These interview questions were submitted
by Bob Maulucci for Power Fibres Magazine in early
2001. They were answered by Tom Morgan writing
What were your earliest experiences with
fly-fishing and rod building?
I grew up on a motel at Ennis, Montana, and the
home of the famous Madison River, and the not so
famous ODell Creek and Spring Creek. It was more of a
fishing resort than it was just a motel and many
customers would spend vacations fishing. My first
experiences with fly-fishing were with some of the
customers that came to the motel.
In the beginning I was a spin fisherman and as a
kid I fished mostly in Bear Creek that ran right
through the motel grounds. It was a small stream and
was safe to fish. Usually, I would use an F7 frog
colored flatfish. Bear Creek had only brown trout in
it and was very brushy. I would feed the flatfish
down into a brush pile and the big browns just
couldnt resist it.
My next jump was to fish ODell Creek with live
grasshoppers and the spinning rod. ODell also had
only brown trout. I learned quickly that the trout
were very wary, particularly if you showed yourself
so I would crawl up to the pools and toss out the
hoppers. The big browns were a sucker for a juicy
hopper bobbing down the stream. There were some small
ponds in ODell and when I would toss out the hoppers
I could see them coming by the wake they made. It was
very exciting fishing since many of the takes were
As I got older I started fishing the Madison with
customers from the motel. I would watch where they
fished and also explored the river myself. This was
how I learned where the fish were and how to catch
There were two motel customers that kept telling
me that I should learn to fly fish because it was
more fun and could be even more productive than lure
or bait fishing. Tom Coxon and Howard Sykes became my
fly fishing mentors. Tom lived in Florida at the time
but had been a stockbroker in New York City and grew
up fishing in the Catskills. Howard lived in New
Jersey but had fished all over the world. Both of
them were accomplished fly fishermen. They both used
Leonard and Payne rods so I could see what those rods
did for them. They got me started and for several
years would let me go along with them and helped me
learn the nuances of fly-fishing.
There couldnt have been a better place to practice
my fly fishing skills than ODell Creek. It has all
kinds of water from very quiet pools to fast riffles.
There were lots of big browns up to 22 with an
occasional bigger one. At that time you could fish
anywhere you wanted without even asking permission.
In addition to ODell I fished Spring Creek after I
learned to drive. It was generally quiet water with
very selective fish and taught me the art of gentle
I built my first flyrod when I was living in
Clarkston, Washington. It was a fiberglass rod built
on a Phillipson blank. It was the only flyrod that I
ever built before buying Winston.
I guided for fourteen seasons prior to buying
Winston. This gave me a great deal of fishing
experience under all kinds of conditions. I have
always said that I always learned more watching
anglers fish than I learned fishing myself. I also
learned what made a great flyrod by trying many of
the best rods of the day. Before I bought Winston I
owned three Winston bamboo rods.
How do you see the two as being
In my opinion, in order to be a great rod designer
you must have a large range of fishing experience. It
also helps to guide fishermen and to watch them fish
and use a variety of rods. I think that presently
most trout rods and steelhead/salmon rods are
designed by tournament casters and are much too
stiff. Many of todays rods are demonstrated at
fishing shows and the ones that cast the farthest are
the ones being made. Fortunately, most bamboo
rodmakers have not fallen into this trap and are
still making rods that bend and flex appropriately
for fishing situations. However, even some bamboo
makers are leaning towards rods that are too stiff
for good trout fishing. When I hear that a bamboo
trout rod will cast all of the line I am very
suspicious of its fishing action/stiffness.
How did your ownership of Winston come
I was running the El Western Motel in Ennis in
1973. We had decided to sell the motel so I was
looking for something to do. A good friend of mine,
Al Wilson, was staying at the motel. He had been in
the Army Air Corps with Doug Merrick, the owner of
Winston, during World War II. Al said that Doug
wanted to sell Winston. I had always had a passion
for flyrods so thought this would be a great
opportunity for me.
