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The LAW of attraction
I was among the lucky fly-tyers who managed to lay my hand on one of Lawrence Waldron's LAW fly-tying vises while he made them - and they could be bought at reasonable prices.
The fly-tying vises made by British Lawrence Waldron are often admired and almost as often discussed in online forums and at tying events, not least during the last few years where prices for these vises have soared.
I happen to own and use one for my tying, and here's the story about my vise and my experiences and thoughts about it.
Back when I
had been fly-fishing and fly-tying for maybe a decade or so I met Dutch fly-tyer Hans Weilenmann.
This was back in the early 90's, and we met up at a fish- and tie-in in Ulm in Germany, and I had brought my humble Danish made Fly-Mate vise, a few materials - and a rod and reel totally unsuitable for the location and the fishing, but that's another story. Hans on the other hand was perfectly equipped, and had a couple of Lawrence Waldron's vises - a bench vise and a travel vise - as well as a couple of Lawrence's reels.
I remember sitting around a large table in a local gasthaus after a day's fishing and Hans was unpacking and showing the goodies.
Man, what gear!
As it was passed around and we could handle it, I was hooked to say the least. Those were fantastic gadgets, and they gave me an immediate lust to own them.
For those unfamiliar
with Lawrence A. Waldron and his products, here's a short intro. Lawrence is a British precision machinist who at the time made a limited number of tools for cane rod building and fly-tying and also made fly reels. All products were individually made to order by Lawrence, and were characterized by a very high quality level in construction, design and materials as well as function. Another trait of Lawrence's products was simplicity - in the positive meaning of the word. Simple, to the point, efficient. No frills.
I managed to acquire a reel and a vise. Lawrence's products were made to order and there was a waiting list. When I inquired about a reel, Lawrence asked what size? And I asked what sizes there were, to which he replied that I should just specify a width and a diameter in millimeters, and that would be what I got!
A bespoke reel! Woot!
what I had and decided for 85 millimeters in diameter and 45mm in width. The reel was a gem - and still is. It's basically unchanged today, 20 years after I bought it, and still my absolute favorite reel. It's marked by time, but nowhere near worn. It has needed a couple of smaller services underway, but the basic parts and functions are untarnished.
Soon after my reel acquisition I inquired about a vise. They were in high demand already at that time, but Lawrence had one ready, which was available and even though it wasn't exactly cheap, I jumped at it.
are something special. Super simple, super nice.
A real pleasure to tie on.
A real pleasure to look at.
A real pleasure to tie on.
A real pleasure to look at.
Again the simple construction
is just amazing. When I look at the LAW and compare to other vises, I keep on being astonished how complex some of them are. They consist of dozens of parts, and many mechanical issues are solved by adding screws, levers, springs, gaskets and whatnot, rather than analyzing the basic construction and making it simpler to get fewer problems to solve. The philosophy in Lawrence's products is very much along the lines of Scandinavian design, and since I love Scandinavian design, I have had no problems loving the LAW vise.
The vise is
on the table next to me, and a quick count brings me to about 10 parts, max 15. The vise breaks down to three basic items: base, stem and jaw. The jaw can further be taken apart for cleaning and lubricating, which I have done a couple of times in the many years I have had the vise. It can all be done without tools. Even separating the jaws. The friction hinge will require a hex key, but I don't want to mess with its perfect setting, and have never had any reason to fiddle with it.
My vise is
an early model close to the original 1989-design, and Lawrence made some changes and improvements after I got mine. My vise had two levers - one to rotate the jaws and one to lock them horizontally. The later models were made with a friction hinge rather than one with an adjustable hinge with a lever, and when I met Lawrence at one of the early Danish Fly Festivals, he had brought a new friction screw for the hinge and exchanged it on the spot.
It tells a bit about the construction and Lawrence's handiwork that he adjusted the friction back then, probably close to 20 years ago, and it hasn't been touched since, and still has the exact same tension, which is just perfect. It works extremely well, keeps the vise in place, but I can grab it and tip it without turning any knobs or screws. Today I think it would have been kinda cool to have the original lever, and really something that would set my vise further apart from the other LAW's out there.
Another thing that sets my vise apart is the straight rotation handle. Newer models have an angled one.
My vise also has an older model base. The newer ones have a wider base, many with a magnet or cork insert. In my base there's a large, round depression that can serve as a container for hooks or other small items.
I also acquired a stem extension, a bobbin cradle and a combined background plate and mirror that Lawrence made for the later models. I use the screw-in stem extension when mounting the vise in a C-clamp, use the cradle now and then, but rarely need the background plate.
The function and operation
matches the design: simple. There are two screws: one that tightens the jaws and one that tightens the rotation.
Most hooks sit in a small pocket in the jaws and lock totally in place. Lawrence made pockets "to order" and many vises have a larger pocket or even more than one to accommodate hooks in more sizes. I tie from about 16's and sometimes even 18's up to 5/0 hooks and use the jaws without problems for all these hook sizes. The tightening is done with one five winged screw and the jaw construction ensures a perfect grip without excessive force.
