Original 7-inch jaw width can easily expand to 11 inches for larger jobs. 360-degree swivel base locks down for precise angles. Reversible jaws for heavy-duty and delicate clamping.
Some quality-control issues with steel casting and painting.
Solid steel construction stronger than some higher-end vises. Large anvil space. 180-degree swivel base locks down with pins. Ideal for home projects, such as woodworking or light welding.
Small 4-inch jaws and opening width limit versatility. Arrives with heavy layer of preservative grease.
30,000 PSI cast-iron construction is durable enough for welding and other heavy-duty jobs. Replaceable serrated steel jaws hold projects tightly in place. Flat steel anvil for bending and shaping metal.
Swivel angle is limited to 120 degrees. Some user concerns about heavy preservative grease layer and sharp edges. Additional mounting hardware required.
Three interchangeable jaw sets and a 180-degree swivel base improve versatility. Solid cast iron construction with anvil and/or additional workspace. Head also swivels 360 degrees for even more adjustability.
Hollow casting, not a solid piece of iron. Smaller in size than many users expected.
Large 6-inch jaws and a nearly 6-inch maximum depth will handle most amateur projects with ease. Large anvil area for bending and hammering metal. 360-degree swivel base.
Not designed for heavy-duty professional use. Vise can lock up permanently if extended to maximum advertised depth.
At first glance a bench vise seems a straightforward item. Basic, robust engineering, with a simple function, and intuitive use. But go shopping for one, and you'll find you have a harder choice than you expected. Size, materials, jaw options, and more. Suddenly, it's not such a simple purchase.
After getting to grips with a whole bunch of different vises, the five above are those that came out on top. A brief explanation of their features and benefits accompanies each one. If you’re ready to buy, check out the recommendations in that product list.
For a full breakdown of the components and materials that make a top bench vise, you can read the following report. It provides all the knowledge you need to compare and contrast bench vises on your own.
The tool we're talking about here goes by several names: metalworking vise, engineer’s vise, machinist's vise, mechanic's vise or workshop vise. They all fall under the umbrella of bench vises, so for the sake of simplicity, we'll use that term through the remainder this review.
There are several other kinds of vise.
A woodworker's vise is built into the bench. Jaws are steel or iron, but usually have wooden faces, to prevent marking the workpiece. The front (moving) jaw meets the rear jaw at the same level as the bench top. The mechanism is underneath the bench.
A post vise – or blacksmith's vise – is a strange beast. Partly fixed to the bench, like a carpenter's, partly above the bench, like a machinist's, it also has a leg that extends to the floor, so it can support greater weights.
There are all kinds of handheld vises. There are machine vises (not to be confused with machinist vises) for use with pillar drills and milling machines.
Small, lightweight vises, frequently called jeweler's or watchmaker's vises, are miniature versions of the bench vise, but may be able to clamp at multiple angles. Some have suction bases. Jaws are often plastic or nylon so they don't mark delicate components.
All metalworking vises are of a similar construction. The rear jaw of the vise is part of the base. It has two, three or four bolt holes to fix it to the bench. The rear jaw does not move forward or backward, but the whole assembly may rotate. An anvil area is often incorporated.
The front jaw is fixed to a slide (sometimes called a beam), which is normally of square section, but with the bottom missing – like an upside-down “U.” Concealed within this slide is a long, heavy-duty, threaded bar. A winding handle is attached, in front of the jaw. Rotation of the handle moves this jaw, closing or opening the vise. Occasionally the beam is a round tube, with the threaded bar inside, though this is not common.
A bench vise has to exert considerable grip and, because it performs numerous tasks, it usually takes quite a pounding. Though you shouldn't strike the vise itself with a hammer, it often happens.
So it needs to be tough. Low-cost bench vises often use steel, which is light and cheap. It's fine for light duties and for hobbyists, but it doesn't have the high resilience a professional would need.
The best bench vises are made of cast iron, and two variants can be found: gray iron and ductile iron.
Gray iron isn't about color, it's used to indicate the presence of graphite flakes. It's the most common form of cast iron, used in everything from vises to stove tops. It's highly resistant to wear, doesn't rust easily, and isn't affected much by heat. Its only drawback is a lower structural strength than ductile iron. It doesn't take impact well, and in extreme cases can fracture.
For this reason, anvil sections on this kind of vise are often made of a steel plate, welded on. Steel will absorb impact – hammer blows, for example – without cracking, though it is possible to dent it.
Ductile iron also contains graphite, but the particles are round. This gives it considerable extra strength and high ductility – hence the name. As a result, ductile iron is resistant to cracking, and anvil sections can therefore be made from the same material as the main body.
Except in the very cheapest bench vises, jaws are removable. They come in many different shapes, sizes and materials.
Serrated jaws give good grip, but can mark surfaces.
Nylon jaws are less likely to mark delicate or polished surfaces.
Pipe jaws have a V-shaped indent, to grip round tubes or bars.
Engineers may make their own jaws, to suit specific tasks.
Jaw covers are also available. These can be wooden, plastic, or nylon. They simply slip over the existing jaws for different gripping applications. As with replaceable jaws, engineers often make their own.
Bench vises can hold all objects of all shapes and sizes, but there are some restrictions:
The width of the jaws.
How far the jaws can open.
The distance between the top of the jaws and the slide. This is referred to as the throat depth.
Jaws start from just two inches wide, but four inches is common for an entry-level bench vise. It's a good size for a hobbyist's tool. Sizes increase by half-inch, or one-inch increments, depending on manufacturer. Six inch jaws are probably all most home engineers will need, though eight inch jaws are widely available.
Jaw openings vary enormously. Mostly, they depend on the length of the slide. This can be a major restriction on the size of item you can hold, so it's important to get it right. Some DIY bench vises only allow an opening of four inches. Professional-grade tools with reversible heads can open as wide as eleven inches.
Because of the way a bench vise is constructed, throat depth varies little. Even a cheap bench vise will have a throat depth of between two and a half or three inches, yet only a few top-quality models exceed four inches.
Though a bench vise is an uncomplicated device, there are a few features that make life easier.
Many bench vises have a quick-release feature. A finger operated lever, attached below the front jaw, releases the screw thread. This allows the jaw to slide back and forward freely, and therefore more quickly. Releasing the lever re-engages the thread. The vise can't be fully tightened until this is done.
Swivel bases are common, and a useful addition. It makes it easier to position different parts of the workpiece in front of you, rather than having to move the piece itself. Beware, however, while some rotate through 360°, others may offer considerably less movement.
A few vises have rotating heads that can carry two sets of jaws. This gives fast access to the second set, saving you the time it would take to change jaws completely.
Never wind the front jaw/slide all the way out. They can be very heavy. If they become detached they can fall and cause injury. They can also be extremely difficult to re-align.
Never leave a vise closed when not in use. Doing so causes stress that can lead to fractures.
Never use extension bars on the handle. The supplied handle will apply the maximum pressure intended. Trying to exert more can potentially damage the vise, or cause injury to the user.
When you've finished work for the day, open the vise jaws slightly and leave the handle in the vertical position. If you leave it horizontal, it can catch you at hip height when you pass, leaving a surprisingly painful bruise.
There are some very cheap bench vises around, but bear in mind that these tools exert a tremendous amount of pressure. Metal fatigue and stress fractures are common with poorly cast models.
You can get get a perfectly good four inch to six inch vise for between $50 and $100. Not a lot of money for a tool you'll probably never wear out.
If you need greater capacity, or want to invest in something that will take a lot of punishment, top brand bench vises run from around $150 to $250.
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