I immediately called Doug to see if he wanted to
sell Winston. He said that he did and I told him that
I was interested in buying it. I made arrangements to
fly to San Francisco to meet with him. On the way
down I stopped in Salt Lake City to meet with my
fishing friend, Sid Eliason, to see if he was
interested in either loaning me money to help buy
Winston or to become a partner. Sid said he would
love being a partner with me.
I met with Doug and looked over the business. I
must admit that I had stars in my eyes. Doug was like
a God to me. I wanted Winston badly and told Doug
that I would come back to Montana and make him an
offer. He had five other people interested in the
business so I offered him $10,000 more than he was
asking to make sure I got Winston. Doug accepted my
offer and Sid and I were the proud owners of
Should one avoid making their passion into
By all means you should follow your passion in
your life for earning your income. However, this is
not the case for most people. If your greatest
passion is fly-fishing and rodmaking I dont see how
you can make a substantial living doing it. You can
make a reasonable living and have a good life. Most
amateur rodmakers are best off just making a few rods
for friends or limited sales while maintaining a real
job for income. Rodmaking for most could provide a
small supplemental income for their passion.
Does business take the joy out of building
It didnt for me. I cant imagine doing anything
more fun than running a great rod company. One of my
greatest joys was to want a rod for a specific
fishing situation and be able to make it for myself.
Thats how many of the designs came about. I grew up
with a strong aesthetic sense developed by my mother
and that helped guide me to keep improving the
quality of the products that I made.
How did your design ideas and
glass/graphite rods change the rods produced by
As mentioned before I grew up fishing a big
variety of waters. This experience helped me develop
a strong sense of rod types. Also using a variety of
customers rods let me see what others were doing and
what worked best for different fishing conditions.
When I first went to Winston there were only bamboo
and fiberglass rods being produced.
The first thing I did was to design the Stalker
fiberglass rods that were true #3 & #4 rods.
There were very few light rods being made in the
1970s. Even in those days all of the fiberglass rods
that I could find were much too stiff for the line
designation they carried. The Stalker became an
immediate hit and are still popular to this day. They
never seem to come up on used tackle sales.
Soon after I bought Winston, Fenwick brought out
the graphite rods. They began to revolutionize not
only the rod industry but also fly-fishing itself. It
was not long before they completely took over the fly
rod business and forced fiberglass off the market. In
my opinion, this did a great disservice to some of
the fiberglass rods that were, and still are, great
fishing rods. I also think that for many beginners
graphite rods are easier to learn to cast with
because their stiffness/speed fits their casting
By the time Fenwick brought out graphite rods
fiberglass had mostly replaced bamboo rods. Most of
the bamboo rodmaking companies had closed their
doors. The ease of making shafts from composite
materials was much cheaper than making them from
In the beginning the graphite materials were heavy
and, along with the manufacturing techniques, made
rods more like the traditional parabolic designs with
stiffer tips and softer butts. These rods would cast
a lot of line but lacked the delicacy that I
preferred. We made the best designs that we could and
they were good fishing rods but needed more
sophisticated materials and manufacturing
The second and subsequent material improvements
have greatly increased the versatility of designs.
Another big improvement was the increased
manufacturing technology and mandrel design that
allows great variety in the type of rod blanks
How do you weigh technological progress
against tradition and the aesthetic beauty of cane
I am going to make a statement that will probably
anger many bamboo rodmakers. In my opinion, graphite
is the best rod making material to come along so far.
Now, that is not to say that most graphite rods being
made today are great rods. Far from it. There are
more terrible rods being made today, in my opinion,
than have ever been made at any other time.
However, graphite does offer the opportunity to
make great rods. They are very lightweight, have
great strength, wont take a set, have great design
flexibility, have great casting range, and can be
aesthetically pleasing if properly executed. I am
very proud of the graphite rods that we are currently
making and think that they are great fishing rods.
They have supple tips, good flexibility, bend
appropriately for trout fishing distances, and are
This is not to say that bamboo rods are not also
great fishing rods because many of them are. Bamboo
is a great material and can be crafted into a
beautiful rod that has an intrinsic value unequaled
by any other material. Bamboo also has the benefit of
being the traditional rod material that our fly
fishing sport was built upon. This gives it a
tradition that wont ever be displaced.
