The Iconoclasty of the Split Cane Rodbuilder


Ernestless Tweedbert

Over the years I've come to observe that rodbuilders can be taxonomically subdivided into distinct species of the rodbuilding genus Rodbuildius, much as a biologist can separate the land-living from sea-living slugs. I've taken the liberty of forming these groupings somewhat arbitrarily, and in reality we all have some degree of each of these attributes. Overall, I'd say the one defining feature that unites us all is weirdness, and I think you'll agree that as a group, we're a whole different breed.

The Hobbyist (Rodbuildius abramsonia): I'll list the hobbyist first because there are more of them then any other single group. Typically, the hobbyist is one sad schmuck who loves fly fishing but whose day job consists of pushing paper from one pile to the next, attending endless and pointless meetings, answering the phone, commuting to and fro and generating memos and responses to memos. In exchange for their inane livelihood, they collect a pretty decent paycheck. But the mind-numbing inanity and frustration of their daily existence combined with a lack of a tangible work product they can hold and lovingly caress sets them up perfectly for catching the "Norm Abrams Syndrome".

One Saturday morning they'll be sitting in front of the TV watching old Norm making a genuine reproduction Shaker footstool. They think to themselves, "man I'd love to do that…make something real." So strong is the desire to build something they overlook the fact that Norm created the $39 footstool using: a $1,200 jointer, a $400 thickness planer, a $300 biscuit joiner, a $1,500 tablesaw, a $79 dollar pad sander, a $200 oscillating drum sander, a $400 plunge router, a $300 dollar dovetail jig, an $800 dust collection system, and a $1,200 HVLP spray finish setup.

The hobbyist rodbuilder is the fly fishing version of the Norm Abrams syndrome, a consequence of the slippery slope down the cash-fueled urge to create. At least initially, this urge has nothing to do with saving money by building one's own rod (unlike The Butcher), although it becomes a convenient rationale once they start to add up the cost for all the tooling. For this group, defects in craftsmanship become opportunities to upgrade to more expensive tools.

While dipping a rod the Hobbyist drools over the Garret-Wade catalog and reads old copies of the Planing Form newsletter.

A distinct subspecies of Hobbyist is the Teacher Hobbyist. (Rodbuildius abramsonia secondjobicus) So many THs get into rodbuilding that Rodbuilding Gatherings resemble NEA conventions. Unlike the garden-variety hobbyists, the THs are motivated by money. They are perhaps the saddest lot. They got into a profession that historically pays nothing and is generally viewed by the public in an unfavorable light. They then attempt to compensate for these deficiencies by becoming- of all things- rodbuilders! (Oh the humanity!) I could advise these folks to read up on Freud's theory of Repetition Compulsion, but unlike students, teachers apparently never learn.

Typically, teachers refuse to learn rodbuilding by taking a class. They cry poor. "I don't have the money for that." Boohoo. All of the sudden they believe in Home Schooling. Once they build a couple rods, they then set out to teach the craft because they 'need the money', thus completing the TH circle of absurdity. cry me a river

While dipping a rod, the teacher reads the NEA newsletter and literature from his third job as an Amway/Avon salesperson.

The Hermit (Rodbuildius krazinskius): The Hermit is characterized by antisocial behavior, the rodbuilding equivalent of the Unibomber. Since Walden is long paved-over, you're more then likely to find the Hermit by looking West and South. The Hermit's daily existence is one of grinding poverty and drunken leisure. The Hermit lives in poverty because he's too antisocial to disclose his address to anyone and he's self-employed because no one will hire a drunken bum.

If the Hermit hates and fears one thing more then personal contact, it's the Federal Government. As a result, he heads West (purchased and surveyed by the Federal Government), drives daily (on a Federal Highway) past the ranches of the Independent Cowboys (Federally Funded Grazing, Crop, Mineral, Timber and Water Subsidies) to the National Park ('nuff said) because all the other water's private. They fish at a tailwater (Feds built the Dam) where the water levels fluctuate dangerously (to provide him with cheap Federally subsidized electricity).

The Hermit keeps no business records and therefor pays no taxes and therefor doesn't have to work very often. Thank God he got away from those Welfare People. Don't ask him to build you a rod, even if you can find him- the intrusion into his solitude will just piss him off. While dipping a rod, the hermit reads Militia Monthly.

The Techie (Rodbuildius megabytus): The techie is a real enigma because the techie sees no contradiction in using new technology to create a work product that's quintessentially old technology. The techie plays with computer versions of taper design formulae and ponders mightily over stress coefficients. The techie mostly builds virtual rods, preferring to spend hours conversing about rodbuilding on the listserve and chatrooms and never leaving the screen to actually make shavings. The techie's got a mean website, though.

The techie keeps his dipping schedule on his Palm Pilot, indexes his Powerfiber CD collection by subject, and subscribes to Wired magazine.

