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All about fly tying thread - Thread control


Thread control is one more tool to use in the process of tying nice flies. Learn it here.


By Martin Joergensen

Spinning the thread
If you ever saw skilled tyers tie, you'll probably have noticed that many of them keep spinning the bobinholder more or less vividly every time the let go of it. If you didn't notice, try looking the next time you see a 'pro' tie. What the tier is actually doing is taking the twist out of the thread and flattening it. Flattening the thread and removing the twist are just two aspects of thread control, but probably the two most important ones. Let's take a closer look at them:

Flat thread
Why do we want a flat thread? This might seem obviuos, but let me explain anyway. Flat thread can be good in several ways:


The way to decide clockwise and counterclockwise when spinning the bobinholder.
  • It's flat (sic!) in other words: it's less bulk, which we often want desperately - not only on small flies
  • It's wider, which can be an advantage when tying in soft or brittle material. Flat thread won't cut as easily
  • It's stronger - or maybe weaker. That depends on the thread and how much it's twisted
Most thread can become flat when treated properly - some kinds more than others. The first thing to do is to get the twist out of the thead. This is what is accomplished by spinning the bobinholder. Let's look at a strand of thread. For ease of understanding we'll look at all thread when it is coming out of the tube of the bobinholder. We'll also assume that you are a right hand tyer winding the thread clockwise on the hook when it's seen from the hook eye end.

Thread has an inherent twist
From the factory most thread has an inherent twist, so that when it comes off the bobin it will be a bit clockwise spun. When you start winding it on the hook shank you will add even more twist to the thread. Every turn you take will add one revolution of twist.


A piece of electrical cord can clearly demonstrate one problem of twisted thread.
The easiest way to understand this is to take a flat electrical cord and hold it in your left hand. Flatten the cord so it has no twists on a length of approx. 30 centimeters (12 inches). Now let the left index finger act the hook shank by pointing it to the right, and hold the cord firmly in your right hand while winding it round the outstretched finger as you would wind a tying thread round a hook shank. See...?

What happens is that the thread starts twisiting when you start winding. And as you can see, it gets more and more twisted the more you wind. The twisting has two obvious effects; the thread adds a still thicker layer on the hook shank and it becomes and increasing problem to keep the turns close and tight.

So, let's learn to remove the twist and flatten the thread.



Spin the bobinholder


Flatten the thread between two fingers.
Now in order to flatten the thread you need to remove the twist. You do that by spinning the bobin the opposite way of the spin, which in this case means spinning it counterclockwise. Grab the tube of the bobinholder, and set it off spinning with the index finger and thumb. Let it spin for a few seconds and stop it. Remember we just want to remove whatever revolutions we put in there plus a few more that came off the bobin.

Squeeze the thread
Now we need to check the flatness. Grab the thread lightly between thumb and index finger and squeeze fairly hard while running the fingers up and down the thread a couple of times. You want to press the thread flat. Now look at the thread from above. You should be able to see if it is twisted, because twists will make small spiraling waves on the thread. If you see waves, spin a few more rounds, squeeze and check again. If it is worse you are overspinning, if it is better you are almost there. When the thread is absolutely straight and smooth you are home.

You will want to repeat this maneouvre once in a while when you are tying. it is natural to do so before preparing material or a couple of times when you are winding thread over the shank.



Twisted thread

Twisted thread or untwisted - both can have their advatages. As mentioned in the previous explanation, untwisted thread is the basis for a flat thread. But untwisted thread has several other advatages:
  • It will not kink - meaning the the thread will remain straight when it's limp
  • It will be flat and wide and not cut into the material
  • It will not add bulk to the fly
From this you might gather that twisted thread is the work of the devil. Not so! Twisted thread has advantages too:
  • It will kink when it's limp
  • It will be narrower and cut deeper.
  • It will add more bulk to the fly

There's no one way
Now I can imagine your confusion: "Didn't the guy just say that untwisted, flat thread was good, and now he's saying that the opposite is good too... for exactly the opposite reasons! Does this fella know what he's talking about...?"

Yes, I think I do. What I'm trying to tell you is that there's no one way of handling a thread.

Knowing the way the thread works under any condition
is the key to using the thread.
In other words: thread control.
Let's have an example


Reverse twist


The thread curls up and falls away from your fingers and the material here examplified by a yellow feather wing.



With the counterclockwise twist the thread will seek towards the fingers (blue arrow) and help the thread down on the material close to the fingers.

 First example
Let's see a couple of examples of using the twisted or untwisted thread properly.
Your have finished a nice fly except for one thing: a delicate, classic feather wing. You have prepared two strips of feather and are ready to tie them in on top of the body. You gather the wing strips, trim the butts and place them on top of the shank placing your fingers precisely in order to use them as a guide for the thread.
You wind the thread over the hook and wing, and with the bobinholder on the opposite side of the hook in one continous motion, you loosen tension on the thread to position it against your fingers. As soon as the the thread slacks, it curls up a bit and the small arc formed tilts to your right and falls away from your fingers and maybe even over and away from the the butts. Not matter what you do, this happens. The only way to get the thread tightly against your fingers where you want it, is to keep it tight at all times.

