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Ed Herbst on the evolution of the modern fly tying vise

Saturday, 09 April 2011 12:25

In search of a virtuous vise – a subjective assessment of the evolution, design and characteristics of the modern fly tying vise

Ed Herbst

I started fly tying in the early eighties with a Sunrise vise. The jaw chipped and this started a search for the ultimate fly tying vise.

Like all tackle junkies I have been attracted to each top-of-the-range vise that appears on the market and, in the ensuing years, I have bought most of them.

The Sunrise was based on the iconic Thompson A http://www.dhthompson.com/history.php, the first collet-and-sleeve vise, but I wanted something better.

In choosing my next vise I was guided by Dave Whitlock. Writing in The Second Fly-Tyer’s Almanac (J B Lippincot, 1975) which he co-authored with Robert Boyle, he said: “To me, Bill Hunter’s new HMH vises are the ultimate today in traditional cam-operated fly tying tools. During the development of the HMH standard and premium models, nothing was spared in time, engineering and field testing to make a product that leaves nothing to be desired. I personally feel they are the finest vises I’ve ever used.”

There was both truth and irony in this passage. Truth because the HMH endures as a superbly engineered example of the traditional cam-operated vises  - http://www.hmhvises.com/ - irony because Dave  like me, now ties on the Renzetti Presentation 3000,  the first true rotary fly tying vise to become available in the early eighties. It was a revelation as far as I was concerned and my quest, since then, has been to find a vise that was superior to the Renzetti – tying relatively small flies - #14 to #20 on light wire hooks with fine threads such as Gudebrod 10/0 and Uni-caenis 20 denier.

I quickly disposed of the HMH and bought not just one Renzetti but two. For some reason I had this idea that it was produced by an elderly genius, working in a garret and that his potential demise might curtail supply. This resulted in me living in some austerity for a while because they were not inexpensive by my standard of income.

In the early eighties in South Africa, there were few  high-end vises available locally and the Spring 1981 catalogue for The Flyfisherman in Pietermaritzburg – the only dedicated fly fishing shop in the country at the time - offered two vises, one an Orvis version of the venerable Thompson A and the other a Regal.

Flyfisherman_Catalogue

The Flyfisherman's 1981 catalogue cover

 

Four years later I wrote a review of some of the top-end vises I had purchased or used for Piscator, journal of the Cape Piscatorial Society (www.piscator.co.za). My comments then retain their relevance now.

Izaak Walton was, I feel, a little unkind when he wrote, "I confess no direction can be given to make a man of dull capacity able to make a fly well", because the best flies are often the roughest and most simple, the Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear being a good example.

Equally though, I feel that to describe a fly, as an American writer did recently, as "a dimensional sculpture accomplished principally by the aggregation of materials along the backbone of a hook" is a little pretentious.

Suffice to say fly-fishing and fly-tying go together like bread and butter. If one were to seek an adequate substitute for those many hours which we cannot spend on-stream, then fly-tying would serve one well and there is something very therapeutic in creating small things with one's hands.

My first fly-tying vise was a Sunrise. Rough and ready, it got me started on a hobby which has given me great pleasure and satisfaction in the past few years, and for that I am grateful. I acquired for it some midge jaws from the British mail-order firm, Sue Burgess. They proved cheap and nasty, soon broke and started me on that expensive odyssey - the search for the best fly-tying vise extant. The following survey is totally subjective, but the purchase of any of these vises will mean the acquisition of a superb tool which will give a life-time of pleasurable service.

HMH:

Fly-tyers owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Hunter, fly-tackle dealer and premier salmon fly-tyer of New Hampshire, USA. He proved in the mid-seventies that the expensive, finely-crafted vise was a viable commodity and his HMH vise opened up a new segment of the fly-tying market. In his book, Mastering the Art of Fly-Tying, Richard Talleur says of the HMH, "What a tool! All components are superbly engineered, and the machine work is of the quality one would expect in a high-grade, side-by-side shotgun." In his book, Salmon Flies, Paul Jorgenson wrote of the HMH, 'The HMH is undoubtedly the finest vise ever designed, a true Stradivarius for the discriminating fly dresser. This tying machine is superbly machined and fitted, and like a fine split-cane salmon rod, it must be tried to be appreciated." After Jorgenson wrote these words other vises appeared on the market which, in my opinion, are improved in design and equal in quality, but these quotes are an impressive testimony nevertheless. The HMH is a traditional design in that depressing a lever draws the jaws into a collet causing them to close. Three sets of jaws are available for tying midge through to salt-water patterns and they are made of cast, chrome-moly tool steel. The head-angle is from horizontal to vertical and the jaws can be rotated.

