Sunday, February 23, 2014

HIST 101.  Vintage HMH Vise Models, Chapter 1

"The Original HMH Model Standard Vise"

I once saw a copy of an ad in Fly Fisherman Magazine in which Bill Hunter, of New Boston, NH, was advertising his new 'HMH Model Standard Vise'.  That issue was from the fall of  1975.  And this was the vise:

This vise was in production from 1975 until, likely, the early 1980's.  What you see here is, to the best of my knowledge, what one would have to call an 'original' HMH vise.  This was the only vise model that Bill marketed until about 1977 when the first Limited Edition Premium Vise models were marketed and sold.  But that is a different chapter that we will get to soon enough.  Suffice it to say, the Limited Edition Premium vise was quite different from this, and any other subsequent variations of the HMH Standard vise.

So what are the features that we use to identify an 'original' HMH vise?  They are:  1) a fixed head angle chassis, cast of stainless steel and affixed permanently to the top of the stand rod -- the chassis was polished to a sheen, not plated;  

 2) Stainless steel adjusting knob with no set screw, and similarly, the brass locking ring also had no set screw (which, in later models, was used to lock the preferred rotational tension in place so it wouldn't move while tying many of the same hook); 

 3) black delrin washers (2 in front and 2 behind the chassis (white delving is used in later models) -- these can be seen in the image below;  

4) a collet set screw located just forward of the chassis (you can just barely make out the screw in the image below, on the underside of the collet tube) -- this set screw in these earliest HMH vises had a slotted head; subsequent models beginning in early 80's moved to hex head socket set screws;  

5)  a milled flat on the back side and at the bottom of the standrod; 

and, notably, 6)  a deep-colored, case hardened cam lever cast with the following inscription:

Three jaw styles were available with this vise model.  And here we get to the answer to what "HMH" stands for.  If you look at the diagram on the instruction sheet that Bill shipped with each vise, you'll see that he referred to what we now call 'jaws' as 'heads'.  It was the ability to quickly change head types, among other features, such as the precision machining and quality materials, that set the HMH Standard apart from all other vises of the day.  So, HMH originally meant 'Hunter's Multiple Head'.

And before you all draw and quarter me, let me quickly note that HMH ALSO stands for 'Hunter's Mad House'.  But this meaning came some time after the introduction of the vise when a friend visited Bill's shop to assist in a bit of vise production.  What with the chaos of polishing wheels, drill presses and other machines spinning and cranking and chugging away, people coming into and out of the shop, telephones ringing, and the cramped quarters, the visitor stopped for a moment and observed to another there that this seemed more like Hunter's Mad House than anything else.  And the name stuck.

I don't know, in fact, whether or not all three jaws were offered with this vise at the time of sale, although we might infer from the text of the instructions that indeed that was the case.

So, the Original HMH Standard vise described above morphed to this:

in the early 1980's either shortly before or immediately after the rights to build the HMH vise were acquired by the company called Angling Products, Inc, or API.  What API did to the Standard and how it affects you owners of original HMH Standards will be explored in a later chapter.

In the meantime, if you have an original HMH Standard vise, cherish it and know that you own an important piece of fly tying history - the first precision-machined fly tying vise built of high-quality materials, and the vise that set a new Standard of excellence for fly tying vises.  

Get a Grip.


P.S.  It is important to note that the information presented here is/was gleaned from many conversations with Bill Hunter, with other tyers and HMH owners, and archival materials seen or maintained in-house.  You'll note that I equivocate on some things regarding dates, timing, how and when models changed, etc., etc.  If you happen to have verifiable information that would either correct or add to the history of HMH vises, i would certainly be glad to communicate with you.


  1. A great post for vise collectors - thanks a bunch. Do you have any information on or pictures of the C-Clamp offered with the original model vise? I have the first API model Standard, as pictured in your post, equipped with a flat-gray colored c-clamp and the brass base. My Spartan of the same era has a black textured finish c-clamp and base, as pictured.

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