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.
I just re-read the title of this post, and it sounds like I should be a mad scientist holed up in some distant castle, making lots of muhwahahaha types of evil laughter. Ok, so the last part may be somewhat true, but I digress.
After the glue dried, attaching the oak blocks to each leg, I removed the majority of the bubbly polyurethane with a spare cutter for a Stanley No. 45. Since the dried excess glue provides little resistance and easy to remove, using a cutter without a handle can make a lot of sense, and I’d hate to chip a nice chisel’s edge if there is anything hard lurking. I guess I’d rather keep my chisels safe, as they are in a sense called to do “more skilled” jobs, where this spare cutter’s range of work is limited.
I sketched the shaping I planned to apply to each of the oak heads, and headed over to the band saw, which makes short work of cutting curved sections. I have a 1/2″ Wood Slicer blade on my MiniMax-16, so it can make a decent arc, but nothing too tight as all blades have limits. I made a quick cuts on the outside of both heads, working back toward the leg’s thickness, and similarly on the inside surface of each.
I clamped one of the legs up in the workbench, and used a 9-grain Auriou Rasp along with my Lie-Nielsen Boggs spokeshave to blend the outer surface of the leg with the arc cut into the head. This wood was a bit “grabby” when I moved to my spokeshave, so instead of holding the tool with both hands equal distance from my chest, I’d rotate it so my right was closer to the chest than was my left. At one point it was close to being 90-degrees off of the standard axis. This skewing really tamed the wood, and while it might seem a bit odd, you should give it a try when you are having some trouble getting a clean surface from your spokeshave.
I had a small block of Pecan, that I placed between the two upright legs, to get a sense of the progress. I noticed the inside faces of the mating oak blocks came together on one edge, but nowhere else. Rather than just planing these faces and moving on, I decided to re-check the face sides and edges of the legs, for square. I’m not sure if my eye caught something that looked slightly out or what, but my reference surfaces weren’t actually square, even though I was sure I’d tested them religiously. Using my best square, I marked what was low/high, and planed them so they were now square. After testing the mating oak blocks again, the issue was less than earlier, but still needed a little work. While working on the contact areas, I decided to include a slight splay in the legs, rather than having them straight up and down. I grabbed my block plane and quickly had a nice consistent mating surface, when the legs were in their splayed positions.
I clamped the two leg/head sections in my vise, with a small gap between the two heads (taking into account the thickest leather I’d most likely work, and a wrap of thin leather I planned to add to each head), and then measured the length of the block I needed. This was longer than the block of Pecan I’d used for mockup, so I found some alternate wood for the block. It turned out I had a piece of Maple that I’d used years ago for the outside jaw of a clamping device, that had a feature I’d planned to include in this Pony, already existing. This feature was a hole through which the vise screw passed, and I planned to have optional bases I can attached to the Pony, so this was perfect. I measured around the existing hole, so it was as centered as possible, and cut the block just slightly long. This provided me the ability to fine tune and perfect the fit of the block and legs. I made my initial layout marks with pencil, and with everything where it belonged, I scored the exact location with my marking knife. As there was such a small amount I needed to remove, I put the block into my vise, and pulled out this really old and awesome paring chisel. I methodically lowered the excess wood down to my lines, which is a great technique to have in your back pocket.
I presented each leg to the block, to decide where the screws would go in, so the threads didn’t accidentally make their way into the existing attachment hole. Once I had the layout marked, I used an awl to create indentations so the drill bit wouldn’t skate around on the board. With the holes pre-drilled on each leg, it was time to attach the legs to this slightly angling block. As you may have previously experienced, if you squeeze a clamp on two outside boards, centered on an angled core (block), the block may very well slip in the direction it is most thick. To eliminate any chance this might occur at the most inopportune time, I decided the best way to handle these parts, was to clamp the block to a flat surface, and then clamp a leg both to the block and also to the flat surface. I kept the blade of a small square against the bottom of the block, and referenced the bottom of the leg to the square’s blade. With the parts solidly aligned, the clamps were brought to decent pressure, so nothing could move out of place.
I used some 1 1/4″ long fine Kreg screws, which are self drilling, to attach the legs to the block. With the clamps in place, the bottom two screws were the only ones accessible, so I drove those home.
At this point, I removed the clamp that secured the leg to the block, while leaving the other two solidly in place, and drove the other two screws in. Everything looked good, so I flipped the pieces around and clamped the second leg to the group. I repeated the same steps and after the second set of four screws were in, the Stitching Pony was extremely solid. (please note the word I used there; extremely.)
