The Hydro-Welded ™ Guides
Environmentally-Friendly, Traditional Stripping Guides by Golden Witch
Our exclusive Hydro-Welded™ Guides are Golden Witch’s most important, and environmentally protective, retro-innovation since the company was founded. These second generation guides are the culmination of two decades spent thoughtfully building thousands and thousands of iterations and variations on one simple theme: The Stripping Guide. The aesthetics and the construction methods are both aligned with a singular goal: proper function. These limited production guides are the prime choice for artisan rodmakers whose eyes, and whose clients’ eyes, appreciate worthwhile details. They are the choice for all anglers who demand traditional aesthetics and heirloom-worthy durability.
The Hydro-Welded™ Guides represent the melding – the welding – of venerable craft tradition and leading-edge, environmentally sound, jewelry construction. We have kept the trusted materials from modern angling’s hallowed early days: the nickel silver framing wire, nickel silver sheet or wire bezels, and rings such as agate, agatine, porcelain, and carbide – some vintage, some fresh cut. We also kept traditional designs, the swoops, the curves, the perfectly balanced aesthetics that harken back to those times when the better rodmaking houses employed masters of metal and stone to fashion these critical components. What did we add to this process that the old masters could only imagine? In addition to modern variants of traditional tools – e.g., the wire brake & the forming press – we added a computer controlled TIG Welder to join the frame halves and a revolutionary Hydrogen Welding system to permanently bond these frames with high temperature, high purity, hard silver solder[i].
Our goal was to create incredibly durable guides that ranged from the apparently delicate to the unquestionably overbuilt, from light fly rod stripping guides to Tarpon-worthy behemoths. To achieve this goal, we studied historic guides, then we went overboard. Here is one example of going overboard. Vintage stripping guides, produced by the finest guide house in Pre-WWII Germany, used a tack welder to join their frame halves, typically leaving three to five small weld marks on each guide foot prior to soldering. Our TIG welder is used to form a contiguous series of overlapping weld puddles on the bottom of each guide foot – depending on the final appearance desired, we sometimes leave the puddles as an artifact of process or we may grind the weld seam flush. Then, we use our ultra-hot, clean burning hydrogen welding system to flood the top, visible, seam of each guide foot. This silver seam is nearly invisible in the polished guide foot when it is left bright, but when blued or bronzed the silver resists oxidation and presents itself as a defining line central to the construction of each foot.
While it is easy to see the precious silver seam in these macro photos taken under relatively low-glare softbox lighting, believe me, the detail is far more subtle ‘in the wild.’ I know the silver seam is there because I make the frames and I know how silver reacts to our standard oxidizer, but I need to catch the guide in the right light – and the right mind – to truly see it. That silver seam often appears as dark as the surrounding blued nickel silver frame halves, probably because the observer’s mind interprets the slim bright line as a highlight. Sometimes you can discern it, sometimes you can’t. It reminds me of a flexing Necker Cube.
In this close up, however, it is possible to pick out and differentiate the highlight, forward and to the left of the silver seam, and the silver weld line itself which is central to the foot.
We are calling this series of guides Hydro-Welded™ Guides in part because that’s shorter and catchier than something like “Guides Featuring Both TIG Puddle Welds & Hydrogen Fueled Hard Silver Welds,” and in part because the Hydrogen Welder is also used to double-secure the rings to the frames. Though you can’t see it unless you carefully deconstruct the guide, we often (when the ring will stand the heat) weld the ring to the frame with high-temp, high purity, hard silver solder, and then we add a buttressing layer of low temp gunsmithing silver solder – the same ring to frame solder system we have used successfully for the past two decades. We have been accused of ‘over-soldering’ our rings into our frames. True. But on the positive side for rodmakers and anglers, our rings simply do not fall out of the frames. Inspect our guides closely. You’ll see that after soldering the rings into the frames with a small overabundance of solder, we then grind the solder to remove the true excess, leaving only sturdy fillets arcing the several spans between the frame and the ring.
Overbuilt, but aesthetically conscious. As always, we take the extra steps that others never bother with. We pursue perfection, and charge accordingly for our time, our labor.
