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The vise: center of the gunsmithing universe.

In the life of every home gunsmith, there comes a job you simply can't do properly on the kitchen table or in your lap. You will have to have both hands to run the tools and have no hands left over to hold the work. Time for a vise. In most shops, the humble bench vise is the center of any real gunsmith's work space. Most everything else in a proper work station revolves around it. Serious gun tinkers will have to rig up a good vise and it need not be a daunting task.

There are all kinds of vises but all you need is a basic bench vise with a swivel base. The swivel base is essential since you will need to be able to position the vise for best access to the work piece. A good vise will have a couple of locks for the swivel base. Make sure the vise you buy has removable jaws. Occasionally, the jaws are not parallel to each other when tightened so you may need to remove a jaw and shim it parallel. You may even have occasion to make a set of custom jaws for some odd-shaped work piece.

For most shop work, a 5" or 6" jaw is perfect and gives ample contact area with the work piece or any holding devices (more about which later) without requiring excessive handle pressure. Vises in this size range typically have fairly long handles which is a huge help. No sense in working yourself to death yanking on a vise handle. The one other important consideration is weight. The mass is critical to vibration dampening, regardless of how well mounted the vise. Good vises are available at reasonable prices from a variety of sources; $50 to $100 will get one. As with most tools, you get what you pay for but don't lose your head--we're not sending these guns to the moon.

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Before settling on a location, bear in mind you need to be able to get at your vise from as many sides as possible. Most serious workmen work standing up so leave yourself plenty of room to walk around the vise. Make sure your vise is mounted at the proper height. With your arm straight down at your side, forearm held parallel to the ground in the "sling" position, your forearm should just touch to top of your vise. This may seem high at first but your back will thank you. My vises are usually blocked up on 2x12 squares, as many as needed.

Anybody who has worked on cars, bikes, lawnmowers and the like will know how much holding force a vise can exert. Unfortunately, often as not, this holding power is wasted or lost due to poor mounting. The more rigid and massive the mounting, the better. Over the years, I have mounted bench vises several ways, depending on my particular circumstances at the time. My preferred method is to frame around a set of handy kitchen cabinets with 4x4 posts at the corners and the top decked with a couple of layers of 2x8s and finally sheeted with 1/2" to 3/4" plywood sealed with polyurethane. Once bolted to the floor and wall, these benches, 6' to 8' long, are extremely heavy and are a good vise mounting surface using lag or through bolts.

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Poor Man's Bench

While I understand not everyone's circumstances permit a lavish shop, with a little ingenuity you can usually come up with an effective installation. If you live in an apartment or don't have a separate shop or garage room, don't despair. You can make a pretty good vise stand out of a 55-gallon oil drum. Get a good clean one, cut (with a torch) at least two or three 5" to 6" access holes in the sides just below the top. A round piece of 3/4" plywood large-bolted inside the rim makes a good top. You can bolt your vice to the wood plate by drilling through the wood and top of the drum and accessing the nuts through the access holes. For further refinement, I have added a larger top of 2-bys and plywood. If you can bolt it to the floor with lag bolts and lead anchors, so much the better. Failing that, fill it partially with water or sand, bearing in mind it will be exceedingly heavy and might overtax some frame structures.

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If space is a problem but you can work in a garage or basement room with a concrete floor, a vise mounted on a steel column will work very well. We have a vise in the Bowen Classic Arms shop that is bolted to a piece of 6" to 8" well casing with 1/2" to 5/8" plates welded to each end. Anchored to the floor with heavy lag bolts, it has proven entirely satisfactory for years.

Vise Jaws

The usual steel vise jaws are very coarse and will maul gun parts coming in direct contact with them. Brownells and Midway USA both sell a variety of jaw liners. For really delicate parts, heavy lead jaw liners are hard to beat. I've made a set of aluminum jaws faced with softish l/2"-thick rubber sheeting for holding revolver grips. Clean paper adds additional protection to finished parts.

You will also find in short order gun parts are often irregular in shape and won't fit your vise jaws, so some sort of adaptor or sub-vise is in order. For some small parts, holding them in a small machinist vise clamped in your main vise will give better access for filing and polishing. Working on revolvers requires extremely flexible part positioning of both barrels and receivers, so we use, For instance, simple holding fixtures, with internal or external threads to engage the barrel or receiver threads. These mandrels can be held in the vise in nearly any imaginable position.

Once you set up and use a vise, you will wonder how you ever kept house without one. Go forth and take hold of those parts.

BROWNELLS, INC.

200 SOUTH FRONT STREET

MONTEZUMA, IOWA 50171

(800) 741-0015, WWW.BROWNELLS.COM

MIDWAY USA

5875 WEST VAN HORN TAVERN ROAD

COLUMBIA, MO 65203

(800) 243-3220, WWW.MIDWAYUSA.COM

HARBOR FREIGHT

3491 MISSION BLVD.

CAMARILLO, CA 93011

(800) 444-3353, WWW.HARBORFREIGHT.COM

NORTHERN TOOL & EQUIPMENT

2800 SOUTHCROSS DRIVE WEST

BURNSVILLE, MN 55306

(800) 221-0516, WWW.NORTHERNTOOL.COM

MSC INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY, INC.

75 MANESS ROAD

MELVILLE, NY 11747

(800) 645-7270, WWW1.MSCDIRECT.COM

ENCO TOOLS

400 NEVADA PACIFIC HIGHWAY

FERNLEY, NV 89408

(800) 873-3626, WW.USE-ENCO.COM
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Title Annotation:GUNSMITHING
Author:Bowen, Hamilton
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:1105
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