However, just because a rod is bamboo doesn't make
it a great fishing rod. I have always been very
critical of any rod and whether they be bamboo,
fiberglass, or graphite. Regardless of the material
they must do the job well. In my opinion, bamboo is
the most difficult material to design rods with. The
weight of the material affects the rod action more
than fiberglass or graphite. Therefore, its critical
that the tapers be worked out carefully and tested to
insure that the rod performs well.
One of the great appeals for bamboo rodmakers is
their ability to experiment with different tapers to
develop a rod action that they prefer. With either
graphite or fiberglass this design capability is not
available to most amateur rod designers. Making
bamboo rods can also represent an opportunity to
develop not only tapers but also the other aesthetic
design details of a rod.
What is running a production shop
The thinking in a production shop is to group
processes together so that you have efficiency of
scale and you save on setup to do an individual step.
For example, we would work batches of bamboo through
the processes of selection, sorting, matching, node
work, gang cutting, and inspection. We would have a
substantial amount of bamboo ready to final cut and
glue. Then we would final cut and inspect enough
bamboo in a morning to glue it in the afternoon to
insure that the bamboo had a fresh cut glue surface.
We glued primarily in the winter and would do it once
a week. Over the years that I owned Winston I
estimate that we glued about 5000 sections.
When I was making ferrules I would setup the
process to make several hundred at a time. This
included cutting off the solid bar stock, setting up
the turret lathe to drill and ream holes, rough
turning, and precision turning of the males. Then the
females were honed to a standard size. After the
females were honed I would then outside hone the
males and match a set of two males and one female. By
doing this in large batches you get accustomed to the
feel and are able to do the fitting quickly and very
consistently giving a very high quality ferrule.
When working production in batches it allows you
to learn to do processes consistently and, overall,
more quickly. Our goal was always to keep improving
the quality of our rods and workmanship. In my
opinion, by working product through on a consistent
basis in a flowing pattern you are able to examine
your procedures to develop ones that gradually keep
improving your product.
What would small-scale builders benefit
from knowing about how the pro shops are
For most individuals that are building only a few
rods a year it doesn't really matter since most of
them are doing it for their personal enjoyment and
the amount of time it takes to complete a rod is not
For those trying to make a modest number of rods
per year for sale they could benefit both in reducing
the time spent and improving their quality by working
the processes in bigger groups. For example, batching
the bamboo work to have a stockpile of mostly
completed splines could save time. Most are using
either a set of planing forms or a Hand Mill and the
setup time for a taper is not substantial but if they
would make several sections at one time and build up
a reserve of glued up sections it would increase
their efficiency. Then if somewhere down the road a
customer wants a rod and they have the sections glued
it would be a simple matter to finish a rod. I also
think that if you are able to clean up and ferrule
several of the same rods at a time you get more
consistent and better results.
How was the move to Twin Bridges
When I was first looking at Winston to purchase it
I intended to move the company to Montana. There were
a lot of benefits to Winston in the bay area such as
the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club, tradition
of being in San Francisco, infrastructure of support
businesses, and a big labor pool. Even with these
benefits I thought that a rod company should be in a
great fishing area.
From Winstons beginning they produced a broad
range of rod types from surf rods, boat rods, plug
rods, to fly rods. When I bought the business most of
the rods being sold were fly rods. Having been a spin
fishermen for a number of years I could see that the
spinning rods did not have great action. In addition,
I didnt know anything about any other rods except fly
rods. I also realized that most anglers wouldnt pay a
premium price for spinning or boat rods even though
the manufacturing costs were the same or higher than
for a fly rod. Therefore, soon after buying Winston I
dropped everything but making flyrods.
Even though I liked San Francisco as a city I
didnt want to live there. My heart was in Montana.