REGAL:

‘Make a better mouse-trap and the world will beat a path to your door’ according to the old saying - and Jerry Doiron has built a better mouse-trap. His Regal vise is superbly made, unusual, effective, and reflects his thirty years as a tool-and-die maker. Its secret is the reverse-style jaws, operated by squeezing a lever which is located on one side of the vise-head. The jaws, instead of constantly trying to open themselves are forever trying to squeeze themselves shut. They are slightly concave on the inside, self-adjusting and hold a full range of hooks with grim efficiency. In the April, 1982 issue of the authoritative American magazine, Fly Fisherman, the legendary fly tyer, guide and angling writer, Al Troth, writes: "The jaw design is radically different from those with collet-type jaws that I have used in the past. The Regal will hold the 3/0 to 28 hook range that I use as a professional tyer without slipping and without any adjustment - a real time saver. The vise jaws can be adjusted to any angle to suit the tier. After tying over 20 000 flies on the Regal, trouble free, I consider it to be the best vice  available today." That's some testimonial ... The Regal does not have a rotary feature but, as it takes just one squeeze of the lever to remove the hook and replace it upside down, this should not be a problem.

(Since this was written the Regal has been manufactured with a variety of features including a rudimentary form of rotation and midge jaws.

http://www.eflytyer.com/tools/regal.html)

RENZETTI PRESENTATION:

My personal favourite and the only true rotary vise on the market at the moment. The key to successful fly-tying is accurate placement of materials on the hook while keeping the materials under constant tension so that they do not loosen or unravel, but not so much tension that the material snaps. And no vise enables you to do this with as much delicacy and accuracy as the Renzetti. What differentiates the Renzetti from conventional vises is that normally the hook is stationary and you wind the materials round it.

The Renzetti permits you to do the opposite, rotating the hook while feeding the material on to it. The angled head permits insertion of the hook so that the hook shank is on the centre line of the rotary shaft. When the rotary feature of the vise is being used, the hook shank thus turns on its own axis, true and free of wobble or eccentricity. Thread, hackle or any other material can thus be smoothly wound onto the hook.

Rotary action is employed by turning the brass finger lever with your left hand while feeding the material onto the hook with your right hand. This rotary actuator arm works in one direction only. It is free-turning the other way, swinging out of the way without changing the position of the vise head. You can, therefore place the jaw head at whatever stationary angle is best for any particular fly-tying operation.

You will find that there are occasions when some operations are done best with the head stationary while winding on thread from the bobbin. It is for this reason that the rotary action operates in only one direction. When you use your bobbin you wind on in one direction, so the rotary action must be in the opposite direction or you would unwind previously hand-wound thread.

The amount of resistance or tension felt when using the rotary mechanism can be adjusted to suit your preference, or tightened so that the head is locked in one position.

The vise comes with three sets of jaws for different hook sizes and these can be changed in seconds. Simply remove the jaw actuator knob by unscrewing it, remove one jaw, insert another and screw the jaw actuator knob back into place.

The Renzetti is a Woolly Worm and Bi-visible factory and allows the most subtle and precise placement of delicate materials, such as a single strand of herl, on small hooks. It is made entirely of stainless steel, brass and aluminium, and with its polished fittings and superb tooling, is a joy to behold and work with. It comes with a lifetime guarantee.

 Vice_Drawing

 The basic design features of the Renzetti Presentation 3000 have remained virtually unchanged in three decades and they have been widely copied.

In retrospect and looking at that article, I never considered buying a Regal, firstly because my small hands made the hook mounting process difficult and, secondly, the Renzetti 3000 was simply on a different planet.

http://www.washingtonflyfishing.com/board/showthread.php/45937-Older-Renzetti-Presentation-Vise

Comparing it to vises available at the time was like comparing a Porsche to a VW Beetle or a Ferrari to a Fiat.  And, as one of the contributors, above, to the  Washington Fly Fishing post indicates, it sold for Ferrari prices. It was far ahead of its time, though, and as other manufacturers subsequently brought out their own interpretations of the theme, Andy Renzetti, below in the background, belatedly patented his idea.

