Handmill HistoryI owned the R. L. Winston Rod Company from 1973 until I sold it in 1991. During this time I had extensive experience using a power milling machine to cut strips for our bamboo rods. This experience gave me the insight to develop the idea of cutting bamboo strips by hand on a device like the present Hand Mill.
The Hand Mill was not planned and only came about accidentally. In the early 1980s my friend, Per Brandin, was visiting our shop in Twin Bridges and we were talking about how he made his rods using a planing form and hand plane. After his description, which I had also read about in the Garrison/Carmichael book, it seemed like a very difficult way to make rods. That night I thought about how it could be done easier and faster 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 as not workable. This method would be similar to how the power milling machine I had used for years at Winston except it would be powered by hand.
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 1994 my friend from British Columbia, Bob Clay, said he wanted to start making bamboo rods using the traditional planing form and plane. I told him 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 my home shop.
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 was 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 using the plane Tom made. The bamboo cut easily and we were all laughing about how great it was. When Bob got through substantially cutting the strip down 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. Bob took it home and continued to work out some of the fine details of making it into a production bamboo hand milling machine. After this success I decided to make them for resale.
I think I should say here I am totally disabled and have been even before working with Bob on the original Hand Mill. Therefore, I couldnt do any of the hands on development on my own. I have developed it from my experience at Winston cutting bamboo strips on the power mill and having others help with the hands on testing and tweaking.
I had Tom make a second plane and bed assembly for me to experiment with. Per came to try the first prototype. After trying it the first time both he and I felt several changes needed to be made in order for it to be a practical tool for rodmakers. The second time was the same. Each time we had difficulty making it work perfectly and each time Per went home saying it wouldnt work out. Each time I kept pursuing a solution in my thoughts to that particular problem until it was resolved. He made three separate trips to Montana during my original stages of working out a production model. At the end of the third trip we both agreed it worked well.
Soon after getting the prototype finished to my satisfaction my wife, Gerri Carlson, and I went to the Corbett Lake bamboo rodmakers gathering in British Columbia with Per Brandin and Bob Clay to demonstrate the first prototype model of the Hand Mill. Per had prepared some strips for cutting and he and Bob demonstrated it while I watched. Everyone there was very excited about how well it worked 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 by soaking the strips. The strips that were cut for the demonstration had been soaked. I was not in total agreement only wet strips should be used for the demonstration and this proved to be true. Some rodmakers thought the bamboo had to be soaked for it to cut well and this isn't the case. Also, we only had time to cut butt strips and there was some concern 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 demonstration.
To sum up the benefits of the Hand Mill are substantial. By using inexpensive replaceable carbide inserts for the strip cutting it has also eliminated two of the difficulties with hand planing which are learning to sharpen plane blades and to continually have to keep blades sharp. One of the biggest benefits is the carbide insert holder always keeps the correct angle on the ships when you are cutting and never has to be checked. I have continually experimented with different grades of carbide for the inserts and have settled on a very hard grade providing longer insert wear. The new ones have a greater relief angle and a super polish providing a sharper edge.
The learning curve for cutting strips has also been substantially reduced with the Hand Mill because if the node work has been properly done you get a perfect strip the first time.
It's an extremely versatile machine providing several different options for rodmakers.. One of the biggest is having the ability to cut 8-, 6-, 5-, or 4-strip rods just by changing cutter heads eliminating the need for different planing forms. With the hollow fluting attachment you can hollow flute rods providing hollow rods that are lighter and livelier. Another attachment for reducing weight is the magic star cutter allowing for hollow rods with a center spoke to reinforce them. Using a simple shim kit swelled but rods can be made on it. You can also flatten strips for very hollow rods or you can remove the pith and glue on a light weight core of cedar or similar material using the construction method of E. C. Powell. With an attachment you can build one piece rods up to almost 8 feet long. The last accessory I have developed is one to remove the enamel and to flatten strips on the enamel side.
A significant upgrade was made to current the Hand Mill plane with the help of Dennis Detlof from the company now making the planes, Siskiyou Design. We made the body black anodized aluminum with replaceable inserts for the plane to ride on. The pads are also adjustable side to side to compensate for any wear or can be replaced if they wear completely out. The cutter head height adjustment unit is made from stainless steel so it wont rust. Dennis used a design to take the backlash out of the cutting height adjusting screw which makes it easier to adjust for height. One of the most important improvements was the inclusion of a hard mill stop invented by Joe Byrd, a user. It provides an automatic stop so the milled strips come out exactly the same size making for extraordinarily accurate finished sections.
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 which 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 model.
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 which have arisen from the reports of owners and using one in our shop.