The Global FlyFisher
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How to turn your own fly tying tools in wood.
Another aspect is that, more than in any other branch of fishing, fly fishers, like their historic counterparts, are likely to make much of their tackle themselves. Most flyfishers will tie their own flies, many will build their own rods, some even from first principles, using split bamboo, a few may even make their own reels and lines.
For me this 'home-grown materials and tackle' aspect is probably what makes flyfishing attractive. I've long tied my own flies, and built (or more accurately, finished) my own fly rods. While making reels and lines is I feel beyond me, there are other pieces of tackle that can quite easily, and relatively inexpensively be made at home. A couple of Danish Fly Festivals ago, I first met Paul Little, a very gifted tier of classic salmon flies, who happened to also make many of his tying tools, such as bodkins, burnishers etc.
What struck me were the beautiful wooden (and plastic—corian) tool handles that adorned many of his homemade tools, and that, apparently, were made using a wood lathe and chisels. There and then I decided that that was something that I wanted to learn too.
So I bought a small micro-lathe and some inadequate cutting tools, and discovered that there is more to turning than meets the eye. Several wasted pieces of wood and some seriously damaged chisels later (as I would later find out, this was not my fault, other than buying rubbish for tools), I realized that I would need some instruction or tuition. At which point I discovered that while woodturning, after almost becoming a forgotten craft, is currently a rather popular passtime, not much effective instruction is available.
A hair stacker
To show you that making e.g. a wooden hair stacker (see figure 1) is relatively simple, provided you have the right tools, I've created an illustrated tutorial. Starting material is a piece of wood (fig. 2) in this case a piece of Mexican bocote, originally intended as a pen blank.
First of all we drill a hole in one end, to accomodate a screw chuck (fig 3). Drilling is done preferentially on the lathe (fig 4), as this facilitates drilling parallel to the actual rotation axis of the blank; this way the hole is always concentric with the turned outside of the stacker.
Hole for the top
Next we drill the hole for the top part of the stacker (fig 6). This hole should be just deep enough to fully reach the intended lower end of the top part. Then the piece of wood is rounded using a spindle gouge (or a roughing gouge) to almost the final dimensions, and possibly smoothed with a skew chisel, if so desired (fig 7). Next the length of the upper barrel, lower barrel (base) and insert are marked using dividers (fig 8). The diameter of the insert is turned with a parting tool and calipers (fig 9 and 10), then sanded. The insert is rounded at the opening (lower) end using a beading tool or small skew, detached from the lower barrel in the process, and set aside.
A 3D bit
Next the hole in the lower barrel, that will receive the insert, is drilled using a special, so-called 3-D drill bit. The 3D bit is essentially a plunge router bit for use in a hand drill and is very well suited for making straight holes in end grain (fig 12). This hole is made slightly undersized, and then made to fit the insert using a side scraper (fig 13).
Take off small amounts and try for fit frequently. When a good fit is achieved, put the top barrel in the bottom barrel and bring the tail-stock up to the joined barrels (fig 14). Use a skew chisel to smooth the outside of the complete stacker and give it its final shape (fig 14); I usually opt for a very slight hourglass shape (fig 15).
Other tools that can be made include extended body bodkins (fig 17, boxwood, and fig 18, curly koa) and thread splitter needles (fig 19, tulipwood). If you can get extirpation needles, you can also make dubbing pickers.
- spindle gouge
- skew chisel
- parting tool
- beading tool or small skew chisel
- small side scraper
- roughing gouge
- drill bits
- 3-D bits
- dividers and diameter gauges
- sand paper
- finishing oil
- drive centers
- screw centers
- drill chucks
There are many so-called' mini-lathes on the market. These are more than adequate for making fly tying tools. Most are produced in China, and I almost hate to say, are excellent value for money...
In fact, you'll spend far more on chisels and such than on a more than adequate lathe.
Make sure that you buy a lathe with morse tape head stock and tail stock spindles, and a common thread on the head stock, such as 1"x8tpi, 3/4"x16tpi, or M30.
I shouldn't mention brands here, but the Chinese lathe known as MC1018 and among others available under the Perform brand is excellent value for money.