Help Me Decide?!

95

old workbench vice

In the new year I’ll be building a workbench. That’s not unusual except that this particular workbench will be forming part of a lengthy chapter within our book. ‘The French Bench’ (not the Roubo) is where the design will be based and I’ve come to a bit of a head scratcher at the vice hardware. Why French? Well I’ve got a lot of English workbenches in my workshop currently.

I have a fantastic opportunity to use a vice screw given to me by a good friend, Richard Arnold, those who’ve been here a while may recognise this. This screw is special to me in a number of ways as not only was it donated so generously, but it’s absolutely stunning and I very much doubt that I’d get an opportunity to fit anything quite like this again. The thread is 2″ in diameter and has only 2 teeth per inch, so it’s a metal thread with the pace of a large wooden one.

The vice screw deserves to go on the finest of workbench. But despite what you might think, I’m not really in to posh benches. If I was designing for my own use then my bench would be built to be abused; tough enough to handle all that’s thrown at it and in no way sparkly or fine.

Large steel vice thread

I’ve kept a pile of old wood which was taken out of the roof of one of our barns last year. It’s softwood but the sections are wide and it’s exactly fit for purpose for a rugged bench build.
I’ve not rushed in to using this wood because I’m saving it for a bench that can sit within the barn that it’s built from.

So I need to decide what to do with the vice screw. My heart says it’s the perfect match for the bench which will be built my way; strong, simple and coarse. But my head says this screw is much too good to spend its days installed in a bench thrown together out of some old pine from a roof. This vice should be saved for a truly fine bench?

What do you think – A bench from the heart, or save it for the world’s finest workbench?

 

95 Responses

  1. Steve Tripp

    The vice was meant to be used. It doesn’t care if it’s on a pretty workbench or not. Personally, I think it would look better on a rough solid bench.

    Reply
    • Chris Swartout

      Richard,
      I have given the vice question a great deal of thought – do not ask it just kept bugging me. But I came up with two point of view (things are always more complex when you live across the pond) If I were the vice I would prefer to be respected for doing my job each day for a craftsman that cares for me and enjoys the service I perform in a solid workman way. I would not care about my bench — we do real work hold the timber solidly and are reliable. I would want to stay with you using me – you understand what I am.

      From yours and Helen’s point of view you have had a “big” couple of years. The move, endless cleaning out the barns ans Heaven only knows what else. Creativity need to be fed once and a while — I do not know about what Helen thinks but I think the two of you deserve to treat yourselves not only have the web site been great but it starting to look like you two can make a go at this. I have no idea really but you write like you really want the vice or build it into a proper bench for Helen. Megan Fitzpatrick is all the time complaining the either the tool or bench don’t “fit” Maybe Helen needs a bench that “fits” her? Besides then to have that old great vice still around serving it real function.
      Chris Swartout
      Michigan.

      As for your point of view

      Reply
  2. Tracy

    I say follow your heart and use the vise. Your heart rarely misguides you but your head can tend to overthink things. I’d love to see such a vise used and to read what you think of it, how well it works, or doesn’t, compared to comparable wooden screws.

    Reply
  3. Thomas

    Richard,

    From a woodworker who received all of his hand tools passed down from my Grandfather, with the sweat of his toil still on the totes of the planes and the handles of the chisels. The specialness of those tools is accentuated by their use. I could have restored these tools to collector shape, and put them out to pasture…I think that would have been a dishonor to both the tool and my grandfather.

    I restored the tools to be useful, left the patina, I left the grime and sweat stains from my grandfather’s efforts producing beautiful furniture as a reminder of the history of these tools.

    My opinion, and only mine is that you should return that vise to what it was meant for, work. Every day work, not a pristine environment that see a bit of work now and again, but consistent, productive labor.

    Thomas

    Reply
  4. Eric Bushee

    Though it’s an inanimate object, you could look at it from the vise’s perspective. The greatest praise and dignity you can heap upon a tool is to use it regularly. That is why they were made. If it goes on the “finest” bench but gets less use than if it were on a more rugged bench, well then you would be doing a disservice to that fine vise.

