Choosing a Vice.

Often I am asked what vice would I recommend. Usually this request is not accompanied with any information about the tying the vice is to be used for. Nor about the situation it is to be used in. That makes it hard. As does the selection of vices available. About all I can do is summarise the various points to look for. The two main points are how the vice grips the hook and how the vice fixes to the table.

Other features like rotary, true rotary or spinning vices are a matter of personal choice.

Types of jaws

Push or pull into a collet. Many vices have this method of holding a hook, from the cheapest to top end vices. There are two problems with this system, both come from the same design feature. The jaws are cut from one piece of metal.

o The metal must bend to open and close the jaws. Metal is not good at being bent repetitively. One of two things will happen. The metal will either, work harden, in which case it will snap, or the metal will work soften in which case it will permanently take the form it is being bent into.

o The jaws can not be separated. This means that the hardening has to be done on the inside of a small space. Even the most expensive of vices is not expensive enough to have its jaws hardened by other than case hardening. There are effective methods to case harden in such a small space, but they are expensive, involving nice chemicals like cyanide.

Sprung jaws. A much better method. The spring steel jaws are held together inside a block at one end and forced open with a cam. Spring steel can be bent by this small amount without any problems, and is hard. The problems are that there is no adjustment on these jaws. Also small hooks may “ping” out of the jaws when gripped in the tips. This has often lead to a small section of the jaws breaking off.

Two plates and a fulcrum. Two plates are used exert the maximum clamping pressure on the hook. The two plates can be hardened separately from each other. This is the same clamping method as is used to hold a work piece on a milling machine. More clamping force than we will ever need for fly tying.

Hook or loop and slot. This seemed like a great idea, but doesn’t perform well. When running the thread down the hook shank the sideways force on the hook shank causes the hook to move, swinging from side to side in the slot.

Vice fixing.

There are two main methods of fixing your vice, clamp and pedestal. There are a further two that are really minor methods, spike or corkscrew and magnetic.

Today pedestal seems to be the most popular. A clamp can mark the table, and may not fit on a particular table. A pedestal vice can be placed on any flat surface then is ready to go.

Spikes are for riverside tying, the idea being that you can drive the spike into a handy fence poll.

Magnetic bases are fine so long as you have a steel table to attach them to. Otherwise you will have to carry an additional steel plate to act as a pedestal.

There is however a problem with the popular pedestal bases. How do you set the height of the vice? You are stuck with the vice at the height of the table plus the stem height. This is not a good way to set up your vice. Many people complain about pain in their neck, or shoulders, or back, or arms while tying. The cause of this is having your vice too high. If your vice is too high you have to hold up your arms while tying. That causes the strain which results in the pain.

A lower table does not answer this problem. To get the vice low enough the table will be so low that your knees will not go under it. This forces you to sit back and lean forward; causing a different strain. A clamp attached to the table holding the vice stem can not achieve a low enough position either.

The answer is one of the “L” shaped vice extensions. This fits into the clamp and holds the stem away from the table, enabling you to get the vice down low enough with plenty of clearance to work around it.

There is an easy way to work out this height. Sitting in the chair you will use when tying, place your fist under your chin, with your elbow pointing down. Where your elbow is, is the height which will let you tie with your arms relaxed. You will probably find that the way most people place the extension into the vice will not hold the vice low enough. Place the extension in to the clamp the other way up so that it extends down and out.

Hopefully that will give you some pointers in the choosing of a vice.

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