A vise, sometimes called a vice, is made of a number of different components. This can lead to a number of questions such as: what are the different parts of a metal working vise? What are they called? What do they do? I will try and answer these questions and more in this article.
The main parts of a basic vise vise are the vise base, vise body, lead screw , handle, sliding jaw, and stationary jaw.
Swivel vises will have a few more parts which allow it to swivel 360 degrees. These parts include an inner base plate which rest inside an outer base plate which sits under the vise body.
A quick release vise may have a switch that turns the quick release feature on and off.
Multi jaw vises may have have multiple vise jaws that serve different purposes. For example, my yost 750-di has both a set of pipe jaws and a set of traditional jaws.
Machining vises may have a tilting mechanism that allows you to easily drill and cut at steep angles.
Let’s go into some of these components in more detail below.
Anatomy of a Vise Jaw
A traditional vise has two jaws: a sliding or dynamic jaw, and a stationary jaw. These jaws can come in a number of different dimensions such as:
- Jaw width
- Throat Depth
- Jaw opening
For more details on these measurements – with pictures – check out my guide to vise dimensions.
Most metal working jaws will be made of hardened steel and will have a serrated or ridged face. This hardened serrated face is great for clamping metal, but may damage softer materials. You can reduce or prevent this damage with a vise jaw protector.
Most vise jaws are made to be replaceable. Replacing a worn out jaw face is usually as simple as screwing and unscrewing two screws.
Metalworking vise jaws tend to have a smaller contact surface than woodworking vises. This smaller contact area allows you to apply more clamping pressure to a smaller area which is handy when dealing with metals. Wood working vise jaws tend to have more contact area to spread the force out, which can lessen the chance of you marring your work.
Anatomy of a Vise Screw
The vise lead screw transmits the rotational movement of the vise handle into the linear movement of the movable vise jaw. The length of the screw determines how wide the jaws of the vise can be opened. The material and design of the screw also affect how much clamping pressure a vise can exert before failure.
These lead screws are usually made with an acme thread. Acme threads are screws that have trapezoidal threads rather than square. This just means the sides of the thread profile are angled slightly rather than perpendicular like a square thread would be.
Acme screws are great for vises, as they minimize backlash and don’t need breaking mechanisms like some other screw designs do. They also need less lubrication.
The wider profile created by acme threads adds to the strength of the screw, and allows it to bear larger loads before failure.
Acme threads also work great with split-nuts, which are used in vises that have a quick release feature.
Anatomy of a Vise Handle
The handle is not super exciting stuff, but it does offer you mechanical leverage that gets translated into clamping power. Turn the handle to open or close the vise jaws. Longer handles allow you to exert more force when clamping. Some newer vises have handles that are designed to bend and break if they are subjected to loads higher than what they are designed for.
Anatomy of a Vise Base
Vises come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials too. The base provides the structure and weight necessary for a vise to function properly. Vises can be clamped to a table, or bolted down to a table. Some vises, like my yost 750-di, have swivel bases giving the vise extra functionality.
Some vises will also come with a little anvil. These anvils are not good for serious forging work, but may be adequate for small jobs like bending or straightening very thin rods. If you are going to be doing some real forging, either get an actual anvil, or get a vise that is made for forging like a post vise.
Anatomy of Pipe Jaws
Some anvils will also have pipe jaws. Like the name suggests, these are useful for holding pipe still while modifying the pipe. Square jaws do not work well for pipes, as they often need very high clamping pressure to keep the pipe still. This high clamping pressure creates distortions in the geometry of the pipe, which can ruin measurements for cuts, pipe threading, etc.
Design decisions to consider when buy a vise
Vises are simple tools, but with so many variations among the different models, it can be a pain deciding which one to buy. Make sure to check out my thoughts on the matter, as it may simplify your decision and make your life easier.