Doug Merrick had agreed to work for me for 2 years to
teach me the business. I decided that after he was
through I would move Winston to Montana. By that time
Glenn Brackett was working for me, and the two of us,
at separate times, looked at different towns in
Montana to move to. I had a very good knowledge of
southwestern Montana that helped me look for an
The area around Twin Bridges, Sheridan, and Dillon
appealed to me because of the good fishing and
general lack of fishermen. I looked at different
properties and found an inexpensive piece in Twin
Bridges with a building located on it. The decision
was made to buy the property and move Winston.
In the beginning, it was a difficult move since we
gave up a tackle shop that provided a lot of income
to help support the rodmaking. There were only three
employees, Al Wilson, Chris Warner and Glenn
Brackett, along with myself. Al worked part time at
home. Chris, Glenn, and myself moved to Montana. In
the beginning our rods were still wrapped in
California with the finishing work done in
What about the craftsmen at
When the move was made to Montana Winston was a
very small company. Doug Merrick had already retired.
We had the rod wrappers in the Bay area and they
stayed there while we sent rods back and forth. Glenn
also did much of the wrapping. Al Wilson worked at
his shop at home as he had been doing and we
continued to send work back and forth. We had one
part time worker, Doug Wilson, who didnt move with
us. Glenn Brackett, Chris Warner, and myself moved to
What did each contribute to what the
modern bamboo rod has become?
In the beginning Doug and I worked on the bamboo
rods together. The next year Glenn came to work for
me so both of us had an opportunity to work under
Doug. However, during the time that we were in San
Francisco we had another mentor, Gary Howells. I feel
that Gary did more to help us develop our quality
bamboo making skills than anyone else did. He came
over every Saturday morning and we talked extensively
about bamboo rodmaking.
When I bought Winston there were not established
exact specifications for each rod. This was a big
disappointment for me. In the beginning I did almost
all of the taper pattern adjustments to develop our
rod actions. I would work out the tapers, Al Talbot
would cut the taper patterns, and then Glenn and
myself would glue up the sections, make the rods, and
cast them. Al would then redo any taper pattern that
I wanted changed. After considerable effort I had the
most popular rod tapers well defined.
After the first year I took over running the
milling machine to cut bamboo. I feel that I have a
good mechanical aptitude and was very interested in
machinery. Lew Stoner made the original milling
machine. It is a very simple but elegant design that
is the best that I have seen. It had oil bearings and
a setting mechanism that wasnt as accurate as I
wanted. Al Talbot made a new slide mechanism with a
positive dial for setting the depth adjustment that
worked extremely well. This machine was used for a
number of years until we started to have trouble with
the oil bearings. Then I rebuilt the milling machine
adding a new ball bearing spindle while retaining the
adjusting mechanism that Talbot built.
When I bought Winston we used a glue machine that
had been built by Lew. It had two counter rotating
wheels with the thread on each wheel and wrapped two
threads on the rod blank while you pulled it through.
It may have worked well for big boat rods, but in my
opinion, it was a disaster for fly rod tips. I
designed and had built by a machine shop a new gluing
machine based on a modified Crompton style. I always
have felt that the crookedess joint from it was
better than the best one from the other machine. This
glue machine made all the difference in the quality
of our sections. A great many come off the machine
with no torque and extremely straight.
After we moved to Montana and established our
routine each of us did, for the most part,
specialized tasks. In the beginning, I did most of
the pole sorting and matching. Both Glenn and myself
would do the sanding of the nodes. Glenn and I would
do the cutting with me operating the milling machine
and Glenn pushing strips into it. Glenn and I would
both check the strips for the quality of the cuts and
final blemish inspection. Then when gluing, Glenn
would spread the glue and I would run them through
the binding machine. We would both work on
straightening and hanging them.
Glenn did almost all of the section cleaning, rod
ferruling, corking, wrapping, and wrap coating. He
essentially took over the assembling of the finished
bamboo rods. Glenn also did all of the repair work on
bamboo rods. Glenn has assembled hundreds of bamboo
rods and, in my opinion, is one of the great
rodmakers today. He has been able to have a wealth of
experience that just isn't available to most
After the rods were ready for final finishing I
would do that by spraying the varnish on in a special
spray booth. The spray booth was set up with an
exhaust fan, special dust free filters, and I would
wear dust free clothing when spraying. I have always
felt that spraying was the best way to apply the
finish coat. By proper application I could vary the
varnish finish by the application rate putting on a
lighter, thinner coat on the tips and a heavier one
on the butts. Spraying is also very fast. I could
varnish the final coats on ten two tip rods in about
three hours total including setup and cleanup. The
finish coats came out virtually perfect with almost
no dust blemishes and these were easily polished out.
