Washing Bucktails and Hairstackers

During the week before the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo on March 16 – 18 I was tying a Footer Special for a customer while staying with my brother, Larry. The belly calls for dark blue bucktail, so I pulled one out of my drawer bin. I have one of the large size A. K. Best hairstackers that a friend from Maryland got for me a number of years ago. They work great for stacking bucktail. I have been grateful to my friend ever since.

After the class I taught on Sunday, March 25th at The Penobscot Flyfishers in Brewer, Maine, my friend and I stopped at the recently opened Annika Rod and Fly Shop in Holden before heading back to New Gloucester. Several fellows from the class started to filter in for the usual Sunday evening gathering and as they moseyed about the shop, someone knocked something off the large tying table that owner Don Corey has set up as The Learning Center. The object hit the concrete floor with a loud, metallic, tinkling clank, and then I saw that it was a large size A. K. Best hairstacker and announced, “Oh, it’s just a hairstacker.”

Don Corey was quick to reply, ” No, that is not just a hairstacker.” Several of the fellows present chimed in with supportive affirmation of Don’s comment.

Of course I had to agree with their assertion. The large A. K. Best stackers are the best ones available for the purpose of stacking bucktail for streamers and bucktails. Problem is they are not made anymore. Those of us fortunate to have one are very protective of them.

Chris Helm of Toledo, Ohio, operates a large fly shop by appointment and mail-order in his home Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies (that’s how he spells tieing), and even though he’s nearing retirement and not actively promoting his catalog business he has his own brand of hairstacker that he had custom-made by the same machine shop that manufactures the A. K.Best hairstackers. I believe they sell for approximately $50. The best way to order one is to call him between 10 AM and 5 PM, Eastern Standard Time. Call to inquire: 419-843-2106.

As I began tying the Footer Special I cut a section of blue bucktail, culled out the short hairs and inserted it into my stacker. But it just would not stack. Tap, tap, tap, and it would not stack. It was one of those tails that come in the package not completely cleaned from the dyeing process. It had a bit of waxy residue that made it sort of cling together, and that is a problem. I don’t use that much dark blue in tying bucktails, and I have several full blue tails, but I had dealt with this one before. When you are stacking bucktail, there’s nothing worse than bucktail that won’t stack. Previously, whenever I encountered this problem on a particularly unruly and uncooperative piece of deer tail I just bagged it and found one willing to work with me. On this day I guess I wasn’t in a mood for it to be ornery with me, so out I went to the kitchen and dropped it into the dishpan. My brother has a Burnham hot-water boiler in his house, just like I do, a finely-made Pennsylvania product from the company in Lancaster. Solidly-built, American made. Imagine that. Mine is 33 years old and still runs like a reliable old truck. That model has a hot-water coil that also heats the domestic hot water. The element that regulates the temperature can wear out in a couple years, and when it does, you pretty much have no way to limit the upper temperature of the hot water. Caution at the sink is in order. My wife used to love it because the dishes were always squeaky clean.

I gave a good squirt of dish soap and added hot water. A minute of washing, a minute of rinsing, then I took it outside to vigorously shake the excess water from it. This was one of those unseasonably warm March days, it was sunny and the back deck faces to the west. I stood it up on the railing against house and let nature take over while I located another dark blue bucktail to continue my tying.

When dry, the formerly sticky bucktail was as clean as could be. It felt like your hair does when you wash it and apply conditioner. Soft, clean, silky, smooth, almost slippery, it was so nice. Sweet! I thought to myself. And the hide was still pliable.

So I’m suggesting that any piece of bucktail or body hair that needs washed, it might be a good thing to do just that.

A few more notes on hairstackers:

1) Avoid any stacker made of plastic. Static becomes an issue. There is a new one on the market with a see-through acrylic tube at the bottom, maybe nice to see the hair, but it’s a gimmick, not necessary to see your hair stack. An idea generated by a well-meaning individual trying to separate unsuspecting consumers from their money non-fly tying tool designer, but that’s just a hazardous guess. One student last weekend had one and said he hated it because of static. I made the mistake once of thinking I could make cheap hairstackers to sell out of CPVC pipe. Bad idea.

