Richard Kell handmade reels……

January 16, 2009

out-with-the-lad-autumn-2008Recently I have developed some distinct improvements in my reels. I’ve discarded the old tongue profile (ie for the check mechanism) which was never right from day one and at last have developed a far better component, a more lively check performance, much more ‘life’ in it and with just enough room for the new tongue to turn 90 degrees for it to be ‘parked’.  I’ve also gained insight to the characteristics of the spring material, which I need to order a further batch at a larger cross section for eventually bigger reels – that will be another £250 out at least, as the rolling mill has a 25kg minimum order. I’ve other mods though only sucessful purchasers get to see whats been done when they open the box.

I’ve also scrapped my existing stock of nickel silver regulator wires made ten years ago as I have evolved a much easier to operate version for older (me) or cold numbed  hands. Also scrapped is the cast nickel silver reg wire bridge replaced with a  machined from solid version, stronger, less liable to malfunction if dropped and hopefully requiring less time to ‘fit’. The styling of it, the design mentality reminds me of the illustration in Le Corbusiers ‘Vers Une Architecture’ of the engine compartment of a pre-war Bugatti.

The backs are cast gunmetal, filed and papered, machined, papered and buffed to a flawless finish, a fabulous deep colour; note that the reel seat is the bit on the rod it attaches to.  You would be hard pressed to find anyone in any factory that has the skill to do this nowadays, its pre-war standard and First at that.  The back is secured by the traditional press fit dovetail and secured by two R.Kell made (as are all my screws) being ‘up tolerance’ close fitting nickel silver screws. The reels are not lightweight models, yet I think they combine well with a cane rod. To recap, at Hardys the ‘back’ was always part of the reel and the ‘reel seat’ was the bit on the rod.

As Chris commented on my first post below, re making a ‘Bougle’ style reel from Jamie Maxtone Grahams prompting, I only ever make what is in my own head – good or bad! To people across the pond my reels may look very Hardy though that might only be because its all I have experience of, even repairing reels for Jamie, generally re-building crumbled broken drums  – it was all Hardy work. If I’d known nothing but Vom Hofes then I would be probably making a very Vom Hofe type reel.

Re the pricing of my reels. I have agonised over this, in 1986, then during my three year two thousand  hours 1995-98 and now again in 2008-9. I originally was selling at £300GBP in 1998, that was my ‘target’ price, though found it tortuously low for handmade work. Looking at the man-hours consumed to keep the show on the road, I have pitched at what I think is appropriate. No con or flannel or hyperbole, just what I think is required. Even a cut to the bone little one-man business like me overheads are £12k pa (2009) before I make a penny. Twenty five years of being a price-work self -employed toolmaker helps me ascertain the area I need to be. ……and still only two thirds the price of a pair of handmade Lobbs!

Postscript: My 3-1/8 inch back flange is seeming to be in demand, so my standard width of 0.810 inch between flanges and a wide version at 1.010 (ie 0.2inch wider) are seemingly the ones first available. A good sized reel capable of plenty of work, I’ve a couple of tricks on this including a beefed up heavy click check mechanism. Also, there is no brass used at all in any of my reels; for the money I’m asking you get better than that.

Taking orders for 2009……

January 11, 2009
Handmade fly fishing reels by Richard Kell.

Handmade fly fishing reels by Richard Kell.

Our first beagle circa 1995 when I would be starting the big push to develop and tool up for my handmade fly fishing reels.

Our first beagle circa 1995 when I would be starting the big push to develop and tool up for my handmade fly fishing reels.

I’m taking orders now for my reelmaking 2009 workload, a total of twenty of my 2-3/8 inch and 2-3/4 inch back flange fly reels, as craft made and flawless as you can get. All by one man, from the picture in my head to a fully functioning and durable piece of equipment. I use lots of jigs and tooling to get the accuracy and quality that I must have, it pains me if something isn’t ‘spot-on’ in tolerance. I had ten years ago machine engraved each reel, for instance the above is 98/13 – however I have decided not to do this in future. Enthusiasts will have to date my reels by subtle advances in design and manufacture.

e-mail me at richard…underscore…kell…at…tiscali…dot…co…dot…uk

My standard price is £1,650GBP for any reel inc Fedex delivery and insured. You get a free pair of check tongues as spares and four check springs – this is so that once that reel is out there you’ve enough bits/spares for any eventuality. Spare drums are £650 each, my design allows internal or external rim to fit any frame. Cheques accepted in any major currency. Terms are send me a written letter of your intention, I’ll let you know when to send payment, when funds are cleared I send the reel. I’ve a quarter century of exporting my own products to overseas stockists including Garrett Wade Company in New York so things should be trouble-free. http://www.garrettwade.com/standard-british-honing-guide/p/62J02.12/

I recommend a leather case by Arne Mason to house your reel.

As a diversion –  I studied freshwater algae / plankton for about ten years during the 1990’s with the aid of a microscope – a Russian Biolam binocular – a  highly recommended piece of professional equipment.

The algal inhabitants of water determine what will exist higher up the food chain. Algae both freshwater and marine should be far more widely known in schools, for instance diatoms never fail to fascinate youngsters, their precise structure, colour and habits.

