All the tools explained
Without a doubt, dubbing tools and techniques are one of the things most likely to confuse fly tyers. With an explosion of new tools, comes an obvious question, how do you use all this stuff and why should I buy yet one more tool? To answer this question, let's first step back take a look at what a dubbed body is, and then we'll look at what some of the original fly tyers did long before we had tools with interchangeable ball bearing heads. Then I will show you how to use some of the new tools, designed to make the job easier.
Dubbing is nothing more that applying fur to thread and using the wrapped threads to create a body of a fly. Dubbing is the process of attaching fur to the body and is quite simple to do. While, I suspect the most seasoned of fly tyers will have a jaded view of “having seen this before”, follow along with me as I will give you some tips that can help you to master this techique to create easy, well made bodies in a snap.
The Original Dubbing Method Split Thread
The oldest method of dubbing is called the split thread technique. This was originally done for several reasons. Early fly tyers didn't have fine threads that were pre-waxed. Our earliest thread was silk which is quite coarse by today's standard. Tyers also made flies in their hands without a vise or bobbin. As vises later appeared, people used buttons and knobs mounted to tables to for allow the application of dubbing.
Split thread can be done today with any unwaxed ( including silk ) thread. The thread is spun counter clockwise and split using a wide sewing machine needle or a thread splitting bodkin. This techinque allows for making a smaller, tighter body.
A newer method was created by use of dual threads. Originally, tyers mounted 2 sewing machine spools inside a bobbin and used two threads together. This process is made similar by introduction of dual threads twisted to a single spool. Cascade Crest Tools offers 2 colors of thread mounted to a single spool. To use, wrap one color and start the second color. Lay in materials, twist and wrap. This makes an easy method to wrap, twist and dub using the original split thread method. ( Cascade Crest Tools about $3.00/spool )
Touch Dubbing and Direct Dubbing Methods
The most common method is direct dubbing or touch dubbing. With the touch dubbing process, you begin by wrapping thread back to the rear of the hook. Next you pull down the thread, creating about 3-4" of open space between the hook shank and the bobbin. Using a tacky dubbing wax (there are several from most material distributors such as Wapsi, Hareline and RC Rumpf), apply a thin coat of wax to the thread. Usually, I rub a small pinch of wax between my fore finger and thumb, move my fingers up and down to apply the wax evenly. If you use too much wax, often the dubbing fibers will be stuck together. If not enough is used, the fibers can fall off. Wax is important to use with many slick fibers like Ice Dub and Lite Brite or coarse fibers like angora goat and seal fur.
For very fine bodies on small flies, you can use waxed thread with the Direct Dubbing Method. Most waxed threads are marked on the ends on the label. Be sure your thread is waxed before attempting this techinque. To create very tight bodies, the hook shank to the rear of the hook. Pull the thread down, creating about 2-3" of open thread. Next rub the thread between your thumb and fore finger several times up and down. This will create friction and heat which will allow small, fine fibers to stick the thread. Lay fibers in your hand and twist with your thumb and fore finger. Pull down as twist and the fibers will begin to attach to the thread.
Controlling The Size and Shape of the Body
One method I always use is to twist my dubbing counter clock wise. As I begin to form the body, I twist and furs over the thread and roll the dubbing toward me. Typically, most advice is to spin, turn and twist dubbing and threads in a clockwise fashion. I intentionally, twist backwards because as you wrap forward in a clockwise fashion to cover the hook shank, fibers will unroll, untwist and come apart. If you wind the dubbing counter-clock wise, the dubbed threads will bind into themselves creating a body that is very difficult to come apart. This single tip, allows my flies to last longer, wear out less frequently and not fall apart after catching a few fish.
To control and adjust the shape of the body, long time Catskill Fly Tyers used what was called a noodle. To form a noodle, I create a small triangle shape of dubbing fibers in my hand. I begin by making a small ball of dubbing in my hand. I spread the dubbing fibers out by rolling and spreading the fibers as I go. The fibers are spread evenly, creating a small triangle shape which I then apply to the thread and begin my twisting techniques mentioned above. To make the body fuller, add more fiber. To make the body sparse, remove some of the dubbing material.
There are loads of tools on the mark today and many of these dubbing tools will do the same things. Some of these tools are wonderfully effective and easy to use.
Lets look at a few tools:
1) Stick Tools
I like to call stick tools, tools that are mounted to handles. Many of these tools appear to be similar but are actually can be quite different when you use them.
Paper Clip: One of the easiest, cheapest tools is a plain old paper clip. If you are in a pinch, this works. Pretty ugly and low tech. Grasp the clip, and unfold the clip, leaving a small loop on one end, handle is the irregular clip. Cost? Free if you bum one from a work mate. Lots of these fancy tools are based on this concept. ( Free/almost! )
Birds Tool: Cal Birds was a tyer from California and invented this tool. The head has a triangle. To use to form a loop in the end and roll the tool to the center. This tool is ideal for using with a rotating vise. Some salmon tyers like to use this with silk thread to hold a hackle pliers and avoid touching silk. ( Umpqua and Dr. Slick about $6)
Matarelli's Shepard's Hook: Frank Matarelli from San Franciso invented this one. The Shephard's Hook has a round end and is useful for making dubbing ropes. The end allows wire or dubbed thread to slide off the end easily. The other end is sharpened and can be used as a bodkin.
