As I promised a fellow fly tier who is considering purchasing a NORVISE, I will tell a few stories here that I hope will help anyone considering this vise decide whether or not to get one.
This is my fly bench some years ago, with a gob of salmon Comets staged for the photo. I lost the original photo and had to pirate this version from the Internet. By the way, I do not drink beer when I tie flies. I do not normally drink beer. But when I do, I’m more likely to order a Coors Light than some fancy micro brew, and my friends laugh at me for being so unsophisticated. Who cares.
Why every fly tier should consider a NORVISE.
I’m writing this post to respond proactively to questions of a nature that I often receive through the Caddis Fly Shop. People see my tying videos and wonder if NORVISE might be right for them to tie on. I have been answereing these emails for years and finally realized that I should just write this piece and let it stand to save time when I receive my next email.
Here is how the email inquiry usually begins: “Even though I own and tie on several fly vises, the Nor Vise intrigues me. Other vises offer a rotary function too, or so it seems. Is the Nor Vise really different and do you think it would be a worthwhile addition to my collection of tying vises?”
My response: Naturally the rotary vise design catches your eye. Same thing happened to me sometime back in the 1980s. That was when I saw a friend carrying (not tying on) an early design Nor Vise. At first, I didn’t even recognize it as a fly tying vise. I asked Rick about the odd looking thing he was carrying on a wood board. He told me it was his fly vise, said the vise was really good, and gave it a spin to show me generally how it worked.
I was polite, couldn’t really figure out how it worked, mentally dismissed it as a gimmick, and continued tying on my standard vises (Dyna-King & Regal).
Over the years I have used many traditional vises and been largely satisfied with each, to varying degrees. Most fly vises seem more appropriate when tying with some hooks than with others—but some vises certainly perform well over a wider range of situations. I have crafted thousands of dozens of flies on vises that include the Thompson Model A, Dyna-King, Renzeti, and Regal. Of these vises, I gravitate to the Regal is an exceptionally good vise — I have no reservations whatsoever tying on hooks from about a#2/0 through a #18 with my Regal and I include the standard and the full rotary Regal in this assessment.
This is a Regal Rotary Vise, an excellent and personal favorite fly tying tool. This post is generally about the virtues of the NORVISE, but this Regal Vise is equally as dear to my heart and fly tying hands as my NORVISE. Just sayin.’
Anyway, my tying life went on uninterrupted with my usual vises and life was entirely good (tying wise).
Then one day my friend Lou Verdugo piqued my interest in the Norm Norlander Clutch Bobbin. He eventually got my full attention and I decided to give it a try (the bobbin). I ordered a bobbin kit, loaded up three aluminum thread spools and started tying.
At first, I was not impressed. I found it strange that the bobbin required me to wrap the thread twice around one arm of the bobbin in order to provide proper tension. Weird. Then I struggled with the fact that the bobbin would retract all the thread when I cut off the thread—requiring me to re-thread the bobbin. It took me several days of this frustration until I learned that I could just pull out a foot or so of thread, ease about half of it back onto the spool, and the clutch spring would be in neutral and I could lay it on my desk without completely retracting the thread.
A few days were required to get comfortable with the bobbin, and a few weeks won me over to the virtues of Norm’s clutch bobbin. The fact that I could just lift up on the bobbin, positioning the bobbin tip close to the fly, and have the thread retract and maintain tension smoothly, was particularly attractive, and this feature eliminated ever needing to manually wind thread back onto a spool in order to position my bobbin tip very close to the hook.
This is the standard Norn Norlander Clutch bobbin: they look gawky but they offer remarkable and wondrous operating qualities. They do take time to get comfortable with. It took me about two weeks.
I began using the clutch bobbin on a regular basis and this caused me to take the plunge and try the Norvise. I was not convinced that I would like the vise. If I remember properly, I was on the negative side of neutral in my expectations. It seemed too complicated, but ——
I was attending a fly tying demo event and noticed that an astounding percentage of the tiers demonstrating their skills were using a Nor Vise. Hummmmmm. Sure I saw every imaginable brand of vise represented—many were familiar brands, a few were hand made, and many were carefully polished and buffed for the event. But a huge number of tyers were using a Nor Vise. For the first time, I looked at people using the rotary vise. It was amazing. The spin and whir of the hook in the vise took me back to the days when I watched Audrey Joy tie flies up in the Meier and Frank Department Store in Portland in the mid 1960s. Her vise was hand-crafted by her husband — mounted on a treadle sewing machine. When she wanted the vise to spin, she worked the treadle with her foot and the hook would spin in whatever direction she chose.
At this point it didn’t take long for me to consider giving the NORVISE a try.
The trials began. I railed at first at the fact that this vise didn’t simply sit on my desk like a pedestal, or clamp on the table like the C-clamp vises I was accustomed to. I grumbled and muttered as I assembled my Nor Vise on a white plastic mounting board, the vise post in a hole on the left, the thread post in a hole on the right. My first vise was equipped with the standard In-line jaws. I’ll note that the NORVISE may now be mounted with C-clamps on any desk and the original plastic mounting board has been replaced with a bamboo mounting board.
