Full Chisel Blog

May 3, 2012

Traditional Workbench – Bench Screws [Vise]

Filed under: Clamping,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 12:00 pm

Many traditional woodworking benches are being constructed today by woodworkers worldwide.  And I have seen many of them make the same mistake I did when I built my first wooden vise.  I actually bought an old bench screw and built a vise.  I attached the nut to the bottom of the bench and it worked but not well, it always bound up and was tough to fiddle with.

Then I had an opportunity to see some nice old benches and noticed that the nut was free floating.  I therefore unglued the nut, re-worked my vise and installed it with a free floating nut and it worked great.

The next bench I built at Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement in Noblesville Indiana in 1977-78, I used an old bench screw and built a proper bench with the bench screw properly installed.

This is how the vise should be constructed, whether a face vise or a leg vise.  This allows the moving chop to be closed when not in use then pulled out and adjusted to the work at hand.  When not in use it slides freely back to the bench out of the way.




  1. Stephen,

    A few questions for you:

    1. When you say the screw nut is “free floating” meaning that the nut is not attached at all to the underside of the bench?

    2. Can you help me understand why the “free floating” nut works better than the nut being attached?

    Comment by Roderick — May 3, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  2. Well now that is an interesting idea. I spent quite a bit of time hunting through the various bench blogs before building mine, and hadn’t seen that. Nice.

    Comment by Brian Anderson — May 3, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

  3. Roderick,
    1. the nut is not attached to anything but the threaded handle. It is rectangular and when the handle is turned one side of the nut stops against the top and tightens or loosens.
    2. when the nut is free floating and not attached the jaw of the clamp can be moved in and out freely. It also does not bind up.

    I messed up the first time, but when you examine old bench screws there is never any evidence that the nut was not attached to anything.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — May 3, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  4. Interesting! My bench ia actually quite similar to the first diagram (Nicholson Type), albeit with a twin-screw vice arrangement. The “binding” that you reference, I don’t believe that I have experienced due to the twin-screws with 3/8″ garters for each screw, I am presuming. The one problem that I have experienced is that the front skirt has shifted forward by 1/4″ so that it is no longer flush with the top. Not sure if the torque on the 2 1/2″ screws are the root cause.

    Comment by Roderick — May 3, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  5. Stephen, I like it, wish I’d known this before I built my two benches. Sometimes things are so simple and right in front of us. Like you, my vices work OK but not great. Thanks, I may be re doing my leg vices.

    Comment by Berl Mendenhall — May 3, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  6. This is great, thanks! I have an old leg vise, and had wondered how the nut was originally installed, as it had no visible holes from fastenerss

    Comment by Dan Brassaw — May 3, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  7. Okay, you have totally piqued my curiosity. I’ve consulted all of the workbench books I own and can find only images and text that refer to the nut being mortised into the back of the leg or the threads cut into the leg itself. I’m not saying your design won’t work, because obviously it does, I would just love to find some historic reference to it. I’ll keep digging…

    Comment by Village Carpenter — May 3, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  8. Here in Ecuador the bottom parallel bar for a leg vise is never used, just an appropriately sized piece of wood to keep the chop straight.

    Comment by David Herbert — June 16, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  9. Would this work as an end vise on a Roubo style bench or would I get into issues of a wobbly chop?

    Comment by Ron Harper — October 6, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

  10. Ron,
    The chop will be wobbly when it doesn’t have anything in it, like most chops, but it should work fine.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — October 7, 2012 @ 7:28 am

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