Bamboo

This is my spot to add a description to this ‘category’ page. I’m not going to. Instead, I want to share an email from a client on the verge of moving from building a rod on a blank another maker crafted, to gearing up so he can make his own blanks.

Mark wrote: Thanks Russ. I’m compiling my list to get started. Will be fun to at least see if I’ve got what it takes to see it through.

And here’s my response – hopefully an inspiring one: It is fun. The sense of accomplishment the first time you catch a fish on a rod you crafted from raw materials…that’s indescribable. I recently posted a new ramble on Quad Guides, which is mostly a back and forth email conversation that didn’t go the way I hoped. Within that pile of words, I talk about how critical it is to make the jump from reading (or watching dvds, or talking to other makers) and to simply get material and get started. I was addressing guides – wire bending for frames and lapidary shaping of the agate – but the concept applies to all craft work. Once you dig into the project, you’ll learn how your tools work, how the material responds to your hands. You’ll make mistakes, but those mistakes are your best teacher…as you tick off all the things that don’t work, you’re also figuring out what does work. With bamboo, some of the steps feel almost magical…Yes, this sounds completely corny. For me, I really enjoy heating and pressing nodes…it’s ‘magical’ that you can heat this material over an alcohol lamp and then press a lumpy portion more or less flat as though it was molten wax or plastic. Once ‘flattened,’ you file off the little bits of the lump (and the tiny residual groove from the internodal ring) and the stick winds up dead level where there had been node….and the ‘scar’ from the node, if you heat, press, and file, is very small. Of course some makers argue against heating and pressing…it is time consuming, so it doesn’t work in a production shop, and it’s just one more place you might damage the bamboo if you’re not careful with the heat. These fellows might argue for sanding the nodes flat on a belt sander, without pressing. It’s fast, it won’t damage the bamboo…yet the pressing crowd will argue that you’ve just sanded off power fibers that could be conserved by heating and pressing. Both groups are ‘right’ because there really are two ways to skin that particular cat and each method has advantages and drawbacks. In our shop, when we made rods for sale, we offered two grades of tackle. Top tier rods had heated and pressed nodes. Less expensive, light production, rods featured sanded nodes. There really is a place for both. Finding the method that works best for you, in your shop, with your tools, with your mindset…that’s the bigger challenge than actually ‘removing’ the nodes to get flattened strips that can be planed down.

I hope that if you’re considering making a rod, you’ll simply try to do it. Stop pondering and take action. Yes, curse me, I earn my living doing this and I have a vested interest in getting you to buy some bamboo and other parts. But I’m also terribly interested in something larger than merely earning my living. I’m interested in the continuity of the craft, and that requires craftsmen and craftswomen. I’m also interested, at a societal level, in urging folks to be active participants in making things, doing things, and not just watching others. It doesn’t have to be bamboo rods, just make something. Bake bread. Brew beer. Ferment wine. I’d suggest distilling, too, but that’s still illegal in many places. Paint a picture – there’s something that hasn’t been outlawed, yet. Make a piece of jewelry for a loved one. Plant a garden. Teach a kid (yes, I’m a home-school advocate). If you have a creative urge, follow that muse forward to a more involved life. Your muse is akin to Alice’s white rabbit. Name the rabbit. Follow your rabbit down a rabbit hole. Trust me, rodmaking is one such rabbit hole that may re-orient your life, but it’s not the only rabbit hole in the warren. Explore the paths that intrigue you. The more often you try to make or do the things that catch your eye, your interest, the more your craft skills – your knack for accomplishing things – will develop and the more success you’ll have when the next, divergent, project catches your eye. Do things to become better at doing other things. You have this life. Use it well.

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