Alfred Nobel used ancient diatoms as quarried kieselguhr to absorb nitro-glycerine to allow it to be handleable – hence dynamite, diatoms are the abrasive in toothpaste, diatoms are my ‘triploli’ polishing compound for buffing metal parts in the workshop, they constitute the finest filters in the biology lab, and I think they are used as the source of silicon in a silicon chip. Oh yes, they initiate weather systems and are 70% of where the worlds oil comes from. The best paid diatomists work for oil exploration companies.

When you pick up a stone from the riverbed and it has a slippery coating, that is algae and particularly diatoms. Plankton – which are a higher life form – graze upon these tiny (say two thou inch long) lifeforms, classed as plants because they photosynthesise yet capable of movement (termed motile – with a ‘t’).

James Lovelock a greatly gifted scientist coined the term ‘Gaia’ for the earth as a whole regulating system and only in the 1970’s discovered that huge ‘fields’ of algae out in the oceans (inc a lot of diatoms) were responsible for generating dimethylsulphide (DMS) that greatly influences cloud formation. His books for the layman and biography are highly recommended.

Here are some links and images of ‘old friends’ objects of the microscope I have seen many times and still get a thrill. Wayne Lanier over on youtube is a very good introduction. I too roamed the countryside with our first beagle always with some small self seal plastic bags to bring samples home to the microscope. For fishermen and anglers that are not aware of this incredible microscopic web of life there is so much awaiting them.

http://www.hikingwithafieldmicroscope.com/00%20CONTENTS/00%20Introduction/Introduction.html

Useful books to consult are Fritsch and West ‘British Freswater Algae’  and Macan and Worthington ‘Life in Lakes and Rivers’ also anything by John Clegg.

Hint: google image search using term ‘diatoms’, try also terms dinoflagellates, vorticella, testate rhizopods, closterium, diatom navicula. 

A just-found blog, excellent diatom photographs – you will have to copy and paste, as wordpress ‘adding link’ is beyond my competence at present:-

http://girltears.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/microscopic-earth-patterns-massive-populations-of-the-unseen-earth/

And lastly to repay your patience in getting to the bottom of the page here are fascinating accounts re rod builders Tonkin cane ie Arundinaria amabilis.

http://www.wagnerrods.com/cane.

http://www.thomaspenrose.com/china.htm

Thankyou for your interest.

Richard Kell 

Another link:  Excellent footage of what is easily found in any ditch or stream.  Filmed realtime , excellent photography of commonly found freshwater inhabitants.

Hardy Zane Grey Big Game reels……

December 18, 2008

…..occupied my time for a lot of the four years I spent in the Development Dept at Hardys after my previous four years in the toolroom at Alnwick.  I started my toolroom apprenticeship in Jan 1975.

At first I tried hydraulic mockups as a possible ‘Zane Grey’ Big Game reel solution, Raymond keeping an eye on me, though my hazy memory suggests that the tolerances and technology required for the high pressures involved were beyond the facilities and my experience. With hindsight we should have thought about recycling aircraft parts.  Raymond my boss who had been Works Manager for many years – a highly skilled and knowledgable man was using this project (and other projects too) to develop my abilities, I can see now in particular to get me to ‘think’. All our design solutions were the product of our own minds, there was never any peeping at other manufacturers. My only example to look at was the 1930’s Zane Grey in the collection of old reels in the Development cupboard – a holy shrine of incredible objects including a Vom Hofe. The latter really ‘spoke’ to me – such incredible understated masterful design and workmanship, you could see it was the product of a different intelligence, an extreme rigour. I think there was also a monel Alma Baker in there too.

The routine was for my boss Raymond to prompt/ suggest a step forward and for me to think hard on how it would be done, the solution was often not immediate and I would confer at intervals with lots of sketching and small made parts to be further developed or scrapped as appropriate. Proper mechanical development. I was being paid to enjoy myself, tho often the work was far from easy. My minds eye visualisation was greatly encouraged and these days I can visualise and seldom need paper except for calculating decimal sizes. A lot of my work was done at the bench with handfiles, often not a problem for me because I enjoyed an old-time approach and using such skills. Custom-made cutters and jigs were often needed and I enjoyed it all.

There were five reels in the late seventies/ early eighties range of Hardy ‘Zane Grey’ Big Game reels, all were solid stainless and I made them all to a very high standard – Raymond would insist on that. I often felt that nothing I made was ever any good – though that was Raymond lifting my standards; an incredible training. After successive ideas, mock-ups and bits of mechanism were developed; in time would come finished drawings but these were the last things we wanted. I would make foundry patterns initially in wood then ones in brass for stainless steel cast parts such as the gearbox cover, two quite complex end frames / cages and suchlike structural members. I taught myself how to spin stainless steel sheet for the two end covers, no-one could crack that one. The drums were always aluminium. Actually, I use the term finished drawings, these would only occur after we were fully satisfied that we had achieved our target by means of fully functioning prototypes and were the last task of all. Rigorous thinking was essential in all this.

