Tenkara Net Making

Tenkara net making is not difficult but it takes a long time. For me, the longest part of the time was finding a suitable branch. I first got bitten by the bug to make my own tenkara net (tamo) when Daniel Galhardo showed me a stand of torreya californica, a relative of the torreya nucifera, or kaya tree, that is so prized for making tenkara nets in Japan.

tenkara net building 1

It turned out that none of the trees we saw had appropriately shaped branches. It is said that a net maker in Japan could spend hours or days searching for just the right branch. I believe it. I haven't really been searching, but I have kept my eyes out for a suitable branch ever since that day in September 2010. I finally found the first suitable branch in January 2012.

Each time I go fishing, I look at all the trees to see if there are any branches that are the right diameter and also that have two smaller branches that are also the right diameter and come out from the same spot. They're harder to find than you would think, and many species of tree just don't have the right branch configuration.

The branch I found is eastern white pine. Recent high winds had broken a large number of branches. Although here were lots of branches on the ground, I only found one that looked like it was the right diameter and also had the right side branches.

tenkara net building 2

Since this is my first tenkara net making project, I wanted to keep things simple. Rather than trying to hand-form the net hoop by steaming the branches over a teapot, I chose to force the branches to take on a circular shape while they are still green and pliable.

The form that I lashed them to is about 10 inches in diameter, and the resulting net opening, assuming the branches don't spring back to an extent that I cannot splice them and keep this size, will be 10" from side to side and about 12" from front to back. The branches were at such an angle that a bit of a "V" would have to stay where they met the grip.

tenkara net building 3

One of the things I am happiest about is the gradual curve of the grip, which is reminiscent of the curve in the grip of the Tenkara USA tamos. The branch that forms the grip is still a bit long, but I wanted to leave extra in case the end split.

I will try to prevent splitting by putting epoxy on the cuts at both ends of the grip. The branch is still weeping a bit of sap, so I don't think I need to do that right away, but I will do it pretty soon. NYC is not a particularly dry climate, but indoors in the winter the humidity is quite low so some protection from splitting will be necessary.

I'll also strip the bark pretty soon, before the branch has dried too much. The smaller, side branches seemed to stiffen up just over the course of the first day, between the time I cut it before even starting to fish that morning and when I decided that evening that I'd better get it on a form as soon as possible.

tenkara net building 4

Now, three days after cutting the branch, the bark still peels off pretty easily with just a thumbnail, but it oozes sap and is a sticky business. Soap and water will not get the sap off hands, but rubbing alcohol will.

This will be an ongoing process and I will update the page as I make progress on the net.

Lesson Learned
(the Hard Way)

Most “How To” or “DIY” posts tell you what to do. Only a few tell you what not to do, with photographic evidence of why you don’t want to do it that way. This post is one of those few.

Don’t do what I did. I knew better, but I did it anyway. Because I'd lashed the branch to the form before I stripped the bark, I needed to take it off the form and then put it back after stripping the bark.

When lashing a tamo branch around a form, DO NOT lash from the ends of the side branches back towards the handle. That can put the relatively thin, relatively weak side branch under stress that just can’t survive. Instead, start your lashing from the junction with the handle and work to the tip.

Too much stress

The branch I found is good but not perfect. I should have recalled the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi (nothing is perfect, and nothing is permanent) and just accepted it. Trying to achieve perfection (with the belief that you can) is a bit arrogant.

One of the smaller side branches is thicker than the other, and does not bend as easily. That forces the hoop part of the net a bit off center. I tried to force it back without resorting to steam.

I suppose wabi-sabi is the essence of tenkara net making using a natural branch. You work with (and accept) what you have. The lack of perfection enhances the beauty.

I broke the smaller of the two side branches. That left me with two choices: find a new branch or repair this one. Because it took me well over a year to find the first suitable branch, I chose to repair this one. When making a net hoop, it is necessary to splice the two side branches together. My tamo hoop will have two splices.

Site of second splice to repair break

A well made splice using epoxy is stronger than the unspliced branch. Having two splices, though, probably will not make the tamo stronger than if it had only had one. The strength I'll gain from the second splice may not offset the strength lost because I now have to use part of the branch that is further from the main branch and thus thinner and weaker.

Tamo branch on frame

I guess I'd still say that tenkara net making is not difficult, but it is proving to be a little more difficult than I had expected.

Oh, well, nothing is perfect (and nothing is permanent).


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Walk softly and carry a long stick. - Teddy Roosevelt (almost)

Tenkara has no strict rules. Enjoy tenkara in your own way.
- Eiji Yamakawa

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin