The New Snowbee Waldron Fly Tying vise.
Reviewed by Bob Wyatt
Snowbee has teamed up with Britain's ace fly reel and tying vise maker Lawrence Waldron to produce what looks to me like a winner. I spent the first forty years or so of my fly tying career working with an ancient Thompson 'B', which never let me down and still works perfectly - it just became a little embarrassing with all the fancy vises on the market. I started to joke about it but reckoned people just though I was too cheap to buy a decent vise. Then I got interested in an upgrade. I tried out a few, was mostly disappointed by what you get for a couple hundred quid, and finally settled on a nice Renzetti 3000 - a great vise but with jaws primarily designed for small trout flies.
Thinking all I needed to make my life perfect was a new vise that would handle big saltwater hooks and trout sized flies, I've been keeping my eye peeled for a good one. I knew about Lawrence Waldon and his famous LAW vise, the ne plus ultra of fly tying tools, and have handled one a few times, but the price was a bit rich for me (although I was beginning to weaken). Well, along comes Snowbee with this little beauty. Very nicely made, not a LAW, by any means, but the guts and business end of this thing are the real deal. Solid stainless construction, close tolerances, excellent ergonomics and super hook holding - this vise shows its Waldron bloodlines.
Snowbee's catalogue http://www.snowbee.co.uk/access2.htm#4 describes the functional stuff thus..."The main head axel runs on two sealed ball-race bearings. Tension for the 360 degree rotating head is by means of a tension screw at the rear, operating on two delrin washers. The vice jaws are joined to the main head by means of a simple link-arm. Two Allen screws allow setting up of the jaws for total rotational symmetry about the centre line, irrespective of the hook gape. The precision jaws feature two precisely milled grooves to allow different sized hooks to be held securely - from as small #28's right up to large single Salmon irons and the largest saltwater fly hooks available."
I do have a minor quibble or two:
The spring material clip is too short and is awkward to use quickly. I like this to be something done without thinking, so I exchanged it for a longer one. Snowbee's Russell Weston told me that the short material spring was a considered detail. They wanted it to be out of the way of the off hand. For me, the off hand is either doing something or resting on top of the vise, but the longer material spring is no bother at all and makes clipping material and thread much faster and easier.
I also think the jaw cam lever could have been made a bit longer and maybe could have a flattened or butter knife shaped end, at little more production cost. The slim and rather short rod is a bit too fiddly. I'll get used to this, I'm sure, but might add a knob of some sort. The handle on the rotary hub is larger but has a synthetic rubber o-ring fitted for grip. Nice touch. One on the jaw cam lever would be a nice touch too.
About that, Russell says, "You will find that when the vice jaws are set up correctly, you can cover quite a large range of hooks with just the cam lock adjuster, using the 3 different areas of the jaws - the flat tip, or the first or second groove. Once set correctly, the pressure required to operate the cam lever is minimal and still gives a very firm grip, so the designer, Lawrence Waldron didn't feel this was necessary."
What is necessary in a fly tying vise is good hook holding, and the bells and whistles mean nothing if the jaws don't do that job. This design does - easily managing large and small hooks. Waldron has engineered some little LAW-style slots in the jaws that immobilize the hook bend and make changing sizes a simple operation. Even a very large saltwater hook didn't budge at all when I reefed hard on it, to the point that I bent the shank.
I turned the jaw assembly around so that the jaw adjuster screw is on the tier's side. A personal choice, but saves reaching under the vise to reset it when changing hooks sizes. I hold hooks with my right hand when setting the jaws so having the adjuster screw on the facing side makes it more accessible to my left hand. This modification is easily done, by the way.
I really like the design of the jaw link-arm. It's fully adjustable to suit any idiosyncratic position the tier desires by setting the two Allen screws with the supplied wrench. Even my Renzetti has to be set at a weird angle for me to tie comfortably on it, rendering the rotary function useless, and other vises have been similarly annoying, my hands just didn't move around the jaw arm freely. The adjustableWaldron arm permits me to work easily without bumping the jaws when whip finishing, etc. The rotary mechanism turns smoothly on its delrin washers. Rotary tension can be finessed by a simple broad tension screw. There's a good solid C-clamp and, something I particularly liked, a nice steel stem extension that doesn't wobble and permits a good high working position for the vice. I like to have the fly at near eye-level to work, although many prefer a lower position. It's great to have that choice. A pedestal base can be chosen instead of the C-clamp.
Another nice thing is the soft travel case that Snowbee supplies with the vise. Good size with lots of useable compartments for tying materials and any optional add-ons you might get for the kit. These include a tube fly tying attachment and a very nicely designed sight board and bobbin cradle. I don't have these attachments, but if they are as well made as the vise itself they'll be good stuff. All in all, an excellent tool at a fair price (£185.00) for the serious or 'pro-sumer' level fly tier.