Bamboo Fly Rod – Tips, Techniques, and Other Disasters

Even the most meticulous Bamboo Rod Builder will eventually make mistakes when constructing or finishing a rod. Many of these mistakes are correctable, some are not.  I have made most mistakes that can be made, and I am confident that given enough time I will make mistakes that nobody thinks are possible.

Trying to correct these self-inflicted problems does open the window to creativity.  Please note that the solutions to the problems I list below worked for me, but I don’t say they are the only or even the best solutions, so try them at your discretion.



Bamboo Fly Rod Tip Seat#1: Varnishing the Wood Insert – Wood inserts can provide a unique and elegant touch to your bamboo fly rod.  I apply a finish to my inserts (using varnish or Tru-Oil, depending on how I finished my fly rod); I normally wipe on the finish drying and sanding between the multiple coats.  I have done this with various types of wood including maple burls and stabilized spalted maple burls.  The only time I ever had a problem with the finish was when I decided to dip my wood insert (similar to how I dip my bamboo rod) instead of wiping on the finish.  I had selected a particularly beautiful spalted maple burl and I dipped it twice (more than twice would have begun to fill up the mortised edges on the insert). Of course, this dipping sealed the inside of the drilled core as well as the exterior of the insert – this I believe was part of the problem.  Anyway, the finish initially looked outstanding.  But then, as I dipped my rod and let it dry between dips in my drying cabinet, I noticed the varnish finish on the insert had very small bubbles which formed and popped and seemed to follow the spalt lines in the insert. I sanded the bubbles out and wiped on a new coat, only to have the problem recur (to a successively lesser amount) as I dried the newly varnished insert.  My conclusion was that the insert was never completely dried after the stabilization fluid was applied and, because I dipped the insert and therefore sealed it on all sides, when I heat-dried (approximately 92 degrees Fahrenheit) the insert, any remaining stabilizing moisture in the insert had no way to escape except through the varnish.  It naturally chose the path of least resistance and escaped along the spalt lines.  Eventually the problem went away as insert became completely dry throughout.  My solution is to either dry the insert in my drying cabinet for several days before dipping, or only apply the finish by wiping would allow some portion of the insert (along the inside of the drilled core) to remain unsealed and serve as an escape valve for any remaining stabilization moisture.

Bamboo Fly Rod Tip Seat#2: Gluing the Skeleton to the Rod and the Insert – I have at various times used both 5 minute and 60 minute epoxy to glue the insert to the rod butt and the skeleton (up-locking and down-locking) to the insert.  The longer drying epoxy gives plenty of time for alignment and adjustment, but also more time for something to slip back out of alignment, particularly if you get tired of holding the arrangement.  What I now use is 5 minute epoxy and I do my glue-ups in two stages.  First I epoxy the Nickel Silver skeleton to the wood insert and, after that dries, I glue the combination to the rod butt.  Note that in my approach I glue the end cap onto the skeleton after I have slid the skeleton/insert unit onto the epoxy slathered rod butt.  This method allows me to more precisely contact the cut end of the butt to the inside surface of the skeleton end cap (I compensate for the thickness of the butt cap when I am cutting my rod sections, so it is important to insure the butt connects to the end cap).

Be sure you have all the moving components of your up-locking or down-locking Nickel Silver Skeleton aligned properly BEFORE you let the epoxy dry (yes, I have failed to do that, with sad results). Check it and then check it again.  If you find that you have to take the pieces apart, you will likely get tacky epoxy on the parts – that can be disastrous if you don’t clean the nickel silver before reassembly.  I have found a soft clean cloth dipped in acetone works wonders.  To keep the slide from falling down while the epoxy is setting up and causing problems, you can use some blue masking tape to keep the slide in place.

Bamboo Fly Rod Tip Seat#3:  End Cap Realignment – As I mentioned above, I epoxy my end cap to the skeleton after I have glued the wood insert into the nickel silver skeleton and that portion has hardened.  After roughing up the interior surfaces of the nickel silver hardware to improve adhesion (being careful not to rough up exposed surfaces) I place a small amount of epoxy on the interior contact points between the end cap and the skeleton and then slather ample epoxy on the portion of the butt section and insert that into the wood insert/skeleton combination.  While the epoxy is still soft, place the end cap onto the nickel silver skeleton and I make sure the rod butt makes contact with the inside of the butt cap.  Now I maintain pressure on the end cap to prevent misalignment during the curing process.  I failed to be vigilant doing this once and the end cap popped slight out (not noticeable on casual inspection, but when rotating the rod butt you could tell – regrettably after the epoxy cured – that the end cap was about 5 degrees off true).  I am not positive why this happens, but my theory is that the liberal application of epoxy between the butt and wood insert and between the end cap and nickel silver skeleton creates an air tight pocket. Then, as the epoxy heats up while curing, air inside the pocket expands and the resulting pressure causes a slight misalignment of the end cap. The epoxy itself does not appear to expand while drying (like Gorilla Glue does) because other joints remain clean.

Bamboo Fly Rod Tip Seat#4:  Correcting End Cap Alignment after Epoxy is Cured – As problems go, this one can be corrected with relative ease.  Thermal conductivity of nickel silver is very good, so the application heat to the end cap (I use a heat gun) while rotating the rod results in a rapid warming of the cured epoxy.  As the epoxy warms, it becomes pliable and you can realign the end cap. Keep pressure on the end cap until the epoxy re-hardens. Note, you don’t want to over-heat the nickel silver; I use bare hands to work it – if the nickel silver burns my fingers it is too hot (it will be uncomfortable, but you don’t want blisters).



Bamboo Fly Rod Tip Guide#1:  Preparing Guide Feet for Wrapping – Most guide feet require preparation prior to wrapping them with silk onto your bamboo fly rod.  In fact, I have found that even the guides that claim to not require preparation wrap better if you go ahead and work with them some.

Generally speaking, my approach is to file down the feet until they seem to merge seamlessly with the bamboo, then file them some more.  After checking them again and deciding they are good, file them again.  Now, the edge should be sharp enough to cut your finger, but then I continue to work them.  Finally, when you are exhausted and convinced that the feet are perfect, you stop.  When you wrap, you will decide it STILL wasn’t enough, but you have to call a halt sometime.  If you can get the transition from the guide foot to the bamboo to be less than ¼ the diameter of the thread you are wrapping with, you should be able to complete your wraps without gaps.


I use multiple steps to prepare my guide feet:

1.         I use a sanding drum in a Dremel Trio to make the initial shaping of the guide feet.

2.         I then use a Gorbet Swiss file (#6 or #8) to shape and smooth the guide feet to the degree I want.

3.         I finish the process using 800 grit sandpaper followed by 1000 grit sandpaper to smooth any rough edges