Andy_Renzetti

 

 Andy Renzetti (background) took out a patent on his innovative vises but several manufacturers have copied his idea.

Photo courtesy of

http://www.rodmakermagazine.com/blog/page/6/

Renzetti does not seem to have sued anyone for patent infringements and an increasing number of vises using his basic, bent-arm principle have appeared on the market.

http://www.flytyingforum.com/lofiversion/index.php/t19340.html

A useful backgrounder on rotary vises can be found on the Global Fly Fisher site: http://globalflyfisher.com/tiebetter/rotate/index.php

and on vises generally at

http://www.flyfisherman.com/content/best-vises/1.

I don’t use my Renzetti in rotary mode but its great virtues are the room around the jaw, the design of the easily accessible material spring, the precision with which one can apply just sufficient pressure to the jaw when using light wire hooks and the ease with which one can move the jaw slightly out of the vertical plane to gain more access to the hook when applying materials.

In the April/May 2004 issue of the South African magazine, FLYFISHING, I wrote an analysis of what features the ultimate midge vise would include. Below is an edited version of that article.

FLYFISHING Vol. 17 No. 82 #

WANTED: A VISE FOR MIDGE MANIACS

AS is the case with many other midge-tying maniacs, I’m constantly on the prowl for equipment that will make this task easier.  In this line, the one piece of equipment that has, as yet, eluded me is the ideal midge vise.

The ultimate midge vise has to provide the maximum possible access to the hook, and this requires a rotary function and, I would say, a means of pivoting the vice jaws into an almost vertical position.

In the late ’70s in the USA, Bill Hunter produced what was then the ultimate in traditional cam-operated vises.  His HMH had midge jaws and the ability to move the vice head to the vertical to create more room around the hook.  It also had the ability to rotate the vice head within its locating collar to give easy access to the far side or bottom of the hook shank.

Andy Renzetti, also in the USA, produced the in-line, rotary Renzetti 3000 that allowed the hook shank to be turned on its own axis.  It has slender jaws set at an angle to allow maximum finger clearance and a rotary knob to close the vise jaws.

The great benefit of the Renzetti 3000 for midge tyers is that it’s one way rotary actuator and the low mass of the jaws and its locating arm, allow you to nudge the jaws with the back of your hand so that the hook is inclined slightly away from you.  This provides access to the hook shank without the hook point getting in the way.

http://www.renzetti.com/home.php?cat=264

TMC_Vice_2

 A cutaway drawing of the Renzetti Presentation components.

Others have subsequently sought to emulate Renzetti’s very effective design, an example being the DynaKing Barracuda.  However, although it is available with midge jaws, this vice uses a lever cam to lock the hook, as do most of the Renzetti models, and this does not allow you to finely adjust the pressure on the extremely thin wire of midge hooks which the original Renzett Presentation does.

With the rotary knob of the Renzetti 3000 and, subsequently, the Tiemco, slight pressure locates the hook in the jaws and slightly more locks them just sufficiently so that the hook does not move when thread pressure is applied.  The Law, with its star wheel closing mechanism, also allows one to very finely judge the pressure being brought to bear on a midge hook.

A possible starting point for the ultimate midge vice could be the Law vice, designed as a joint project by famous Dutch fly-tyer, Hans Weilenmann, and master British machinist Lawrence A. Waldron.  (See <www.flyfield.com/law/

law_bv.htm> and <www.flyfisherman.com.ftb/hwvice>.)

The Law vice is the choice of leading fly-tyers worldwide, including Briton, Oliver Edwards, author of the superb, Flytyers Masterclass (Merlin Unwin Books, 1994), and it has many devoted users.

http://www.flyforums.co.uk/fly-tying-forum/51220-law-vice-3.html

To get inherent smoothness of rotation, the Law vice idea of using Delrin as the housing for the rotary mechanism would seem the best practical solution at the moment.

I feel that the thumb operated “star wheel” mechanism on the Law intrudes into the vital area around the jaws and this could be obviated by using a little T-bar which, under force of gravity, would slide downwards and out of the way.

The owner of the vise I tried, Gerard Barnhardt, says, however, that the star wheel is not intrusive and that the Law jaw design is more comfortable to use than the Renzetti Master and DynaKing Professional which he previously owned.

