Product Review: Snowbee Waldron Fly Tying Vise
The Snowbee Waldron vise is the cooperative product of Snowbee Manufacturing in England, and legendary designer Lawrence A. Waldron, the designer and manufacturer of the LAW vises and other elite fly tying and fly fishing products.
The Snobee Waldron is a true rotary, or offset rotary design, and has one of the smoothest rotary actions of any vise made in the world, coupled with an oversized cam leverlock jaw set that works with virtually any hook made that you would ever tie a fly on. It sits on a massive base that makes it one of the most stable pedestal vises you can buy. The Snowbee Waldron has exqusite styling and finely finished details such as the unique tapering of the link arm, the robust integrated material clip, the fine knurling of the adjustment knobs, or the large recessed tray on the massive base that can hold a handful of hooks or beads without letting them wander away while you tie by the dozens.
The Snowbee Waldron is an elite vise, carrying a higher price tag than most, and rivaling other top manufacturers in both quality and price point.The simplicity of design is a hallmark of Waldron's designs, and the Snowbee Waldron vise is no exception. The main bearing system of the vise, truly one of the smoothest in the world, uses two ball bearing race assemblies in a cylinder with a link arm on one side, the rotation arm and a tightning knob on the other, with delrin bushings sandwiched between on either side. The result is infinitely adjustable tension capability from free to locked by tightening the knurled knob. The delrin bearing is a feature Waldron incorporated into the famous LAW vise, and was the open secret of its smooth rotation. Waldron used the same concept in a new way in the Snowbee Waldron vise, and produced a second spectacularly smooth rotary design. The vise is stainless steel and aluminum, with tool steel jaws, and the vise is CNC milled to .01 mm tolerance.
The vise has a striking appearance, with a massive jaw unlike the delicately crafted jaws normally found on fly tying vises today. It's even big for a big vise. When inverted, the Snowbee Waldron jaws resemble the massive head of a Tyrannosaurus rex looming over is prey with its ferociously powerful jaws. The jaws are precision machined from CR 12 tool steel which are hardened to Rockwell C 58. They may not bite quite like a T rex, but they are more than sufficient to hold any size hook you would ever likely use to tie a fly. The jaws are rated down to size 28, and I have tied down to size 32 with them, finding sufficient clearance to tie, such as there is for so tiny a hook.
When I first started tying with this jaw set, I found it a little tricky to get used to. Because the cam leverlock can swing through the locked position and beyond, it has a different feel to the cam mechanism than a limited travel lever lock like the Renzetti or Dyna King, or traditional draw collet vises like the HMH. It is actually very similar in design to the lever lock found on the newer vise conversions from Nor-vise, but on a larger scale. Everything about the vise seems to be on a larger scale. Once accustomed to the feel of correctly tightened jaws, it becomes very easy to change hooks or to adjust for hook sizes. The inside faces of the jaw tips are flat, and the tiniest hooks are held there. There is no danger of having the hooks slip. In fact, when set properly, I haven't had any hook slip. Set a little further into the jaw are two pocket grooves one for small midsized hooks, and one for larger midsized hooks. These are designed to give further assurance that a hook placed within cannot slip if the jaws are properly tightened. Further yet into the jaws is an area that again has smooth inner faces for large hooks. I have mixed feelings about the grooved jaw pockets. They work fine, though they require that you adjust for the groove depth when adjusting the jaws, but that is easy to get used to. The problem is if you have a very fine wire hook in the mid size range where to clamp it to get the best hold, as it can resist holding within the pocket. An example would be the Mustad Super Sproat hooks which are forged from 4x fine wire. You either have to set the hook abnormally far into the jaw, or further out than usual to engage them properly. Also the jaws force you to choose further forward or further back if you have a hook with an unusual compound bend like a Kahle hook, since the curve may not fit the groove pocket properly. To put such a hook into the groove and tighten can bend or even fracture the hook. Personally, I would have preferred a completely smooth inner face like that found on the HMH or Regal jaws, though there are tyers who favor the pocket style, and Lawrence Waldron favors it as a designer.
There is the danger of "spitting" a hook from the jaws if it is set too close to the edge, however. The hooks need to be engaged within the jaw such that more than a hook wire thickness is between the edge of the hook and the edge of the inner jaw face, and so that the hook enters and exits on either side of the central jaw axis. Tinier hooks are the easiest to spit from jaws in general, because they are too small to set very far within the jaw, and extra care must be taken in positioning them. There are two primary dangers in spitting a hook from any vise. First, a hook that is spit from a vise will exit at dangerous velocity, and anyone in its path could be injured, and potentially blinded if the hook struck them in the eye. I was in a fly tying get together once where a participant spit a hook from their vise and it pinged around the room half a dozen times. Everyone was looking around nervously to see if someone had been hit. Either the hook landed somewhere out of the way, or someone wore it home in their clothes. I never did find out. The second danger of spitting a hook is that it can chip or break the jaws on your vise. This can happen with most any brand of vise, and I have seen broken jaws or pictures of broken jaws on most any brand you can name... Snowbee, Renzetti, HMH, Regal and more will all chip or break. The problem is not with the vise. It's with the hardened steel jaws of the vise snapping closed at incredible velocity as the hook suddenly exits the vise and jaws snap violently shut to close the gap. When two pieces of hardened steel hit at very high velocity, the steel can shatter. The reason for the hardened steel is simple. The hooks are tempered to resist bending easily, and this hardens the hooks. If the jaws are not properly hardened, they would actually be damaged by the hooks. and would not serve well over time. The danger of spitting a hook from the Snowbee Waldron jaw needs to be kept in mind, because the oversized jaw makes it easier to misjudge the hook placement, particularly at first. I've only spit a hook from a vise once, my Anvil Apex, and it was when I misplaced a hook the first time I stuck a size 32 in the jaws. Fortunately the jaws did not break, but you do need to be aware. Other than having a vise fall off the top shelf onto your head, spitting a hook is about the only way to get hurt by your vise, and about the only way you can break the jaws.
In use, the Snowbee Waldron performs beautifully. The tension adjustment allows you to set the rotary tension correctly so that you can rotate the vise easily, but let go and not have the vise rotate on its own. If you aren't using the rotary function, you can tighten the adjuster further to immobilize the rotation. to adjust for the correct center of rotation for various hook sizes, Waldron designed the link arm with adjusment allen screws on front and back allowing for infinitesimal adjustments so you can place the hook shank precisely on the axis of rotation for precision rotary function.
Since the jaw was designed to to cover all hook sizes, there are no other jaw sets available, but there is a tube fly conversion available that puts tubes directly on the rotation axis, making tying extremely easy and precise. Converting from the standard head to the tube head is simple and only takes a couple of minutes to change over, quicker if you do it frequently.
The vise is supplid with either the c-clamp or the pedestal base, and functions easily with both. It also comes with a carrying case and ball head allen keys for the vise adjusters. The current version of the vise has a black finish on the jaws. One accessory that does not come with the vise but is sold separately is a combination profile plate and bobbin holder that can be swung in and out of postion with a couple of pivots.
The Snowbee Waldron is a beautiful vise, and a solid bench vise that is simple yet wonderfully functional, and is a pleasure to use. It carries a higher price tag than most vises, coming in at about $500, but if you don't mind the price, it is a vise well worth considering. If you search for the vise, try the alternate spelling vice, since Snowbee is a British company. Sly sense of humor if you ask me... my wife has been telling me my fly tying is a vice for years.