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Benches and Vices

Benches and Vices

The first woodworking benches appeared in Greek and Roman times. The workpiece was held by pegs or holdfasts driven into holes bored in the top of a thick plank or split log supported on splayed legs.

Further development depended on finding a way to hold a workpiece which was not lying flat on the bench. In the seventeenth century a hook-shaped piece of wood, for holding boards, was nailed to the side of the benchtop; a wooden screw was added later, making a prototype bench vise. By 1812, the screw was still near the right-hand end of the cheek.

Wood-Working Bench

Size: Length- 1.5m to 1.8m, , Width- 600mm to 700mm, Height- 840mm to 920mm

Material: Hardwood

Accessories: Woodworkers vice, end vice, bench stops

Use: To provide a working surface

Apart from being the correct height, a woodworking bench must be rigid. A top or an underframe that flexes makes sawing or hammering difficult. A good woodworking bench is made of heavy sections of hardwood, usually beech, and is strongly morticed and tenoned, and bolted together.

The top must be flat over most of its area, but some benches have a well at the back to hold tools in use without restricting the movement of a large sheet of material or a frame. A tool storage slot behind the well provides convenient temporary storage, but the projecting handles can sometimes be an obstruction.

An end vice fitted to the top will provide clamping force along the length of the bench. The jaws of the vice itself can be used for clamping, although those nearest the handle do not close completely, the advantage of the end vice lies in its ability to clamp lengths of timber to the benchtop so that they can be planed, drilled, and so on. The timber is held between bench stops, sprung steel pegs, plugged into a series of square holes along the bench, and in the end vice itself.

Bench stops can provide tension if they are located on the inside of the frame and if the end vice is simultaneously opened. A woodworker's vice should be fitted at one edge of the bench, bear a leg to provide maximum support.


Workmate Bench

Size: Folded 800mm x 725mm x 187mm, , Working Height- 612mm and 812mm, , Jaw Opening- 100mm

Material: Frame- Aluminium and Steel, , Jaws- Plywood

Accessories: Vice Pegs

Use: A portable work bench

The "workmate" is a small bench that can be folded for convenient storage and transported in the boot of a car. Unfolded, it can be locked into position to provide work surfaces at two levels, a standard workbench height, and a lower position which is a more convenient height for sawing timber and boards.

The entire work surface is formed by two long vice jaws. Using the adjusting handles, the jaws can be adjusted to hold parallel-sided work or misaligned to hold a tapered workpiece. "V" slots are provided to hold pipework.


Pasting Table

Size: Surface- 1.8m x 550mm, Working Height- 750mm to 812mm

Material: Top- hardwood or plywood covered softwood, Underframe- softwood

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Use: Portable surface for pasting wallpaper

The unfolded pasting table provides a work surface at a convenient height for pasting wallpaper. The underframe folds flat under the top, which then hinges across the center. When wallpapering, position the table in the center of the room to prevent the walls from becoming covered in paste.


Woodworkers Vice

Size: jaw width- 150mm, 175mm, 225mm, 262mm; opening capacity- 112mm, 200mm, 325mm, 375mm

Material: jaws- cast iron, slides/screw/handle- steel

Use: To hold timber while it is worked

The woodworker's vice is designed to be attached to the underside of a benchtop, on the front edge, and close to a leg. The moveable jaw is operated by the handle which revolved around a screw running the length of the vice. Larger vices are fitted with a quick-release mechanism which allows the jaw to be moved rapidly to accommodate a workpiece.

The release lever is pressed inwards, lifting a half-nut clear of the screw allowing the jaw to move freely. Line the jaws with hard-wood about 18mm thick, to protect the work and prevent sharp tools from being damaged. Allow the lining to project above the jaws, and place an edging on the movable jaw lining to cover the top edge of the jaw itself.


Clamp-On Vice

Size: jaw width- 125mm, , opening capacity- 87mm

Material: jaws- aluminium, handle/slides/clamp- steel

Use: To hold lightweight work

There are many small, portable vices for lightweight work, which clamp onto the edge of a table or bench. This version has two "L" shaped jaws for holding the work both vertically and horizontally.


Machinists Vice

Size: jaw width- 62mm to 200mm, opening capacity- 62mm to 231mm

Material: jaws- cast iron, jaw linings/handle/screw- steel

Use: To hold metal while it is being worked

A machinist's vice is built to withstand the strains of heavy metalwork. The thick jaws are lined with serrated steel for a positive grip. Soft fiber linings can be fitted to protect work from the serrations. Some models have a toothed pipe vice for round stock below the jaws. Vices can be fixed-based or swivel-based, turning through 360 degrees to accommodate different work. On a swivel-based model, the base itself is bolted to the bench.

A threaded rod on the underside of the vice passes through a hole in the center of the base, through the bench, and is secured from the underside with a large wing nut and washer which is tightened to hold the vice in position. The joining faces of vice and base are studded and grooved to provide positive locations as the vice is swiveled.


Drill Press Vice

Size: jaw width- 56mm to 100mm, opening capacity- 37mm to 75mm

Material: base- cast iron, jaws, and screws- steel

Use: To hold work being machined

The drill press vice is bolted to the worktable of a machine to hold small metal workpieces securely while they are drilled, tapped, and so on. The jaws are grooved horizontally and vertically to hold round stock. On some models, the jaws can be tilted and swiveled to present the work at an angle to the bit.



Size: maximum reach- 171mm, 176.5mm, maximum opening- 171mm, 190mm

Material: shaft/arm- malleable iron, screw- steel

Use: To hold material flat on a workbench while it is worked.

The lever arm of the holdfast is connected by a pivot to a notched shaft. As the screw and the end of the lever arm bears on the end of a shaft, it forces the swivel shoe down onto the work. This wedges the shaft at an angle in its collar, tightening the whole assembly.

The metal collars reinforce the hole into which the shaft fits and should be housed just below the surface of the bench. Fir them so that the holdfast can reach timber being worked along the edge and one end of the bench. Two collars approximately 600mm apart, would enable you to hold large workpieces on the bench.


Woodcarvers Screw

Size: Length- 200mm and 275mm, Diameter- 9mm and 18mm

Material: Screw- steel, Nut- cast iron

Use: To hold wood being carved

The woodcarvers screw is designed to hold a workpiece that is to be carved from all around. Drill a hole in the benchtop and reinforce it with a steel tube. Insert the screw; drive it into a hole drilled in the base of the workpiece. Secure it by fitting the wing nut.


Saddlers Clam

Size: 1.1m

Material: Beech

Use: To clam pieces of leather being worked

The saddler's clam is a simple vice to hold leather parts while they are sewn together. The natural spring of each half of the tool is enough to clamp the leather, but some models have a strip that can be pulled with your foot to provide extra force.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Temoor Dar

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