Hello Rodmakers & Restorationists!
It’s March of 2015 and I’m updating, not entirely re-writing, this cover letter to the Golden Witch website. Spring is officially here, but the morning after the last of our snow melted we’re getting more and the woods are white again. Now it’s time for spring weather.
So much good stuff has happened and I’ll try and touch on a bunch of that in this letter; there’s also a new 2015 Annual Letter that you can link to at the bottom of this cover letter. Upcoming shop closures are posted in red at the top of the home page and are also addressed toward the tail end of this letter. Very quickly, though, let me reiterate a few important points from the previous letters for any who may have missed reading them.
If you’ve already read this paragraph, skip on down to “New Products.” On January 5th, 2014 my partner retired after many years of managing the office and inventory end of the company. I’ve been doing my best to stay on top of the craft work while temporarily taking over these new responsibilities. Please bear in mind that until I make a full-time hire, I’m a bit crushed for time. If you happen to call and listen to the long-winded voice mail message, please don’t worry that leaving a message of your own is in vain…I really will call you back, but it might be a few days. I’ll be the first to admit, I prefer emails because I can respond here & there throughout the day as I find a free moment. Until I have a full time staffer in the office, please order custom products several weeks in advance of your needs. Anything I make, I usually wind up making on the weekends and it’s not unusual for me to be running 7-10 days out with guides, the new nickel silver hook tenders, and that sort of thing. On a related note – and worth mentioning because it has cropped up a few times as a minor issue – I do charge for products at the time they are ordered, no exceptions, whether it’s a $30.00 guide or a $300.00 gold & blued reel seat. Buying a product puts you on the build list (or the order list in the case of, say, a rod sack or a large ferrule). Excepting back-order items and orders with custom or special order products, most orders are shipped in three business days or less (many ship the same day).
New Products. I never accomplish as much as I’d like to with the company, but there’s always progress and progress is starting to heat up. In this cover letter I’ll discuss our full range of cork rings, new guide options, new hook tenders, and more.
Cork Rings. Yes, after a year of dwindling inventory and a long hunt, cork rings are not only back in stock, they’re more deeply stocked than ever before in the history of the company. This is a joint effort, in the sense that both Golden Witch and our sister wholesale operation, Arcane Component Works, had a hand in the process. My friend in Portugal was utterly integral to the process, too. There are shelves stacked up with open bins of cork and above the bins are bags and bags of cork in all four grades. These rings are available for sale at retail through GW and at wholesale through ACW (the new ACW catalog is nearly finished….I keep telling folks this, but now the photos have been taken and I’m down to the editing and hashing out final details with the graphic designer). We started with a shipment of A+, A, & A- rings that had no bore…some makers love to bore out their own rings so that they can fit the rings directly, and snugly, to the tapering rod blank. Next, we pulled in thousands of rings with the standard ¼” bore, because that’s what most rodmakers are used to – and they’re perfect for rodmakers who make their grips off the blank using a cork press and mandrels. All four grades are available with the ¼” bore holes pre-cut. In each grade, the price per ring is the same, regardless of which option, bore or no-bore, you select. Within the website, I have some more info posted about the search for cork rings, frustrations and success – and the high price of good rings. Since my last cover letter update, I’ve received several positive notes about our GW A+ (Portuguese Flor) Grade Cork and I’ll share this one:
Cork came today!!! It’s the best I’ve been able to get for a long time!
Thanks so much for really delivering on Flor Cork…everyone seems to say they have AA Grade but when it arrives it’s a LONG WAY from what you delivered!
While on cork, I want to share something with everyone that I shared with Ken during our emails about cork quality and rising prices. This relates to the common misunderstanding that good cork is being gobbled up by the wine industry and that those of us who are wine drinkers and/or rodmakers should cheer the use of plastic wine corks:
My friend in Portugal offered me an explanation when I asked if it was ‘encroachment’ by the wine industry [that was degrading cork supplies available to rodmakers]. Evidently not. It’s the value of property rising to where it makes economic sense for more and more cork oak farmers to sell their land for development rather than to spend their lives tending trees, i.e., it’s what I see all around me as Lancaster County farmland is converted farm by farm into ¼ acre house lots. Mom & dad might want to farm cork bark (or anything else), but the kids are ready to move on and happy to sell the dirt beneath their trees for a quick couple hundred grand. The only equation that is going to make sense for the younger generation of farmers is seeing enough cash from farming that a farm is worth protecting as a financial asset. I think, in the end, we’re paying to preserve the cork harvest.
