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Shoulder Vise Fixture by Tom Conroy

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Tom Conroy is a book restorer and bookbinding historian and teacher living in Berkeley and working in San Francisco.

He makes and repairs wooden bookbinding equipment, reconditions the scruffiest high-quality woodworking tools he can find cheap, and occasionally even uses the tools.

 

A few months ago I was followed home by a piece of oak that had been on its way to the trash, roughly 1-1/8" x 4" x 48". It had a nice color and grain and it seemed a pity to let it go to waste, even though it was oily and grimy to the touch and I don't really like oak all that much.

But it was exactly the right size for something I have been wanting to make for several years and didn't want to do with wood that would serve for something else.

Back before the demise of the old GIC, Jack Kamishlian had posted pictures of a device I think he invented, a fixture to be held in a normal face vise which turns it into a shoulder vise.

I downloaded the photos, forgot to download the text (the text is not that informative:) but I put the idea on the back burner because my current face vise is dinky.

The dinky came with the bench - yes, I have sinned, I confess it, I bought my bench, one of Garrett Wade's old Rhodesian Teak ones (I figured it out that they sold these benches for the price of the wood), and I love it, but the built-in vises are small, slow, and weak.

For years I have been intending to replace the face vise (3/4" diameter screw with about 6 t.p.i., 6" opening with all the threads engaged, or maybe 6-5/8" just before it drops off) with a big Record opening over 15". It seemed foolish to build the shoulder vise fixture, which clearly must be custom to the host face vise, before replacing the face vise. So both projects languished. (Anyone need an explanation of why installing the Record vise languished, hmmm? You there, with the bench with no clutter on it, you got any comments to make? Are you lookin' at me? Are you lookin' at me? I thought not.)

Only, this piece of oak on its way to the dump was just the right size for a shoulder vise fixture for the current face vise, and I figured, I will make it as a sketch for the better one that I will make when the big Record is installed, down around the time of the Greek Kalends, and if it doesn't work I won't be out anything but time and a bit of free oak and I don't really like oak anyway.

Of course, the oak was not without problems. It is slow-grown, in other words tight annual rings which in oak means weak and brash; and flat-sawn, though this turned out OK because the part that shows in use is the board edges and they have a nice opulent display of flake.

But mostly, it is oily. It was associated with some piece of bookbinding machinery (maybe built in, maybe part of a stand, I don't know) for a long time, and by a long time I mean decades, and by decades I mean anything from four or five up to eight or ten. And over time it got little spurts of light machine oil from the machine, and over eighty years that is a lot of machine oil. I planed away the surface hoping to get rid of the disgusting oily-grimy bleeding feeling, and though that got rid of the grime it was clear that the oil was still there.

So I figured, OK, I will rely on coarse dovetails to hold the fixture together, not on glue, and hope that there is enough of an unsaturated core to the wood that glue will be able to get a grip and help. Well, maybe.

When I crosscut the board it looked at first as if the oil was purely on the surface, but a day later the freshly-exposed oily section had oxidized and deepened in color, and I could see that it had penetrated an average of over 1/4", and in places had penetrated all the way through. But, I figured, this is just a sketch with free wood that would have been thrown out anyway and I don't really like oak, so I went ahead.

My normal choice of glues is those I know best from bookbinding: hot glue, PVA, and (since it is just souped-up PVA) yellow aliphatic resin. But here I figured none of these hydrophilic adhesives would cohere to hydrophobic oil, so they were out.

My coarse dovetails, the main thing that would hold the fixture together, are **very** coarse, so I figured gap-filling might be good. I took a couple of off-cuts and glued them together outside-to-outside with some old epoxy I happened to have sitting around, and I couldn't break them apart.


 
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