since I recently took in a john channer rod to repair I thought it may be appropriate to post an interview I conducted with john back in 2008
|"I'm pretty much an ordinary working dude who found out he could make a bamboo fly rod and has been lucky enough to find some folks who like them."|
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN CHANNER - MAKER
Lemme see, where to start? I'm 56 now and have been building bamboo rods for 11 years. I work a full time job and have 3 acres at home to take care of, so I'm very much a part time builder. At the moment I'm working on rod #70.
I've been a fisherman since I was 6 or 8, I caught my first fish off the West Palm Beach,Fla. pier sometime in the late '50's,I had aunts and uncles there we used to go visit every summer. For some reason I can remember it quite clearly, it was a Red Snapper and it took all I had to crank it up the 25' or so the pier was off the water.
I grew up in Illinois and lived there until 1995 I fished locally in northern Illinois and in northern Wisconsin and Canada on fishing trips with my parents when I was young and on my own after I grew up, spin fishing for bass, northern pike and walleyes , plus whatever panfish came along. I got an interest in flyfishing when my father died in 1976 and found a flyrod in with his other tackle. I can only guess that someone gave it to him, he never flyfished for one thing and there was no reel or other fly tackle in with it. I bought a reel, line and some flies and more or less taught myself to use it for bass.
We came to Colorado on vacation many years later in 1994 and I brought the fly rod with me and caught trout here with it, which was enough to convert me to a full time flyfisherman. My wife and I decided to move here and a year later we did, when we moved I sold all the spinning gear. In the time between our vacation and moving I found a Heddon model 14 at a flea market and bought it, it was much nicer looking and feeling than Dad's old glass rod and so became interested in bamboo rods.
I found a few books at one of the flyshops in Illinois on the subject, Claude Krieder's book and Wayne Cattenach's and the rest is pretty much history as they say. I built my shop the year after we moved, though I planed my first rod on a bench made of sawhorses under an open sky. While I was teaching myself to build rods from scratch I bought some old rods and learned how to rebuild them and took in some refinishing work for the local fly shop here in Durango. Durangler's has been very supportive of my work and has sold rods on consignment for me since I started selling rods. I came to the realization early on that I would have to sell rods to be able to continue making them, though I have always tried to price them accordingly. I have been very fortunate to have ben able to attract enough customers to allow me to continue making rods for this long, I hope to be able to continue for a long time yet.
I'm pretty much an ordinary working dude who found out he could make a bamboo fly rod and has been lucky enough to find some folks who like them.
-What rods do you offer at 7ft for 4wt and 8ft for 5wt and why did you choose the taper?
I've made lots of different rods of those lengths and line weights. I try not to repeat myself too much, I like to investigate different tapers to see how they feel and to experiment with changes to tapers. When a customer orders a rod and he has cast one or more of mine that he likes, then I will make another of what I've already made, but each sale rod I make is a bit different that what I've done before, to "round out my education" so to speak.
I do like the Perfectionist taper and I've made it in lots of various lengths and line weights and it seems to still work great no matter what I do to it, I've made it as short and light as a 7' 3 wt up to an
8' 5 wt and it has always turned out well. I also like Dickerson tapers and make them as much as any, though generally I don't mess with them too much, Mr. Dickerson had a taper for most every situation and they're hard to improve on, though I do tend to put more swell in them than he did.
-If you could meet one of the famous "old dead guys" who would it be and what would you ask him?
-Are there any contemporary rod makers you admire? If you could purchase any rod from any maker practicing today, what would you get?
Let's talk about rodmakers past and present first. I would most like to have a chance to discuss rodmaking with Lyle Dickerson. There isn't much available about how he designed his tapers and what little there is is very intriguing. Stein and Schaff’s book is about all there is about him and the Rodmaker's Guild correspondence, which I have a copy of. All very interesting and just makes me want to know more. I also get the impression that he had much experience with other makers work, it would be interesting to get his take on Payne, Leonard and the other makers of his day first hand.
