Hand tools, such as rasps and course files, and abrasives are all that’s needed to shape the frame and handle, but if you have access to power tools such as a drum or wide belt sander, oscillating spindle sander, stationary or portable belt sander, you’ll find the process goes much faster. The first step after removing the glued net frame from the form, or mold, is to remove the excess glue by scraping with an old retired chisel, plane blade, hacksaw blade, or whatever piece of old steel you have with a filed edge; and then surface both sides of the net to make them parallel, and the edges flush. This is where a wide belt or drum sander comes in handy, but a hand held belt sander, rasps and files, or 60 grit sandpaper and block of wood will work if you have the energy and patience.

       It is possible to use a portable thickness planer like a 12” (30cm) Delta, DeWalt, or Makita to dimension the frame, but the glue could play havoc with the planer blades and leave little hollows that might be irritating to someone with newly sharpened blades, and is particular about the finish produced on their fine cabinetry projects. If you have another set of used blades or only do rough framing work with the planer then it will work very quickly to level the frame and handle blank. Curly and figured woods will tend to fracture at the edges of the frame if you’re not careful, and may cause unacceptable “tear out” (big chunks or divots in the wood surface) on the handle woods if you use burls and exotics. Feeding the top of the frame end in first, and the handle end last, with light cuts, and several passes, alternating the sides being cut seems to work best. Putting the handle end in first will sometimes cause the other end, or top of the net frame, to tear or fracture or “snipe” as it’s the last part through the blades and is not by pressed down by the infeed rollers. If you do use the handle first method, you can hold the handle end down firmly against the platen or (bottom plate) as it comes out of the planer and usually avoid the problem, except in difficult woods. If it happens, don’t despair because you will probably want to taper the net frame anyway, so that it is not as thick at the frame end, and thicker at the handle end. You won’t always be guaranteed a perfectly “true” net either, because the pressure of the in feed and out feed rollers, overwhelm any stiffness in the  frame, and although the frame and handle will be all the same thickness, there may be some slight twist to the frame, which is usually correctable by hand shaping, and again, by tapering the frame to be symmetrical. That is one advantage of the handle end in first method, or hand shaping..

       After the net frame and handle have been leveled and trued, you should next mark the locations for drilling holes around the frame in order to lace the netting on. It’s easier to mark and drill the holes at this stage because the frame edges and sides are parallel making it easier to center the holes. I use an awl to make a small pilot hole to guide the drill bit after they are marked off in pencil. Traditionally, commercial made landing nets have used a groove to inset the lacing material below the frame’s outer surface to prevent it from abrasion. I think this feature’s just a hold over from bygone days when cotton was the primary lacing material and needed to be protected from abrasion. The nylon and other synthetic fiber cord materials that are now available will probably outlast most normal use and wear, even if left proud of the frame surface, so I only occasionally use a recessed groove. If you do want to have a groove, it should be made first, and then the holes drilled. You can make a simple self centering tool with a short strip of wood having two nails or screws spaced slightly wider apart than the widest part of the frame, and another nail in the center to score a line, or a hole for a pencil point. Hold the self centering at an angle so the two outer nails or pegs always touch the sides of the frame, and the middle nail or hole will be centered on the frame even if the width changes like when the frame is tapered. The groove in the frame can be cut with a small triangular file, or a short section of hacksaw blade set in wood or well taped. For multiple nets a jig can be set up to use a Dremel tool with the high speed cutter accessories #198, or #199 (1/16” (1.5mm) wide), or a router table can be adapted to use a small fly cutter. The groove should be just wide enough to fit the lacing material. A flexible steel ruler or pre-marked plastic strip is used to locate the hole spacing. You can use just about any hole spacing and pattern (about an inch more or less seems typical), but be careful not to make the hole too large and compromise the strength and integrity of the landing net frame. I use 1/16” (1.5mm), and 3/32” (2.5mm) holes most of the time, and larger 1/8” (3mm), 5/32” (4mm), or occasionally 3/16” (5mm) holes, and sometimes a groove. Brad point drill bits work best because the center spur will stay in the pilot hole better than normal twist drills, and usually produce less tear out on the inside of the frame. A block of wood held or clamped to the inside of the frame where the drill comes though will reduce the chance of tear out also, especially on brittle woods. I also have a vertical jig for drilling holes that allows me to use a stand up floor model drill press, after rotating the drill press table out of the way, but a simple drilling & grooving jig can be made with a Dremel tool or electric drill. Careful free hand use of a mechanical or electric hand drill and regular twist drills can be used, but you need to make sure the drill bit is at a 90 degree angle to the outside surface of the net frame. I almost always use a countersink to slightly bevel the edges of the holes after they are drilled, so they won’t chafe through the lacing, or have the lacing wear through the finish at the sharp edges of the holes. Sandpaper shaped into a cone, or a standard countersink  spun between the fingers will do the job nicely. Be sure to plan the number of holes so that the lacing pattern will begin and end symmetrically or evenly. A 3/4”-1” (20mm-25mm) spacing is typical, but I have used as little as 3/8” (10mm), and also variable spacing, and with holes offset from the centerline of the frame to get different lacing designs. If you plan to use an after market replacement netting, purchase it first so you can match the number of holes to the netting. Lacing the netting can also be done without using holes in the frame, by wrapping the lacing around it, with a variety of knotting, and coach whipping schemes. This style requires more care to get even spacing of the netting around the frame, and tight work to anchor the ends of the lacing and keep it from shifting.

       The next step would be to taper the frame (if desired) so that the frame is thinner than the handle end, which, reduces the weight, improves the balance, and is aesthetically pleasing (this is where power tools are handy). The frame section can be left rectangular, or if you’re feeling energetic, can be shaped into an elliptical or round cross section. Take your time and check the work frequently to get a symmetrical shape. You can also add decorative elements with carving, or inlay to the frame part, working around the lacing holes. .

       Shaping the landing net handle will depend on the user’s hand size and desired handle length. Rounded edges and a flaring handle butt, improve the grip, along with comfort and control. Asymmetrical and ergonomic shapes can also be achieved if you have the patience. Any wood inlays are normally done before the handle is shaped, and while the sides are still flat, square and easy to work with. Abalone, scrimshaw, metal or plastic inlays are usually done last after the handle is shaped and finished.

       Look at some of the samples in this website to get some ideas for various handle shapes and sizes. Handle widths from 1 1/4” - 1 3/4” (30mm-40mm) will fit most hands comfortably. I use hand tools, like the Nicholson #49 or #50 pattern makers rasps, or power equipment like an oscillating spindle sander, and/or belt sander for much of the initial roughing out for the handle and the frame, but a common 4 in 1 rasp, and a sheet of coarse sandpaper like 36 grit and 60 grit, will accomplish the same thing, just more slowly. Smoothing is usually done with second cut files, and 80, 120 and 220 grit sandpaper. A 1/4”-1/2” hole in the butt of the handle for a lanyard, can also be drilled at this time, although some fishermen prefer to use a screw eye in the end of the handle to attach quick release devices for convenience.

       I have a specific shop made bench that works well for holding most of the landing net frames, while shaping and sanding. It’s made from mostly recycled materiel. It’s worth doing something similar if you plan to make more than one or two landing nets.




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