The other day, I was minding my own business (sort of) in my local fly shop, when someone asked the salesperson what his first vise should be. He began asking questions about c-clamp versus pedestal, price range, types of flies he could tie, and so on. It was all I could do to keep from butting into the conversation with my unsolicited advice, so I opted for adding the occasional emphatic “amen” to what the salesperson was saying, because we were obviously on the same wavelength. The guy ended up getting what would be a luxury for most fly tyers—a Renzetti.
If you can afford to start out like he did, you will be hard-pressed to find a better vise than a Renzetti, Regal or a Stonfo. But for the rest of us who may not be able to invest hundreds in a top-of-the-line vise when we first start tying, it can be tempting to think a “starter” vise is the way to go. After all, if you’re not sure you’re going to stick with tying your own flies, it’s better not to risk wasting the money, right? Maybe. But I’d argue this: if you have the desire to tie your own flies for the joy of tying (not some deluded reason like saving money), then you’ll likely stick with it. So, it’s best to get a vise that you won’t outgrow in your first month of tying like the ones that come in starter kits.
So, what are the features to look for? For starters, make sure it has jaws that will accommodate a wide range of hook sizes for the flies you’ll be tying. I also would highly recommend going with a rotary vise (meaning the handle will rotate the jaws 360 degrees) with adjustable tension on the rotary arm. Rotary vises make tying so much easier for several reasons, such as:
1) the ability to check your work from all angles as you’re tying a fly (so it doesn’t just look good on the side facing you)
2) not having to remove the hook to invert it for patterns that require you to tie on the underside of the hook shank at certain stages (like Clouser Minnows)
3) the ability to wrap materials by rotating the vise rather than wrapping hand over hand (my personal favorite advantage of rotary vises)
Cams and spring jaws are options you usually see on higher-end vises, but Griffin does offer a cam-operated model under $100. These options make it quicker to secure and release hooks and keep exactly the right holding tension. While not essential, they are certainly nice features to have and will cut down on the amount of time you spend changing hooks. I have the Griffin Odyssey Spider version without the cams, and it’s still a great vise that I hang onto indefinitely, even if I get a dream vise like a Regal or the Stonfo Transformer.
Also, unless you prefer clamping a vise to the edge of your tying desk or bench for some reason, get a heavy pedestal base for your vise or buy a vise that comes with one. The advantages of a pedestal vise are that you can use it on any flat surface or table, can move it and transport it easily, and it won’t damage the table it’s on. I have a farm table in my house that is too thick for any c-clamp, and my tying desk is over 100 years old, and I wouldn’t dare clamp onto it, so my choice was easy.
In short, it’s better to get a vise that will help make tying a joy, rather than a chore or worse—a frustration. If you can spring for one of the big boy vises, by all means do. But if not, hopefully these recommendations will help. Avidmax is great about making sure you get what you need and are happy with it.
Guest blogger Jeremy Anderson is a Creative Director in Nashville, Tennessee by day and amateur fly tyer by night when his wife and two young boys go to bed. It’s his nightly decompression routine that keeps him connected to his passion even when he can’t be on the water. Follow Jeremy on Instagram: @hacklejob