Bamboo Fly Rod Questions and Answers


by Bob Nunley

Q: How long does it take to make a bamboo fly rod?

A: It actually takes, generally, between 40 and 50 hours of meticulous hand work, however, there are so many stages that require waiting periods or curing periods that the work is generally done over a period of 2 or more months.

Q: How do you get the sides of the rod flat and make it hex shaped?

A: Each section of a bamboo fly rod is actually made of 6 different pieces of bamboo. Each piece is hand split, then hand planed to be an equilateral triangle when viewed from the end. These pieces are then tapered from end to end to determine the action of the rod, then glued together to make the six sided section, so actually a 2 piece rod with an extra tip is made of 18 different strips of bamboo.

Q: I am thinking of refinishing a bamboo rod that was given to me. What method do you use for the cane? Do you use varnish, tung oil or a product like flexcoat? How many coats should one use before the wraps, and over the wraps/rod?

A: First, I always put one dipped coat of Pratt and Lamber Varmor R-10 Spar Urethane on the rod before I start my wraps. I sand this coat with a block and 1000 grit sandpaper until it’s smoothe, clean and doesn’t have a flaw in it anywhere. I then wrap the rod, and since I prefer transparent wraps, I use McCloskies ManOWar spar varnish to seal the wraps. This is thinned 30% with mineral spirits, and I coat ONLY the wraps, 4 to 5 coats. I then go back to my dip tank and apply 3 to 4 more coats of Varmor, sanding in between each coat with 1000 grit sandpaper to eliminate any flaws, then lightly sand the last coat with 1500 grit sandpaper, then polish with the rod with a fine polish. This will give you a glass like finish that is very very durable. The dipping operation is difficult for someone restoring one or two rods, and you can get by with brushing on your finish with a fine, VERY high quality sable brush. It will still need as many coats as it gets by dipping, and will require a lot more time with the wet and dry sandpaper to get it smooth, but it will produce an extremely fine finish if you let it dry for 4 or 5 days between coats and be very meticulous with the sanding out of the flaws and brush lines.

Q: Does it matter how fast you pull the rod out of the varnish when you’re dipping it?

A: Yes, I remove the rod at a rate of 3” per minute. This is done with a gear motor and a pulley. Keep in mind that you have to stop for about 2 minutes below the guide wraps on each guide, so dipping a 36” section that has 5 guides on it will take about 22 minutes. If you don’t stop below each guide, you will almost always get a drip in the varnish where the varnish runs off the guides and wraps.

Q: What is all this about heat treating the bamboo? What does that mean?

A: Heat treating the bamboo is a very important part of making the rod. The rods are heated at a certain temperature for a particular period of time (this varies among makers) and an actual chemical change occurs within the cellular structure of the bamboo. This definitely affects both durability and final action on the rod.

Q: Why are bamboo rods so expensive?

A: The cost of materials in a bamboo rod is MUCH higher than the cost of materials in a composite rod. The amount of labor put into a composite can’t even start to compare to the labor put into a split bamboo. For instance, I can make a graphite rod in one night. The process for making a bamboo rod takes weeks on end. Also, you must consider that a bamboo rod made by a reputable maker will increase in value. I see nothing wrong with graphite rods, although I don’t personally fish them, however, a 20 year old graphite rod has no value. A 20 year old bamboo rod will be worth much more than it was when purchased new. An extreme example, Payne bamboo rods sold new 20 years ago for around $200 or so. If you can find one in excellent condition today, expect to pay in excess of $2500 for it. I’ve never seen a 20 year old graphite or fiberglass rod sell for that much. They are timeless, classic, collectable and something that can be handed down from generation to generation, much like an heirloom.

If you have a question for Bob, email him at [email protected]

Article originally from

Photo by aliferste – Bamboo Rod, CC BY 2.0,

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