Fly Tiers Corner – My Vise or My Vice?

BlindfoldedI am still amazed at how many tools are needed to attach deer hair and chicken feathers to a piece of sharp steel. I started 30 years ago with Thompson Model “A” from Herter’s and have moved up substantially from there. Hard to believe that less than 100 years ago full-dress Atlantic Salmon flies were tied “In Hand”, or without a vise (or tools for that matter).

Here are some basic thoughts to keep in mind when buying the most important of your tools.

Rotary vs. Standard…

I have owned dozens of each and both have their place. Obviously, if you are wanting to tie in ‘full rotary’ fashion the choice is made for you, but I like some sort of rotary function in all my vises. If not tying full rotary, it still helps in seating wings on the off-side of the fly, inspecting the bottom side and lacquering. Be mindful of one thing here: the rotary housing has to be in line with the shank of the hook to tie rotary. I have tied on some rotary vises that have such large housings it is virtually impossible to tail a fly given large hands and the proximity of the tail to that housing. If you do go with full rotary, make absolutely sure that it has ball bearing construction to extend the life.

Next are the jaws…

I like simple lever locking designs that don’t require you to reset the jaw if you vary the hook size up or down a few sizes. Make sure that the locking nut doesn’t move during rotation. I also like a jaw that is grooved to fit the hook bend, at least in larger sizes. This may seem simple but it really is important. When tying larger flies where greater thread tension is required you have two choices: grooved jaws or clamp down harder. The latter can and will temper the steel and create a weak spot. I have personally seen it happen. Be aware if your vise has large fly or midge jaws available.

I like to see stainless steel construction on as many parts as I can and simple and effective design. If there is some bell or whistle, the only thing I want to know is that it is removable.

With regards to bases; I like to tie on a clamp style base when possible but I also keep a pedestal base handy for shows. “Both” is a good option here.

Make sure the vise you choose has a universal shaft diameter.  There are many new tools out there (i.e. gallows tool), be sure your vise will accept them.

Admittedly, there is a lot to consider when buying a vise. I recommend you tie at least a dozen flies of varying sizes on ANY vise before you write the check. Given the potential cost, I am sure most shop owners or a good friend would respect that request.

The Fly Tiers Corner is an excerpt from May issue of The Flyline, the official monthly publication of the Fly Fishers of Idaho.

Author: Jeff Wimer, Vice President of the Fly Fishers of Idaho & editor of The Flyline

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