Thursday, December 25, 2008

Obtaining and keeping perfect sixty degree triangles

Making a bamboo fly rod can be an exercise in frustration. In 1998, five issues of “The Bamboo Fly Rod” magazine were published. Many of the articles were excellent. Some of my favorites were those by Stuart Kirkfield which described the magic of fishing with classic bamboo rods. One of the articles which puzzled me most concerned the difficulty in correctly measuring the height of sixty degree strips with dial calipers. The article implied that the inconsistency inherent in measuring tiny triangles with sharp apexes was due to crushing those apexes with the measuring tools. Highly recommended was a V-block tool which affixes to one jaw of the dial calipers. Relief is provided for the exact corners so that measurements are made from the sides of each strip, making it much less likely your tools will crush the delicate apexes. Immediately I bought one of the V-blocks, and began using it.

Soon thereafter, my rod blanks began exhibiting glue lines which resulted in several trashed blanks.

To eliminate the glue line problem, I began to re-think everything about the way I made rod blanks. I thoroughly examined, then resurfaced my planing forms. The glue lines persisted. Two new sets of planing forms were purchased. Still, there were those ugly glue lines. I re-ground the sharpened edges of all my plane irons. Glue lines, still. I examined my planing techniques, using a mirror to be sure the plane was held level. I measured strips over and over, and it seemed no matter what I did, though the strips seemed to measure out correctly, I still had glue lines. I changed glue. I changed binders. I did everything I could dream up, and the glue lines were still there.

Finally I removed the V-blocks from my dial calipers and started measuring strips. It seems that if my angles on each strip were not perfectly equilateral, the V-blocks hid that fact. With the V-block a strip might measure .150", .149". .151". That’s a very good strip. But if I removed the V-block, that same strip could measure .147", .138", .159", and that’s no good. After all that searching I finally determined that my glue lines were due to measuring errors. So I figured out a way to measure consistently and plane out strips that were as close to equilateral as possible.

It’s important to get your angles correct as soon as possible. But that isn't always easy. I have probably sent more strips to the bonepile for bad angles than any other reason. I'm nearly to 200 rods, and still find myself chasing good angles.

I rough the strips out on a beveller. My beveller puts an initial taper in the strips, but I leave them about .050" oversized. I then move to the final planing form. I always set the taper in the shallowest part of the forms which will accommodate the desired final dimensions; and extend the dimensions out larger and larger all the way to the deepest end of the form. I initially set the taper .003" oversized at every station.

To obtain and keep good sixty degree angles when planing bamboo strips, you must first learn to set your plane iron correctly. It seems simple – insert the iron and move it laterally until it protrudes from the sole of the plane evenly. But because the bedding surfaces on hand planes are rarely perfect, that doesn’t always work. Instead, insert the iron until it barely protrudes. Next, gently take some metal shavings off your planing forms. Remember, the blade in your plane irons is made from harder metal than your planing forms. When sharp your irons will gently take a few microns of steel off the top of the forms. You know the forms are flat, and you want the plane to work down to that surface.

What you’ll notice is that the plane iron will likely shave more on one side of the forms than the other. Adjust the blade laterally until it cuts right at the groove on the forms. Ideally it should cut on both sides of the groove and all the way across. But as long as it cuts at the groove, we’re okay.

Next you’ll need to remove the enamel from your strips of bamboo. I use a combination of scraping and sanding until I get at least the center of each strip all the way down to the outermost power fibers. After the enamel has been removed, mark each strip in pencil on the enamel side at each 5" station.

When I begin planing, I have only the tip-most 15" or so of the strip in the forms. I make three passes on one side, then three passes on the second side. Those six passes take out any roughness from the beveller. Then I grab the calipers and start measuring. I hold the tip end of the strip up. I measure side A (one pith side), then side B (the other pith side), then side C (the enamel side to the pith apex). I always measure in the same order. Every single time. And I remember the three measurements. I correct the measurements --- one station at a time.

Change to a a very, very sharp blade in your plane; as sharp as you can possibly get it. On a test piece of bamboo set the plane for a cut of .005", with the normal amount of pressure you use when planing.
Place the strip in the form at its final destination. Make a very, very light pass over the entire strip from one end to the other. Put absolutely zero downward pressure on the plane. One hundred percent of your effort should be focused on keeping the sole of the plane level to the forms and keeping it moving from one end to the other. You'll find that with zero downward pressure on the plane, it will not remove the .005" per pass.... more like .001"
Chances are good the plane will not cut all the way down the strip. It'll skip and jump. That's okay. Where it does cut, chances are good that it will cut a shaving smaller than the width of the strip. That too is okay.
Now, flip the strip to the other side, and repeat... very light, very level pass.
Back to the original side, and repeat. I will cut and flip several times. Perhaps as many as five passes on each strip.