Law_Vice

 The author feels that the star-shaped thumb wheel  that controls jaw closure on the Law vise (above) protrudes into the working area behind the fly and that it should be replaced by a dumbbell shaped, sliding T-Bar which would slide out of the way once the jaws were tightened, leaving the area behind the fly uncluttered.

“One thing that bothered me with both my DynaKing and Renzetti Master is that my left hand (I'm a right-handed tyer) always felt uncomfortable when resting behind the fly.  There was never enough room to fit my hand behind the jaws.  This is just a personal observation.

“Where the Law vice has the advantage, in my experience, is the positioning of the free hand.  It allows for a very comfortable fit behind the fly,” said Gerard.

Lawrence Waldron now apparently makes a model with a midge jaw.  Judging by the #32 quill-body dun which Gerard tied for this article on the standard Law jaws, this must be considered the optimal midge vice, albeit expensive, at the moment.

 Jaw_Design

The Law's jaw design

JAW DESIGN

I believe that to get the ultimate space around the midge hook, a “horse-collar” locking mechanism for the hook is the best design.  This involves a U-shaped piece of fine steel that pulls the hook into the vice head, thus allowing the maximum space to work.  This principle is used in the little spring-loaded plastic tools used by electricians as well as in Gripper hackle pliers used by fly-tyers.  (This principle has already been used on the jaw of the prize- winning German Vosseler vise)

http://www.pro-flyfishing.com/en/fly-tying-vice.html

http://www.pro-flyfishing.com/bindestock/bindestock-koepfe.html

On a conventional vice, the jaw should be bevelled back from the point where the hook is held — a feature of the Mckenzie vice designed by AK Best and now no longer on the market — as this creates more space around the hook.

VERTICAL ROTATION

Rotating the vice head to the vertical provides a little more room round a small fly.  There are two ways of achieving this — either a pivot on the vice stem (like that on the Law) or the mechanism used by Tiemco which allows you to rotate the vice head 360 degrees in two planes.

The Tiemco is the best solution because it retains the ability of the hook to rotate on its own axis, allowing true rotary tying even with the vice head vertical which the Law — when in the vertical position — would seem not to do.

MATERIAL SPRING

A material spring is also essential because, provided it lies on the same axis as the hook shank, by keeping the bobbin holder out of the way it frees the left hand to hold hackle away from the hook eye etc. while you’re doing the whip finish.  To my mind, the best solution in this regard is found on the Renzetti 3000 followed closely by the JVice.

Renzetti_material_spring

 

Renzetti_Presentation_3000

  The material spring on the Renzetti Presentation 3000 is ideally placed to facilitate a whip finish.

VICE STEM

In a pedestal model vise the ability to raise or lower the height of the vice head by adjusting the stem length can be important

The most elegant solution to extending the stem to raise the height of the vice head is found in the Tiemco which places the vice stem within a tube of greater diameter.

THE PROBLEMS OF WEIGHT

One of the great benefits of the first Renzetti to come on the market, the 3000 series, is that its one-way clutch mechanism, allows you to park the vice head at any angle you like with just a nudge from the back of your hand.  This is vital in tying small flies because, by tilting the hook point away from you, you can get your thumb and forefinger closer to the hook shank when applying dubbing.

In the subsequent Renzetti Supreme model, however, the weight of the much bigger connecting arm and the vice head   necessary to accommodate saltwater hooks and a parachute gallows tool, while still enabling the vice head to rotate on the hook axis, causes the vice head to slump to the bottom of its rotary plane unless it is almost fully locked in position.

The Tiemco, also a complex design, suffers from the same problem, but provides a locking screw which fixes the vice head at the angle you choose.  This is time-consuming to use.  The answer would be to use magnesium in this section of the vice because it is quite a bit lighter than aluminium alloys.

VICE OFFSET

Griffin and Renzetti provide tools that extend the vice away from the table or bench and closer to the tyer.  The Law Vice comes with this as an option.    (See <www.mwfltying.com/tools/offset. htm>.)

With the possible exception of the vise Lawrence Waldron has produced for midge tyers, most manufacturers are trying to compromise by covering all bases from big saltwater irons to hooks in the size 20 to 30 range.  But who could produce the ultimate midge vise?

