Guest Blogger – Patty Lueken [email protected]
A vise basically holds the hook. Before vises, tiers used their hand to hold the hook. I understand flies can be tied more precisely with an actual vise, but I do not have any experience with hand tying. I have tied using a pair of pliers! The problem with that scenario is that another individual has to hold the pliers for you, but it does work in a pinch. So, I would recommend using a vise. The question then becomes, what vise to purchase. Below I have tried to address the issues related to purchasing a vise.
1. Personal preference is a significant consideration when selecting a vise. If you have a chance, try out multiple vises at tying events. I started with a vise that cost about $20.00. I used it for my first tying classes. My first purchase of a good vise was the Renzetti Traveler.
2. The next consideration is budget. Vises can cost from about $20.00 to about $800.00. A good vise for almost all needs can be purchased for approximately $200.00. There is nothing wrong starting with a used or very inexpensive vise, especially if you are not sure that you really want tying to be your new passion.
3. Review the type flies you fish with to determine what size of flies you will be tying. If you primarily trout fish, most vises will work. If you fish saltwater or for warm water species, you want a vise that is heavier duty and can handle larger hooks. If you are not going to be tying the big flies, there is no need to spend the money to purchase a vise that will handle that need.
4. Three criteria unrelated to budget and personal preference in deciding what vise to purchase are durability, flexibility and tightness of the jaws that hold the hook.
5. Durability relates primarily to the jaws. Stainless steel is an excellent jaw material, but there are a number of alloys that work. It is best not to purchase a jaw that is made from “soft” metals as they will not last long.
6. Flexibility relates to the number of sizes of flies you can tie with the vise. Most vises will tie from a size 1 to a size 18 or so fly. If you want to tie really large or small flies, you may need a different jaw. Some vises have interchangeable jaws. If you are tying small flies, look to see that you have enough access to the hook shank and gap area to tie a fly. For large flies, be sure the jaws are strong enough to support the torque it requires to tie the fly. The same advise is important for tying deer hair flies.
7. As stated earlier, the vise holds the hook. To be effective, the jaw must hold the hook very tightly. There should be a knob or some device to change the jaw opening space so that the hook can be placed in the jaw with enough space that when the lever is released on collet jaws or tightened on lever type jaws, the hook shank will remain level in the jaw when you test it by tapping your finger on the shank right behind the hook eye. If it moves, remove the hook and narrow the space in the jaw prior to inserting the hook. Then use the lever to tighten down the hook. Experiment until the jaw holds the hook tightly. If the jaw will not hold the hook tightly, don’t buy the vise.
8. There are two types of jaws – collet and lever types. Collet jaws work like tweezers. When the hook is placed in the hook jaw, usually a device will be tightened that causes the jaw to close, clamping down on the hook.
9. Lever type jaws work like a binder clip, usually with a handle to squeeze. Upon release of the handle, the hook should be held in place by the jaw of the vise.
10. Vises have two bases – a pedestal base and a C-clamp type base. Pedestal bases are heavy usually rectangular objects that hold the vise upright. A C-Clamp base is a C-clamp that attaches to a table or other object to hold the vise upright. If you are tying big flies, you probably want a heavy pedestal base. In fact, some manufacturers have an interchangeable base for tying large or saltwater flies. Traveler vises will have a smaller and lighter base. I have two issues with the C-clamp base. First, it can mar furniture. Second, the C-Clamp may not fit on the table as the top and the bottom of the table must be smooth and not thicker than the width of the C-clamp. The C-clamp is lighter than the pedestal base.
11. The next consideration is vise rotation. Vises come with a fixed head, rotating head, or a true rotary head.
12. The fixed head vise is just what it says. The head of the vise, which terminates at the jaw, does not move or rotate. These will be the least expensive vises. The down side is the tier can not turn the vise head to see the back side of the fly while tying the fly. The whole vise needs to be turned. This is particularly difficult with a C-clamp base.
13. The rotating head means the head, including the jaw that holds the fly being made, will rotate so that you can see the back side of the fly. This is a big advantage when you are tying a new fly, or just beginning to tie.
14. The true rotary head means that the hook shank that is in the jaw will remain in the same position for all 360 degrees of the rotation of the head. This allows the tier to place materials on the hook shank in an even manner as the hook shank stays on the same axis as the head rotates. You can also see the back side of the fly.
15. A vise may not come with a material clip. If it does not, this is a less expensive item that you want on your vise. The material clip holds the materials you are not using away from the hook while you are placing other material on the hook. It looks like a very tiny slinky.
16. Do not purchase a vise to save money tying your own flies. The break even on the purchase will probably never happen as you purchase more and more materials to fuel your habit. Of course if you add in the thrill of catching a fish on a fly you tied (or maybe even created), that is priceless.
Thank you to Patty Lueken for her passion and willingness to share her knowledge. We’d also like to thank Renzetti for all use of their vise photos.