Table-top Tools

Table-top Tools

New stuff for your fly-tying station.

  • By: Ted Leeson
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Fly tiers tend to be a venturesome lot, compulsively tinkering, improvising and inventing, for the very nature of the craft both encourages and rewards an inclination to experiment. At bottom, fly-tying is all about building better mousetraps, so tiers are forever on the lookout for new patterns and materials, and tools that increase the efficiency, ease and speed of tying; enhance the pleasure of time spent at the vise; and improve the finished products. While it’s true that the best tools in fly-tying are our 10 fingers, most of us find them a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

The tools of the trade fall into three rough, overlapping categories. The core tools—scissors, bobbins and the like—are pretty hard to do without. Specialty tools—dubbing whirls, wing burners, bead tweezers—make specific tying operations easier. And then there are the accessories—materials dispensers, bench organizers and so forth—that do not directly involve the fly, but make the tying more convenient or comfortable.
In aggregate, there are approximately a billion such tools now available, and in the ongoing quest to improve my tying life, I rounded up a selection from each category.

Some were favorites suggested by other fly-tiers; others were new products I was interested in checking out. I gathered them up, parked my carcass in front of the TV and tied my brains out for a few weeks, discovering some useful items and filling a few fly boxes along the way. Here’s what I learned.

HARELINE LED Fly Tying Pro Lite with Magnifier
I’m always searching for the perfect compact tying lamp. I haven’t found it yet, but Hareline’s LED Fly Tying Pro Lite with Magnifier comes pretty close. The LED bulb burns cool, and diffuser lenses illuminate a reasonable working area on the bench rather than just casting a dime-sized spot of light on the fly. An 18-inch goose neck keeps the pedestal lamp base out of the way for an uncluttered tying field. A second (removable) goose neck holds a 4-inch magnifier (2X with a 10X center spot). While this is the brightest compact lamp I’ve tried, for most tiers it won’t replace a full-sized bench lamp, though it’s a good supplemental light source. But, its compact size, small AC adapter and C-clamp base (included) make it a tidy package that really shines as a travel tying light. $119.95. www.hareline.com

C&F Rotary Hackle Pliers
For ease, speed, and accuracy in parachute hackling, it’s hard to surpass rotary hackle pliers. I’ve used perhaps 10 or 12 types, more or less satisfactorily, but two emerged as favorites. First, The C&F Rotary Hackle Pliers are probably the nicest. Wide finger-pads make the jaws easy to operate, and the jaw-tips are slightly flared, which noticeably reduces feather-stem breakage. The knurled, rotating handle sleeve gives a sure grip, and the handle and jaws are joined by a flexible rubber hinge that cushions and smooths out wrapping tension and allows you to flex and twist the jaws to help put the hackle wrap where you want it or compensate for feather twist. Like other C&F tools I’ve used, this one is handsomely designed, impeccably manufactured and very expensive—for tiers who treat themselves well. $49.95. www.candfdesign.com

MARC PETITJEAN Long Loop Trim Scissors
The Long Loop Trim Scissors basically do one thing and they do it extremely well. The long, two-inch blades are designed for trimming waste materials—feather stems, hide strips—from a dubbing loop. Shorter, conventional scissors require multiple cuts, and opening and advancing the blades frequently disturbs the alignment of materials in the loop. These sharp, slim-profile scissors do the deed in a single, smooth motion. At $59.95, they’re pricey for occasional use, but if you habitually use dubbing brushes or loops, these save time and frustration and render excellent results. I find them indispensable. www.hareline.com

SINGLEBARBED.COM Sixth Finger Scissors
I use spring-type scissors for most of my tying and have never understood why they’re not more popular. They are faster, simpler, and more precise than conventional scissors, though they do have two drawbacks—they aren’t well suited to cutting thick, tough materials or bundles or hair, and they don’t rest conveniently in your hand when tying. Singlebarbed.com solved this second problem in it’s Sixth Finger Scissors, which have a loop welded to the handle. Slip the loop over your middle finger and the scissors stay handily in place while tying. The narrow profile allows greater finger mobility and dexterity than conventional scissors while you’re preparing materials. And the scissors require little or no repositioning in the hand when you’re ready to make a cut. This is one of those ideas that’s so simple and useful you can’t believe no one thought of it before. $20. www.singlebarbed.com

TACH-IT Fly & Hook Holder
This is a handy bench item—essentially a 3-by-4 inch magnetic sheet fully backed with Velcro that attaches (in various configurations) to a metal stand. Its primary purpose is to hold hooks and finished flies, but it has a post-type hackle gauge in one corner and both inch and millimeter scales printed down the side. I like it particularly for holding small hooks, which are quite visible against the white background, and as a drying stand for patterns with painted eyes, epoxy wing cases and so forth. It’s also useful for sweeping over the floor to retrieve dropped hooks, and it collapses to a compact size for a travel kit. $10.95. www.tachit.com

DR. SLICK Twisted Loop Scissors
Dr. Slick’s Twisted Loop Scissors are designed for general-purpose tying, but are interesting to tiers who keep scissors in their hand while tying. Because the thumb loop stands out at 90 degrees from the axis of the blades, the scissors sit naturally in your hand and give greater finger mobility in manipulating materials. Best of all, they allow for easy trimming when the loops are tucked against the base of your fingers; you don’t need to constantly reposition the scissors. If you typically pick up and put down your scissors when tying, the twisted-loop design is still perfectly satisfactory, but tiers who hold onto their scissors are the one who notice an improvement in comfort and efficiency. Three sizes, straight or serrated, $17.50 to $19.50. www.drslick.com

ALVIN Self-Healing Cutting Mat
This last item—a self-healing cutting mat—isn’t really a fly-tying tool, but I tried one on the recommendation of a friend and am sold. The mat makes an ideal cutting surface for a razor blade or hobby knife when slicing foam strips, wing-case films or other sheet material. The PVC composite won’t dull blades and closes up after a blade passes through, so it lasts a long time. I bought a 12-by-18 inch size for my tying bench. It offers a non-skid surface for pedestal vises and has low-glare, green/gray reversible sides that won’t reflect light from a tying lamp back into your eyes. You can find generic mats at big-box office stores, but I prefer the Alvin mats for their higher quality, choice of colors and ruled or unruled surface. The mat I bought ran $9.99 at www.cutting-mats.net.

Fly Rod & Reel’s field-tester for more than two decades, Ted Leeson is the author of Inventing Montana, The Habit of Rivers and Jerusalem Creek. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.