For me, blending custom dubbings is one of the more rewarding aspects of fly tying. Here, I'm going to make a simple blend that mixes natural colored rabbit fur with shorter, stiffer guard hairs found on the ears of a natural colored hare's mask.
A good pair of scissors, a shallow container to catch the clippings and a coffee grinder are all the tools you need to get started. Yes, you can blend dubbing by hand but I've found the process to be time consuming and the results less than satisfactory.
A cheap coffee grinder like this one costs about 15 bucks and you'll get years of use out of it. They're absolutely worth the investment.
I regularly tie a number of gold-ribbed hare's ear variations that rely heavily on this type of blend. The rabbit fur is easy to dub while the guard hairs, which are next to impossible to dub on their own, pick out really well to imitate legs and add motion. There are some hare's mask blends on the market that come close but I like mine better.
Because of their length and coloration, the guard hairs on a hare's ear are what I consider to be the most prime material. Starting at the tips of the ears, snip the hair all the way down to the hide with a sharp pair of scissors, collecting the guard hairs in the tray as you go. It really doesn't take long to clear cut an entire ear and you should be left with about this much material. As you can see there is a little bit of fluffy stuff underneath, but most of it is comprised of stiff, multicolored guard hairs.
Regular rabbit's fur is just a fantastic dubbing material and is, in one way or another, included in nearly every dubbing blend I make. Just to ballpark things, about a one inch square clump pulled from a dubbing packet and mixed with the guard hairs from one ear, generally makes for a pretty good blend.
Get hold of both parts and drop them into the grinder. A few pulses is usually all it takes to blend them together. Reorganizing the dubbing and giving it another couple of shots doesn't hurt either. The coffee grinder mixes way more than it chops. When your blend looks good, remove it from the grinder and place it back in the shallow tray. You can usually tell just by feel if it's going to dub well and visually if you have enough guard hairs.
Before you package it up though, it's a good idea to form a real quick test dubbing noodle. If it seems to dub well, and stay on the thread without dubbing wax, you've got enough rabbit fur in the blend. Then, dub a test body to gauge how the blend will actually look on a fly. Roughing up the body with a bit of velcro will show whether you've incorporated enough guard hairs.
This blend looks about right to me and is ready to be packaged up. If you really feel like going the extra mile, you can check to see what the dubbing looks like underwater. You'll probably notice it becomes a little darker than when it's dry. If you're satisfied with the results, small plastic bags, that are available at craft stores, work great. Better still, are plastic dubbing boxes that have holes in the bottom that allow you to pull out only small amounts of dubbing at a time.
By combining the guard hairs from a dyed hare's mask and dyed rabbit fur dubbing, you can create a wide variety of colors which, themselves, can be mixed together to form even more subtle color variations.
As an aside, those guard hairs on the ears are the real prime stuff but virtually all of the fur and hair on a hare's mask can be used to make dubbing. In fact, if you're willing to do a little bit of work with scissors, or even a manscaper, the amount of material that can be harvested from a single mask is pretty incredible. When you go to blend it, do so in small batches as overloading the grinder makes it difficult to get a nice, even blend. A hare's mask may be one of the best dubbing values there is. I've found I can get anywhere from 6 to 8 standard sized dubbing packets from a single mask. This is obviously a very simple dubbing blend but it's one that works very well and is a good first step to set you on the path of making your own custom dubbing blends. As you can imagine, once you start mixing different materials, both natural and synthetic, in different colors, you open up a whole new aspect of fly tying.