Thursday, November 18, 2010

"D.I.Y." Fly Tying Bench

One of my minor accomplishments during the past year was building my own fly tying bench. I found an article about a year ago on the Global Fly Fisher website by Jan-Ole Willers entitled "Build a Flexible Fly Tying Bench" that served as my inspiration. I thought I would share my finished product so maybe someone else will be inspired as I was to build their own.

Just as the Global Fly Fisher article describes, I often found myself taking over the coffee table or dinner table with my vise clamped to the edge of the table and my materials spread out everywhere. I needed a work surface that I could pick up and move easily without having to actually put things away. I needed a portable fly tying bench.

I had been thinking about building one for a while, but didn't get my full inspiration until I began working at the Home Depot. I worked there for a little over six months in the lumber department. This second half of my inspiration came from the scrap pieces of lumber known as "stickers" in the lumber forklifting business. "Stickers" are the pieces of wood strapped to the bottom of a bunk of lumber that allow the forks of the lift truck to get under the load. These pieces of wood are often similar in size to a 2 x 4 or a 2 x 3 with a channel (or rabbet) cut into one side for a band to be strapped around the load of lumber. When I first noticed these scraps, and realized that they are just thrown away, the wheels in my head started turning. I finally found a pair of "stickers" that looked appropriate, and I had the frame for my bench.

The work surface was made from a nice scrap of 3/4" plywood I had leftover from a previous project. I used a few other small leftover pieces to trim out the front edge of the bench. The only things I bought were a small piece of oak (1/2" x 3" x 2'), a 1/4" x 36" aluminum rod that I used for spool pegs, and a roll of adhesive backed magnetic tape. The oak piece is attached under the front edge to provide a dense piece of wood to clamp down on with the vise. For those interested in seeing that detail, here it is:

The construction is very simple. First, I cut all of the pieces to fit together correctly... maybe that's easier said than done... depending on one's carpentry skills. I mitered the corners of the frame pieces for a nice finished look. Next, I drilled holes for tools and spool pegs using my drill press to ensure they were nice and straight. The holes drilled for the tools are 3/8" diameter. The holes (one at each corner) drilled for the swing arm lamp are 1/2" diameter (borrowed that idea from Oasis Fly Tying Benches). Holes are 1.25" deep. I cut the aluminum rod down into pegs... probably the most annoying part of the project. The holes I drilled for the pegs were 15/64" (1/64" less than 1/4") so they could be driven in tightly with no glue needed. I assembled all of the pieces using wood glue. The only fasteners I used were a few small nails (in addition to glue) on the front trim pieces that cover up the rough plywood edge. These trim pieces also hide the rabbeted frame that holds the plywood and the oak piece attached under the front edge. Then, I sanded and finished the bench with several coats of spar urethane. Last, but certainly not least, I attached the magnetic strips to the sides of the frame. The finished size is 27" x 12.75".

Click on photos to enlarge... please excuse my cheap vise.

I've found that the magnetic strips are very useful for holding hooks or finished flies while the head cement is drying. Unfortunately, they don't have enough strength to hold tools... not even the tiny hackle pliers that don't fit into a hole. I left one peg empty in the photograph so you can see it a little better. Please don't make too much fun of my hand tied cork popper that I put in the vise for the photo. I wanted something big and visible that I tied myself... and please... don't laugh too hard at my cheap vise. I've spent my fly fishing money elsewhere. One day I'll get a nice rotary pedestal vise... one day. I would be very grateful if anyone would like to get me one for Christmas....... I hear the sound of crickets chirping.

I managed to collect a good number of nice "stickers" before I turned in my notice at the Depot, so I have plenty of material laying around just waiting to become a bench. If you would like me to build you one for a small fee, please comment below or e-mail me at snapperking78 (at) msn dot com.

If you think you might like to build your own the way I did, you can usually get the lumber guys at Home Depot (and probably Lowe's too) to give you some "stickers." The challenge is finding a pair that could make a decent looking bench. They aren't exactly quality pieces of wood, and nice "stickers" don't exactly show up in every load of lumber. If you have any questions about construction please don't hesitate to ask.

I hope I can inspire at least a few other budget fly fishers to build their own. If you're currently being asked to clear the table of that fly tying mess because Thanksgiving is on its way, then you probably need a portable fly tying bench.


  1. Econmical... I was just thinking about a DIY fly bench. Thanks for the ideas

  2. Jay
    I can tell you are a well organzied fisherman--good job.

  3. Actually... I just get organized for photo shoots. I maintain what I like to call structured chaos.

  4. Jay
    You may be a little like me, in that I have to fish with everything working to perfection, and everything at my finger tips, and everthing in a place where I can put my hands on it at a moments notice, now does all of that work for me??? NOT EVERY TIME!!!

  5. Jay, just wanted to wish you and Kelly a Happy Thanksgiving.


  6. I like it that is something I have been wanting to do for awhile but always putting it off. Nice work and nice job.

  7. Do you still build fly tying benches? I need one for my hubby. Thanks.

    1. Karen, I might be able to get one together if you gave me about a month or so. I've recently moved and my garage workshop isn't fully operational yet. Email me at snapperking78 at msn dot com, and let me know when you'd like to get it. Also let me know if you have any special requests... a particular stain or finish color, preferred lustre (matte, satin, semi-gloss, or gloss), and maybe let me know a bit about your husband's fly tying... what type of flies does he tie (what type of fish does he go after)?