The Global FlyFisher
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Pimp your vise
There's so much extra paraphernalia that you can attach to your vise that you can totally block the access to the hook if you use it all.
A fly tying vise is a fairly simple tool. In most cases it's a pair of jaws, some kind of locking mechanism; a spring, a cam, a screw or two. Then something to hold the whole thing; a stem and a clamp or a base. Viola! You have a fly tying vise.
OK, only few vises are actually that simple. Most are in fact much more complex with lots of handles, bearings, levers, springs and little adjustment screws, and in spite of the maybe 10 essential parts, they consist of 40-50 or even more.
So a vise can potentially be a fairly complex beast with tonnes of parts.
So why not add some more?
After all, pimping is the new black, and adding spinners, chrome, exhaust extensions and whatnot to your truck is after all a sign of style and taste, isn't it?
So let's show some class and add some bling to the vise. Some of it even useful!
So let's show some class and add some bling to the vise. Some of it even useful!
The ultimate bling!
This must be the pinnacle of vise pimping: Renzetti's Master Vise #0003 made for Bob Popovics.
Renzetti writes about this unique set
It contains almost all the types of extras you can read about below - just in the ultra luxury Renzetti edition.
This isn't commercially available, but Renzetti has many other desirable vises and accessories.
Let's start small with a material clip or spring. This neat little contraption will hold one or several materials out of the way while you tie, and can essentially be mounted on any vise.
Several manufacturers have springs or clips on their program, and some vises are delivered with a clip mounted from the start, but mounting one is very easy on most vises. Some of the ones available will fit on a variety of vises.
A note on vise stems
Quite a lot of the tools and accessories covered here are mounted on the vise stem. The far majority of stems are 3/8 of an inch or 9.5 millimeters in diameter, a de facto industry standard. This means that many extras are interchangeable between brands. You need to test them first though, because even with a standard, there are still small differences, and some tools won't fit some stems, being either too tight or too loose in spite of stating that they are 3/8 of an inch.
A surprising number of manufacturers do not make their vises or accessories with the standard measure, and their gear can typically only be combined with their own products. I have purposely tried to avoid these manufacturers in my coverage of specific products here.
A bobbin cradle is used to hang the tying thread and bobbin in such a way that the fly can be rotated with the thread not winding itself on or off the fly. Cradles are mostly seen on rotary vises, but can be used on the static models too, simply to get the thread out of the way.
The bobbin cradle in one of the more intrusive extras you can add to your vise. It's usually quite delicate, made from thin wire, but still large enough to require some space, in particular when you are not using it and you need to get it out of the way.
The simplest ones are literally just a bent piece of steel that fits on the stem and has a small hook in the business end where you can drape the thread. These simply swing out of the way to the rear and will require some space behind the vise.
The more complex ones have clamps to attach them to the stem and maybe even a joint where they can be collapsed, making them a little less demanding when it comes to space.
If your vise has a standard 3/8 (9.5mm) stem, most cradles will fit that, and you just have to make sure it will reach far enough to clear the jaws.
Since these are usually interchangeable and some are quite expensive, it might be worth looking around a bit for non-brand or third party products.
HMH Bobbin Rest. Sells for about 30 US$
Renzetti Bobbin Cradle for Master at about 60 US$, Traveler and Presentation 50 US$
Regal Bobbin Holder, simple wire model 15 US$, advanced screw on model 45 US$
Fly Shack Bobbin Cradle, about 10 US$ on Amazon.
Terra Bobbin Cradle, about 11.50 US$ on Amazon.
Dyna-King Light Weight Bobbin Hangers comes in a long and a short model, both at about 30 US$
Stonfo Bobbin Rest, a simple model that sells for 30 US$
Some tyers like to have a uniform background when tying, and in stead of relying on a clean and uniform desk behind the vise (like that's ever going to happen!), they mount a back plate on the vise, which simply swings in place in a position where it creates a nice backdrop for the fly.
Like the bobbin cradle, the back plate mostly mounts on the vise stem, and having a standard stem will allow you to use most offerings on the market.
You will find some back plates with extra features, like a black and a white side or a mirror mounted for easy inspection of the rear side of the fly while tying.
HMH Profile Plate is a large, white plate that costs about 30 US$
Peak Profile Plate is large and round, uniformlæy white. Sells for 25 US$.
Dyna-King Profile Plate is a large square plate that comes in several colors: white, black, grey, blue, green. The price is about 40 US$.
Mike Johnson's back plate is a generic back plate with a tool holder and a bobbin cradle sold at 60 UK£. It can be ordered on Mike's Facebook page.
Tool caddies and tool bars
Tool caddies are practical gadgets that you also mount on the potentially very crowded vise stem. They are mostly bars with holes where you can leave your tools while you are not using them during tying. Other shapes are circular and drop shaped, with either holes or slots for the tools.
