The Griffin Montana Mongoose Vise – Part One

Figure 1__Montana Mongoose ViseGuest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, Fly Fisher & Author, FreeFlight Publishing

After much research I bought a new Griffin Enterprises Montana Mongoose fly tying vise a month or two ago, purchased from J. Stockard Fly Fishing. With all the varying comments out there about this vise, none of which seem to discuss some key specifics of great interest to me, I thought I’d publish a more thorough initial impression.

 

The Jaws

———-
As reported everywhere, the jaws of the Montana Mongoose grip any hook incredibly well. The cam tightening mechanism is VERY easy to set, and is perfectly designed, as any mechanical engineer would agree. Great decisions there. I’ve seen one review that said the jaws have “rounded edges, making tiny hooks hard to grasp,” but I do not find this to be true in the least. About all I could agree with is that the jaw edges aren’t sharpened with a stone with intent to cut fingers. They’re plenty abrupt–I’ve loaded #22 hooks and could easily go down to #28 or smaller, with my own bumbling fingers the impediment rather than these excellent jaws. Suffice it to say that if you load a hook and then accidentally catch its eye on your sleeve in an upward arm swing, you’ll bend the hook straight long before it ever slips out of this terrific vise.

Obviously, as long as a vise stands in front of you, the quality of the jaws just about eclipses all other aspects. So this is an A+++ vise, case closed. But other features can still add up to make the tying experience unique, so let’s look at them.

Rotation
———
Top of Griffin’s line and touting features and extras otherwise available only on vises in the $350-to-$450 range (or by buying add-ons), this intermediately priced ~$220 machine is a true rotating vise–you can center the hook shank on the axis of rotation. Now, as always, getting the shank EXACTLY on the axis takes more time than I find I’m willing to invest but close generally works. To get decent rotational axis alignment, the jaws must be slid upward or downward to the right position. But alignment also depends on the size of the hook–in particular the width of its gap–and what no reviews ever reported (or the instructions either) was that the jaw position has two different hook size ranges. It was shipped set to the larger range but I discovered an alternate threaded hole in the back of the jaws that’s far better for the #10-and-smaller flies I tie. (I’m guessing as big as #8 would use the smaller hook range.) See Figure 2 for the two range settings selected by mounting a thumb screw in the right hole. I selected the range I need and will leave it there unless I start tying flies on hay baling hooks.

Figure 2__Hook Range Selection

Rotation is smooth but won’t happen on a whisper unless you loosen things a lot. This vise needs adjustment to personal taste. I read in numerous reviews how difficult adjustment was, how the bearing was sloppy, etc. It’s not sloppy, it is well designed; but adjustment takes some time. A big part of that, I found, was that as naturally mechanical as I am, how the various adjustments contribute to the overall feel is far from obvious at first blush. To add to the problem, the instructions say something simple like, “adjust rotation resistance by turning jam nut the desired amount.” Okay…but…how, exactly?

Well, one has to play around with the following:
1. First you must take the bearing head apart (remove the crank handle with an Allen wrench) to see there are two bearing surfaces–one comprised of an o-ring and greased from the factory, and the other a flat Delrin washer that really needs some grease or a drop of light reel oil. Apply some and put the thing back together. Now you’re ready to adjust.
2. Loosen the thumb screw (which applies friction) shown as “A” in Figure 3.
3. Loosen the Allen screw in the rotation handle (“B” in Figure 3).
4. Very slightly turn the knurned “jam nut” shown as “C” in Figure 3.
5. Tighten the Allen screw in the rotation handle, keeping the handle on rotation-center.
6. See what effect that seemed to have.
7. Repeat…uh…repeatedly, looking for a feel you’ll like.

Figure 3__Tuning Elements

It’s the “repeat repeatedly” part (and the fact that nobody says a drop of oil is needed) that consternates most folks. Just enjoy the tuning process. Turning the knurled “jam nut” a degree or two will have a remarkably big effect and it’s initially unclear which direction will have what effect so tuning becomes an iterative exercise. If I try to get the whole thing to spin like it’s on ball bearings (which it isn’t–it’s on high density polyethylene bearings), the whole thing will get a little sloppy. In the end I chose a rotation smoothness that has a little drag but turns easily and I seem to tie well with that. You have to accept what this vise feels like and find an adjustment that’s pleasant rather than trying to duplicate how some other vise behaves.

The so-called “difficulty” of adjusting this vise shouldn’t scare anyone away from it. It’s a trial-and-error exercise of getting to know your new friend. You don’t have to be a machinist to figure the thing out but it helps to want to like what you’re feeling and to enjoy a little experimentation.

They say this vise was redesigned since it first came out in 2004–claim they made a serious effort to address a few complaints some had lodged. Suffice it to say that some really excellent instructions would go a long way. I found no YouTube videos that help much either…maybe I’ll post a good one if I get a chance.

[See more in the next installment of this review.]

5 thoughts on “The Griffin Montana Mongoose Vise – Part One

  1. Sam

    The guys over at Fly Fish Food just posted a video on how to set up this vice. I personally also have this vice and love it, although I agree it does take some time to set up. Here’s a link to the video.

    Reply
  2. Russell Fredric

    Would appreciate if you could post the diameter of the upright shaft which holds the vice so I can determine if I can use my existing base.

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Hi Russell,

      The folks at J. Stockard alerted me of your question. I’ll go home tonight and put a caliper on it…although I *think* I tried it in an older Orvis base and it fit…so I seem to recall that it’s a standard diameter. It looks to be about 3/8 inch but I’ll measure it and let you know.

      Several years later I still love the vise. I can set it up in about 40 seconds and it holds hooks so well I still break one now and then…if I accidentally swing the heel of my hand (an elbow) across.

      – Mike

      Reply
  3. haja maideen

    The Griffin Montana Mongoose Vise seem to be big. I bought but never use.
    I prefer the Griffin Odyssey Spider vise.

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Hi Haja,

      It sits only as high as other vises. The base isn’t unusually big either although it’s heavy. As another commenter pointed out, I’ve come to appreciate the weight.

      This vise holds hooks extremely well–hooks of any size. I have never had to go to the “big hook” setting, despite a need to lock in a monster 7/0 carp hook once. The same setting that holds #24 thin-wire dry fly hooks will hold the biggest hooks you’re ever likely to use.

      The tying head looks large but it’s mostly due to the large material-holder spring. And none of the shapes or parts get in the way when tying. The Griffin Odyssey has a tying head that sits similarly to the Mongoose (similar angle), and the head is thinner but that doesn’t affect the tying process. And I think it’s a table-edge-clamp vise only, so without buying an extra base I think yes there will be fewer “visually large” components.

      But the Mongoose comes with a table edge clamp too, if that’s what you prefer. Myself, I use various tables and some don’t have square edges, and some are finer furniture so I’d be killed if I put a clamp on them. Also I like my vise to be a couple of inches back off the edge of the table–I can rest my hands on the table in front when needed, and I can drop things and they won’t end up on the floor.

      As I mentioned to Russell above, I’ve now used the Mongoose for several years and I love it. The big thing about a vise is that it has to hold the hook well, and the Mongoose certainly does. And its portability for such a stable vise is something I like a lot too.

      But whatever you use, the Griffin or the Montana machine or a vise grip plier, if you enjoy tying then you’re where you want to be. Great ties to you!

      – Mike

      Reply

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