    Or as an analogy, take a look at dogs. They don’t care what a human look likes or how much money they have, a dog is loyal and eager to serve all the same. That vise won’t care what bench it’s on as long as it does good work.

    -Eric

    Reply
  5. Mike Holden

    The bench and the vise are tools. Some feel better, and work better, when their tools are beautifully made; others are more concerned with the output of the tools.
    I would use the vise screw.
    Besides, you can always remove it and reuse in a fancier bench if you want.

    Reply
    • Bob Groh

      Amen and double up on Mike Holden’s comments. Use the vise – if you are at all like I am (or most woodworkers), you’ll probably be quite happy and that good ol’ vise will just keep on trucking for a bit longer than you do. And, as Mike says, if you ever want to move on to a new and better bench, you can always move the vise to the new bench.

      Reply
  6. Peter Zimmer

    By all means use the vise on the bench. Who ever said pine isn’t a truly fine wood? Old wood, old vise, a perfect match. I’m looking forward to the book.

    Reply
  7. Chris

    By all means put it in a hard working bench – it looks plenty robust for many more years of use/(abuse?). However, consider perhaps a concentric inlay or some such, in the vice chop to celebrate the thing.

    Reply
  8. Christian Chambers

    I agree with the others, it needs to be used. What you should also remember is that it will likely out last the new bench as well and you can put it on a pretty bench when you hang up your tools.

    Reply
  9. Walter

    Richard,

    Plan to use the vice but first… find someone who can reproduce it faithfully and consider getting them made in small batches for sale or use on those special fancy benches you mention.

    You have a historical artifact, preserve it for your use, but doccument it with the latest 3D imaging technology for reproduction.

    Just my opinion.

    Reply
  10. Arthur van der Harg

    Richard, if you build a bench like you do, with timber lovingly saved from your ancient farm, then it WILL be a truly fine bench. The vise will be right at home. You’ll have the world’s finest workbench. You might call it a wabi-sabi masterpiece 🙂

    Reply
  11. Jim

    Use the vice in the bench made of pine for now. If you decide down the road you need to use it for another bench, remove it and use it in the other bench, then install a wood screw and nut in the pine bench.

    Reply
  12. David Ray

    Reread your own words…. you have already decided; it goes into a bench from the heart and rightfully so

    Reply
  13. Gabriel

    I think that the finest work don’t necessarily comes from the finest workbench. Just like talent, it came from anywhere. So i prefer the good old (strong) barn style, it’s just beautiful.

    Reply
  14. Jeff

    It’s designed to be used, so probably a bench from the heart I would say. However, you could always move it much later to the finest and prettiest of all workbenches. 😉

    Incidentally, I was just looking at this YouTube of a viceless bench: https://youtu.be/yvhn-PAfEW4 . A few years ago I watched carpenters in the high Himalayas using very similar benches that they ‘knocked up’ on site.

    Reply
  15. Tony

    My opinion: Use it on your “rough” workbench now rather than wait for something better later. If you do build the finer bench at some point in time, you can always move it to the new one. Why not enjoy it now and get a feel for how it will really work. Since the old bench is for knocking around, etc, any extra holes, etc. left over from the removal will just be artifacts of the bench’s history.

    Reply
  16. DenverGeorge

    Absolutely use it on the pine bench. That vise is literally begging to be used and abused in hard daily use. Putting that vise on a fancy bench would be like trying to teach a pig to sing – it doesn’t work and it annoys the pig.

    Reply
  17. Stephen Melhuish

    Hi Richard,
    My personal moto is always use what you have at hand if it works fine then use, you know you’ll have the satisfaction that you used it for real woodworking.
    Cheers Steve

    Reply
  18. Steve

    I’d say use the vice. Posh benches would never get enough use to fully realize its potential.

    Reply
  19. Keith Stewart

    Build it into a bench that you will use often or at least very regularly. That way you will appreciate it more rather than as a pretty addition to a grand design. I like the idea of an old vice in a rugged bench of old wood. If you make it for a leftie I’ll give it a good home!