I don't even know where to begin. I would love to win a big enough lottery so I could buy at least one rod from everyone now making rods. I suppose if you held a gun to my head and said, "pick one or else" I would have to say Ron Kusse, because I have talked to him so many times over the years he has been host of the FAOL chatroom on Thursday nite. Ron has been very helpful and supportive of my work and I hold his in high esteem.There are so many others too, it's an impossible choice to make, the only solution is to be rich and buy them all. lol
-What's on your bench right now?
At the moment I'm working on a 7' 4 wt., things have been a little slow so I've just got one rod going right now. This one started out as a Payne 98, which I've made several times before and, as with most tapers, I make some minor adjustments every time I make it. Most Payne tapers are pretty smooth, if you look at a graph of them they tend to flow nicely from one end to the other without actually just being a straight stick. Some tapers are pretty weird looking with all sorts of strange lumps and bumps in them, though they can work well as is I think most of them do well with a little smoothing out. Somehow I can't help but think that a lot of the strangeness was unintentional and came about (as) an accumulation of errors in the building process, I think that Payne rods are probably closer to his design intentions than a lot of others because they are the products of a smaller shop with tighter quality control. I think the same holds true for Dickerson and Garrison as well.
-Surely you have a favorite fishing rod. Tell us about it.
It's hard to say what my favorite rod is. I could probably do all the fishing I do with my Perfectionist though I make it with a swelled butt and I think it's pretty close to an all purpose rod. I have other rods I like to use for different situations, but the Perfectionist can do anything any of the others can do just as well.
-Describe an ideal smallstream rod from a maker's point of view.
Length, line weight and taper are what determines what a rod will be good for, and personal taste of course. From a rodmakers standpoint, unless you start getting exotic, one traditionally built rod is pretty much the same difficulty to make as another. If you want to know what I think is the ideal small stream rod, then I'll have to call it a toss up between the Payne 96, the Dickerson 6611 and the Young Midge, which naturally I like better with the butt swelled a bit. I fish the mountain streams around here in the summer and these three can all do what I need them to do. I like a small stream rod to be short, load well with a short amount of line out and to be able to shoot line easily. These streams are pretty tight, a long rod will leave you hung in the trees every backcast and you really need a rod that can backcast the leader and 5' of line and shoot 20' or 30 ' feet on the forward cast. It also helps if they roll cast well, which all 3 of the rods I mentioned can do. My personal small stream rod right now is a 6611, on more open streams and rivers where I actually have some room I like it better with a 3 wt dt, but up on the tight little streams I use a 4 dt on it.
-Which glue do you use and why?
I use Epon epoxy, it was recommended a long time ago by Bill Fink who used it for quite a few years on his rods after having used it in his work for NASA. I was struggling with Urac at the time and not really liking it, it makes the sections bigger than expected and you have to get them bound right now, no time for fumbling around. I really like the long open time Epon gives you, I don't mind working under pressure at my day job, but I don't want to have to hustle like that when I'm in the shop. It also seems to be every bit as strong, 5 out of 6 of my own rods are glued with it and it seems to be holding up as well as the Urac rod. I keep my own rods behind the seat of my work van as kind of a perpetual test, they live there under all sorts of temperature swings all year round, so far all that's gone wrong is I lost a reel seat cap that I had just used ferrlle cement on in the first place. I keep thinking maybe I should try polyurethane, Titebond or resorcinol, but when it comes right down to it I see no reason to change, I'm getting along with Epon just fine.
-Describe your finishing process.
