Finding head cement for small flies, size 18-26, sometimes even down to 32, like we use for the RS2, has been easy to find for the past two decades. You just went to any fly shop and pick up a bottle of Griff’s Thin Head Cement, and you are good to go, at least until it runs out, as it rarely dried out like lacquer based cements do, requiring thinner frequently in the meantime. Sadly, Griff’s has been discontinued.
When Griff’s was discontinued, being no nonsense and frugal, Rim turned to the hardware store and got some clear varnish and varnish thinner. He is very happy with the results. This is what commercial tyers such as A.K. Best have also recommended in print for many decades. But I couldn’t stand the smell, so I conducted my own analysis and sampling below.
Lacquer-based Head Cements
The well known Western States fly tyer A.K. Best, in his book, “Production Fly Tying”, advocates the use of common hardware store lacquer for its economy and fast drying qualities.
Many of the lacquer head cements available commercially appear to be a very small bottle of nitrocellulose lacquer that you can get at the hardware store for a whole lot less money…(like A.K. Best says). If the head cement is a pale yellow color or clear, and smells like lacquer thinner, it is probably is lacquer.
Griff’s Head cement – Griffin makes two versions, thick and thin. This is a very common product found in the US. A lot of my friends used this stuff because it was so readily available in our area. But it’s not thin like Griff’s.
Veniard’s No. 1 is the closest I have found to Griff’s Thin, and my favorite so far. Rim has opted to just use lacquer from the hardware store with lacquer thinner. He says it works fine, as long as you dilute it and don’t mind the smell.
For a full discussion on the issue of head cement recipes and studies visit: http://www.drlogik.com/headcement.html I went through his full progression and find Veniard’s to be the best. He likes Pro Lak, which is also no longer available, at least outside of Canada.