Shop Jigs / Fixtures #1: The Bowling Ball Vise- a shop must have

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Blog entry by Chris posted 06-19-2015 04:17 AM 2852 reads 4 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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After quite some time of wanting one of these nifty creatures I finally sent out many emails to some old friends, attempting to round up a bowling ball for the project. Like most things, I could not find one when I was looking one. Would you believe it, could not even locate one on craigslist? Not even in other states. Seriously!!?? I personally couldn’t believe that one.

Anyway, here we are. A few of the many emails paid off. Within a day of sending an email to one of my friends he emailed me back stating, “You are not going to believe this. I actually found one in a wooded area this past week while out walking through the woods.” I played with his mind for a moment. I responded, “Oh really, that is weird. I knew somehow that you had found one.”

He returned with, “How did you know?” to which I responded, “I had a dream that you had come across a bowling ball while out in the woods. I didn’t really know why but that you had. That is why I emailed you. I am needing one for a project.”

Gave him a little time to soak on it…..”just messing with you!” sigh on the other end…LOL!!

Anyway, as ironic as that story was, I couldn’t even use that particular ball because he discovered upon cleaning it up that it had a rather significant crack.

One of my other emails had in the meanwhile rounded up another pal that did have one just sitting around, collecting dust in his closet.

“How much do you want for it?” “Oh, you can have it.”


Ok, so now I had this 12 pound bowling ball in hand and could not figure out how I was going to cut the section off of this sphere.

I thought -
-horizontal metal cutting bandsaw
-reciprocating sawzall with a long blade
-building a square box, inserting ball and then filling with expanding foam spray to hold ball securely while I cut it
-And even a few more.

What I ended up doing was just using my woodworking bandsaw. It worked great. Very carefully and methodically I advanced the ball on my 14” Rikon woodworking bandsaw which was fitted with a 3/8”, 14tpi blade to cut off the section. It worked fine. Advanced slowly and easily, cut it really well and with great ease…No issues at all.

After sanding flat…just drilled and tapped holes for my vise.

Made this ‘thinga-ma-jig’ of a base to enable me to obtain maximum positioning. The rubber pieces provide just the right amount of friction needed to hold the ball when its off-center.

Nice vise to have for working on small, intricate detail work such as wire inlay and embellishments in a piece. I really like the way it turned out.

Solid for the caliber of work that it will be used for and the mass of the ball absorbs all of that energy from the minute taps of an embellishing hammer. I couldn’t be more pleased.

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC.

7 comments so far

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2206 days

#1 posted 06-19-2015 10:43 AM

Wait, what? How in the world did you come up with this? Who woulda thunk that a bowling ball could be used like this? You must be some sort of maniacal mad-scientist genius!

And wouldn’t you know … I GAVE AWAY two bowling balls when we were moving here 2 years ago. So now I’m probably gonna hafta go find me another one!

GENIUS I tell ya, GENIUS !

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Chris's profile


359 posts in 4285 days

#2 posted 06-19-2015 09:08 PM

Nigh Joe, I’m not the genuis on this one. I didn’t come up with this, can’t take the credit here in that regards, lol. These have actually become quite common amongst custom jewelers, knife makers and makers of musical instruments. Although some use a variation on the theme, they all essentially use the bowling ball as the critical element of the vise contraption.

I think the original idea probably germinated from someone viewing a piece of equipment in the yesteryear which used a metal/synthetic ball for the pivotal point of said equipment. Once we walked down this vein, it just kept being modified until we landed here. Just my guess. I really not know. I’ve never really researched it although I think I might now. Sounds like an interesting ‘dig’. Let me know if you ever stumble upon any information containing the history and I’ll do likewise.

I ran across the idea online several years ago and just tucked it away until recently. These are really, really handy to have if one ever works on engraving, etching, embellishing of smaller projects/parts. I had been needing some form of a vise for years to hold some of my smaller workings up in the air – off the bench top several inches. I just never came up with anything that really suited my tastings. I had tried my hand at various contraptions which never quite worked out.

You see what I really had been needing was something that could withstand tapping from a small hammer while part was being held. The bowling ball works perfect for that in that the mass of the ball absorbs that kinetic energy.

During that time frame, I had been searching online for some ideas from which to build from. I ran across the bowling ball vise and it was truly love at first sight- I KNEW it would fit the bill perfectly. And it has.

Here are some other variations on the theme:

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2889 days

#3 posted 06-20-2015 12:41 AM

That is a great shop made variation of a “Graver’s Vise” used in silver engraving. Very innovative. Graver’s vises are very pricey.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Chris's profile


359 posts in 4285 days

#4 posted 06-20-2015 06:23 AM

Yes they are…one of the reasons I decided to make a variation of them. I love techno and gadgetry but honestly I actually prefer handmade counterparts within reason. They’re fun to think up, design and to make. Plus, bring me a smile every time I use them…”I made it”

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC.

View CFrye's profile


10483 posts in 2038 days

#5 posted 06-20-2015 09:09 PM

Very interesting! I happen to know where a bowling ball is that I’ve been wondering what to do with. Added this to favorites. Thanks for sharing.

-- God bless, Candy

View Chris's profile


359 posts in 4285 days

#6 posted 06-21-2015 01:50 AM

CFrye- you are welcome. You can cut them on a woodworker’s bandsaw fitted with a fine tooth blade, if you take your time. I didn’t have any issues with it wanting to roll on me. Just took my time and had firm grip (both sides) while advancing. No issues.

-- Chris Harrell - custom callmaker "Quacky Calls" Eastern NC.

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3847 days

#7 posted 08-18-2015 02:23 AM

pretty cool

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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