I think that the finish varnish on our rods added
greatly to the overall quality.
During the time that I owned Winston Jerry Kustish
and Jeff Walker started working for us. Jeff took
over the bamboo jobs that I did and is Glenns primary
helper in the bamboo work. Jerry works part time in
the bamboo area. They have all contributed to
Winstons bamboo reputation. From my observations,
Winston built the best bamboo rods they ever had
under my watch and Glenn, Jeff, and Jerry are
continuing this fine tradition and are adding their
own improvements along the way.
For most of the time that I owned Winston we
casted every bamboo rod with both tips that went out
of the shop. This not only gave us an opportunity to
know what every rod that we sent out felt like but it
gave us a tremendous amount of casting experience
with different bamboo rods. From my observations, the
most difficult task for rodmakers is being able to
cast a rod and determine its characteristics and how
to change it for the better. This seems to only come
with great experience.
How/why did you form Tom Morgan
Rodsmiths?There were really two reasons.
First, I needed to continue to make money from some
source and I thought that making rods would be an
ideal way since I would have limited production and
it wouldnt take all of my time. Second, even though
the graphite rods at Winston had excellent action and
were well executed I knew that by limiting the
production and doing the work myself better rods
could be built.
What were your goals, products, and
startup experience like?
The goal of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths was to build the
best fishing rod that was possible based on my
experience and to encompass the appointments to make
it the most beautiful that I could imagine. I also
wanted the level of workmanship to be highest
possible. I believe that this has been done. Anglers
who have fished these rods constantly rave about
their action and how beautiful they are. It has been
very satisfying and rewarding to receive their
In the beginning I only was going to make a
limited number of graphite rods in the lengths that I
have always liked best along with reels that would
complement the rods. The Hand Mill was not planned
and only came about accidentally. However, the
addition of the Hand Mill has been very rewarding and
interesting for both Gerri and myself. One of the
best parts of our business is the association that we
have made with our customers.
I did not intend to make bamboo rods because I
didnt want to make a milling machine to cut the
strips. After the invention of the Hand Mill they
could be easily made. Therefore, Gerri and I decided
to add a limited number of rods to our graphite
offering. I have always enjoyed making bamboo rods so
it a natural addition.
My fishing experience and length of time in the
fly rod business allowed me to understand the product
that I wanted to make. My associations with
individuals in the fly rod business provided me with
the ability to get them to help develop the products
that I wanted. I realize that for most people it
would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to
do this because of the limited production. As with
most business startups the initial time and costs
were greater than I anticipated.
Tell me about your partnership with
Gerri and I fell in Love in 1993. We just
celebrated our 8th anniversary and its been a
fabulous time. She is interested in life and we share
many of the same interests.
At that time she was just beginning a stock
brokerage business. She worked it for about 1 years
and was doing well but I convinced her that if we
made rods we could make a satisfactory income working
together and still have considerable time off so she
quit selling stocks and bonds.
When Gerri and I first started my Multiple
Sclerosis was getting quite severe but we always
thought that it would stop before I got too disabled.
I was able to cast the first prototype rods and
develop the action that I wanted. Gerri and I both
worked on the appointments on the rods, bags, and
cases and she had many great ideas that we have
incorporated. Now that I am totally disabled Gerri
does everything except the rod blank and guide
alignment. I still have a keen eye and between the
two of us we get them dead straight. Fortunately for
us, Gerri has the keen eye, the technical ability,
and the desire to do what I consider to be the finest
work in the industry. The workmanship on our rods is
Gerri will do much of the finish work on the
bamboo along with the graphite. I do the design work
and have assembled a group of casters that know what
type of action I want to test the rods. Working on
bamboo is a new experience for her but she is looking
forward to the challenge.
