Vise jaw pads are soft pads placed over your vise jaws that protect softer materials from being damaged by your vise jaws while clamping. They also increase the longevity of your vise jaws by providing a layer of protection.
Vise jaws on metal working vises are made of serrated hardened steel. This ridge-like hardened steel will damage,scuff, and mark most softer materials unless you clamp with an extremely delicate touch. Vise jaw pads blunt the jaw ridges and provide a softer surface which will allow you to clamp with more force without damaging your work piece.
If you are working with wood, you should use a wood working vise, as wood is a soft and easily marred material. Wood vises have a jaw pad as well, although it is usually referred to as a vise “cheek” instead of pad. These cheeks or protectors are usually made from close-grained hardwood and designed just for wood working.
I will go into a little more detail on both metalworking jaw pads and woodworking jaw pads below.
Jaw Pads For Metalworking Vises
“Metalworking” is a very broad category of craftsmanship. Metalworking includes softer metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum; it also includes harder metals such as hardened steel or even cast iron.
Vise designers must make a vise that can handle ALL of the above materials. In practice, this means they must make vise jaws out of hard materials, as they can handle both soft and hard materials. While a soft vise jaw would be able to handle soft materials, it could not clamp hard materials without excessive wear and tear.
But as I discussed earlier, hard vise jaws mar softer materials. So we must use vise jaw covers when working with softer metals.
Jaw pads can be applied to a metalworking vise in a number of ways. Some are clipped on, while others are magnetized and use their magnetism to cling to the vise jaw. These jaw pads can come in both smooth and ridged varieties.
They can also come in a wide variety of sizes, so make sure you buys a jaw pad that is the same jaw width as your vise.
In addition, they can come in a number of different materials. NOT all of which are soft.
Rubber Jaw Pads
Rubber is an excellent material as it is very soft but can be used for high clamp loads without breaking, cracking, or otherwise wearing out.
Leather Jaw Pads
Another great option is leather jaw pads. Like rubber, they are soft but won’t easily break when placed under heavy work loads.
Plastic and PVC Jaw Pads
You can also find jaw pads made out of plastic and pvc. Plastic is a very broad category – a bit like metalworking. So make sure to look up the hardness of the plastic used to ensure you have a soft plastic that won’t damage your work. Plastic can be incredibly durable.
Soft Metal Pads
Finally, you can find jaw pads made out of soft metal. These pads are usually made out of aluminum or copper.
So which material should I use for metal working jaw pads?
Honestly, all will work for general use. I have always used rubber jaw pads. They can be a bit slick, but they last forever and are very soft.
Another note: you can also find jaw pads that are made to clamp around specific shapes, such as pipes or hexagonal bars.
Jaw Pads For Woodworking Vises (Carpenters Vise)
As I said earlier, wood is a special material in that it’s VERY widely used, but it’s also too soft for a metal working vise. To counteract this, there are woodworking vises that have a slightly different design than metal working vises. Woodworking vises use a lead screw to apply clamping pressure, same as a metal working vise. But the jaws are usually much bigger, allowing you to apply force over a wider surface area, and thus making you less likely to damage your work piece. The mathematical way of expressing this is pressure = force / area. They also tend to be mounted under the table, as opposed to being mounted on top of the work table like metal working vises are.
But while these jaws much bigger than metal working vises – which spreads out the force across the work piece, as opposed to having it all concentrated in one small area – they are still made of metal. As a general rule: hard scuffs soft. Metal is harder than wood, and is still not ideal even if you spread the clamping force out.
Which is where our wood vise covers come into play, they provide a softer contact surface between your metal vise and your wood stock.
Like metal working vises, you can find magnetized cheeks that stick to your vise jaws.
Most woodworking vises also have countersunk holes in the siding of the jaws that allow you to screw in these jaw covers for a more secure and more permanent fit.
Jaw Pads For Machine Vises
Machine vises have a number of special features that make them ideal for machining or drilling operations (such as a tilting operation for drilling angled holes). These features don’t really change much in terms of the pro’s/con’s of vise covers. The jaws on a machining vise operate a lot like a metal working vise. As such, the rules that apply to metal working vise covers also apply to machining vise covers.
And that’s it. Vise jaw protectors are pretty simple tools, tools that allow you to clamp soft materials within your vise without scuffing the surface. They are cheap, and worth every penny. If you spend a lot of time in your shop, it’s worthwhile to have several pads made of different materials and made to different sizes.
If you don’t actually own a vise yet, make sure to check out my guide, so that you know what too look for when evaluating them.