What happened in the example above was the following:

  • While tying you put a lot of clockwise twist into the thread
  • As long as you kept the thread tight it didn't pose a problem
  • As soon as the thread went slack, it curled
  • As the twist was clockwise, the thread worked it's way to the right&emdash;away from where you wanted it

Reverse the problem
The problem you have in the above example is that the thread is twisted. The twist will make it spin and form loops when it's slack. But the direction of the spin will decide the behaviour of the thread. By knowing and controlling the direction of the twist you can actually use it to your advantage.

While you tie you put in many revolutions of clockwise twist. These will make the thread curl towards the eye of the hook when the thread is slack.
In the same manner the thread will curl towards your fingers when the twist is counterclockwise. Hence the solution to the problem is not only to remove the twist by spinning the thread straight. When clockwise twist has been removed, you spin on and twist it a bit counter clockwise. When you now lift the bobinholder the arc formed in the slack thread will tip backwards&emdash;towards your fingers&emdash;and actually help you get the material tied in exactly in front of them.



Thread control, example 2

2Problem: ugly tinsel body
Let's imagine that you are tying a fly that has a tinsel covered body. You start the almost at the hook bend, and work the thread down the the point where you want to tie in a tail and some ribbing. You let go of the bobin holder, not noticing that it spins a bit counterclockwise while you're preparing the materials.
Now you tie in tail and ribbing, and wind the thread along the shank to the spot where you want to tie in the flat tinsel. Having done that, you wind the tinsel down the body and back again and tie it off. But... you're not quite satisfied with the result, because the layer of tinsel is not at all smooth and good looking, but uneven in the surface and even bulgy at the back by the hook bend.

Let's analyse what you just did.

What happened in the example above was the following:

  • First the thread was started at an arbitrary place on the shank, and wound backwards. This added a layer of thread on a small piece of the shank
  • The thread was just wound, not flattened, meaning that it would add a lot of bulge under the tinsel
  • Not only that, but winding the thread without counterspinning it, will make the thread become more and more twisted and bulge differently along the shank:
    • First fairly smooth and flat
    • Then twisted and bulgy
    • Finally tightly twisted, thin and hard
  • These three different parts can often be felt with a finger or a nail, and they can surely be seen under a painfully exposing layer of tinsel.

Solution: A smooth foundation
I just recently saw Poul Jorgensen's two excellent videos on Salmon Fly tying, and remember him mentioning the concept of 'a smuut foundation' in his peculiar English several times (he's a Dane, so I know the dialect). A smooth foundation is the basis for a good tinsel body, and a smooth foundation can be accomplished through thread control.

If you want to make a really nice looking tinsel or floss body, it's highly important that the thread underneath is as smooth as possible. This is not very hard to obtain.

The first thing is to choose a good thread. Some threads are easier than others when it comes to flattening. The best of all are undoubtly the Bennichi and Dynacord threads which are extremely thin and made from absolutely parallel strands. These can be made to lie in an almost invisible single strand layer. Of the ordonary threads I have tried, the Monocord is the best for counterspinning and flattening. It's fairly thick, but nice to tie with. The Uni Threads are the roundest of the bunch. Still good and fairly strong, but harder to get flat. Using the 8/0 version of this thread will make good results possible as many of the best tyers prove daily.

Cover all the shank
When you make a smooth foundation it's very important that you cover all the shank with an equal amount of thread. This is done by flattening the thread for every ten turns or so and by always laying the turns evenly and close. Start from the front and cover the shank. Tie in ribbing and go all the way to the front again with even, close turns. All materials under the thread must either be very sparse or go all the way under the body.


Types of thread

There are a number of brands and types of threads on the market. Modern threads are almost all versatile threads, that are strong enough to be used for many kinds of tying.
Thread choice is very personal, and rarely two tiers have the same preferences for all their tying. Some prefer the classic Gosamer Silk, while others only use thin monofilaments.
My own choices are:
  • Uni-Thread 8/0 for my general tying. A thin thread that's availabe in many colors
  • GSP, preferably Bennichi, for critical tying where thread bulk is critical
  • Gudebrod for spinning deer hair
I have tied with the following threads, and will comment shortly on each of them below. These are my personal opinions. Other tyers might feel otherwise...

