Cutting Guides for Fly Tying

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss

If you tie a lot of flies that have bodies made of stranded materials like wool or chenille, cutting lengths of material for each fly can be a bit problematic. If you cut too long a piece, there’s waste. Yet if you get too stingy, and come up short, it’s even more of a problem.

One commercial tyer I knew actually dispensed chenille straight from the card to the hook to avoid wasting material. The logic is obvious. When I tried this method, however, I found it awkward in the extreme. It just didn’t seem worth it to save a few inches of chenille.

Taking the time to figure out just the right amount of material needed for a given fly size and pattern is the first step. This is done by trial and error. Make your best guess of the amount you will need and measure it before tying. Make adjustments as needed to dial in the ideal amount. It’s wise to jot down this information for future reference. Once you’ve determined the exact amount of material needed, you still have all of that measuring and cutting to do. You can measure the first piece and use that as a guide as you cut the rest. It’s still a rather labor-intensive and time-consuming process, however.

I’ve discovered a means for quickly and efficiently cutting equal lengths of material. I use a simple jig that allows me to wrap the material around it and then run scissors down a slot. This process measures the material precisely and allows me to very quickly mass-produce the required length of chenille or other similar product. The time saved more than makes up for the small amount of material lost on each cut.

In addition to the amount of material that will actually go on the hook, you also need a “handle”—enough extra material for you to hold with your fingers or a hackle plier as you wrap it. If you want to be a bit more economical, cut lengths that will tie two flies rather than one. That way you can use the same “handle” twice. If you don’t want to bother making a separate, larger jig, you can use the same one as for the shorter length. Just cut every other strand instead of just running the scissors down the slot and cutting them all. This is more time-consuming, of course, but still quicker and easier than measuring every piece by hand.

DSCN0695By far the easiest way to cut equal lengths of stranded materials that comes wound on a card is to simply cut through all the material on the card. Since the cards are usually 2-inches wide, the process will yield strands of a little over four inches. I can get two standard size 12 3XL Green Weenies out of this length if I use hackle pliers to hold the end of the strand on the second fly.

 

If you want to fine-tune your lengths, you’ll have to make your own cutting guides. You could, of course, simply cut cardboard stock to the desired size. However, it’s not that hard to make a wooden jig that makes the cutting job a little easier, and is very durable. All you have to do is cut pieces of 1/8-inch stock as described below and glue them together. I use Liquid Fusion, a clear urethane glue; you can substitute any adhesive suitable for gluing wood. I’ve used Masonite, and also Basswood stock purchased from a hobby store.   Your jig is constructed of three pieces of stock glued together. A length of 4-inches works well. The width of the pieces determines the length of the stranded tying material that will be produced. The center piece is cut 1/8-inch narrower than the outer pieces. This forms the slot that allows you to easily pass scissors blades up the wraps to cut and separate them. Although you can make your cutting guide in any size you’d like, personally I find it too unwieldy to tie with strands longer than 6 inches in length. Once the jig is glued up, I make a shallow saw cut at one end.

To use the jig, start the material by inserting the end into the saw cut. This holds it in place as it is wound around the jig. Make touching turns of material around the jig until you have filled it, or fewer turns if you wish. It’s more efficient in the long run to fill the jig completely and store the pieces in a labeled zipper bag or other container until needed. Once you have your wraps complete, run your scissors up the slot in the side of the jig and your finished lengths will fall away.

For 1/8 inch stock, here is a table showing the width of stock required for the outer pieces of the jig to produce the length of tying material shown:kuss table copy

 

 

 

 

Using cutting guides is a natural time-saver for the commercial tyer. It’s also a big plus if you’re a tying instructor, when assembling materials packets for classes. Even if you’re strictly a hobbyist tyer, cutting guides will save you time for any pattern you use a lot that requires lengths of chenille or similar materials. I hope you find this little trick helpful.

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2 thoughts on “Cutting Guides for Fly Tying

  1. Bob Miller

    I have another method. I have several S+M bobbins which hold a standard spool. I wind chenille or similar product on an empty thread spool, filling it well beyond the level the thread occupied. With this spool in the bobbin I have many feet of material to apply before running out. I have a handle in the form of the bobbin and no waste at all. These bobbins are no longer made but I think some are still available and are inexpensive. I was lucky to have the manufacturer and his partner as friends. so I have a good supply. Try eBay if you are interested. Saves me time and money. Bob Miller

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  2. Bob Betts

    The original poster has a well thought-out idea for conserving chenille and yarn, especially when handing out materials for a class. For years now, I’ve tied chenille and yarn in the recloseable bag it came in. Any of this material that is sold in a card I remove it, steam it to remove the kinks, and wind it back into a small ball, and put it back into the original bag. I leave a couple of inches exposed. If its chenille, I remove 1/8″ to expose the core at the end for a tie-in and wrap while the rest of the chenille remains in the bag. The ball of chenille or yarn pays out of the bag as needed while I wrap. The small bag is never cumbersome, especially with a rotary vise. I find this ball-in-the-bag keeps the material clean as well. I got this idea from watching my wife roll up yarn from a skein and into a ball. Whenever I can, I’ll buy chenille or yarn in a skein, which is much, much cheaper than the three yards sold in a card and there are no kinks!

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