The "J Vice"
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Photo courtesy of J Vice

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

I first read about the J Vice rotary tying vise in a 2003 article in the online version of Fly Fisherman magazine, co-authored by Hans Weilenmann and Bruce Salzburg.  Its physical appearance appealed to me and the review written by Hans was very positive. I immediately contacted the builder, Jay Smit, in South Africa.   

Jay’s Web site is Contact him directly at if you have questions.  Jay is happy to field all inquiries. This is important since there are no dealers and it is unlikely that you will have observed, tested or even touched one of these beautiful vises.  My vise, which arrived in May of 2004 is vise #43 and was only the second vise shipped to America.

It takes Jay about a week to complete each order. Unless you request airmail deliver (currently that’s about $85 including insurance), you will need to be patient.  Surface delivery to the States takes about four to six weeks and costs about $32 including insurance.  But believe me, it is worth the wait!  Two hundred dollars (US$200) buys a lot of vise and features in South Africa.

Ultimately, vise #43 arrived at my office wrapped in multiple layers of bubble wrap, beneath which was a black cordura nylon travel case about the size of a small laptop computer. (If you travel with this vise, you will find the pockets inside the case useful for storing tying tools.)


Nicely packed inside was the vise with materials clip, adjustable bobbin holder, solid oak tying-platform with variously sized holes drilled for tools and small containers, an innovative extension arm for adjustable height tying, and a nifty nylon waste basket.  My kit also included a gallows tool, which is available for a small additional price.  A nice touch was that Jay sent one of his hand-tied paraloop duns clamped in the vise jaws.  Several other accessories are now available at very reasonable prices. These include midge jaws, a c-clamp, and a special accessory for tying salt-water streamers.

Accessories are nice, but the more important decision is between the two available models shown below: (1) the standard model with knuckle-joint arm, or (2) the bent arm model. I chose the bent arm model because of its clean lines.

Standard model with knuckle-joint: The knob on top of the joint is for attachments and can be removed
for greater hand clearance. Photo courtesy of J Vice.

Bent-arm model: Holes in arm allow for three jaw height settings. Photo courtesy of J Vice.

Don’t forget to tell Jay whether you want the stand-rod diameter to be 10mm (a non-standard dimension used by only a few foreign vise makers) or 3/8”.  Mine is 3/8” so that I can add accessories from most other vise builders.   

If you tie left-handed, you will want to mention this to Jay so he can assemble your wood tying-platform accordingly.  The vise jaws can be reversed at any time for left- or right-handed tying. 

In the pedestal mode, the arm holds the jaw tips about 8” above the wood platform, and the stem sits inside a drilled hole in the wood side rail.  It is held solidly in place by a unique brass cam devise, shown in the photo at the right. The height of the jaws on the bent-arm model can be fine-tuned with three jaw height settings.  To make the adjustment, use the supplied Allen wrench to remove the cap-screw from the back of the jaws (see photo below, left). Then, slide the jaw unit up or down on the shaft until it aligns with one of the three holes (see photo below, right). Reinsert the screw and tighten with the Allen wrench.


Back side of jaws. Note brass adjustment knob
and cap-screw


Note the three jaw height setting discussed above.

This height adjustment procedure is a bit awkward, but I don’t view this as an important consideration. I have never made this adjustment.  I tie all my flies in the middle setting.  For those tiers who wish to maintain the hook shank on a perfect x-axis while rotating, of for other reasons you expect to make frequent height adjustments, I suggest the knuckle-joint model which allows the jaws to swivel up and down without tools.

Because my tying desk is a bit high, I favor the extension arm Jay so cleverly designed.  This bar allows the stem to “hang” over the front of the tying table, so that vise height can be lowered.  This is similar to what can be accomplished with a c-clamp.  The result is a more comfortable tying position for me, with my arms lower and with the fly at about mid-chest. Either way, the solid wood tying-platform remains a solid base with no shake or wobble. 

Step 1: The cam and extension arm.  The cam is inserted in the hole shown.  (The same cam is used for both pedestal mode and extension arm mode.)

Step 2: The extension arm is inserted into a hole in the front of the platform.

Step 3: This is my set up. Slide extension arm over the table edge and insert vise stem. Nylon trash bag slips over end of stem and can be pivoted under the table when not in use.


If desired, you can get a little more room behind small hooks (perhaps size 22 and smaller) by angling the stem to one side.

Jaw tightness is adjusted with two mechanisms.  First, a knurled brass knob on the far side of the jaw unit opens and closes the jaws.  By adjusting the jaws so they barely touch the largest hook you expect to use during a tying session, I have found that I can tie up to four sizes smaller without touching this knob.  (Most recently, I started with size 4 and worked down to size 12  without further adjustment.)  A small pocket has been designed inside the jaws to secure larger hooks.  Once the hook is inserted into the jaws, the cam lever will move up or down to lock the hook in place. 

I am a freshwater tier and fish for trout, panfish and bass.  My hooks range from a size 2 3xl to a size 20 thin-wire dry fly hook.  The jaws work splendidly on these sizes.  Jay says they will hold solidly from size 6/0 to 22.  I know one professional tier who found the vise held firm on a 26; but he was quick to mention that the thickness of the jaws gave only marginal access to the back of the hook.  To create more tying room, try tilting the stem to one side as shown in the photo above.  Also, Jay has developed a set of midge jaws, currently available as a prototype for US$35. Jay will upgrade any prototype users with the final version for only the difference in price, yet to be determined.

Midge tiers may want to consider the knuckle-joint standard model because
the midge jaw accessory can be conveniently installed on this model. Photo courtesy of J Vice.

One requirement for me is that the vise be able to maintain an off-angle position while tying, and at the same time be able to rotate easily.  For example, if I want to work on a fly upside down, the shaft should rotate easily to that angle, and the fly should “stay put” in a hands-free upside-down position without further adjustment.  This requires a very precise tightening mechanism.  This is accomplished with a large solid brass infinite-adjustment knob.  The knob presses a Vesconite® disc against the aluminum shaft-housing, operating much like a disc-drag on a fly reel.  Vesconite® is a hard wearing self-lubricating material used for industrial bushes.

A rather unique feature is the slanted design to the control handle.  If held between two fingers and thumb, the ball at the end of the handle allows the tier to rotate the vise in circles without shifting his/her grip.  (You’ll appreciate this when laying down the chenille body of a woolly bugger!)

A few features. Photo from J Vice Web site, with permission.

The solid oak tying-platform is 13/16” thick and has a footprint a tad over 10” x 14”.  It has two rails attached with large screws.  The side rail gives support to the vise stem and the back rail holds tools in predrilled holes. Jay has made platforms from other woods, so if you have a preference let him know.  The extra cost of a custom platform will depend on wood type and availability.

The J Vice is the center of my tying world.  Not only do I admire its rugged good looks, but I appreciate the rock-solid workmanship and top-quality materials.  The word “over engineered” comes to mind.  That’s a good thing, in my opinion.  This vise is simple yet elegant, and it is built without compromise. A work of art with excellent functionality.

Peter Frailey

April, 2005


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