With the two legs attached to the block, I thought it prudent to give this little beast a test. Hmmmm, well, uhm…, I said this was extremely solid, right? Well, it is so solid, that I when I tried to flex the heads away from each other, I got the sense (was that a crack I heard?) that I was going to break one of the legs (or strip out a screw), before it would flex. This design is solely an amalgam of different versions I’d seen over the years, and I’ve never measured any that I’d seen, so I had no baseline how thick I should make the legs. Ok, this is really no big deal. I think this is how I learn best, by doing and finding what does and what does not work. So, what will I do to resolve this issue? I took all of the screws out of the legs, and decided I’d go a little heavier than half the current thickness, so somewhere around 60% of the original thickness. I can’t really tell you why I chose the final dimension, other than that is what looked reasonable to me. I grabbed my pencil and marked both legs, using my fingertips as a fence, so they both were approximately the same thickness. I know I could have picked up my square, and set it to a dimension, and slid it and the pencil along, making the line exactly the same distance from the inside edge, on both pieces. Some work may warrant that type of precision, but the variance in my fingertip approach, is so small as not to matter.
I took the legs back over to the band saw and cut just proud of my marks, resawing both legs. From there it was back to the vise in my workbench, and hand planing the outside face until all the saw marks were gone, and of course keeping it square to both edges. I start with the plane set fairly deep, as you are riding on the tops of little mountains, when you look at the wavy sawn surface from the band saw. This expedites getting the junk out of the way and as I start to see signs that I’m cutting additional fibers (if you ask how you’ll know when you are cutting more fibers, you’ll start to feel the plane becoming harder to push across the work), I wind the plane’s iron back in so I’m taking lighter shavings, and don’t get the iron stuck into the wood. After both legs were again smooth on their outside faces, I again blended the face/head region into a pleasing curve, and sanded all of the hard edges.
I re-attached both legs, with all four screws on each side, and tested how the Pony behaved. This time I could separate the heads enough to slip a double-thickness of leather in between and the Pony held the leather with a decent amount of pressure, without any extra outside clamping. This was a great test, which proved I didn’t need to remake the legs (if they weren’t strong enough to hold the leather) or remove any more wood (if the wood still wouldn’t flex enough to get work between the jaws).
I still planned to add some thin leather to both heads, so they won’t scratch or otherwise hurt the show surface on the work, which will take up a little of the existing gap between the heads. I decided I’d still add a bolt through both legs, that will allow a bit more controllable pressure on the work, as is needed. I chose the placement for the bolt, initially by squeezing the two legs together at different points, using my hand. The location of this bolt is another balancing act. You want as deep a throat as possible to handle a wide range of work, but as you move the bolt farther down from the heads, it’s influence on the heads is reduced. I finally chose what looked like a decent location, and marked across both legs. I set a divider that reached from the edge of a leg, to the approximate center point, and used it to make the initial impression in the legs.
The bolt I bought for the Pony is a 3/8″ – 5″, which has a bit of extra length, as I got it before reducing the thickness of the legs. I planned to drill a clearance hole of 13/32″, but it can be hard to feel whether the center point on the larger bits, is staying in contacting with the small impression. The wood bits I have are from DeWalt and my 13/32″ has a center section that is around 7/64″ wide, so I tossed my 7/64″ bit into my hand-crank drill, and made a hole that was about 1/8″ deep. This prevented the bit from shifting away from my intended location.
The wood I used for the Pony’s legs is extremely hard, which can also translate that it is brittle. I knew this wood would blow out something awful if I didn’t support the rear of each leg, while drilling. I located an off-cut that was thicker than the opening between the two legs, so I held the block against the inside of one leg, while scribing from the inside of the second leg. I grabbed my Lie-Nielsen cross cut saw and sawed down the line, which created a shoulder, deep enough so the support block would make contact all across the area the drill would remove.
I rotated the Pony with it’s support block, and held a Pony leg in the vise, while slowly drilling through the legs. The first hole went exceedingly well, and provided a flawless hole.
As the bit exited the rear of the second leg, even with solid support, it still splintered some. As it didn’t completely clear the wood from the hole either, I used a very thin chisel to reach down through the first hole, to cleanly cut the excess in the second hole. It didn’t take long to clean it up and have the bolt feeding through both holes as intended.
After removing the bolt, I used a card scraper to clean up all of the surfaces, which does a great job if you have a decently tuned up scraper.
At this point, I have a secondary board I can attach directly to the main Stitching Pony, via a bolt through the board and the hole in the block. It’s unclear how much I’ll utilize this aspect, as I can easily hold the lower section of the Pony in the jaws of my vise (at either bench), which is holding the front and rear open face of the lower block, not the legs themselves.
Here is the Stitching Pony all cleaned up, but just waiting for the small leather adornments on the contact surfaces of both heads. I’ll pick up some contact cement the next time I’m out and it’ll ready to rock and roll. At present, I can just slip a thin piece of leather between the jaws and the working leather, if I can’t wait to get after stitching some leather together.
Thanks as always for stopping and checking out the article. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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