Published Dec 13. 2016 - 5 years ago
Updated or edited May 17. 2017

DIY bodkin cleaner

This is the greatest little tool you can imagine for cleaning varnish off your bodkin or dubbing needle, and you can make one almost for free.

My 20 year old tools
Old and new
Old and new
Martin Joergensen

I have a few tools, which have been with me all through my "fly tying career". One is a bodkin or dubbing needle, which I bought together with my first ever vise. It was the cheapest of cheap tools, but it has served me well, and does exactly what such a tool should do. I use it for teasing out dubbing, basic cleaning of deer hair, poking holes in skin, tying half hitches and whip finishes on flies where the eye is crowded with material – and for varnishing.
This multipurpose tool is about the best thing you can have on your tying table after the vise and a pair of good scissors...

The gob remover

But whenever I have varnished a fly, it's left with a gob of half dry and sticky varnish, which would be an ever growing layer if it wasn't for a tool that was given to me by GFF partner Steve Schweitzer probably 20 years ago. It's a very plain tool, nothing fancy at all, but still I cherish it as much as the bodkin itself. It's simply an old plastic film canister with steel wool inside. There's a hole in the lid, and by sticking the dubbing needle into the steel wool though this hole and poking it around inside for a few seconds, the needle comes out clean and pristine, ready for the next task.
I have used to tool extensively for two decades, and even though the steel wool must be in bits and the canister itself is definitely well worn – and it must be loaded with old varnish – it still works as well as the day Steve gave it to me.
It's simple and it's brilliant!

Bill of materials
Bill of materials
Martin Joergensen


Making one yourself is so simple that it's almost an insult to tell you how, but anyways... Here's the recipe for a tool you will most likely love, and which will save your scissors and fingers from varnish, wear and bleeding holes.
You need:

  • Steel wool
  • A 35mm film canister
  • A drill, 3mm or about 1/10"

A film canister is perfect, but in these digital times they can be hard to find. A local photo shop may have them laying around in the waste, and then you can usually pick them up for free. As a replacement, you can use a similar small lidded, cylindrical container. A cleaned up pill glass will do.

Drill a hole

Arm a drill with a 3mm or 1/10" drill bit. Take off the lid and drill a hole in the center of it and clean it up a bit.
Stuff the container with steel wool. Not extremely tight, but tight enough to give some resistance when you poke the needle into it.
Once done, put the lid back on, and the tool is ready.

A drill


Steel wool

The finished tool

To clean the needle, simply stick the still wet needle through the hole a few times into the steel wool. Do this repeatably until the needle is clean.
It's won't clean off dry varnish as effectively. Use a knife or a pair of scissors (not your best fly tying ones!) for the rough cleaning and the canister for the rest.
The tool will last forever. As I said: I have used mine for 20 years, and never changed the steel wool or cleaned it out, and it still works as it should.

Make a handful
Make a handful
Martin Joergensen

As usual when doing these small and cheap DIY projects, make more than one, and generously give to your tying friends.


Bodkin Cleaner...

I was given one of these back in the early 80's by a great fly tyer named Edie Mashiko. The only difference between the one today and the original one is the insert. Back then Edie used a chore girl. Some of you younger people might not know what that is. it's a copper scrubbing pad made for cleaning pots and pans. I would have to think that it's much coarser and durable than steel wool. My cleaner is still going strong after 30+ years of use.

Bodkin cleaner...

One can get the 35mm film canisters on Amazon. I just purchased 25 for $10.00 U.S.


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