On The Vise IS Fly Tying
Adhesive Fundamentals for Fly Tying
by Peter Jacobson on Sep 4, 2013 in Fly Tying

What’s the best adhesive for fly tying?
That’s a question that pops up on forums with some regularity, particularly from tyers who are just getting started in the craft. And the best answer I can give a beginner is that there isn’t one. Instead, what we have is a long list of quality adhesives that will do a great job of filling specific needs, and I’ve used many of them for one job or another over the years. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, but a few basic adhesives are all a rookie needs to tie a wide variety of patterns:
There are literally dozens of adhesives that can be useful to fly tyers, but a beginner needs only to master a few to construct virtually any type of fly.
This is the good old-fashioned head cement that many of us started out with. It’s cheap, readily available, and makes for a nice glossy head. For all intents and purposes, it’s clear nail polish, and can be thinned with acetone or commercial nail polish remover. (the kind without additives) A major drawback is that it stinks. Literally. Personally, I can’t handle lacquer fumes, which is why I don’t use it any more. Still, it’s been around for many years, and it works as well now as it ever has.
Sally Hansen Hard as Nails:
Sally Hansen Hard as Nails is a clear nail polish that’s widely accepted as one of the finest head cements on the market. I “discovered” it accidentally years ago when I was tying up a batch of steelhead flies and ran out of cement. The fly shop was way across town, a drug store was nearby, and the name made it sound like really tough stuff, which it is. It dries to a beautifuI glossy finish. I keep a couple of bottles on hand at all times. One bottle as is, and another bottle containing cement that’s been allowed to thicken a bit.
Dave’s Flexament:
As a construction cement, this is as good as it gets. It penetrates well, cures to a tough, flexible consistency, and will hold even the slickest synthetics in place. This is the one cement I absolutely can’t do without. I fish mostly salt water, where conditions can be brutal and durability is a huge issue. Flies constructed with liberal amounts of Flexament will take a severe beating without falling apart. It doesn’t dry to a particularly glossy finish, but on buggy-looking patterns that don’t require a glossy head, it’ll do OK as a head cement. I also use it to coat backing-to-line knots and line-to-leader butt knots, where strength and flexibility are a must. It’s not always easy to find, but you can make your own Flexament by thinning ordinary Household GOOP with xylene or toluene. (there’s also a product marketed as “Flex-Seal” that appears to be the same thing, and is usually cheaper than Flexament)
For the past 30 years or so, epoxy has been an important component of many saltwater and warm water patterns. For coating heads, making surf candies, and wide variety of other applications, it’s proven to be versatile, inexpensive, and with practice, relatively easy to work with. I started out years ago with the five-minute stuff, which worked well for those days when I was in a hurry, but the downside was that it would turn yellow fairly quickly. (as a general rule, the longer it takes an epoxy to cure, the longer it’ll take to discolor) Since then, I’ve used rod builders’ Flexcoat and Devcon Two-Ton epoxy (30 minute setup time) with great success. The key to preventing discoloration in any epoxy is to keep it out of the light. I have some epoxy flies I tied at least 15 years ago, and they’re still in usable condition, mainly because they’ve been stored away from direct light. You can make epoxy somewhat less viscous by applying gentle heat, and it can be colored by adding TINY amounts of acrylic paint, dyes, or glitter. Once you get the hang of mixing epoxy correctly, problems associated with an incomplete cure should be minimal at worst. I use 91% rubbing alcohol for cleanup.
Super glues:
I realize a lot of tyers use super glues successfully, but I’ve never really warmed up to them. (the glues, that is) I’ve found them to be brittle, difficult to work with, and often clog up the applicator tube. One misstep, and you’ve ruined the fly or glued your fingers together. I’ll use super glue occasionally, but only when I’m in a rush and/or nothing else seems to work.
Liquid Fusion:
I’ve been using Liquid Fusion urethane glue for a couple of years or so, and I like it a lot. It’s clear, water-based, (which means no toxic odor) it’s relatively inexpensive, and dries to a tough, glossy, and somewhat flexible consistency. It can take the place of epoxy for a lot of applications, including coating heads, bodies, and even poppers. Being water-based, it can be rinsed off while still wet - a big advantage for klutzes like myself. There’s some shrinkage, as with any solvent-based adhesive, but its ease of use more than outweighs any drawbacks. If it gets too thick over time, it can be thinned with tap water.
UV resins:
Admittedly, I’ve been way behind the curve on UV resins. I’m rarely in a hurry these days, and the products I use already do a fine job most of the time, so trying the new UV stuff hasn’t been high on my list of priorities. Also, what I consider to be exorbitant cost has kept me away from it for the past few years. However, one can only hold out for just so long, and to satisfy my curiosity, I recently picked up a starter kit of three Solarez fly tying resins for about $20. (a lamp was included) So far, I like what I’ve seen. It dries clear, tack-free, and with a coat of Sally Hansen, is nice and glossy. Hard to beat for someone who wants to get on the water the same day. My first impression is that the main benefit from UV resin is speed - I still prefer other adhesives for strength and appearance, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the UV stuff is a valuable weapon in the arsenal, and it’s here to stay.
This is what I use for attaching domed eyes. It sticks to absolutely anything, and once completely cured, (I give it 24 hours) it’ll hold the eyes in place at least as well as anything on the market. It’s been my experience that the eyes themselves will break before the adhesive fails. I’ll use super glue in a pinch, but it’s been my experience that the failure rate of GOOP is significantly lower.
Four types of adhesive were used in the construction of these streamers: Flexament throughout; Liquid Fusion to coat the bodies; Solarez UV resin to form the heads: Sally Hansen nail polish to give the heads a glossy finish.
Fly Rotator:
If you’re using a thick coating of any adhesive (except the quick-cure UV resins) it’s imperative that you have some sort of rotator to keep the glue from sagging. There’s a wealth of information kicking around the Internet regarding building your own drying wheel from rotisserie motors, rod-turning motors, etc., and a homemade setup should work just fine.
Although an excellent fly rotator can be constructed from a rotisserie motor, a good, commercially-built wheel will provide years of service without breaking the bank.
However, about 10 years ago, when my last homemade contraption fell apart, I decided to bite the bullet and pick up a commercially made wheel. (Nu-Wave) It cost about $60 at the time, and it was money well spent. I usually do epoxy flies in batches of 12, (that’s all I have time for before the 30-minute epoxy becomes too thick to work with) and it handles a dozen flies with room to spare. I have a battery-powered unit, and the batteries keep it turning for a good long while before they need to be replaced.
At the end of my first tying lesson, the instructor told us to use a lot of cement in construction to prevent our flies from falling apart. Over the years, I’ve followed those instructions to the letter - I glue everything down before proceeding to the next step. Durability is important, whether you’re dredging up monster brown trout or casting to tuna on the reefs.
There are numerous products out there I haven’t mentioned, and if any members would care to share their experience with them, please don’t be bashful about posting in the comments section. This article is primarily aimed at new tyers in the hopes of simplifying the wide range of choices we have today.