( Matarelli Fly Tying Tools/Wapsi/RC Rumpf about $9)
Tool/Dubbit Tool: Larry Walker of Colorado gets the credit for creating this one. This tool has a wooden base that allows the the tool to spin. The forked head allows you to insert thread and make a loop. (Hareline Dubbin about $12)
2) Dubbing Whirlers and Spinners
These tools are weighted and were one of the next steps in the creation of dubbing tools.
Dyna King Whirler and Import Whirlers: These tools are machined brass and have a small handle that allows the loop to be spun. Tyer/Author Darrell Martin designed the original Dyna King tool which is still sold today. The Dyna King Whirler is perfectly balanced and won't spin in an oblong fashion. Cheaper import tools are available which will do the same job. (Dyna King about $15 and Hareline Dubbin about $5)
Lafontaine Spinner: Before he passed away, Gary Lafontaine created the Dubbing Spinner, this is a small weight with a loop attached the end. This spins easily and will make a loop quickly. These are made today by Jade River Tools and called the "True Loop Tool". ( Jade River about $12)
3) Turbo Dubber
The original turbo dubber was created by Jan Siman of the Czech Republic. The original model had the wires from a dubbing spinner combined with a metal handle and a ball bearing head. The newer models have interchangable heads and and some models have hooks, wire tips or forked ends. The bearing head allows the loop to be spun quickly, looped ends are used for making dubbing ropes with wire that can be stored for later use. The turbo dubbers are the most popular item offered due to the interchangable features and ball bearing heads. ( Hareline Dubbin about $12.50)
4) Dubbing Ripper, Thread Splitting Needle and Dubbing Springs
These tools allow you to do some interesting effects.
Hareline's Dubbing Ripper: This is a stainless steel brush that allows you to rough up your dubbed bodies. By using the the wire brush, you can rub the bodies to make them look saggy. A fly that looks broken in usually says one thing," Bite me". ( Hareline Dubbin about $4.50 )
Marc Petitjean's Thread Splitting Needle: This is a wide end bodkin that allows you to split thread or floss. This technique works on unwaxed thread such as Danville, UTC or Pearsall's silk flosses and threads. Splitting thread allows you to cut the size of the thread reducing the volume and diameter. ($11 Marc Petitjean )
Marc Petitjean's Dubbing Springs: These are handy to separate dubbing. With these springs it is possible to create a body, parachute tool, hackle and then wrap the entire strand forward creating faster flies that are well made. ( $6 Marc Petitjean )
5) Thread Tube Mounted Dubbing Tools
These are new high-bred tools that cross the traditional bobbin with loop making tools. It is possible to reduce time and also the effort to make flies faster.
Marc Petitjean Bobbin: This is the newest bobbin that offers a tension adjustment feature. You can adjust the bobbin to match each kind of thread you might use. This bobbin has a self threading feature in which you lay the thread into the bobbin. The top of the bobbin has a loop tool that allows you to make dubbing loops. ($50 Marc Petitjean)
Wasatch Angling's Mitch's Tool: This is a standard bobbin with a loop tool built into the top. You combine a loop tool and bobbin together. This feature saves time and reduces some of the motions in tying, allowing you some improved efficency. ($30 Wastach Custom Angling)
6) Dubbing Accessories/Roughing Tools
These tools are accessories that allow you to improve some of your dubbing techniques or give you different effects when using these tools.
Jade River's Dubbing Comb: This is a laser etched comb that has fine teeth and allows you to comb out underfur. This is hand when working with fur or deer hair. ( $13 Jade River Tools/ Hareline/RC Rumpf)
Dubbing Rake: This has small metal teeth that claw out underfur from fur patches allowing you to leave behind some of the course guard hairs. Handy for working with muskrat, beaver and the like. ( Hareline Dubbin $4.50 )
Vel-Cro: (3M Patented Name) With this you cut strips of Vel-Cro and glue to a small wooden popcicle stick. Dick Talleur I think gets the nod for inventing this. With this you can rough up bodies and make flies appear scruffy. I've used one for years to make nymphs scraggly looking. With this you need to buy some wooden sticks and Vel-Cro tape from a box store,
Wasatch Dubbing Tools: Wastach offers 3 types of dubbing pickers: Midge, Standard and Dubbing Brushes. These are handy for roughing up flies and depending on the size, these can be used for many types of patterns. ( Wastach Tools about $8-$12)
Wishbone Thread Cutter/Bodkin: Wishbone tools has a thread cutter mounted to a bamboo handle. This is a handy tool that will nip thread and allow you to pick out fur or add glue to heads. (Hareline Dubbin about $8.50)