Hair Stacking and Other Applicable Stuff - Global FlyFisher

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Hair Stacking and Other Applicable Stuff


Cleaning hair

Intro
Understanding hair
Hair scales
Stackers
Stacking
Deer, Elk and Moose
Calf Tail and Bucktail
Hand stacking
Uneven stacking
Cleaning hair
Selecting hair
References
Regrettably little attention is paid to cleaning of materials used in fly tying. Students from material preparation classes that I have taught often come back weeks or months later with tales of how improved their tying has become now that they wash, dry and properly store their materials. In actuality their tying has not necessarily improved, but rather the materials they work with are now more manageable, thus making tying easier.

It is especially important to have clean hair if it is to be stacked. Hair that has dirt and natural oil present will not stack evenly without a great deal of hair stacker pounding and fiddling. By comparison clean hair is a pleasure to work with. When hair arrives in the hands of the fly tier, with the exception of tanned hides, you can be assured that little has been done to clean the natural dirt and oil from the hair. Assume that all hair is dirty until you do something about it. The dirt and oil combined act like glue holding each hair to the next. The amount of dirt becomes apparent after handling several pieces of hide and then looking at your hands. Pet a horse out in a pasture sometime and then take a look at your hands. Washing off the oil and dirt will improve each hair's ability to slide independently when stacked.


The same patch of material before (left) and after (right)
a few seconds in the steam ray from a boiling kettle.

The simple process of washing hair with skin attached requires dish washing liquid, hot water, some towels, and a drying rack (optional). Soak the hair in hot, soapy water for at least 30 minutes with periodic agitation. Avoid washing in water hotter than hot tap water [140 degrees F maximum] to avoid skin shrinkage as well as possible damage to the hair or, for that matter, to your hands! Rinse completely, remove as much water as possible by compressing in an absorbent towel, and air dry. Never dry hair or feathers attached to skin in a microwave oven. It will cook the skin and shrink it dramatically. Somehow I suspect it is not terribly beneficial to the hair or feathers either.
As the piece dries, the wet skin will curl unless it is periodically hand stretched or dried between some sort of screen above and below that holds the piece(s) flat. Old oven racks or wood frames covered with chicken wire work quite well. A frame below and above with some weight to hold everything in place while allowing ventilation will speed the process. It may take a few days for the hair to completely dry. If the wire leaves depressions in the hair, simply steam them out. Drying a hard, less absorbent hair such as calf tail can be accomplished with a blow dryer, but the skin still must air dry for a period of a few days.

Perhaps the best example of a hair perceived to be difficult to stack is bucktail. Bucktail is really quite easy to stack when properly prepared. More on the actual process of stacking later, but in regard to cleaning, there are few materials that are more oily and thus dirty than bucktails, or perhaps more difficult to clean. It has been suggested that the ultimate degreaser is Ammonia. Stir approximately one cup of ammonia into a gallon of water. Soak the material in this solution outside for a few hours. Rinse thoroughly, wash in dish washing liquid, and rinse thoroughly again. To make the tail more useable at the tying bench, now is the time to do some trimming while the skin is still wet and pliable. First turn the tail skin side up. Using a scalpel or single edge razor blade, remove any residual fat at the tail's base. Next cut carefully through just the skin (avoid cutting the hair) along the light/dark line of skin on either side of the tail. The light skin holds the white hair and the dark skin holds the brown hair. On dyed tails the same light/dark applies, but may be less visible with darker colors such as purple and of course black.
The three pieces you end up with will increase the usefulness of the tail since there is no longer a concern of mixing brown with white hair. This also expedites the drying process. If curling is a concern, use drying racks.
Note: Even with the most careful cutting, some of the brown hair will cross over into the white and vise versa. A few moments with a pair of scissors now or after it has dried will save a great deal of effort later.

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