Tools and Accessories
FLY TYING TOOLS
By Ed Gallop
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If you are interested in fly tying and need advise about tools you need you have come to the right place. Like most crafts or hobbies, people have individual preferences, so you will eventually develop your own through trial and error. What we give you is a basic knowledge to choose from based on our experience. Your choice will depend on your budget and first impression.
The basic tools required are a vise, bobbin holder, hackle pliers, and a small pair of scissors. There are other tools that make tying easier or perform special techniques.
a vise that will hold a hook securely, a bobbin that hold a spool of thread and help with control when applying it to the hook. You will also need a pair of sharp and fine tipped scissors to trim the thread and materials. Although you can hold materials with your fingers and wrap around the hook, you will find hackle pliers will make the task much easier. Another handy tool is a bodkin, also called a dubbing needle. It will help you pluck out dubbing, assist in controlling thread when tying knots, applying cement, and it has many other uses. Those are the basic tools to get started but there are many others other tools that will help make your tying easier. We will eventually cover more tools but first lets cover these four.
Holds Hook Tightly In Place
There are many different types of vises ranging from less than $10.00 to over $500.00. I would not recommend the least expensive vise because you get what you pay for. A cheap vise may not hold the hook tightly enough to prevent slipping when tying. This causes frustration and eventually a loss of interest in tying. On the other hand, I wouldn't advise you to invest in an expensive vise until you know you will stick with it. A cheap low quality vise is a waste of money if you lose interest or decide to get a better one. It will likely be one or the other.
We suggest you budget at least $50.00 to $150.00 for a decent vise, such as the Griffin Superior or the Griffin Spider Cam vise (but there are many others). Hopefully you will not want a replacement. Of course the decision is yours to make according to how much you want to spend.
There are 3 basic types of vises: Standard, rotary, and true rotary. A standard vise merely holds the hook in place as you tie and are the least expensive. A rotary vise allows you to rotate the hook to look at the back side of the fly. A true rotary will rotate the hook so the shank of the hook stays in line and not wobble as you rotate it. This will allow you to hold thread/material with one hand and rotate the hook to wrap materials around the shank. These are the most expensive.
Another feature to consider is the method used to grip the hook. There are screw (bolt) types and cam types. By screwing the bolt inward it brings the vise jaws together to grip the bend of the hook shank. The cam type have a lever that applies movement over a cam, causing the jaws to tighten. The cam type will apply much more tension. It is faster and easier to use, but cost a bit more. Someone with arthritis or a weak grip should seriously consider a cam vise.
The last basic feature to consider is how the vise rest on the desk (tying bench). There are clamp and pedestal vises. The most common and least expensive are the clamp type. It is shaped into a "C" clamp and attaches to the edge of your table, desk, or bench. You are limited to the edge of the surface and may harm finishes. The pedestal type has a heavy base attached allowing it to be used anywhere and on any surface. Some say the pedestal vise will tip over but that is not the case. Normal thread pressure is not enough to tip over a pedestal vise. If you plan to tie big heavy duty saltwater flies, using a lot of extra force, you might consider getting a clamp vise.
Bobbin holders are designed to hold spools of thread in a way that allows dispensing it through a tube for better control. The main factor to consider when choosing a bobbin holder is to get one that has a smooth tip to prevent snagging and breaking thread. Don't get cheap plated bobbins. You will likely have problems. Stainless steel or ceramic are best.
If your thread is breaking frequently, and you suspect a snag exist, simply wrap a few turns in one spot of the thread without heavy pressure. If your thread frays or breaks then you likely have a snag or rough spot. You can buff the tips with a Dremmel tool or drill with a buffer using rubbing and then polishing paste compounds. If you do not have these tools then do it by hand with an ink and pencil eraser. Just twist the tip of the bobbin tube into the eraser. I use a Dremmel felt buffer and finish with silver polish.
If your thread continues to break it is likely you are using too much tension. That is a common mistake for beginners. If you go to "Thread, Attaching to the Hook" you will find assistance to overcome unnecessary thread breaking.
I wouldn't suggest buying an expensive jewel tip bobbins to begin tying. A well polished metal tip will do just fine. You might later want to get an expensive bobbin even if you don't need it. However, if you are like most tiers, you would rather spend your money getting several bobbins just to keep from changing spools when changing thread color.