And that means we actually want to support winemakers who rely on traditional, natural, corks for their bottles. Together, winemakers and rodmakers can work to help preserve family farms by giving the next generation nothing short of a financial incentive to keep growing & harvesting good cork.
Guides. I almost want to leave this section blank and urge you to look at the website soon…always soon. But there’s enough positive news and that I want to address some of that, then leave the rest for a future update. Be patient – this stuff will hit the website eventually. Beka & I are on the verge of a massive re-organization of our stripping guide pages. I’ve been emailed by folks who want a better explanation of the various frame styles, so I’ve been working on that bit of text. I’ve been in conversations with some of the Arcane Component Works clients who need more details – and what rodmaker doesn’t want more details? – about our various rings. Plus, the ring options are expanding now that I’ve found a stone cutter I can work with. There are thousands of new rings in the shop and being used on a daily basis – I just need to get pictures taken and posted…soon, soon! The truth is, we have many ring options, from metal rings, to natural stone rings (some of which are naturally colored, some of which are “augmented”), to agatines, to porcelain. Our page full of strippers has grown only by accretion of more and more options, but under a heading that indicates Natural Stone Stripping Guides, when in fact not all of them are so limited these days. Expect the guide page to be broken down shortly into sections that include an expanded selection of natural stone stripping guides, metal ring guides, and vintage series guides – some of which have vintage rings and some of which will have freshly cut rings to fit the wide bezel format of the vintage series. There will also be a section of specially branded guides in which I tip a hat at the rod makers who urged me to work up something unusual for their shop that is worth sharing with everyone. And it goes so much further.
I’ve been working with a few clients in the UK and Continental Europe – one in particular, who is likely to have a guide series named for him once the experiments are wound up – who all need larger guides, some for Coarse rods, some for Spey rods and other larger, salmon-oriented rods. In the Golden Witch collection are hundreds of large agatine rings, but not many ideal frames. This led to a multi-month project that I’m just now willing to mention. My creative fun over the dreadfully long winter of 2014-2015, was primarily directed at the design and manufacture large scale, heavy duty frames in Nickel Silver and Bronze. As rodmakers, you all know the pleasure of picking up new tools. I’ve indulged a bench full of metal forming equipment – it’s powerful and sometimes noisy. Expanding the GW & ACW guide making repertoire is my kind of workday fun. In addition to heavy duty frames, expect many new introductions from GW and ACW throughout 2015 because of the increased in-house metal forming capacity. GW will be offering true jewelry grade guide frames in tarnish resistant Sterling Silver (and potentially gold as a custom option); there will be silver hook tenders to match. ACW is headed the opposite direction with higher volume, lower cost variants – check out the hook tender section of this note for more information.
Some of you already know that GW has a vast collection of vintage guides from across the entire spectrum of rodmaking – far, far beyond flyrods. I doubt I’ll ever get everything listed to the website, but it’s all here, stacked, piled, sometimes jumbled, in boxes and bins and bags. The more frequently requested vintage guides will have their own section on the GW website before long. Thousands of these are agates and agatines, but the vast bulk of the collection is wire guides – spinning, casting, coarse, ocean, etc. If you’re doing a restoration and need a guide, please email with pictures, drawings, and as many spec details as possible and I’ll see if can help you out.
