October 12, 2010

Choosing a vise, like buying any tool, requires thinking about how you will use it before you go looking, much less buying. The more work you plan on doing, the heavier duty and the higher quality vise you need. That said, even sporadic use can be hard on a vise. If you buy a lower-priced unit, don’t expect it to last if you start straightening shafts or bending steel rod or posts.

Frequency of use (or personal patience index) may determine if you want a quick-release feature. Since I was a boy, the turning of the handle on a vise has had its own charm, so having a quick release wasn’t a concern of mine.

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Jaw width and depth are features where bigger really is better. Swivel is also key, allowing one job to rest on the workbench while the next rests on the floor.

Replaceable jaw faces are a given. If you stumble across one that isn’t replaceable, think twice before buying. A hard jaw on soft metal turns repair into replacement. Replace the metal jaw with wood or high-density poly, and it’s much safer for delicate work.

Most vises available today are imported, and quality varies tremendously. There are a few really high-quality, high-end vises still made in the U.S. If you have the time or inclination to hit farm sales or going-out-of business sales for metal shops or car repair shops, look for a firm, smooth-closing action, clamping (if swivel) and replaceable face. And look for the words “Made in the USA.” A well-made, used vise is likely to be much better than that new vise I have sitting on my workbench and likely will last much longer.

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