What brought about the Morgan Hand
In the early 1980s my friend, Per Brandin, was
visiting in Twin Bridges and we were talking about
how he made his rods using a planing form and hand
plane. That night I thought about how it could be
done easier using a plane with carbide inserts
running down a track with an adjustable bed for
adjusting the taper.
The next morning over breakfast I sketched out my
ideas on a napkin and explained it to Per. At the
time he kind of dismissed it but I learned later that
he thought I was crazy but didnt say it.
During the late 1980s I ordered some ground steel
with the idea of making a prototype Hand Mill but
that was as far as I got. In late 1984 my friend from
British Columbia, Bob Clay, said that he wanted to
start making bamboo rods using the traditional
planing form and plane. I told him that I thought I
had a better design for planing strips and if he were
interested I would help him make one. Bob said he was
and ended up coming to Montana where I helped him
make the first base/bed assembly for a Hand Mill in
In the meantime, I talked with a machinist friend
of mine, Tom Wandishin, about my ideas for a plane.
Tom was very familiar with bamboo rodmaking since he
had worked for me at Winston for 1 years making
bamboo rods. He is also a master machinist and a
great designer. Between the two of us a plane design
was developed and Tom made the first one.
Bob and I went to Toms shop with the base and some
bamboo. Bob fastened the bamboo to the bed and took
the first few cuts. The bamboo cut easily and we were
all laughing about how great it was. When Bob got
through cutting the strip down substantially Tom took
it off and measured it. The edges were sharp and the
strip was the exact same width from end to end. It
was perfect! The first Hand Mill was a success!
What was the response in the early days of
its development (Corbett Lake)?
Gerri and I went to Corbett Lake with Per Brandin
and Bob Clay to demonstrate my first prototype model
of the Hand Mill. Per had prepared some strips for
cutting and he and Bob demonstrated the Hand Mill
while I watched. Everyone there was very excited
about it and most could see what a substantial
improvement it was in cutting strips.
Bob had been using his Hand Mill for some time and
had experienced faster and easier cutting soaking the
strips. The strips that were cut for the
demonstration had been soaked. I was not in total
agreement that only wet strips should be used for the
demonstration and this proved to be true. Some
rodmakers thought that the bamboo had to be soaked
for it to cut well and this wasnt the case. Also, we
only had time to cut butt strips and there was some
concern that it wasnt capable of cutting the smaller
tip strips. This concern was also unfounded. However,
the overall response was excellent and I ended up
selling some Hand Mills as a result of the
Who else helps with the
Bob Clay worked out a lot of the early
difficulties with getting the Hand Mill procedures
worked out. At my shop, Per Brandin, made three
separate trips to Montana during my original stages
of working out a production model. I felt that
several changes needed to be made in order for it to
be a practical tool for rodmakers. Each time we had
difficulty making it work perfectly and Per went home
saying it wouldnt work out. Each time I kept pursuing
a solution to that particular problem until it was
resolved. I was handicapped because I couldnt
physically use the Hand Mill and had to rely on
someone else to help.
Per was absolutely instrumental in helping me get
the Hand Mill perfected as it now is. Since he
understood bamboo rodmaking very well and is
thoughtful about the necessary processes I would have
had great difficulty working through the development
without him. He suggested the name Hand Mill that has
proven to be a perfect name for it. I also must give
Bob Clay a lot of credit for making the first model
work well and being an inspiration for me to continue
to pursue working out the details on the final
Also, as with most products, the end users have
also contributed a lot of good ideas to the
development of the Hand Mill. I have also continued
to work out different solutions to problems that have
arisen from the reports of owners.
Why is it a useful tool?
Reports back from my customers have answered this
in several ways. One of the biggest benefits is that
the carbide insert holder always keeps the correct
angle when you are cutting strips. This has
eliminated one of the difficulties with hand planing.
A number of customers have remarked about how much
easier it is to just start cutting strips without
learning to sharpen planes or to continually have to
keep planes sharp.