Bobbin size is a factor to consider. They come in small (midge size). medium, and large (jumbo size). Some tiers with large hands may prefer the larger. For small hands, the smaller bobbins may be more comfortable. However, the bobbin choice will be more about the size of fly and thread you intend to use. Large bobbins have a large diameter tube for thick thread and built stronger for heavy thread tension. When tying midges (tiny flies) the thread is thin and will flop around and fall out in large bobbins.
The bobbin arm width comes in wide or narrow, designed for the spool width. Small spools, such as Gossamer silk threads are too small to fit in a wide armed bobbin. The narrow armed medium sized standard bobbins are flexible enough to hold large spools. You can adjust the arms of a standard bobbin by gently bending the arms to get the spool tension you want.
Another consideration is the tip choice. Jewel tips are expensive and unnecessary but nice to look at. Ceramic tips are also nice and the finish is smooth enough not to develop snags. But a ceramic tip may chip and become useless if you try to force a metal threader into it's opening. All stainless bobbins will work just fine.
If you plan to use a bobbin for wire then don't use it for thread, The wire will damage metal and ceramic, causing snags.
You will see wooden bobbins on the market that simulate antique bobbins. They are nice to look at but a pain to use. Wasatch bobbins have wood sections placed over the metal and are both nice to look at and use. They make a large assortment of tools.
The arms of a bobbin holder should hold a spool of thread tight enough so it will dangle under the hook without unraveling but not so tight that it break thread when pulled. You can adjust tension by slightly bending the bobbin arms inward to tighten and outward to loosen. Different thread makers often use different spool sizes so adjustments may be necessary.
Rite Bobbins have a thread tension adjusting feature. They have a small diameter ceramic tube barrel, removable vinyl grip, solid brass arm, click drag adjustment and has 1to 9 ounces of thread tension.
The Shory Bobbin is 1 inch shorter than Standard. It is designed for tiny flies or smaller hands but it is a favorite of many tiers with large hands. The ceramic magnum size bobbin have a longer reach. It is equipped with a 2 ½" Ceramic insert, surgical quality stainless steel components, very high pressure click drag heavy duty thread tension (2-16 ounce thread tension), and designed for longer hooks and spinning deer hair.
How to use the Rite™ Bobbin in 8 simple steps:
1. Spin the golden cross-shaped tension adjuster counter
clockwise until the connected screw disengages.
||2. Lift off the two part pressure pad.|
||3. Slip your thread spool onto the shaft.|
||4. Reinsert the two part pressure pad.|
||5. Spin the golden disk clockwise until you feel the "clicks".|
||6. Run your thread through the tube.|
||7. Adjust the tension disk clockwise to the desired tension.|
8. For momentary extra tension, when pulling hard on material,
etc., squeeze the end plates of the bobbin as necessary
Breaking thread can be very frustrating. We all do it. Experienced tiers do not break thread very often, even rarely, and when they do they hold their finger on it and start another wrap to lay over the break. Beginners, on the other hand, frequently break thread until they get the feel of it. The best way to do that is to break the thread on purpose, over and over, until you know the breaking point. Take a bare hook, make a few wraps that overlap and then pull slowly until it breaks.
Some tiers say you should always tie at 90 to 99% of the thread's breaking point but this is not easily obtained and will frequently result in broken thread. It isn't necessary. The point is... wrap as tight as necessary to tightly secure the material so it will not slip or move around the shank. Use as much tension as possible but don't push it so close to that it frequently breaks. Just keep it tight.
Too much tension caused by improper use of a bobbin holder is the primary reason for breakage. You should pull the thread from the spool by holding the tube, where it connects to the arms, between the thumb and forefinger. The spool should rest lightly in the palm of your hand so you can increase tension as needed with your ring and small fingers. If you pull by the arms it will increased drag on the spool. The lighter the thread's breaking point the more critical the drag. Ultra-light threads, such as Danville's Spider Web, breaks easily so you have to be very careful. More wraps will compensate for less tension in cases like that.
Thread will likely fall or be pulled from a bobbin holder's tube as it lays on your cluttered tying desk. Rethreading your bobbin holder every time you pick up a bobbin is frustrating. It helps to wrap the loose end of the thread back and snugly between the arm and the spool to hold it snug(pictured right). Some threads, such as Benecchi, has a disk on one end just for this purpose.