I wrap first and use a first coat of epoxy wrap finish. I fought it for a long time, being a varnish only purist, but the promise of no shimmer wraps was just too much temptation to pass up. True to claims made, it gives beautifully transparent wraps every time(so far anyway). After it cures fr a couple of days I build the wrap finish up with several coats of varnish, then dip the whole rod twice in Last&Last spar varnish. I don't think there's any great advantage to one brand over another, but I have noticed that LnL lays flat on the rod without wanting to pull out to the corners or into the middle of the flats, it makes sanding go a little quicker and I'm all in favor of anything that makes any form of work a little easier or gives better results. I like my rods fairly simple, but as well done as I can make them, I tend to stick to shades of brown and red, in both main and trim colors, along with unfilled cork grips and black hardware. Mostly I use brite nickel silver cap and ring hardware, tho I do black now and then and I'll put screw lock hardware on a heavier rod or if a customer really wants it on a lighter one. When finished they go in a traditional style natural aluminum tube with domed brass top and bottom caps.
-You said, "I'm all in favor of anything that makes any form of work a little easier or gives better results. " and I'd like to know if you'd share any tricks of the trade you've learned over the years.
It's hard to think of tricks of the trade sitting here in front of the computer instead of out in the shop with a stack of bamboo in front of me, but I'll try. One of the many things I learned on the internet was a suggestion made long ago by the guy who helped Gerhke get started, I can't remember his name right now. Basically, heat your nodes as few times as you can, heat them, clamp them enamel up for 5 seconds then flip and clamp enamel to the vise while you heat the next node. This works amazingly well, though not 100%, there are always some that need to be worked on until you're blue in the face. It also helps flattening nodes to hollow the back of the node bump so the bamboo is the same thickness under the node as it is on either side of it.
Something I learned from Ron Kusse is, if you are tapering on a machine, even if you finish by hand, do your machine work before you heat treat, you'll get less damage to the edges of the strips and your cutters will last longer. I taper my strips by machine to roughl;y .050 over finish dimension, then bind and heat treat. I use to rough the strips all the same size then heat treat and run thru the machine again, but was having a lot of trouble with the edges breaking off and cutters getting dull quickly. Tapering first cuts down the oven time a couple of minutes and doesn't seem to hurt anything, I've tried a few blond sections this way and the color was the same end to end.
Cold varnish sands better than warm varnish, so turn the lite off in the drying cabinet after 12 hours and let the sections get cold before you sand them.
I just mentioned this on the list, but wetting the thread when you're doing trim wraps will help them stay put. I just lick my finger and run them over the thread, but water works as well for the more fastidious. Spit also works well to cool down a hot node quickly when they keep going back where they were after being straightened, again, water works too.
Those are a few of the tings I've picked up that have helped enough to be worth mentioning, the List archives is full of stuff for those who care to look.. Bamboo rodmaking doesn't really lend itself to shortcuts, it pretty much takes what it takes to make a nice rod.
-Let's talk about your shop. I love this "planed on a couple sawhorses under the open sky." How do your carpentry skills come into play in rod building, my guess would be that they're an asset.
Well, it's really not much. I started my first rod before I finished building my shop and made my first woooden forms and planed most of my first rod on saw horses in the yard next to the site where the shop is now. I do construction work for a living and manage to scrounge enough materials to build a tiny little shack 8'x12', but it was big enough for what I needed. A few years and a dozen or two rods later I expanded it to it's still not too big present size of 12'x16', but it's dry and has a wood floor so it's not too hard on the feet and back and I can heat it in the winter if I'm feeling extravagant or have to glue up a rod. Like most places where work is done and tools are stored, it tends to become a catchall for stuff I don't need at work for a while, materials I run into that I can't bring myself to throw out and garden tools I don't want left outside, but don't feel like hauling around the house to the garden shed. I manage to get by on this glorified closet by doing all the finish work in a spare bedroom I claimed for myself when we moved in. It's had to occaisionally to double duty as a guest bedroom, but the few guests we have don't complain too much about the smell of varnish. Once I get the grip and ferrules mounted on a blank then it goes into the back room where i do the wrapping and varnishing. This works out pretty well for me because I heat the house anyway and don't really need the room for anything else and all the messy stuff stays out in the shop where it can't float into any fresh varnish.