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How to build your own fly tying bench, which can easily be moved when the dinner table is needed for other purposes
Usually I tie flies in our living room, occupying the dinner table for days on end. To be honest I do not tie continuously in the most cases. Sometimes I tie some flies in one shot because they are missing in my fly box, sometimes I just try some things out or sit down and tie something after I had a certain idea. So the area is just blocked a lot of times with my material, which some people in our household do not like too much... This is the reason that the idea was born to have something that will enable me to tie a fly without endless preparations, but also to stow it away quickly if the area is to be used for something of less importance, like lunch or dinner.
So I decided to build my own tying bench.
I started to think what "my" bench should look like. I had seen just a few in real life, so I tried to complete my knowledge in this regard on the Internet. With the right keywords put into one of the search engines available out there I found quite a few from very small stations for a few bucks up to complete tying furniture in size of a serious office desk for the price of a pre-owned car.
Having all this in mind I determined what should find its place on my bench, following these points, which my bench should fulfill:
- Holding the most commonly used tools, different kinds of spools of threads, tinsels and wires, head cements as well as some hooks.
- Giving some space to hold the currently used tying materials. All things not in use are located next to me in a steadily growing material bag.
- Having enough space to place my tying lamp on it (I'm thinking already about a fixed giraffe type lamp to enlarge the usable area).
- Having enough space to rotate the bobbin cradle 360° while the vise is located in its regular tying position (If not possible I would go crazy within short, I guess).
- Also we need a size, which allows us to store the equipped bench somewhere while not in use without any problem.
Download drawings for the tying bench shown in the photos. Use them as inspiration or as precise guides.
The drawings are in PDF-format and require Adobe Acrobat Reader to be viewed.
A second suggestion for a tying station can be found in the article A TV-tying station, which is a more compact bench.
If you build a bench, please send an image to firstname.lastname@example.org to post as an inspiration to others.
A test setup
With a test setup we can check what size will be okay for our custom-made bench. This is something that I can truly recommend. It helped me a lot in judging the basic size.
Now is the right time to make some drawings and to think about single features you might consider. To decide where to place the tools, considering if you are right- or left handed, where to place the spools and maybe where could be a good place for your hook box...
To get space for some small boxes, I decided to install the tool profiles of the rear area on top of the profiles, which are located on the right and left side.
In the gap, which we are creating this way, we can partially push in small boxes or other parts you can fetch out again easily.
The holes drilled in the first rear profile are wide enough to accept empty SLR film boxes, which are used for beads, eyes and other very small stuff.
By using the area above the gap, we are using the area twice, avoiding it becoming too big. To avoid that something slides out to the rear, we need to close the gap with a small piece of wood-not forgetting a small cutout for the cable to the tying lamp through. Remember to check the size of the plug.
As you can see I tried to keep it technically on a simple level. So I avoided things which might look bad if not finished perfectly, like diagonal cuttings or small drawers, which would have been possible below the material stands on the rear profiles. Not using drawers also makes the area more versatile from my point of view.
I ended up with the following material list:
- Plywood to be used as a stable foundation. As always with wood you will have a large selection and you can decide to go with something cheap and practical or with something really nice and expensive. You can laminate some exotic woods on the surface of the foundation.
- Different pieces of wood for the side and rear walls. These pieces will give you the space to keep most of the things in their place, mainly with the help of holes or metal pins. To determine the right width of each profile consider what each area has to carry. Looking at the number of rows and holes for the tools on the side arms, I may have chosen the wood a little too wide.
- Thin metal (aluminum) rod for the spool pins. Check the inner diameters of your spools to be placed permanently on the bench. In this way I decided to go with a round aluminum rod (diameter 4mm/0.16 inch), which is thin enough and cannot break as easily as wooden ones.
- Magnetic plastic foil. To hold a few hooks and beads or some ready made flies for drying, placed in convenient locations depending on the intended application. Not as strong as regular magnets, but which also in some cases it will make it difficult to remove small things like eyes.
- Cork-shims or substitute. To be used as feet under the plywood to ensure a stable position on the table where you place it while tying. I used four thin cork dishes. They can be bought where you buy rod-building supplies. Small pieces of self-adhesive cork would also do the job.
- White glue. To glue the wooden parts together.
- Epoxy. To glue the magnetic foil onto the wood.
- Coating or varnish. To give the wooden surfaces a certain protection against environmental influences through the daily life, like coffee, head cement etc...
I bought the plywood and the wooden profiles from a local carpenter. The variety of woods he had was by far bigger and nicer what the local DIY markets are offering. The aluminum rod I sourced from a DIY market. The magnetic plastic foil came through the Internet. One of the big online auction houses helped me in this regard, but also shops with office supplies should have something like this (except in Hamburg!). Everything else is not difficult to get.
The following tools are required:
- Different saws to bring the raw material to the right shape.
- Sandpaper to fine-tune surfaces and edges.
- Power drill and a variety of wood drills to do the necessary compartments and holes for tools.
- Countersink to widen the top of the small drillings for easier entry of tools.
- Drill rig. I strongly recommend using such a rig. If you do the holes for the spool pins "free style" I think you will end up with a wild row of unparallel pins.
- Clamps and small wood pieces to do the clamping after the gluing has been done. Place the small wood pieces between the clamps and the bench to avoid ugly marks in the surface.
