Inside the workshop of famous fly rod makers Thomas & Thomas


Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again?” Greenfield, MA fly rod makers Thomas & Thomas seem to have taken this sentiment to heart. Founded in 1969 by Tom Dorsey and Tom Maxwell, the brand remains dedicated to crafting every component of their meticulously crafted bamboo and graphite rods in their Massachusetts workshop. Maxwell left the company in 1977, but Dorsey is still at the shop every day he’s not on the river. It’s not quick or easy, but there’s no doubt that the humble company values ​​getting it right above all else.

Courtesy of Thomas & Thomas

Dorsey and Maxwell opened up shop for one simple reason: they were unhappy with what was available. The company was founded with an unwavering commitment to making the best rods possible, and they started with bamboo as their key material. An insistence on technical precision, aesthetic beauty and the almost indescribable feeling of balance and harmony with the angler that is only attainable through passionate craftsmanship – these traits would guide Thomas & Thomas from their first rod to every piece that leaves the workshop today. To ensure the highly conscious approach continues, the staff of just 15 full-time employees build an average of just 70 rods per month, each taking between four and seven days to manufacture from start to finish.

Fly rods Thomas&Thomas

Courtesy of Thomas & Thomas

Fly fishing isn’t really about catching fish,” says Tom Dorsey. “Flycasting is a big part of it, and in a way a rod is like a baseball bat. If you hit the ball just right, you really nail it. It feels good. You’ve found the sweet spot in the bat. A fly rod should bring that kind of joy: the joy of casting.”

After a few flops and some hard-earned knowledge, the team settled on the six-sided bamboo rod as their signature design. The pattern has been around for hundreds of years and there are some variations. But it was the six-sided hexagon that took hold of the bamboo stalks. The process begins by gluing the strips together, then carefully trimming them until the weight is balanced and the stem is straight and true.

Thomas & Thomas bamboo fly rod

Courtesy of Thomas & Thomas

“Stem design is more culinary art than engineering.”

Although the business has changed hands in recent years, Dorsey remains in the shop daily as the resident master craftsman, working alongside the new private owner – who is a long-time fisherman himself and a sincere believer in maintaining the independence of the company – to ensure the company. the commitment to quality and authentic craftsmanship continues for decades more.

In his approach, Dorsey sees making excellent baguettes as a process similar to cooking haute cuisine. “Stem design is more akin to culinary arts than engineering,” he says. “Chef adds, then takes away, and always tastes. Testing is important in stem design. You have to be able to toss it around and diagnose what you’re looking for.” Once the recipe is perfected, the chef can then teach others how to make it.

Thomas & Thomas workshop

Courtesy of Thomas & Thomas

The very process of making something by hand inspires the work of Thomas & Thomas. “Bamboo is that humble plant that grows from the earth,” Dorsey explains, “and then is transformed into something wonderful by the hands of the artisan. Creating beauty from simple things gives me a great joy.”

The company began manufacturing graphite rods just seven years after it began operations. Starting with a mandrel – a thin rod of stainless steel – craftsmen then carefully wrap sheets of graphite until the desired tensile strength and weight are achieved. It’s an equally precise affair, but a whole new challenge for the creator. “Bamboo satisfies the artist in me, while graphite speaks to the engineer in me. They both carry a joy of discovery,” says Dorsey.

Thomas & Thomas Fini Fly Rod

Courtesy of Thomas & Thomas

While many companies have outsourced production, Thomas & Thomas prefer to manufacture everything in-house, from wooden reel seats to ornate guides. “We strongly believe in ourselves as a workshop,” adds Dorsey, with a sense of authority that comes from 46 years of doing things by hand. “If it’s not made in our shop, it’s not really ours.”

*This article is part of The Code, an editorial partnership between Popular Mechanics and Ford F-150.

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