fly tying and chemicals

Last night I had a bunch of zap-a-gap all over my fingers, and I got to wondering how toxic that stuff is?

Do any of you more experienced tyers know if there's any glues or epoxies that you need to watch out for? of it any these items are known to be toxic?

What about the dyes that are used in bucktail and other materials?
Any info along these lines would be appreciated...



Active Member
A.K. Best said that he used to get sores around his lips, until he quit putting his tying materials in his mouth. :eek:

Of course, there's all kinds of nasty chemicals involved when you start dealing with petroleum products and epoxies. Check your labels to see what kind of solvents are listed and be wary of breathing the vapors coming off of curing epoxy. I imagine you could do a Google search on listed components in order to create your own Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS). In my industry, an MSDS description always accompany the arrival of any and all hazardous substances at the job site.

BTW, be especially wary of Methyl-Ethyl-Ketone and anything vaguely resembling it. It's a very strong solvent (thinning agent). MEK will wreck hell on your liver and kidneys. Though I've been told that it's been banned as a paint solvent, I've seen it listed as a component on an off the shelf product--though I can't seem to remember what it was... (memory loss is one of the symptoms of heavy or frequent solvent exposure :eek: ).

In the end, all I can say is: Maintain good ventilation. :ray1:
I have gooten away fron lacquer based head cements and the like. I cannot stand the smell over long periods of time at my bench. I have gone to water- based min-wax. You can buy a pint at the hard ware store and it'll last you a LONG LOng time.


Active Member
Randy Diefert said:
I have gone to water- based min-wax.
Really?! Min-Wax? Is this what I think it is? Tell me more! How well does it build up a head?

I've been using nail polish (Sally's Hard as Nails). It builds up pretty good and makes very durable chironomid pupa patterns. I don't stick around to smell it, as I normally have to take a breather after every fly finished. No "production tier" here! Still, the Min-Wax thing sounds cool.
When working with epoxy (and other nasty things for which the US Food and Drug Administration has not established a minimum adult daily requirement) I open the window, put a small fan behind me, and wear disposable, rubber gloves.
Epoxy generally does not have any solvents in it. Epoxies are two part systems that have to be mixed. The catalyst will cause the resin to cure without any solvents evaporating. That said, there are still health risks associated with epoxies. Aside form burning it or eating it, the biggest problem that I can think of is developing an allergic reaction to it, which has been an occupational hazard of a few aerospace workers.

The head cements that I am familiar with Flexament etc are not epoxies, but solvent based adhesives. These things often have a cocktail of solvents, zylene, acetone MEK, MEBK would be my guess. The water based adhesives are probably like the waterbased wood finishes, which are not totally water based. In the wood finishes (and probably the head cements) the resin or adhesive is dissolved in a small amount of solvent. This mixture is then dispersed in water making an emulsion. The emulsion is in effect millions of very tiny bubbles of solvent / adhesive floating around in the water. That is why most of the Water based stuff is milky in appearance.

In any event, the best thing to do is limit your exposure, ventilation is important. Also make sure that you don’t make a habit of getting it on your skin. Most solvents can permeate through your skin and get into your bloodstream. Myself, I do not freak out if I smell a bit of solvent while gluing the head of a fly, but I try to get the lid back on the bottle as soon as possible and if I continue to smell it after the bottle is capped, I will open a window. If I were to routinely get the stuff on my fingers, I would look for a different way to work to avoid the skin contact.

Tom G
Tom Grobelny said:
Also make sure that you don’t make a habit of getting it on your skin. Most solvents can permeate through your skin and get into your bloodstream.
Yeah, that was my concern when I had a couple fingers full of zap-a-gap.

zap-a-gap is a cyanoacrylate, I reasearched it a little bit on the internet thinking I might find some dire warnings, but the stuff seems relatively benign. There was even some articles about using cyanoacrylate glue to suture up peoples wounds.

I've done the epoxy thing pretty extensively. I used to lay up snowboards with a bucket of epoxy and squeegee (that was a fun job)...and I always wore a full respirator...

It sounds like I will take care around the head cements though.

Thanks for the info Tom and others...