The vise is fully rotating,
unlimited and unobstructed and of course in axis and parallel with the hook shank. For really large and really small hooks, the line isn't 100% perfect, but more than good enough for all tying purposes - both rotating the fly to inspect it and using rotating techniques for adding dubbing, rib, wrapping hackle and more.
There are no bearings or clutches or any other fancy parts in the head of the vise. It's simply a steel cylinder running in a Delrin head, which makes it smooth to turn, basically self lubricating and adjustable from totally locked to completely freely turning to such an extent that it swings down and finds balance when you let go.
The rotation handle on my model used to be straight down, but since I tip the jaws up quite often, I was annoyed by the handle hitting the stem. I solved this by simply turning the handle 90 degrees so that it's horizontal when the jaws are in the normal tying position. Lawrence redesigned the handle on later models and added a bend in it to completely avoid this problem.
The stem is a standard 3/8 of an inch stem, and I have an extension for it so that the vise can be used both in a pedestal and in a clamp and still be high enough. I didn't get a clamp for my vise, but thanks to the standard size stem, I can use the clamp from any other vise with a standard stem diameter.
Lawrence doesn't make
vises or reels anymore, but they are still very popular. When attending fly tying shows and looking around at some of the high profile tyers or looking at images and videos online, you will see quite a few LAW vises. That has made them even more popular, and of course created a market for the used vises.
And what a market that is!
When a LAW vise comes up for sale, it usually gets sold for a totally crazy price. I remember seeing three used LAW vises on eBay during the last few years, and they have been bid up to 1,800 USD (Nov. 2013), 2,800 USD (also Nov 2013) and a stunning 3,750 USD (Sep. 2012).
They were expensive from the start - like 4-500 UK£ or some 600-750 USD, but the current used prices are simply insane. Just recently a UK flyshop put a bunch of new LAW vises up for sale, and the price from new was a whopping 2,000.- UK£ or about 3,000 dollars. A truly insane price for a vise - even a LAW - but actually not a bad deal for a new Waldron vise considering the used prices when they are highest.
And what a market that is!
There is no way
I could justify buying a vise for the prices that LAWs are fetching these days. No matter how cool and nice I think it is, no LAW vise would probably ever find its way to my tying desk today.
But I have mine, and I'm the owner of a vise so valuable that I have to think twice before leaving it on a tying desk at a show to go for lunch or a soda. For people who know the real value, that could be too big a temptation. I'd probably think twice before even bringing it and have seriously considered buying an alternative to use for such events.
I have to say
that I am not a man of many vises, and that the number of vises I have tied on can be counted on one and a half hands or so, but I still feel that I have what I need, and haven't looked any further in the many years that I have tied on the LAW. I know people who have vises in crazy large numbers and would probably be more qualified than me to compare them, but the purpose of this article was not to compare and choose the best, but to tell you about Lawrence Waldron's fantastic tool.
What I like about the LAW
Simple and beautiful construction.
I like things that not only work well, but also look good, and the simple, functional design of the LAW is very pleasing to my eyes. The white color also sets it apart.
Very high level of finish and precision.
The whole construction rests on precision: the small pin that hinges and holds the jaws together, the Delrin/steel "bearing", the stem into the base. Everything is just perfect.
A single adjustment screw for tightening the jaws.
When setting a hook in the jaws there's no basic setting or adjustment needed to suit the hook. You mount the hook, tighten and it sits there. And force isn't needed.
Lots of working space around the fly.
No matter what size fly I tie, I can access the fly both top, bottom and sides. Really small hooks leave only limited work space, but that's not unique for this vise. Smaller hooks are mounted between the jaw tips outside the hook pocket, but still sit securely, leaving as much working space as possible.
Truly rotating 360 degrees, both ways, in-axis with the hook shank.
I see no reason to have a one way bearing or some kind of steps or even limits to the full rotation. I rotate my flies all the time while I'm tying and would have a hard time not being able to do so.
The vise tips upwards with a simple grip.
When I tie flies that require larger amounts of varnish or LCR, I use the possibility to angle the fly and rotate it to apply and distribute the liquid in a much more controlled manner.
The standard stem and extender.
When I travel I leave the very heavy base at home and bring or borrow a standard C-clamp.
If you are in the market
for a vise like this, but not willing to part with 2,000 UK£ or more than 3,000 US dollars to get one, you can look at the Snowbee Waldron vise, which has been made in a cooperation between Lawrence and UK manufacturer Snowbee. It's not the exact same construction even though you can see some common traits. It's not the least expensive vise you can buy, but at 275 UK£or about 450 US$ it's still a lot less than the original LAW is today - used or new.
There is a bunch of other vises on the market and a lot of them have some of the functions of the LAW. Some have the quality. None that I know of has the simple design and construction and there's definitely none that have everything in one package.
If I didn't own a LAW, I'd probably be tying on a slightly more humble Renzetti Traveler, which is a vise I have tried several times and like. There is a new black model called Traveler 2300 Cam Vise, which is priced from 200 USD. It's a great looking vise at a very reasonable price level considering the quality.