Silk Thread – The Ramble
Silk Thread: the love affair, the size chart, & too much on tipping….
We love silk thread the way we love agates. You should, too. It’s the sort of polyvalent affair that allows you to explore entire gamuts of color, and several dimensions, while doing no harm. Not sure what color you should use? Grab several colors. Better yet, pick up a color chart and study those colors in daylight. You don’t like the color you chose? Strip it off. One of silk’s greatest benefits is that, as top shelf components go, it’s inexpensive. Typically in the range of $6.00/spool, you can buy a few spools and decide only to use one. Save the others, or share them with other rodmakers. Because colors of silk, even entire ranges of silks, come and go over time, it’s always worth having a few choice spools in your stash. Dragons hoard gold. The Beowulf Poet had his word hoard. Rodmakers should have a hoard of silks. If you become a monogamist among threads, then it is wise to stock up. Speaking personally, I have a lifetime supply of Pearsall’s Classic Chestnut in Gossamer. Good luck prying that from my hands while I’m still sentient.
Because it was promised, here’s our version of a silk thread chart:
Pearsall’s Gossamer 6/0. The finest; the favorite – but available in a limited range of colors. This silk, when properly finished, looks like it was poured in place…the individual turns of silk just melt, visually.
Pearsall’s Naples. Roughly 4/0….maybe 3/0….this is comparable to a Japanese #100 silk; still quite fine. Naples offers even fewer colors than Gossamer. It’s often used by rodmakers who rely on Pearsall’s Gossamer, but who prefer a slightly heavier thread for ferrule tab wraps, or for whipping down the prongs on vintage prong tiptops.
Japanese Size #100. This is the finest of the Japanese silks & lovely stuff to work with and roughly equivalent to 3/0 silk. YLI offers a #100 range; Kimono is all #100. Kimono is rapidly becoming our number one selling silk. Rodmakers love the bold, natural colors; these colors are especially appealing to the traditional rodmaking community….handsome browns, earthy greens, watery blues, blood reds, and vibrant, golden yellows.
Japanese Size #50. Roughly comparable to the old Size A American threads (Belding Corticelli, Gudebrod, etc.). A nice mid-weight thread that looks great and is easy to wrap with, but adds a bit of bulk and, due to that bulk, isn’t quite as nice if you’re after a translucent wrap. YLI offers a range in size #50; Tire offers a huge selection of colors in size #50. If you’re working on rods heavier than 5 wt, you might want to scale up to size #50 silk just from a strength perspective. This material is as close as you’ll get to 2/0 or OO silk, though this is probably a tad heavier than original 00 thread.
Japanese Size #30. This is the heaviest stuff we sell. It’s ideal for Salmon or Steelhead flyrods, and also works nicely for restoring older rods that were designed for trolling, surf fishing, coarse fishing, etc. Big silk for big tackle. If you’re making heavy fly rods, think about scaling up to size #30 somewhere around 8 or 9 weight.
Tipping. You know we love details. Details, well executed, mark the craftsman. Or craftswoman. First, tip your wraps. Not tipping your wraps is sloth. Sloth may be acceptable when you’re slapping a rod together to test a new taper, or to get a spare rod ready, last minute, for that big trip. Otherwise, sloth is less acceptable. Not tipping is what production houses do to keep costs down. You’re making a custom rod. You know you should tip your wraps just as we know it. Learn to tip. Take time to tip. Once you’ve mastered tipping, tip with finer silk. Wrap with #50, but tip with #100. Wrap with #100, but tip with Gossamer. Eventually you’ll wrap with just the fine stuff, and you still need to find a way to tip in finer fashion. Try to get down to three turns of tipping, or less. Try offset tipping – that’s where you tip with, say, three turns, but leave a three-turn gap between your tipping and primary wrap. Another fun one, that gives a vintage look, is tipping that’s contiguous with your primary wrap….until we post pictures, imagine this: the guide is wrapped down with Chinese Red or Claret silk, two or three turns past the tip of the foot the wrap shifts into an open spiral for 3-5 turns, then slams shut for another 3-5 turns of “offset” tipping; to this, you can add your regular black tipping….quite a complex and visually distinctive wrap – the trick to doing it, though, is to start the wrap off the foot, wrap the 3-5 tight ‘tipping’ turns, go to the open spiral as you approach the toe of the foot, close up the wrap just before the foot and then glide up onto the foot and finish off the wrap as normal. Try double tipping. Wrap your guide foot in your primary color. Tip that with three to five turns of fine, usually pale, silk. Then tip again with three turns of black Gossamer. That intermediate tipping is subtle. Not everyone will notice it, but you’ll know you took the time to put it there. And when the inevitable gawkers come by to admire your handsome rod, only a very few will notice the double tipping. Those observers, if they take the time to offer you a bit of constructive criticism, are the ones you should be listening to. If they commend your workmanship, smile. They have a discerning eye for detail. Respect that eye when you meet it. Develop that eye in your own practice.
