Old Man River Recreates Maurice Ingham’s Landing Net & Cane Pole – Part 1

Sometime in 2018 I met Peter Allen -Jones (Pallenpool), we were both members of the ”Traditional Fishermens Forum“ by dint of several different PM’s on varying subjects an unlikely friendship began – we are as alike as chalk and cheese. I rebuilt a rod or two for Peter, and typically the conversations that followed each restoration were many and again of varied subject matter – on one occasion Peter started to chat about Maurice Ingham the culmination of which was the question ‘would I be able to recreate one of Maurice’s wonderful nets for him?’ 

After receiving several pictures of an original from Peter my overriding thought was that is one large net. I looked into the matter and decided it was probably possible to build one although I had never actually made anything like it. So I set my mind to the construction process, initially I made the first three prototype nets using laminated Cane, I had to purchase the cane, as whole cane poles, split them  down, then plane to size.

A Split Bamboo Pole
Planing The Cane
Bicycle WheelUsed As A Former

The cane laths were then matched, glued and clamped onto a former (a bicycle wheel) then the construction was completed as per the description later in this piece. The Brass/Aluminium “spreader“ was also hand made, again, the description of its construction is included later.

After a false start or two, I managed to construct a very near copy, the nets were very large, very strong and had the vintage look and style that Peter was after. To match the net frame I also constructed a Bamboo pole (again described later) to match the Net frame. The laminated Bamboo frames were as accurate as possible to the original and I made half dozen. 

However, the frames took so much time and trouble to complete I decided to shelve that idea and opted for making similar net frames from either steamed Ash or American Oak, which is a method that can be traced back a good couple of centuries as similar fishing nets feature in quite a few classical artworks from the period.

I saw that the actual steam bent Ash would not be too difficult, but the spreader on the other hand would cause problems. I did manage to make a couple of Brass spreaders, but discovered that the actual construction of them, at least for me, was problematical, and I had several expensive failures. 

After eventually making a couple of brass spreaders that worked I decided to try another material Aluminium alloy. I opted for construction quality Alloy which has luckily been very successful. Brass looks nicer, but polished alloy is I think almost as agreeable.

Brass Not Without Pitfalls
Finished Brass Spreader

I will split the construction of the traditional Ingham style Ash bentwood nets into parts, the wood, preparation and steaming and lastly completion – including the alloy spreader construction. The net poles will feature lastly.

The wood has to come from somewhere, so a trip to the local woodyard and a rummage through their hardwood stocks provides a sturdy ash “plank” it can take some time to find the right piece as the grain needs to be straight and true, luckily the chap who runs the hardwood section is used to me sorting through his stock, when the right piece is found, its home and a start to the enjoyable bits…..

The Ash is measured and I decide how best to cut it to make the most from the plank, the wood is then cut using my circular saw. Once it has been “ripped down” into sections roughly the right size, they are edged and finished to size on a mini jointer/thicknesser.

Measuring The Ash
Cutting The Ash Planks

The first few steamed Ash nets were planed using hand tools, as I wanted them to be what I would call “genuinely” hand made, after making a few nets I moved to using the machines as they make the job so much easier. I started originally making “Ingham” sized nets, and made perhaps half dozen or more. Subsequently I was then asked for a smaller net, then a smaller one still. Eventually all three sizes seemed to become popular so now they are made to order. 

Having machined the wood to size – different sized frames need different lengths of Ash, but all are made using the same method. The frames are steamed and have to be shaped on “Formers” which have the right shape for the finished frame. I have now made three formers in different sizes – I will for the sake of this piece use the medium former.

I know what the wood length needs to be, I cut one of the Ash pieces to about 4 or 5 inches over length and fasten it to one side of the former, I can then cut the end to the correct angle to fit the spreader later. I also need the over length piece of wood for something later on in the construction.

Now we come to the steaming. I soak the Ash initially in boiling water and leave for about 24 hours prior to steaming. I researched wood bending methods and came to the conclusion that the standard way in a wooden steam box would take up far too much room, so after a lot of thought I came up with a solution. 

Soaker & Steamer A Fine Pairing

As I only make one net at a time I did not need so much room and could use a steel pipe as a steamer, I had seen elsewhere that plastic drainpipes had been utilised, but I also knew that steam melts and bends plastic so discounted that idea (but not totally). I sourced a couple of scaffolding tubes, blocked an end on one with a wooden plug – that is the soaker tube. The second tube needed to allow the steam to escape otherwise it would be a steam “bomb“ as opposed to a steamer, I plugged the end of the second tube with some rags retaining them in place with more rags wired in place around the end. The steam forces its way through the “rag plug “ I had to cobble together a short piece of plastic tubing fastened to the other end of the scaffold steaming tube to accept the end of the steamer pipe, it is short and does not bend too much. It turned out that it worked very well, simple but effective.