This hydrogen welding system is worth discussing in a bit more detail because it burns with a green flame. And green in more ways than one. Yes, the flame itself burns in an eye-catching, luminescent, chartreuse which makes it easier to see than any other micro-welding flames. This clearly visible, needle-sharp, flame offers more precision when soldering and, in turn, that means that despite the high temperature of the flame, the torch is less likely to heat-damage adjacent stones. The flame is also environmentally “green.” This welding system splits water molecules, forming pure hydrogen and pure oxygen gasses, HH & O, which are reunited during combustion to form the ideal waste product: water – and absolutely zero C02 emissions. This welding system is safer for the working craftsman and far better for the environment than lower temperature soldering systems which rely on propane and ambient oxygen, or two-tank, compressed gas, oxy-acetylene welding systems. Stronger Guides. Safer Workplace. Fish Friendly. Win. Win. Win.
Expect to pay more for these hand-crafted Hydro-Welded™ Guides. Under ideal circumstances, simply due to the numerous steps involved in crafting these elegant and durable guides, one craftsman can only produce about ten guides in a long workday. How many steps? Not including oxidizing or finish coating, a brightly polished Hydro-Welded™ Guide requires a minimum of 125 clearly defined steps to move from spooled wire to the ready-to-ship stripping guide. There will always be more affordable machine-made guides on the market, but there won’t be any finer, more eminently traditional, more exquisitely functional guides than our Hydro-Welded™ Guides. If a craftsman did nothing except make these stripping guides, all year minus time off, then one jeweler, focused exclusively on creating guides of this quality, would max out at under 2800 guides. Within the frame of GW, that’s less than one guide, per client, per year, if all our clients wanted a single top shelf guide. Lucky for some of you, not everyone wants to use these guides. Order early relative to your needs if you’re ordering custom crafted guides. The team members at Golden Witch, the craftsmen in particular, each thank you in advance for your patience.
Hydro-Welded™ Guides will initially be available in five basic formats.
- Standard Production. Hydro-Welded™ Frames are infiltrating our standard range of guides, starting with the Vintage High Frame, Vintage Medium Frame, and Oyster Special guides. Before long, all our guides will feature these superior, second generation frames.
- Custom Up-grade. Hydro-Welded™ Frames will be available as a custom upgrade on any of our current range of guides that employ a Standard frame. In the next few months, we’ll offer a Cradle variant of the Hydro-Welded™ Frames and will add these as an option for many of our other guides. For now, this is the best way to order custom guides with this superior frame. $15.00 Up-Grade Fee – this is an introductory price and the price will rise as needed to balance demand.
- Franken-Stone™ Guide Series. These up-cycled guides are our ode to Mary Shelley’s modern Prometheus, the monster constructed piecemeal by Doctor Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein haunted the graveyards and mortuaries seeking organic parts that had recently cast off their mortal coil. We’ve re-visited the Golden Witch collection of vintage German guides searching for beautiful – inorganic – agate, agatine, porcelain, & carbide rings that are soldered into frames the likes of which will never sell in quantity to restorationists and collectors. Many of these parts are beautiful, but functionally dead. After twenty years of resisting the urge to deconstruct these lovely guides and tiptops, we have succumbed to temptation. Using a combination of snips and torches, Drake & I have begun harvesting the good bits – the historic rings. By relying on vintage rings, we reduce the environmental impact associated with mining and cutting new stones, so these guides are a big plus for clean waters! We design and build stripping guide frames to suit the historic rings, showcasing each in perfect form. In rare cases there are a thousand or more identical rings, but in most instances there are fifty rings, or five, or fewer. Many of these rings are larger, best suited for heavy duty guides. If you’re making a custom fly or Spey rod for salmon, steelhead, shark, tarpon, or taimen, you’ll want one of these guides. Bigger frames means more labor & more silver solder. Deconstruction before construction – also more labor. Limited supply – there’s that, too. These will be priced according to our investment and our ability to make more – or to make no more. Like our Founder’s Series of guides, any of these Franken-Stone™ Guides that are for sale will be available for immediate shipment. Expect prices ranging from $50.00 carbide ring guides in light frames up through $200.00 or more for extremely limited edition agate rings set into heavier frames. Some of the Franken-Stone™ Guides will feature ornate silver bezels and these, which resist easy categorization, will also be lodged with the Jewelry Tier Series of guides.