I’m going to interject here with a portion of an email written by a long-time correspondent, Marc T., who holds an opposing thought on tipping: Russ… I have always enjoyed reading your schpiels, they remind me of my unspoken thoughts but I must completely disagree with you on the subject of tipping . Quality does not need to advertise, workmanship speaks for itself without flashy advertising . In general I am thinking about the monochromatic Hardy rods that I have owned and loved and perhaps the lesser tools happily festooned with multicolored silks and more suitable for poking the TV buttons so I don’t have to get out of my chair than for fishing. Just my opinion. … thanks again. Best of luck, Marc
Marc is absolutely correct. There are sublimely crafted monochromatic rods, and there are rods where the flash is aimed at distracting your eye from the build quality, or lack therof. Whether or not you opt for tipping, don’t ever neglect the overall quality of your workmanship. Practice and practice more. All that practice will be apparent no matter the number of silk colors you choose for each rod’s color scheme.
Marc wrote again: Russ, thanks for the response but I have to modify my previous comments – in 1987 I received a Hardy Fairchild as an early Christmas gift, built in 1953 it is probably the best gift I ever received or ever will receive. The rod was wrapped in spring green and while the guide and ferrule wraps were color preserved the intermediates were not. A typical bit of thrifty subtlety by Hardy I thought , making a two-tone rod with one color of silk. Best , Marc (The colored text is my shoddy attempt to emphasize what Marc is getting at – Russ)
This “thrifty” approach to a two-tone rod is brilliant. Whether subtle because that’s what the maker intended, or a way for a hobby rodmaker on a budget to two get the effect two colors on one rod while using a single spool of silk, this is simply a great idea. If one of you reading this makes a one-silk, two-tone rod, please send one or two pictures that clearly demonstrate what can be accomplished with a single spool of silk and a little ingenuity. I’d like to post the picture here.
Marc wrote to me again, just to say he was glad I liked his thoughts on one-color, two-tone wraps, to which I responded: I do like the idea. I’m attracted to creative solutions or inversions (doing the unexpected with expected materials). Whether it was cost cutting or “hey, why hasn’t someone else done this before,” getting two hues from a single spool is good, practical, thinking. No-one ever sees the ‘inside’ of our guide making operation, but there’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t alter a step in the process to make things a bit easier, a bit safer (I tend to bleed and burn in the shop and I prefer to minimize both experiences), a bit faster, or sometimes slower but nicer. Each time, the kicker is “why didn’t I think of that a month or a year ago because I’d have had such an easier time or I’d have been making nicer guides.” But until you’re in the thick of a project, the step-wise micro-evolution of accomplishing the entire arc of the process is hidden.
Recently I had another email conversation about tipping, and this one touched on how many turns of tipping to use at the edge of the ferrule wraps, and elsewhere. Here’s an expanded response: I like my ferrule tipping to match my guide tipping, for diameter, i.e., if I tip the guides with Gossamer, I’ll tip the ferrules and the winding check with Gossamer. For quantity, sometimes I tip with an extra turn or two at the ferrules. I have matched the number of turns of tipping at the stripper to the same number of turns at the ferrule (4 or 5), but then I jump down one or two turns for the snakes which helps to give the rod an sense of visual diminishment as your eye glides out from the butt toward the tip. This stuff can get obsessive, so don’t worry about it too much, unless you’ve got that sort of personality! If you want full on obsessive, try this: 6 turns of tipping at the winding check, five on each foot of the stripper, four turns on any butt-section snakes and both the ferrule wraps on a two-piece rod, then three on all the tip snakes, and two turns on the tiptop wraps…but use a pair of separated 2-turn wraps on the second tip, so you can tell your tips apart…fish the tip with a single tipping wrap on odd days of the month; the tip with double tipping gets fished on even days of the month and this will roughly balance their use over the years of occasional angling. While I’m on this, there’s a particularly practical reason for matching the number of turns of ferrule tipping to the turns needed for butt-side snake guides. In some cases your guide spacing will demand a snake near the ferrule juncture…I try to ensure that any snake near the ferrules adjoins the butt-side, female, ferrule. I leave just enough room between the tip of the foot and the tabs of the ferrule to squeak in one regular group of tipping wraps – typically four turns – plus the one or two turns of the primary wrap that start “off” the leading edge of the guide’s toe; in a sense this wrap is like covalent bonding in chemistry where two elements share a pair of electrons, but here you have two normal wraps – the ferrule tab wrap and the snake guide wrap – sharing a single, standard-width, band of tipping. Covalent tipping? Call it what you like, it looks sharp.
