Early on in my woodworking, I always seemed to have such a hard time finding a good way to securely hold the wood I was either needing to saw, chisel or plane, on it’s edge or end. I hadn’t yet built a workbench, and even when I finally had my first bench, the cheap little vise (and it’s jaws that weren’t truly aligned) I had was all but useless.
Move forward a some years and I finally got a cabinet-style table saw, and the heft of the saw led me to design a vise that would take advantage of this stability. Initially, I had a couple of pieces of 6/4 Oak that were each about 24″ long and 6″-7″ wide, that didn’t have a project attached to them. I copied the layout of the mounting holes on the side of my table saw, where an extra wing could attach, and transferred this layout to the rear board of my vise design. I drilled these holes into the length of my Oak, and recessed them enough so the bolt heads with a washer, wouldn’t stand proud of the inside surface. I also made sure the placement of the vise was low enough so the top edge of both jaws couldn’t interfere with the normal table saw operations.
My first iteration on my design used two 12″ Jorgensen F-clamps, which slipped into slots I cut into both edges of the front and rear jaws, to apply pressure and hold the workpiece. After cutting these slots, I bolted the rear vise face to my table saw, making sure to use large washers to spread out the forces. I didn’t want to accidentally crack the mounting holes on my table saw. This first design worked reasonably well, but the jaws flexed more than I wanted, which made it difficult to apply enough gripping pressure to the workpiece, before the ends of the jaws met first.
The first upgrade was to replace the rear vise jaw with a somewhat rough piece of 8/4 Maple, where the rough section was on the side facing away from the workpiece. Rather than cutting the slot in the ends of this board, so I could continue to use the F-clamps, I bought three veneer press screws as replacements for the clamps. Each of the press screws came with a threaded cast-iron nut, of sorts. I drilled holes for each of these three press screws, laid out with one on each end and the last about a third from one of the ends. I drilled these holes with a bit that was just slightly larger than the screw’s shafts, to keep the slop to a minimum. The nuts that came with the press screws, were oddly shaped; they were each sort of deep and shaped like a section of a cone. I drilled with different sized bits, to different depths, until I had a hole that was close to fitting the nut. I carved out the last little bit with a number of different tools, until the fit was solid. The press screws also came with an end-piece that fit over the tip of the screw, and had a set screw that went into a shallow recess. I attached each of these, so there was less chance I’d accidentally unscrew any to the point where they disengaged with their nut.
I mentioned earlier that I placed the mid press screw about a third from one of the ends. I did this so I had the option of using the two outside screws, when working on a very large panel, but the choice of two other sizes, depending on the size of my workpiece. I was afraid this new setup might also flex more than planned, and the shorter the section between screws, the more rigid, using the same materials.
When I transitioned to the Maple rear jaw and the press screws, I didn’t have enough 8/4 Maple to also make a full-sized front jaw, but I did have enough to make one that was about 3″ tall. I centered this on the press screw shanks, and it did a better job of diminishing the side-to-side flex, but didn’t hold tight enough at the top of the rear jaw. This deficiency allowed the workpiece to vibrate during a saw cut, so was another learning experience.
During the period where I was making some changes to the vise, I had also built a workbench and even though it was somewhat small, it was pretty solid. It was time to remove the vise from the table saw, thank it for it’s service, and turn the vise into a free-standing model. I attached a small piece of plywood with a screw, to the inside face of the rear jaw, at both ends. This helped index it against the workbench top, so I could easily tell it was where it should be. I also cut both ends, of the rear jaw, from the top down about 3″. With these “ledges”, I could grip the vise with a couple of clamps, or hold-fasts. This really made it much better and provided me choices as to where I wanted to place the vise, and it sat higher, so I didn’t need to bend over as far. Definitely good for my back.
A friend was kind enough to give me a load of 8/4 Pecan that had a lot of internal stresses, which didn’t allow for machine planing, or could likely cause all sorts of problems for the plane or the operator. I like using my hand planes and chose a board that was somewhat similar in size to the rear Maple vise jaw. After working what would be the inside face of the board so it was flat and true, I did the same on the exterior face, except some of the “dips” were so extreme that I decided to only take it down enough so it ended up around 75%-85% flat. I didn’t want to lose any more of the strength the thickness of the board would provide. I cut the board so it was the same length as the Maple jaw, transferred the location of the holes to the front jaw, and drilled the holes at my drill press.
