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A gunsmith has gotta have vises: vices or vises, here is a look at what's in my shop!

If I have a gunsmithing vice, it would be the number of vises I own. I suppose I could be accused of overkill when it comes to bench and machine vises in my workshop, however, I will explain (justify?) my reasons for having so many and how and why I utilize each and every one of them.

Gunsmithing books seem to only touch lightly on the subject of vises and then move on to more heady subjects. It's unknown who fashioned the very first vise out of iron, but many have come since that enterprising soul laid out his plans and put them to device. It's safe to say that Adam and Eve, or whatever other cavemen you prefer, found they could secure or steady something simply by putting it between two heavy rocks to deal with it. Today, we are greatly privileged to have a vast array of vises to choose from for our gunsmithing work from a variety of sources. Where I can remember, I will list the sources where I procured my vises. I'm sure that many excellent gunsmiths over the years have done all of their work with possibly only one or two bench vises in their shops. I personally like to make things easier for myself and find different sizes and shapes of vises satisfy my needs quite well. I have owned well over 40 various vises, although many of those have come and gone due to moves, downsizing, and such.

Main Bench Vise

I have had several main bench vises over the years but this current one is my all-time favorite. I purchased it at an indoor second hand shop in 2003 for $40 and it is the best $40 I ever spent. First off, it is super rugged and heavy duty for a medium-size vise and strong enough to remove barrels from guns. It is an old Craftsman 5160 with 3" jaws and sees the most duty on the main work bench in my shop. I've owned bigger Wilton machinist vises that were not as rugged. You won't find these very often because they get handed down and nobody turns them loose. If you come across one, scarf it up at any price. You'll be glad you did. I also have a small rotary vise I found at an old tool shop for $1.00. It has two sizes of jaws (1.5" and 2.5") and rotates 360 degrees. It is a great little vise for small work and sees a lot of use in my shop.

General Utility

This General vise sees the second most use in my shop, usually to cut off pins or shape a part. I paid $10 for it at a yard sale many years ago and modified it so I can use it as a solid upright vise that won't rotate on the ball. By taking the through bolt out of the ball, it becomes a rotating vise again. It has 3" jaws with V grooves. The mini vise next to it is over 100 years old! I paid $1.00 for it at an antique shop many years ago and it is great for working on real small pins and delicate small parts.

Similarly, I have a Shop Fox utility vise which I've mounted on a small utility drill press that I use mostly for cleaning up parts with a wire wheel brush. It has 3 1/8" smooth jaws and cost me around $20. I rarely do any actual drilling with this drill press.

I also have a Lakeside utility vise. This is on old vise that was made in Belgium probably close to a 100 years ago. I bought it at a garage sale around 12 years ago for $3.00. It was broken at some point and someone did a very good repair on it with brazing. It has three-inch jaws and also a pair of saddle-type pipe jaws. It may have come back from World War II with a G.I. I generally use it to hold parts or such that need to cure or dry as it is out of the way of my main bench. I have a love and fascination for old tools and try to revive them and put them to use. If these old tools could talk, what a story they would tell!

Parrot Vise

I have owned several Parrot vises over the years. Brownells calls their version a Multi-Vise (#080-000-019WB.) Mine has 3.5" jaws and can be set up vertical or 90 degrees right or left. It is very utilitarian and gets a lot of use in my shop. The model I use is a Shop Fox H3302 purchased from Grizzly Industrial (grizzly, com, 800/523-4777) for around $55 complete with the side-swing tilting jaws. A bargain in my estimation.

Heavy Duty Vises

You see these rotary vises just about everywhere for sale at various prices but they always seem to have 5" or 6" jaws. Mine has serrated 4" jaws and I prefer it over the larger rotary vises. This is the second one I have owned and the first one was my main bench vise for 15 years. I generally use this one to set up scopes, glass bedding, or other tasks requiring mounting a rifle in a vise. It can be set to whatever angle you want. It also has two other sets of jaws 180 degrees from the main jaws consisting of a 1 1/4" x 1 7/8" set of V jaws (smooth) and a small set of pipe jaws. It pays dividends when you need it. I paid $50 for it at Grizzly several years ago. There again, another bargain.

I also have a Wilton, a heavy duty mechanic's vise with 6" jaws for the heavy handed jobs. I don't use it much but picked it up at a tool place on sale dirt cheap so figured it was a good investment. If I remember right, I only paid $35 for it. I have a set of neoprene V groove jaws for it that are non-marring.

Drill Press Vises

My Gibraltar drill press vise is my main drill press, having 3" jaws and rotating 360 degrees. I mounted it on an X-Y table for drilling work. It has V grooves on one of the jaws which come in very handy for drilling round stock. I bought it at Enco (, 800/873-3626) a long time ago.

I also have a Shop Fox compound drill press vise with 3 1/8" smooth jaws mounted on my number two drill press. It has X-Y travel and I have indexed it for bolt jewelling in a jewelling jig of my design, one I plan to feature in a future article. It also sees other occasional work from time to time.

