3. Milling Wood
The average net frame is about 1/2”-3/4” (12mm-20mm) thick, so most laminations will be 1/8”-1/4” (2mm-6mm) thick, depending on the number used, typically 3 or 5 layers. Cutting thin strips for the net frame can be done with a band saw, or table saw.
A band saw has a very thin blade and will waste less wood than a typical 1/8” (3mm) thick table saw blade, meaning you can get more strips out of a given piece of lumber. This only makes a difference if you are making many strips for multiple nets, or have a very thin piece to start with. A band saw could also produce a rougher surface making it more difficult to glue properly, and the strip may vary in thickness. This can be fixed by using a hand plane or a portable electric thickness planer like a 12” (30cm) Delta, Makita, DeWalt, etc… to smooth the surface of the strips, but that means cutting them slightly thicker than needed, which tends to negate the advantage of the thinner blades. That said however, with practice it is possible to cut extremely thin strips less than 1/16” (1.5mm) thick, in woods like Ash, Mahogany, Walnut and Teak, and I have even used a second hand Sears band saw with a new 1/2” (12mm) blade to make very thin strips, that did not require planing or thicknessing. A light sanding will sometimes suffice, but the goal is to have as smooth a surface as possible. Clean and freshly cut, planed, or sanded surfaces work best for gluing.
A table saw will do an adequate job if you use the right blade. Thin kerf blades are available that waste less wood than the typical 1/8” (3mm) saw blade, and require less horsepower to cut. Although this is a ripping style of cut and would call for using a 20 tooth rip blade, it does not leave as clean a cut as a blade with more teeth and a different tooth grind, even going slowly. For just a few strips, use a good 40-60 tooth “combo” blade, or a high tooth count crosscut blade to get a smooth finish, but they will cut more slowly, and sometimes they can leave burn marks if you’re too slow. If you’re stuck with just one blade, you can of course, plane the cut surface afterwards, if needed, as when cutting the laminations on a bandsaw.
An electric thickness planer can be used to dimension many of the strips to the desired thickness. There are two main problems with using a large or a portable electric thickness planer to make very thin strips for a laminated frame. The principle difficulty is getting strips less than 1/8” (3mm) thick, which is the limit for most machines. You can make an auxiliary platen using 1/2” - 3/4” (12mm-20mm) thick plywood, MDF, or Melamine (which works well because of the slick surface). A section about 12” to 24” (30cm-60cm) long and wide enough to fit the planer bed will usually be adequate, but you can get by with a narrow strip if you can keep the lamination centered on it. A 1”x1” (25mm x 25mm) cleat or blocks of wood fastened to the bottom will hold it in place, and make for easy installation and removal. The other problem with thickness planers is they will frequently destroy the wood when trying to go very thin, particularly when using figured and curly woods, or strips that have knots and “run out” where the grain is not straight and parallel to the sides and edges. Hand planing may work in those situations, or using abrasives and blocks of wood. You can use double sided carpet tape to fasten thin strips to a thicker piece of wood as a possible solution when trying to cut or plane very thin strips. You have to be extra careful taking the strips off, because the tape is really strong (use short sections sparingly), and you may well break the thin lamination prying it loose.
Drum sanders like the Delta or Performax models work very well on difficult woods to make them thin and/or smooth after sawing, but they are slow, and have the problem of leaving abrasive burns on some woods if you are not careful. Use clean belts and take light passes. You will also have to compensate for the dimensioning limitations of these machines when doing thin strips, by using auxiliary platens, or support strips for the laminations, like with the thickness planer.
Before you cut each strip, its best to clean and smooth the edge of the lumber each time on the jointer, or with a hand plane, in order to have a good reference edge and not have to resurface both sides of the strip. In some situations, if you plan correctly, you can still use a strip with one rough face if it’s outside surface of the net frame, but it means spending more time smoothing it after the frame is glued and being shaped.
If you want to make a landing net frame with a single piece of wood 1/2”-3/4” (12mm-20mm) thick it will be easier to cut and plane, but be more difficult to bend. I’ve used sections up to 1” (25mm) thick, and have also tapered thick sections, so the middle is thinner and easier to form around the tighter curves of the form. Tapering can be done with a hand plane or an electric thickness planer. Make a line on the side of the strip with a pencil or scribe so that you can accurately gauge how much wood to remove. A simple planing jig can be made with a long straight piece of wood (common 2x4’s work fine) with thin blocks of wood of various thicknesses attached to form a slight arc when the bending strip is temporarily fastened to it. I’ve used mine with an electric thickness planer, but it’s really pretty easy to use a hand plane, and it only takes a few minutes, because the strip is not wide, and just a few passes with the hand plane will remove enough to get a substantial taper. Make a few short passes in the middle, and gradually increase the length of each pass toward each end to get a nice fair taper. I have also tapered the ends and left the middle thicker, to achieve a different effect.
Some woods when freshly cut from a thicker section will immediately warp and twist, but they will still be usable if care is taken when steaming and bending them around the form, and even slight twist and warp can be overcome when gluing the landing net frame with moderate clamping pressure. It’s much easier if all the laminations are all the same width, so the edges are flush when set in the gluing form. If you are using different woods to make the frame it may be difficult find lumber the same thickness, so some additional thickness planing may be required before cutting the thin strips, to make them all the same width after they’re cut..
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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