It was a couple of seasons ago that on a long trip with some pals I watched Mike (Tamanawis) scramble around looking for a piece of wood for his vice – he needed to tie some flies for the session.
There has got to be a better way of doing that I thought – especially as I had to wait until we had booked into a hotel to tie some flies (and we only did that as a cold front moved in nearly causing us to have a severe case of the “freeze to deaths”) – it turned out there was a better way, a much better way in fact – Jay Smit from South Africa had already seen the problem and put his engineering skills learned from years of dismantling all things mechanical into action and thus the JVice was born.
“I found that most tables and surfaces at fishing lodges often weren’t suitable to take a clamp and often in an unsuitable location. The base (of Jays vice) is designed to allow laptop tying while sitting on a deck chair preferably with an ale or whiskey close at hand…I figured that if thousands of businessmen could tote laptop computers around the world a laptop sized base would work well and fit into a standard PC laptop bag. The problem was that laptop bags are pretty pricey and often cost as much or more than the vice so I had to design a cheap bag to keep every thing together “
I emphasised the part about ale and whisky by the way – just to show Jay was getting his prioritise in the correct order – first a convenient way to tie flies, second a good way to have a drink in the sun.
You can tell Jay is a professional drinker engineer – designing a vice to allow his friends the ability to multitask drinking whisky and tying flies – I like this man already never mind the vice!
Yikes – I have to review a vice!
How do you review a fancy clamp for a hook anyway? It turns out it is quite easy, you look at what you have got just now, what you would like to have, what you need it for, does it fit the purpose and will it fit your future needs?
The reason most people want a high end vice (and this is high end) is because they now want a vice that they can use for the rest of their lives – basically one vice that will tie in any situation and with a wide range of hook sizes.
Well, my own current Snowbee vice cannot clamp to the table (thanks to the wife buying from IKEA) so I needed something with a base – the JVice has one. I wanted a rotary vice that would last for several years – Jvice fitted the bill – Jay also makes all his vices by hand on his own machine (trying getting Waldron to make you one of his) which I think is kinda snazzy. I found big Pike hooks slipped in my Snowbee so was looking for something that would hold them steady when winding those tight mono ribs against the Pikes Teeth.
You see the thing is I tie flies for Pike (bloody enormous) and for 6inch trout (ridiculously small) so I need something that is going to take a wide variety of hook sizes without any grumbling – when I received the vice the first hook I put in it was a pike hook, no problems at all – I have also since tied up numerous tiny dries without any difficulties – so far it has coped with everything I have thrown at it.
Jay gives a lifetime guarantee with his vice – his lifetime – do you keep yourself fit? I asked him – yup, keeps himself fit and is an active young man – I reckon the vice will wear out before he does.
I have read other reviews of this vice and it has been described as “over engineered” which is fancy talk for it is a bit clunky – personally I like clunky – it is solid and feels strong in your hand.
So what do you actually get for your cash?
First just to whet your appetite, here is a photo of the fully assembled tying station before we look at what you get in a little more detail. This was taken just the other day when I had to scramble around and tie some nymphs.
The Package (First Impressions)
Lets have a look at the vice with base and how they packs away when being transported:
The vice comes packed in a laptop style case (the one Jay designed) – the vice is attached to the base using a unique locking mechanism (more on that later) – Jay recommends placing the wastebasket underneath the vice to protect the wood. Also included is some bubble wrap for its travel from South Africa which you can probably discard – I kept it and still use it for some extra padding.
Packed inside was the JVise with oak base/pedastel, extension arm, material waste basket and gallows tool.
The case also has extra places to store tying tools. Up until now I kept my tools in my orvis materials bag – now what I do is keep them all in the JVice case – I have also found there is enough space to keep some materials packed away in their too. This is great as I may only want to keep a few materials handy as I need to tie a lot of flies of the same general pattern over the space of a few days in short bursts (during baby sleeps for example) – say a dozen comparaduns and Deer Hair Emergers – in the case I can keep deer hair, dubbing, hooks, tail fibres together and easily transport or tidy away the gear at the end of a tying session. In practical terms, for example marital family relations, it means one small case can be kept in the kitchen for a lightening quick half hour of tying during some girly soap fun.
Interestingly, I have noticed that I can keep the vice and base set up on my kitchen table for approx 1 week before I get asked to “tidy that damn stuff away”
Ok – the serious stuff – the jaws – the jaws are operated by two mechanisms – a knob on the side of the jaws to adjust for size and a lever to open and close them on the hook. There are two small pockets to secure larger hooks – I banged a size 6 prototype Pike Popper in that baby and it did not budge a millimeter. Jay says the jaws can take a size 6/0 to 22 and I believe him – I got down to a size 18 without any problems.