The learning curve for cutting strips has been
substantially reduced since you can put a strip on
the Hand Mill and, providing the node work has been
properly done, you can get a perfect strip the first
The development of the swelled butt kit makes it
easy to cut strips for this type of rod without
special forms, only an inexpensive accessory. Another
big benefit is that it easily allows both 5- and
4-strip rods to be planed simply by changing a cutter
head. Prior to this the planing forms were difficult
to find and expensive for these rods.
Now that I have developed a hollow fluting cutter
it is easy to hollow flute rods. Also by using a flat
cutter laminating a different core material to the
inside of a strip is easily accomplished to make rods
similar to those of EC Powell.
What is in its future?
As I see it I will continue to manufacture the
Hand Mill and to refine any aspect of it that
requires improvement. The feedback from customers is
essential for this process. However, it appears that
its function is excellent and the satisfaction of my
customers is very high.
Exactly how many are out
I think that this is propriety information that I
am not willing to share.
How do you answer people who say, "Anybody
could build a rod if they had one of
As anyone who has built bamboo rods knows cutting
perfect strips is only a small part of rodmaking. I
do believe that the Hand Mill makes the strip cutting
easier and more efficient but overall it doesn't make
rodmaking easy. From what customers have told me
though that they had given up because they felt they
could never master planing strips with the
traditional method and now they could. One of my
primary goals was to make it easier so more people
could enjoy the wonderful pastime of making rods.
How do you answer people who question the
price of the Hand Mill?
When I first began developing the Hand Mill my
goal was to be able to sell it for less money.
However, as I worked to develop different aspects of
it including the plane I could see that it was very
important to provide high quality parts that worked
well and would continue to so. There are a
substantial number of parts that have to be made with
limited production and considerable handwork that are
expensive to make. Also, as with any production
process, there are mistakes made where substantial
numbers of pieces have to be rejected. All this
contributes to the manufacturing costs.
In addition, as new designs are developed there is
always a substantial development and premanufacturing
cost associated with each part that has to be
amortized into the final production.
The bottom line is that its not a product that
provides great profit to our operation although it
does contribute a reasonable amount.
What kinds of rods do machine milling,
hand planing, and the Morgan Hand Mill
Im not clear about this question.
Is one inherently better than the others
Yes and no. This gets down to the experience and
craftsmanship of the individual builder. I think that
it is easier with the Hand Mill or with a milling
machine to produce strips that are very consistent to
one another with very good cuts. It is also possible
to produce with regular hand planing strips that are
very consistent to each other and have perfect edges.
There are thousands of rods that prove this. I
believe that it is just easier with a machine that is
set up to do it automatically. The quality of any rod
always comes down to the dedication and craftsmanship
of the individual builder.
What does one need to know if they want to
experiment with hollow or fluted
The wall thickness is important for strength and
the rods should not be hollow under the ferrules but
other than that there is nothing difficult about
making the rods providing you have the appropriate
tools. It takes some time to make rods that are
hollow and to cast them for comparison to determine
the best action.
How do you go about designing bamboo
In all of my rod designing I have started with
rods close to actions that I like. With bamboo rods
you can easily mike a rod to determine its
measurements so that you have a reference unless it
has been hollow cut in some manner. I then decide
from my experience from casting and fishing how the
rod could be improved. For example, is the rod
overall too stiff or too soft? Is the tip too soft to
cast the line properly or is it so stiff that the rod
wont cast a small loop easily? Does it cast smoothly
or does it feel like it has a hinge or delivers the
After I have picked a rod design that basically
suits me then I would make several tips and butts
that were interchangeable and cast each combination
to determine which one I liked best. If I were lucky
one of the combinations would be perfect. Otherwise,
I would make another set of tips and/or butts to zero
in on the perfect combination. This is the method
that we are using to develop our current rod tapers.
I dont know any other way to determine the perfect
rod. I understand that some rodmakers have used the
computer programs to help determine original tapers
but I have never pursued that route.
