Oyster bamboo fly rod course
Building a bamboo fly rod, was something I never dreamt I could achieve. However when one of my most loved clients shared stories of numerous rod building courses had had taken with Bill Oyster, I was intrigued.
Also, one day when touring with us, my client announced he had paid a deposit for me to attend a course with him the following January! He added, “don’t worry if you cant make it, I have plenty of friends who could take that slot”.
Whilst it’s never easy trying to escape to America for 10 days when you have an 8 year old boy, I got a green pass to go.
Furthermore, my client and good friend Hart was on his second Hidden Gems Vacations in Scotland in 2022 and announced he had paid the balance,as a gratuity for his 10 day tour! In summary, I wouldn’t have managed it, in terms of cost. Bills courses are premium life experiences, in huge demand and with a team of absolute experts.
Therefore, when I found myself stood outside the Bill Oyster workshop on the first day, of a one week course, I could scarcely believe it. Indeed, I was a long way from home, outside my comfort zone, and ready for a big challenge.
So, here I was, stood in Georgia, full of anticipation, for what turned out to be a memorable week.
Bamboo fly rod – Introduction to this article
The article provides a detailed guide on how to make a bamboo fly rod. It covers various aspects of the process, including selecting bamboo, planning the rod design, splitting and straightening the bamboo. In addition tapering and planing the strips, gluing the strips together, and finishing the rod.
The guide emphasizes the traditional craftsmanship involved in creating a bamboo fly fishing rod and offers step-by-step instructions, making it a valuable resource for those interested in handcrafting their own fishing equipment.
What materials are used in bamboo fly rod building?
Firstly, you start with a 12ft piece of bamboo culm, from the Tonkin region of China. This material is selected for the abundance of power fibres within the bamboo.
Tonkin bamboo, scientifically known as Arundinaria amabilis, is a species of bamboo native to Southeast Asia. In addition in regions like Tonkin (now part of northern Vietnam), China, and Japan.
This bamboo species is highly valued for its excellent qualities, making it suitable for crafting high-quality fly rods. Here’s why it’s considered perfect for this purpose:
- Flexibility and Strength: Tonkin bamboo possesses a remarkable combination of flexibility and strength. This is crucial for fly rods, as they need to be both flexible enough to cast accurately and strong enough to handle the stress of casting and playing fish.
- Lightweight: Bamboo from the Tonkin region is relatively lightweight compared to other materials used in rod construction, such as fiberglass or metal. This characteristic helps in creating a well-balanced fly rod that is easy to handle and reduces fatigue during long casting sessions.
- Sensitivity: Bamboo has natural damping properties, which means it can absorb shock and vibrations. This sensitivity is essential for fly fishing, where feeling subtle strikes or changes in water resistance is crucial for detecting fish bites.
- Aesthetic Appeal: Tonkin bamboo is aesthetically pleasing, with a natural golden color and a smooth finish. Many anglers appreciate the traditional and classic look of bamboo fly rods.
- Traditional Craftsmanship: Your Bamboo fly rod is often associated with traditional craftsmanship. Skilled artisans handcraft these rods, paying attention to every detail. This craftsmanship adds a level of artistry and uniqueness to each rod.
How to prepare the Bamboo on day one
To begin with, its is vital to file away the raised nodes on the exterior of the bamboo. In fact, you are not aiming to file these nodes flat, but simply even out the raised sections. Also you split the bamboo into two sections, making it easier to flame.
Secondly the bamboo culm is flamed to create your preferred finish. Furthermore, the finish you choose is subjective, and how much you flame the bamboo, dictates the final finish. I opted for a tortoiseshell finish(see below).
Naturally health and safety is priority. Therefore wearing safety goggles, heat resistant gloves and flaming in the outdoors to avoid breathing fumes is vital.
A propane torch is used, and the bamboo is kept a safe distance from the flame and rotated continuously for even exposure. In addition, you can observe the mesmerising colour changes as the bamboo heats up. The sugars caramelise, creating variations from honey brown, to dark brown. Furthermore, you should be careful not to scorch the bamboo. As with everything in this rod building process, there’s a fine line between success and failure.
How to split the bamboo strips and straighten them
Firstly you are aiming for 12 useable strip of bamboo, 6 for the tip and 6 for the butt section of the rod. To achieve this, you should overshoot and create as many sections as possible. This gives you spare sections, in case of mishaps.
Secondly your halved and flamed sections are marked and split into thinner sections by hand. In addition, it’s possible to control the direction of split, but clever tricks Bill shows you. This enables you to create sections that are as straight as possible.
Finally once you have these sections, you will need to heat them again and straighten and flatten out any nodes. Moreover the technique for flattening the rod is extremely tricky and time sensitive. But you have to act fast, when the bamboo is hot.
Before planing the strips, you have to introduce a taper into each tip, to allow it to enter the routing machine smoother. Putting the strips through the router, is a two man job, and you need to trust your partner. One man pushes the strip in, smoothly and evenly and at the other end, your partner, pulls the tips out. Everything has to smooth, and levels here, and going too slow, will burn the bamboo.
How to shape bamboo in a planing form
To begin, this is the most sensitive, challenging and technically demanding part of the build. Additionally, one mistake here, can set you back a long way. The Bellinger planing form is set to a pre-determined taper, that you calibrate using a micrometer. In fact, for every weight of rod, there is a pre determined taper. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal these tapers, as they remain intellectual property of the rod builder.
Bill explained that it’s critical to plane in a straight line in one smooth movement. He went on that it’s similar to walking a narrow path through the mountains with a 5,000ft drop either side. Go off the straight path, and its instant death.
Also, I don’t want to give away too much of Bill’s technique for planing, but it is genius, and helps to eradicate errors. Bill said, despite all emphasising these instructions, 50% of people like to do it their own way. What you have to ensure is that you are in the 50% doing it the right way!
Furnishing the blank – the final stages of building the bamboo fly rod
By the end of day 4, you have created the materials to form the black. The next stage is gluing 6 equilateral 60 degree strips together to form the tapered rod. The rod is glued, strapped and straightened and left to dry overnight.
On day five, you have to remove the strapping and carefully sand the blank to remove excess glue. But whilst this sounds easy, it comes with its own challenges. For example, if you were to sand excessively, you would remove the lacquer of the blank. So care has to be taken and again, Bill has ingenious techniques for sanding that keep the pressure from being focussed on the apexes of the hexagonal blank.
If you overcook it when sanding the tips, you might find yourself with a shorter rod, than you planned. As Bill quipped “I said you would leave here with a finished rod, we just didn’t say how long it would be”. These jokes, help you stay focused.
Lastly, the blank is carefully finished off with steel wool.
Dressing the blank, tying on eyes, and adding cork handle
Finally Im not going to elaborate on this part of the process. Anyone who has dressed blank, will know the process. This was the easiest and most stress free few days.
I chose a simple design and single foot guides, which as Bill agreed are better for double hauling.
Lastly, your blank gets three coats of varnish and you need to assemble the reel seat. On the final day, you return to the Oyster workshop at 8pm to pick up your finished rod.
What a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience it all was. Despite being hugely challenging. The camaraderie and friendship with fellow classmates is awesome. Also, you get as much pleasure from admiring their finished rods, as you do yours.
Bill Oyster’s courses are sold out for 2024, however there are some slots available in 2025. to find out more, go here