The principal purpose of a fly-tying vise is to hold a hook securely. In this article we will examine what makes a “good” vise. We will provide a run-down of what to expect of a number of popular vises, covering the range from low to high cost, and we will suggest what to look for when you plan to purchase a vise, whether it’s your first one or an upgrade.
How to Select a Vise
Many of our fly-tying tools are personal choices, and none more so than a vise. Before making a purchase, you should test as many as you can.
The first consideration in selecting a tying vise is likely to be budget. Vises range in price from under $50 to a whopping $600! Fortunately, good tools are available within each price range. A $30 vise may hold most hooks well enough to tie a beautiful fly, so why should anyone consider spending more than ten times that amount for a tying vise?
The purpose of any tool is to facilitate some task. Some tools ease the task better than others, whether because of superior design, better components, or better finish. Thoughtful design, high quality machining, and the use of durable materials offer consumers real-world benefits, but these benefits come with a higher price tag. Whether the higher price of a fine tool is worth the money is a question only you can answer.
You should also consider the kind of flies you will be tying. If you tie flies on small hooks, working access to the hook is important. If you tie for the salt, or warmwater species, access becomes less important than the vise’s ability to hold large hooks securely.
To help narrow the field, decide if you want a C-clamp or pedestal base, or if you expect specific accessories.
A primary difference between the many vises on the market today is rotation. Some vises have a fixed head, while others can be rotated to give better access to the sides or bottom of the fly, or to inspect the back side of the fly prior to finishing. The latter are generally referred to as rotary or 360-degree vises, but turning the head of the vise will take the hook shank out of the horizontal position, and adjusting the hook may be necessary to complete the task. A “true rotary” (sometimes referred to as “on-axis rotary” or “in-line rotary”) positions the hook shank horizontally and on the axis of rotation of the vise. Therefore, the hook shank remains horizontal throughout rotation of the vise.
Thousands of skilled tiers use nothing other than a traditional vise, which leads to the most important consideration in vise selection: purchase a vise because it suits you, not because it suits anyone else!
There are essentially two types of jaws used in vises today: collet and lever-type (also called parallel clamp).
Collet vises employ one-piece jaws, which are in the open position, like a pair of tweezers. The jaws are closed by either pulling or pushing them into a ring, called a collet. This is generally accomplished by a lever and cam located at the rear of the vise barrel.
Most collet vises are “draw collet,” meaning that the jaws are pulled into the collet. Examples include the venerable Thompsons to the more sophisticated HMH entries. DynaKing’s line uses a forcing cone-collet design–or “push collet.” The Renzetti Presentation 3000 and the Tiemco vises also use a push-collet design, but with these vises the jaws are closed and opened by turning a large knob located at the back of the jaws. Because of the great force exerted onto the collet, push-collet vises tend to have a substantial metal collar behind the jaws some tiers may find reduces access to small hooks. Draw-collet designs generally have a sleeker profile.
Lever-type jaws such as those found on Regal vises operate like a wooden clothespin, requiring two-piece jaws, a fulcrum, and a mechanism to close the jaws. On some designs, a small screw near the tip of the jaws provides adjustment between hook-wire diameters. Some tiers find that this screw interferes, especially when tying on very small hooks. Either a thumbscrew or a cam lever is used to close the jaws by separating the “tails” of the jaws.
There is no single best design, but there certainly are differences in how well the designs are executed.
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