Restoring an old Bamboo Rod
By: Steve Weiter
I bought an old Gateway (South Bend) "Ike Walton Deluxe" 5505 9' rod-Three piece, Two tips, one of them with an agate tip top. Probably made in the 1930s and sold for around $15 at an antique store in Louisville about 8-9 years ago for $30. Missing some guides, most of the wraps were loose, ferrules loose as well, handle and seat pretty done for. Blank darkened with dirt and age, South Bend label was gone. Not sure why I bought it when I did, except we were shopping and it was bamboo, and it might hang on the wall someday. Left it in the closet for years, and mostly forgot it.
Then last summer, Paul Schlote and I started talking about building an 10'6" 8-wt switch rod, for salmon and carp and such things. Paul wanted me to build it myself, or at least contribute to the construction. I had no experience with doing any of this stuff so convinced him to do the build. Gave him the H&H blanks at Barking Dog Clave this year, and picked out threads, grip, etc. Can't wait to see how it turns out.
Meanwhile that got me thinking about the bamboo rod in the closet and COULD I learn how to do this stuff and would it look like anything. So I decided "what the hell, I can't ruin it anymore than it already has been" so made restoring that rod my winter project. It might have been refinished once but I doubt it, given its condition. Too much left undone to be a good refinish, too much detail on the intermediate wraps to have been a half-ass job. Hard to tell though, might have been another amateur like me.
Talked to Jim Tefft for some good advice, read some books, watched some youtube vids, and proceeded. Recorded the position of the guides and wraps, but did not take any "before" pictures - too anxious to start I guess. Removed the grip and seat which just crumbled under the heat gun and pressure. Saved the guides, and a bit of the thread so I could match what had been on there when I got it. Stripped the rod down to the wood. Wood was in excellent condition, and there are slight sets in the tips, but aside from that no cracks or separation.
I put a couple fresh coats of oil finish on it, and varnished it. Put on a new handle and seat. Re-glued the ferules, and matched the existing wrap colors with some Pearsal’s silk. Two coats of epoxy on the wraps.
Finish came out quite nice I think – very blond, but with some nice character in the bamboo in some parts. I am happy with the handle and seat, though not close to the original, and it is farther up on the rod than the old one, so the winding check wrap covers the “Gate” part of Gateway. The South Bend label is long gone. In hindsight I should have used an inlet handle and seat. I thought about shortening the grip so as to not cover the maker’s marking (hint received) but the core stem of the rod was only 6.25” AND the new grip and seat are flush, rather than inlet as the old one was. I was a bit nervous about hanging the ass of the seat too far off the back, without the added support of the in-letting into the grip . Had I shortened the grip, it would have been uncomfortable for me, and it would have looked out of proportion. Will know better next time. I did add a hook keeper, but spaced it ahead of the grip rather than next to the winding check so as to not cover up more of the maker’s mark. Were it more collectible, I would have worried about staying truer to the original, but figured this was undesirable enough in those terms so that it would be okay to mess with it in order to learn.
Some of the wraps are not as smooth as they could be, nor are they precisely the same length, and some may be over long, although there is some degree of consistency. I have learned the difficulty of controlling “rod travel” while using a hand wrapper. Don’t think I will ever do cream accent wraps against a blond blank ever again. I can’t see the damned things until 5-10 wraps. Color preserver did not prevent the epoxy from darkening the thread color, but that bothers me very little.
Anyway, I think it turned out quite nice, though not a thing of beauty when but it might be fishable and serviceable as a fly rod. It is an interesting learning experience, and I find I like it, at least in so far as repairing and restoration, and I might actually get better at it, after a few more attempts. My next project will be a restore/conversion of a Phillipson Eponite blank that had been a spin caster in a previous life into a 7'6" fly rod. Not because it's a great idea, but it will look nice and I am still learning.