A bobbin threader is nothing more than a thin wire bent into a loop as pictured above. You insert the wire into the tip through to the spool, place the tag end of the thread into the loop, and then pull through the tube. Be careful with ceramic bobbins. If the wire fits tight don't force it into the tube or it could break the ceramic. The best threader for ceramic bobbins are the plastic looped dental floss threaders (pictured left).
I seldom use a threader. I normally start the thread in the base of the tube and suck it through with my mouth on the tip of the tube. It is faster, easier, and one less item to get lost on my cluttered tying desk.
It is possible to hold materials in your finger tips when wrapping around a hook shank, switching from hand to hand to make it all the way around. However, it is much easier to use hackle pliers. There are a lot of different style hackle pliers available.
Standard hackle pliers, such as the one pictured at right, are the most common. When you squeeze the sides together it opens the jaws. Place the material in the jaws and release. The jaws on some have a soft plastic cover that helps prevent the material from slipping out. Standard hackle pliers have several different styles but they all do the same thing. The standard hackle pliers pictured have tabs on the sides to make it easier to squeeze. They are called "Deluxe" and are especially nice for tiers with arthritis or weak fingers.
Rotating hackle pliers have a handle that spins around a wire that is attached to the jaws. This allows you to hold the handle and move it around the hook by switching hands. The hanging thread and bobbin prevents one hand wrapping. The jaws on rotating hackle pliers are smaller and have less tension to grip the material.
The most important thing to consider when selecting hackle pliers is that they hold the material tightly and are smooth enough not to cut or break delicate materials. Another consideration is the weight. They should be heavy enough to dangle below the hook without allowing the material to unravel.
Some tiers prefer standard hackle pliers while others prefer rotating. My personal favorite is the standard Deluxe Hackle Pliers described above. You will find hackle pliers and other tools in our on-line store. You will not find a better price. If you do, we will match it.
Bodkin or Dubbing Needle (Incomplete)
Bodkins are also known as a dubbing needles. They are large needles with handles for grip and control. They are used to adjust material on a fly, pluck out dubbing, apply drops of cement from a jar, splitting threads and floss, and sometimes used to hold loops in place when tying knots to finish a fly. Some bodkins have a tapered hole in the butt of the handle that is used for tying half hitch knots when finishing the fly. A loop in the thread is formed on the handle and then positioned on the eye of the hook.
Pictured at left is a brass handled FTW bodkin. Pictured at right is Mark Petitjean's Dubbing Needle, showing how it is used to split multi-stranded thread.
Here is a tool you will find useful to make dubbed bodies on flies. You simply make a loop, insert the dubbing, and spin the tool to tighten the lop around the dubbing. Then wrap the dubbed loop to form the fly's body. This solid brass twister (pictured on right)makes this easy because the spinning momentum does the twisting as it dangles.
Here is a more detailed explanation... Form a loop in the thread with the twister hanging in it as shown. This is accomplished by holding your index finger below the hook and looping the thread around it. Make sure the thread meets closely at the hook shank to keep the loop tight. Make a few turns around the shank to secure the thread and wrap the thread forward, ahead of where the body wraps will end. Rest the bobbin in a bobbin cradle if you have one. Insert the whirl by hooking the thread on the feet as shown.
Insert the dubbing material, sliding it up toward the hook shank evenly distributed inside the loop. Sparse is better because too much dubbing causes an obese fly. I normally cradle the looped thread over my index finger near the tool before spinning. This controls the loop by preventing the tool from flopping around.
Set the tool in motion by spinning it. The loop will twist and tighten as the tool spins. It only takes a second or two and you are ready to wrap the dubbing on the hook.
Wrap the twisted dubbing on the hook as desired. Secure the end with thread wraps before trimming off the loose end of the dubbing loop.
That's all there is to it.
There are several different types of fly tying cements. Some are thin, flexible and soaks in to be undetectable. Some are thick, hard, and dries glossy. Some are water base, some are solvent base, and some are lacquer. Different cements have different purposes. You need to decide your purpose and then develop a preference. Some of my favorite is the Loon Head Cement System for normal trout fly tying and the Lagartun Lacquer and Head Cement for custom tying with beautiful results. They have nice colors and even a glow in the dark cement.