In a few passes, you'll find the very sharp plane beginning to cut all the way down the piece of bamboo, and cutting a shaving the same width as the strip. Now quit.

I'll usually do this in batches... Remove enamel and flatten all the strips. Mark all strips. Make the light passes over all the strips. Measure and correct angles on all strips. Finally plane all strips to metal as described below.

Now, go back to your calipers and measure each strip at each mark. I think you will find that the very light passes with a super sharp blade have, to a large degree, corrected your angles. You may have a few that still need some correction.

Here’s how I correct the angles. When measured the way I do it, if side A is the largest number, I know I need to lean the plane away from me. If side B is the largest, I need to lean the plane towards me. If side C is the largest, the apex needs to be reduced by leaning the plane that way one pass per side.

Here’s a .pdf file that may help you visualize the way I measure strips then correct the angles. with my thanks to Stephen Dugmore.

Let's say my three measurements are .145, .140, .140. I'll lean the plane away from me and place the strip in the form in such a way that as I'm cutting I reduce the width of the enamel side. With my plane set to make shavings of .005", I'll usually make two passes. Then measure again. Chances are I'll be close to equilateral. If not within .001" on all three sides, I cut again, repositioning the strip, the plane, or both as needed to bring the triangles back to equilateral.

When the tip-most station is correct, I move to the next station and repeat the process. Often each station in each inter-nodal area is off in the same direction. Stations at nodes can get really screwy.

When all the stations I have planed (remember I have only planed the tip-most 3-4 stations at all) are correct, I move the strip forward 5". Then I make three passes on each side and repeat the process. Usually those stations corrected the first time are still correct. If not, I work them over again. The butt-most stations I just planed usually require some correction. Repeat the process above.

Move the strip forward another five inches and repeat. And repeat, and repeat.

Once the entire strip is equilateral (THIS IS IMPORTANT) I pull the strip back towards the large end of the form till the tip-most 15" or so is all that protrudes above the form. Now I'll change planes. I go to a plane that cuts only .004" shavings. I plane with the strip in that position till I 'm taking metal. Then I move the strip forward, closer towards its final destination by 5 inches

As soon as the entire strip is in the form, I change to a plane that cuts only .003" per pass. And I re-check everything. If any stations are out of whack, I correct them again. I plane down to metal, turning after each pass. When I can take no more bamboo off, I move the strips up another 5 inches. Switch to a plane taking .002" shavings. Plane to metal again. By this point the strip is usually about 3-4 inches downstream (towards its final place) of the forms. I measure again, and make any minor corrections necessary. Then I switch to a plane which makes the tiniest shavings imaginable and move the strip forward about 1" per pass. Once the strip is in its final position I shave down to the metal again.
Now measure each station, and write the measurements on the form with a Sharpie. It should be EXACTLY .003" oversized. Remember that I set the forms .003" large? Chances are very good that some stations need to be closed by .003", but others may need .002" or .004". Re-set the forms as necessary. Then while taking whisper-thin shavings, plane again to metal. Re-measure. If any stations need a little more off, you can re-adjust the forms. Obviously, this process of re-setting the forms is only done on the first strip.

A couple more things worth mentioning if you've stuck with me this far.

A. Straight strips are much, much more fun to plane. Spend whatever time is needed to get them straight before planing and the time saved will be worthwhile in the long run.

A+ Get the angles correct early, then keep them correct. The method I've described will help with that. So will training wheels on your plane as described first by John Bokstrom in The Planing Form. You can purchase a set for your Stanley plane from Jerry Wall at JW Flyrods.

B. Almost ZERO downward pressure should be placed on the plane. I hold the plane with my fingers on each side. No index finger on the brass nut which hold the mouth in place. Putting the index finger there tempts one to push down on the plane. As close to 100% of your energies as possible should be moving the plane forward. Let the weight of the plane work for you.

C. Dare I say it? Sharpen your blades. If your blade isn't sharp, you simply must press downward to get any shaving at all. If you're having to press down, your blades need sharpening.
Hope these ideas prove helpful. I'm sure there are other ways of doing this just as effective. But this is what works for me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Missive 2008

This seems to be a year of changes for our world, for me and for many of us. The US we elected a new President whose campaign slogan was “Change – we can believe in.” World financial markets have changed from an artificially supported boom based on inflated housing prices to – who knows what. My friends and fellow baby boomers are worrying more about aging parents, arthritis, and kids in college than careers and small children. Good jobs with seemingly stable corporations disappear like morning mist.