    Reply
  20. Robert Hickly

    By all means, use it for its intended purpose on a bench made for woodworking, not on something that is made to look pretty.

    Reply
  21. Ilya Gromov

    As it’s a special vice it should be on a special bench. I think whatever this vice means to you – you should fit it to a bench that would mean something similar. Don’t think in terms of looks or fineness – it has to match the bench in some other – hard to define way. In a way that they (the vice and the bench) will compliment each other naturally.
    I’m sure it’ll come to you 🙂
    Look forward to the next year!

    Reply
  22. Trevor

    I know what I would do, and it sounds like what you would do, too. Discussing the reasons why is at least a 3 beer problem.

    Get to it, man. I can’t wait to read this chapter.

    Reply
  23. john l howard

    I just put a KD nicholson together the second woodworking project Ive completed in the last 50 years was busy with school and grad school and work till now (i’m 65). The joints aren’t pretty, the top has some gaps where it joins the frame, but it is solid and as soon as i drill some holdfast holes in it I’m going to work on it and learn to work wood. Ive learned from the mistakes I mad, even from this project ( like dimension and shoot all boards BEFORE you start).

    Ill be starting with the spoon rack.

    That vice should be documented and measured – I agree we all would like to know about what is obviously a survivor.

    Than- heres the vote in this longish post- use it find out what it likes . dislikes ,works best at – learn from it. Put it to use – pretty is one thing- function is another. Form should follow function. Simple can be quite elegant.

    Reply
  24. James Waldron

    In these parts, old pine often means slow growth pine, which is typically pretty hard from the tight grain. Additionally, old pine means that the resin content will have “cured” to rock hardness. I suggest that your characterization of the pine as soft is something you may wish to check on before you “disrespect” the material.
    Even new, fast growth pine can make a fine working bench that deserves a fine vise. And there’s no chance the vise will have it’s feelings hurt by being put to hard work. It’s what a vise expects to do; anything less would be disappointing (pardon the anthropomorphism).

    Reply
  25. Joe Coleman

    It depends on what you consider a truly fine bench. Would that be one with its hair combed and wearing lipstick or one that does well the jobs expected of it? I like pretty but always side with function first.

    Reply
  26. Richie

    Seems like you have to get tough. Tell your heart to be more specific. (Maybe you are good enough to enjoy using a really fine bench?)

    Reply
  27. Polly Becton

    From the look of it, that thing will outlast any bench you put it on with the minimum of care and attention. Benches are easy; good vises are forever. Pine works, beech works, oak works, hard rock maple works, Burmese teak works. If the vise works, put it to work where it will get used. Maybe a little clean-up would be an okay thing.

    Reply
  28. Len

    Richard

    Use it on the bench that will be used and abused. It is a great vice that should be used on a regular basis not on some fancy la de da bench for show. It will feel at home on a bench made from really old pine and in keeping with the surroundings from which it was made.

    Go with your heart as so many have already said. A great vice deserves a workout from an equally great woodworker – that person is you. Go for it and I look forward to reading all about it and the build.

    Len

    Reply
  29. john skears

    Use it Richard, we’ve all got a special bit of wood that’s being saved for that ‘one day job’ that never happens. Seems the same with this and I’m sure Richard gave it to you to be used, not admired.

    Reply
  30. Sean

    Use it. And enjoy it. What’s the point of just looking at it every now and again? Don’t leave it sat on a shelf. Although it would be a bloody strong shelf for that! Cheers!

    Reply
  31. John

    The finished job doesn’t care which tools were used, or wjat bench provided the work surface. The job doesn’t care which person made it; but that person cares, or the job wouldn’t be finished. So build a bench that you want; with your work in mind. Let the others build overworked benches, pieces of furniture, they dare hardly use; If the bench does its job for you then great, but it still won’t care! Go to it Richard and the best of luck.

