Knocking Out A Few Nets

I mentioned before that I’m trying my hand at making trout nets. I’m not much of an artisan. I’ve sort of made it up as I go along. 

I’ll update this over the next few days. 

Here’s (for what it’s worth) my process. 
I’m making smallish nets for stream fishing. I hardly ever fish stillwater, but I suppose that at some point I’ll build a long handled, wide symmetrical net. 
First I Work out a shape. I like asymmetrical nets because they help to land the fish on-stream. The handle in the pattern looks strange because it is broadened up by the frame where they join. It takes some thinking about. 

I try not to copy existing nets too closely. They’re all much the same though. In the background is a net already in clamps. I can do about eight handles and first strips in a day. I mean, if I wanted to. I don’t. 

The strips of wood will be steamed and clamped into shape on a piece of old board. 

I’ve designed a little clamping mechanism that works fantastically. There’s a little piece of ironmongery available at hardware stores that is both externally and internally threaded. It probably has a name. 

I fix it through a block of wood and screw this down to my board. 

A bolt through the clamp holds the stops in place against the form. They are quickly adjustable with an electric screwdriver. Small adjustments are made by hand.  

I mark the board and just use aluminum nails as the form. There’s not a lot of pressure on them so you don’t need to get overly fancy. 

At some point I’d like to glue a sheet of stainless steel to a board and drill the shape of a few nets into it permanently. Then I can use steel dowels and change patterns really quickly and easily. 

The handle is part of the form and I cut it with a jigsaw early in the process. 

Making a template and doing all this with a router would give a perfection. I don’t want perfection. I want it look like someone made it by hand. It needs to be rustic (for want of a better word). Also, I tell myself this because I’m really lazy. 

Here is everything set up for the strips to come in. I screw the handle in place at the point where it will ultimately be drilled out for a lanyard. 

Then I steam the first strip of three. In this case it is American White Ash. The middle strip will be American Walnut. 

I stole my wife’s pressure cooker and I’m using an old downpipe as a chamber. It’s not ideal. The heat causes it to collapse. The pipe, that is. The pressure cooker works excellently (no collapses yet) with the exception that I get dirty looks. I’ll scavenge a steel pipe from someone sometime. 

Also, if you ever do this please wear gloves. Steam is a bastard. 

As you can see I don’t have a workshop. I’m not the most popular guy around home today. 

Around eight minutes under steam is fine for ash. It bends well. I’ve used mahogany subspecies and they need half an hour of steam. It’s hot work. 
When it’s been steamed long enough I have to get it into the clamps quickly. One of those verimark hand held steam cleaner things are great to get stubborn pieces supple or to get them to take really tight bends. 

When the wood is cool it pretty much holds the shape of the form. I glue it to the handle with waterproof glue separate from when it’s in the form. 

The handle pulls it into shape. I like to glue it out of the form because as the wood relaxes as a result of its memory each net is slightly different.

I also put in a tiny stainless screw on each side. It will be hidden by the next layer. I just feel more comfortable. That first strip, despite being steamed, is under a fair amount of tension. The screw isn’t needed, but I just feel more confident knowing it’s there. 

The untidy strips running past the handle will ultimately be shaped back to feather back into the handle neatly. 

The next strip will pull the out-of-square edges around the radius nicely into line. 

A few hours in the clamps to ensure that it stays stuck to the handle and it’s time to add the next strips. 

Adding strips I pretty much do by hook and by crook supported by much grunting and swearing. I just bind it to what is already there with parcel string. I haven’t found a better way yet but I need to bend my mind towards finding a better method. It’s messy work and there has to be a better way. 

In the top left corner of the pic above you will see my fine Irish pipe that I received as a birthday gift in the magnificent city of Prague. 

There’s a few hours of drying time required and I’m going to spend at least part of that time toking on that fine pipe. Oh, and packing away the pressure cooker. But, for now, a Heineken and a pipe. 


A quick note on wood. 

For the handles look for something full of burls and cross grain. Sure, its a bitch to finish, but it’s really beautiful. Look in the bin at a local shopfitter or joiners shop for this sort of thing 

For the strips / frame of the net look for lumber with nice parallel grain. It must run parallel to the edge of the board or it will split when it’s put under tensile force when bending it. (First picture, below) If it is wavy or runs at an angle to the edge it will split. (Second picture below)

Obviously these pictures are of the edge of the board. On the face of the board just look for a pretty grain. 

I love wood. 


I’ve now got the third strip into this particular net. To remove the parcel string I make a long cut right round the radius of the net and rip it off. 

There’s a lot of glue mess everywhere at this point. The edge I clean up with a piece of 80 grit sandpaper. It’s fine for now because while it does scuff up the wood the next strip hides it. Also, the ‘key’ provided by the rough surface helps in glue adhesion. 
A storm has hit and my workshop is unusable.  I’ve moved onto a nice cup of tea. 

