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
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
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
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
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
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...