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Gary Marshall maker and restorer of split cane (bamboo) fly rods in Derby England
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Choosing Cane

I have put a connection on the links page to a recent article from "American Angler" that many will find interesting. It gives an honest appraisal and covers the ground fairly well. Particularly useful for those new to the material.

Node testing

The following is an article I had published in the January 2006 edition of Powerfibers the online magazine for cane rodmakers.

TestingTesting. Nodes that is!

The subject of nodes is one that has featured in many discussions on the rodmakers site and unless you are going to cut them out they remain a significant item to deal with in the rod making process. The exact details of every rodmakers process will doubtless vary but the two basic camps appear to be those that just sand off the humps and those that heat and press. I’m including Tony Spezio’s heat and displace in the latter camp.

What prompted this article – or more correctly the investigation behind it – was a recent debate on the merits of each of the two approaches that appeared to be settled as an amicable draw after some erudite presentations on aesthetics. Towards the end of this discussion somebody noted that the issue would not really be solved unless somebody did some testing; too much temptation.

Testing is therefore what I decided to undertake to see if there was more than just reducing the length of the node scar in all the effort required to heat straighten and press or whether the sand it off and move on crew would win the day. I’m tempted to adopt the term “burn and crush” for the former method (Denver Dave?) although crush and burn seems to flow better whilst not technically correct.

A test involving bending seemed the most appropriate and preferably one that identified if failure would occur in the node or away from it. Testing a fully constructed hexagonal section would probably satisfy those that prefer absolute realism but laziness and the desire to produce specimens for test more easily led me to selecting a rectangular section composed of two strips, a PMQ section in fact. This offered practical benefits for bend testing and ensured the cane was tested in tension and compression in a very similar manner to a rod. The prepared samples after gluing are shown below.

The object of the test was to prepare two nearly identical samples with paired nodes at the centre, one strip with the nodes sanded flat and the other heated and pressed, the details are listed below.


Sample Preparation

1. All strips were adjacent to one another in the culm and were cut 500mm (19.68in) long with the node at the centre. Strips were split oversize, not sawn.

2. The nodal hump on one half of the culm was sanded off before heat treating.

3. The pairs of strips were bound together and heat treated in the same oven at 180º C for 15 minutes.

4. Strips for the “pressed” sample were heated to straighten sweeps and then pressed between steel jaws in a vice with a small notch cut out for the nodal ridge, similar to Tony Spezio's process but without relieving the pith side. After pressing, the nodal hump was filed off. The sanded strips were straightened on either side of the node but the node itself was not heated.

5. The pith was planed off all strips to give a nominal 4mm thickness and the pairs were glued using West system epoxy and bound. When nominally ready for gluing a slight hump was noticed on the strips so one set was sanded a bit more and the others were re-heated and re-pressed, which was not easy on these already extensively heat treated strips.

6. On the following day the string was stripped off, the sides planed and the enamel removed to give nominally 8mmx6mm test pieces.

7. Testing was started 24 hours after gluing to about 40% of load and then resumed the following day.

The differences in performance attributable to slight variations in section size were accounted for in the analysis of the results by factoring the calculated section modulus.

The differences in performance attributable to slight variations in section size were accounted for in the analysis of the results by factoring the calculated section modulus.

The photograph to the right shows the sanded off section of culm and the difference in the nature of the nodal scar between the two test samples is shown below. The upper sample piece is the sanded one and the longer scar is visible showing were the power fibres are curtailed away from the node. The lower piece shows a very short scar, less than ½” long.

The darker spots on the lower piece are stains.

Culm showing sanded node

The testing rig was made out of hardwood with a steel reference beam to take deflection measurements from and gave a span of 475mm between sharp edged brass bearings. The loading was applied to the test pieces via a pair of dowels set 100mm apart and positioned so the centre of the load was exactly in line with the paired nodes at the centre of the test pieces. There were three reasons for selecting this arrangement; the most important is that induces what is known as

Top view of finished samples.  Long sanded node above short pressed node.

simple circular bending in the centre section of the test pieces. The moment induced in the cane is the same through the whole of the 100mm length between the load points so failure should occur at the weakest section within this 100mm length. Secondly, easy access to the centre of the span is afforded through an access hole and thirdly the side plates of the spreader can be slid together on the dowels to stop the test section from buckling.

The picture below shows the arrangement with a test piece in place and load spreader fitted, the hook below the spreader is for the load to be hung from the lower dowel. The brass datum can be seen on the RSA above the access window of the spreader. The arrangement is mounted on a thick base board and clamped to my bench. The whole is very stiff but as the reference beam is mounted on the same elements as the test piece the measured deflections should be correct.

