February 16th, 2004

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Rotary Vises and Tying - Do I Need One
By Ronn Lucas, Sr.

This topic comes up often on the bulletin board more than any other I know of. It at first seems simple to address. It isn't though and for many reasons.

I wrote this as a reply to a question someone posted on the tying board here at FAOL. I was just going to post it in the thread but as I went on, it expanded more than I planned and rather than have it get lost in the thousands of threads that languish in the archives, I thought it might better serve readers as a stand alone presentation of my views on the topic. The first couple paragraphs addressed responders in the original thread but rather than change them, why not keep the "thread feel" of what I have to say.

Rotary and in-line rotary (the so called "true rotary") are completely different beasts and the oft used true rotary term simply doesn't divide the two in a meaningful way. That's my pet peeve anyway. The in-line rotary, turns on the hook shank axis and a rotary just rotates the hook and usually not on the hook shank axis.

Someone mentioned that 80 to 90 percent of the in-line rotary vise users don't use the rotary function for any more than looking at the far side of the fly. I'd put that number even higher. For them, I can't see why in the world they spent the extra dollars to buy the vise in the first place. A $50 Sunrise would do the job. Pick the thing up and turn it over and guess what, you can see the far side! Of course that $50 vise just wouldn't look sexy sitting on their bench and I guess some guys just like sexy.

Someone else also mentioned that an in-line rotary vise is not necessary or needed. Well, let's work that argument over a bit shall we. True, one can tie flies without the rotary feature and many millions of flies tied over the last couple hundred years will testify to that fact. Let me remind you that the first tying vise was a rotary. It was simplicity personified. It rotated on any axis and was silky smooth. Then some bright fellow decided to make a mechanical devise to replace his hand to hold the hook. For many years, the only thing available other than the hand was the fixed head vise. It has served many thousands of Tyers well over the decades until enterprising folks tinkered with various vise designs with the end result, the vast array of different vises we have today. Modern technology has allowed vise makers to build wonderful tools for us. You think just about every possible design has been tried and then comes another new vise.

The vise is the single most important tool a Tyer has. That tool should do everything the Tyer needs it to. When choosing a vise, it is better to analyze the kind of tying you intend to do or, might do and then find the right tool for the job. Most of us just buy a vise and adapt to what it will do well. No vise is perfect or will do everything.

Back to the question of do you need an in line rotary vise. I say you do BUT ONLY if you learn to use the feature to do what it was designed to do. They were not designed to simply look at the far side of the fly! I maintain that a Tyer is not achieving his/her full potential if they are not using the vise to its full potential! Oh, you say, but, I tie hundreds, thousands of flies and do just fine without an in line rotary vise. Well, you may do that but you'll never know for sure unless you try it. I say the chances are better than not that your flies are not tied as well as you CAN do them if you use a non-rotary vise. Harsh words? I guess they are. For many years, I thought I was tying pretty fair flies on my old Thompson (which I hated and still do to this day!) and then on my Regal rotary. Boy, that Regal held hooks like a Pit Bull and it sure was nice to be able to see the far side of the fly once in awhile.

Then, I bought a Nor-Vise. I didn't get it for any other reason than to do amazing dubbing with it. Was I in for a very pleasant surprise? I happily zinged along dubbing my flies like never before. If a person used this vise for nothing more than dubbing, it would be a godsend.

Since this sermon is taking a little longer than I usually do, let me get into the dubbing aspect of tying. There are several methods for applying dubbing as most Tyers know. You learn to "pinch dub" as the basic method of applying dubbing to the fly and the results can be good. Sometimes though, we want to apply a lot of dubbing or to have it look very shaggy. For this, we often use a dubbing loop. You simply make a loop of thread, tease out some dubbing and place it between the threads of the loop and twist it tight. Then, this length of dubbing is wrapped around the hook. You can twist the loop very tight to achieve a segmented look or leave it looser for a shaggy look. When you pinch dub or for that matter, using a loop, you are compressing the dubbing into a yarn like affair. This may be just the ticket for many flies. With the Nor-Vise, you can dub the shaggiest of bodies with the coarsest of materials and do it without a dubbing loop. How this is done is simple. You extend the thread to the bobbin holder, which keeps the thread in inline with the hook shank, which is centered in the turning axis of the vise head. You hold the dubbing to the thread and hook and "capture a few fibers of the dubbing between the spinning hook shank and the thread. This makes the dubbing spin around the thread without any compression at all. Now, you can make a body that looks even better than one done with a loop. You can make a shaggy body with very little dubbing or one with a lot of dubbing in a matter of seconds. No wasted motions. No wasted thread or dubbing and, in less time than other methods. Now, in fairness, there are times when you may want or need to resort to the other methods. You still have that option.

You say that you do just fine wrapping hackles and ribs with your non- rotary or rotary vise and that may be right. You take time to make sure the turns are precisely separated the same distance between ribs or turns of hackle and as you pass the bobbin, hackle or rib over and around the fly. Five, six or, more times, you pass one or more of these materials over and around the fly as the clock ticks on. Finally, you have applied the material and it took maybe 23 - 30 seconds give or take. Use the rotary function and that time can be reduced to a couple seconds at the most. It will also allow you to effortlessly space the turns of whatever you are using precisely since all you do is rotate the hook and guide the material on as it turns. If you are tying long bodied streamers and particularly the Rangeley style streamers, this really saves a lot of time.

If you use floss on your flies you likely curse the process as the floss frays when transferring from hand to hand as you wrap it around the hook. With the rotary function, all you do is rotate the hook and guide the floss on without changing hands over and over.

Another respondent in the thread said, "Having a "True Rotary" does not mean you have to use its rotary function all the time. How many have people a 4 wheel drive Truck or SUV, and only use the 4x4 when they want to get up over a curb?" Yeah, lots of folks buy 4x4 SUVs and never put them in four wheel drive. There are others who take theirs off road all the time and have a blast doing it! I'm in that camp personally.

Another plus I discovered when using my in line rotary vise was the ability to wrap those tiny hackles that are found at the very top of the necks. The ones that break real easy when wrapping them on a tiny fly. Well, the reason I would break a hackle now and then was when passing the hackle pliers over the hook and changing hands, it is near impossible to maintain constant tension on it. Now, I never take the hackle pliers out of my right hand and just rotate the hook to apply the hackle. Another headache left in the past.

The bottom line is that we achieve our full potential only when we maximize the use of not only our hands but the tools too. I encourage anyone reading this that has paid good money for an in line rotary vise to make it a priority to really learn to use the feature and see if your flies don't improve. There is a learning curve with all of this as there is with learning anything new but once through that process, you'll wonder what was holding you back.

For those of you who have been contemplating buying an in-line rotary vise, please do so only after you commit yourself to learn to use it or just get a less expensive fixed head or rotary vise.

We all like looking at well tied flies and get a little bummed out when ours don't always look neat and trim. Part of the problem just might be solved by using the in line rotary feature to it's fullest.

Happy Trails! ~ Ronn

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