What are the different types of metalworking vise bases?

A metalworking vise (sometimes spelled vice) may have a number of different base types. These base types each come with distinct advantages and disadvantages. In this article I will try and go over the different bases and elaborate the pros and cons of each.

Fixed Bases

A fixed base vise is installed to a work surface and is not intended to be moved. This is usually accomplish by bolting the vise to the table. Bolted vises provide extra stability, and are often built with a bigger and heavy vise body. Most types of engineer vises are designed with a fixed base. If you are looking for specific examples, I have reviewed a number of fixed base vises.

Clamp Base

A clamp based vise usually has a c shaped clamp on the underside of the vise that can be used to attach the vise to various work surfaces. Clamp vises are handy in that they be easily moved across work surfaces and are portable. Because clamp based vises are DESIGNED to be moved more, they tend to be lighter and smaller than fixed base vises.

Clamp base vises work best on work surfaces that are smooth both top and bottom. A clamp vise may have trouble properly clamping on surfaces that has deep ridges or insets on either side of the work station.

Swivel Base Vise

A swivel base vise – like the name suggests – is designed to allow the vise to rotate 360 degrees around its vertical axis. this is usually accomplished by placing a hidden inner base plate with two upwards pointing screws that poke up through the base. These screws are capped with a lock nut that locks the vise in place. To swivel the vise, you loosen these lock nuts and then turn the vise body.

Most swivel base vises that I have seen are fixed based and are intended to be bolted into the workbench. The swivel mechanism is a point of weakness in the vise (as this inner base plate is easy to damage with shock blows), so swivel vises benefit from the added stability of being bolted into the table.

You will sometimes see VERY small clamp base vises with a swivel feature. In these mini vises, they will sometimes use a ball and socket joint instead of the swivel base plate I described above. These tend to be small vises intended for jewelry making or crafts with soft materials. They are not for heavy shop work.

Vacuum Base Vise

This base type sticks to the table by a vacuum mechanism. This vacuum mechanism works a lot like a suction cup. To use a vacuum base vise, place it on a flat smooth non porous work surface. Once it’s in position, pull the lever to engage the vacuum, and it will stick to the table like a suction cup.

These bases are typically only found on smaller vises intended for arts and crafts rather than heavy metal working.