Building my workbench – Part V (Adding the vises)

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This post forms part of the “Building my workbench” series.

I wanted to add two vises to my bench, a front and tail vise. Both of them of the cast iron Record style quick release. I already had an old Australian made Dawn No. 9. It’s position in the bench vise hierarchy would be determined by what second vise I could buy for a reasonable cost second hand. After a wait of a month or so monitoring the coming and goings of the second hand market, I picked up a pre-1960’s Record 52 ½ quick release vise. While I wasn’t really all that fussed about the dates, I do love the look of the tulip bulb boss of that era.

Record 52 ½ in used condition

It was pretty grimy but otherwise in great working condition, so disassembled it, removed all the grease with mineral turpentine and a Simply Green wash, then de-rusted the parts in a white vinegar bath. When it came to painting it, I really wasn’t feeling the vibe of traditional Record blue. For many years I’ve painted or marked all my tools with a bright yellow paint, and felt like a change.

I thought I had taken a bunch of photos of the restoration, but can’t find them. I may have been in a “no phone” mood when doing it (I get that way some times when I just want to be unavailable). I did however find one photo with a bit of a story to it. When painting the vise, I wanted to protect the holes from getting painted and encumbering the smooth sliding action. I tried covering with masking tape and balls of cloth, all which proved unsatisfactory. I thought I could use blue-tack to fill the holes, but a) couldn’t find any, and b) some holes were big, so would have been rather expensive. In a moment of inspiration I thought, ” Ahh-huh, play-doh”! When our kids were young my wife would whip up a batch in no time, and as she was overseas at this juncture, I’d just make some myself. I found what looked like a simple recipe which promised I’d have play-doh in ten minutes, and embarked on an adventure.

For those of you who have not yet mastered the art, let me offer two tips. First, when it looks dry, but you’ve added the stated amount of water, don’t add more, just keep kneading. Secondly, use white, not whole meal flower. I ended up with a sticky mess that was covering more and more of the bench despite every effort to contain it, and looked remarkably like cat vomit. I did end up with something usable, but entirely unsuitable to give to children to play with. The photo below is following a big clean up.

The Face Vise

Both vises have ribs in the casting, so needed slots cut in the underside of the bench to accept them. I can assure you that cutting into my new bench ensured many double and triple checks. In the end I used a card to transfer the spacing from vise to bench. I created my knife walls for guiding my sawing, then chiselled out the waste.

When fitting the vise, the one change I had to make was add a chamfer to the rib slots, as they join the main casting with a radius. Once the dry fit was suitable, I marked the casting holes, drilled the pilot holes and screwed them in place. They were big suckers, so added some wax to help their progress into the wood. Once that was done, I put a couple of roofing screws through the back jaw into the bench top. Until I saw Paul Sellers do this, I’d never used these holes before, but they do add massive strength, as downward pressure is now trying to sheer the screws, not just pull against the thread.

To complete the vise, I added some pine soft jaws. I may still replace them with hard wood, but pine was all I had on hand, and seems to work fine. If you were observant you will have noted that two dog holes are now obscured by the vise. I have cut those dogs a bit shorter so that they do not hit the vise, and if required, may be raised them from the top with my marking knife.

The End Vise

The end vise was largely a rinse and repeat exercise for the mounting, except that the jaw liners were a little different, and a whole lot more work. I’d forgotten when making my last set, that the jaws aren’t parallel in either direction, and very rough castings, so a fair bit of finessing was required to shape the liners to close neatly.

I have had the vises installed now for a couple of weeks, and am simply thrilled. I never had any doubts about the front vise, but the tail vise has been a welcome success. The travelling dog is a revelation, and on more than one occasion I’ve enjoyed the use of a vise which can hold materials at 90º to the bench. I will write another post at some stage about my impression of the two vises, suffice to say, there is no comparison. The Dawn can’t hold a candle to the Record.

The one final piece is to now install some rubberised cork to the vise jaw face to provide a better hold than sooth planed timber. The roll arrived late last week, but need to buy some contact adhesive with which to attach it.

At this juncture I’m calling my bench done. There may be additions and modifications in due course, but they will be just that. The substantive work is complete and I have signed and dated a leg.


September 2019

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