Vise squad

I’m at the point in building my work bench where I feel obligated to make some important choices. I will be building Chris’ design to the plans for the most part, but from the very beginning I have had it in the back of my mind that I would still like a vise of some sort. The crochet is a great way to hold work, but I’m a vise guy. I want a vise.

The question is: which kind?

I’ve eliminated (for the most part) traditional metal vises because of the complicate mounting many of them require. It seems silly to load all of that onto a bench that is designed to knock down and be portable.

I’ve considered my options very carefully and it came down to choice between two: a leg vise or a face vise.

Face vises are fairly traditional on English style workbenches. Several of these can be seen in constant action at the Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker shop at Colonial Williamsburg, and plans can be found here. Graham Haydon has a particularly capable face vice on his bench, and Richard Maguire has raised the form to an art with his version of the same vice that not only works like a dream, but boasts refinements other vises only dream about.

Point is, there’s a good portion of the world using these vises, and they’ve done so for some time.

The upside of these vises is that they’re economical, easy to build in your own shop and they provide for excellent work holding. An 18″ chop, for instance, can give you 9″ or more between the screw and parallel guide which is ideal for most dovetailing. The only real downside I could see is that, like nearly every other front or face vise on the planet, they can be prone to racking. This is a complaint I have with my current vise, and one I would like to remedy.

A leg vise, on the other hand, virtually eliminates the problem with racking, but it adds some other technical questions. The first being where to put the screw (and how to attach it). The second is what kind of parallel guide does the vise need and how will that be installed?

I took it to the drawing board, er… my notebook.


The front vise was coming out a clear winner until some discussion on Instagram brought me back to the leg vise and answered the main question that I had about installing such a vise in a bench like this.

Where do I put the screw?

If I mount it below the apron it would be way too low. If I mount it through the apron how would I deal with mounting the nut? There is really only 1.5″ of leg (3″ effectively with the apron) and I was worried that if I removed material to mount a wooden style vise nut it would weaken the leg.

But the man himself answered my question: put it through the apron. He also gave some suggestions about alterations to the plans and assured me that the bench was still overbuilt. Fair enough. Leg vise it is.

So I started making sketches of my bench with a leg vise and I’m really starting to appreciate the mechanism. It’s simple, elegant and strong. It doesn’t get in the way of anything and I don’t have to work around the plane stop. I actually do have back issues so I was somewhat concerned about adjusting the parallel guide and reaching down to crank the handle, but at 9-ish inches from the top of the bench, the handle will be well within comfortable reach and the vise will still provide ample clamping above the screw.


I’m moving forward with this plan, although I still need to make decisions about the screw and the guide. I’d like a big wooden screw from Lake Erie Toolworks, but frankly I’m not sure I can financially swing that right now. I’ll probably end up with one of these German made screws and save up for a Moxon vise from Lake Erie in the future.

I guess it all depends on how patient I can be.




5 Comments Add yours

  1. auswimkc says:

    Dude, the Lee Valley screw is at least half that price. No complaints w mine. I strip or the green paint to bare cast iron.

    Also can’t recommend the bench crafted cross cross enough. By the time you spend 40-50$ buying the rollers for the bottom guide you can get the cross cross for a few $more. Easily makes the leg vise 1000% better


    1. I had considered the Lee Valley vise screw, but was really only leaning to the Woodcraft one because I had some gift cards. Both certainly seem adequate to the task.

      And yes, the more I think about it, the more alluring the crisscross becomes!


  2. Nikolaus says:

    Hi James,

    I was actually about to recommend that exact screw in auswimkc’s post abov. It’s made in Czeck and is very nice. I had one ordered already, when the opportunity for a wooden screw popped up, so I send it back. Was still very impressed with the quality though.
    Concerning the pinless shaft system of Richard Maguire, he wrote in one of his blog posts that he has vise parts for years to come. So if you are interested at the mechanism without the screw, just drop him a mail.
    I’m sure he can help you. It would make a good alternativ for a criss cross at a leg vise too!



    1. I do have a soft spot in my heart for the Czech Republic, and I certainly trust Lee Valley. My reason, as stated above, was solely based on some gift cards I have on hand.

      Thanks for the tip on Richard possibly having remaining vise hardware. I’m weighing my options with the criss-cross and that might be a great path if he still has some available.


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