I decided to put a wagon vise in my bench. I considered a traditional L-shaped tail vise, and also a twin screw end vise. But I really like the simplicity of a wagon vise. Furthermore, since I’m limited on shop space to the tail end of where my bench will be, I thought a wagon vise would consume the least amount of real estate off of the tail. And finally, a wagon vise seemed like it would be a really cool project to build!
I hadn’t planned out the exact dimensions of the vise ahead of time. It wasn’t until I first decided on which specific vise screw I would use, and got the screw in my possession, before I worried about final dimensions. After looking around online at hardware for the vise, I absolutely fell in love with the Benchcrafted hardware. It is built like a tank, glides effortlessly, clamps with significant pressure AND I really love the wheel instead of traditional vise handle. However, the thing costs $360! Considering this is the first time I ever built a real bench, I haven’t historically done a lot of hand tool work and the wood for my bench is only $132, I thought it was excessive to spend that much on just one vise. So I then narrowed it down to the Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen small single vise screws. At $70, the Lie-Nielsen was more than double the Lee Valley, but I know the Lie-Nielsen will be great quality, and $70 isn’t breaking the bank, so I sprung for it. After it arrived (only about three days after I ordered it), I took it out, sized it up, and figured out the dimensions for my wagon vise.
As I mentioned in the last blog entry, the vise screw is constructed such that I wouldn’t be able to put the screw in after I built the bench top. I had to literally build the screw into the bench top when I was laminating the top together. The swivel end of the screw (i.e. the end that attaches to the wagon block), does not appear to be able to come off of the screw. There is an allen screw that holds the end onto the screw, but I couldn’t get the screw off for the life of me. Maybe it is because I am worthless and weak. Or, what I hope is the real answer, is that I think there must be thread lock substance on it. So long story short, I wouldn’t be able to thread the screw in through the outside of the bench, and there wasn’t going to be enough distance in my wagon opening to angle the screw in from the inside of the bench. So it had to get permanently built into the top.
The first step in making the wagon vise was to finish the lamination of the three strips of wood that would create the rows that would make up the wagon block. As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I drilled the dog holes only 3” into my 4” thick top pieces because that is the maximum depth my Forstner bit. So I ordered an extension bit, which showed up a few days later. I couldn’t use the bit and extension in my drill press, because my drill press does not have enough quill travel to go all the way through the 4” piece. So I resorted to using a hand drill drilling guide and finishing the holes by hand.
After I finished drilling the dog holes, I jointed and planed the laminated top piece to get it to final glueable width. This way, both stationary pieces of the top and the wagon block would have dead flat sides and all line up perfectly in the final laminated top. I then cut off the wagon block and the stationary end block.
Next step was to decide where to mount the stationary guide nut for the vise screw. I’ve seen some people mount the guide onto the outside of the bench. But that doesn’t seem like the best way to do it, since the the force of the wagon block pushing against the material being clamped wants to push the guide nut away from the bench. Under this scenario, the screws that attach the guide nut can theoretically blow out of the end of the bench. So I decided to mount the nut on the inside of the bench. Then the only structural concern would be the glue joints that keep the vise’s stationary end block attached to the rest of the bench top. I’m confident there is enough surface area of glue that this shouldn’t be a concern. The Lie-Nielsen vise mounting nut is a large hex nut welded onto a thick round washer/flange.
I could have saved some time by mounting the guide with the nut sticking out into the opening of the vise. But instead, I decided to go about it the proper way and bore out a recess in the stationary end block for the nut to recess into. It took a speed square, fractional dial caliper and protractor to get the the proper layout marked on the wood.
I then used a 1 5/8” Forstner bit to hog out the majority of the mortis. And I did it on my drill press to make sure the hole is plumb.
Next was some chisel work to clean out the rest of the mortis
After that, I marked and drilled the holes for the mounting bolts. Also, I had to chip out some material to make room for the three welds that attach the nut to the flange/washer. Finally, I drilled all the way through the block so the vise screw can go through it.
I next screwed in the bolts, and it was officially mounted.
Next step was to drill the dog hole in the wagon block, and attach guide blocks to the sides of the wagon block. I then assembled all the vise parts.
In designing the wagon vise, I wanted to make sure there were no obstructions or guide rails protruding into the vise opening. I’ve seen some people mount their wagon blocks on continuous rails that stick into the vise opening. However, if you wanted to clamp material into the vise opening (like clamping in a drawer side to cut dovetails, or something like that), the guide rails would be in the way. So I decided I’d mount guides to the side of the wagon block, and have those guides ride inside dados. Furthermore, I wanted to construct it all such that I can remove/replace the wagon block if I ever need to. So I put a 3/4” straight cutting bit in my router, and routed out the dado and a large area where a removable block would screw in from the underneath of the bench.
So the vise was now constructed, and it was time to glue up the rest of the top sections in that half of the top. I plan on laminating up two 12” sections for the top, and then give each of those sections a final run through the planer (which maxes out at 13” wide) before gluing together the final finished top. Here is the wagon vise half of the top.
One problem that came up along the way with the wagon vise is that since the vise screw had to get built into the top, I wouldn’t be able to easily do a final cut along the edge of the top as I had planned. If you noticed, I let the lengths of my top boards all run a little wild on the vise end of the top. After the top was all glued up, I planned on running a circular saw along a straight edge to cut the end straight and clean. But now the vise screw is sticking out of the side. So what I did was cut the stationary end block of the vise to the final size. Now I don’t have to cut those three strips of wood that make up the end block, and therefore don’t have to worry about trying to neatly cut around the screw without hitting it with the blade.
So that’s it, the wagon vise is done. It was as fun to build as I thought it would be. And its operation is very smooth with hardly any play. I forgot to previously mention that before I laminated together all of the top parts, I hit the sides of my wagon block with a few light passes of a block plane. I did that just to take off a little bit of thickness so that the wagon block wouldn’t bind up on the sides of the vise opening. And I spent a lot of time making sure all of the hardware was mounted with precision, and that the guide blocks and dadoes were straight and square. Since there wouldn’t be any way to true up any errors after the fact, I had to make sure every part of the wagon vise was dead on the first time around.
I’m very happy with the final product, and I can’t wait to actually use the vise when the bench is done. My next entry will be about finishing the top, which will consist of running the two 12” top sections through the planer, doing the final glue up of those two sections, and trimming the edges straight. Should hopefully be pretty easy. Thanks for reading!
-- Andy Panko, Edison NJ