Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My year without a vice

Actually I have a lot of vices.  What I don't have is a vise installed on my Nicholson bench, which is nearing it's first birthday.  This was a carefully-considered decision.  I didn't know what vise(s) I wanted and I wanted to really immerse myself in all of the possibilities for workholding that a split top Nicholson offers.  Some people spend over $700 for a tail vise and a leg vise, so I thought it important to make sure I understood my needs first.

As I wrote at the time, however, I am a big fan of Moxon vises and hope never to be without one.  That was part of the reason I made the decision I did, apparently common at the time Moxon wrote his book.  Moxon vises have deservedly attracted a lot of attention:  the first year of this blog has just ended and far and away the most viewed post is the one I wrote when I completed my Moxon vise (see the work holding topic on the right sidebar).  The vise has more than met my expectations.  I have only one issue with it.  Whereas standard vises tend to wrack horizontally, Moxon vises tend to wrack vertically if you try to hold a work piece that doesn't extend below the screws.  This is easy to control with a   scrap of the same thickness, but it is an issue.  Overall, these things are great and I am beholden to Chris Schwarz for rediscovering them.

It is now time to decide whether I need to install a vise on my workbench or whether the Moxon vise is sufficient.  I am going to post further about my first year's experience with the Nicholson bench and its workholding capabilities so, for now, I'll just tell you my conclusion:  there are times when it would be nice to have a vise on the bench but having one in addition to the Moxon vise is by no means essential.  I always seem to find things to spend money on that I want more than a bench vise, mainly because I have learned to accommodate most of my workholding requirements in other ways.

What I have decided is that, if I do install a vise on the bench, it will be a twin screw vise installed on the end of the bench.  One of the nice features of a Moxon vise is that you can move it around to suit your purpose at the time so I really had to think about this.  In part, I view this location as the one most suited for a Nicholson bench and, in part, I think a vise mounted on the end offers the most versatility.  That isn't what Nicholson depicted but his vise serves as a vertical planing stop, whereas I have a dedicated one.  I prefer to keep the sideboards clear.  Why a twin screw vise?  Vises rack.  Why pay for guides to retard racking when you can install a second screw and get rid of it entirely as well as gaining versatility?  I should note that I previously owned a high-end quick release vise, didn't like it and didn't find the quick release feature all that useful.  No reason you should agree, it's just what I think will work best for me.

I have repeatedly looked at the Veritas twin screw vise, which I really like, but I am bothered by a purely aesthetic issue.  I really don't like the idea of a black aluminum cover dominating the end of my bench.  I know this is silly, but, hey, it's a hobby.  I have seen a blog post by a woodworker with a similar opinion who replaced the aluminum cover with a wooden one he made and I hope to look at the Veritas vise in person to get a feel for how practical this is before I decide.  It is also interesting to me that the Veritas twin screw vise costs $229 vs. $295 for their quick release front vise.  The latter has a total of four bars that would have to go through the sideboard.

If I don't go this way but choose to install a bench vise, I intend to either purchase a pair of wooden screws or make steel screws similar to the ones I made for my Moxon vise with wooden hubs and handles.

I return to my main point:  After many years of having a premium quick release vise, I am really surprised at how easily I did without one for this year.  I kept expecting to hit a wall, but it never happened.  I think Moxon was right.



  1. Interesting post. I am contemplating removing my L shaped shoulder vise and putting in a quick release face vise. May have to rethink that for a while longer.

  2. Andy,

    I'm just getting started in all of this. I haven't even started a project yet.

    I find this post interesting. As I study what others are doing and, how their doing it, and considering I have an unexplainable desire to do this without any power tools and, in a vintage, traditional manner, with vintage, traditional tools, I've just about decided to doing things very similar to the way you're doing it.

    I'm thinking the bench I build someday may not have a vice either. I may use an unmounted (Moxon) twin screw, some planing stops, pegs (dogs) and wedges and, hold fasts etc.

    In addition, I noticed on another blog (Shannon Rogers' Hand Tool School) he built a taller bench -- which isn't very long -- he calls it "the Joinery bench." It utilizes a Moxon, twin screw vise mounted on the front. I have a bad back so the idea of not bending over too much is appealing.

    I also like the idea of having another bench at the "saw bench height" with some work holding capabilities too (planing stops, pegs [dogs] and wedges and, hold fasts, etc). I envision sitting on it (and the work piece) to maybe chop out a mortise or something. *shrug*

    I think I may end up using this multiple bench approach rather than trying to make a single workbench do it all. I think a good combination would be the low, long bench for planing and other primary work. A higher bench for joinery and a lower (saw bench height) bench for whatever.

    But then again, as I said in the beginning, I'm just getting started. I have no experience so, all that might be completely wrong. :)


  3. Hi Andy,

    Have you made any headway on the vise issue? I have a patternmaker's vise and used it for years and absolutely loved it. Then I decided to build a tall "joinery" bench after using Shannon's at Woodworking in America two years ago and fitted mine with a wooden twin-screw "Moxon" vise. I used 1"-8tpi threads I made myself using the Beall system. I have been using this vise exclusively in my shop and find it almost as good as my patternmaker's vise and much nice to use than the Veritas Twin-Screw vise which is comparatively slow and awkward to operate (combination of finer threads and long handle swinging 'round and 'round, versus knobs).


    1. I am still waiting for a compelling reason to install one, hoping that in the process I will learn what kind of vise it should be. Fact is, a split top Nicholson bench has so many workholding options you can generally find a way to secure a workpiece.