About The Author


Peter Jacobson is a fly tyer, fisherman, fine art photographer, guitarpicker, writer, and lure builder, who currently resides in the village of Wachapreague, on the Seaside of Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore. He began tying in the early 1960s when, in a failed attempt to curtail excessive teenage hell-raising, a local game warden offered a couple of free classes to the primary offenders. Although his hell-raising has tapered off somewhat in recent years, he still ties and fishes at every opportunity.
Using fly tying as a creative outlet, he is constantly tweaking his patterns and those of others in an effort to avoid the boredom of production tying. His favorite pattern is the one that's he's dreaming up at any given moment. His chief influences include such legends as Jack Gartside, Bill Catherwood, and just about anyone who'd rather create than copy. His primary goal in tying is to find the balance between aesthetics and function. 


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Luke McCoy Sep 4, 2013 15:51:32

In my younger years I remember using Sally Hansen Hard as Nails most of the time for head cement. Lately I'm been using Clear Cure Goo Hydro a lot for finishing heads or coating scud backs. I've tried using that and other UV glues in place of epoxy on my poppers but I still prefer to use bSi 30 Minute Cure Epoxy for my poppers. I just picked up some bSi 5 Minute to try making some of Kirk's Spoon Flies.

I also have a few other different super glues like bSi thin which I use when attaching poppers to the hook or coating basla before I paint it. I use thicker ones when sticking on eyes if I can't get them to stick. I'll have to try out the Goop you mentions.
Earl Arnold Sep 4, 2013 16:28:26

It's nice to know I have been using the right stuff. Sally H. and Goop on my bench. Super glue for the Troth's Elk Hair Caddis, One Half a drop max and clean the eye.
Luke McCoy Sep 4, 2013 18:15:11

I just ordered a few bottles of Hard as Nails. I have a bottle of Hard As Hull that I was using to coat uv resin flies that were still tacky. I figure I can just do the same with the Hard as Nails and found them pretty cheap on Amazon.
Kirk Dietrich Sep 4, 2013 19:23:26

Peter, great article! Good advices.
Since you asked, I can share a bit on epoxy. You can float your mixture of epoxy, in the mixing cup of course, in a larger cup of ice water. I can now do a little over two dozen popper heads with one mixture. See my video I put out on several options on turners and my epoxy set up, and in the second one, some tips on applying the epoxy.

