Before I begin, I just want to state that most metalworking vises (sometimes spelled vices) have more in common than not. Which means the differences between them is usually pretty small – with the noticeable exception perhaps being the leg vise, more on that later.
I also want to stress that most people refer to different vises in a colloquial manner. People (and companies selling these vises) don’t generally adhere to strict naming conventions.
With that in mind, it may be helpful to first examine how all metalworking vises are similar.
So what do all metalworking vises have in common? Well they tend to have jaws made of hardened steel. This allows the vise to be used many times without excessive wear and tear. As a general rule: hard scratches soft. A hardened steel jaw will allow the vise to work with metal without getting beat up.
Metalworking vises tend to have jaws with a smaller contact surface area. This allows them to put all their clamping force over a smaller area, increasing its grip.
Metalworking vises also tend to be heavier than other varieties, and they are usually made of ductile cast iron, grey cast iron, or forged steel.
Finally, most, but not all metalworking vise will be bolted to the table for extra stability.
Now that we have analysed the way in which all metal working vises are similar, let’s take a look at some of the different varieties below.
One vise by many names
This vise can be called the following:
- Metalworking vise
- machinist vise
- bench vise – this term is a little more broad, it just means the vise is set on a bench.
This is the most common type of metalworking vise, and is likely what you first think of when you hear the term metalworking vise. These vises are built sturdier and heavier than most vises. They are usually fixed to the top of the table and are made for heavy duty grinding, sawing, chipping, and filing.
These vises can have a number of different features while still being considered the above vise. These feature include:
- quick release features
- swivel bases
- pipe jaws
- rotatable jaws
These vises will often have two sets of jaws that are designed for different purposes. For example, my yost 750-di has both a pipe jaw and a normal vise jaw.
A table vise is generally considered a small and portable vise that is clamped to the table with a c clamp mounted underneath the vise. I say generally because if you go and look online you will find that manufacturers and resellers sometimes call vises that don’t meat this description a table vise.
As I said earlier, vise naming conventions are colloquial in nature, and most people don’t try to adhere to strict naming conventions.
But when I hear table vise, I always think of a smaller vise with a clamp underneath.
Newer models of table vises are sometimes made with a ball and socket joint that allows the head to rotate freely and easily while working.
The leg vise (also called the blacksmith’s vise or post vise) is probably the most differentiated of the metal working vises. This vise is specifically made for forging work. It has a post that extends down from the fixed jaw of the vise down to the floor. This post helps transfer vibrations from shock blows (hitting stuff with a hammer) down into the floor. This keeps the vise jaws from having to absorb all the energy from forging, and allows these vises to endure the heavy abuse that comes from forge work.
These vises are hard to find new, and are usually bought from estate sales, garage sales, and people cleaning out their shop. Fixing one up can be a fun little project, and they are worth their weight in gold if you do a lot of forging work.
So there you have it, 3 different types of metalworking vises. If you are in the market for a good vise, make sure to check out my write-up on the topic.