An Extravagant Spring

So who is ready for the excuses? It has been nearly three months since I have posted anything to my blog. My free time and mental well-being were compromised when I was sent to Baltimore for nearly two months courtesy of my employer. Ill skip the gruesome details and move right to the present. I’m home, I have rods to finish, this horrendous weather is finally starting to turn and I’ve kicked my season off in extravagant style. Sunday George and I drove to Coburn PA to attend the Feathered Hooks “Extravaganza”. It was a fun event and has me primed to crank out rods and spend more time fishing this year than ever before. A few things stuck out to me during the day and I thought presenting them in a list format would help accentuate.

The Hook.

The Hook.

Jonas Price, the owner of the Feathered Hook fly shop. I’ve only visited the shop 3-4 times a year over the past 4 years. Jonas still manages to recognize me on sight each time and recall the details of my life. As much as I drink, I don’t have that kind of relationship with bartenders around my home town. Jonas held this event, got speakers to come, and on such a hectic day I witnessed him approach every single person that walked through the door. The passion Jonas exudes for his shop, the river and his friends is something very rare and inspirational. More importantly his shop is stocked with bamboo fly rods, classic reels and a ton of new Simms gear.

Jeff Wagner. So George and I decided to walk over to Jim Downes shop and say hello, when we walked in Jeff Wagner was posted up at Jim’s bench shooting the shit with another guy. “Jim ran to the hardware store, he’ll be back in a half hour but you can hang with us if you want.” UH, hang with Jeff Wagner, living rod making legend, yes please. Jeff got up walked over and introduced himself. I’ve been told by my wife and close friends I can be awkward when initiating conversations. So after introductions I nervously blurted out that I owe Jeff $4 for a tip top guide that he and his wife had generously sent me free of charge the previous week. Luckily there was no awkwardness, Jeff erupted in laughter. He was awesome. He would totally be a good guy to have a few beers with. The other guy Jeff was talking to eventually asked if we had seen the rod Jeff had made him and handed it over. It was the nicest rod I have ever held, one of Jeff Wagners Classic series. I’m not going to shame the rod and its craftsman by attempting to describe its detail and beauty but suggest you check his website for photos of the rod series. Bottom line another down to earth rod maker who has crafted the finest rod I have ever laid eyes on.

Customer Service. I’m one of these internet guys. I make purchases via the internet, I google answers to questions and it has instilled a need for immediate satisfaction. My generation scours the internet for the cheapest prices on items we want and expect perfection with every transaction. Quality has eluded us. It is our own fault; every day I and others my age are willing to sacrifice quality and customer service for immediate satisfaction. Shortly after Jim arrived to his shop Sunday I witnessed something foreign to my internet consumer experiences. An older couple came into Jims shop to check on a rod they had order for the man’s wife. Jim had the blank done and ferruled allowing the customer to wiggle her soon to be rod alongside him in the shop. Jim noticed some discomfort as the woman wiggled the rod, her hands being smaller then Jims typical clientele he suggested that he turn the cork grip down to better fit her hand. He walked the couple over to his lathe and began turning the grip as they watched, stopping periodically for a test fit. Think about that. You’re buying a rare handmade fishing rod, the maker allows you to stroll into his shop, and then stand alongside you to ensure complete satisfaction. You do not see that when you walk into Dicks Sporting Goods or another place I’ve gone to make a purchase of any kind. Maybe to some people this isn’t a mind blowing observation, but it was for me.

Alright enough talking up those guys. I’m ready to embark on what should be an amazing fishing season, upon returning from Baltimore Pops, Chow, Luke and I all booked our flights to Montana. The trip is an absolute reality and I cannot wait. I’m also doing a lot to ensure I use my free time fishing locally as well. I hate to do it, but I have decided to put a numerical goal on my fishing days this year. A modest 50 days, farms ponds for bass, long drives to Pa, Montana, hopefully Maine, they all count. Putting a number on a hobby could prove stressful but my thinking is that a little extra motivation won’t hurt me.

Rod making will also get a strong push this summer. Most makers take time off from making during the spring and summer, I have no interest in doing that. We need 4 three piece rods done by July for Montana. This week I should finish up the butt strips on a George Maurer Bitch Creek taper and then begin our Montana rods. Below is George Costanza is unwinding string from the binder; right before I snuck this photo he proclaimed “I’ve reused this same string 16 times now.” Thanks god, we only have 600 more yards of the stuff left.

Waste not, want not?

Waste not, want not?

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Long day in shop

Spent the day doing rough work. Splitting, flaming, sanding nodes, pressing nodes. Its not the most exciting part of making a rod but I like it. All these preliminary steps, taking a raw culm to squared and staggered butt and tip strips is the laying of a foundation. Some pics from the day.


