Quality of cane?

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Cat
Rudd
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Quality of cane?

Post by Cat » Mon Jan 13, 2020 6:57 pm

Evening All,
The on going posts / narrative relating to MkIV's pecking order have made me wonder regarding the question of the quality of cane. I know virtually nothing about this, but I am learning, and have repaired cricket bats for many years (as well as still playing) and have a good understanding of the quality of willow that makes a good bat - it's not necessary the most expensive that are the best, but grains (both number and how straight and equal), balance, pick up sweet spot, etc...
So, did different manufacturers have access to different sources and quality of cane (thinking palakona), was it dependent upon the season of harvesting (vintage years?), expense, buyers travelling and having first choice, embargoes, etc or more about the manufacturing process and skill of the craftsman? I have read (on the TFF, I believe) that Allcock's cane was usually top quality, others were not, and some relied on the reputation of a name that wasn't necessary a guarantee of quality.
Your thoughts and comments appreciated.
Regards Cat

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Bobby Marlene
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Re: Quality of cane?

Post by Bobby Marlene » Tue Jan 14, 2020 7:41 am

Good morning Cat,
that is a really interesting aspect of collecting and building cane rods. For the collector because he wants to choose the best rods and for the maker because he wants to create the best rods.
Books have been written about this, the most recent and complete should be by Liese and Köhl: Bamboo, the plant and its uses.
Tonkin cane is today considered to be the best bamboo for rod making because it has a very good combination of characteristics like fiber density, internodal space, wall thickness asf. In the past other species have been used, I think British manufactures used Indian cane a lot. Today some rod builders use Japanese bamboo with very good results.

I am no expert but I believe in general for rod building there are the following quality criteria:
1. Fiber density. A higher density means higher strength. It is easily assessed by weight per volume, so if you have two culms of the same length, wall thickness and diameter the heavier of the two has the higher density. One should also look at the cut end of a culm to get a good view on the fibres and compare:
Image
2. Wall thickness of the culm. Thicker walls give more options to build heavier rods. The maximum dimension of the strips that one can plane out of a culm depends on the wall thickness. In other words: for a heavier rod one needs a culm with greater wall thickness than for a light rod.
3. Diameter of the culm. Larger diameter gives enough bamboo to make at least one rod, maybe two out of a single culm. It is tradition to use only bamboo from a single culm for a rod, although I do not necessarily see any quality aspect in this tradition. Garrison went so far that he kept any remains of the culm for future repairs on the rod he had made from just this culm.
4. Straightness: the straighter the culm the easier to work out straight strips.
5. Number of nodes: nodes can be a weak point in the rod. Therefore staggering the nodes in a way that minimizes this impact have been developed. Fewer nodes mean that it is easier to minimize the number of nodes in the rod and also mean much less work (straightening, pressing, filing). The strips are also easier to plane when they have fewer nodes.
6. Imperfections as leaf nodes, water marks, cracks, grower marks asf. One can work around these imperfections but it costs bamboo.
7. Color: you are looking for a straw colored culm.
8. Length: usually culms are 12 ft long. Sometimes they are cut in half because they are easier to ship when shorter. The longer culm gives more options to stagger and to work around imperfections and also gives the option to make one piece rods.

In some countries certain limitations/traditions had impact on the choice. In Britain in the past Indian bamboo has been used for obvious reasons. In the US rod builders had a lot of problems to source good bamboo during the Trade embargo the US imposed on China in 1950 and which lasted to the early 70s I believe.
Pre-embargo cane is a "quality" term used by American collectors.

Also some companies had their limitations. For example Leonards had a big fire that destroyed their complete shop and cane stock. A "pre-fire" Leonard is therefore regarded as a more valuable rod than a later example of the same model.

Personally I believe that the treatment that the rod maker uses for the cane, and especially the heat treatment, has the main impact on the quality of a rod. A rod with bad heat treatment will never be a good rod even if it was made of the best bamboo available. With medium quality bamboo, well chosen for a certain rod and with the correct rod making skills one can create a top cane rod.

Another very good book about the history of rod making and the effects of heat treatment is "Casting a spell: The bamboo fly rod and the American pursuit of perfection" by George Black.

Thanks for reading, Bobby

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Cat
Rudd
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Re: Quality of cane?

Post by Cat » Tue Jan 14, 2020 4:56 pm

Hi Bobby,
Thanks for such a detailed and extremely interesting reply... really appreciated. I continue to learn!
Regards Cat

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Beresford
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Re: Quality of cane?

Post by Beresford » Tue Jan 14, 2020 5:32 pm

If you're buying vintage rods it's easy to be swayed by the markers branding – but judge each rod as an individual. I've looked a rods by really top makers and seen plenty of sets. One of today's top builders has told me since that the cane used by one of these companies was not as good as I'd have believed it to be, even though they had a reputation of only buying the best culms, back-in-the-day.
The Split Cane Splinter Group

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Cat
Rudd
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Re: Quality of cane?

Post by Cat » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:23 pm

Hi Beresford,
Your synopsis could so easily transposed to a discussion about the quality of cricket bats from different manufacturers.
Thanks Cat

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