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In my earlier review of the JS English Hackle Plier I mentioned using rubber or plastic tubing over the tips or Barge cement and keeping the tips open with a Vise Grip. The mod was a good solution, but a better solution to add a cushion to the plier was right on the shelf in my workshop. A product called Plasti Dip by Performix is great for coating the handles on metal tools. It works quite well on the tips of the English hackle plier. Also, there is no need to spead the plier with a Vise Grip. Just squeeze them slightly open and give them a twist. They will remain open as you dip the tips and allow them to dry, which takes at least four hours. But I would let the plier dry a full day before use. When you are ready to use the plier, just squeeze and twist the tips to bring them back under tension. Plasti Dip comes in a variety of colors, including clear, and is available at your local hardware store. If the Plasti Dip starts to thicken and dry out, just thin with toluene or naphtha in a well-ventilated area.
As the one reviewer mentioned, I too break off a feather every now and then. But it is because I use too much force in winding on the hackle. Same thing happens with the black, rubber tipped plier AND the spring-loaded black plastic "grabber" type (although this last one tends to break off hackle tips with even the most gentle pull.) Suggestion: take your time, unless you're a pro tier & need to get as many flies as possible hackled in a short time. Also, a little less caffiene helps me ;~)
I've seen nothing on the market for hackle pliers that grip like the English style. But the other reviewers are correct about how the grip can slice off the stem of a feather, especially near the tip. Years ago, I partially solved this problem by coating the gripping surface with Barge cement and lodging a thin pencil or dowell between the jaws until the cement dried, which took about a day. After awhile, the Barge cement would wear off and I would have to re-treat the pliers. Later, I glued a snippet of a rubber band to one jaw for an even better grip, but it slipped off after awhile. The best answer to date has been a thin plastic or rubber tube glued to the jaws. I've used the plastic insulation from wire, plastic sleeve from flylines, and thin surgical tubing. Choose tubing that has some elasticity and has a diameter smaller than the jaws. Then stretch it over each jaw. A little cement on the jaws helps to keep the tubing in place. Oh, it's quite a chore working the tubing over each jaw while trying to keep the pliers open. Try Vise-grip pliers to keep the hackle plier open while you work the tubing over the jaws. This is a simple DIY project, which provides you with truly effective hackle pliers. I've read of pliers on the market that have such tubing on the jaws. But why spend money on something you can provide easily yourself?
Skip Morris, famous fly tying author and instructor, published this modification procedure in a fly fishing magazine several years ago. 1: Squeeze English hackle pliers in vice grips for several minutes to relax the spring tension-you may need to do this several times until they feel relaxed to you, 2: File the inside and edges of the hackle plier "tip" with an emery board or sand paper until very smooth, 3: Take hackle plier to Radio Shack and buy plastic shrink tubing to fit tip, 4: Slip tubing on "one" side of the tip and cut off at tip end,5: Hold the shrink wrap tip up to a "hot" light bulb until tubing shrinks to tip, 6: If the spring tension is still too stiff, squeeze them in the vice grips again until they relax enough for you. Now your English hackle pliers are ready to wind hackle with no problems. The beauty of English hackle pliers is in the weight of the pliers. When you break thread or material, attach the pliers to the remaining thread or material and the weight of the English hackle pliers will hold your material against your hook without unraveling your work until you reattach a new piece of thread. It really helps to have 2 pliers-then one becomes an extra hand when needed. Just clip it to material and let it hang in place.
I really like these pliers. I did not find them to be over tight for use. They definitely do not slip off whatever I have attatched them to. I highly suggest putting them in line with feather stems and items vs. a right angle to the item you clamp with these. Also I highly recomend placing them a half inch or so from the feather tip.
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