Volunteers to wrap some sticks??

Volunteers to wrap some sticks??


Ruffles have ridges. So do nodes.

Ruffles have ridges. So do nodes.

Torch em.

Torch em.


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George, Packing our vessels for secret pond trip.   Jackman, Maine.

George, Packing our vessels for secret pond trip.
Jackman, Maine.

I’m filling in for my son this week on the blog. George as my kids call me is not my nickname of choice. They call me that after George Costanza from Seinfeld. They say I’m cheap!  I’m not cheap I just don’t let anything go to waste and have a hard time throwing things away. Wait till they have three hungry mouths to feed and we’ll see who’s cheap. Ill admit, I do have a few of my grandfather Challie’s traits. My uncle Chuck says he always ate the bad food and let the good go bad. And yes I have been known to do a little dumpster diving. Who can pass up a wood desk or table at the curb? Ok so I’m cheap. Enough about George.
Gear in-tow. MaGuiver style.

Gear in-tow. MaGuiver style.

As I said I’m writing to give my son a break this week. Although I think he does an excellent job. This blog about bamboo rod building “De-Hart of a maker” is the brainchild of Doug’s our whole rod making adventure was all his idea. He methodically drug me into it and I’m so glad he did. All my life I’ve strived for perfection. At a very young age my Mom instilled a valuable work ethic in me and I can still hear her telling me today “if your gonna do a job do it right”. I’ve always been looking for something that will last forever. Something that won’t rust or rot, wear out and die off. I think that’s why I get so much pleasure in restoring things to a working condition again. Although I’ve learned over the years that perfection doesn’t exist, I’ve also learned that things don’t have to be perfect, to be perfect. Rod building helps fill that void in me. They may not last forever but I’m sure they’ll be around a lot longer than I will. Hopefully my great grand kids will be fly fishermen.

Our rod making journey started when Doug was in high school and his mother asked me “What are we gonna get these boys for Christmas?” I told her Doug wants these forms for making bamboo rods. I had no idea what they even looked like. So Doug supplied the info and we ordered them.
He bought himself a couple of books on rod building and would ask me questions from time to time. I would thumb through the books and cringe, thinking holy crap! We’re gonna need degree’s in geometry and rocket science.
Not much happened for the next few years and the forms were put in the attic.
As time went by Doug read more books, studied rods and their makers. He would take fishing trips to Pennsylvania and New York by himself stopping in every fly shop he passed drooling over the bamboo rods. He had me read Ed Engle’s book Splitting Cane. When I told him I’d be sure and get it back to him he said “no hurry I read it eight times”. EIGHT TIMES ! !

Photo taken from a slide. Picture taken by my Grandfather somewhere in Maine.

Photo taken from a slide. Picture taken by my Grandfather somewhere in Maine.

As the years passed I always felt bad knowing how Much he wanted to build his own rods, also knowing that if my father were alive they would be building rods together. My father was a very smart man with the patience of a saint and the talent of an artist.

Doug was lucky enough to get in touch with Jim Downes a rod builder in PA. Jim invited us to come out to his shop and he would walk us through the process. One of the best things we could have done. A great guy who gave us our start on the road to rod building.

Now Doug graduated from Rowan University with a degree in history. And although the US Civil War was high on his list his true passion is on the history of bamboo rods and their makers. I’m amazed at his knowledge. He knows rods, tapers and who built them by recognition of the smallest details. He knows the builders both past and present, and what their rods are worth. We’ll be working on a rod together in the shop and I’m constantly asking him “who’s taper are we making now? Whats the action? What weight is it again? Oh that’s right a Jim Payne 102 modified 7-1/2 ft. 5 wt”.  The kid knows his fly fishing rods.

Under the title of the blog his opening statement reads “The journey of a rod maker in pursuit of living the dream” whether he knows it or not he’s already living the dream.

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Born a lucky, and sometimes ramblin’ man…

The Farm.

The Farm.

Shit. So I have had an entire plan for a blog on ferrules. Something technical and real rod making stuff. Well last weekend I got in a bar fight on Saturday night, which left me mentally unable to write about or make rods. (I swear mom-mom it was self defense, and other guy learned his lesson). This weekend then I told myself, Ill dive into my ferrule maifesto. Plans changed again. Wednesday was my birthday, thursday Thanksgiving, and then I finished off the week watching “The Promised Land”. These three things are of a common thread, they are gifts or intend to make us see the gifts we have sitting right there under our nose.