Mid-year brought the end of a 25 year career as a full-time minister. Without good friends, old and new, and a strong base of support I wonder how I would have made it through the transition. A new house and shop, as well as new schedule and new priorities created plenty of work and worry. Though no one knows what tomorrow may bring, the venture into full-time rod making, writing, teaching, and itinerant preaching is both anxious and exciting.

William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow'd.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

A sea captain only commands a ship. Admirals direct navies. This season reminds us that as we choose the courses over which we direct our lives, One who sees and knows more than we is ultimately in charge.

What changes has 2008 brought to your life? What changes might you anticipate for the year to come? In searching for stability in my life I have found only one thing which does not change; the goodness and love of God.
Each year at this time, for just a brief instant, our world pauses. So no matter what your faith, or lack thereof, take a moment. Scriptures tell us “But Mary kept all thise things, and pondered them in her heart.” Perhaps “ponder” is a good word for this season. Let’s ponder awhile on “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good repost; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

May God’s greatest blessing be yours at Christmas and forevermore,
Reverend Doctor Harry Boyd Jr.

The Influence of Wayne Cattanach on today's bamboo rod makers

A recent thread on the Rodmakers Email List asked what there was to know about Wayne Cattanach other than his Handcrafting Bamboo Fly Rods book and DVD/video series.

Brian Creek from Michigan reminded Rodmakers' readers that Wayne was the first to program Everett Garrison's math for the computer (I think it was in Visual Basic. If you can remember that language, you've been hanging around PC's for a long time) in his Hexrod program. He offered Hexrod as a bonus with Handcrafting Bamboo Fly Rods and as a free download from his website.
Brian also pointed out that along with Ron Barch, Wayne started The Planing Form, a newsletter for bamboo afficionados. "The Makers' Rod" was another of Wayne's unique brainchildren. Eighteen different rod makers contributed a single strip of bamboo, planed to taper, and formed into a one-of-a-kind rod which was auctioned to help raise conservation funds for Michigan streams.

Wayne was the chief impetus behind starting the Rodmaker's Email List, way back in 1994 or early 1995. I still think that List is the single most important source of bamboo rod making information anywhere. The archives go back to January 1995, but the list actually began before that time.

Without Wayne's encouragement I wonder if I would ever have completed a rod. I bought his self-published book back in 1996, and completed my first four bamboo rods in 1997. I still remember the first time Wayne called me on the phone. We talked over an hour, on his dime. In those days long distance wasn't cheap like it is today.

His week long rod making classes in Grayling, Michigan, Mountain Home, Arkansas, and other places introduced scores of want-to-be rod makers to the craft. The outline I use in teaching my own classes largely follows Wayne's original ideas.

I still believe Wayne's book to be the best printed text on making rods, especially for analytical types. Jack Howell's book may appeal slightly more to those with an artistic bent, but Wayne's fingerprints are all over Jack's pages too. Though I have both the hardbound and softcover editions, I treasure the old 3 ring binder with the first edition book. Not just because it's inscribed to me and signed, but because Wayne and I poured over a coupla those pages with him trying to help me understand some point or another.

The Grayrock Gathering was held in Wayne's clubhouse for years. He still attends most years.

It's been a few months since Wayne and I talked. I will always consider him not just a mentor, but a true friend. Most of us have few true friends in this life, and I count myself fortunate to call Wayne one of mine. Though I doubt we've spent more than a few hundred hours together over the last dozen years, each of those hours is precious. I remember some moments spent sitting on a rock together in the middle of Wildcat Shoals on the White River. And other moments with Harold and Eileen Demarest, Rick Crenshaw, Miles Tiernan, and Lowell Davis on the back patio of Unit #7 at Fulton's Lodge. Tami and I still recall with tenderness stopping by Wayne's place unannounced on our way back to Louisiana from Traverse City, and taking Wayne and Brenda to Bennigan's that night. I remember helping him with a Beginner's Workshop at SRG a few years ago, and slicing the stuffings out of three fingers. He laughed and laughed as he ran to grab some band-aids for me.

And a call from Wayne this summer helped me over some bumpy places in my personal road.

What else is there to know about Wayne? Well, let's see. He built his own home with his own hands on the family farm outside Grand Rapids. He's an engineer and HVAC man by training. He's the father of two great kids -- now young adults, but kids when I met them. He's a pretty good fisherman, a good talker, and a great listener. He's putting together a place somewhere on the Manistee. He runs on caffeine and nicotine and a few kind words.

He's my friend, and I'm grateful for his friendship.

For over ten years I have been helping others learn this craft through demonstrations, classes, forum posts, email correspondence and phone calls. Anyone who has learned from me owes a debt to Wayne Cattanach, as I do.

Harry Boyd