My personals pros and cons for these types of tying threads.
Brand Pro Con
Monocord
  • Strong
  • Many colors
  • Flattens well
  • Heavily waxed (a pro for some)
  • Uni-Thread
  • Many colors
  • 3/0, 6/0 and 8/0
  • Lightly waxed (a con for some)
  • Relativily weak
  • Flattens poorly
  • Bennechi
  • Extremely strong
  • Thin
  • Flattens well
  • Only white
  • Very smooth
  • Unwaxed
  • Dynacord
  • Extremely strong
  • Flattens well
  • Only white, black and pinkish.
  • Very smooth
  • Unwaxed
  • Kevlar
  • Extremely strong
  • Very thick
  • Stiff
  • Rough
  • Gudebrod
  • Strong
  • Flattens well
  • Fairly thick
  • Lightly waxed (a pro for some)
  • Veevus
  • Strong
  • Available in many colors and derniers
  • Flattens very well
  • Splits well (a con for some)
  • Unwaxed (a pro for some)
  • Monocord
    Monocord is a 'classic' type of thread. It's fairly thick, waxed and kind of stiff. It's very easy to use and quite strong. It flattens well which is good because it's thick. It comes in a variety of colors amongst others a lot of nice light ones.
    Some people like waxed threads, but personally I prefer to apply wax where needed and have a smooth thread for most of my tying. The wax always seems to end up in the tube of the bobinholder and on the outside of the heads of small flies.
    The Monocord is very durable when it comes to flaring. Hit a point or a sharp edge of a bead chain eye... and probably nothing will happen.

  • Uni-Thread
    Uni-Thread is a fairly round and rough thread. It's probably the weakest thread compared to thickness of the ones that I have tried. I still like to use it because it's very pleasant and easy to work with, and not least because it comes in a lot of natural colors: greys, browns, olives etc.
    It also comes in several thicknesses: 3/0 (very thick! - good for ribbing), 6/0 and 8/0. The 6/0 is good for general tying, but as the thread flattens poorly it will add some bulk to most flies. The 8/0 is a great thread to tie with, but it breaks fairly easily. And I don't think I'm particularly tough on it. None of the Uni-Threads seems voulnerable to hook points and other sharp edges.

  • Bennechi
    This thread comes from Italy and is nominally a 12/0 thread. But even thought it is thin, it's probably more like 10/0 or so. In spite of this, the Bennechi thread is an extremely strong thread made from GSP (Gel Spun Polypropylene).
    The thread is milky white and made from many very thin and absolutely parallel strands. These can be made to lie in an almost invisible single strand layer. It is unwaxed and extremely smooth. This can be a problem if you are used to waxed or rough threads that bite. A bit of hard wax on small sections of the thread will solve the problem.
    Hit a hook point or anything sharp with the Bennechi thread and it will shed a lot of extremely thin strands. This doesn't seem to weaken the thread, but it's very annoying especially when tyeing small flies.
    The thread only comes in white. It can be colored with markers, but I personally prefer to change to a colored thread where it's needed.

  • Dynacord
    Dynachord is marketed in Europe by German RST. It is a GSP thread of the same type as the Bennechi, but a bit thicker and almost unbreakable. Like the Bennechi thread it can be flattened to be almost invisible.
    Unlike other threads the Dynachord seems to be wound with a counterclocwise spin, which actually means the a right handed tyer winding clockwise will remove the twist while tying.
    The comments on Bennechi regarding smoothness and color applies to Dynachord too even though I have had a pinkish Dynachord thread once.

  • Kevlar
    Kevlar is strong, but that's almost the only good thing there is to say about it. Some tyers prefer to use it for lots of flies mostly muddlers, salt water flies and bass bugs, but I find the very stiff, thick and rough thread annoying to use. It's also rough on fingers, materials and tools - namely bobinholders and scissors.

  • Gudebrod
    This is a thread I have only seen in one place, when I got a few spools from Gudebrod to try while tying at a show. I was immediately pleased with the thread which is fairly thick, but very strong and easy to flatten. The spools I have contain 200 yards which means that they last a long time. I like to use this thread for deer hair flies as it flattens well, is strong enonugh but doesn't have the drawbacks of Kevlar or the GSP threads.

  • Veevus
    The Veevus thread is a fairly new thread introduced in 2012/2013 by a Danish manufacturer. It's a very strong and thin thread available in many colors and thicknesses from 6/0 to the very thin 14/0. This is my personal new favorite thread, and I love using it for almost any type of fly. It's strong, smooth and flattens well without fraying, but can still be split for split thread tying. Read our interview with Veevus owner Emir Ceric.


    User comments
    From: Bob Kren · rmkren·at·umflint.edu  Link
    Submitted September 5th 2008

    Chris Helm, Toledo OH, may still have Gudebrod thread in his extensive stock of tying materials.


    From: Joakim Henriksson · jockehenri·at·hotmail.com  Link
    Submitted September 16th 2006

    Bennechi 12/0 comes in many diffrent colors. I would never use a waxed thread or wax in my flytying. Wax will melt if it's a hot day and then could the dubbing fal of the fly and even worse the colors could blend into each other.
    There is also another thread i like, gordon griffiths 14/0, only one thing bad with that thread, it's sometimes badly wounded on to the spol.


    From: John M. Lewis · johnml·at·centurytel.net  Link
    Submitted March 28th 2006

    When I was shopping for thread a seamstress told me the names for the clockwise twist and the counter clockwise twist. However, I failed to write them down and have forgotten the names. Do you know them?
    When Herter's marketed silk tying thread their spool said "madex (or maydex) twist, thightens when wet". What was that all about???



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