Friday, March 15, 2019

Low Budget, High Vise

Back in 2011, Chris Schwarz wrote about the Etaux, a vise produced by Forge Royale in the early 20th century.

A few years later, Benchcrafted came out with a commercial version, which they call the Hi-Vise. The Benchcrafted hardware is top notch, but I wanted to build a low budget version using inexpensive hardware, some of which I already had lying around. I finished mine up in December and have been using it ever since. It's definitely one of the more useful shop fixtures I've ever made. So, here are a few pics and a brief description, should you want to make your own.

I based the construction around a Lee Valley tail vise screw (about $40) and a couple 9" veneer press screws (I had a box of these screws I bought years ago when they were cheaper; they are around $25 now). The Forge Royale originals, pictured above, also used two screws (theirs were wood) to hold the vise to the bench.
Forge Royale's more expensive version (above right), like the Benchcrafted vise, used a cast iron cross mechanism to regulate the jaw opening, while the cheaper version used a threaded rod with a nut that spins on it. For my version, I used a traditional parallel guide and pin. I've had the parallel guide on my main vise for about seven years and have always been happy with it: it's cheap, dependable, and bomb-proof.

The basic idea is that the parallel guide slides between the the two lower arms, and the tail vise screw slides between the upper arms, as shown below.

The lower arms have to be fairly thick (mine are 8/4) to accommodate the nuts for the veneer press screws. The upper arms can be thinner (mine are 5/4); just make sure they are far enough apart that the tail vise nut will fit in between. Also, note that the arms are about half an inch proud of the sides of the jaws. In Benchcrafted's version they are flush, but that wouldn't have worked here.

Some hack saw work was required for this job. I cut about 6" off the tail vise screw to save weight and space. I wanted a maximum opening of 8", so size yours to whatever you want to be able to hold.

I also cut down the handles of the veneer press screws, and filed them until they were comfortable to operate. As purchased, they are too wide and will bump into each other. Cutting them down also prevents me from torquing down too hard and over-stressing the dado joints that the lower arms fit into. These dados take a lot of force, so make sure you pin them to the sides of the fixed jaw, and don't put the holes for the veneer screws too far from the jaw (mine are 1-1/4" O.C. from the outside edge of the jaw).

I don't have a lathe, so I made some fairly fancy looking octagonal handles. There are definitely cheaper and easier ways to go, but this worked for me. I needed a new handle for my main vise anyway, so I made two.

Even before the handle was done, I was using the vise to hold the end caps while I beveled them.

A couple more dimensions: My vise is 4-1/2" wide, and the tops of the jaws are 8" above the bench top. I sized the dimensions to fit what I do: my plane totes are 5" or  5-1/2" long, so I wanted the vise to be narrower for easy access.

Overall, I'm incredibly pleased with this vise. I use it all the time for shaping totes, filing my planemaking floats, and other miscellaneous tasks.

If you make your own, I recommend using the excellent Benchcrafted instructions as a starting point.

- Steve Voigt