Michael Fortune’s unconventional visesHis work is anything but traditional, so it’s no surprise that he also uses unconventional workholding tools.
The patternmaker’s vise
I’m absolutely certain I could not make my furniture without a pattern-maker’s vise. Because you can rotate the vise, you have access to three different sides of varying sizes. When you’re working on unusual shapes, you can simply move the jaws anywhere you want. The jaws will even go out of parallel. There are few shapes that you can’t hold with this vise.
The gunstock vise
The gunstock vise can attach to the workbench through a dog hole, or in my case, through a couple of 5/8-in.-dia. holes I have drilled near the corner of the bench. This gives me the ability to “walk” my vise around the corner. The jaws are held in place with a large bolt on either side. I generally keep one bolt loose, which allows the jaw to swivel so I can hold curved or tapered pieces. Another aspect I love about this vise is that the jaws are made with a rubber or plastic that grips like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s really quite amazing. The other reason I like this vise is that it brings your work up off the workbench. I’ve been making furniture for more than 40 years and I have absolutely no issues with my back, knees, or hips. I think that’s largely because I work in a comfortable, upright position–not leaning over a low bench.
Pneumatic mystery vise
I found this “vise” when I moved into a warehouse in downtown Toronto. There were five or six of them piled in the corner, and I asked the landlord about them and he said, “oh, go ahead take them home–they look like junk to me.” I brought one into the shop. It was made up of a base and column, with what looked like a round bowling ball with a metal plate on top. There was no indication of what it was actually used for but it appeared to me that if I added a standard wooden jaw clamp, I might be able to use it to shape unusual forms. And as it turns out, it’s been an absolutely spectacular method of holding unusual shapes.
Festool Vac Sys vacuum clamping system
We’ve been using this vacuum clamp for a number of months, and it’s an incredibly useful method for clamping panels down. Sometimes we use it when finishing table legs after they’ve been attached to the table. In that case we can clamp the table down with the leg sticking up and then move it into any position to work on the individual table leg simply by spinning the the vacuum cup. The machine comes with a number of different vacuum clamp heads and they’ve all proved useful in different applications.