Before I seek to answer that question and go on to describe the next vise I bought – the TMC in 2004 - I would like to reproduce an article which I copied at the time when it first appeared, but which seems to be no longer available on the internet. This article might well have influenced some of the design features on the Tiemco vise in its first iteration a few years ago. It was written by Alex Kaplun and Vladimir Rachenko, two Russian engineers, previously employed in that country’s aerospace programme prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, who subsequently went on to engineer the superb titanium Megoff reels. Here is what they say:

The Description of "MEGOFF" vise.

The "Megoff" vice is basically a set of different appliances, which will allow the vice to 

be assembled in the necessary configuration for specific techniques.
In this picture you will see the standard configuration of the "Megoff " vice:

1. Black Iron Base;
2. Telescopic bar unit;
4. Profile plate unit;
5. Bobbin Cradle unit;
6. "Parachute" flies unit;
7,8,9,10,11,12. Rotation units
14,15,16. JAW units

 

Megoff
 
Additionally, the vice may be supplied with a C-Clamp unit and also a component for tying tube flies. The Telescopic bar unit is supplied with a screw which will enable fixing the vice to either the Pedestal (1) or to the surface of the table through a previously drilled hole. The length of Telescopic bar unit may vary from 250 to 350mm.
All the additional components: (4, 5, & 6) are supplied with clamps, which allow them to be fixed to the Telescopic bar unit (2) and to change their angle and position around the fixed fly. The Rotation unit is supplied with a screw (7) that allows it to be fixed onto the Telescopic bar unit (2) in many different angles.

The Rotation unit is supplied with a bush with a counterweight (8). This has allowed us to improve somewhat the axial balancing of the vice. The bush (8) is assembled in such a manner that its center of gravity is on the axle and from pins (9) side. In case of assembling or disassembling of the vice, it is necessary to pay attention to the pin (9) and the Jaw's bar (14). They should be positioned diametrically opposed to each other, how it is shown on the picture 1.

 


On the rotation unit there is a clipping washer (10) which allows for the vice and fly to be fixed in any intermediate position and release them, if necessary to rotate the vice. The spring-bias screw (11) helps create some braking moment at rotation of the block. The pin (9) may be used to rotate the vice. If this is inconvenient the pin can be removed and rotation achieved by turning the knurled part of the bush (8). The fixing of hooks is carried out by rotation of the tightening screw (15).

 

parachute_flies
The rotation unit 
To adapt the vice for tying parachute flies a steel spring and hook (17) can be added. To use the C-clamp, it is necessary to release and remove the clip (3) from the telescopic bar unit (2) and insert the bar into the C-clamp's hole and fix the vice on a table. To adapt the vice for tying tube flies, the screw (12) unscrews, the bar (14) with the jaw (16) is removed and replaced with the tube fly component.

 

 

TMC

When the TMC first arrived on the market, Hans Weilenmann described it as a “Renzetti on steroids” and it was an apt description. As the illustration below shows, the first version of this vise had an offset arm similar to the Megoff idea.

 

 TMC_Vice

The first Tiemco model that came on the market in 2004  (above) echoed the offset arm of the Megoff prototype. The author feels the lack on an actuator arm inhibits full rotary tying and is disadvantageous

 

The latest version, replaces the bent arm with a drilled and ported and much slimmer arm which, in similar fashion, seeks to create the maximum amount of room around the vise head.

http://english.tiemco.co.jp/project/fishing_catalog/info_fly?brand=33&category=5&kind=84&commodity_code=814

 

http://www.ff-pureland.com/102_802.html

As beautifully crafted as the TMC was, I quickly faced a dilemma. Shortly after acquiring it, Jay Smit produced his midge jaw for his JVice. This was not the “horse collar” jaw which I had advocated and which was subsequently utilised in the Vosseler, but his own design – and it worked beautifully. What was more important, though, was that the wooden base allowed me to store all the tools which I currently had in use and, furthermore, on windless summer weekends, I could simply pick it up, carry it outside and start tying flies in the garden. In this regard it was the more convenient and versatile vise and I passed the Tiemco on my friend, rod maker Stephen Boshoff.

I also gave my two Renzetti Presentations to two other friends, Tom Sutcliffe and the Rhodes-based guide, Fred Steynberg and they use them to this day.