A lot of time was expended on developing the best clutch / drag mechanism….. a lot of time! The 130lb reel mechanism was different from the other four sizes, ie 20, 30, 50 and 80lb. I have a hunch one size was never made into a final working model, maybe 30lb or was it 20lb – I made developed and made them but cannot remember. All of the parts in all of the reels demanded a lot in both design, development and execution. I think the two larger sizes had a two speed gearbox, all developed in-house. As little as possible was bought-in, an ethos I still maintain in my own workshop – see http:/www.richardkell.co.uk  The other day I found the tap I made to cut the internal thread for I think the speed selection on the two biggest reels. I’ve lots more cutters and devices I made to get all this work done. The clutch / drag assemblies were self contained with some tricky and clever work put into them.

I think I can remember at the end being told to make one of each exactly to the drawings, to prove it all, but its all hazy now, certainly done with at least two sizes.

Later on the drawings were released to the production people, I think this was unfair to them as this was work different from their usual run of things and W.F. perhaps should have had it remain in my hands. I have nothing but utmost respect for all the people in that factory, they did a sterling job; men like Norman Nesbitt and his setters and operatives, first class all of them.

Each reel was designed to hold a thousand yards of its line weight.

Maine the existing Development man and the toolroom from what i can remember would get all the roller guides made and handle fittings. Everything was stainless – that most lovely of materials to work…….not !!

I can remember the finished big game rods – very impressive. Frank the rod development man would be involved on that side of things.

I hope I didn’t let the ‘old men’ down – people of previous generations that had made the Zane Greys in the 1930’s. I would think they would have been very interested to see what we did. The monel Alma Bakers must have been hell to make as this is a notoriously difficult material.

As I left Hardys in Jan 1983 I guess I would start in Development and the Zane Greys around 1979. Actually, I’m thinking about all this for maybe the first time in twenty five years, I realise the Big Game work only occupied half of my time in Development, there were lots of other things I worked on following that, I remember in particular a very clever fixed spool reel with no bale arm; some very clever development in that one. Also the small Prince reel, Maine did the Ocean Prince, tho I got cheesed off at the end when I was working on sorry to say arse-achingly boring things like devons and locking handles for landing nets……

Years later, many years I found online that Hardys got the World Record with these reels in the mid 1980’s.

Testing was done by attaching the line to a large lathe and attempting to simulate long runs and then there was a trip to Brunton airfield and W.F. was with us, a car was substituted for a likely catch.

Postscript …  I’ve since learnt what happened to the stainless Zane Grey reels I made – couldn’t have made it up if I tried. I actually never was too impressed with the so called consultant hired in; I made the bloody reels and I don’t think he ever spoke one word to me, too many brass blazer buttons for my liking !!

New beginnings….

December 16, 2008
Precision crafted handmade fly reel.

Precision crafted handmade fly reel.

…….or carrying on where I left off.

My old folder of fly reel notes and drawings still contains the letters and notes taken when Jamie Maxtone Graham in 1986 urged me to make the Richard Kell ‘Bougle’. I knew Jamie by repairing Hardy reels for him previously (generally rebuilding broken drums) and he knew my abilities. So around 1986 there would be a few months devoted to the project, then the need to earn an immediate living pressed me to return to my usual products. The big push at handmade reels was 1995 to 1998, two thousand hours over three years, developing and trial batching a range of five sizes including a fabulous 4-1/2 inch back flange Spey. All my reels are specified as back flange diameter.

Now the time seems right to produce these reels. The web allows me to ‘cast a wide net’ and nowadays people more than ever realise the rarity of a good craftsman – and Hardy trained.

As of December 2008 I will be making a handful of 2-3/8 (back flange) fly reels. This equates to a 2-3/4 inch reel. As with all my fly reel designs a rimless or exposed rim drum will fit the same frame. These reels ooze old time quality and standards. A craftsmans attention to detail. This time I’m keen for an electroless nickel finish – a lot of other manufacturers use this, very low friction when stripping line, thereby eliminating the need for a lineguard. My reels have many features which are silly for me to detail here as it turns this into a ‘reelmakers manual’.

Since I last became absorbed in making reels ten years ago, picking up the thread again I immediately evolved another half dozen modifications that lift the product that little bit higher. Nowhere at anytime would there ever be any hint of shaving costs or compromising the highest craft effort, endless driving forward for a ‘bloody good reel’. The recipe of one man designing, developing and making the entire product is unbeatable.

I have Jamies grandfathers treadle lathe, bought when I was seventeen from a Doctor in Edinburgh, long story, see:-
http://www.richardkell.livejournal.com/tag/jamie+maxtone+graham#item2994

see also my main website showing twenty five years of effort:-
http://www.richardkell.co.uk

Here is a recent magazine article on my workshop, courtesy Nick Gibbs, Editor, ‘British Woodworking’ magazine. Nick visited in the summer and we had a cracking good conversation.  see http://richardkell.livejournal.com/#item4968

Richard Kell in 'British Woodworking' magazine autumn 2008. Courtesy Nick Gibbs - Editor.

Richard Kell in 'British Woodworking' magazine autumn 2008. Courtesy Nick Gibbs - Editor.