Making Sense of Vises
A user's guide to the heart of the workbench
Synopsis: The next best thing to an extra set of hands is a great pair of vises. Equipped with a good front vise and end vise, a workbench can meet all of a woodworker’s basic needs for holding work firmly and within reach. Contributing editor Garrett Hack covers all you need to know about vises, whether you want to hold work vertically for sawing dovetails or planing end grain, hold wide workpieces or secure long boards on edge, steady a wide panel, hold work flat on the table, or handle awkward shapes. In addition, he gives the lowdown on each type of front vise (cast iron, wooden jawed, arm, and patternmaker’s) and end vise (cast iron, tail, full width, and twin screw).
A good bench vise is nearly as useful as a shop apprentice. On my bench I have a front vise and a large tail vise—I call them my right- and left-hand men. It’s hard to imagine woodworking without them; they hold my work firmly so that I can concentrate fully on powering and controlling the tool I’m using.
In general, you’ll find vises at two locations on a woodworker’s bench: one on the long side of the bench, typically at the left-hand corner for right-handed woodworkers, and another on the short side at the opposite end.
The first, known variously as a side vise or front vise, matches the mental picture that most people have of a vise, with a movable jaw capturing work between it and the edge of the bench.
The second, called an end vise or tail vise, can clamp work like a front vise, but is more often used to hold boards flat on the bench, pinched between a pin or dog in the vise and another…