The bench vise

Holding your work steady is crucial when you work. You need the best work holding you can get, and a metal woodworking vise is a great option. Lets’s review one.

I chose the Eclipse EWWQR9, a 9” or roughly 23cm wide metal body vise with quick-release function. It features a built-in dog that can be extended when needed. I bought the vise from Toolstop UK, but it is available from other vendors too. Post-Brexit it has proven to be a bit difficult when one needs to order stuff from the UK. Go figure.

When it arrived, it was pretty gooed up with protective oil and grease. It did not come in that Libero diaper package, but I wanted to protect the pristine work bench surface from all the goo till I could clean it thoroughly. Here it is resting above its intended mounting spot.

Some drilling, sawing, chiseling and fiddling around later, and the vice found its home on my bench. I planed off the plastic coating on the plywood liners and installed leather on the moveable jaw using double sided tape. The liners are 28cm / 11” wide.

As depicted, I have my vise mounted “non-flush”. This is so that I can hold the piece going into the vise much easier. I have written some thought about this in the article “the vise royal flush”.

You can of course mount it flush and add a removable liner to get the best of two worlds – but I don’t think it is a good idea. First off, it complicates things. Second, you will probably never remove the liner. Thirdly – you really do not need to support long pieces. If so, you can just tape a piece of gash to the apron somewhere. I never use the vise for pieces longer than maybe 80cm (31 1/2”); anything longer than that usually goes on top of the bench. That way it is well supported along the entire length and it won’t flap around on me.

The vise is mounted to the bench using heavy-duty french wood screws (hex-headed wood bolts with coarse threads) underneath the bench, but only for the rear mounting points; the other two holes are recessed into the bench apron, so there is no way to easily mount bolts there. In stead I put two large wood screws (hex head) through the holes in the stationary jaw, which are covered by the plywood liner. Easy way to do it, and more than strong enough.

The small blue J-shaped handle next to the vise handle is the quick-release trigger . You just grab the shaft, press the trigger and move the jaw to where you need it. Release the trigger and wiggle the jaw. Sometimes the half nut doesn’t engage fully, and you risk that it skips a step before you can secure the work. This has caused me to drop parts from time to time when I forgot the wiggle. A good habit: don’t let the work piece go until the vice is tightened.

I could not be without that quick-release function now. I don’t have to spin that handle like a cheerleader twirling a baton. Say you are smoothing and squaring a thin, wide piece of wood. With the quick-release, it takes a second to adjust the jaw in or out when you swap which side you are working on.

Here’s a slideshow with some images of the vise in use:

The capacity of this vise makes it pretty useful. Here I am using it to squeeze a shelf into a dado. The shelf is about 22cm (about 9”) front to back. This was a very controlled way to do the task as the shelf was forced in place dead parallell with the slot.

The vise is placed to the left on my work bench. I’ve found that while I can use my saws on stuff in the vise, I tend to use a bench hook for cross cutting. I also have holdfasts and clamps which I use to secure things to the work bench. But the star of the show is the vise. Even if it is holding a clamp which then hold the work piece. Sometimes that’s a very nice option too!

Other options

There are a lot of vise designs to choose from. The common denominator for most are that they are prone to racking and / or you need to do a lot of handle twirling to operate them. My experience is rather limited, but I have used a Sjöbergs work bench a lot. The vises on that one was abysmal – lots of racking. They were great when I used the dogs, held stuff in the middle or held parts that were wider than the vise itself , but not to hold stuff on the side of the vises for working, like so:

This image from my rocking cradle build shows the problem – the vise could only pinch the work piece nearest the screw because of racking. It was impossible to hold that piece while I ripped it in two, so I had to improvise. Eventually I got through the board. Since then, things has improved a lot though. But I will never have that kind of vise again as the only option.

I am considering adding one of those as a tail vise; they do work rather well when you use dogs and when you can clamp stuff in the middle or work across the vise horizontally. Another option would be the wagon vise, but that requires a long slot in the work surface. Not a fan.

Then there are moxon style vises (very wide with two screws)*, leg vises – there are lots of options. The leg vise looks like a very good choice, but you need one with a st. Andrew’s cross. Having to move a pin around near the bottom to ensure parallell clamping pressure sounds really bothersome. Especially since I’m not 20 anymore..

Leg vise with pin board

*Note: A Moxon vise is a great addition for a work bench for joinery as it lifts the work to a better position for detail work. If your work bench is low (great for hand plane work), a Moxon vise could be a great addition. Before, I was talking about a Moxon style vise integrated into the bench.

As soon as you need something else to get a thing to work, it becomes a bother and it defies the purpose. If a vise is a very elaborate design, my gut instinct is that at some point it will become a problem.

Which vise is right for you? Who knows. But based on everything I’ve seen, I think the metal woodworking vise is hard to beat for functionality and ease of use. The quick release function makes using the vise incredibly fast. The next best thing would be the leg vise (with cross), although it is a lot slower in use. It does look good, though…

Speaking of looking good – there is one vise I really would love to have because it is SO COOL! The geared vise from Andrew Klein is just gorgeous, and it is pretty fast too. Not a cheap option, though – $380 plus shipping, taxes and fee’s for the 14” version. Phew! Well over twice the cost of an Eclipse. Wort it – but ex-pen-sive! My estimate would be at least the cost of a No.7 Lie Nielsen here in Norway.

The two-speed function of this vise works by pulling the handle out or pushing it in, engaging two different gears. Still – the quick release will be easier to use, and probably a lot faster. No spinning anything. But this looks just GORGEOUS! I would love to have one. Dear santa…

A good vise should be fast to use, easy to use and it should hold what ever you put in there securely and solid. For me, the Eclipse quick release woodworking vise is unbeatable in all these aspects combined. In my experience, it covers most of my needs. The one shortcoming is holding long pieces. For that, I will add a tail vise at some point. Perhaps another Eclipse? We’ll see.

I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about how to hold things, considering different issues with different setups – I really wanted the holy grail of work holding!

Turns out – as in the movie, the holy grail is simplicity. And a myth..

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