 JVICE_Ed_Herbst

The wooden or aluminium and foam base of the JVice can be customised to the user’s needs and brings convenience and discipline to the author’s often cluttered and untidy tying area.( Ed Herbst at his outdoor tying bench)

 

It was this versatility, convenience and ease of use that gave it the edge over the Tiemco. In 2008 I bought the C & F Ultimate Reference Vise. Like the Tiemco it is beautifully built, will last forever and is the only vise on the market that I know of which comes equipped with what I regard as a proper parachute tool, i.e. a gallows arm with a hackle plier attached. Some of its features are an adjustable cantilever arm to maintain the hook on the correct  rotational axis  when different size hooks are used.

Most ingenious of all, the inside of the vise jaw is magnetic so that the hook is held in position even when the vise jaws are not fully closed.

 CF_Ultimate_Reference_vise

 The author’s C&F Ultimate Reference vise.

 

However, after a few months of use, I went back to the JVice. I found its midge jaw easier to use when changing hooks than the screw mechanism on the C&F and the big difference was not in the vise itself so much, but in the convenience of the wooden base of the JVice. Its compartments  not only accommodate my tools, keeping them neatly  together in anticipation of my next fly tying session, but one of the compartments is specifically tailored to provide a tight squeeze-fit for the Loctite superglue bottle with its brush which I regard as an indispensable fly tying aid. South Africans were alerted to the benefits of this bottle with its applicator brush by Edoardo Ferro, the then captain of the Italian fly fishing team, when he visited this country in 2005. It has significantly improved my fly tying and I constantly transfer minute amounts of superglue from the brush, which I have clipped to a point, to my fly using a dental pick.

It was in 2009 that I bought my next vise, the Petitjean Master.

http://www.petitjean.com/shop/en/fly-tying-vise/master-version.html#

It was not merely innovative in design but exquisite in execution. The ultra-light C Clamp is the best on the market and, almost by sleight of hand, transforms into a pedestal base, a boon when on a fly fishing trip where, often, finding a suitable and stable platform for a vise can be problematic. Like the C&F it has an adjustable arm that locates the jaw. The vise package is small and comes in a zipped carry bag with an explanatory DVD. The quality of the workmanship is outstanding and the vise and C clamp are ultralight. If I was a fly tyer who was forced to fly regularly and spent a lot of nights in hotel rooms as a result, I would invest in the Petitjean – it is a light, compact package.

(With stringent weight limits being imposed, every ounce counts and micropattern guru, Darryl Martin, told me that he had persuaded Andy and Lily Renzetti to make him an aluminium stem for his Renzetti Presentation 3000.)

 Darryl_Martin

 Darryl Martin ties flies with his aluminium stem Renzetti 3000 during a Federation of Southern African Fly Fishers (FOSAF) sponsored trip to South Africa

After some months of use, I had to concede, though, that in terms of my fly tying methods and style Petitjean offered no advantages over my J Vice and my increasingly missed Renzetti Presentation 3000. To cite just a single example: When I whip finish, using a Materelli wide-gape whip finisher, as the pictures above indicate,  I like to take the thread through the material clip/spring and drape the bobbin there which leaves my left hand free to control the materials on the hook while I do the whip finish with the right hand. Nothing beats the Renzetti Presentation 3000 in this regard. The material clip stands proud and is easily accessed. Furthermore, for me and in my subjective opinion, the rotary, jaw clamping knob on the Renzetti enables one, through the tension in one’s fingers, to precisely determine the exact amount of pressure one is applying to light wire hooks, so that just sufficient pressure is applied to maintain the hook in the jaw in the correct position and at the right angle, without applying so much pressure that ultra light-wire hooks are excessively compressed to the extent that their structural integrity is compromised. This is imperative when one is using 4-x fine hooks such as the Varivas 2110 Featherlight Dry or the TMC Yamame 112Y.

So, after almost a decade, I had gone full circle. I ordered a Renzetti Presentation 3000 with a lap extension and a visual enhancement backdrop. It is permanently affixed to the desk in my study and this is where I do my in-house fly tying. The J Vice is set-up and I can carry it into the garden whenever the weather is good which, in South Africa, is more often than not.

If I had the sort of budgetary restrictions which most fly tyers with families have and was confined to only one vise, the JVice would be my undoubted choice because of its relatively low price and its versatility. To cite just a single example, the J Vice is the only one that I am aware of which has a dubbing brush tool as an optional extra as well as a tool which allows you to attach your camera to the vise for taking pictures of your flies and jaw heads made in Damascus steel.