As mentioned above, my go to cement is Loon Head Cement. They provide it in a needle applicator bottle marketed as "Loon Head Cement System" or "Loon Head Finish System" and comes in either solvent or water base. The head cement is thinner and soaks in for securing the thread after finishing the fly. The head finish is for building up heads. The product is also available in plastic bottles without the applicator.
Another Loon "head finish" cement is "Loon Hard Head" and "Loon Soft Head". It is a water base cement that dries about as tough as any cement I've ever used, however, it has a reputation for drying in the bottle and requires frequent thinning. If it gets thick you can add a little water and carefully warm it up to thin it. If it hardens too much you can forget it. It becomes solid like a rock.
Another excellent cement is Griff's and comes in "Thick" or "Thin". It is one of our best selling cements. Use thin for head cement and thick for building heads with as many coats as you want.
Lagartun Lacquer and Head Cement comes in 11 vivid colors. Two additional colors are a silvery fish scale named "Shimmer" and an opaque "Pearl" color. There is also one that glows in the dark, "Afterglow".
Zap-A-Gap is another popular cement. It is in the Super Glue category and dries very fast. There are many cements available to the tier. If used for keeping thread knots tight you will want a thin cement. If coating and building up fly heads then you will want a thick form of cement.
Cement can be applied to the fly with a bodkin (dubbing needle) in fractions of a drop. This is especially nice on the heads of small flies. Simply dip the bodkin in the cement and let the access drip off into the jar. Then smear the cement coated bodkin where you want to apply it on the fly.
There are bottles that have needles or brushes built into the cap, such as Griffin applicator jars, and there cements that come in needle applicator jars, such as Loon's "Cement System". You can also purchase plastic needle applicator bottles and fill with your favorite cement.
Cements that come in open mouth jars evaporate every time you open the lid. This will cause cement to rapidly thicken so you should have the appropriate thinner to maintain proper consistency. Plastic needle applicator jars have a tube with a needle inserted to seal it closed. Remove the needle and dispatch the desired amount of cement through the tube. The tube prevents air from evaporating the cement every time you use it. Although not necessary, I try to keep the bottle at least 80% full to limit the amount of air space. Cement will harden in the applicator jars, just not as fast when frequently used.
Gently squeeze the flexible bottle and it will disperse cement. The heat from your hand will Sometimes cause the cement to dispense too fast. You will soon discover the best handling of the bottles for the amount of cement desired.
The most frequent complaint about plastic applicator bottles is the cement drying inside the tube but if you insert the needle immediately after every use this shouldn't be a problem. If you do experience the tube being clogged you should soak it in thinner (solvent cement) or warm water (water based cement) and clean it out by pushing a long needle through the opposite end. You should keep the needle and tube clean by wiping off the needle and scraping off any dried cement after every use. It only takes a moment.
If you are having trouble inserting the needle in the tube you might consider placing the tube on the tip of your index finger. Then lay the needle on your finger, using it as a guide to insert in the tube (shown in photo).
Cement will evaporate and become thicker or even harden if let alone long enough. This will happen faster with plastic than with glass containers. It will happen even faster if the lids are not sealed tightly. I have made plastic gaskets for wide mouth containers and stored for months without any evaporation. Some come with gaskets such as cork but they crack and do not seal well. The objective is to keep as much air out as possible and thin with thinner frequently if need be. Otherwise, you will be buying more cement.
Some tiers rarely use cement but I use it on most all fishing fly heads to better secure the thread. It only takes a moment and it is added insurance, so why not? I also use it on body thread under-wraps when a more secure body is desired. I also use for non-tying purposes, such as on shirt buttons to help keep the thread from unraveling.
A wing burner is a tweezers like tool made of brass and the tips are shaped like wings. You close the wing burner over a feather with the stem aligned in the middle. Prepare the feather by pulling or cutting off the feather's fibers (barbules) below the desired wing length. Insert the feather between the burner's tips with the stem in the middle. Burn away the unwanted part of the feather extending outside the burner with a lighter flame. You will have perfect shaped wing every time. These shaped feather wings are termed "cut wings" because they were cut with scissors or fingernail clippers. Burners are much easier but be careful not to ignite flammable materials such as solvent cement.
The most common wing burners are the mayfly type and come in different sizes. They are also available in shapes for caddis tent wings and stonefly nymph wing casings. The caddis and stonefly are normally cut to shape with a razor blade if the material is not suitable for burning. The burner is used as a guide to get perfect shapes.