The sit right where you need them and can help you keep the desk a little tidier and make the tools a little easier to find.
Some models also have holes for a glue or varnish bottle or other things you need close by when tying.
I'm working on a separate article on tool organizers and caddies.
Peak Tool Post Caddy is a simple hard plastic caddy, often sold at 7-10 US$
Regal Tool Bar is a sturdy and exquisitely made metal toolbar available in several colors, 40 US$.
Futurefly Led-Lamp with Toolrack is a sturdy aluminum toolbar that comes with a lamp (or is it the other way round?). It holds tool, glue and more. The price is about 135 Euros.
Royal Sissi is a toolbar for you if you are adventurous and patient (up to 60 days delivery) and dare risk the VAT and custom's fees, then this 9 US$ toolbar might be for you.
Flyco Daylight Lamp - Tool Rack is another lamp and tool rack combo with lots of light and lots of space, also set at 135 Euros.
Snowbee Fly-Tying Vice Racks is a simple foam disc that can hold flies drying and lighter tools. Comes in a package with two colors: black and grey at just 4 UK£.
Petetjean Tool Rack is an aluminum toolbar that will fit vise stems from 8-10 millimeters in diameter. It's priced at 37 Euros.
If you tie a lot of dry flies with parachute hackles, you might have bumped into the special tool made for the purpose. Parachute hackles can be made without – and most actually are – but for better control and easier tying, a dedicated tool might be a great help.
The tool is often referred to as a gallows, because it extends a bar over the vise jaws from which its main part hangs: typically a spring loaded clamp.
The idea is that you grab your post material and hold it upright and taught while wrapping the post and the hackle, and then trim the post. The extra hand makes it much easier to wrap both thread and hackle. The price is yet another rather large tool mounted on your vise, but one that of course can be removed or at least pushed out of the way.
It's a pretty obvious DIY contender and can be made from a single piece of wire, a spring and a small set of hackle pliers. But lots of manufacturers make this tool, and most will fit on other vises with standard stems.
Dyna-King Gallows Tool is a simple but sturdy gallows that sells for about 30 US$.
Flyfishing Europe Gallows Tool is another simple, generic model priced at about 9 Euros.
Stonfo Parachute Rest is simple in construction and sells for about 23 US$.
Fly tying produces waste! And lots of it even. Bits of feathers, cut off threads, hair trimmings and much, much more. You often cut off more than you tie on. All that waste has to go somewhere. For many of us that's on the table or on the floor – a few bits finding their way to the waste basket.
But what if the waste basket was right there? Right under the fly, basically catching all the stuff that would otherwise fall on the table or floor?
Well, it's possible if you are using one of the many waste collectors that can be mounted on the vise and will be almost right where you need it.
Many models are available, but here are a few.
Peak Waste Catcher is a compact round nylon fabric container, easily removed for emptying. About 28 US$.
Dyna-King Trim Bag is a large, rectangular waste container with a removable bag. 35-38 US$.
Stonfo Waste Bin is a firm plastic tray connected to the holder with a magnet for easy removal and emptying. Around 40 US$.
Griffin Collect-All Fly Tyer's Waste Basket, a nylon bag held in place by Velcro, which you loosen to remove and empty the basket. Priced at 22 US$.
Creative Angler Waste Bag is a generic and simple waste bag sold at 13,50 US$ though Amazon.
I have covered lamps extensively in a separate article, and will not go into further details here.
Many lamps combine with other accessories like magnifiers or tool bars, meaning that you get one when you buy the other. The combinations can both save you some money and some vise stem real estate.
Even more so than the lamp, the magnifier can be a great help to tyers who have a hard time seeing what’s going on on their tiny creations. Since both hands are busy with the tying, the magnifier usually needs to be attached to something. One type sits on the tyer's head in the form of strong glasses or even extra lenses that can be tipped down in front of the eyes. But an alternative is a magnifier mounted on the vise, held in position between the tyer’s eyes and the fly. These magnifiers usually sit on a long goose neck, and can be placed where it's useful and convenient between your eyes and the fly.
You will find magnifiers which are designed for or adapted to fly tying, but magnifiers are used in many other crafts, and can be found in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The main requirement in fly tying is actually that it can be attached to the vise. Alternatively you can opt for a table mounted model, but then you aren’t pimping your vise are you?
Like tool bars, you will also find magnifiers in combination with lamps, and several manufacturers have this combo.
Stonfo magnifying glass for vise, a magnifier mounted on a goose neck with a base that fits on a 3/8 inch stem. The price is about 50 US$.
Orvis Bright Light and Magnifier is a lamp and magnifier combo that mounts on the vise stem. The product has been discontinued by Orvis, but might still be available in some shops. The price is about 150 US$.