    Reply
  32. Joe

    I don’t get the sissy workbenches people make. Yes, the look like works of art,but a bench is meant to be used. I vote to put it in the bench and use it.

    Reply
  33. Dave Parks

    I like the idea of having a second modern one before using it. Then put the older one to work. Save the new one for that super fancy bench you may never build.

    Reply
  34. Ian M. Stewart

    Oh come on Richard! “save it for the world’s finest workbench”? Would you actually USE such a bench? Build your old wood bench and use it – and the vice.

    Reply
  35. Michael O'Brien

    Richard, Trust your first instincts and heart and put the vise on the rugged bench version made from the old wood. I am Roubo’d out on work benches now. So I , like many others, feel that you will not disappoint us with a rugged and highly useful bench version from old wood and with a lovely newer vise as well.
    Cheers,
    Mike O’Brien
    Valley Head,AL, USA

    Reply
  36. Bill Goodwin

    That vise was built to be used. If it will work well, put it to work. You can put it on a posh bench or a rugged one. However, wherever you put it, make sure you will be using it. I like the way some things are made when they are made by people who use such things. They work well – and that is the key.

    I make some of my own tools when I can make them to be better than what I already have.

    BillG

    Reply
  37. Wrstew

    Look at the scars on it.
    Seems like it was engineered to work rather than be polished. Were it on a lesser craftsman s plate it may be neglected, not the case if you choose to keep it in service.

    Reply
  38. Nikolaus

    Hi Richard,

    if your’e going to use that bench a lot, use the vise for it! It will be the greatest thing for it.
    But I also second Walter! Reproduce it! I will buy one if I possibly can afford it.

    Nikolaus

    Reply
  39. John Gibson

    The big, burly (and a wee bit rough ’round the edges) vise, and the set-aside barn beam bench, IMHO make a good team. You will use them to make much that is fine, and their story will be a part of the story that you write with the work you do.

    The vise wants proper work to do now, and will still want more work when this bench has reached its span and you have hung up your handplanes. I respectfully suggest you pair up the wood-with-history and the burly vise, and let the sparkly bits fall where thay may.

    Reply
  40. Joe

    You will do that vice proud to install it in the bench you describe…it is aching to be used.

    Reply
  41. Richard Arnold

    Richard. We didn’t carry that bloody great lump through the streets of Licoln for it to gather dust for aother 20 years! I’m guilty of that crime, but the day I met you I knew that I had found the man who would know what to do with the beast. It was made for a bench like that . one you can drive a bench knife into and not cry about it. A bench covered in scars, each one a memory of something created with love care and passion. Build the bench, fit the vice, and live the dream.

    Reply
    • Russ

      Richard – very nicely put.

      There’s a nice symetry there too – reclaimed wood, ‘reclaimed’ vice – and as they say, ‘We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time’. Best make the most of it!

      Reply
  42. Martin

    The worlds finest workbench IS a bench from the heart, you said it duck. Screw it!

    All the best

    Reply
  43. Allen Norris

    Richard, definitely follow your heart. It deserves to be used. Anything else would not be true to yourself.

    Reply
  44. Steve

    I say use it! My bench was made from scrap lumber from our own reno…floor joists became benchtop, porch posts for the legs and base.

    Reply
  45. Patrick

    Richard,

    I had a similar situation. I chose to put it on my everyday – often used work table. I kept feeling guilty seeing it just hanging on the wall. The vise and I are happy now.

    Walter idea is very interesting.

    Patrickck

    Reply
  46. Matthew Tinker

    Keep it for your own special thrown together “to be used” bench; I have something in the same vane, but for metal, it’s a British Rail, or maybe Great Western Railway leg vice that I’ve had for the last 42 years, I use uit most days and enjoy its huge splendidness! Keep it to enjoy it!

    Reply
  47. Lynn

    Richard,

    if the bench is to be as rough as the screw looks, use it! You’re not prissy, and neither is that screw.

    There’s my 2¢ worth. Have at it!

    LB

    Reply
  48. Edward in Vancouver

    The vice is a component, and can be swapped out any time you like, so use it now.