Last, but not least, GW is always in the market for vintage guides and vintage guide rings crafted from agate or agatine. If you’re interested in selling your collection, whether it’s a hundred pieces or tens of thousands of pieces, please bear in mind that I’m a very serious buyer, but I won’t pay more than a collection is worth to me. At this point in my career, I have an exceptionally strong sense for what sizes, styles, and colors of guides will sell and how quickly they’ll sell. Simply carrying inventory year in and year out brings expenses with it, not limited to: the opportunity cost relative to other inventory alternatives; lease of storage space; insurance expenses; and organizational costs. I also know, in the case of loose guide rings, that having a ring on the bench is only the first step toward creating a guide. Buying rings triggers a deluge of manufacturing costs in order to design and produce bezels & frames suited to each stone style, not to mention the time invested to create each individual guide once I’ve worked up batches of parts – it’s a labor intensive process when done properly. The long and the short is that I’m willing to spend good money, but not a lot of money on a per part basis. Strange as this may sound, I also accept donated hardware: guides, ferrules, winding checks, etc. This isn’t my get rich slow scheme – it’s a way for retiring rodmakers to ensure that their stash will be made available to future generations of rodmakers and not unwittingly thrown in the trash after an estate sale. Over the years, a few generous makers and collectors have sent me rod hardware, silks, books, and tools at no cost. In return for their generosity, I warehouse the items in a temperature and humidity controlled environment and when a rodmaker – or, usually, a restorationist – comes looking for just the right component, I sell it out the door for only enough to cover my time in locating and packing the item; this is often a flat $5.00 fee per part for donated items, whereas it’s always market value for items I’ve in which I’ve invested my inventory dollars.
Silks. Previously I had promised an expanded selection of silks. They’re here. Kimono silks are drawing the most attention…gorgeous colors and readily available from our importer. I can’t say enough good about Kimono, but I’m also glad we have so many other brands as options. Color matching old silks for restoration projects is relatively easy with this many choices at hand. Recently I was asked about matching Belding-Corticelli’s #5115 for a Payne project. Here’s the meat of my response and it gives a taste for the many options in the shop:
There will always be argument about the best color match for a given vintage silk, but I believe I can at least add some valuable information to the discussion. I’m fortunate to have a spool of that BC #5115 in the shop. Like you, I don’t have a source for more so I’m holding it for a primo restoration or maybe as bit of a museum piece in and of itself. But, I can hold it up against all the related threads in the shop. From lightest to darkest, with notes, here’s the list of comparable silks…
YLI Size #100, Color #226 – Almost but not quite too pale for inclusion on the list. Probably just outside the range of dye lot differences, but worth noting if you’re re-wrapping a single guide foot where the other foot’s silk wrap has faded. YLI is spotty regarding stock – lots of factory back-orders.
Kimono Size #100, Color #368 – Very close, just a hair lighter than my spool of #5115 and within range of dye lot differences…probably worth looking at, especially if you’re re-wrapping a single guide and want to match it to the rest of the rod…not my first choice for re-wrapping an entire rod as a #5115 clone. Lovely silk though! Kimono’s silks generally are also the best of the silks for being accessible – the brand is in stock when I order it and I can have any spool or dozen spools in a week if I’m out. Compared to the Size 2/0 BC silk I have on hand, this is the closest color that also matches the thread diameter.
YLI Size #50, Color #824 – One of two that is almost dead nuts for matching the spool of #5115 that I have for color comparison…the larger thread diameter makes this an ideal choice for matching a size A thread. As above, YLI is spotty in terms of my ability to get any particular color on short notice; I try to stock popular colors more deeply on account of this.
Tire Size #50, Color #122 – So close to the YLI #824 that I wouldn’t want to have to separate unmarked strands of thread, but perhaps it is the least bit darker and that’s why I listed it after #824. Really another sharp match for my spool of #5115, and with the larger diameter, a good match for size A thread. I have good access to this line, but don’t stock it as deeply, on account of the huge color diversity (171 colors in size #50); as I track colors, I’m starting to go deep on those that are popular.
Pearsall’s Naples in Java Brown – This was intended to match the Java Beige of a Payne rod and it has the fine diameter – Naples is pretty darn close to the BC 2/0. This is the darkest of the group I’m listing, but only marginally darker than Tire #122, putting it in the group of four threads, from this list of five, that are truly close. Not so dark that you couldn’t argue for dye lot differences between this batch and the original batch(es), or between the vintage silk sample Pearsall’s used vs. the sample spool I have.
