Can’t be Bothered to Read? Click Play:
Without a reliable way to hold your work for woodworking we’ll quickly become frustrated. Whilst I’m a firm believer that a lot can be achieved with an old nail stuck in to your bench top, I have always felt that a good face vice is key to being productive. A poor face vice on the other hand, is no more than a hindrance.
At this point you’re probably thinking about the dreaded rack.
Your vice nips firmly at one end, but is wide open at the other. The harder you try the worse it becomes.
You’re suffering from a racking vice and your work is slipping even though you’ve barely started the cut.
Is this a fault of the vice, or is the vice being used wrong? Chances are it’s a combination of both, and it’s an issue that will only get worse. Fortunately it can often be solved quite easily. In fact there’s little reason to dread it at all.
Rack is natural to all face vices but is perhaps most noted and feared with the traditional horizontal types like I opted to for on my own English bench. Unless your work has any specialist requirements then I always feel that a face vice of any style will serve you well and most good bench designs will be compatible with them all, so you should feel free to choose.
I went with the traditional style on this bench because I like it. It’s easily as capable as any vice, looks a charm and gave opportunity for a lot of teaching throughout the build.
At no point did rack give me any concerns. So long as you give some clever thought within the design and fit your vice robustly, the rack will be controllable and very minimal. And so long as you use the bloody thing correctly that small amount of rack will become your friend.
It should be noted that there is such a thing as a shite vice. Generally these will have a very skinny steel thread with guide bars either side that prevent you from getting your work piece close to the screw.
Adding friction may be your best bet if you’re looking for an improvement. Simply lining the jaw with suede will help, it’s not a big job and to be honest I would never use a vice that wasn’t lined. In most cases I’ll just line the jaw and not the bench.
A good vice will have a large screw which you can get close to. Whilst wooden screws are old, traditional and look like one of those beautiful but inconvenient features bettered by modern technology, they’re actually brilliant. They’re more like one of those traditional features at it’s peak but replaced by something whose manufacture is cheaper and quicker. Or at least that’s true as far as woodworking vices are concerned.
I love their huge diameter and coarse thread which engages and grips with minimal movement. Wooden screws aren’t essential, but they are almost certainly better for a big robust face vice, and much better where racking is concerned.
I should mention quickly the usefulness of rack. When we have a tapered leg for example we’ll be miffed off when the whole vice is rigidly square and refuses to grip, and as a hand tool woodworker, stuff is rarely perfectly square or parallel on all sides.
In my experience though a well built vice suffering from rack is a signal for poor usage. We are woodworkers and don’t need to squeeze the soul out of every work piece or get it immobilised ready for the torture of our tools. Instead, refine your technique.
Before blaming your vice for its unforgivable rack you may want to check that you’re not in the following vicious cycle:
- Over tightening your work (as though squeezing blood from a stone).
- Over wearing and damaging the vice’s components with every tug and pull of the handle.
- Increasing the rack inherent to your vice through over wear.
- Over tightening your work that bit more to compensate for the new wear. (Return to 2.)
Poor practice is probably the biggest cause of our obsession with power gripping vices and the fault goes beyond overtightening or even positioning the work away from the vice screw (always position work close to the screw – that’s it’s job.). I’m thinking also of the tasks that we consider the face vice to be useful for, and understanding how we can help it to be our aid.
There’s very little reason for example that you should put a piece of work in to the vice and then mortice it. And face planing in a face vice… Your bench has a top for a reason, and a woodworker with very little practice will soon be able to plane against a stop.
And why saw along the length of the bench with a piece held vertically in the vice? With nothing preventing it slipping from side to side, other than the jaws grip?
When you can turn the piece, and yourself 90 degrees, and saw against the bench top, requiring very little grip from the vice.
Once you realise that a slight change to your working habits or practice, is completely changing the dynamics of what your face vice is needing to do, you will open up the possibilities to such a wonderful array of beautiful vice forms.
Build it well, treat it well and stop loosing sleep over a racking vice.