Getting Started in Cane Rodbuilding

I am writing this page to offer some helpful hints for those seeking to learn the cane rodbuilding craft. Hopefully, this will help answer some questions you may have, but if not, feel free to contact us and we'll do our best to assist you. We also have provided a wealth of info on our Rodbuilding Pages, including the rodbuilding process, history, and information about Tonkin cane.

How to get Started

A wise man once said that the best place to start is at the beginning. Cane rodbuilding can be a very rewarding hobby for those that love making beautiful objects and enjoy working with their hands. But it is only honest to tell you upfront: it is not a way to get a whole rack of cane rods cheaply. As a matter of fact, if one is strictly interested in saving money because they just can't bring themselves to pay for a single cane rod made by a pro, read no further. Buy a rod-any rod- now, and save yourself a lot of money and time. When it's all said and done, you will not be able to make a rod that is cheaper or better via this route. A simple and illuminating demonstration of this can be made by going through any current book and adding up the costs of the necessary tools and the raw and finished materials. Most of them don't list everything up front, but you might be enlightened by doing so. That will provide a much more realistic cost estimate, outside of the time you'll invest, then what you might have imagined.

If you have a dream of learning to build because you think there's a lot of money in cane rods, or that you can build a comfortable lifestyle around doing so, read no further. You can't, and we'd be happy to tell you why. If you think that building cane rods is a monetarily effective way to suppliment your income, head to the nearest McDonalds or'll do far better on an hourly basis then building cane rods.

That being said, if you are looking for a great hobby, if you love to putter, if you love making things with your hands, if you love catching fish on flies you tied yourself, if you have spare time, some disposable income and some space, if you have a fascination with the craft and how rods are made and 'work', if you are a patient and meticulous person- I can think of no hobby that gives greater rewards.

And that's the truth as I see it.

Do Your Homework

There's a ton of rodbuilding information out there, maybe too much. I would recommend first reading a good book or two. Read between the lines, as well as what's written on the page. Do not be intimidated by pseudoscientific windbaggery or the propensity of some people to gratify their own egos by making cane rodbuilding sound like rocket science. I would also very strongly advise, once you have read a bit and got your tools ready, to just jump in with both feet and get started. I have seen far too many people begin their trek towards building a rod, only to end up suffering paralysis by analysis. There are tons of experts out there, all with conflicting advice, theories, mumbojumbo, etc, and many pontificate at great length. This is particularly true with Internet forums. I'm not saying all this stuff is bad or BS, but the journey can be made easier by simplifying things, paring everything down to its bare essence, avoiding distractions, and getting to work.

Further, we learn by doing, not yakking. I don't care how many rods you've built in your mind, actually making one is when you'll really learn something. You'll learn more by thoughtfully working things through in the shop in one hour then reading ten hours worth of gobbleygook. I can watch hours of brain surgery on TV, but I'm no brain surgeon.

You might want to consider taking a cane rod making class. Classes offer a student an opportunity to really benefit from what someone else may have learned the hard way. You'll save a ton of time and money by taking one. In addition, you may think you want to learn the hobby, but are unsure if you will like it. Or you may dream of only building one rod, just to say you did it and have a rod to fish, treasure, and show off. Taking a class will allow you to try it out without a big investment in research, tools, etc. and at the very least you'll walk away with a rod for your efforts, as well as having had a great and memorable time. It is the best value going, in my humble opinion.

Gathering Your Tools

I would strongly advise that you don't invest tons of money until you've tried the craft. You'll be spending enough as it is. You can make a lot of the tools yourself, such as planing forms, but this will take a lot of time, and although people might be loathe to remind you, your time is money. So realize up front that everything is a trade-off, either time or money. This goes double for scouring flea markets and garage sales for used hand tools. Do you really want to spend your weekends racing around trying to find a 'deal' on a beat up old plane or lathe that may, or may not, work?

On our Tool Page are some of the things you'll need to get started. I would recommend the Basic Tool Kit, a set of rough forms, an inexpensive(but not a super cheap!) dial caliper and micrometer. I would recommend that you purchase a small (starter) bundle of cane from the Demarests.

You will need a set of planing forms. Here you have various options, you can make a set or purchase a set. If you have a friend in the craft you might be able to 'rent' a set to give it a try. Forms are available in all price ranges, but in this instance if you purchase them, I would advise buying the best you can afford. If you do decide to make your own, I will warn you up front that when it is all said and done, it won't be cheap when time and materials are concerned. I have seen very nice forms made by hand, the owners of which conservatively estimate they have 40-60 hours of time invested. If you enjoy the process of building the tools by all means go for it, but do so with your eyes open and the realization that there's a good amount of time involved.

Building your own forms isn't necessary for, or training toward, building a nice rod. For example, a lot of people get into rodbuilding as an outgrowth of a similar hobby, like woodworking. I've yet to pick up an issue of Fine Woodworking and find the first step in building a Chippendale Highboy:

Step One: Build Your own Tablesaw from Scratch

See what I mean?

Once you have your hand tools, forms and cane, get out in the shop and start splitting some cane! At some point in the process, you'll be needing a lathe for turning the grip and ferrule stations. If you don't wish to invest in a lathe a few options are possible. You can buy preformed cork grips and for mounting ferrules, doing the work by hand with a file. It's really not that hard or time consuming to do so. You might also have a friend or access to a vocational school that can offer use of their lathe for a couple hours until you decide if/when to get one on your own.

Contrary to some advice offered, I would not recommend purchasing a wood lathe for the jobs needed in rodbuilding. They lack the tool post and cross slide, lead screw, etc. that can be so helpful in cutting ferrule stations accurately and if you decide later that you wish to make hardware you're SOOL. Most also require that all of the accessories needed for cane rodbuilding be purchased separately, so in the end such a choice is no value.

That means that at some point you'll need a metal lathe of some sort. Searching around for a used one is an option, but can be risky. If you know what to look for in used machinery, and if you can still find parts for the old model you find then all the better. If you can afford and have space for a small metal lathe I would recommend one from an outfit like Enco or Grizzley. You can generally find one for about $1,000, complete with virtually everything you'll need for rodwork.

Another option is a small hobby-type lathe made by Sherline. If you have limited space available for your new hobby or if you are on a budget, they provide a nice alternative for light work. You get the versatility and accuracy of a metal lathe but for less then price of the larger machines from Enco, etc.

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