2) Static: Use a comb, but never use a plastic comb. A metal comb, or the ones from Griffin Tool Company – that I used to think were plastic – no, they are made from solid steer horn, each one is cut individually. Steer horn is naturally anti-static. I have one and love it. And they have the feature of all being unique, because the variety of grain in the horn can add beauty to the surface. The one I have was hand-picked because it has a beautiful combination of being different on both sides, kind of a lovely wood-grain appearance to it, one side light and the other dark.

Anyone who does much hair stacking needs a good comb; culling underfur is also imperative to good, clean stacking.

3) When you do encounter a bit of static, you can wipe your hair piece with a dryer sheet. Don’t confuse my mention of “hair piece” with a toupee.

4) If your hair sits at the top of your stacker without falling into the barrel, you need to clean your stacker. I have a nice metal stacker, hand-made, a gift from my machinist-hunting-fishing-fly tying friend Truman, the bottom is aluminum, the top is brass. The brass hairstackers on the market are nice, but you must be aware that when brass tarnishes, it’s dirty and impedes stacking. Cleaning works wonders on hairstackers. Use a Q-tip and metal cleaner, or a piece of Brillo pad separated and forced through the barrel; twist it and slide it back-and-forth to polish it up. When I was tying commercially, Comparaduns were one fly I tied tons of, and I used to clean my stacker once a week. If you want to really make it stack effectively, apply a touch of car wax inside. Talk about s-m-o-o-t-h. A small piece of paper towel twisted and pulled through the barrel several times will polish it and finish the job.

Don Corey has a very nice shop; he operates it part-time. Here is his web address: www.annikarodandfly.com

Shop hours are Tuesday and Friday, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Saturdays 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Other times by appointment. If you are heading to the Grand Lake Stream region, most likely you’ll be driving right by Don’s shop. Plan a visit to Annika Rod and Fly Company; and he’s also chock full of the latest information on where the fishing is good…

9 comments on “Washing Bucktails and Hairstackers

  1. Scott Bernard says:

    Don nice piece. Griffin makes the best stacker still available imo. It’s fairly large, blue with a gold slide. I’ve have seen the AK’s and they look fantastic. Thanks for the cleaning tip. I don’t usually stack streamer hair but I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned mine.

    • Hi Scott;
      Thanks for your reply! I half thought I might see you last Sunday in Brewer. Hugh showed me the old flies that were your grandfather’s — that he still has. It would be really great to examine those in detail and do the photos…he still plans to get to that.
      I am familiar with the Griffin stacker, they are nice. I used to sell the smaller sized ones…from the standpoint of the A. K. Best stacker, they are the fly tiers equivalent that a bar stock reel is to an angler. A machinists delight. Thanks for sharing, hope you’re doing well!

  2. Kelly L says:

    Scott, I have the same stacker. Thank you Don. I have a lot of materials, and I hate the thought of washing it all. I used to hand stack a lot of flies. My main fear is when washing materials and drying them, they won’t be entirely dry. Or some bug will lay eggs on it when it is almost dry.

    • Kelly;
      Use a hairdryer to finish the job, and if held close the heat will kill “stuff.”
      Ten seconds in the microwave also will work, but with untanned hide pieces you have to be careful to not “cook” anything. If it starts smelling like something to eat, it’s probably too late. 🙂 !!! LOL!
      You can also place items in a mesh bag and put ’em in your clothes dryer. E. Hille – The Angler’s Supply House in Williamsport, PA, (out-of-business now) used to wash, dye, & dry lots of their own stuff, ranging from bucktails, calftails, body hair, mohair yarn, wool, quills, turkey feathers, etc. They just used a regular clothes dryer.
      Thanks for your comments!

  3. Bob Vincent says:

    Hi Don,

    I purchased a really nice big aluminum stacker from Chris Helm at Whitetail Fly tieing a couple of years ago. It’s great and large. Chris is ill now and only selling at his shop in Toledo and to established customers by phone. Thanks for the info. Will give it a try.

    Bob vincent

    • Thanks Bob, for your comment! Any large hair stacker will work, as long as it falls within the range of what I described above…aluminum is also good, but still will its performance with improve with regular cleaning.

  4. Dave Lomasney says:

    Why is it every time someone makes a great product, they stop making it, like the AK Stacker or Grif’s Thin and Overton’s Wonder Wax? I have two of the three, and love them both, but it’s sad to know that I won’t be able to get them anymore.

    Great tip on cleaning the BT Don..Thanks!

  5. Kelly L says:

    I agree Dave. I don’t understand it either.

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