Better Dubbing Brushes

Making Dubbing Brushes with machines has become pretty popular in the fly-tying world over the last few years. Brushes are very useful! They can be used to make many patterns, and the sky is the limit! Brushes can make tying easier and faster, and with some creativity one can make some really unique flies. I hope the following techniques, examples, and just some rambling on in general help you make some great brushes!

The first technique I’d like to share with you 1) significantly reduces clumping as the brush spins, and 2) causes all the different fibers/materials in the brush to spin up more evenly.  This technique involves using some stiff, springy (and shorter) fibers for the inner ‘core’ of the brush, before you add the other materials.  The reason for this trick is that the stiffness and springiness of these short fibers makes them stronger and stiffer than your other materials (even if the same exact materials are used for the rest of the brush, shorter fibers are more stiff than longer ones).  As the brush begins to spin up, the stiff ‘core’ fibers push on the other materials, causing them to spin up more evenly (this is especially important if you are using longer and/or softer fibers), and mostly eliminating the clumping problems that are common with dubbing brushes.  Stiff synthetics such as SF Blend and others work well for these.  Whatever fiber you use, be sure it’s somewhat stiff and springy, and that it won’t crease or crinkle very easily (like, for example, bucktail–bucktail is somewhat springy, but it creases and crinkles and folds easily, so it is not suitable for this purpose).   It’s important to make these ‘core’ fibers very short, about an inch or shorter.  Put the short, core fibers onto the brush table and onto the wire FIRST, before your other longer, colored fibers and your flash and your rubber, etc.  Use wax on your wire, and mash these short core fibers onto the wire so that they are stuck on and don’t slide.  Wax is important; I put wax on both wires, bottom and top, and I spin the bottom wire as I apply the wax, so that the wax goes all around the surface of the wire and not just on one part.  

For example, let’s make a 2.5-inch wide Crustacean brush for redfish flies.  First cut up some cream-colored SF blend, Faux Bucktail, or other stiff synthetic into one-inch sections and put them in a pile.  Then, setup your wire and shelf and then wax up your wire.  Next, add a complete layer of the one-inch cream fibers all the way across the shelf, the entire length of the bottom wire.  You will have to center the fibers (half-inches of material on each side of the wire) before you press them down onto the waxy wire.  Be sure to cover the whole shelf with these short, cream-colored fibers. If you do it right, you will have a nice, even, cream-colored layer stuck to the wire. These stiff fibers will form the inner core of the brush.  Next, take some medium-brown fibers (synthetic or natural) that are 2.5-inches long and lay them all across the shelf (on top of the one-inch cream fibers), centered over the wire, BUT these brown fibers need to be more sparse than the cream ‘core’ fibers.  The wire is already mostly-covered up, so it is not necessary to try to stick these larger fibers onto the wax that’s on the wire.   Most of the time it will not stick, and that’s ok.  Next let’s add some Copper-colored Krystal Flash, but this time we want to spread out the flash, as a little goes a long way.  Cut up some of the Krystal Flash into 3- or 3.5-inch sections.  You only need a few.  Add them on top of the brown fibers, but add one or two flash fibers every inch or so of your shelf.  It goes the same way with rubber–you usually only want a couple fibers per inch of the shelf.  Make the flash and the rubber the longest materials.  Now let’s add some rubber.  Take some form of colored rubber bands in about 2 or 3 different color-schemes and cut them into 3.5- to 4-inch sections.  Keep each color-scheme separate so that your brush stays evenly colored.  Add a couple light-orange rubber bands about 2 per inch, spaced evenly.  Do the same with some brown/black striped rubber bands (normally used for grasshopper legs), and do the same with some dark-olive rubber.  Space it evenly and center it over the wire.  Next you will be ready to spin up the brush. Here are a couple ‘Crustacean’ brushes I made recently for inshore saltwater fishing (see pics):

One thing to consider when choosing the color of your materials is that almost every baitfish, crab, crayfish, or other critter in the water has a darker top and a lighter bottom.  It’s easy to make your flies have a darker top and a lighter bottom, by using 1) lighter colors in your brush, and 2) using permanent markers on the top of the fly that make the color darker without changing the actual color hue much.  Do this by getting Grey (and Tan, Brown, and Olive if you like) permanent markers and painting up the fly after it is complete. You can get by with just a couple markers if you have to.  For example, get a standard grey (for example, 80% or 90% grey) and a more organic grey, such as a Warm Grey or a French Grey.  These 2 markers will darken most flies without changing the actual color hue.  If your fly was made with a brush, you will most likely want to comb/brush the top of the fly and even everything out and possibly flatten the top fibers some before you color the fly. The bottom of your fly will end up much lighter because of the lighter-colored brushes. You can also just make a completely-cream or white or tan brush, so that the entire fly will be a very light color, and then use several different colored markers to paint up your fly however you like (including a darker top).  Make some cream or tan brushes and give it a try!  The last time I looked though, good markers were not cheap! Here is an example of a crab pattern made with one of these Crustacean brushes (see pic):

Cost is important to consider, and that’s one reason I mostly use synthetics these days on my own brushes. Synthetics can be bought by the pound if you look…Another thing to consider is:  how many flies can you tie with one brush? Of course that depends how big the fly is and how tightly you wrap the brush on and how long your brush is.…My answer is 1) Use materials that you can get in bulk, at least for some parts of the brush; 2) Make your brush-machine longer, like 16 inches or more, so that you get longer brushes and don’t have to spend so much time messing with the wire, wax, etc.

Using a drill, and using slightly thicker wire can give you an advantage as you make your brushes. Your limiting factors in making longer brushes depends on 1) how thick your materials are, 2) how strong your wire is, and 3) how much you “help” the materials onto the wire as you are first spinning the brush–as you remove the table, you should spin the fibers slowly at first while simultaneously brushing the fibers a little bit to help them not clump together.  If you use the right size and amount of the stiff, springy, shorter fibers, you will not have much clumping at all.

The next technique I would like to share is rather simple.  Regardless of all your efforts with a  brush, you will still have one end that is wrapped more tightly than the other.  This is easily fixed–remove the wire from each end and reverse the wire, so that the drill is on the ‘looser’ end, then spin up a little more so that the whole brush is tight.

Using the above methods and techniques allows you to make wider brushes (if you want), and using a drill does actually have an advantage with the bigger brushes.

The limiting factor when making brushes is definitely your time, and not the cost of materials. Find materials that you can buy in bulk. Make 10 brushes in a row and you’ll get much faster and better at it. Use materials from other industries, from craft stores, dollar stores, etc. Nylon is a common fiber that is available in every size, shape, and color under the sun. It has many names and many fly-tying tools and materials are made using nylon. Check the internet for names of different nylon fibers, and products made from them. Then source these materials. I would say try getting your materials from China, but not these days….

I hope the above techniques and ramblings help you make some cool, unique brushes, easier and faster. Experiment with spinning up new materials in your brushes, and you will come up with some unique-looking flies.

See you on the river!

1 thought on “Better Dubbing Brushes”

  1. Jule McDowell

    Scott…very helpful. “Reverse the wire” is a stroke of extra smart. Nice work.

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