter)

      I thought that is how you knew when you had the strip to the right dimension. I get Ralph's plane irons sharp enough that they shave fine pieces of steel for the last pass again and again. I figure one of these days we will be able to build super, super, super fine tips. But then we will have the problem of finding a tip top. And it still didn't make any difference on getting the correct dimension, but that is another story. (Greg Shockley)

        You can modify a small tip top by grinding two sides off of the tube to create a fork.  Works real good for tips smaller than .050" or when you are trying to reduce weight.  (Scott Grady)

          That is an idea I am going to have to hang on to. I have a rod with the old Fiji guides, from years ago, never really cared for them. But this idea sound a whole lot better.  (Greg Shockley)

      Yes you can plane steel but its best done with an infill plane.  (Gary Nicholson)

    Thanks to everyone for the tips/advice.  I've gotten the inner faces filed now - and I've learned why they call it a bastard file.  I think I may pick up a vixen before I start on the planing surfaces.  Now to the drill press.  Bob - I like the idea of planing the forms but right now I've only got one plane to work with - and I'm a little concerned about messing it up before it ever touches cane.  (Tim Aaron)

      I've not tried it, but I'd bet a belt sander with a fairly fine belt would at least get you close to smooth.  Then just finish with a file.  (Neil Savage)


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