I use a wallpaper stripper to generate the steam, one fill of water lasts about 45 mins and is about just the right amount of time needed to make the Ash pliable. The Ash is removed from the soak tube, placed into the steam tube, with the steamer attached it is left to do its work. You can see above the steam escaping through the “rag plug”.

Once the steamer has emptied itself of water it’s both hands wearing stout industrial leather gloves to the pumps as it were, as the next part of the construction needs to be done quickly. Steamed Ash is very hot when taken from the steam pipe!

Whilst the wood was in the steamer, I prepared the work bench, with the bench cleared, a former is placed with a collection of various clamps that are put to hand. I also have a box of wooden scrap pieces to use as packing this stop the clamps from damaging the Ash. With everything is in place I pull on a pair of industrial leather gauntlets as the next procedure of handling the scaffolding pipe and Ash gets rather hot to the touch, as is the Ash contained therein.

The Steamed Ash Clamped In Position

The pliable Ash is removed from the steamer pipe and quickly clamped onto the former, the cut  angled end is clamped in place, the wood bent around the former and when it has done a full 360 degrees it is just a tad too long , it was measured too long initially for a reason ,so the cut angled end is released , the uncut end is clamped into place and the second  frame angle cut, this leaves me  a bit of scrap “frame timber” I put this  to one side as it will be needed later, both ends are now securely clamped to the former with further clamps all around, and these will remain there for probably 36 hours until the wood is dry to touch.

The Frame Is Hung To Dry

I then remove the frame from the former, it has probably managed to bend to 95% of the needed shape, I do however want it to dry thoroughly so once removed from the former, the frame is secured into shape using a home made clamp. I also keep the formers shape by using a length of timber that fits in the centre of the former – its a bit belt and braces but works for me. The  Ash frame is then hung up to dry it is not unknown that on occasion I can have up to 4 frames drying at any one time. 

That is as far as I will go so far, now onto the Alloy spreader…..

Making The Spreader

Whilst the wood is drying and taking on the net frame shape, I get to work on the spreader. I buy in the round alloy bar, but as I do not have a lathe I have a friend who obliges me by drilling the ends of the alloy bar to take the 3/8 BSF studding that will eventually screw the net head to the net pole. 

I start by measuring the length of cut needed to create the V of the spreader, I then cut down the round  alloy bar, splitting it equally, lengthways leaving about an inch and a half uncut, once this is done the bar is held in a vice with soft jaws. I then heat up the bar at the base of the split, where it will form the V shape, I do not have a set time for heating the bar so I just hold a gas blow torch flame onto the it until I feel it is hot enough to bend without causing damaging to it – experience counts here. I spread the split bar apart using a cold chisel, and gauge the accuracy of the spread alloy “legs” initially by eye, then use a template that I made some time ago to get the angles correctly aligned. 

Once the bar is shaped, its into the kitchen and it is held under a cold tap for a minute or so, once cold, its back to the workshop where I clamp the spreader into a vice and tap the 3/8 BSF thread into the drilled end , I am now in a position to fit the stainless 3/8 studding . it is screwed into place and cut to length . I smooth off the end of the cut studding and am now set to drill the alloy , it needs 3 holes on either leg to be drilled and tapped to take the screws that fasten the alloy to the arms of the ash frame, it also needs a screw into the side of the BSF studding to prevent it from coming loose. I mark out the positions of the holes to be drilled, centrepunch the alloy so the holes will be accurate and drill them on my pedestal drill. I tap out the thread to hold the 3/8 studding in place but not the holes in the arms yet, it will be clear later why I do this. 

I now screw a brass or stainless bolt into the alloy to hold the studding in place, cut it off flush, the studding is fastened for all time now. 

The spreader is looking a bit roughshod at the moment, and will need a lot of finishing and polishing , different orders ask for different styles of spreader but firstly it needs to be fit to the Ash frame.

The frame is removed from the former. This is where I could do with having four pairs of hands I fasten the ash frame in a vice “legs uppermost “ and using trial and error , and bit of swearing I get the spreader accurately in place and clamped up.

You may remember I did not tap a thread into the holes in the spreader legs , this is why. I use the holes in the alloy legs as a template to drill the corresponding holes in the Ash frame .I put temporary bolts through one  arm of the spreader to hold it to the frame whilst the other side is fitted  Once this is done, I can release the clamps on one side  and  I need to mark the frame and spreader accordingly. I mark an X on one side of the Frame and stamp a corresponding X on the same inside leg of the spreader.  The spreader is removed from the frame , because of the “X “ markings I know which side of the spreader fits which side of the frame.

