Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

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Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby letumgo » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:31 pm

John Shanner once mentioned that pine squirrel underfur makes a fine substitute for water vole. Unfortunately water voles have become very rare, making them generally unavailable for fly tying these days. I decided to make up a batch of water vole (sub) dubbing, using a pine squirrel skin I owned. Here is the process I went thru to make the dubbing.

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I start by cutting off one of the wide strips of fur from the middle of the back of the pine squirrel skin. If you look closely at the zonker strip, you will notice that the tips of the hair (guard hairs) are a mottled redish brown, while the under fur is a slate gray color.
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If you pinch the fur firmly between your thumb and forefinger, you can pull the fur off the hide getting both the guard hairs and under fur.
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Blended together, this makes a beautiful dark gray dubbing with ginger guard hairs mixed in. This blend did not quite look like the small batch of genuine water vole I have for comparison.

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Genuine Water Vole (left) and Pine Squirrel Dubbing (right)
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To get a little closer to the look of the water vole, I needed to remove the redish tips of the guard hairs. To do this, I decided to bend the zonker strip and then trim off the tips with my scissors.
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Bending the zonker strip around a wooden dowel made the guard hairs stand out at an angle, allowing the ends to be easily trimmed off.
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When your are done, you will end up with a small pile of the red guard hairs, and a shabby looking gray zonker strip. Save the trimmed guard hairs and set them aside. They will make a nice spiky dubbing which you can use later for something else.

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I then use my pinch/pull method to pull all of the remaining fur off the zonker strip. Pulling the fur off seems to work better than trimming it with my scissors. There is less fur wasted, since it pulls of cleanly right down to the hide.
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Next step is to blend the fur in a coffee grinder. Use a few short pulses and the fur is nicely blended.

Here is a photo showing you the comparison of the various blends I came up with.

Top Left = Pine Squirrel Under Fur (trimmed to leave just a little of the red tips to lighten up the mix a bit).
Top Right = Natural Water Vole (this is what I was trying to match)
Bottom Left = Blend of all the trimmed guard hairs (the redish tips only)
Bottom Right = Blend of Pine Squirrel Under Fur (all the red tips were trimmed off before blending).
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Overall, this looks like a nice substitute for the rare water vole. After going thru this exercise, I would recommend leaving just a little bit of the transition zone when you trim off the tips of the guard hair. It helps lighten the color of the final blend of the squirrel underfur, and gives it a little more "spectrumized" coloration.

Have Fun! ;)

PS - Thanks for the tip, John.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby cassady » Fri Jul 29, 2016 8:05 pm

Very nicely done, beautifully photographed, and well explained.

Thanks so much, Ray! This will be most useful.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby zen leecher » Fri Jul 29, 2016 8:51 pm

Ray,

I've seen a gray shade like water vole using gray squirrel. You might try some and see if my memory is correct.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby letumgo » Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:16 pm

:D Makes sense.

Thanks Bill.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby hankaye » Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:26 pm

Ray, Howdy;

Interesting SBS. Although as a member of the Beard and Mustache brotherhood I'm fairly
certain that you Probably have an electric trimmer somewhere? If so does it have an adjustable
attachment for trimming at different lengths (???), and without it can trim right down to the
hide itself. Ok, ya might loose 1/32" :roll: ... I know on mine that the adjustable one will
step away close to 1/2" .
Or you could use an underfur comb or brush to pull the fine stuff out. I get trash-bins full of
Rascal fur about once a month, only underfur when I use that brush and some of everything
when I use the regular brush.
Just another way to see it.

hank
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby letumgo » Sat Jul 30, 2016 7:50 am

Hank,

That's a great suggestion. I do have an electric beard trimmer, which should work. As you say, it will trim very close to the skin. Worth a try anyway. Thanks. ;)
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby wsbailey » Sat Jul 30, 2016 12:52 pm

Ray's excellent SBS reminded me of some dubbing I got from Glasgow Angling Centre. It's from a giant shrew (their name, I don't what it is).. It looks to be a good sub for water rat. The biggest downside is the cost especially for postage.


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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby letumgo » Sat Jul 30, 2016 10:06 pm

It sorta looks like chinchilla fur. Very nice looking fur.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby Smuggler » Sun Jul 31, 2016 7:44 am

I know what I'm doing today. Nice one Ray.
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Re: Making Water Vole Dubbing Substitute Using Pine Squirrel

Postby DOUGSDEN » Thu Sep 29, 2016 9:02 pm

Ray,
This a really cool tutorial! I love how you compared, side by side, the four furs and how they compared and contrasted! The bottom left fur pile, just the reddish tips of the guard hairs, is some good looking, spiky stuff. This in turn could be mixed with a softer textured fur (Muskrat or Mole perhaps) to get a great mix for another pattern! See, even the bi-products are very useful!
The orig. water vole has a certain glow to it much like the spectrumized furs you mentioned in the tutorial! That is a hard characteristic to pull out of other notable furs! I like what you did with just one zonker strip from one animal! Really cool! I trimmed an entire pine squirrel skin recently and gave the fur a stir in my coffee/fur blender. I have yet to try a pattern with it but I was impressed just how soft the mix was to the touch. It rivaled rabbit or muskrat for sure!
Great stuff Ray!
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