IMG_2507For my birthday I got the perfect gift from my wife, a Lie Nielsen 212 scraper plane. Now I realize I just wrote a whole long winded blog about using an antique Stanley. But I’m entrenched in the belief that birthday gifts should not be something that is a necessity, but rather what you would like and can’t find reason enough to buy yourself on a normal day. The plane is beutiful and it will see good use. I also need to make mention of my mother here. When she does read my blog she follows up with a call about me never mentioning her. “well Ma its a rod making and fishing blog, ya know?” Here it is mother. As far as gifts go, my mom always gave the best. She always suprised me. If it wasn’t something from my list her gifts were something she knew I would love and was always unique. At 29 she still gives me a gift, this year was cash, which will be Montana fund money. So there ya go Mother. Your big drop into the blog, my millions of readers are now aware of your lovely existence.

Thanksgiving and The Promised Land film. God damn what a year I have had. Just lucky, alot of things fell into place. Alot of of growth and learning, hope it keeps going smooth. On Thanksgiving my mother forces us to each go around the table and say what we are Thankful for. If I really wanted to I could have taken an hour listing all the good fortune I’ve had. But my brothers would make fun of me had I said anything but “good beers”. So thats how I left it. Then just a day later and I find myself watching this movie The Promised Land. Its not great, alot of bullshit but it really left me feeling happy for all that I have, and have had in my life so far. The movie is based on Fracking, and major companies snatching farm land from generation old farmers.

I grew up on a very small produce farm in South Jersey. My parents were not Famers. Its a large plot of land that my great grandparents took ownership of long before I was even a thought. Over the years and throughout this plot family memebers settled down. 7 houses in all today. (I’m, trying to give a short version of family history here). My Dad was lucky enough to inheret THE farmhouse of the property. MY great Aunt, uncle, and cousins still live in the other homes, all a few football fields apart with the outside world bordering the edges of the farm. All family, its not wierd. OK it sounds wierd but I assure no Inbreeding going on. Obviosuly this is true because I’m too good looking to be inbred.

That movie got me thinking about the farm, my family and how unique it all is. My farm or spot on the farm will never leave as long as I can stand it. Its ours, its what made me who I’am. I pray I can give my children the same experiience. From thinking about the farm I started thinking about my Grandfather. He had a massive heart attack while eating a pretzel months before I was born. He was in a coma for a few days before he passed.

Now I have failed most all my science courses in the past, so I dont know much about genetics. Somehow this man, whom I have never met has had such an impact on me. I’m sure that has alot to do with my father telling me stories. I can remember turning down cigerrettes in the 5th grade because I would ask myself what my grandfather would have thought of me. Which is ironic because he smoked, but how the hell did a guy I never met in the flesh influence me so much? Ill also never forget my dad telling me he was the guy that would volunteer to tie a rope around his waste and walk onto the pond ice, making sure it was thick enough to skate on. A daredevil, Pops probably should have never told me that one. But the good people say about him still to this day. The kidness, the patience, and the talent. Most importantly, the fishing and fly tying.

The only fishing I had done up until about 13 was bass fishing with gear. We would go to Maine some summers and my dad would help us fly cast for trout. He would tell us about his dad tying his own flies, his automatic reel and the brook trout.

From there, I got into fly fishing like most everyone else. The cool thing about it was I had my grandfathers copy of Trout by Bergman, and tied flies using his old Thompson vise. The obsession grew from there to what it is today. My grandfather was also a very good wood carver of ducks, geese, ect. Just recently with a small axe got the urge to carve a piece of driftwood I had found on the beach. It looks horrible, but impressive given I had no idea what I was doing and lost no fingers. It got me thinking I could really carve something mantle worthy. So I went to my uncles basement with my dad and found a piece of Basswood that was originally my grandfathers with the intention of carving a trout. What the hell am I doing? Its 2013, who carves wood? Frankly the similarities in hobbies between myself and my dead grandfather are starting to even wierd me out.

O.K. I rambled a bit. But I wanted to set the stage for my gift. The gift that is most cherished by me over anything I have ever received. My Uncle Jeff, my dads younger brother gave it to me one Christmas about 13 years ago. It was one of those gifts like mom would give. Something right up my alley, and something I’d never expect.

It was a box my grandfather made to hold his flies. And even cooler was the few remaining flies he had tied resting within the slots of the box. I can still remember what Jeff said when I unwrapped it, “now you can use it for what it was meant for.” I had no idea this box existed so receieving it was total shock. One of those hypothetical bar questions you get when trying to make conversation is always, “If your house was on fire and you can grab one thing, what would it be?” For me, its hands down the fly box.IMG_2532

I can’t tell you what type of wood its made from, or when he made it exactly. I just know somehow this man and I had hobbbies in common, hopefully Ill be good enough to posses the qualities he did as a man and a fly fisherman.

So ferrules, my next new shiny tool can all wait. I have family, and a legacy to keep me happy. Everyone does this corny What your thankful for BS around this time of year. Just bad timing on my part, my grandfather is a huge reason I fish and make rods. And his box just so happens to be a gift Ill never forget. Call me a sappy sucker. But read first line about my bar fight last weekend before you say it to my face. 🙂 IMG_2536

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One mans rusted junk, another mans treasure…

choose your plane wisely my friend.

choose your plane wisely my friend.