What are the ideal parameters for cane
For me, I like what would be called a progressive
action. I have been primarily interested in bamboo
trout rods and not steelhead/salmon rods that have
different requirements. The primary goal has been to
make rods that feel very smooth when you cast them.
Another important attribute would be for the tip to
have the appropriate strength to handle the line it
was designed for. Overall, the rod must have a
perfect balance between the power in the tip and
butt. When casting other rods the biggest single
criticism that I would have would be that the rod was
not well balance between the tip and butt.
Could you give me an example of a taper
that shows the type of rod you like?
The EC Powell rods taken as a whole are the
smoothest and best casting rods that I have seen. The
Winston rods that I helped develop with their
progressive action are some of my favorites. Some of
the Payne rods are also wonderful casting rods with
the smoothness and balance that I enjoy. I,
personally, have not enjoyed using the parabolic
tapers even though they are very popular.
How is the development of the Tom Morgan
Rodsmith's bamboo rod line coming?
We made five tips and five butts for a 7 #4-weight
that were interchangeable. They have been casted and
one butt and two tips were excellent. We are now
making two more tips to try and get the perfect
combination. We have three interchangeable tips and
butts for a 7 #3-weight and two interchangeable tips
and butts for a 7 #4-weight. These should be ready to
cast by the end of September or early October of
2001. Hopefully, we will be there or within one more
round of prototype blanks for these three rod models.
At this time I am planning to make a 7 #5-weight that
should be ready next spring.
We have completed the binding machine, the
heat-treating oven, and have the coating quite well
worked out. The reel seat designs are going to be
based on our traditional Rodsmiths designs along with
the rod bags and tubes.
How have your personal/health struggles
affected your craft? (I don't mean to be intrusive,
but I find it amazing how you are accomplishing so
Some years ago I read a book by M. Scott Peck that
dealt with people in a nursing home. One of the
patients was a woman with Multiple Sclerosis and she
was totally paralyzed and just lying in the bed. At
the time I couldnt imagine anyone being able to live
under those conditions. Well, now I am in that exact
situation but, amazingly, I believe strongly that I
still have a great life!
There are several reasons why. First, and by far,
the most important is my wife, Gerri. She has an
attitude that anything is possible and she just wont
give up. With her help I am able to get out of bed,
spend only a reasonable amount of time in my
wheelchair, get fed, showered, and taken well care
of. This is in addition to her doing almost all of
the rodmaking. It is also a two way street in that I
am very supportive and encouraging of her interests.
I realize that its important that she has as complete
of life outside of rodmaking and caretaking that she
We have a shuttle bus that we have converted into
a camper and not only do we use it for local travel
but we take trips with it. This past summer we took a
trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to celebrate
Gerris fathers 80th birthday and were gone 19 days,
16 of which we camped in the bus. We just returned
from a trip to the West Coast where we were gone 23
days and we camped 21 of those in the bus. I lie down
in my wheelchair and have a pair of prism glasses
that allow me to look forward with great clarity. I
also use these glasses when Im watching TV.
I seem to be able to maintain a positive attitude
despite physical restraints. This may seem strange
but I dont think of myself as being disabled. Other
than the MS I am healthy and feel good almost all of
the time. Often I dont have much energy to sit up so
I lay down in my wheelchair and continue with
whatever I am doing at the time. Being involved in
inventing, developing, and selling the Hand Mill has
provided a lot of mental stimulating. The same has
been true for our rods. The friends that Gerri and I
have made doing both have added tremendously to our
One item that has been tremendously important is
my DragonDictate computer program for running the
computer. This entire response was easily written
using the software. With the use of the computer I am
able to write letters, do spreadsheets, use Quicken
for doing the business and personal books, write
emails, surf the Internet, and allow me to connect to
the world. I can use it entirely hands free by lying
in bed and looking at the screen with my prism
The two employees that we have, Cyndie Freirer and
Bill Blackburn, are very supportive of me and are
able to work well with my disability. They are
patient with me and are able to work well on their
own. Either of them is willing to stay with me while
working so that Gerri can get away.
We have a good network of friends and family that
give us support so that Gerri can get time away to
pursue her interests.