A Vise is not a complicated tool. Bolt it to the table, turn the handle, and clamp your work piece. Despite its simplicity, there are still a number of things you can do to make your work easier, and to ensure the longevity and health of your vise.
1. Support Work That Is Too Long For Your Vise
If you are working with a long board or a long steel rod, prop up the distant end of the piece with a box, stand, or table. This takes some of the strain off your vise, makes the work piece less likely to wobble around, and provides a more stable environment ensuring your best quality work.
2. Wear Your Safety Gear
Splinters, metallic shavings, chips, dropped heavy objects, there are a million little ways to injure yourself in the shop. Wear steel toed boots, wear safety glasses, wear gloves if necessary, and take care of yourself.
3. Do Not Weld the Base Of The Vise To Any Metal
You may end up with a weld that looks secure, but breaks under heavy loads. Most vises come with bolt holes for a reason, use them.
4. Attach your vise securely
Most vises are either bolted to your work table, or clamped to your worktable. If you are bolting your vise, make sure the vise is secure and doesn’t wobble around. Use the manufacturer reccomended bolt type and ensure the bolt fills all of the bolt hole.
If you are using a clamping vise, make sure you are clamping to an even surface. This provides more stability than clamping to uneven surfaces.
5. Don’t Try To Repair A Cracked or damaged vise via welding or brazing.
You may only repair the surface of the tool, which means it could unexpectedly break later on.
6. Don’t use too small of a vise for large projects.
Using a vise that is too small for a heavy work-piece can damage your vise and damage your health. Buying new vises and paying off hospital bills are both very expensive. Always make sure your vise is big enough for the task.
7. Try to have as much of your vise jaws in contact with your work as possible
This provides a better grip, but also spreads out the clamping force across a wider area lessening the chance of your marring your work.
8. . Don’t use a cheater bar on your vise
You may be tempted to apply more clamping pressure to your vise by extending the length of its handle and using that added leverage to really crank on your vise. I recommend not doing this, as you run a high probability of damaging the vise, the handle, or hurting yourself.
Most manufacturers design the vise assuming you will not clamp with more pressure than the default handle can provide. If you try and by-pass these assumptions with a cheater bar, you run the risk of breaking your lead screw, breaking your base plate, breaking your inner base plate (in swivel vises), breaking your handle, or cracking the vise body.
Many modern vises have handles that are made to bend if you apply more pressure than the vise was designed for.
Don’t hammer your handle to make the vise tighter either.
Don’t be a cheater!
9. Keep all threaded and moving parts clean, oiled, and free of debris.
This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t want debris damaging your vise, or shooting out of your vise under high pressure. I recommend a vise with a screw cover over the top, as this minimizes the amount of cleaning you will have to do. Keeping your lead screw and handle oiled will reduce and friction and make using your vise easier.
10. Be wary of hammering or applying shock blows to your vise or work pieces clamped within your vise.
Hammering your vise is a good way to damage it. High carbon cast iron will crack and fracture under the force of the blows. Even vises made of more ductile material will begin to break if enough abuse is hurled at them.
Be wary of hammering objects clamped in your vise as well. This is a good way to break your vise in all sorts of ways, particularly the fragile inner base plates on swivel vises.
If you plan on doing a lot of forging work on your vise, get a heavy duty leg vise. These vises were specifically made for the work of forging and were sold en mass to blacksmiths a century ago. It’s hard to find these new, but there are lots of antiques ones if you know where to look. Assuming there are no major fractures, these old leg vises are fairly easy to clean up and use.
Some vises come with an “anvil”, these anvils may be made of decent steel, but they are underwhelming compared to the real deal.
11. Use vise jaw covers, protectors, and liners to protect both your vise and the work piece
This one is pretty straightforward. A cover that is softer than your vise jaw will be easier on your vise. It will also protect the work piece from getting scuffed. I have a more in depth guide to these vise covers here.
12. Replace a bent handle and worn out jaw inserts
Damage equipment is less effective and is a safety hazard.
13. Do not cut into the jaws
You may be temped to cut your insets into your vise jaws, but resist this temptation. These cuts can diminish the structural integrity of the vise.
14. Do no apply heavy pressure at the corner of the vise jaws
This is where your vise is weakest.
15. Do not open the jaws of the vise wider than they were intended to go.
This will damage the screw or other parts of the vise.
16. Make sure your vise jaws do not have debris stuck to them
Make sure there isn’t gunk on the vise jaw. This will hamper its clamping ability and can imprint ugly marks on your work piece.
17. Get A Vise Made Of The Appropriate Material
Vise bodies can be made from a number of different materials. The most common are:
- Gray iron
- Ductile Iron
Each have their pro’s and con’s. Gray iron is hard, dampens sound well, but is brittle and fractures easily. Steel is very ductile, is not as brittle as gray iron vises, but is very loud and often expensive. Ductile iron is somewhere in between gray iron and steel.
The handle, lead screw, and vise jaw inserts are usually made of hardened steel.
If you are interested in more details into how all this works, check out my article on what are vises made of.
18. Use a woodworking vise for woodworking, and metal working vise for metal working
Wood is a very soft material. It’s very easy to mark or imprint on wood with a steel vise. A wood working vise with a jaw protector will be much better at retaining the integrity of a wood work piece than a metal working vise would be. Wood working vises have larger jaws, which spreads the clamping force out over a greater surface area. Woodworking vise are also generally mounted under the table rather than on top.
19. Use a vise dog for large pieces
A vise dog is a small piece of metal that inserts either into your vise or your work table. Vise dogs help hold pieces of work larger than your vise in place by acting as a stop. They can provide stability to otherwise unruly and large stock.