The nature of feather construction

We need to have standards

by Wayne Luallen

We need to have standards
An important aspect of fly tying is sharing information. In turn it behooves us as fly tiers to speak the same language. We have all read fly patterns that refer to quills, barbs, barbules, fibers, shafts, stems, vanes and so forth, but when we read these terms do we know what they have reference to? We may, but what about the author; did he truly describe by name what he intended? How often have we read quill when in fact what was referred to was actually a barb or perhaps shaft? How often have we read fibers when the author meant barbs or perhaps barbules? How often have we read barbs, barbules, fibers or even barbels (which are tactile processes on the lips of a fish rather than components of a feather) when referring to a feather's ability to marry, but in actuality barbicels or perhaps more specifically hooklets is what was meant? If we spoke the same language we would better comprehend what was intended. It may not be necessary to know scientific names, but if we wish to communicate, we need to have standards.

Easy to learn
The parts of a typical feather are simple to learn, and once understood help us to better appreciate why feathers do what they do in different applications. For instance why does a dry fly hackle when wound on an uneven surface (i.e., twisted thread, bulky surface, etc.) lead to a fly with the barbs strewn all about? Why does a hackle mounted on an even surface produces a fly with barbs at a distinct ninety degree angle out from that surface? If you understand the rectangular shape of the rachis and the location of the barbs on the rachis it all makes sense. What does understanding of feather construction lead to? Better flies that we control rather than the material controlling us. It also leads to a more appropriate selection of materials for specific tasks.

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