Time to Add Vises, It’s a Lucky Day

I believe I’ve mentioned more than once how I’m not totally convinced of the necessity for having vises on a workbench. But for two reasons I wouldn’t be installing them now. The first is people with way more experience than me say they are essential so I bow to their theories rather than stick with my own and get it wrong, should be easier to say “I told you so” rather than “I made a mistake”. The second is that I didn’t want to short-change my workbench by leaving them off, I can always not use them if I desire. So, here I am mounting vises.

First, we need some music and I can think of no one better to listen to while mounting vises than Widespread Panic to kick it off and keep me going. If you remember from my previous post, I decided on a 7″ Groz rapid-release vise from Woodcraft for the tail position.

Mounting the thing is dead-simple, hardest part is flipping the workbench over on its belly. I bolt it on with four lag screws, 30 minutes it’s done!

The rapid-release takes some getting used to and is a little creaky, when you pull it out it sounds like a roller coaster getting cranked up the hill.

It was a few days later when I attached a “temporary” chop for the bench dog using a leftover piece of 2×4. I’ll also make some sort of removable cheek for the inboard side for when I happen to want to use this vise in the ordinary way.

Recall from another post that I decided on a leg vise for the front. But before we continue I wish to point out a mistake I made in that post incorrectly identifying the source of the wooden screw for Schwarz’s monster Roubo bench, it was really a  Lake Erie Toolworks screw.

I’ll admit, I was somewhat stumped as to how to go about fitting this beast so of course I turned to the bible, Workbenches: from Design & Theory to Construction & Use by Christopher Schwarz. In the English section, not the French, he gives some sketchy details, “make this, cut that, bore holes, chop mortises, put it all together so it works smoothly.” Yeah, right! If somebody had a ready-made, easily installed leg vise that was as cheap as my tail vise I would have bought it.

Instead I’m starting with this screw from Lee Valley (that is actually sold as a tail vise screw) and a nice hunk of 8/4 ash. Here are the steps I took.

Step 1: Rough out the tombstone shaped piece for the leg. A plane stop would come in handy right about now. I’ve got to tell ya’, it has been awhile and I’m out of practice so I missed many, what you might call hilarious photo opportunities, I must do better to share these with you.

Step 2: Bore some big-ass holes for the screw to pass through. One doesn’t often bore holes this large so, like many others, I use an Irwin expandable bit thing that pretty much sucks. Note to self: works much better when the cutter gets sharpened by a few swipes with a small file. Second note to self: next time bore the hole in the leg when it hasn’t yet become part of the bench. Sharper minds would have done this beforehand. Anyway, got the holes bored.

Chris Schwarz suggests mounting the nut facing out, held in place by only the four screws. I figure it is going to carry the entire weight of the vise so I bore a hole large enough to firmly hold the round part but decide not to mortise the square part into the leg. It should support the rig better than the more simple way of just screwing it onto the leg. If it ends up needing additional support I can always mortise it in later.

Step 3: Get out a blank for the guide, used some leftover Lowe’s red oak. Luckily I had the foresight to chop the mortise in the leg in advance, still screwed up and somehow made it smaller than the 3″ I planned on, shouldn’t matter. Notice also that I dropped the guide position down below the stretchers since there is plenty of room for it there and it looks better to my eye.

Chopped the notch at the end of the leg keeping it simple.

Test fit. Lookin’ good!

Step 4: Drill holes in guide and do final cleanup. Pulled out my 16″ long 3/8″ hula girl bit (it dances whenever pressure is added) to drill the holes completely through the leg for dowel pegs to lock the guide. I went all the way through because I might want to punch them out if I ever need to replace the guide.

The leg gets its final smoothing and a 3/8″ chamfer all around. I cut the guide to length and layout the position for the guide pin holes and bore them with hula girl. Then do a final fit and mark for the peg holes, decide to get fancy and drawbore the bottom one, why I don’t know.

Put the leg and guide together then bang in the dowel pegs. Slide in the guide and tighten the screw. Moment of truth, it really works pretty good. I’m pretty happy.

Step 5: Make a handle. For awhile I’ve had this long handle that I liberated from some defunct garden tool just waiting for the perfect moment for it to become useful once more. A length of it gets 8-sided pretty quickly and finds a hole at each end for lock pins. This wood must be hickory because I hear hickory splits just looking at it, which it tries to do while I’m boring holes for the pins.

The final result is pretty marvelous.

Coincidentally each vise assembly weighs in at 16 lbs, so add another 32 lbs to bump the total bench weight up to 186 lbs.

– Carl

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  • yaakov  On May 17, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Lookin’ good! Are you adding dog holes?


  • Brandon Blackburn  On April 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    What size Irwin bit did you use to bore the holes. I am about to commence this project tomorrow. And of course the bench is built so i am retro fitting. I have the same lv tail vise screw kit.

    • Carl Nobles  On April 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      I used an expandable bit in a brace to make the hole. You shouldn’t have any trouble doing this to an existing bench. Mine was built before boring this hole. I believe it was about 1-5/8″ dia. so I could jam the nut in from the back side for added stability. Your whole leg vise hangs from this nut so attach it well. I didn’t mortise the square head into the leg but that certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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