When you first begin amassing the tools for rod making, all makers have differing opinions on what is essential to completing a serviceable rod. Countless internet sites provide tool lists and contraptions, while published books attempt the same.

One tool universally agreed upon is a block plane. This is the cornerstone tool in rod making. It is the tool you see on book covers, photos, and the one thing you can’t do without. The plane of choice is the antique Stanley 9.5. An adjustable block plane. Antique because it is no longer produced. They produce a similar product today but it’s not the same steel or quality. So rod makers seek out this vintage plane. Most makers seem to suggest that this plane is easily attainable at your local garage sale or flea mart. My geography is against me as flea marts around here are filled with overseas knock offs; including everything from razor blades to electronics. After two trips to a local flea market, George and I gave up and dropped the money on Lie Nielsen American made version of this Stanley. No regrets whatsoever. It’s beautiful and more importantly an exceptionally functional tool. But that hasn’t stopped me from pulling my truck over when passing random yard sales.

About a month ago I did just that, and found myself rooting through a box of old rusty tools on a stranger’s lawn. My heart stopped when I pulled up a rusty old Stanley block plane. My adrenaline began to surge as I ran my thumb across the stamped 9.5 marking on the side of the plane. Once I positively identified the plane as the coveted 9.5 I mentally jumped into salesman mode. I had to play it cool, temper my excitement. Couldn’t let its’ owner realize the obvious rusty gold he was about to sell away.

I calmly located the seller and asked “how much for the old plane?” When he responded $6 bucks, I’m sure most shoppers would have paused, and at least attempted to get his price rounded down to an even 5 dollars. Not me. I took a deep breath, attempting to suppress my excitement over the bargain on my treasure.

Of course I bought it. Was barely across the street before I was reaching in my pocket for my cell to call Pops and tell him about my find. True to nick-name, ol’ “George Costanza” loves a deal like this. Now the tool itself was rusted so bad it was nearly unidentifiable. This believe it or not, is another perk of the deal for George. The old man extracts joy from refurbishing things back into use, especially a quality tool. Before he begins restoring something its use is more often than not undetermined. Despite an items orphan status he proceeds and once complete, strives to find it a purpose.

And I get it. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when you restore something of quality back to useable condition. Just recently a guy contacted me about his Grandfathers bamboo rod he found in a closet. I could not ID the rod so I contacted my friend Sante Guiliani. Judging by the hardware, Sante guessed it to be a Montague and not worth much more than $60. Still offered to restore the rod to fishable condition for the guy, despite him not even being a fly fisherman. Tools, rods, or anything that was made with quality and integrity deserve to be put to intended use for as long as they can possibly stand it. That’s my belief anyway, and apparently pops as well. Luckily for me, in this instance the plane has an immediate use. George cleaned it up to look new, and it’s planning alongside our Lie Nielsen.

George and I both actually enjoy using the Stanley much better than our fancy high end Lie Nielsen. The Stanley has a wider sole, which seems to fit our hands better. Correcting angles, one of the most important steps in hand planning is also much easier with the Stanley as you can adjust the blade to take a deeper cut on either side or a strip, as opposed to leaning or tilting the lie Nielsen.

If you can afford the time I highly recommend searching for an old Stanley. Bang the rust off, true the sole and sharpen the blade. We’re making clean accurate cuts with the original, and feeling damn good about it.

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My favorite step in the process. Words coming Sunday.

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UNIBOND is the replacement for the classic URAC 185. Most makers are still working from their own supply of URAC and have yet to experiment with other options. Jim Downes taught us to use URAC, obviously before it was discontinued. George and I have used tightbond, but I worry about the glues ability to withstand heat, and have heard it makes a softer rod than a URAC glued rod.

George and I simply followed the mixing directions on the can. With no scale we measured by volume 6 tsp. of glue to 1 part of the supplied hardener. The glue mixed fairly well, I noticed some very small bits of hardener that no matter how much I stirred wouldn’t dissolve. These ‘bits’ of hardener remained white and were easy to locate if they were spread onto any of the splines.

With the 6 to 1 ratio George and I had enough glue for two, two tip rods. The open time was enough for one man to spread the glue, carry the strips to the binder and one man bind. Our sections were then baked in the oven at 160 degrees for 1.15 minutes.

The glue dried very similar to URAC. It was hard, but sanded off fairly easy. Even after kicking the glue in the oven we waited 24 hours to unbind and sand. The results were sections similar to URAC. So while a lot of makers continue to search for the next best glue we will stick with URACs replacement, UNIBOND.

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