As for CA glue (superglue), BSI offers several onsistencies, which Luke eluded to. They have a super thin, a gap filling one that's a little thicker and I believe a "thick", a slightly flexible one as well as a foam safe one. When applying to materials
while tying, especially slick hairs like squirrel tail, I usually use the thick stuff and if I'm particularly afraid of the glue getting up in the wing, I'll apply the thick CA on a short section of tying thread and wrap the glue saturated thread around the materials. Anyway, here is a link to their CA products: http://bsi-inc.com/Pages/hobby/ca.html
By the way, I owe it to you for introducing me to Liquid Fusion and for my bream bugs, it is my go to top coating now. Due to its rubberyness, it protects the paint longer than epoxy and UV resins.
Luke McCoy Sep 4, 2013 20:00:49

Kirk, that was liquid fusion on those poppers that you showed me that one morning compared to the others with epoxy?
Kirk Dietrich Sep 4, 2013 21:11:48

Luke, the little blue one that I fished with was coated with Liquid Fusion. I had it up to 47 fish with very little wear, and no paint/marker missing. A fish popped it off, all I had to do was get it up to 53 before retiring it for photographing alongside the other bugs I've coated with UV Resin and epoxy both of which have chipped and peeled between 40 - 50 fish and had to be retired at 53. So, now, I'm starting over with another LF coated blue bug.
Luke McCoy Sep 5, 2013 10:14:06

I may have to pick up a bottle of it. I remember how good that one still looked compared to the others. That's sux that you lost it before finishing.
Peterjay Sep 5, 2013 08:59:37

Just a word on Liquid Fusion: the bottle I'm currently using has thickened to the point where it doesn't drip easily, (like epoxy) and instead of thinning it, I've left it alone and it's been doing a super job of coating heads, bodies, etc., without having to use multiple coats. Guess what I'll do is keep one bottle thinned and another in a thicker state for those applications. Of course, the fly should be rotated during the curing process either way. I've been getting the same results as Kirk on the durability issue: the LF heads/bodies have been standing up to the oyster rocks better than the ones coated with UV resin. I've had some chipping with the UV, and none at all with the Liquid Fusion. Admittedly, it's a small sample, but I really like what I'm seeing so far. Some day I hope to actually catch enough fish to test the stuff on teeth, but I'm not gonna hold my breath on that score. (LOL)

BTW I like Earl's suggestion on the elk hair caddis. Those wings take a beating without some kind of protection.
Kirk Dietrich Sep 5, 2013 10:12:16

I certainly won't be testing on toothy fish, so my test really won't be totally conclusive. I decided to use bream bugs coated with LF to speed up the testing a little. I've been averaging five or so gills before work and another five after work if I get a chance to stop. If I wouldn't have popped off the epoxy and LF ones, I'd almost be done!
CaptJeremy_L Sep 16, 2013 18:33:19

Great article. I use Hard as Hull and Liquid Fusion for most flies with super glue used during the tying process.
Ang Oct 31, 2014 04:44:50

Thanks for the great article. I'm new to these pages but not new to the sport of saltwater fly tying and fishing.

I've tied dozens of flies for the unforgiving Australian saltwater over the years and found, beyond any other product, that the newer UV cure glues and gels are superior to any 2 part resin I've encountered. 2 part resins are fine for a while but I'm yet to find a genuine, non-yellowing resin that is quick to use. The closest I've found is Flex Coat style 2 part resins used in rod building. But these are far from quick setting.

I too was dismayed at some of the asking prices as good UV gels aren't cheap. But moving with the times I've seen more products filter onto the market and am now even experimenting with cheaper nail beauty products which set as hard as anything I've used at a fraction of the cost.

I'm liking this site. The forum content is excellent.

Ang, Australia.
lepomis Dec 7, 2014 09:52:19

I would add that 'household' goop is not essential to making 'home made' flexament. The labeling as 'specific' types is a marketing ploy. Goop is Goop, is Goop, is Goop! Nothing different, or unique, about any of the various 'flavors'. Also, if you happen to have/find a tube that has dried out do not dispare! Simply cut the tube open and drop the whole enchilada into a jar of either toluene or xylene and let it set for several days. You will soon gave more flexament.