Friday, November 21, 2014

Bench Curmudgeon

I guess I'm a curmudgeon. Whatever. If it is in fashion I don't like it. I don't set out to dislike the bench appliance or vise, in fact I'm usually a fairly early adapter with high hopes that it will be the end all of work bench aids. But it is kinda like the country song line about looking for love in all the wrong places. Usually no joy.

Leg vises and wagon vises are the "it" vises today, almost every new bench build has one or both. As I've posted before: BTDT and didn't like the T-Shirt. I've tried using leg vises on benches other than mine thinking maybe I did a poor install, not the case at least on the ones I've tried. Maybe others have better luck but I find leg vises fussy and slow to use and frankly they hold no better than my English QR metal vise. Basically no working advantage and a hell of a lot more work to install, kinda lose lose. I must add: Leg vises can be pretty and I guess sexy in a bench vise way, where my QR vise is kinda like granny's underwear, not very attractive but it sure is functional.

Wagon vises, what can I say other than I just do not find there is a need for end vises. There are other and better ways to hold work and the wagon vise is also a PITA to install maybe not as bad as a classic tail vise but still....Again BTDT, same shitty T-Shirt.

The latest is the Moxon vise. I had to try one and this time I was late to the party. I had high hopes for it and I could see some real possibilities for the Moxon but in practice not so good. It does what it was designed to do and that is to hold wide boards. It clamps down tight but....there is that damn but that always pops least on my bench it vibrates when sawing. I tried it on both benches same result, tried with different holdfasts, both the regular whack 'em kind and the LV screw down ones, same result.  Bottom line: The Moxon is stored under the bench to maybe be retrieved if I'm doing dovetails on a wide case....maybe.

I'm sure there are folks out there that have used other ways of holding work on their benches and still find a leg vise the best option as I sure there are folks that can not do without an end vise, I glad you have found what works for you. For the folks just starting on their first bench build, remember just because it is in fashion and everyones building a bench with leg vises and/or wagon vises they may not be the best option.


  1. I went a year with no vise at all after I built my current bench and I learned a lot from the experience. You really get skilled in holding work other ways, ways that are often superior even if you do have a vise. I did have a Moxon vise I used some, particularly for dovetailing, and liked it. Since then, I've added the LV twin screw vise and I find it very useful, but it's not essential. I also raised my bench up so now I don't use the Moxon at all.

    No question in my mind: woodworkers have too many vices. :)

  2. Andy,

    I guess you can tell, while I love and use my older English QR vise, I find there are faster and better ways to hold work than pinching it between an end vise and dogs. I've posted before, someone needs to be on the sideline yelling "he ain't got no clothes", but on the other hand if you are building a bench to build a bench then maybe all the vise thingies make sense.

    BTW, I'm guilty....way too many but I enjoy 'em all.


  3. I think a lot of what you use/like has to do with how you learned or trained to work wood. Frank Klausz and Paul Sellers both say their benches are the best. Me, I like a wagon vise because it's on the bench I built and have been using for over 20 years. Last year I put on a leg vise and I don't like it for a lot of reasons you said. I plan on putting on a face vise next year.

  4. I agree with Ralph. It depends largely on two things. What do you make and How did you learn? I greatly admire Paul Sellers. i have never seen him use holdfasts. The way he avoids it seems really awkward to me. I cannot conceive of ever giving up my holdfasts. I was excited about building a leg vise onto my bemch and have a 100 year old wooden screw ideal for the purpose. I built a nicholson type bench and realized that I can do the same thing with my holdfasts quickly and easily. Many ways to dehair a feline.

  5. I agree, a day without holdfasts is a day without sunshine. While I could work without holdfasts, see for example PS, doing so would make an end vise much more attractive.

    I expect the crisscross would cure some of the leg vise fussiness and make it a better vise but you would still have the slow changing from wide to narrow and back. BTW, I have a new crisscross still in the box stuck somewhere in the "tool room", aka Fibber McGee's closet. I thought about installing it on the new bench for a minute or so for no other reason than leg vises look "right" on a French style bench.

    I also expect the new Benchcrafted wheel and/or the one with the "Johnson Bar" would cure some of my problems with leg vises but seems a lot of work for no advantage over my older English QR vise other than it sure is pretty.

    As always with most anything but especially with wood, YMMV.