Fly Tying Workstations: What's best?

Decide the style of station that suits you best

From time to time, we get asked what our tying stations look like and subsequently what we'd recommend to others thinking about either getting into tying or coming up with a better or more organized/efficient setup. This happens to be a loaded question and doesn't have a simple answer. The solution can vary depending on how much space you have, how many materials you have (or will have) and how mobile you want your entire tying work place to be. And no matter what you option choose, make sure you do what fits your style the best.

Here are a few suggestions to consider:
  • If you have the space available, look at more of a permanent setup from the get-go. Whether it's a man-cave in your spare bedroom or a hide-away roll-top desk or other "hidden" work station furniture in a main area of your house or apartment, a permanent setup will undoubtedly lead to more time at the vise. Many years ago when I was living in Seattle in a small apartment, I kept my tying collection in a variety of boxes, crates and containers and only got them out when I needed to tie. I would, no question, say those three years accounted for the fewest flies coming off my vise. If you wish to be mobile (i.e. go to tying nights with the guys or tie at the various tying shows and exhibitions), simply make sure you can quickly slap some materials and tools into a bag or something and take it on the run. You should not expect to be able to effectively haul your whole tying treasure trove from one spot to the next. Maybe this is true if you're limited to tying only certain flies and you don't become a material hoarder (like we are), but chances are, you'll outgrow any entirely mobile solution out there and collect far more materials than you'll ever need (but that's the fun part, right??). If you truly are limited in the space you have, then look at solutions that can be modular for storage purposes (see the cabinet setup below) as you can take things in and out from a "hidden" spot and then tie on a tying bench style work station temporarily.
  • Along with the first point, I might add, "think big" in terms of storage. The first storage container I bought, as I expanded my tying collection, was a tool bin drawer set from the hardware store. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. However, it didn't take long for me to run out of space in a specific drawer and I quickly realized while the storage was handy, the individual drawers were too small. You won't have just one color or style of rabbit strips, for example. And while some of them come in small bags, you can also get them in big packs. The solution I ultimately came up with was to buy a series of Rubbermaid style drawer units in a variety of sizes. In the picture below, you can see my closet has some custom shelving to accommodate the drawer units (and in my OCD style, I label them with my handy label maker). The nice thing here is that while some drawers are nearly empty (CDC doesn't take up that much space, but it has its own drawer), I can easily swap out drawers and units as I need to. This not only reduces clutter in my actual workspace, it also helps to more quickly glance and see what and how much of a given material I have.

  • Think of a "work space" and not a "tying bench". I know there are some really awesome custom-built wooden tying benches out there. Here are a couple of really nice examples

And while I'm not at all opposed to these types of units, you shouldn't expect that this style of "bench" would constitute your entire tying area -- hence the term "work station". This can be one component of a bigger whole and they work great for mobile non-permanent stations, but most tyers I know would not even come close to being able to fit all their stuff on only their bench or tool/material caddy. What I did was steal our kitchen table. As you can see below, it's a wide work area with a variety of tool caddies and material holding doodads. It's big enough to set out a lot of materials to work with and some extra shelving around the edges provides more access to my dubbings, wires, cutters, foams and chenilles (stuff that I don't store entirely in the closet). I also built a cool tool caddy with some foam core board, a plastic shoe box and some Clear Cure Goo. Works great having the tools elevated at an angle so I can see them better. I also utilize a lot of foam for my work surfaces. It's cheap, you can stick your flies into it and it is relatively disposable when you spill a bunch of super-glue or paint on it. The main point here is a "work space" is more modular and can change (i.e. scale larger) as you grow your collection. You can add tool caddies, material bins etc as you need them and change their placement as you need. The "bench" style solutions tend to not be as scalable and I've seen a number of tyers just plain out-grow them.

Main work area from a converted kitchen table.

Secondary work area for organizing flies, taking photos and airbrushing stuff.
Tying materials storage (closet) and material staging desk.

    • Don't forget good lighting. Likely one of the most underrated tools in your arsenal is the use of a good light -- or "lights" to be specific. Two or more light sources can help to illuminate your flies more fully and help you see details more clearly as you tie -- which may be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. ;)

    In the end, everyone will have a different "best way" for themselves when it comes to tying stations or work areas. Just do what you have room for, what you can afford and most importantly what fits your tying style. It's a fun hobby!