The procedure was to apply loads in 1kg (2.2lb) increments and measure the maximum deflection of the cane at each stage. The amount of recovery in the strip was measured after each load application to check that the cane was still behaving essentially elastically, in other words there was no set. The cane was therefore subjected to repeated relatively short term loading as I thought this was more appropriate than a long term sustained load when trying to replicate a rod in service. In truth the loading regime was probably closer to that felt when playing a fish than the even shorter term casting load.

Test apparatus

It was at this stage where best laid plans nearly came to grief as I had underestimated the capacity of the strips and by the time they finally failed the load was getting close the testers limit for knee height manoeuvring. The total contents of the “load application device”, a bucket, finally included a large selection of my heavy hand tools and some scrap lead as well as being full of water.

So, after all that what was the result? I tested the sanded strips first and was most impressed when the load reached 19 kg for a stress of 234 N/mm² (33,913lbs/sq in) as this is not far short of the yield point of mild steel. When it did fail it was quite sudden and the split started at the node where the sanded power fibres met the outer surface.

The failed strips were photographed and are shown below.

The failed samples

I confess I was nervous about the pressed strips as I thought they could fail even more suddenly and deposit the contents of the bucket all over the workshop floor. When I found myself loading some 4kg more onto these strips than the sanded ones had sustained I was fortunately able to control the buckets descent as the sudden failure that did occur was after the final load had been sustained for nearly half a minute, time enough to record the deflection. Again the cracking started at the node but this time right near the centre and through several layers of fibre bundles. This sample failed at 271 N/mm² (39,304 lbs/sq in) matching mild steel yield stress.

Both strips failed in tension, in other words in the stretched strip on the bottom of the bent test piece.

The failed sections photographed above, clearly show the splitting. Amazingly with both test pieces when the load was removed the remaining undamaged cane was still behaving elastically and the strips returned to being nearly straight.

A brief article like this cannot contain the full set of test data and analysis that I have on a spreadsheet. If anyone would like to view it just let me know.


Failure stress

Sanded 234

Pressed 271 Pressed nodes are 15% stronger

Youngs Modulus

Sanded 39,192

Pressed 39,858 Pressed nodes are 2% stiffer.


The testing was only of two pieces so it would be wrong to draw wide ranging conclusions particularly about the applicability of the calculated modulus or failure stresses but from my perspective what the results do show is that both options can make satisfactory rods as the failure stresses were in both cases well above normal design levels and the stiffness of each section was very similar. Garrison recommended 12,000 to 15,000 psi in butt sections so a safety factor of at least two is present. Tips will of course never see the theoretical stress shown on a stress curve due to their deflection under load.

As failure in both cases was started at the node perhaps we can also give credit to those that have always maintained that nodes are weak points and that staggering them in a rod makes sense. It should also be noted that the graphs of load vs stress show the material to behave perfectly elastically until very close to failure.

As a devotee of ”burning and crushing” I have to admit to some degree of satisfaction at the result both for my own part and for those hundreds of others that have spent so much time on this fastidious pursuit over the years. Perhaps we have not been wasting our time?

As a parting observation it will be obvious that some further interesting tests are possible with the same rig; perhaps, plain cane to check its failure strength, nodeless splices to test glue performance and so on. If any one else out there is convinced their cane and procedures would result in significantly different results I would be happy to test their sample strips but if you do want to take me up on this offer please make them 6mm square final size in deference to my dodgy back.

Technical footnote: The tests suggest that cane is stronger in compression than tension. If this is the case then the neutral axis of the section – the point tension and compression reduce to zero – will not be at the centre of the test piece and the tensile failure stress will actually be slightly higher than noted above. However the comparison between the samples still stands.


Just in case there was any doubt, all my rods feature carefully straightened and pressed nodes!

GR Special taper

Reproduced from the October 2006 edition of “Fly Fishing and Fly Tying” with kind permission of the author Magnus Angus.

Gary Marshall 7ft 6in #4/5 GR Special taper 2pce

I have no nostalgia for cane. In fact, for some time I’ve been puzzling about the attraction. As a material split-cane (or built cane, not bamboo) is less stiff than modern materials such as carbon fibre so when one builds a rod, the same stiffness requires more weight. That simply means cane rods are heavier than carbon rods. But frankly, we tackle tarts probably make too much fuss about the weight.

When the opportunity to try a modern cane rod came along, I jumped on it. This Gary Marshall told me, is a “rod I would recommend to someone wedded to carbon” – that’s me by the way!