Regarding the above notes on obsessive tipping – you should stretch this theme out a little further if you’re working on a three piece rod. Consider starting with seven turns at the winding check, six on the stripper wraps, five on the butt snakes and butt/mid ferrule tab wraps, then four turns on the mid snakes and the mid/tip ferrule wraps, three on the tip snakes, and you’re right back at a single and double set of two-turn tipping for your tiptop wraps. But if you’re good with tipping and like the challenge and the sense of mastery and accomplishment that flows from doing things the hard way, drop one turn from all of the above, whether for two-piece rods or three-piece rods and you’ll discover you land at single-turn tipping wraps at the tiptop. You can’t get a more delicate look without dropping down to no tipping wraps, but that takes you back to where we started…at sloth, and avoiding sloth.
There will be more to follow.
If you need a silk matched, or need color suggestions, please email. It’s something we do regularly. As a single example, here’s the email I sent to Andy T. who had asked about specific solid color Tire silks to accompany two different, but related, Tiara variegated primary wrap silks. Please be patient with these requests…I’ll take my time when I respond, but I need to find that time in my schedule so don’t expect an immediate answer.
I’m trying to find a spool of green/orange jasper thread. I’ve looked everywhere with no result. I thought that, if anyone would know of some , it would be you. Or perhaps you might know of some other solution? I’m trying to match some wraps on a vintage rod.
Thanks for writing.
I don’t have any easy solution for you (i.e., a spool of thread or a source for the same), but I may be able to offer guidance in case you can’t locate anything vintage to wrap with.
First, color. While I don’t doubt that it’s possible you have green & orange jasper, I do know it’s also possible you have green & white jasper under an aged layer of finish that has gone golden-orange over the course of many decades. If you cut a wrap off and look at the underside, then you’ll know for certain. At some level, this doesn’t matter too much either way because you’re trying to match the effective color so that the repair visually ties into the other wraps.
Anyway, if it’s green/white, you might have an easier time locating a spool of vintage silk. If so, use shellac to both color-preserve the silk (the white would go translucent if varnished directly) and to add the golden glow of age. The best shellac I’ve found is Tiger Flakes, here: https://toolsforworkingwood.com/store/item/MS-TF.XX . Several colors, so you can choose one or two to play with, as well as playing with the ‘cut’ (dilution ratio of flakes to solvent). You’d have to do several test wraps to get a sense for what shellac gets your thread to match the originals for color. If you’re using vintage thread, save that for actual rod work and create shop-made jasper for the test wraps (see below). Word of caution: dogs – my dog anyway – love to eat shellac flakes; that incident didn’t do her any harm, but I lost a lot of valuable flakes because I stored them on a low shelf, never thinking they’d interest a curious and persistently hungry mutt (we do feed her sufficiently, really).
If, on the other hand, you do need green & orange jasper, you may have to make it yourself. It’s probably two strands of orange and one of green, but I could be wrong and to get it right you might need to tease apart a bit of an original wrap so you’ll know for sure. Collect some fine thread (Pearsall’s or Kimono) of similar colors. Cut long strands (the length of your shop space?). Tie one set of thread ends into a screw eye you’ve got mounted in a bench, or gripped in a vise – immobile. Tie the other ends to a screw eye you’ve got chucked into a battery operated drill and step back just far enough to make the thread taught. Very, very slowly get the drill spinning….as it spins the length of the threads will shorten and you’ll need to step toward the fixed screw eye. Twist the thread group just enough that the ‘spin’ of the threads seems to match your original wraps, then add a quick drop of super glue to your (drill) end of the twisted threads and let that cure before you snip it free of the drill’s screw eye. Keep the twisted thread slightly taught and wind it onto an empty thread spool. This is not how jasper threads were actually made, so the look is not identical, but in a pinch you can turn out enough shop-made jasper to wrap one or two guides and have them look ‘close, but not quite.’
I hope this helps.
My very best,