Fly Tying Basic's: THE TOOLS

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Fly Tying Basic's: THE TOOLS

Post by wayne on Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:25 am

When I decided to write this article I realised there are a lot of members who have a lot of experience in fly tying, I also realised there are also a lot with no or a very limited experience so this series of posts is aimed at the beginner with no or a limited experience of the basics of fly dressing but hopefully there will also be somethings here that could be of value to the more experienced tiers amongst us as we are all continually learning and sharing our experiences.
Although I am not an expert in this field I hope I can pass on the knowledge I have gained onto others and hopefully introduce others to this art.

The first thing to cover should be tools. There are many tools on the market available to the fly tier some better made than others. Poor tools are not beneficial to anyone more so to the beginner and can become a complete hindrance. For this reason always seek out good quality tools. Quality, serviceable tools can be purchased at very reasonable prices these days so it need not bust the bank to obtain quality tools. Tools can be divided into two categories: essential and optional. The essential tools should be the mainstay of your equipment and will be the tools that will be used with all of your tying applications, without them your tying will be impossible or at the least awkward reducing you’re tying pleasure. The optional tools can and will help with certain applications you will encounter while fly tying, while some are a blessing others could be questioned as to their value, value being based on the style of the tier using them.

Essential Tools.

Vice.
Much has been said and written regarding vices but what qualities must a vice have? In my view it must be sturdy, it must have a firm hook hold through a range of hooks and sizes, it must be practicable enough to allow ease of tightening and opening of the jaws and it must allow a good tying access to the hook. A vice with these qualities will add to your fly tying enjoyment and should last a lifetime.
Vices are either clamp style of base mounted. Of course the sturdiest would be the clamp style but a good base mounted vice would be sturdy enough with the added convenience of being portable. I myself posses both styles but for the majority of my tying choose to use the base mounted version for no other reason than its practicability.
A firm hook hold is a must. A simple test of this would be to lock a hook in the jaws firmly and push down on the hooks eye, if the hook bends but stays put, great, this shows the jaws posses a very good firm hook hold, but if it slips look for another vice. Also test to see if the vice will hold both small and large hooks, versatility for the beginner is important and will add to the patterns you can learn.
The jaws of the vice are tightened in multitude of ways, from turning a knob or screw to pushing or releasing a lever, the main thing is that they open and close smoothly and easily. Test the jaws to see if they stick or not, if they do stick then choose another vice.
The majority of vices allow plenty of access to the hook, but bulky thick jaws or an obstruction too close to the hook can make things difficult and restrict your tying.
Lastly decide if you want a stationary vice or a rotary vice. A stationary vice is as the name implies stationary while a rotary vice will rotate or swivel allowing you to tie a fly from various angles, it is also a great benefit when applying epoxy to certain patterns. Generally rotary vices are considerably more expensive than a stationary vice.
Prices vary from vice to vice, they range from £20 upwards to £500. Remember that a vice will be an investment and a good quality vice would last a lifetime and more. A quality vice I would recommend is the Snowbee Fly Mate, this vice posses all the qualities mentioned above and comes in a few models from clamp style to base mounted, stationary or rotary. The top end vice in this series retails at around £50 and in my view is money well spent equalling some of the more expensive vices on the market today.


Bobbins.
Bobbins come in two types thread and floss, of the two the thread bobbin is the essential tool. The floss bobbin is an optional tool and will be discussed later. A good thread quality thread bobbin an essential part of the fly tiers artillery and is money well spent. Just one good quality thread bobbin is all the beginner would need at this stage. With it you can swap spools easily, therefore not limiting thread colours and sizes you wish to use. Of the thread bobbins available on today’s market I would recommend the ceramic type, the ceramic type being a tube of ceramic in through which the thread passes. These are a valuable asset to the fly tier reducing the likely hood of thread fraying or cutting than the more conventional metal tube bobbins. A good quality ceramic type bobbin can be purchased for around £5 making them a reasonable addition to your tools.


Scissors.
A good pair of scissors is a must to the fly tier. Ideally they should have finely serrated blades, which prevent materials from slipping, have a fine narrow tip and have adequate room in the loops for your fingers. Try and purchase a pair that are designed for fly tying, there are a lot of scissors available that are just not suited to fly tying. A good quality pair of scissors will last a long time so shop around for a good pair. Scissors can cost anything from £5 upwards of £50. A very good pair of scissors I would recommend is those available from Angling Classics that cost around £7, they posses all qualities required from a good pair of scissors and is money well spent in my opinion. A second pair of scissors would also be an ideal investment for the cutting of wires, tinsels etc.


