I made my version of a saw vise with which to sharpen my hand saws, a little over a year ago. I’d picked some oak out of my “shorts” bin, that I could use to make the heads for the front and back legs of the vise. A couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of sharpening an old Disston back saw, and the vise wasn’t holding as securely, and while I was performing some work on it, the head split into two pieces. I really wanted to get it back into action, so I could finish sharpening the old saw.
The piece that broke was actually just over 1″ thick, so this time around I decided I’d go more with current convention and re-make it with some 8/4 Maple. While I was at it, I’d noticed my original design needed some revision, as it didn’t accept smaller saws (like a dovetail saw) very well. To hold the blade high enough to sharpen, the handle and part of the blade had to slide just outside an end of the vise, leading to extra vibrations and chatter with the file.
After creating my new pattern, I traced it onto my workpiece. Just before going over to the band saw, I remembered I’d planned to remove 1/4″ from the body of the work piece, so the top edge would grip the saw while leaving room for back saws. I decided to go a different route, and I cut another piece of Maple that was 1″Wide x 1/4″Deep x 18″Long. I glued and clamped this along the top edge of my main work piece, which seemed much more efficient than removing the waste material. (*Note: After completing this replacement head, I ran into a complication, but still found a way to make it work.)
While the glue was curing, I took the leg of my vise, from which part of the head had broken. I planned to re-use the leg, so I scored all along the joint line, between the head and the leg. I took a sharp chisel and made a little trough in the head material, where I wanted my hand saw to cut, so I wouldn’t damage the mating area of the leg.
I’d used my Festool Domino to join each head to it’s respective leg, with a couple of dominos on each one. This made it very easy to replace the head. (*Note: Even if it originally had a full tenon running up into the head, you could still saw the head off, and use the Domino to attach a replacement head). After I hand sawed (see above) so the remaining portion of the old head was separate from the leg, I just needed to pare away a few slivers of wood that were left behind. Now we are just waiting on the glue to cure.
With the lip solidly in place (photo above), I retraced my design onto my Maple, and I was off to the band saw. A few minutes later and I had a decent looking head, even though I still needed to clean up the sawn surface. I used my Auriou rasps to smooth out the curved surfaces and followed them with some sandpaper. The rear of the vise head needs some bevels, to allow your hands to get up close to a saw that you’re sharpening, which I created with my old Stanley #6. This plane has the right balance in it is just the right size, the weight isn’t too heavy, and it’s iron seem to cut forever, even if it is set for a fairly thick shaving. This combination lets me remove a decent amount of wood fairly quickly, while also being easy to control. Many shavings later and the shaping was complete!
I lined the original leg up against the new head, with the two surfaces that would mate, and made a couple of lines across the joint. I’ll use these with the Domino, so everything aligns when it is assembled. If you have two pieces of unlike thickness, make sure you make these marks on the surface you wish to align on the parts, as this ends up the reference surface. When I went to use the Domino on the head, the fence reached deeper into the head than I’d recalled, and it held the cutter away from the head by close to 1/2″. I quickly cut another piece of maple the same thickness as I’d used for the lip, and taped it to the inside surface of the head, so it was in the same plane as the lip. Now the Domino’s fence could ride on the lip and the new piece, allowing the Domino’s face to reach the head. I did have to adjust the depth from the fence to the cutter, from what I would use on the leg, but it was easy enough to sight in by eye since there are two spring-loaded pins that are centered with the cutter.
I set the Domino’s width-of-cut knob to the most narrow, for the holes I made in the head, while I set this setting to the middle choice, for the holes in the leg. This allows for slight mis-alignments, and still end up with a viable piece. If you choose the most narrow selection for both pieces, and you don’t hit your marks perfectly, the piece may not even go together. There is really no play when this setting is selected on both parts! Remember this if you ever buy or use a Domino!
I used two #8 Dominos that were 50mm long, which gave plenty of strength, and there was still enough room between each Domino to stay strong. To glue up the pieces, I always make sure I’m ready to roll as soon as I apply the glue. You don’t want the Dominos to swell and not fit into their holes. After applying yellow glue to one half of a Domino, I knocked it into one of the holes in the head (the holes that are the exact size for the Domino, and always the first to receive the Dominos), and repeated on the second Domino. Almost immediately I applied glue to the other end of both Dominos and tapped the head so the Dominos seated into the leg. If the head is off to one side a bit, just tap it back into alignment, but do it before the glue wants to seize. I placed the head/leg unit into a parallel jaw clamp, snugged it down, and wiped away all glue squeeze out.
After the glue dried, I checked the contact lip to see how it’s surface looked. There was a slight crown towards the center of it’s length, which I planed away very quickly. I intentionally created a very slight spring joint, so it was most hollow in the center, and gradually working out to each end. This will allow the vise to hold the saw blades very securely.
After comparing the new head with the remaining old head, I decided I wasn’t going to be happy with replacing just one, so I did exactly the same thing for the other leg. On the second piece, I decided to use the Domino again, but this time as soon as I had the final shape of the main head. It made it easier to have a flat face for the Domino’s fence to reference against. Besides applying the lip to the head after using the Domino, everything else went pretty much the same as on the first, so it was just repetition.
After bringing both head/leg units to the same level, I cut some suede leather for the inside of each jaw. I applied a light coating of contact cement onto both pieces of leather, and onto the mating surfaces of the jaws, and then waited for them to dry to the level the adhesive maker advised (25-40 minutes on my product, but if too much time lapses, another coat is required to re-activate the product). For those who’ve not used contact cement, this is the normal protocol. You apply the recently dried pieces, and apply pressure which activates a very strong bond. Then it was just a matter of trimming away the slight overhang I included in my pieces, so all the clamping surfaces would have coverage.
I was extremely pleased with both how nice the new heads for the saw vise turned out, and how well they interacted with the saws. I would highly suggest making a saw vise, but if you don’t trust that you can make that happen, then buy one. It is easy enough to learn the basics of saw sharpening, and there are at least a couple of good DVDs on the subject that can accelerate your learning curve. It is great to learn how to sharpen all of your tools, which keeps the tools at home, rather than sending them out for sharpening and waiting.
Thank you for stopping by to check out my article. I hope this might help you make one, too. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.