    Reply
  49. Randy

    Let that old boy continue to do what it was built for and what it will be happier doing! Let it work!! If it gets partnered with a fancy bench you’ll break it’s spirit and the wood spirits will haunt you each night until you make things bloody well right!!!

    Reply
  50. Leonard

    I’ve never been one to go with the flow … the question I would ask myself is how I would feel a year down the track. Would I feel that the screw is where it belongs and that I had made the right decision, or would I have a nagging regret that it doesn’t quite belong where it is. It may be that it’s your head telling you to install the screw in a no way sparkly or fine bench, and your heart is saying no.

    Reply
  51. S John

    If the bench will be used on a regular basis use the vise if not it you will have wasted a great vise.

    Reply
  52. Paddy

    If I were going to sell the vise, then it would go on the finest posh bench. If I were keeping it, it would go on my personal made from the heart bench.

    Reply
  53. peter

    It have the identical vice screw. As I have a standard quick release vice installed. It is my intention to install it at the far end of bench, including two guideing rods, to stabalise the vice. Given my bench extra holding options. cheers Peter

    Reply
  54. Mark

    Hi Richard,

    It’s a very good old vice screw which has lasted for years and still has many more years left in it – It needs a good bench to last for many years along with it.

    Reply
  55. Mark

    The general consensus here is to use the vice which is what I would do (I have little in the way of patience and want to use what is to hand). The proviso that I would give is that you plan to use the bench to form a lengthy part of one of your chapters in one of your books. If that chapter involves a discussion around fitting the vice, perhaps it would be a good idea to use a readily available vice so that the people who, like me, need very clear and easy instructions, but have not attempted to fit a vice before, can follow as closely as possible

    Reply
  56. Orestes valella

    I think the premise is off. The bench can be both fine and an everyday bench made from recycled materials, both the wood and of course the vise.
    Beauty is the result of appropriateness, good workmanship, care and an honest response to task. I am quite certain that any bench you build, out of any appropriate material will do ample justice to the vise. Remember, the vise was created with the same frame of mind as I have stated above. That is why you consider it beautiful.

    Reply
  57. Gavin

    Hi Richard,
    As a completely selfish gesture on my own part use it! I was a little staggered when I saw it because I think I have one the same , or very similar which I salvaged off of a bug ravaged workbench thrown out on the side of the road, in Perth Australia. I haven’t used it yet and it has been in storage for a long time and at the back of my mind during this time. I would be most interested in how and why you incorporate it in your bench. I salvaged mine to use and so it would not be scrapped, don’t put it off like me.

    Reply
  58. thekiltedwoodworker

    Sorry, but how is a workbench made from reclaimed pine recovered from a building on your property, that will be used in said building, NOT a truly fine bench?

    Indeed, isn’t that is the textbook definition of “a truly fine bench”?

    Don’t confuse your business path with your personal path, Richard. While many of your customers might require a hardwood bench of the finest ash or beech in order to feel like a proper woodworker, you know better. Many “softwoods” are harder than a fair number of hardwoods, with better beam strength and less weight. Pine is a perfect material for building a workbench. And the older, reclaimed stuff is generally plenty hard for the wear and tear a workbench receives.

    But, more importantly, reclaimed pine from a building on your property, used to build a bench that will be stored in that building and used by you on a regular basis, is possibly the best material you could use to build a workbench.

    And every time you use that vice, you’ll think of your friend. Every time you clamp a board to the bench and pick up your wooden jointer to try the edge, you’ll pause, just for a second, and eye the bench and the vice. Then you’ll glance up at the rafters of the barn and feel the connection of just HOW RIGHT it is to be using that bench and that vice, together, in that building.

    That said, sod all what anyone else thinks, including me. Go with your heart. Just take copious amounts of pictures and share them with us, OK? Cheers.

    Reply
  59. Andrew

    Richard,

    I agree with the overwhelming majority. You know in your heart that the vice deserves to be used. The pine bench sounds like the perfect platform for it.

