For me, making decisions about bench hardware has been like the rest of the tool purchases I make, and these are the questions I ask when I am making such a decision:
- Is this a “need” or a “nice to have” tool?
- What are the options?
- Which option works best with how I work?
- Which option blends best with the other tools I generally use?
- What is the best version of this tool that I can afford?
The answer to the first question is important. If I answer “need” then I don’t think about it anymore. If I answer “nice to have” it doesn’t necessarily preclude the purchase, it just makes me aware of why I’m buying a thing. As far as I’m concerned, a vise is a “need” even though I know there are plenty of ways to work without one. I’m not in the shop for hours on end everyday and when I do get some time I want to be as efficient as possible. For me, this means having a vise.
The answer to the second question is usually a can of worms. We live in a time where there are no shortage of options as to how to bolt a vise to your bench. Even with knowing for sure that I want a leg vise, this embarrassment of riches leaves me with options from the frugal to the innovative and elaborate. Traditional options tempt, while other offerings make good cases for themselves as well.
This wealth of options makes the next two questions essential. Which option integrates most naturally with how I work and which matches best to the tools I already use? I like the idea of a vise that moves in and out without a great deal of physical manipulation from me. I don’t want to push or pull the chop. I don’t want to be bending over and over cranking a handle. I want something that has some capacity to exploit inertia.
And as for the second question; sure you can use any tools with any vise, but looking at the tools I prefer it is pretty clear that I favor metal planes over wooden planes. Here’s why. They feel more natural in my hands and they aren’t subject (in the same way) to the thousand natural shocks that wood is heir to. My shop is not climate controlled and in that environment I’ve found my metal planes to be more “reliable.” I use wooden moulding planes and although I love them, they require something different from me.
Honestly, for me it came down to two options. Lake Erie or Benchcrafted. I love the traditional look of Lake Erie screws and everyone has all the best things to say about their use. I also love the look and function of Benchcrafted’s offerings. Honestly, there’s nothing bad you could say about either company’s products and they are clearly in a class by themselves. I’ve really gone back and forth on this one, but the one advantage Benchcrafted has for this particular application is that the mounting hardware for the nut is slightly less invasive than the wooden nut that Lake Erie screws mount with. In another build, that giant wooden nut would be an advantage, but I struggled to be comfortable with any mounting option on the knockdown English bench due to the other hardware in the design. This certainly isn’t a flaw in either design on its own, but for me the Benchcrafted hardware made more sense.
This all left me pondering my last question:
Which is the best version of the tool I can afford?
If I have learned one thing over the past year it is this; buy the best version of any given tool that is within your means. If not you will end up buying it eventually anyway and wasting a lot of money in the process. As the old adage goes: Buy once, cry once.
Thanks to the extra freelance work over the past month, I now have the choice to put most any leg vice I choose on this build, and that vice of choice is: