The HMH Spartan Vise is the choice of a great segment of commercial fly tyers. Along with the upper eschalon Standard Vise from HMH, the Spartan is an absolute workhorse that takes essential functions to the peak of manufacturing design and quality. HMH vises have been around for more than thirty years now, and were originally designed by Bill Hunter of Hunter's Fly Shop in New London, NH. I used to frequent that shop when I lived in New Hampshire. HMH vises are now popular across the world of fly tying, and are the best built vises of their type.
The basic separation between fly tyers in choosing a vise come down primarily to one major difference in one feature option, the offset rotary, or true rotary design, in which the fly can be rotated along its own axis to facilite easier wrapping of materials along the hook shank. For many people, that is a great option, especially with fragile materials like silk or acetate floss which can be so easily damaged by conventional hand over had wrapping. On the other hand, many advanced or professional fly tyers will wrap hand over hand on their rotary vises. I've done it myself. What you really need to decide when choosing a vise, particularly something you are going to spend some money on, is what kind of vise you want. And here's the thing... you need to buy the vise that suits you best, not the one that someone else tells you to buy. I have met many fly tyers who bought a true rotary design vise who absolutely never use the rotary function, except to inspect the fly at different angles while tying. They bought something that they did not need. The typical response, "well it's there if I ever need it," really suggests, I probably would have been happy with a more conventional design.
The HMH vises are in-line rotary designs, which means that you can rotate the fly to view from all angles, but because it will orbit around a central axis creating a wobble as you rotate the vise, it is less suitable for precision rotary tying than an offset rotary design.
If a fly tying vise were purchased by NASA for a mission to Mars, the HMH might well be the one. It could double as a vise grip or a hammer for a "Houston, we have a problem" emergency. Few fly vises ever made can rival it for durablity, precison machining, range of hook sizes (with accessory jaws) or ease of use. Even changing jaws is ridiculously easy, as you can simply unscrew a jaw and screw in a new one.
HMH has some finer points that make its users devoted fans. One of my favorites is the tiny set screw located on the brass adjuster ring on my Spartan. That ring fine tunes the rotary tension on the vise to the preference of the tyer. Once set, the set screw is tightened and the tension stays where you put it. You don't have to keep fiddling with it all the time. Also, because of the precision machining, the allen screw that allows you to adjust the angle of the vise head can be set tight enough so that it will hold positon securely while you tie, and yet still be able to adjust by hand without the allen key, and without damage to the joint. Additionally, the cam lever lock is easy to work, and comfortable to the hand whether locking or unlocking.
HMH offers three different jaws for their vises, and they can be purchased with any of the them alone. The Omni jaw is the most popular, and covers an ideal hook range of size 20 to 2/0. The Magnum jaw covers size 10 to 6/0, while the midge head covers the tiny hooks from size 18 all the way down to size 32. You can use the jaws across a wider range, but hook access can be limited for tiny hooks on a larger jaw, and some hooks are simply too wide for the gape on the smaller jaws. HMH also offers an in-line tube fly conversion that turns the HMH into one of the finest true rotary tube vises made.
Additional accessories are available, such as the profile plate and bobbin rest for those looking for additional feature options to customize their tying experience.
Is the HMH worth the premium price tag? Absolutely, so long as it is the right vise for you, and so long as you are willing to spend the money. The Spartan will run approximately two hundred dollars, so make sure you like a traditional vise before you jump in. On the upside, if you should ever decide to go a different direction after purchasing the vise, they hold their value extremely well in the used vise market. If you are looking for a traditional fly tying vise with the best engineering and construction, take a look at the HMH Spartan.
Derdriu on January 31, 2012:
David, What a clear, elucidating, informative review of the Spartan fly-tying vise! In particular, you do a great job of stressing the product's versatility and user-friendliness to accessorizing.
Thank you for sharing, voted up + all,