Back to the spreader. I again clamp it in a vice and tap an M5 thread through all the remaining holes, then , I take 6 stainless M5 button head setscrews. Do you remember the piece of scrap wood I cut from the end of the Ash frame and put to one side earlier ? I take that piece of wood and drill a hole in it. I screw one of the setscrews through the wood onto the outside of one of the spreader legs, where it projects through inside I cut it to length, I do this with all 6 setscrews, I know because of the piece of Ash frame wood that they will all be exactly the right length, they are finished on my belt sander and put to one side.

Tapping The Spreader Arms

The next process is possibly the grubbiest of the whole construction – finishing off the spreader. Firstly it is clamped in a vice, then using a selection of different files, grades of Emery paper along with Brasso it goes from being a rather plain and grubby looking piece of alloy to being a highly polished and finished aluminium landing net spreader. This can take some considerable time.I always do the final buffing using a piece of plain cardboard, something I learnt years ago in the army, the cardboard gives a very high gloss finish to the Alloy.

The Finished Alloy Spreader

Whilst the spreader is being finished, the frame has been further drying in its clamp, I sometimes leave it for a few weeks dependent upon the weather and temperature. When the frame is ready for the Alloy spreader to be fitted it is again clamped in a vice and usually (not always) is an easy fit, matching the two X marked sides together the frame is as one for the first time. As a dry run I screw it together using overlength bolts. It looks more or less as it should do – now it’s the time for some finishing off.

Final Construction

Firstly, the frame needs to have the corners rounded off, to do this I clamp it down onto the bench top and use an electric Router to form the frame section into a pleasant shape, this gives a consistent rounded “oval” shape to the frame, all around, but leaves the Ash on the spreader as a square section, then it is time to sand the Ash frame down, again using different grades of sandpaper.

Once I am satisfied that everything is as it should be its time for the Frame to be stained, I remove it again from the spreader and using a spirit based stain give the frame several coats, it is left to dry for 48 hours between coats using a black Indian ink type pen I endorse the frame along with any added inscription if requested and give it a year of manufacture and number. Finally the frame has multiple coats of Danish oil, again left to dry for 24 hours between each coat.

Spreader Attached To Frame

With this completed and I am happy with all as it should be I fit the stainless steel bolts through the spreader and onto the steamed Ash frame for the first time. The frame is then buffed up to an antique lustre, and last of all a traditional style net mesh is fitted.

Three Frame Sizes

I should perhaps point out that I generally make the net frames to fit the 3 standard sized commercially available replacements – they fit my frames perfectly.

I do however get asked occasionally to fit a more modern and up to date style net to a frame, Environment Agency rules stipulate that knotless mesh should be used in Landing nets to avoid any injury to fish caught and landed, thus some anglers although desiring traditional net frames do like a modern mesh net fitted . This is no easy task, sounds simple but in reality the world of landing nets is a minefield, of misinformation. I do know the circumference of my Ingham net frames, but transferring that to a modern net is no easy task as different manufacturers and companies use different measuring systems.

So far so good. Once I had got the construction of the Ash Frame nets sorted Peter then suggested I take a look at a sewn in mesh bag for the Ingham net as opposed to the more usual modern sleeved or if you like looped top bags, so back to the drawing board . 

The basic construction is the same, but the sewn in net bag needs the frame to be drilled with the correct number of holes around the circumference, and also there was the problem of getting the net to be sewn in underneath the spreader block. 

The first thing was to count the number of loops that a traditional net had around the top, then transfer that to be the number of holes that needed drilling….. sounds easy, just divide the circumference of the frame by the number of loops , that should give me the spacing of the holes….. Not so I am afraid, I tried a million different ways of getting the spacings correct , but each time it worked out wrong, eventually I discovered that I could do it and make it look right, but in the interests of anybody wanting to make a similar net…… work it out for yourself, maths is not my strong point but working out ways to get around problems seems to be one of my better bodging techniques.

A Shallow Rebate For Holding The Tensioning Cord
Rebate With Holes Drilled
Threading The Cord
Completed Sewn In Net Detail

Anyway, as said, the construction of the frame is the same, except that the outer edge needs a shallow rebate to hold the tensioning cord in place , this was done  using my home made spindle moulder, then the spacing for the holes was marked out and the holes drilled. 

The rest is almost identical to the original build, except for fitting the net which needs to be “sewn” into the frame using a length of cord to keep it in place, I used a length of Dacron from one of my vintage Shark reels, which was perfect.

Final Net Complete Detail

All Writing & Images Old Man River North Yorkshire 2021