- Old cloth and a piece of steel wool to rub the oil varnish into the surface of the wood for protection purposes.
- All wooden parts must be cut with a saw to the right size, followed by sanding.
- Carefully mark all positions for the holes and drill them on a DRILL RIG as deep as required.
- Countersink the small holes.
- Glue the cork shims on the least pretty side of the plywood and install all wooden parts with glue and fix them over night-clamped carefully with wooden protectors.
- Varnish all areas except the areas where the magnetic foil is to be installed. Temporarily cover these with masking tape.
- Attach the magnetic foil with epoxy glue. This is a little tricky due to its curled shape. I assume it's stored on very big spools. Use epoxy sparingly and press carefully to avoid the edges of the foil rolling up at the same time removing excessive glue.
- Install the pins carefully with some epoxy after they have been cut to the right length. If pins do not slide in easily, I recommend using a rubber mallet.
Maybe not perfect
I do not know if the result will be perfect. Time will tell. At least the bench will help me to keep my fly tying belongings in one place.
I am quite confident that based on the points mentioned, almost everybody can design his own tying bench which will improve his tying area.
If you would like to know exactly what I have done you can have a look at the drawings of my table, which are equipped with a metric scale to show you the exact dimensions.
Time will tell
After a certain time I thought about the surface of the working area again and again. Because I was not able to give the surface a finish I liked, because the area was not so easy to clean as assumed formerly and last but not least because I did not like the surface feel.
I was already thinking about different materials when I found what I was looking for: Linoleum. This old fashioned material is about to have his comeback as a material in the furniture industry. You can buy it for example from your local carpenter or at least ask him to order a piece for you. It comes in different nice uniform colors to suit the wood you are using. Typical material thickness is approximately 2 millimetres or 1/10 of an inch.
This type of Linoleum comes "ready to glue" on a thin paper cardboard surface which makes it easy to attach it to the surface of your plywood. If you have to cut the material into the right size use a very sharp knife as it is used for carpets or ask the carpenter to do this for you. To make it convenient to work on the desk later on, hone down the front edge of the linoleum with a very fine file at a 45° angle after having attached it and letting the glue cure. No hurry and constant filing works out best for a nice and even result.
The only negative point I found I do not want to hide: Linoleum will react with solvents due to its composition (mainly linseed oil, pine resin, wood- and cork powder). You will find such solvents in several glues as well as in most head cements I know, and drippings can end up as a dull spot on the surface.
Below you see some examples of some of GFF's visitor's tying stations. If you have built your own station and want to share, send a description and image to Martin.
Brenton Cumberpatch's bench
GFF visitor Brenton Cumberpatch sent a couple of images and even a PDF-plan of his bench.
Just thought I'd share the bench I made after looking at your articles on your site for inspiration.
I had a piece of laminated bench left over after a kitchen sink upgrade and it happily provided the majority of the material for this tying bench.
It easily fits on my lap as a TV station, as well as being able to be used on a table.
I have recycled a 7day pill container and incorporated it into the holder. It's perfect for holding beads, eyes, hooks etc as the front edge is curved making it easy to remove the contents.
I have also added a strip of foam along the top of the back board and inside the right hand arm, so I can mount flies and prepped hook/beads combos.
The holders also happily hold a shot of my favourite whisky while tying ;)
Tom O'Neill's bench
GFF visitor Tom O'Niell sent an image of his bench.
Thanks for showing the benches and your time with the site. Thanks again!
GFF visitor Bdonais built this simple station.
Frank Duwel's box
GFF visitor Frank Duwel built this portable tying station in a wooden box.
I made this little bench on the go from an old wooden box.
Some simple adaptions where made and here is my flytying box for taking outdoors and tie flies on the spot.
Rich Gerbin's station
GFF visitor Rich Gerbin built this tying station.
Ian Wilson's station
GFF user Ian Wilson took inspiration from this article and built his own station.
I'm not sure if mine is 100% finished yet and it sure isn't perfect, but functional it definitely is! I did not have access to a drill rig so had to drill all the holes by measuring them out and keeping a steady hand but overall I am quite pleased with the result. I think I will leave the back open as I will use it on a dinner table so things can not really fall anywhere and I need to fit english plugs through the back which are quite large.
The wood I used was ony 6€ for 2 metres of 45x45mm sustainable pine. The spindles are just 5mm dowel that cost 1,50€ for one metre, so all together with the varnish & magnetic strip it only cost about 20€.
The best thing is, like you said, it enables one to keep all our fly tying belongings in one place instead of constantly unpacking then packing everything away. Genius.
Mitch Linne's station
GFF user Mitch Linne also built his own station. Different style, but same basic concept - and a neat vice base.
Most of the wood is walnut scrap from a cabinet maker. The sides are cherry from another one. The base is a piece of coated particle board used for making white cabinets. The pins are brass rod. I left the left side with only a couple of holes for later customization. Already I need to create a place for the hair stacker.
Note the beautiful piece of figured walnut they sold me for the pedestal.
Martin Slack's station
Martin Slack' from Melbourne, Australia made his version of the bench.
I made two very small modifications - I added rubber non-slip feet so that I can use it on a table. Also, I added a right-angled piece as a grip point for a clip-on light. I need a raised piece (rather than just using the board itself) so that I can use it on a table too.