    Reply
  60. Jimmy Brown

    Richard,

    That vise was meant to be used. I feel it would get much more use out of your bench than put on a fancy bench. I am like you. I really enjoyed building my own bench, but I also intentionally built it to be used. Nothing fancy, it is a work bench meant to be worked on. It is stout, level and square, and I love it. Just my opinion.

    Reply
  61. Randy

    Richard,

    Putting that scarred and experienced piece of kit on a pretty bench would be akin to you wearing one of Helen’s pretty frocks while you build the bench. It could be done. It would probably work. But at the end of the day it would be an affront to everyone’s sensibilities when they realized what they were looking at! (Not to mention funnier than hell as well) Unlike Nike “just don’t do it” man!!

    Reply
  62. Stephen Melhuish

    One thing is for certain right here, there’s so much interest in that old vice from the reaction and how to use it in a bench that the only true thing that remains in years to come is that you kept it alive by working with it to help you make things. The bench itself can be anything, the vice itself will always be the same, good luck

    Reply
  63. Nathan

    I vote to use it in the barn wood bench. It’s fitting. It will be used. The greatest compliment you can give to a fine tool or hardware is to use it often and appreciate it’s fine craftsmanship every time it’s used.

    Reply
  64. Michael

    Richard; whatever you do you have to use your head, and make your own decisions, I wouldn’t let my hart rule my head, having said that; what ever you do, it has to work efficiently to be a help to you.

    My bench made in the mid 1970’s is made out of new 5th redwood for the legs and lower frame work, second hand 6″ x 4″ redwood window framing and the top second hand pitch pine seating and it came from a railway station, via a firewood supplier. My record vice came from a joiners sale.

    I refurbished the top and a newer record vice a couple of years ago.

    Reply
  65. Keith Spencer

    Simply put: aren’t all benches made from the heart, therefore they are all the finest. I say use it.

    Reply
  66. Jock Dempsey

    I am a blacksmith and machinist. I do woodworking for myself and tend to make things that work for me without a lot of sophistication. To me, a bench made of anything better than construction grade lumber is a piece of furniture – NOT a work bench. I think of a work bench like a new truck (lorry), it is not a REAL working truck until its hauled a load of gravel rudely dumped into the bed and had chains dragged across its fenders. THEN it can be used without worry of scratching it.

    As a metalworker I have always wanted to make vice screws like THAT ONE (the only thing stopping me has been the usual life getting in the way issues). However, I had always imagined the garter plate(s) being a decorative forging with scrolls or other decoration.

    Traditionally vice screws start as a forging, the only efficient way to make that large ball end. Then they are machined on a lathe and drilled on a drill press. The last step is back to the forge to upset the ball ends on the handle (the ONLY way to do so properly).

    I’ve recently put together a brief series of articles on vices and a gallery of images of mostly blacksmiths and machinists vices. An interesting fact is that an all metal vice was considered so valuable a tool that they were being made for 300 years or more before there was technology to make the internal thread in the nut (or box as they are called on blacksmiths vices). The box was made by winding a piece of square iron bar around the screw then fitting it in an iron tube then testing the whole. Once the parts were fitted the coiled “thread” was forge brazed inside the tube. This is not only a labor intensive method but is a rather poor way to make the thread and the reason so many wore out while the vice was still in good condition. It was with great pride that the first maker of the “solid box” (all machined thread vice) advertised their patent in the mid 19th century.

    That screw has outlived at least one bench and will probably outlive many more.

    —————————

    Found this while researching making wooden screws for my grand children’s work benches.

    Reply
  67. Tim

    You’re a woodworker. You build benches, and you install vises. Use the screw where you want or need it, then, if you want to put it in another bench later on, do so.

    Trust life to make itself complicated. It doesn’t need any help.

    Reply
  68. Wills Kitchen

    The vise says: “Use me. I’ve lay dormant too long. I want to bite the work so much. Don’t worry, I wont mar it. My maker built me to work, and to work longer than you will be alive. Give me a chance.”

    Reply

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