Around our home, it probably wouldn't surprise you to find a vast collection of vintage tackle adorning the shelves, kitchen table, and most flat surfaces throughout the house. What might surprise you is that most of this collection as been lovingly assembled by my bride who is an expert on all things vintage, including me. Her passion is vintage Hardy reels and as a recognized expert she often offers tips on the care and feeding of classic reels to our customers who own them...
Vintage Reel Cleaning. Ahhh that’s my kind of conversation as well as critical care to these reels of old. Vintage Hardy reels have minimal "drag" and truthfully, there is no drag at all, rather an overrun check resistance. These wonderful, classic treasures embody a core element of traditional fly fishing and their music-to-my-ears Click and Pawl require different maintenance than that of a new modern drag system found on most other reels. Here are a few tips I’ve learned first hand from the Reel Master Himself, Mr. Bill Archuleta, from my hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon.
Most vintage reels being used regularly are set up with backing and a line in place making the initial cleaning step obsolete, as I like to give each reel a “baptismal” soaking in diluted Simple Green solution before any other customized detailing.
If your reel is sans backing and a line, then you can soak them in a bowl of Simple Green with warm water to help loosen up caked-on dirt and debris from decades gone by~ consider the ambiance of classical music or Broadway show optional, but highly recommend for this ceremonial process. Use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub clean all the interior parts as well as the cogs of the teeth. With stubborn debris, apply Simple Green solution directly to the bristles of a toothbrush and scrub away!
Be sure to rinse well and dry the reel completely after her soaking; this is a critical step to a reel that has been submerged. And yes, anthropomorphically speaking, I do believe that all Vintage reels are feminine, exude over the top beauty with every curve and well-earned line of patina. Like Archuleta, I like to dry my soaked reels using a few gentle shots from the air compressor but *please* be careful not to crack agate or blow the reel from your hand. If you’re not comfortable with this step, blow the frame dry with bursts of air from your mouth and a microfiber towel. Whatever you do, get the reel completely dry before you move onto the little details of cleaning and lubrication. *Here is where we would pick up for cleaning if the reels you have are backed and lined and not able to be soaked.
What you will need;
Q-tips, paper towels, microfiber chamois, rubbing alcohol, Bowshield T-9 in the oil and spray format (we sell both of these lubes at Royal Treatment)
Lubriplate grease, Simple Green non-toxic cleaner, and an old toothbrush
Again, if the reels are not lined and backed, this is where you would begin cleaning after the Simple Green bath. Lightly spray the entire reel and spool, inside and out with the Bowsheild, and allow to soak in for a few minutes. Spend a little time turning the reel handle and tension setting to be sure that you work in the lubrication and help loosen up any dirt or debris. If the tension setting or handle has seized, you may need to let the oil soak overnight. Once completed, wipe the reel off with a paper towel and manually move the parts again and wipe off an additional time. If you were able to soak the reel in a bath, you will find its condition to be much cleaner then if you didn’t bathe her first!
With a vintage reel that is backed and lined, use Bowsheild T-9 oil drops to help lube up working parts and free up worn on grease and dirt. Carefully remove all visual black sludge and extra oil using Qtips and paper towels where necessary. Work in several drops of Bowsheild on the outside of the frame before working in the lube with a paper towel until the towel is no longer black with tarnish. Repeat this process several times until the finish is more of a gray color on your paper towel and buff with a clean microfiber cloth. This process, albeit tedious, will enhance the natural leading that is often disguised underneath these beautiful old reels. The thin layer of oil leftover on the frame will guard against corrosion. I try to oil and lube all of my old reels twice a season and usually have 5-8 reels on regular rotation.
Never be afraid to remove all of the backing on an old reel that has never had an initial Simple Green bath. A full spray inside and out of Bowsheild will be excellent protection and very possibly brighten a hidden gem back to life. New backing is cheap and easy to replace, just make sure it’s always done by hand. I caution you to resist having your old reel placed into the grip of mechanical line winder with inexperienced hands. A "whoops" or a slip could mean irreplaceable damage to your vintage jewel. As with most items in the "vintage" category, we are stewards of these classic reels. Our responsibility to care for them into the next generation depends on how we preserve their needs today! When replacing your backing, be sure to ONLY use 30 pound Dacron and never GelSpun.
Resist covering a pre-WWII reel with a neoprene case when the line is wet as the retention of moisture can literally change the patina on old reel overnight, especially when it’s hot outside. Trust me on this one, folks as I learned a powerful lesson the hard way and it’s still a shameful truth. Several reels in my quiver are from as early as 1908 and these brittle girls get covered for protection using a Simms Bounty Hunter vented case in a size large; affordable and breathable, the reel cover can accommodate the largest size brass faced vintage Hardy’s with ease.
Modern reels have basic needs, too. Standard Neatsfoot oil is used on cork drag systems like Abel and is a critical service that is often overlooked. Nautilus and Hatch, for example, share a sealed drag system and while nearly maintenance-free, most could benefit from a little grease from time to time. The Bauer offers a carbon fiber and stainless surface drag so it’s virtually maintenance-free. Bowsheild is good to use on all these frames to protect from wear and the hazards of salt. Just apply the spray or oil drops on a paper towel and wipe the frame to keep the line from encountering contamination.
With a little time and care, these reels of old and new will continue to serve us for generations to come. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. We are happy to check out whatever reel you own and do what we can to bring them up to date on their basic service.
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Please let me know if I can help you begin your Vintage Hardy Collection, or, if you have an older piece you’ve always wondered about. Special thanks for the tutelage and skills of Bill Archuleta and Brian Tayor for sharing so much of their passions to detail alongside me.
Jennifer La Follette
Royal Treatment Fly Fishing