How to Choose a Woodworking Vice
The most important bench accessory is a woodworking vice — the bigger the better, as the principal requirement of a vice is that it grips wood over the largest possible area.
The big steel woodworker’s vices built into ready-made benches can be bought with or without a quick-release mechanism. This is operated by a lever that disengages the mainfrom the nut so that the front jaw can be slid rapidly in either direction. The main has to be used only for final tightening of the jaws.
One type of woodworker’s vice with quick-release mechanism is also fitted with an adjustable front dog, so that it can be used to cramp a wide piece of timber flat on the bench, holding it against a stop at the back of the bench. A vice like this will compensate to some extent for the absence of an end-screw vice.
Less expensive than a woodworker’s vice is the 150 mm (6 in) Amateur woodwork vice. This is bolted to the underside of a bench top. Cut away the front edge of the bench so that the rear jaw of the vice, when fitted with a protective wooden plate, falls flush with the bench edge.
If you do not have room for a permanent bench, you can make a good temporary substitute by cramping a vice on to a strong kitchen table, directly above a leg.
Some vices have an offset cramp which will allow it to be fixed to the front or side of the work surface.
Surface-mounted vices are generally less effective than flush-mounted types because of their narrower and shallower jaws. Their usefulness is also more limited because they hold the work above the level of the bench top.
However, in many cases when the amount of work is small, or only limited space is available, the high cost of a big vice is not justified.
A vice is only for gripping. Never tighten it so that it crushes the work.
Hold objects that are narrower than the jaws in the centre of the vice whenever possible. If you have to grip an object at the outside of the jaws, use a piece of wood of identical thickness at the other side to balance the grip. This prevents strain and possible distortion of the vice.
No woodworking vice is designed to withstand heavy hammering.
A very useful accessory for use with a flush-mounted vice is a bench leg.
A bench stop is needed to hold timber steady while it is being planed on the bench top. There are two retractable types that can be lowered to provide an unobstructed flat surface.
The all-metal stop is let into the bench top, the other is fixed to the underside and has ablock that slides through a hole cut in the top.
When there is not room for a permanent workbench and a big vice, the folding Black and Decker Workmate offers a combination of vice, bench and sawhorse.
The 740mm (29 in) long jaws operate in taper to grip irregular-shaped objects or in parallel to hold big boards. The normal opening is up to 100 mm (4 in), but this can be extended to 250 mm (10 in) using vice pegs. Power tools and vices can be mounted on the jaws, which can also be used as a seat. There are two models, single and dual height.