A note on the hook pockets – I have never seen these on vices before however I found them great when tying up big pike flies – it means that the hook does not slip at all in the vice – the picture below shows a size 4/0 pike hook in the pocket nearest the tip of the jaw (essentially to show that bigger flies can be tied just as easy..)
Of course I do not need to tell you this vice is rotary!
Rotary tying is particularly useful when dubbing as you can turn the jaw system thus positioning the dubbing much more accurately around all the fly – makes for a neater fly (to be fair the fish probably do not mind however it certainly is satisfying). Dubbing is just one use of a rotary tying vice – the many benefits are beyond the scope of this review.
The JVice is supplied with an oak wood tying station which doubles as a pedestal base. It rests on four silicone feet and measures in at a cool 14.5″ x 10.25″ – there is absolutely no slippage when tying flies.
As you can see there is plenty of wee dockets to place your materials, hooks and tools when not in use.
The drilled holes for the tools were nice and clean however the larger recesses felt a little rough at the bottom – A bit of time spent with sandpaper would sort this out – saying that, I can see how difficult it must be to actually make these recesses and I would say in the grand scheme of things it means very little considering you are receiving a hand made product.
Yea sure – I have read in magazines that you could use a wooden chopping board and carry that around with you however have you ever actually felt the weight of a chopping board – they are very heavy. Also chopping boards have the tendancy to be flat with no edge meaning your materials will roll or get blown off.
The Locking Mechanism
The locking mechanism is pretty important as it is the main way the vice attached to the base in the various positions.
The vice arrives locked on to the base using the wee cam lever – this lever is the main way you attach the vice to the base in the two different positions – lap fly tying and table top tying.
The cam lever is a great wee widget – I was worried that there might be some slip in the mechanism however the vice is as steady as a rock no matter what position you are tying in.
Table Top or Laptop?
An extension arm is used to attach the vice to the front of the base. This means the vice height can be adjusted for table top tying . .
As explained you have two options – table top mode or laptop mode – you use the cam lever fix the vice in whatever position you want. You can also tilt the vice using the extension arm – this may give you a little more room when tying small fiddly flies.
To be fair though you can use the vice on the table in laptop mode without any difficulties – this is what I do as my new kitchen table is round with a very thick edge.
The vice also comes with a waste basket – this can be fixed on to the vice easily using a thumbscrew.
The waste basket can really only be used when in table top mode – I guess the thinking is that your materials will just fall on the base (or get blown away in the wind) – being the stingy type I like the waste basket as I can then keep any stray bits of “stuff” for dubbing other flies. You can of course position the basket underneath any table you are working on which keeps things nice and neat – like this..
My table top is especially high and thick making this impossible so another way of tying is to have the vice in laptop style with the waste basket away to the side – sure it will not catch falling debris however you can still drop stray deer hair instead of messing up your workspace – the wife likes this!
You also get a handy very simple gallows tool and a bobbin rest – they are both functional and do the job. You can of course buy the parts individually at a very reasonable cost!
There are several addons that do not come as standard – for example midge jaws – I suppose at some point in the future I will want to tie flies that are truly microscopic so they will be particularly handy. I also like Jay’s salt water streamer attachment – it holds tail fibres in place to add epoxy – that should do the trick with those enormous pike flies that I have so much difficulty with – I will get my hands on these at some point in the future and add to this review.
With any top end vice you think about what you might tie in the future as well as what you tie just now – for me the Jvice ticks all the boxes.
I suppose I had better say something else other than I love it!
The construction and the quality of the vice are excellent – like I say I have heard this vice described as “over engineered” – I think it is made to last a life time. The jaws and adjustment screws are designed and machined to a high standard and I can’t imagine them wearing out.
How does the vice actually look? well lets just say…
I have not tested the C Clamp so cannot comment on it however if it is anything like the actual vice then you will have nothing to worry about.
You can only buy the vice direct from Jay in South Africa.
At the time of writing June 2009 the costs are:
Standard Package (Vice + oak base, waste basket, material springs x 2, gallows, bobbin cradle and carry bag) £220
or Standard package + Midge Jaws + (Old Style) C Clamp £275
or Standard package + Midge Jaws + (New Style) C Clamp £299
Exchange rates being what they are it might be best to check with Jay)
These prices might seem expensive however if you are thinking of buying a high end vice you have probably already shelled out a couple of hundred on a rod. The price puts it in the same league as a Waldron however I doubt you will get him to make you one at that price – Jay is making this himself in his workshop especially for you. You can contact him with any special requirements and he will do his best to accommodate you.
Long term readers will be aware of a recent life changing event which means I get to stay home a lot more – staying at home when the boy is napping has never been so much fun – and my fly box has never been so full – another boon is that the whole set up is compact and plain old sexy looking which means my better half does not mind it taking up space fully set up and ready to tie.
Tying flies on this vice is a pleasure – I have never looked forward to winter tying so much as I am now!