When the glue has set (not cured, that takes a few hours and it’s an important distinction) I’ll check whose watching and quietly move the piece into the oven at 60 degrees to really cure it nicely. Half an hour should do it. You don’t want glue to set too rapidly. It gets really brittle and reduces its life. 

I use a waterproof cold glue. I suppose I should use cascamite or resorcinol or something. I’m too lazy to track it down and anyhow I have a lot of faith in modern glues. It’s a niggle at the back of my mind but I’m sure it will be fine. 

There’s a two part ABE (liquid one face, aerosol on the other face) glue that I have used on a guitar I built but I suspect it dries and cures too quickly for this. Maybe when my skills improve I’ll give it a try – that stuff sticks like shit in a woolen blanket. That’s a technical description and there’s no need to try it yourself to prove its veracity. 

The nice thing, if your woodworking skills are as iffy as mine, about thick sticky glues is that they fill gaps really well and hide a multitude of sins. On that point (while I dispense wisdom) the strongest and hardest and best filler that you’ll ever use is bicarbonate of soda and super glue. Sprinkle a bit of bicarbonate into the space you want to fill, add a few drops of superglue and sprinkle more bicarb. It will harden in around five seconds. It gets so hard you can file it down. Amazing. Just don’t use a tube at a time – its wildly exothermic and I started a piece of wood smoldering with it once. But use it. Trust me, it’s unbelievable on wood, aluminium, steel, etc. I even fix torn finger nails with it – you can buff it down until it looks like glass. 

I’m thinking I might stain this net. A very light blue will work nicely. Tradition sê gat. I’m going to need to sleep on it though. Also, don’t use coloured varnish. It is, to not too technical, shit. Use a spirit based stain and then varnish over the top of it. Coloured varnish is just, well, shit. I might even make it green. Who’m I kidding? I’m so colorblind it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I suspect this one is getting colour. 

While I wait for glue to dry check out my new trout fishing pack mule. None of this hiking a hundred miles stuff for me anymore. Did I point out I’m lazy?


I left it to cure overnight, cut off the string and it’s ready for trimming and shaping. 

A divinity that shapes our ends, rough hue them as we may. 

That’s Shakespeare. My mom would be proud. 

I just clean it up a bit to see where I want to cut it. I’m not a great planner, I work on feel. 

A bit of trimming with the jigsaw and it’s starting to shape up nicely. 

Some light sanding and it’s starting to look really pretty.

Not bad joints if you consider its done with parcel string. 

To be continued… 

Ok, my family is out and that has given me some time to sand this thing. With the sanding 90% there I put on a quick layer of sanding sealer. 

It picks of the loose hairy bits of grain and hardens them. When they dry it’s easy to knock them off. 

It also shows glue marks theat need to sanded off – mostly where I feathered the frame into the handle. 

You also get a nice idea of how the wood grain will look when done. I like ash. It’s unpretentious with a strong grain. 

The net is hanging outside to dry now. It’s dark, but you get an idea of the grain. 

There is some sanding to be done. I really don’t like sanding but in an hour or so after drying (going to steal some oven time when nobody is watching) it will be ready for finishing coats. 

Between finishing coats don’t use sandpaper. Use a good made for purpose steel wool. Woodoc makes a really fine one. The stuff for pots has all sorts of coarse bits in it and they’re scratch and ruin the piece. 

I use woodoc polywax sealers exclusively on my wood work. They don’t leave a horrible plastic, shiny finish and because they are wax based you can make things look like new with their penetrating oil. That stuff is great for leather, oilskins, etc. It’s waterproof and stops mould and fungi. When the piece looks tatty you can also apply it generously and use a light bit of steel wool to take off the dead coating. Use almost no pressure. 

A scotchbrite abrasive pad is also a winner. 


Ok, sanding has been done and the first coat is on. This post pretty much ends here. 

All that happens now is that it will get more TLC with steel wool, another two coats and it will shine up (not gloss). The wood will develop much of richness and the rest will develop over time.

The photos look as though it, particularly the handle, is full of lumps and bumps. I promise it’s not. It’s just how the very pronounced grain looks when photographed (by a bad photographer). 

After that it’s just a case of having the bag down by the local tailor (she thinks I’m nuts), holes drilled around the edge and a groove put around the edge to protect the ‘bag’ that I’ll put on with thin Dacron. 

That’s the boring part. 

Incidentally, I have tried to weave the actual net part before. It was ok. Neat and serviceable. It’s tiresome work and I prefer a soft nylon type material that is gentle on the fish. 

Sorry, last thing. I didn’t stain it blue. I’ve got another one in clamps that will get stained. Also, most nets are dark with light laminations. Mine is the other way around. This gentleman prefers blondes. 

So thats how I do it. 

My next project is a hollow bodied aluminum guitar. Look up a guy named James Trussart to get an idea. Should only take a few weeks, tops. 

After that, in the cold of winter, a bamboo fly rod. 

I can’t wait. 


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