This is one of the smaller tools, which can sit nicely on the stem and offer easy and quick measuring of hackle barb lengths compared to hooks size. This is a particularly handy tool for the dry fly tyer who needs to ensure that the hackle length suits the hook.
Griffin Hook/Hackle Gauge, a simple flat piece of plastic with a scale sticker stuck on it. Priced at about 5.50 US$ from Griffin.
Whiting Hackle Gauge, a sturdy aluminum gauge with a simple printed scale. Available in blue and gray. 20 US$. Free with hackle orders over 100 US$ from Whiting.
Tiemco TMC Hackle Gauge, the real luxury model with two scales. Made in aluminum and priced at just below 30 US$
Stem extensions basically come in two flavors: straight and angled. The straight ones screw into the base of the existing stem and simply make it longer. They require a matching thread in the existing stem, and are not that common. A few manufacturers make them for their own vises. Some use other constructions like a longer stub on the base.
The angled extensions are more generic and do both extend and offset the vise. They can be used to lift the vise, but the most common use is actually to lower it and put it closer to the lap of the tyer. Some tyers like this low and close position of the vise. Lowering usually requires the use of a C-clamp.
Renzetti Stem Extension is a simple 3/8 inch steel rod with a threaded tip that screws into some Renzetti vise stems, which have inside threads in the bottom. Priced at 10 US$.
Renzetti Lap Extension is a two joint extension that allows you to move the vise away from the C-clamp. Can both lift and lower the vise. Priced at 110 US$ from Renzetti.
Terra Vice Extender is a simple 90 deg. angle extension, typically sold at 10-20 US$, but not always easy to find. An alternative source.
Griffin Vice Offset is an adjustable stem extension for 3/8” stems. Can both lift and lower your vise. App. 25 US$. Griffin has ended the production of this, but it can still be found here and there.
Dyna King Vise Extensions comes in two flavors: an L-shaped and an adjustable one. Prices are 40 and 50 US$.
Peak Accessory Shaft is a different extender in the sense that it doesn't extend, but supplement the vise stem, offering more real estate for mounting accessories. It is essentially just a 3/8 inch steel rod and requires a hole in the base or an extra C-clamp to mount. Price about 10 US$.
Stonfo Joint Block is another stem extender, which primarily provides extra space for other accessories. It mounts on the stem and offers holes for mounting several other gadgets. The block costs 30 US$.
If on the other hand your vise is a base vise with no C-clamp, there's also a handful of C-clamps available, Again the key is a 3/8” stem, and even with that standard you have to check by trying with your vise or measuring with a caliper. Remember that if you change from base to C-clamp, the vise will ride significantly lower than usual, and an extension for your stem might be needed.
Dyna-King Clamp Bases are aluminum clamps (in spite of the name) in two sizes with or without outriggers, priced from 50 to 80 US$ depending on size and model.
HMH C-Clamp Kit is a simple coated aluminum clamp sold for about 65 US$
Bases AKA pedestals
If your vise came without a base or you want something heavier or sturdier than what you have, many manufacturers offer loose bases with standard 3/8” mounting holes, into which most standard vises should fit.
Changing from a clamp to a base will lift your vise up way higher than it might usually be, and for some really long stemmed vises the jaws will be inconveniently high.
Griffin Pedestal, 4 lbs or about 2 kilos of steel sold at about 33 US$
HMH has several bases, but the Black Standard Pedestal Base Kit or the Spartan Plate Steel Base are probably the most interesting. Each weighs about 4 lbs or 2 kilos and prices are 70 and 65 US$.
Dyna-King Pedestal Bases are priced at 40-70 US$. These bases range from small (2 3/4 lbs) to Xlarge weighing 5 lbs or 2½ kilos.
Sources and prices
As you can see above I have linked as precisely as I could to the manufacturers pages and in some cases to online shops. In the cases with no online sales or if you want to go to a physical store, contact the manufacturer and ask for a reseller - online or brick and mortar.
Prices are January 2017 prices, which I will try to keep updated. Please let me know if you see errors that need correction or things that need to be added to the article.
Another way of pimping your vise is simply by cleaning it up and polishing it a bit. My good friend Henning wasn't really pleased with the state of his 20+ years old Renzetti Presentation 4000. The base plate was a bit stained with varnish and glue and the vise itself a bit tarnished. He simply took it apart, used some time, elbow grease and some Brasso, and put the whole thing together again with a drop of oil in the right places. The base plate was sanded and got a layer of fresh paint, and viola! The trusty vise was as new again!
Renzetti is known to perform a similar paid service on their vises. They will make sure everything works as it should, clean up the parts and replace what's worn.
I have not been quite as radical with my LAW, but I have taken it into the kitchen once and simply washed it in hot water and dishwashing soap using a nylon sponge. It wasn't as new, but it was definitely cleaner than before.