The technical stuff: the taper is based on one listed by Ray Gould as the Gould Rogowski RR-93 where it is noted as a fast action 4 weight, amended to 4/5, primarily a dry fly or single nymph taper. Build from nodeless blond cane, the first visible node is expressed visually by using some darker cane on the lower part of the splice.

At which point I’ll leave the technical stuff since I don’t understand it.

The builder generously told me to cast the rod and catch some fish with it – so I did.

This is quite beautiful. From the tip down the build oozes craftsmanship; invisible thread holds light tough Recoil titanium alloy rings to the slim cane shaft. The ferrule is small, again light tough titanium. Gary Marshall restores rods, old rings can be difficult to match so making his own agate lined butt rings makes sense and the butt ring is one of his own making.

Looking at the measurements, the action is medium/fast and the stiffness is relatively low, more suited to a #4 than a #5line. Fitted with a WF 5F this is a quite lovely little rod, casting is fluent and relaxed, with a noticeable lack of after bounce. The #5 line seemed slightly heavy to me but considering the distances one expects to cast with a 7ft 6in rod it makes sense. Loops are pleasing and fine control is excellent.

The scales say this is a relatively hefty rod but the bulk of that weight is in the lower half of the rod, the reel-seat certainly accounts for a significant portion. A carbon rod of the same length would weigh a fraction of this weight.

So, fishing. The weather had cooled a little but dries were still the fly of choice. Trout were cruising taking something just under the surface and bugs blown down by swirling gusting wind. The Deer Hair Sedge was attacked on the second cast, of course I struck and dragged the fly away too early. After a few more casts a solid take.

I’d been assured that playing a plump fit trout on this little rod was not like playing a fish on a carbon rod. I can vouch for that! Initially is scared me to death. Rather than getting on with business, I was thinking how I would explain splintering hours of work. I guess I’m tuned to longer stiffer rods.

That trout was fighting twp pounds or so but it felt so much bigger. The next one came to hand a little more quickly. Then another and another, yeah great, point the rod at the fish and lift the butt. Needless to say, something larger promptly snatched my fly, dragged my whole line into the loch and slipped the hook. I suppose I could blame the rod but for the life of me, I can’t think how.

Casting cane is different. There is fractionally more weight. With a #4 line I had the feeling that my casting actions were making the rod work, bend and unbend, and the line just followed obediently along. I’m sure that’s not how it works but there is a difference. Making shorter more detailed or complicated casts the GR simply does its job – slack line, parachute, reach, roll. This is a short, relatively delicate rod so I was quite surprised how much line I could false cast, but lifting a long line from the water is not so easy.

I’m still not a convert to cane, a carbon stick still being my first choice for a loch or larger river. However, if I had more small streams in the area or lived a little closer to a chalkstream (say 200miles) I would be very tempted by a little cane rod.

Butt and tip
Reel seat

Data table

Gary Marshall GR Special taper 7ft 6in #4/5

* Stiffness: 82.8 g (2.92oz)
* Action angle: 65
* Sections: 2
* Weight: 4.1 oz
* Rings: One agate lined butt ring, Recoil snakes
* Handle: half wells.
* Reel-seat: Hardwood spacer, black alloy fittings.
* Fighting butt: No.
* Blank: Satin.
* Thread: Translucent.
* Build quality: Very high.
* Rod bag: Heavy canvas.
* From: Gary Marshall, tel. 01332 518653 (
* price: 375

GM Footnote

A few points to clarify the information given in the article. Firstly the taper is modified from the original not in order to change the line rating but to alter the tip. 4/5 is my assessment of this rods rating rather than the value noted for the original taper, a personal view.

The colour of the whippings is light olive tipped with olive.

The reelseat is by REC and the filler is Mallee burl.

All my rod bags are heavy guage material but it is soft to touch, not canvas.

The titanium ferrule was made in the USA by Arcane Components (part of Golden Witch) and is currently only available in one size, 13/64.

Shooting and Fishing Business

Text of article reproduced with kind permission from the above magazine. See February 2010 issue for full article, which can be downloaded from the link below.


True to tradition

Rod maker Gary Marshall discusses the history of the split cane fly rod, and the relative merits of using a piece of equipment so steeped in tradition.