I don’t always have time for that nuanced a response, but matching this Payne thread is important to so many rodmakers and restorationists that a detailed exploration of the options seemed worthwhile.
We have full color charts posted for all the thread lines except YLI. One of these days (I feel like I say/write that phrase too often), I’m going to take pictures of every color we offer since YLI isn’t making an image collection available to us. YLI makes very good silk, but they are the only silk manufacturer we deal with that is frustrating to work with. If you rely on any of their silks as your standard color, I strongly urge you to stock up, well in advance of your needs. GW places a monthly order, some of which arrives, and some of which doesn’t. No such problems with Pearsall’s, Kimono, or Tire.
Hook Tenders. So many options and the options keep expanding. I’ve been accused of being obsessive about hook tenders. I am. For too many years they’ve tended to be the throw-away item on even the nicest rods. No longer. Above, I mentioned the new metal forming equipment in the shop. When the ACW catalog goes to press (well, at least to PDF), there will be another Inverted ‘U” hook tender on the market. Like the fancy GW tenders, these are crafted from nickel silver, but they’re worked up in batches of a hundred or more per batch, not one at a time. The biggest time investment – and hence the greatest part of the cost – of a custom GW hook tender is shaping and polishing the feet. The new ACW tenders have gorgeous curves and feet that are wrappable straight out of the package, but the feet are stamped to shape, not slowly pressure formed, hand filed, hand tapered, and hand polished. Prices will be comparable to our popular Silver Snake tenders, at about $5.00 each with a little variance based on size. Golden Witch will list these ACW tenders very shortly, in bright or blued format, and before long they’ll be available through other rodmaking supply houses. Like the Silver Snakes, the new ACW tenders can be used as–is, or tweaked to perfection by any talented rodmaker...shape the feet, work the tips, file, sand, polish….just do all this by hand, please, not on a buffing wheel. It’s too easy to catch small parts like this on a high speed wheel and have them ripped out of your hands, which can lead to crushed, misshaped parts, or, worse, a small part impaled in a finger or thumb. I speak from unfortunate experience…there are days when I hunt and peck on the keyboard because a guide foot has punctured or lacerated this or that finger. Always be careful in your shop.
Grips. Also from Arcane, we’ve added three new grips to the website since the last cover letter. There’s a 6 ½” Cigar Grip, a 7” Full Wells Grip, and a 6 ½” Torpedo Grip inspired by the handgrasp popularized by Everett Garrison. The next batch of three grips is actively in the works – samples are at the factory in Portugal. By summer of 2015, we’ll have a larger 6 ½” Reverse Half Wells inspired by Lyle Dickerson, a 6 ¾” Straight Taper...surprisingly comfortable, and a long, lean 7” Western grip. In late 2015 we’ll introduce three more grips, but I haven’t finalized my thoughts on which three we’ll release next.
Reel Seats. Good and bad news here. The very good news is that as we catch up on machining projects, the out of stock hardware sets are nearly all back in stock. By the time you read this, Boyd seats will be back in the bins and I just need to get them posted as back in stock on the website. Swoop hardware will follow in a few weeks or a month. The bad news is that we’re low on wood inserts and I’m still hunting to find a woodworker who is compatible with GW in terms of production capacity, quality, and price. If you’re ordering complete reel seats through GW, please included a second and third choice for your insert in the comments section of the order form. Like so many challenges, time and effort will remedy this temporary problem.
