Monday, 27 March 2017

What do you expect for twenty quid?

I can't help it, I love messing about in the workshop. Over the past few months I have been exploring the noble art of fly fishing. No, I am not going to join the country set and trade the Transit in for a Range Rover! I am not contemplating game fishing, I am interested in the idea of catching coarse fish on the fly.

Fly fishing is about as far away from the 'standard' coarse fishing, I am used to, as chalk is to cheese. What's more it has a language of its own too. What with tippets and leaders on the line and don't ask about the fly tying, it is all a  foreign tongue to me! I can't see me doing any fly fishing for a while. Apart from the fact that I don't even have a rod yet, we are in the process of packing up our house ready for a move out of London, after living here all my life and the best part of forty years in this house.

That said, it will give me some time to study the art and to have a go at a spot of fly tying. It is the entomology that interests me, matching fly to the time of year and to the species is fascinating to me. Once I have worked out what insects are about and what the fish will eat, the job of making a fly replica and then convincing the fish to feed on it is what it is all about to me.

Renzetti Master Vice, several hundred pounds of pure class
First of all I will need some tools and top of that list has to be a fly tying vice. Have you seen the price of these things? What! six, seven, eight hundred pounds or more for a top end vice AND if you want something like a Law vice, now no longer made, two grand (£2,000) is not unheard of. Now, I am not adverse to spending money on a well made piece of kit but there is a limit. A fly tying vice is not a complicated thing it is just a clamp to hold the hook a fly is tied on. There are several types but in the main there are two basic types; fixed and swivel head. There is also the choice of clamp on and free standing on a sold base. Over and above these, there are specialist tube tying vices, but that is all a bit above my knowledge pay grade at the moment. It is all about the functionality and quality of manufacture, combined with superb finishing, like the Renzzeti vice pictured above.

Looking to the other end of the scale, there are the cheap so called 'beginner's' vices. These can be as low as a few pounds for a fixed vice and not much more for a rotary model.Most of these appear to be cheap copies of the classic style. Mostly of eastern origins, poorly made and really not fit for purpose. I am sure they will have put more people off than they have inspired. With my eyes wide open, it occurred to me that with a bit of thought and application, I might be able to modify and improve one of these cheap vices into something that is at least serviceable. I will invest in a decent vice in the future but for now I plan to make do with something a bit cheaper. A hunt through the on-line auction listings found a likely candidate, a "Fully Rotatable fly tying vice with bobbin cradle" priced at £19.99 including postage. This I had to see. A few mouse clicks and the deed was done, one vice bought, paid for on its way to be inspected.

It all looks a bit cheap and nasty in its tatty box
That was last Friday, it arrived today, Monday. Well, for twenty quid you don't expect much, or at least I was not expecting much. My thought was I could always put it back on eBay and get some if not all of my money back. As it turned out yes, straight out of the box my suspicions were confirmed it is useless, or at the very least second to useless. However, locked up solid, I suspect you could tie a fly with it at a push.

The finish is crude and the plating on the rotary knob is has blackened. The jaws are rough and set far too hight to rotate the shank of the hook in line and coaxially with the head, making it pointless even if the rotating mechanism was journalled well enough to perform so.

Even after assembly it looks cheap and nasty. The best bit is the bobbin cradle that does not look too bad. As you can see the jaws are mounted far to high to allow the shaft of the hook to rotate in line and coaxlually with the head 
Nothing is smooth or firm the whole thing is flimsy and very badly made, but it has potential. With a little bit of time spent on it, I am sure it can be improved. It will never be anywhere near as good as a high end vice, but I reckon I can make it serviceable as a rotary vice.

The jaws have a very thin coating of black paint that is already scratched and worn
The first thing to look at is the way the jaws are mounted. They are far too high. This can be rectified by boring a few more holes and tapping them to accept the fixing screw. It may also be possible to adjust the angle of the mounting bar but that will need looking at on the bench. The jaws themselves are thinly painted and very poorly finished off both cosmetically and functionally. A lot can be done by stripping the original paint and refinishing them by either polishing them or repainting and varnishing. The mating faces of the jaws can be honed and finished to a much higher standard without much effort. The two thumb screws are a bit coarse, as is the thread, but I will live with that on this vice. The rubber ring that keeps the jaws in line (sort of!) will stay too.

The bearings need looking at and replacing, a roughly cut off lump of plastic tube wit a bore that is not even central is not helping. The coarse thread used to join the brass bearing housing to the vertical support will not lock tight and will need some 'assistance' to prevent it from coming lose. The pin on the rotating wheel suffers from the same problem.

Other minor irritations include a clamp that will not grip a smooth surface and thumb wheels that are just uncomfortable to use and almost impossible to tighten enough to grip the vertical support.

I am sure I will be able to rectify most of these faults. I will not be able to turn it into a Renzetti, but I should be able to make it usable while I save the pennies for a better made vice. I will let you know how I get on...