I began tying on my first NORVISE nearly two decades ago. It took me a few days to learn how to avoid cutting my thread with the hook point as I started to lay down the thread base, but within a few days, I was intoxicated with the speed and symmetry with which I could tie my flies.
The NORVISE can be used with any of four vise jaws: (1) the small straight inline, (2) the large straight inline, (3) the Tube fly conversion, and (4) the fine point conversion. The vast majority of my tying is best suited to the small straight inline vise jaws.
Here is what the NORVISE can do for every fly tyer.
Save time: many of the normal processes involved in tying a fly are accomplished much more quickly with the rotation feature of the NORVISE. This includes simply winding on a thread base, winding hackles, dubbing bodies, winding chenille and yarn, winding hackles, winding tinsel, finishing off heads and more.
Increase symmetry: winding on a dubbed body, a chenille or yarn body, or a floss body can be accomplished while producing an outcome that is both quick, smooth, and symmetrical. Winding on tinsel over any body material is also something that may be accomplished in a very even manner. Same goes for palmering on a hackle and counter wrapping a copper wire over the palmered hackle. Many of the features of a fly are more easily crafted smoothly and evenly with the NORVISE.
Norm Norlander can do almost every aspect of fly tying at high speed with his vise spinning at breath-taking speed.
Limitations of the NORVISE? I am not nearly as accomplished (as Norm) at using my NORVISE in rotation mode—I still execute many parts of many flies without spinning the vise. In this aspect, I’d note that the NORVISE jaws hold my hooks so securely and positively that I would recommend this vise even if someone never or only rarely takes advantage of the rotary function of the vise.
Purchase recommendations? I would recommend starting with the following list of tools and accessories.
1 – NORVISE with small straight inline jaws.
1 – NOR Bobbin (one clutch bobbin with one spool)
1 – NOR Bobbin Kit (one bobbin with a total of 4 spools)
1 – Mounting board-bamboo
At some future point, you are likely to want to add the following items.
Tying lamp (this mounts on thread post and has a magnifying feature if you need it. I have seen a great many fly tying lamps and this one is really good and mounts just as it should for optimum performance.
Here is the glamor shot of the travel case. The case does not include the materials. Naturally. When you purchase the case, you get the bamboo mounting board. The heavy foam interior has slots to hold the vise post, thread post, bobbin, spare spools and a few other tying items. This is a very nice case.
Travel case. Not essential but very handy if you ever move your vise from place to place.
Dubbing brush platform. This is a fun toy for making dubbing brushes.
Tube conversion. This is a gizmo that will hold all sizes of tube fly mandrels. For dedicated tube fly tying, this is a good investment.
Fine point Conversion. These jaws are most useful for very small flies, and for flies that require a lot of work-around space. Personally, I use these more for photographic artistry than out of functional need. These jaws are far more elegant than the straight inline jaws but the inline jaws do a great job of holding all sizes of flies from 2/0 to 20 (that’s the range I have tied anyway. I also use these jaws to hold my HMH tube fly tool and tie both tubes and shank-style Intruders—so these are very handy.
Other NORVISE products are available, naturally, but the options noted above are the first you are likely to want to try.
Is the NORVISE just a toy? No
Will everyone use the NORVISE to tie as fast as Norm does? No.
Will some tyers become frustrated and give up on the NORVISE? I don’t know. As noted already, I would consider the NORVISE a great fly tying vise if I never used its rotational features at all.
How different is the NORVISE compared to other high-end vises that are advertised as fully rotational? This is a big one—I’m not aware that any of the so-called fully rotational vises are capable of performing like the NORVISE. While my much loved Regal rotational vise does rotate, I can not operate it in the same manner that I rotate the NORVISE. In my opinion, the NORVISE is unique and performs its rotation function at a level far above that of any other rotating vise I have ever seen.
Can you take my remarks seriously, or is this post just a paid advertisement?
Good question. Plenty of product reviews are written by people who have an economic incentive in writing the review. This post is based on my personal reflections and experience over decades tying flies on many different fly vises.
Is Norm a friend? Yes. Do I get paid to recommend his vise? Not a penny. Do I get a discount on my NORVISE Products? Yes. Do these discounts influence my opinion of the NORVISE? Not at all.
Consider my support of REGAL vises. Regal has never offered me a discount on their fly vises. I don’t know any of the people associated with REGAL vises. Yet my experience with the REGAL vise in various forms has been so positive over so many decades that I highly endorse these as superior fly tying tools. The point I’m tying to make here is that I find the NORVISE and the REGAL fly tying vises to be superior yet very different fly vises and recommend both highly.
I hope these remarks help if you looking at a NORVISE (or REGAL) vise