By Sam Larson
I’ve never been someone to buy cheap tools. My grandfather had me standing on a four-legged stool next to him as soon as I could be trusted with a screwdriver. I’ve invested in my personal collection of tools as long as I’ve lived on my own. I spent years of my life repairing bicycles and using tools and my hands to earn my keep. I know the value of a high-quality tool that you can trust to get the job done.
Which is why I’m so damn angry about this pair of scissors. I’ll admit that my near-fetishistic belief in high-quality tools hasn’t moved as far into my fly tying habits as one would normally expect. I first purchased a fly tying starter kit in a box. It was junk. The hooks were cheap, the materials were shoddy, and the tools weren’t great. I replaced the vise within three months but somehow, oddly, never got around to replacing the rest of the tools. The bobbin that came with the kit has been fine. It hasn’t developed any burrs yet so I’ve kept it around. I can’t see how an upgraded bodkin would make a bit of difference, and the whip finisher ties knots smoothly. The only thing I replaced out of hand were the scissors. The plain silver ones that came with the kit were dull out of the box. I replaced them with a pair of blue Wiss thread nippers and loved them. The reverse spring always-open blades, the super fine tips, and the long-wearing blades were the tool that I wanted and needed.
Time passed and the Wiss nippers grew dull. It happens. I wasn’t kind to them and they cut more than their fair share of deer hair, thread, Antron, foam, and so on. The final straw was a pile of 20-Incher stonefly nymphs. I prefer to use Tyvek for their wingcases. Tyvek envelopes are free at the post office and two envelopes will give you a lifetime supply of wingcase material that can be colored with Sharpie markers, but Tyvek is hell on scissors. My nippers, already on their last legs, couldn’t take this final insult and were dead in the water after that tying session. They will kind of cut thread at this point, but that’s it.
But this was an opportunity, a chance to find new, superior scissors. The Wiss nippers had been fantastic, but who doesn’t love a new tool? I dove headfirst into the internet and read all the reviews. Loon, Anvil, Dr. Slick, Fiskars, if there was a posting about scissors on a fly tying forum somewhere I read it. Unsurprisingly Wiss nippers came up more than a few times. Here’s where the story turns sour. I choked. With my love of tools, my positive experience with good quality scissors, my belief in paying the premium for a tool you can trust, I got hung up on price and, after all the research, sat back down at my desk with a ten dollar four-pack of no name scissors from Michaels. It came with nippers, 3-inch scissors, 5-inch scissors, and a standard pair of fabric scissors, all in a jaunty blue/green finish with soft rubber grips.
They are garbage. I could have lit a ten dollar bill on fire and done better for myself. The nippers stick, they close with a grinding plastic-on-plastic feel, and, most importantly, they do not cut. Anything. Single strands of thread and that’s it. They can’t cut Antron, deer hair, foam, or heavy 3/0 tying thread. The 3-inch scissors I tossed into my tying tool bin since they are great for cutting deer hair off the hide, but they don’t have fine enough tips to be used on a fly. The other scissors are sitting in the junk drawer. One week later I was back to using my dull as dirt Wiss nippers because even when they were dull they were better than the other scissors I bought from Michaels. It was price that got me in the end and that shames me. For some reason the twenty dollar price tag on decent fly tying scissors felt like a bridge too far. I ended up coming home and ordering a new pair of Wiss nippers because it was easy, it felt safe, and I wasn’t in the mood to experiment any further. It was price that got me in the end and that shames me. For some reason the twenty dollar price tag on decent fly tying scissors felt like a bridge too far. But, when all is said and done, I’m twenty bucks in the hole anyways having spent ten dollars on the scissors I threw away and ten more dollars on the new Wiss nippers.
When in doubt, spend the money and get the tool that will get the job done. Going cheap isn’t worth it, and the money you think you saved will be pissed away as you fight and fight to make those cheap tools work. If you’re a commercial tyer than you know that time is money and you can’t spend time fooling around with scissors that don’t cut. If you’re a hobbyist then tying should be fun, not a source for frustration as you hack at a tuft of Antron over and over. Take my advice and just buy the nice scissors.