Here is a recent post from one of the web forums I frequent:
While attending the show I was struck by the fact that not one of twenty or so tyers there had an HMH. Most, as you can expect, were tying on a Renzetti of some sort, one on a Regal and one on a Barracuda. The following week I attended my first local TU chapter tying event and had a similar experience. This time one Barracuda, no Regal and me with my Spartan and my HMH silhouette I had loaned to another member. My question is this, why are so many drawn to the Renzetti line of vises? Is it the price point?, availability?, marketing? It does not seem to be the true rotary design, because no one at the club used this feature. Any thoughts?
I will take a stab at this one. It is safe to say that a great many of us learned to tie with a generic fly tying kit vise, a Thompson Pro A, or a generic fixed position vise. This is the crucial stage in the development of a fly tier. You either like it or you don't. If you don't like it, it goes in a box under a bed or buried in a closet and forgotten. If you like it you learn to adapt and work the generic til the wheels are ready to fall off and/or you out grow the capabilities of this "beginner" vise. As a tier your experience grows and soon you will eventually learn tricks and tips from all sorts of media outlets. When that time to reward yourself with a new vise comes you will most likely do some research.
What is it that makes you yearn for new vise?
Need for a reliable piece of equipment?
More bells and whistles?
Ease and aid in tying?
I owe it to myself to buy a modern vise, because I like fly tying?
A new vise will make me tie better?
Along with deciding why you want or need a new vise comes some other questions that you should / may ask yourself.
How much money am I willing to spend?
How do I get the most bang for my buck?
I want to make a career out of this tying thing and a new vise to make me tie faster?
The big three.....I'll go out on a limb here and say there are 3 big manufacturers of vises (yes there are more, but these in my opinion are the most popular, not necessarily the best). Regal, Renzetti, and HMH. Your research most likely has lead you to these names at some point or another. Now for the big hurdle and ear catcher....rotary, full rotary, and true rotary. I've avoided these terms until now. Go back and re-read if you want, but in the list of questions why we want a new vise has nothing to do with rotary function, but does have to do with making my tying easier. The big three all have full rotary function in their vises (I am not including the Inex, Apprentise, or SX in this discussion). Full rotary function involves the fact that you can rotate the hook while clamped in the vise in a full circle 360 degrees. Renzetti is the only one of the big three and most other brands of vises that has a true rotary function. True rotary is that the plane of the hook shank will not change while rotated 360 degrees. If you clamp the hook so that the shank is horizontal and turn the rotary function, the shank should not break it's original placement plane. I encourage you to visit Renzetti's web site for the full explanation. My intent is not to beat to death an old horse over full rotary vs. true rotary. That has been done enough over the years. As is often noted, tiers with rotary vises rarely use the function, it's a luxury option that should be considered, but not the deciding factor in buying a vise.
Now you've been tying on this stationary vise of yours where you clamp the hook and do all the work of tying with out turning anything other than your hands. You see a rotary vise and instantly assume that is what you need.....myself included. I will be the first to say that rotary vises make tying easier! Now why do so many people go for Renzetti over the others? In my opinion it's all in the looks. Renzetti is so far away in looks compared to our old stationary non-rotary vises that the "it looks different, it's gotta be better" wins us over mentally. If you look at the design and shape of HMH and Regal and they look very much like they don't have a rotary function.
Now for tying on the big three. I've tyed on the Regal Medallion, Renzetti Traveler, and the HMH Spartan. I would consider all of these to be comparable in design quality and price range. As a part time commercial tier ease of use, speed, functionality, durability, and hook holding power are very important.
The Regal hands down in my opinion wins on hook holding. It's the only vise that I've tyed on that scares me when I go to clamp a hook into (a bit exaggerated but none the less)...I fear that the hook is going to be squeezed out and go flying. Once the hook is clamped in, it's in there!!!! With that being said, to tie on it feels clumsy and awkward. I don't like the hand resting area, I don't like the rotary feel. Though very well built and sturdy, it's not for me.
The HMH Spartan, a nice sleek looking vise, good hook holding capability. The hook tension and rotary tension adjustments can be a little finicky until you get it down. The vise feels built to last. I love the hand rest area and distance. I like the ease and ability to adjust the angle of the head. The ability to switch from a magnum jaw, micro jaw, or tube fly adapter takes about 30 seconds. None of the other vises even come close here. As far as I know HMH is the only vise in the big three to recommend a cleaning, lubricating, protecting agent. On the down side the plastic washers can ware quickly and the hook holding memory can be finicky to adjust if you're tying the same size hook over and over. I find that I have to keep readjusting to get the right hook hold feel.
The Renzetti Traveler is a light weight and nice in design. Hook holding is equal to the HMH in my opinion. I do feel like the vise is a little cheap in design materials. I feel like the moving parts are designed to last a few years and then need to be replaced at an inflated price. The true rotary function is wonderful but not an absolute necessity in my opinion, especially considering you can't adjust the angle of the head. There is good hand resting area. Now for the down side. The rotary tension knob is located in an area where it constantly comes loose and at times even falls out. This drives me crazy. What would be a great vise is flawed by this simple knob and it's location. If the object is to get me to buy the next model up, it's not happening. It sends me looking elsewhere.
I will say it again, most tiers who have a rotary function don't use it to its full potential. The next time you're at a fly tying show watch how many tiers use the rotary function. There is a time and place for rotary. I was asking a fellow tier recently about hackle pliers that rotate when used to wrap. I asked "have you tried them?"...the reply was "No, I have a rotary vise for that." Then it struck me how often I don't use the rotary function on my vise. I ask this. Why would I use the rotary function to take one or two turns of hackle when tying a soft hackle collar? I feel better control when wrapping by hand at this point. I leave it up to you to decide when and if rotary is needed in your tying. I for one enjoy the feature.