- The Founder’s Series. As I have time, I will make small batches of guides that appeal to my eye. We’ll list these batches – never more than eight to twelve of a given size & style, a single day’s production – on the website. The benefit for rodmakers is that while each batch is available, they’ll be available without delay – and guides without waiting your turn on the build list, that’s handy if you need a top-quality guide on short notice. The flip side is that when each little batch sells out, they’re gone. Once sold, we’ll shift each option lower on the page simply as a visual record and reference. If you see something you like, say white jade rings in a blued Hydro-Welded™ frame, then you can order something similar as a custom item. Longer term, by 2022 if not during 2021, we’ll have a new range of stones cut specifically for use in crafting batches of Founders Series guides. Long story short, I designed custom guides for a large production rod house and they never moved forward with the project. I’ve been sitting on the sketches for several years and I am looking forward to moving them from an idea into reality. In truth, if I replicate the original idea with gold welds, these guides will belong to our final category of Hydro-Welded™ Guides, the Jewelry Tier Series. Expect standard guide prices for the Founder’s Series to start at $65.00.
- The Jewelry Tier Series. All our Hydro-Welded™ Guides are suitable for your presentation grade tackle, and all are durable enough for the rods you put into the hands of the most avid anglers and professional guides. The Jewelry Tier Guides are one notch finer yet, ideal for your peerless, crackerjack, rods. No matter if you think of “finest” as capital, jim-dandy, peachy keen, or supernal, our Jewelry Tier strippers are a match for your superlative rods. When you’ve been commissioned to craft a rod for some worthy head of state, a matched brace for a retiring Titan or Titaness of Industry, or for a bespoke wedding gift, you’ll need these elegant guides. We’ll make a few for display and for sale. Typically, these will be custom crafted. All will feature our finest rings. All will feature precious metals – silver or gold. Most will be blued to accentuate the precious metals which don’t oxidize. Until we have guides posted to whet your appetite, imagine a highly patterned moss agate ring, wrapped with a rope-twisted 18 carat gold bezel, set into a Hydro-Welded™ frame that is seamed with gold (rather than silver), and then blued. The gold bezel and the gold seam running down each foot will stand out boldly against the dark blue frame, catching the eye and drawing it to inspect the quality of the guide’s craftsmanship and the craftsmanship of every aspect of your finest rod. Note to makers: guides like these beg for invisible wraps and complimentary tipping, though the gold seam will be apparent under many light-colored silks when finished to achieve translucency. Expect prices starting at $125.00 for guides featuring silver bezels and seams; starting at $275.00 for guides featuring gold bezels and seams (current precious metals market prices will impact final Jewelry Tier guide prices).
These aren’t just made in the USA, they’re made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We build the frames from raw wire in our shop. The bezels (some vintage rings excepted) are also made in Lancaster, PA. We use rings from all over the world, but many are final shaped and final polished here in our shop. All guide assembly, polishing, and finishing is accomplished in our shop. For more information on our Hydro-Welded ™ Guides, please visit these pages:
- Standard Production Guides – See Which Guides Already Feature Hydro-Welded™ Frames
- Custom Up-grade – Hydro-Welded ™ Guides
- Franken-Stone™ Guide Series – Hydro-Welded ™ Guides
- The Founder’s Series – Hydro-Welded ™ Guides
- The Jewelry Tier Series – Hydro-Welded ™ Guides
- Frame Production – Process Shots For The Curious
“If the rod breaks, salvage that stripping guide!” – That’s the measure of a fine guide.
Thanks for looking through this page! Please support small business innovation and traditional artisanship by purchasing some of our Hydro-Welded™ Guides for your finest rods. Roughly speaking, every two guides you purchase supports sixty to ninety minutes of shop time – that’s the craft labor, plus materials and overhead. Five hundred rodmakers ordering only four guides each, per year, supports the shop hours of one full-time angling-oriented artisan. Drake, Nikki, Matt, & I very sincerely appreciate every single guide sale, and speaking as the primary craftsman here at GW (with increasing frame making help from Drake), I appreciate your patience with the delay between order and delivery.
