Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Art of Net Making

With new technology fly-fishing equipment is always changing. I’m reminded of my early years of fly-fishing when everyone on the river was wearing neoprene waders. Now if you wear neoprene you are the minority. One thing that has remained consistent is the little wooden “creel”, or fly-fishing net. Net bags have evolved over time to be more fish friendly, but the wooden hoop has remained the same, and is an important tool for a fisherman. I’ve always been fascinated by artisan woodworkers and the things they can create with a few boards, and a creative mind. Like all things fly fishing patience is virtue when building a landing net out of wood.

The process begins with board selection. The two main components of a landing net are the hoop, and handle. When selecting a board for the hoop a couple things you need to consider is what type of wood you want to use. I really like working with Red Oak because of its strength, but any other hardwood is a good choice. You will be ripping the board into laminations so the board should be free of knots. Strait grain boards make the best lamination. A quick look at the end grain of a board will tell you whether or not the board has been slabsawn or quatersawn. Quartersawn boards is what you want to make your laminations out of.

The handle is where you can get creative. The handle also serves as a gusset to the hoop, and any species of wood can be used for the handle. Some exotic woods need to be treated with denatured alcohol before the gluing process.

Once your boards are selected you can began ripping down your laminations. Most net manufacturers use 3 to 6 laminations in their hoops. I usually determine how many laminations I’m using based on the size of the net I’m making, and the type of wood I’m using. Softer woods need more lamination to make a strong hoop. I cut the laminations on table saw using a 200 tooth blade to get the cleanest cuts. The thickness of the laminations depends on the number of laminations being used on the hoop. For a 5 lamination hoop I tend to use laminations that are .090 or 3/32’’ thick. There really is no rule for thickness. Once the laminations are cut then they need to be planed or sanded to the make the surface even. A quick run over a stationary belt sander usually does the job.

The rough cut is easily planed with a stationary sander

The next step is to make your handle. Many times I cut out a template out of a piece of cardstock. I fold the cardstock in half and draw out half the handle so when I cut it out and unfold the cardstock the handle is symmetrical. A quick trace onto the piece of wood you using, and your piece of wood is ready for the band saw.

Now that your laminations & handle are cut you are ready to glue your laminations together, bend your hoop, and glue your hoop to the handle. To avoid breaking laminations during the bending process I let the laminations soak in water overnight. Most of the laminations are longer then my bathtub, so I purchased a vinyl gutter from the hardware store. This allows me to soak up to 10’ laminations. A jig is an important tool necessary to bend a perfect hoop. The jig will determine the shape of the hoop. The lamination are first glued together with gorilla glue, and then clamped around the jig with a series of spring loaded clamps, and c-clamps. Gorilla glue expands and will sometimes seep out between the laminations.  That is not a problem, and can be chiseled off after the glue dries. I let the hoop dry for 24hrs before taking it off the jig.

Different styles of jigs.


The two boards you started with are now looking like a landing net. A small hand plane is now used to even out the surface of the net. The next step is shaping. I use a series of hand tools and sand paper for this process. The final step is sand with 320 grit sand paper to prepare the net for staining.

To attach the net bag to the hoop holes must be drilled in the hoop to allow you to “sew” on the net bag. I made a simple jig for doing this, and the number of holes & spacing will be determined by the net bag you are attaching.

Your piece is now ready for staining. I like using natural stains that enhance the beauty of the natural wood without modifying the color. Once your stain is dry apply several coats of marine grade varnish, and buff to polish. The last step is to sew the bag on. Many different chords can be used from wax cotton to poly chord.

Once the bag is on the hoop get on the water and put a fish in the net!