Woodworking Vises: Types, Sizes, How-To’s


Woodworking Vises are used to tightly hold a piece of wood while you chisel, saw, drill, and plane. However, there are also other vises that are used in woodworking to hold metal and other materials. In this article, I will explain the sizes and weights of vises, types of vises, how to choose a vise, how to use a vise, and more!

Vise sizes and features

Vises are commonly sold by the jaw size in inches. For instance, a 2″ benchtop vise has a 2-inch-wide jaw.

The jaw of a vise are the teeth that grip the material.

The jaw size of the vise is not all that you should consider, by a long shot.

The throat depth, height, and the material it is made of all play an important role in the quality and weight of the vise.

Vise throat depth

The throat depth of a woodworking vise is a distance from the top of the jaw to the guide rods.

The throat depth is the maximum clamping distance because the workpiece cannot go past the guide rods.

Larger throat depths are necessary for larger workpieces that wouldn’t be able to be securely clamped with smaller throat depths.

Vise height

The height of the vise is important to consider for benchtop vises.

Leg vises and integrated leg and face vises isn’t as important height wise, because the vise jaws will still be in line with the workbench.

However, benchtop vises sit on top of the workbench. So, the higher the vise, the higher your work piece will be.

The height may become an issue with larger, heavy-duty vises, with heights that can reach up to 12 inches or more!

If you are working on a standard 34-inch workbench, an extra 12 inches will put the vise at 46 inches. Let’s say your workpiece sticks out 7-8 inches above the vise.

You are looking at 54 inches for a benchtop vise compared to 42 inches for an integrated vise.

Vise weight

Woodworking vises can get very heavy. Vises can weigh from 25-30lbs up to over 200lbs.

It is very important to consider the weight of the vise for the workbench that will support it.

Most workbenches can support a 25-30lb vise over an extended period of time. But a 200lb vise may be slightly different.

Since you will put the vise at the end of the workbench, you will need to make sure it is designed to have that extra weight on one side.

Vise Features

The vise jaw size, throat depth, weight, and height are all very important when choosing a vise to suit your needs.

However, there are beneficial additional features that you should consider when choosing a vise.

Swivel Base

A swivel base allows for the user to change the horizontal direction of the vise.

It allows for clamping the wood at an angle if necessary.

Swivel bases are most common in benchtop vises. Face, end, and leg vises can only clamp in one position.

Quick Release

If you will be using a vise repeatedly, then you may benefit from a quick release mechanism.

Quick release allows for the user to quickly clamp and unclamp the workpiece to save time.

Serrated steel jaws

Serrated steel jaws are useful in vise jaws when clamping items that are metal or cylindrical.

You will want larger grooves for objects with larger cylinders.

Reversable steel jaws

Serrated steel jaws are good for metal objects but can damage wooden workpieces.

Reversable steel jaws are serrated on one side and smooth on the other side. The smooth side is ideal for wooden objects.

An alternative to reversable steel jaws are vise jaw pads that you can purchase separate from the vise.

Read On

So far, we have learned about vise sizes, weights, and features to help you make an educated decision on choosing a vise.

Below, I will discuss different types of vises, where to put a vise, how to attach a vise to wood and why, and more!

4 types of woodworking vises

There are many types of vises for engineering, machinery, woodworking, and other professions. I will discuss the 4 most common types of vises that are used by woodworkers.

Workbench/engineers vise

This vise has many different names, and is commonly known as the workbench, engineers, metalwork, or machinist vise. A workbench vise is ideal for holding metal or cylindrical objects in place.

Workbench Vise Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Swivel baseJaws can damage wood
Serrated steel jawsCan be very heavy
Ideal for metal and cylindrical objectsCan get very tall
PortableLarger throat depths are uncommon and impractical

Workbench Vise Pros

Swivel Base

Many workbench vises have swivel bases that allow for you to clamp the workpiece in any horizontal position.

Serrated Steel Jaws

Most workbench vises have a serrated steel jaws to hold metal securely.

Portable

Workbench vises can be unscrewed and moved to a different location for your needs. Most of the other vises are more stationary and not as versatile.