How can something that has its origins so many years ago have any relevance in the current century? Well fortunately it continues to do so and in fact is enjoying a resurgence.
The days of large companies employing hundreds of workers to make a whole range of split cane rods are long gone – they disappeared before the end of the swinging 60s – but tools that have stood the test of time for over 200 years tend to linger in peoples’ minds and hearts. Today the demand is satisfied by a number of small, usually individual makers, often making rods of the highest quality for very discerning customers.
The use of split cane as a rodmaking material has been traced back to around 1845, with a violin maker in Pennsylvania – Samuel Phillipe – being a popular candidate for the honour of making the first four strip rod, although tips of rods are said to have been made even earlier. Prior to this time rods were made of wood, so now is a good time to note that bamboo is not a wood but a type of reed. It was sometime later that the six strip rod was made more widely available – again by an American, the rather more well known Hiram L Leonard, founder of the HL Leonard Rod Company. Leonard was a gunsmith and used his skills to produce the most significant change in the development of cane rod making – the mechanical beveller. This allowed the production of large numbers of accurately bevelled strips without labour intensive hand planing. It is perhaps ironic, therefore, that in the age of the silicon chip a large number of small scale makers today have reverted to the use of hand planing.
In England the use of whole cane appears to go back even earlier and was in use by Indian Army officers in the 1700s, but it was the 1870s before Allcocks and Hardys started making six strip rods in this country. Early cane was ‘Calcutta’ bamboo, with the better ‘Tonkin’ variety becoming available around the turn of the 19th century. It is true to say that split cane took longer to take over the English market, with Greenheart continuing in use until the 1940s. It was the Americans, therefore, who took the initiative in split cane design and manufacture, with several Leonard employees, including Payne, going on to forge names for themselves in their own right.
The current use of graphite, and prior to that fibreglass, can therefore be seen as a relatively recent innovation, but it is true to say that for the mass market graphite now dominates. A lot of this has to do not just with the material itself but with the change in rod requirements brought about by stocked reservoirs, where, with the exception of boat fishing, repeated long casting is the rule. This created a role for lighter, longer rods that could be used without fatigue, and a 10-foot cane rod is undoubtedly heavy compared to its graphite equivalent. So for fishing big waters and for rods over eight feet in length, graphite is the material of choice. There is nowadays, however, a reaction against just fishing stocked still waters, with many anglers looking for the thrills of stalking their quarry, casting to rising fish, and in particular the quest for wild fish in rivers. This has opened the way for split cane to once again become a very viable option where shorter rods are the norm.
So why fish split cane, when there are short graphite rods available? Considering the graphite option first, they offer an incredibly light weight and great power, which makes them the weapon of choice over nine feet in length, but less than eight feet and their fast action and lack of self weight can make them difficult to load with a short line, and they lack feel. A seven foot six inch cane rod will weigh less than four ounces, with less than one ounce in the tip, so hardly a trial to cast. But
In this modern throwaway society a growing number
of people are looking for a greater feeling of
permanence in the objects that they own

Planing a tip
Cane blanks in the string
Two blond rods

because it has some weight it will self load with very little line extended, and the pull at each end of the casting stroke is more noticeable so timing is easier. The timing is also made easier by the more relaxed speed as cane rods don’t need to develop high line speeds in order to deliver the fly, and they are at their optimum in the range that is more practical for real river fishing, which is anywhere between the rod tip and around
15 metres.
Graphite retains the distance prize, but even where this has any relevance a good caster will only find around 10 per cent difference in distance cast between the two materials in rods up to eight feet six inches. For practical river fishing using more than 20 metres of line is very rare – most fish are caught less than 10 metres away, and in fact much more distance will generally just decorate the trees on the far bank. That said, a good caster can still put out the full line with a decent cane rod if required, and 25 metres is no problem so use on small still waters is perfectly viable.
The other reasons for a swing back to cane tend not to be associated with any technical merit, but rather to less tangible aspects. In this modern throwaway society a growing number of people are looking for a greater feeling of permanence in the objects that they own, and even more so if the object in question can be a thing of great beauty. Having something hand built is also an attraction to many who tire of mass produced goods. Cane rods offer a link to angling history and many take pleasure in catching a fish on something akin to what their grandfather used; in some cases the same rod that their grandfather used. Someone buying a cane rod now can honestly expect that it may be passed on to subsequent generations for their enjoyment, which is not something that is likely to happen with a graphite rod.
A good modern cane rod can be as good if not better than the best examples of the golden age and will provide the user with a source of great delight. Do not be put off by tales of excessive weight or experience with poor mass produced tapers – try as many cane rods as you can to experience the difference. Modern makers can custom make a rod to your exact requirements or replicate tapers produced by the masters such as Payne, Dickerson and Garrison, and with modern glues and finishes the end results are not dry weather Sunday afternoon specials. Split cane rods don’t sell on the strength of the latest advertising hype; they sell on a combination of the maker’s reputation and proven performance. Anyone buying should expect the opportunity to test a range of tapers so that the differences can be understood and an educated choice made.
It is good to remember that while many will tend to want the same as their fellows, there are always those who prefer to be different.


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