As far as price goes, imported vises have freight charges and the mark-up of local agents incorporated into the price. In South Africa, neither factor applies to the JVice which, in some cases, can make it significantly less expensive.

And Jay is constantly adding to that range. In the picture below he is holding a glue container which fits into a compartment in the wooden base of the vise and an innovative new bobbin which precisely modulates the thread pressure.

 

 J_Vice

Jay says that a useful feature of the JVice is that the jaw can be rotated about 180deg (with a twist of the wrist) while holding and tying in tail material.

Which vise is most chosen by the world’s leading fly tiers? I am thinking of the men and women selected to tie at major shows like the Federation of Flyfishers annual conclave in the USA, or the British Fly Fair International where Souh African Arno Laubscher, was one of seventy invited fly tyers from Europe, the UK, South America, the USA and Canada.

Arno, whose Grip hook brand is finding increasing traction all over the world - http://www.scientificfly.com/ -  says their choices reflected geographic availability – most of the British and European tyers chose the Law, but in the USA the favourites are Regals and Renzetti.

“This makes sense because it means that the tyers in those countries have relatively easy access to manufacturers if they have problems with their vises and need repairs.

“For the same reason, it makes sense for South African tyers to invest in the JVice which compares well with the best in the world, particularly as far as price is concerned and where, should you experience problems, Jay Smit is just a phone call or email away.”

It was Arno who persuaded Jay Smit to make a lightweight foam and aluminium base - which weighs just 1kg, half the weight of the than the standard wooden one – a benefit for frequent flyers. He and Jay worked through several prototypes before Arno was satisfied that it incorporated all his ideas. Jay will cut the foam to suit your personal needs.

 

Laurence Waldron manufacturerof the Law is, however, no longer taking orders. A close copy of the Law has appeared on the market recently, the CAE:

http://www.caeengineeringservices.com/index.html

This has evoked some fierce online correspondence:

http://www.flyforums.co.uk/834220-post48.html

http://www.flyforums.co.uk/fly-tying-forum/108286-info-law-vise-knock-off-2.html

Jay Smit has received emails from two customers who own both the Law and the JVice and have thus been able to compare them.

A few years ago American company, Wasatch, sold a vise which combined the wooden bases they made with the JVice stem and head. Here is an email from a customer who bought the Wasatch/JVice combination.

"...I also bought a Wasatch JVise. Now, I own nearly every variety of fly tying vise known to man including some of the outrageously expensive vices such as the Law vise from the U.K., Renzetti Pro, and my most recent purchase the C&F 9000. All of these vises are great collector’s items and are very functional but none can really hold a candle to the Wasatch J. I am always searching for a unique, well engineered, and functional vise which is what attracted me to the Wasatch in the first place. Most of the newer vises today are simple and expensive variations on old themes and show little in the way of innovative engineering. The J is really in a category all by itself. ...In addition to the simple, elegant, ‘J’ hook design to align the head with the vise body for rotary applications, the jaw design is a real innovation in fly vise technology. No vise I own, no matter how expensive or well crafted can hold a hook so firmly with so little effort. Most of my expensive vises are now just ‘collectors items’ and the J is my ‘go to’ vise for every application from salt water to tricos. I always recommend the J to folks looking to get started in fly tying. It really is the only one anyone would ever need. Warm alohas from Hawaii.”

Another customer, this time in the USA, who also owns both the Law and the JVice sent Jay this email:

“I did receive the Waldron vice and it is a very simple and clean design with good hook holding power. It is lacking any centreline adjustment other than hook placement and will not center small hooks from about size 8 and smaller. I sometimes do tie rotary on small flies so to me it is somewhat important to have centreline adjustment. I prefer the Waldron/Snowbee vice over the LAW vice and prefer the J-Vice over both. The midge jaws on the J-Vice allow clearance anyone should enjoy.”

Fortunately, new vises continue to appear on the market as this beautiful Italian example illustrates:

http://www.pipam.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2374&Itemid=98

And here: http://www.franolic-flyreels.com/english/allinone.htm

In closing I would like to feature a hand-made vise that I described in the June 1985 issue of Piscator. The article was called “Carved from the Solid”. It featured a hand-made vise by Cape Piscatorial Society member Rene Maree.

Rene_Maree_Vice_1

Rene_Maree_Vice_2

Text and pictures by Ed Herbst. 2011. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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