At the start of my gunsmithing career, I had only one drill press and it served my needs just fine until one day it broke down right in the middle of a very important job for a very good client. I was boondoggled to say the least! From that time on, I have always had at least two heavy-duty drill presses. For no more than they cost, it is a sage investment.

Finally, I have a flat drill press vise, although that's not what I use it for. I have it mounted to a secondary work bench with sticky back felt on the 4" jaws and use it exclusively for work on pistol slides. Being flat, it allows good access to the slide and keeps it perpendicular to the top of the jaws for precise work. I paid only $10 for mine and have owned several of these over the years. I also have a smaller model of this vise. Another well-worth investment to consider.

Angle Vise

This is one of the better ideas I have had in the past decade or so I have owned it. It is a cheap angle vise ($20) with 3 1/2" jaws mounted on a 8" x 6 1/4" x 1" heavy steel plate. The whole thing weighs 24 pounds. The purpose was to have a portable angle vise I could use on a work bench and be heavy enough on it's own to not move when working a part in it, and does this quite well. A good idea and worthwhile investment. Give it some thought.

Drill-Mill Vises

I have had these three vises going on 40 years. The larger one is a Craftsman with 2 1/2" jaws, the toolmaker's vise has 2 3/8" jaws, and the Palmgren 1 1/2" jaws. These can be mounted on a drill press, milling machine, or simply used on the bench. I often mount the little Palmgren in another drill press vise for small drilling or other work. I probably have less than $40 in them total.

In addition to these vises, I have a mill clamp vise. These come in various sizes and are utilized to clamp work for milling in the milling machine. I also have a heavy-duty mill vise, which is a good quality, heavy-duty, four-inch milling vise and I have a substantial investment into it. If you own a milling machine as I do, then you know it's a quality, precision machine and you want a good precise vise to do your milling on. Enough said about that.

Specialty Vises

I'll start with my barrel vise that I made 45 years ago that has served me well all these years. It has 7 3/4" x 6" x 1" jaws with a 1 1/4" through hole. I have it mounted on a 7 3/4" x 5 3/4" x 1/4" steel plate, mounted on two 3/4" industrial plywood bench tops with a lot of weight on the bench. The secret to this barrel vise is not its size but the strength and weight of the bench it's mounted on! I have many different size aluminum barrel inserts I have made for this vise over the years. They work well with rosin to prevent slippage.

Another unique, specialty unit is a brass oval vise I picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents! I have no idea what it was originally used for but it works great for stoning hammers and triggers. I have it mounted on a 5.5" length of 1.5" angled aluminum. It's on a 3" x 1.5" brass plate with mounting holes. The round base is 2" in diameter and the top is 1.5" in diameter. The top piece has a center mounted 1/4" threaded screw to tighten it down. A neat little vise that actually could be easily made.

Finally, I have several utility clamp vises in various sizes and shapes that can either be used as is or mounted in a regular vise for a myriad of work projects. What they were originally used for I have no idea, but they will work well for you in your shop as they have in mine. I usually pick these up for a $1 or less. A real bargain.

Vise Jaws

As I come to the end of this article, it would not be complete without showing a sampling of the many vise jaws I have. Most of them have been cut with a hacksaw from regular aluminum angle metal obtained just about anywhere, such as Lowe's, Home Depot, hardware stores, etc. It comes in various sizes so pick up the sizes you need for your vise jaws. After cutting, square up the ends on a disc sander and smooth on a wire wheel brush. I use some of them as is, and on others I glue either leather pads with contact cement or use sticky back felt for padding, which can be had at craft stores or Wal-Mart.

I hope this article has given you some ideas for your workshop needs. Each one of these vises is used on-going in this man's workshop. I don't have a large investment involved and some of them may be considered on the relatively cheap side of foreign manufacture (China, etc.) but they all get the job done. As always, I welcome comments, feedback, and suggestions on my articles. Enjoy the trade, strive to learn more each day, and treat your customers with respect.

Caption: Below left: Main bench vise and rotating utility vise. Below right: General ball utility vise and a mini vise.

Caption: Above left: Gibraltar drill press vise. Above right: Shop Fox Parrot vise.

Caption: Below left: Flat drill press vise. Below right: Lakeside utility vise.

Caption: Above left: Shop Fox compound drill press vise. Above right: Shop Fox utility vise.

Caption: Below left: Heavy duty rotary vise. Below right: Heavy duty mill vise.

Caption: Above left: Heavy-duty Wilton vise. Above right: Angle vise.

Caption: Below left: Mill clamp vise. Below right: Brass oval vise.

Caption: Above left: Shop-made barrel vise. Above right: Three drill-mill vises.

Caption: Below left: Utility clamp vise. Below right: Vise jaws.
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Title Annotation:BACK TO BASICS
Author:Maheu, Dick
Publication:American Gunsmith
Date:Mar 1, 2017
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