Hackle Pliers.
Hackle pliers are small clamps that are clamped onto the feather (hackle) and are then wound around the hook shank. The majority of hackle pliers have a loop into which you place a finger through enabling you to wind the hackle. Some hackle pliers have no loop but instead a handle these are called rotary pliers, these pivot at the clamp allowing you to wind the hackle around the hook. The jaws of the hackle pliers should clamp tight and have not gaps between them enabling a nice firm grip of the hackle. A good pair of hackle pliers can be purchased for as little as £1 and are the cheapest of the essential tools needed for fly tying.


Light.
A good source of light is essential to prevent eye strain. There are many lights available to the fly tier ideally it should be adjustable, with the joint armed type providing the most benefits. The light source is open to debate with some preferring halogen type bulbs over day light craft type bulbs. It is your own personal preference which you choose, my own preference is to use a halogen type light source.


Hands.
I would say your hands are the greatest tool you posses when it comes to fly tying. Keep your hands clean and smooth and your nails well manicured. Rough hands and jagged nails will lead to all sorts of problems when fly tying, they will lead most commonly to frayed threads running the risk of thread breaks. Use hand creams on a regular basis to keep them soft and smooth.



Optional Tools.

Optional tools as it suggests are tools that while not essential to the fly tier will at some stage help you to carry out some of the more advanced techniques involved in fly tying.

Pliers.
With more and more anglers considering the conservation issues associated within angling, a pair of pliers is a useful addition to your tools. The pliers are used to pinch the barb of the hook enabling you to release fish quicker, unharmed and undamaged. While there are barbless hooks available on today’s market they do not cover every size and hook pattern. The pliers should have a fine, flat surface that will enable you to de-barb even the smallest of hooks.

Bodkin.
In its basic form a bodkin is simply a needle. It has a variety of uses mainly it is used for adding cement or varnish to the head of the fly but it is also used for teasing out dubbing, freeing trapped hackle fibres and clearing the eyes around your hook.

Dubbing Twister.
A dubbing twister is a neat handy tool. It allows you to make dubbing ropes in a variety of materials like fur and CDC. It is used by creating a dubbing loop from your thread into which your material is placed, the dubbing twister is then attached and spun creating a hackle type thread of your chosen material.

Blender.
A blender is a useful addition to your kit. It is used to blend different colours and dubbing mediums. Some use grinders, but why use a grinder? A grinder is used to grind, what we are aiming to achieve is to blend not grind the medium. A blender also allows us the added advantage of being able to blend the dubbing wet, enabling us to view the dubbing as it will be used, wet. Blending can be achieved by hand but is a slow process.

Floss bobbin.
A floss bobbin is the same as a thread bobbin in that it holds a spool, the difference between them is that the floss bobbin has a wider tube which has a flared end. Again a ceramic type is recommended as this will provide a smoother surface for the floss preventing it becoming frayed, a common problem when using floss. A floss bobbin also allows us to tie quicker and reduce waste of the floss.

Material Holder.
A helpful tool is the material holder. It is attached to your vice behind the jaws and allows you to hold materials out of the way instead of hanging downwards restricting your tying. The type I use and recommend are the spring type, which are attached to your vice and the materials slipped into the springs coils.

Whip Finisher.
These tools are used for “whipping” the final knot that creates and secures the flies head. They are of a personal choice if used or not as the whip finish can be achieved just as easy if not easier by hand.

Bobbin Threader.
A bobbin threader is simply a soft wire loop that is inserted into the tube of a bobbin holder to enable the tying thread to be drawn through. The same result can be achieved by sucking the thread down the tube by mouth. A bobbin threader has the disadvantage that it could scratch or damage the inside of the tube, especially the ceramic type, creating frayed thread.

Hair Stacker.
A hair stacker is used to even up the tips of various hairs. This is achieved by placing the hairs into the stacker and tapping it against a hard surface, the hairs slip down and stop with their tips against a flat removable cap, the cap can then be removed and the evenly stacked hairs removed. When choosing a hair stacking look for one with a large opening for it is the separation of the hairs that allow them to stack evenly.

Wing Burners.
Wing burners can greatly enhance some patterns. They allow you to burn feathers into a multitude of wing shapes. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes available on today’s market.


I hope you have found this informative and interesting and help you along the road to successful fly tying.


Wayne Snedden
© 2008
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wayne

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