The Near Future. I’m leaving this section essentially unchanged…watch for the Oyster Special Guides when we revamp the entire guide section. “Soon, soon!” – my new mantra. Midsummer of 2014, Bill Oyster & the Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods Shop Manager, Riley Gudakunst, approached Golden Witch and asked me to collaborate on a guide project. The goal was to create either a white or transparent stripping guide which would become one of the defining hallmarks on the unparalleled Oyster bamboo rods. Using a combination of vintage and modern components, I created a handful of samples. One pair of guides, available in both 9mm & 10mm O.D., struck their eyes. These guides were created using vintage NOS German porcelain rings, snugly wrapped in their original, solid brass bezels. I mounted these rings in modern GW nickel silver frames. Riley was the first to respond to the sample pictures: Love those brass and porcelain guides! I do, too. The Oyster folks love them bright. My preference is for the blued version of these guides, which creates an intense light/dark contrast between the frame and ring. Either way, they’re entirely classic, yet unusual. Another rodmaker who saw sample images wrote:
Whoa. Those strippers are *really* cool. I’m not sure which ones I like better… I guess it would just depend on context. But those are fresh. Very cool. I have to assume that there are lots of guys out there who have, over time, accumulated such a stash of other strippers that they really don’t need to make any purchases. But I’ve never seen anything like this, and I, for one, will need to grab at least one of each when they’re available. Because… how could I not? Right? That’s how it’s done. Nice work. Hard to get me excited about rod components these days, but those are cool.
So, I am very pleased to announce that Golden Witch will be officially releasing the Oyster Special guide series in 9mm & 10mm. Quantities are limited, and Oyster Rods has quite a pile dedicated to their future rod production, but anyone who’d like to add a touch of Oyster class to their own rods is welcome to do so while these fancy rings are in the bins.
Wrapping Up. More updates will follow every four to six months. Arcane component works is developing a new website. Along with the new website, there will be the new downloadable PDF catalog that I’ve already mentioned. Once that’s complete, my friend, Matt West, and I will get cracking on the new GW catalog. I’ll keep you posted. This will keep us busy all through 2015 and into early 2016.
Finally, let me point out up-coming shop closures: Due to some exciting family adventures, there will be irregularly spaced closures through-out the year. Please keep tabs on the website and you’ll be able to place orders and have them shipped prior to the closures. This year I know GW & ACW will be closed May 1st to May 7th, June 25th to July 5th, October 14th to October 20th, and late December through early January of 2016 (specifics aren’t nailed down for this one yet). Because so many Golden Witch products are made, or finished, to order, it is best for you to place your orders at least two or three weeks in advance of a closure if you’re ordering guides and that sort of thing. For items we stock deeply like ferrules, silks, reel seats & whatnot, you can safely order up to four business days prior to a closure and I should be able to get your package out the door. Always bear in mind that inventory does fluctuate and the occasional back order will happen at the least convenient time – Murphy’s Law. Plan ahead – order ahead! - and it will save both of us a lot of grief. Thanks!
Many thanks for your time & your business. I couldn’t do this – build a better component company - without you. Your financial support, your kind words, your suggestions to other rodmakers that they should sample GW products. Every little bit helps me to keep this company rolling and I sincerely appreciate that help. Inside the website I mention that buying this or that product supports an American craftsman and that doing so is good for your soul. I want to briefly expand on that. I’m partial to American craftsmen and women because I’m immersed in this water, but I’ll be the first to say I couldn’t make this company work without craftspeople from all over the globe. I’ll highlight the Portuguese…without the fine people who are taking my cork grips and turning duplicates by the hundreds, I wouldn’t be able to offer the ACW grips to rodmakers around the world. When you buy a grip, or a guide, or a ferrule, or a rod sack, you are helping to support an artisan who earns their living making something in this world (an increasingly rare feat in a world addicted to synthetic pleasures and technologically enabled sloth); in turn, when you make a rod or restore a rod using these components, you are an artisan making this world a more worthwhile place. I strongly believe that supporting those who make, who craft, who grow, helps us to grow in intensely worthwhile ways. This extends far beyond rodmaking. If you aren’t growing your own food, I urge you to meet a local farmer and stock your table with their produce. You might brew your own beer, ferment your own wine or mead, or bottle your own bitters, just to develop a taste for the challenge that artisanal foodcraft presents. This process will help you to better appreciate masterful food when you meet it, in the same way that making a rod from scratch allows you a depth of insight into tacklecraft that most anglers don’t have. The act of creating gives you a worthy edge in this world. Hone that edge everywhere you can.
The GW Annual Letter – 2015