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Infill Planes


Making and Using Tools - Shop Benches and Other Appliances


A Moxon for Everyone by Scott Grandstaff

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Virtually anyone can have one, if they want.

I just finished a new vise. But really this vise is 40 years old. Or rather, parts of it are 40 years old.

Back when rocks were squishy, I was young and poor (still poor just not young anymore) I realized I needed a vise in the worst way. I was just starting out. I had nothing. Vises weren't exactly falling from the rooftops.

I grabbed some big all-thread and a scrap of 2X8. I put together something in a couple of days, which is fast considering I was coming from nowhere. It was my main and only vise and I didn't know any better.

I just screwed it to the apron of my workbench, right in the middle of the bench. Worst place of all to mount a vise IMO but compared to no vise, any vise is better than nothing! I used it almost everyday for the next 6 years. I redesigned it three times during that time to make it more efficient and flexible.

When I moved away from the little cabin by the brook, I just took the hardware loose and saved it. I always liked that vise. In the back of my mind it was dear to me.
There in a corner, piled with other assorted metal parts, is where it's been all this time. Its been moved many times and the piles) have been cleaned up and then re-piled all over again. Until a few days ago.

I saw the parts again when cleaning up my shop and decided to put it back to work. I didn't have a "Moxon" dovetailing vise.

While an all wood vice, with wooden screws, is very classy, and the modern machined hardware is way cool, both are only nice if you can afford them. The steel hardware is hundreds of dollars and either you have to buy a huge wood tap and die outfit, or purchase screws and nuts from someone who has them. But I had already figured out how to have a perfectly functional vise for nearly free, all those years ago.

With just 3 pieces of wood and some available anywhere type hardware, you can cobble up one of your own pretty quick, if you want to. I chose Douglas fir for my wood, because I live in a forest where it grows and I know what to look for.
Common construction lumber is nearly always plantation grown. The growth rings can be up to a ½ wide! This translates to being as soft as 7-Up.

The end grain of any piece of wood will tell you a lot about that particular piece of wood. Softwood of any kind that grows fast will be very soft. Slow grown wood will be hard and tough. Look at the end grain here. The lines are very nearly vertical, and ever so close together. That makes is as hard and tough as several kinds of wood going under the name hardwood.

In my case, it came used from the studs of Benny Vincent’s old truck shop. Cut 60 years ago. Vincent was a hard man. Old school logger. When he bought wood from the sawmill it better by damn be the best in the whole place.

My advice to you is to ask around whatever area you live in. Ask the old-timers what kind of wood that grows nearby is hard and heavy. There is no reason to import wood for a shop tool. You want the most readily available wood that grows in the region, and you want the very best of it.

I made my vise with 22”+ between the screws. Most cabinets are 22 inches deep or less, and this thing is heavy! I have to store it between uses and that means it has to be carried around, and its heavy enough as it is. The jaws are 33” long overall, 7” wide and a full 2 inches thick. If you are using a harder wood, 1 ¾” thick would be enough.

The two biggest tricks of vise construction I had figured out all those years ago, were first, to put the vise handles on cranks. You can grab and spin a crank about 100 times faster than you can most handles. You can spin two at once as easy as 1. And when you draw it up tight you still get to use the length of the handle for leverage.
Then, the cranks politely swivel out of your way when you work. No bashing of hips or worse, when you forget how far some the hardware is sticking out.

The other trick was crowning the jaw, or chop, of the vise. Wood is flexible and if you hope to have a good grip between two screws, you need to crown the jaw. It bites in the center first, but the sides roll around the work and then bite there just as hard. No need to roughen up the jaw face whatever, to get a good grip on your work.

Just mark the center of what will be the inside of your jaw and strike a guideline across both ends. A bit over 1/16” will do. Just pinch the pencil, lean on the surface, and drag it across. No need to really measure here. These merely a guidelines. Heh...

Learn how. Discover why. Build better.

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