The Engineer (Rodbuildius garrisonii): The Engineer is one that believes the craft of bamboo rodbuilding can only be elevated by making everything as needlessly complex as humanly possible, thus mutating the simple task of building a flyrod into rocket science. He will then sit back and admire his brilliance for reinventing what was accomplished by a motley collection of half-wits and drunken hermits 135 years ago.

While dipping a rod, the Engineer reads the Journal of Experimental Algorithmics. As his mind wanders he begins to dream up an improved way of dipping a rod that consists of a stationary tube and a series of hydraulic, computer controlled jacks that will raise the entire house from its foundation thus pulling the rod along with it.

The Used Car Salesman (Rodbuildius ginsuknifus): The UCS may or may not be a distinct species of rodbuilder, or they may just use a sales method often employed by the Butcher. The UCS sells the sizzle 'cause the steak is rancid, and if the Ginsu knife salesman ever heard the UCS' sales pitch, they'd blush in their comparative ineptitude.

For the UCS, the sale is everything. Every other consideration-ethics, quality, conscience- means nothing and the bigger one he can put over on you the more he enjoys it. The rods are merely the 'vehicle' to do so.

The Philosopher (Rodbuildius socraticus): Closely related to- and frequently confused with- the Hermit, the Philosopher prefers pot instead of booze for his chemical amusement. The philosopher feels 'at one with nature' when making and fishing cane rods. Philosophers construct cane rods by deconstruction; thus their output is extremely low. While dipping a rod they read Kant or stare off into space totally immersed in the experience of just Being.

Occasionally the Philosopher shares some attributes of the Techie and as a result is best classified as the subspecies of Philosopher known as the Naderite (Rodbuildius socraticus hempi). The Naderite appreciates cane because it's a sustainable, renewable, macrobiotic 'lifestyle choice'. The Naderite views rods made of carbon fiber as representative of The Man's Oppression of the People and rampant globalization, and will point out that the recyclable half-life of graphite rods at 6 billion years. The Philosopher and Hermit eat cane shavings to 'be at one with bamboo' and for sustenance, respectively. The Naderite eats cane shavings as a source of holistic dietary fiber and chases them down with a triple mocha latte. Stop by one's shop and you'll find them wearing a hemp apron and gluing up with an eco-friendly recycled adhesive resin (the same stuff he uses to make the paper mache' puppet heads for the Free Mumia protest) while rage Against the Machine blasts in the background.

While dipping a rod, the Naderite reads Utne Reader and dreams of building a solar heat-treating oven.

The MBA (Rodbuildius harvardicus): The MBA views rods and rodbuilding not as a craft, but as a value-added income enhancing niche product with upscale user demographics and fantastic synergistic revenue enhancement opportunities.

While dipping a rod, the MBA reads Fly Tackle Retailer and mentally calculates his net return per square foot while fretting over his opportunity costs, dreams of a way to hedge his investment exposure by issuing cane rod derivatives, and 'thinks outside the box' over a new 'mission statement'.

The Butcher (Rodbuildius billybobus): The Butcher gets into building cane rods because he's too cheap to buy a decent one. Unlike the hobbyist, the Butcher is under no illusion that better tools will make a better rod and in fact actively eschews any article of quality. Their shops are a hodgepodge of crap (all of which doesn't work) yet they'll proudly point out they were able to set up their entire operation for $24.95.

As noted above, the Butcher is closely related to the Used Car Salesman, and often employs UCS methods when the quality of an item is called into question. The butcher is a big fan of slashing prices, throwing in a reel, playing the Populist with some good-ole-boy charm: "My rods are made for real, workaday folk. This ain't no fancy pants fishpole, and it's made fer fishin' not fer lookin." The Butcher can discern no difference in quality between a Payne and a Horrocks-Ibbotson.

While dipping a rod, the Butcher trolls eBay for old Montagues to cut down, then frantically searches his trailer trying to find an old cast-iron sausage grinder he's gonna convert into a gluing binder. (Look on the front porch dude, in the dog piss-stained cardboard box behind the refrigerator!)

Addendum/Disclaimer: It has come to my attention that certain sensitive individuals have taken offense to this little essay, when none was intended. Lighten up, folks. Further, as noted in the beginning, this essay contains elements of myself and I leave it to the reader to draw their own inferrence as to which are shared in my persona...which leads me to think about why I've always enjoyed Southern humor/satire so much. It seems to me that in Southern humor, the object/butt of ridicule is more often the teller of the joke themself, as opposed to some other 'victim'. In that light, I will post an upcoming essay on my own personal foibles/stupidities/insanities that relate to rodbuilding so the sensitive can have a chuckle at my expense and we can all then hug and laugh and be one big happy dysfunctional family. It'll take some time to write, as the list is long.


© 2002, 2003 J.D. Wagner, Inc.