One of the next modification was to glue some leather on the inside of both front and rear jaws, which elevated the performance of the vise even more. I had bought the leather a couple of years earlier for another project, and luckily had a good amount left over. I just used some of the Titebond glue I had on hand in my shop, to attach the leather to the vise jaws. After I applied the glue and leather to both jaws, I put a double layer of wax paper between the jaws, and let the pressure from the press screws hold it snuggly until the glue cured. It was amazing just how much difference the leather makes, in a vise situation. I suppose this extra gripping, which I see as the leather conforming to the workpiece, might be a good example why stropping the back of a chisel or plane iron on leather, can potentially roll it’s edge.
Well, this setup was decent and functioned, but I’d been eyeing one of the BenchCrafted Moxon vise kits for quite some time. Imagine my surprise at Christmas when one of their kits was underneath our tree, with my name on it! With all I’ve had on my plate, I am almost to the point where I can make the change to their cool gear. For those that haven’t ever checked out BenchCrafted, their website and their blog, I believe you have been missing a lot. Jameel and Father John are great guys and have wonderful products. Oh, and this kit was purchased at full retail price, just so that is clear.
I plan to install the new hardware and have a new post with all of the details, in the near future.
Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope this article might provide some alternate ideas for this style of vise. Most of us start with something that can get us through, until we can make our dreams happen. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. At the time of this post, I’ve not found any photos of the first vise I made. If I do happen to find some in the archives, I’ll post them in the article.
I was reminded the other day, how selection of wood for dovetailed boxes, can make or break the project. I’m sure this initially seems like I’m only talking about aesthetics, but in actuality, the physical characteristics are at least as much of concern. A man brought me a piece of wood whose species was not immediately apparent. From the coloration, weight and relative hardness, it felt like Brazilian Cherry. He was having a really rough time cleaning up the board without significant tear out, even using a high-angle of attack. We worked on it with multiple planes, and ultimately found a scraper plane worked well. I had a different scenario with the Brazilian Cherry I’d purchased.
A number of years ago, I bought a board labeled Brazilian Cherry, since I thought it would compliment some Maple or other light colored wood, in a hand-cut dovetailed box. Many times I will use some good contrast in my dovetailed boxes, which is usually pleasing to the eye. The board I purchased was already surfaced on four sides, and was very flat. I cut the lengths I needed, on my tablesaw, which gave me no idea just what I was up against. I cut the tails on the Maple boards, and laid out the pins on the Brazilian Cherry. I sawed the pins, as usual, and didn’t really notice much difference. Same thing when I removed the majority of excess wood, with my coping saw. It was only when I shifted over to my chisels, that this wood reared it’s head. As usual, I made sure I was working carefully, so I didn’t try to hog off too much wood in each pass, and potentially risk diving below the scribe line. I noticed fairly quickly that my chisel was acting strange; almost as if it was already dull. I looked at the edge of the chisel, and it was amazingly dull, and had chipped as well. I re-sharpened my chisel, thinking it had probably started to get dull on the previous job, and I hadn’t noticed. OK, now this baby is sharp. Back to the board. I know this is likely fairly obvious, but in very short order, I was headed back to the sharpening stones. I’m not sure how many times this went on, but I finally decided to shift to another chisel. This time I picked up a Japanese chisel I bought while in Japan in 2001. This chisel had really shown me just how long it would retain it’s sharpness and also it’s fine cutting edge. I started removing wood, and at first it was doing great. Well, this didn’t last. I finished one end of one of the two pin boards, and thats when I set the Brazilian Cherry board aside. It felt like I was going to use up a chisel or two, just in the amount of sharpening required, and this was on a small box. I milled up some regular Cherry, and finished up the pins on these boards, finalizing the box fairly rapidly.
I’m sure I might find another usage for Brazilian Cherry, in the future, but let this remind you to assess each wood’s attributes before buying in large quantity. This instance was not too bad, since I only bought one fairly smallish board of the Brazilian Cherry, to test for this box. What if I’d been making a chest of drawers, with lots of dovetails, or something else with similar design. I’d ultimately have had a bunch of wood sitting around, waiting for a project in which it would behave.
As discussed in the first part of this build, we have both the mahogany body and the maple cap, both shaped close to the template line. The next step is to shape the mahogany body, before removing the material in two areas. One for the pickup selector, and the other where the volume/tone controls will […]
So, anyone ever wanted to play guitar? Sure, it seems like almost everyone wanted to be a Rock Star at some point in their life. How about building a guitar? Are those cricket chirps I’m hearing?? Well, I’m here to tell you that it does require some precision, but it’s something that many woodworkers can […]
Let’s start off with a brief description of Winding Sticks. Ultimately, we want to have straight, flat and square wood to use in our projects. Without this, you’ll either struggle getting the pieces together, or they may not go together at all. So the question becomes, how can I tell if my wood is properly […]