Fly Tying Quick Tips

Self healing cutting mat Cutting Materials Just Got Easier -
and Portable!

I was walking around Office Depot the other evening when I spotted this handy little gadget out of the corner of my eye. It's a "travel sized" self healing cutting mat, and it's a perfect addition to your fly tying kit. This one measures 5x7", and came with the exacto knife and replacement blades for $4.45. Definitely not breaking the bank.

I'm often cutting bulk fly tying materials like foam or felt sheets into useable strips. Since I'd rather avoid putting slices in my fly tying desk, I generally resort to cutting the strips with scissors. If you've ever done this, I'm sure you'll agree that getting a long, even cut is almost impossible this way.
Cutting foam strips
With a self-healing cutting mat, all you need is a metal straight edge and your cuts turn out perfect every time. You'll stop slicing up your tying surface too. Another benefit is saving wear and tear on your expensive fly tying scissors. If you're currently buying pre-cut materials from your local fly shop, rather than bulk sheets from craft store, you can probably get the mat to pay for itself in no time.

Another tip to save you some money, buy whole rabbit hides and make your own zonker strips. You can pick up a whole hide for as little a $6.00. That's about the cost of 2 packs of zonker strips! You'll never have to worry about having standard, cross-cut, and magnum strips around. You can cut your own from the hide in any width or direction you need. You won't waste anything either, as scrap fur can be recycled as rabbit dubbing.
Cutting strips from a hide
To cut a strip, start by parting the hair with a comb. Make sure the part is straight, and comb both sides of the part in opposite directions to expose the hide. You'll want to cut with the fur side up, and place your straight edge over the "main" hide (not the strip your cutting) to protect the rest of the skin. If you part against the nap of the hair, you'll get cross-cut strips.

Splitting a feather stem
You can use your self-healing cutting mat to easily split feather stems too. Hold the feather against the mat. Make sure to use a sharp single-sided razor blade. Push the blade through the stem and firmly into the mat. Now slowly and gently pull the stem into the blade. In the picture, I'm splitting a turkey quill to separate the biots.

One final tip... If you're thinking "Great, another thing to add to my fly tying pile", don't sweat. The 5x7" mat can likely replace something else in your kit. I don't currently use one, but if you've got one of those "visual backdrops" for your fly tying vise, put it up on e-bay! Since the back side of the mat is neutral, it's a perfect stand-in for a backdrop. There... one less thing to clutter up your bench!

Fly Tying Tip By: Brian Doelle.

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