Workbench Vise Cons

Jaws can damage wood

Workbench vises with serrated steel jaws can damage wooden work pieces. The metal jaws will imprint and mark up wooden objects.

To prevent this, some vises have reversable jaws with one side being serrated and the other side being smooth. Alternatively, you can purchase vise jaw pads to protect the wood.

Larger vises impractical

Larger workbench vises with deeper throat depths and larger openings can get very tall and heavy. Workbench vises can be from 25-30lbs up to over 200lbs!

Additionally, the height of workbench vises can get up to 12 inches or more. On top of a workbench, this can make it an uncomfortable work height for smaller woodworkers.

Front/face vise

A front vise is also known as a face or edge vise. These vises are mounted to the front side of the workbench. More commonly, the left side of the workbench.

Front Vise Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Ideal for woodworkersNot portable
Larger vises not impracticalNot for metal or cylindrical objects
Wooden jaw faceNo swivel base
Longer work pieces

Front Vise Pros

Front vises are ideal for woodworking because the wooden jaw face will not mark and imprint the wooden workpieces.

Additionally, since the vise in integrated in the workbench, they can be larger and more heavy duty without being impractical.

The top of the jaws will still be in line with the top of the workbench, making the height not an issue.

Moreover, you can clamp longer pieces of wood like an 8ft 2×4 piece of wood that you cannot do with other vise types.

This is possible because you can have dog holes on the front side of the bench to support the wood length.

Front Vise Cons

These vises do not have serrated jaws and will not securely hold metal and cylindrical objects.

Additionally, since front vises are integrated in the workbench, it is not portable.

Moreover, front vises do not have swivel bases for clamping in different orientations.

End vise

The end vise is much like the front vise, except, instead of the vise being on the front of the workbench, it is on the end.

End Vise Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Ideal for smaller workbenchesNo swivel base
Multi-use dog hole clampsNot portable
Wooden jaw faceNo serrated jaws
Larger clamps not impracticalSmaller work pieces

End Vise Pros

End vises have wooden jaw faces and are integrated in the workbench just like face vises. So, they will not damage wooden objects and are not impractical when larger.

Smaller workbenches

End vises are ideal for smaller, skinnier workbenches that would not be able to support a front clamp.

It is best to apply force toward the clamp, and not side to side. Applying forward force to a face clamp will cause a small workbench to rock. However, an end vise will rock less.

Multi-use clamping

End vises will get better use with integrated dog holes for benchtop clamping. While you can add dog holes to face vises, you will be able to clamp longer pieces of wood with end vises.

End Vise Cons

Just like the face vise, with the end vise, you do not have serrated jaws for metalwork, it is not portable, and it does not have a swivel base.

Additionally, you cannot clamp very long pieces using bench face dog holes like you can with the face vise.

Leg vise

The leg vise is a type of vise that runs from top to bottom, along the workbench leg.

Leg vises are more common on the face of the workbench but can be end vises as well.

The leg vise has a larger throat depth that the other vise types that allow for clamping larger pieces

Best place to put a vice on a workbench

Depending on your woodworking needs, you may choose to have a workbench, face, end, or leg vise.

Above, I have explained the pros and cons for each vise.

Once you have decided which vise suits you the best, you will know if you will have a vise on the face or the end of the bench.

Now, the question is which side of the workbench to put the vise on.

Ideally, you will want the vise on the left side if you are right-handed and on the right side if you are left-handed.

This is because you will cut the wood with your dominant hand, and you can use your non-dominant hand to support the wood as you cut through it.

How to attach a vise to wood

Some face/woodworker vises are metal plates that you have to attach wood to. Doing so is very simple, if the vise was designed to have wood attached to it.

You will get at least a 1-inch piece of wood, preferably solid wood, and screw the plate onto the vise.

It is very difficult and impractical to attach wood to a vise that is not designed for wood to be attached to it.

Many people make the mistake of trying to attach wood to the jaws of a workbench/engineer’s vise.

If you have a workbench/engineer’s vise, then you will need to have vise jaw pads to protect the wooden workpiece.

Rachel

My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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