[i] Solder vs. Solder. Remember those old Mad Magazine Spy vs. Spy installments? Well it’s like that with the two divergent forms of metal joining that are referred to as soldering, and soldering. Neither is good, neither is bad, except function, or dysfunction, makes them so. Much soldering is, technically, soldering. This is best described as low-temperature soldering or soft soldering and it relies on a soldering alloy that melts and flows at relatively low temperatures – even when classed as ‘hi’ temp soft soldering. This rather low “hi” means the solder flows at 475°F and not in the sub-450 degree range. Put in simple terms, this stuff is like glorified hot melt adhesive for metals. It flows, it sticks – and you don’t want to get it on your fingers while it’s hot, though it will only cause a blister. The bond is strong – strong enough to mount gun sights on heavy-recoiling hand cannons and shotguns – but it remains topical, not penetrating. Perhaps think of soft soldering as the mortar which joins adjacent bricks. Durable, but not impervious to disruption. The solder that joins the nickel silver of the bezel (wire or sheet) to the framing metal will fill any pores in each of the metal it is joining in a manner much like stick cement would fill those pores. It gloms on and it works well. In similar fashion to working with adhesives, adding a bit of tooth – roughing up the parts to be joined – adds, at a microscopic level, far more surface area for the bond and thus can strengthen the bond. Still, with a pair of pliers and a bit of twisting, or a forceful backcast into a solidly rooted tree trunk, you can sometimes break a soldered joint and one part or the other, ring or frame, will separate from the soft solder, more or less cleanly.
Conversely, the other sort of soldering is high-temperature soldering or hard soldering and, despite the name “solder” used both as a verb, the act of so joining two or more metal parts, and as a noun, the alloy used to flood the joint, this isn’t actually soldering, it’s welding. Welding, to oversimplify, is the act of commingling the adjacent pieces of metal at an elemental or molecular level to form a permanent bond, a unified piece. In other words, rather than being two distinct parts joined by a momentarily molten third part, the originals are two parts (or three if a filler alloy is used) permanently combined at the joint into, essentially, a single piece of metal (sometimes a metal of a new alloy if it combines the metal of the parts being joined with the metal of the filler material). If soft soldering is comparable to joining bricks with mortar, then hard soldering would be comparable to permanently binding adjacent igneous rocks with a fresh flow of molten lava – lava hot enough to partially liquefy and blend with the adjacent rocks. To create a weld, you might take two pieces of like metal and hit them with an electrical arc, forming a weld puddle that pools metal from both parent pieces – this is what our TIG welding system does. Alternately, you might take two adjacent pieces of metal and flood the thin gap with a filler alloy, but at such high temperatures that the filler material, the hard solder, mixes and melds with the metal pieces that are being joined – and this is what happens with our hydrogen welding system and the high-temp, hard silver solder we use.
To compare low and high temperature alloys, our soft solder, sometimes called SNAG solder, is comprised of 96% tin (SN) and 4% silver (AG). We use a variety of hard solders to achieve different visual effects, but common hard silver solder relies upon an alloy that is 75% precious silver, flows at 1450°F (that’s 950°F higher than the ‘hi’ temp soft solder we also use), and thus forms a true welded joint. My unwelded fingers are crossed – I’ve never gotten a drop of molten hard solder on my skin, but my suspicion is that metal this hot would tunnel into a finger, cauterizing the tunnel as it burrowed deeper, rather than blistering it. To give some indication of the heat required to manipulate soft solders vs. hard solders, we typically use a propane & ambient air (thus, uncompressed and low ratio oxygen) torch with flame temps in the range of 2,000°F – 2,250°F to melt soft solder; this torch burns at temps which won’t damage stone or glass rings during brief contact. In contrast, the hydrogen torch burns at about 5800°F – a temperature that quickly melts the hard solder and will almost instantly crackle most agate and agatine rings if it crosses them.