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Workbench #7: Installing the Tail Vise

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Blog entry by Dan Wolfgang posted 02-02-2017 02:20 AM 1114 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: The Front Top (Well, Partly) Part 7 of Workbench series Part 8: Base Progress »

I’ve wished for a tail vise almost since I first started working with hand planes. I have tried holding pieces in various ways but always thought a tail vise would be the best solution. Benchcrafted’s wagon vise looks like a great solution and I only see good things about it. But boy, is it expensive, and I’m not sure I want to spend that much money, especially when the wood for my bench is also so inexpensive. So, I bought a Lee Valley tail vise screw ($40) and I’m really amazed at how smooth it is. It’s much better than the vises I’ve looked at that my local Woodcraft sells, and I have trouble believing the Benchcrafted vise is much better. It seems a deal to me!

Before I could use the tail vise I needed to do a bunch of other work first. In sizing things I realized that my 3-1/4” thick top was not going to be thick enough to handle the vise. Now, it is technically enough thickness to support adding the vise, but the top would then be quite thin, and worse, the vise handle would be above the top of the bench, no doubt getting bumped and dinged constantly. So, I instead made a taller end cap (5”) so that I could place the screw much lower. I decided to use some scrap I had, making the end cap out of a a laminate of cherry-maple-cherry. (There are better photos of it further below.)

Before I could precisely place the end cap and excavate for the screw, I cut the end of the front slab square. Wow, my cut came out perfect! Too bad it’ll never be seen, cut back further for a tenon.

I got the cavity excavated for the screw. Saying I did this with a chisel doesn’t communicate just how roughly I tore out the material. Obviously I did a nice job taking it down at the end, though.

I cut a tenon on the end on the fat slab. I decided to also put a tenon on the small laminate for the front. I was originally thinking about a big dovetail and gluing the end cap, but was not convinced that I wouldn’t need to take apart the vise and cap repeatedly to get things working well. So I just cheated with a simple tenon. Clamping it up like this, it was exciting to envision how it would look in the end.

I decided I needed a dog block to make things fit together properly. I had some red oak scrap that I decided to use to make it.

I’ve got all of the pieces now, so it’s coming together.

Last Friday night, I took my son to stay overnight at my parent’s house, and I spent the evening there to use my great-grandfather’s drill press to make some big and straight holes for the vise screw and nut. After that was done and I left, however, I realized I should have also drilled the 3/4” dog hole in the dog block.

I wanted to create a recess in the dog block for the vise nut—a square recess would help to make it much stronger than simply using screws. I was about to take the chisel to the block when I paused because I realized I could easily destroy the block. The recess needs to set in end grain, and if I try chopping a mortise I would likely split the block. So, I pulled out my router, which I’ve used precisely once, before I realized how much more I prefer hand tools. The router was the only way I could think of to do this, however. And it worked well!

I put everything together and was thrilled with how smoothly it worked! Fantastic! I decided it was time to glue the front laminate and get the end cap in place for alignment. This is the spot I really screwed up—I glued the tenons into the end cap! I was specifically not going to do that so that I could take it apart! Argh! Oh well, it looks good and works well, so I won’t need to take it apart again… right? I hope.

I put a slight angle on the top of the end cap so that I could plane the top flat without worry about running into the opposite direction of the grain of the end cap, then went on to clean up the end cap, smoothing the end in this photo, and trimming the other end, which was slightly oversize.

I created some guide rails to keep the screw and dog block parallel to the top using white oak scrap. I rubbed paste wax all over the areas where wood rubs with other wood—the dog block, the cavity, and the guide rails. Drilled some 3/4” dog holes and… ta-da!

Wood review—the bench now includes:

  • Burrill “white fir”
  • Cherry
  • Soft maple
  • Red oak
  • White oak


1 comment so far

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

1672 posts in 464 days


#1 posted 02-02-2017 11:20 AM

Great Job, Dan! This is gonna be a killer bench. Good for you.

-- Ron in Lilburn, Georgia.  Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself.

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