2. SELECTING WOOD FOR THE NET
I usually start with a piece of lumber at least 60” (150cm) long in order to build a landing net frame that will be approximately 20”-24” (50cm-60cm) long overall and with a net opening about 8”-10” (20cm-25cm) wide and 12” - 16” (30cm-40cm) long. Most hardwood lumber that’s available from local US dealers is sold in thicknesses of approximately 1”, 2”, 3”, and so on, and is referred to as 4/4 (four quarter), 6/4 (six quarter), 8/4, etc..., which tells you how thick it is in 1/4” (6mm) increments. The wood strips for the net frame can be made from 4/4 (1”)(25mm) or possibly 5/4 (1.25”)(32mm) thick lumber to build a net frame up to about a 18”-24” (45cm-60cm) overall diameter. Frequently, however, unless you get “rough cut” stock, most 4/4 hardwood lumber has already been planed smooth on both sides (S2S - surfaced 2 sides) and is therefore only about 13/16” (20mm) thick, but it will still be usable. Although the wood ultimately gets bent to a curved shape, you want to start with as straight a piece as possible, so that the thin strips can be easily cut and machined. Normally you want as straight and clear a grain pattern as possible, with the lines of the grain having no “run out”, which means the grain is parallel to the edges and sides of the board, with no knots, voids, or other defects which will cause the strip to break at those points when bent into curves. The best wood for bending is obtained by riving or splitting the lumber from the log, instead of sawing it, so that the grain is parallel to sides and edges of the boards, however you would probably need to do this yourself, because it’s seldom commercially available. Highly figured woods and exotics can be bent, but will frequently warp and twist as they dry even when clamped in a form, and they are very susceptible to breaking, especially in tight curves because the grain is not straight, so plan on making some extra strips (if you are lucky and don’t break any, you will have enough to make two or more nets and your holiday shopping is done).
Ash, and Hickory are good woods for landing nets because they are low price, light weight, bend easily, and are readily available. Walnut and Mahogany are also light weight and usually bend OK, and when combined with Ash or Hickory can make for an attractive, strong, light weight net. Ebony, Rosewood, Purpleheart, Teak, Bubinga, Oak, and many exotic woods are quite dense and make for a somewhat heavier frame, but it’s not too noticeable in the smaller landing net sizes. Bamboo can also be used if you have a source for larger culms. You could even try experimenting with laminating non-wood material, such as unidirectional fiberglass, carbon fiber tows, titanium bands, structural foam, honeycomb cores……..but I digress.
I have found little difference between using kiln dried or air dried lumber when working with wood less than an inch (25mm) thick. Almost all wood at local lumber dealers will be kiln dried instead of air dried, which means the rough cut wood was stored in an enclosure, where the temperature & humidity were controlled in order to have the moisture content in the wood reduced from it’s initial “green” or highly saturated state, to about 12—15% so the wood is stable and ready to cut and mill. Kiln drying helps to prevent lumber from developing cracks in the board surfaces and internally, usually eliminates “rot” and fungus stains, and reduces the tendency of some lumber to twist and distort, as the cells lose their moisture and shrink. Air dried lumber takes longer to stabilize, which is supposed to be better for steam bending because of the higher moisture content, and may be true for species like Oak which is commonly used in 1” - 4” (2.5cm-10cm) thicknesses for ribs in wooden boat building, but again, I’ve noticed little difference when using thin strips (less than 1” (25mm) thick). “Green” lumber is freshly cut and milled wood, which still contains most of it’s moisture content. Green lumber is limber and very pliable, but tends to twist and deform if the shape is not physically clamped in a form or jig until dry. Air dried and green lumber can be obtained directly from a mill, and there are also some online sources.
If you plan on using highly figured or “curly” woods like Tiger Maple, Bubinga, or Claro (California Black Walnut), that are difficult to bend without breaking because of the irregular grain direction, you should mill extra strips in case you experience cracking or breakage (you will). Sometimes hardwood dealers will cut longer boards to length, and may even rip a thinner piece from a wider board, so you don’t have to buy a large piece of expensive lumber. If you lack a band saw or table saw, the dealer may also offer milling services or can recommend a local furniture or cabinet maker to cut the thin strips needed for bending and gluing. Local furniture makers can be a good source of material for frames and handles also. Commercial veneers are usually too thin to be practical to use because of the many layers it would require to get a thick enough section. They could be applied as a decorative outer lamination over a frame using more durable and easier to bend woods, like Ash or Mahogany. Exotic woods like Snakewood, and burl woods don’t bend very well and are seldom available in long enough lengths, so they are usually only used for the handles.
I have had good success in bending with exotic woods like Gaboon and Macassar Ebony, Jatoba, Purpleheart, Yellowheart, Bloodwood, Tulipwood, Paduak, Wenge, Zebrawood, Lacewood, and Teak; and moderate success with 4A-5A Curly Maple, Bubinga, Osage Orange, Rosewood, and African Ribbon Mahogany. Many exotics are also very dense and heavy, making them hard to mill, and some are difficult to get in adequate lengths. Most domestic woods will bend easily, with Ash, Walnut, Poplar, Maple, Hickory, and Oak probably the most popular, and readily available woods at reasonable cost. Ordinary building lumber like Douglas Fir, Hemlock Fir, and Western Red Cedar can make an acceptable net, especially in the larger sizes (salmon, steelhead) if you have long enough clear vertical grain pieces, plus they’re very light weight. Quarter sawn woods tends to break less when bending, but flat sawn pieces may look better because of the grain pattern or figure. Since most lumber sold is flat sawn (or plain sawn), when you cut a narrow strip from the edge of a board you get a quarter sawn section. If you want the figure or grain to show from the flat sawn face, you will have to cut a ¾” – 1” (20mm-25mm) wide section from the board, turn that piece 90 degrees and cut the thinner sections for the laminations from it.
Wood for the handle can be the same species of wood, or a different contrasting piece, perhaps a small section of burl, or several small pieces glued together. A local woodworker or furniture maker is very likely to have some scraps and ends of exotic woods, that would be suitable for making a handle. Small blanks of prime burl wood for making knife handles are also available from many woodworking suppliers. Some exotic wood species can be very irritating (cocobolo, acacia, etc…) to people who may be sensitive to allergies. when sanding and carving; and resins in the wood can cause rashes among some people from just handling it. Many woods are difficult to carve because they are very dense, or have high silica content, or they may tend to fracture, and are better shaped with files, rasps and abrasives, or high speed grinders like a Dremel tool, or die grinder. Surface texture varies with different wood species, as some are very coarse grained, and have large pores, whereas others are finer grained and will polish to a high gloss using 600—1000 grit sandpaper, and need little or no filling to achieve a smooth finish, and work well for hand rubbed oil type finishes.
I will be adding to this as time permits, please check back soon.
These pages were last updated 3 April 2008
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How to build a custom wood fly fishing landing net
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