What is a table vise?

Before I begin, I should stress that I’m not aware of any standards when it comes to vise (sometimes spelled vice) names. Manufacturers build the vise to spec, and then retailers and resellers give a name to the vise that they think will sell. This means you will find many different vise models under the name of “table vise”, and you will find a lot of overlap between table vises and other vises such as jewelers vises, hobby vises, and multi-angle vises. Vernacular and naming can vary by company, geography, platform, industry, etc.

With that being said, I will try and generalize what I NORMALLY see, but you will find exceptions to all the generalizations I write below.

That may seem a bit nit-picky, but a quick glance at table vises on amazon will illustrate just how much variation in naming there is.

With that necessary pedantry about naming out of the way, let’s get down to it : ).

What is a table vise? A table vise is generally a small portable device that fits neatly onto a table. These vises usually have a c clamp underneath them that allows you to quickly attach and detach the vise to the table. This stands in contrast to mounted or bolted vises, which need to be permanently bolted onto a work station. Bolted vises tend to be larger than vises with c clamps. There is also a third base type, known as a vacuum base. These act like a giant suction cup that sticks your vise to the table. You engage the suction action through a handle. In my personal experience, these vacuum vises are unreliable, but I’m sure there are high quality vacuum base vises out there.

Like all vises, a table vise will have a movable jaw and a stationary jaw. The movable jaw is moved towards and away from the stationary jaw via a lead screw. The lead screw is turned by a handle.

Attached to the two vise jaws will be serrated jaw pads made out of hardened steel. These are the vise jaws you most commonly see on metalworking vises. I occasionally find vises labeled as “table vises” with the broad woodworking jaw pad, but this is less common.

The problem with serrated pads made out of steel is that they will often scratch or mar the work pieces placed within them, especially if you clamp the jaws too tightly. This is because hard materials tend to scratch soft materials. To get around this you can purchase jaw covers made out of rubber,plastic,leather, aluminum, and other softer materials that won’t scratch your work as badly. These jaw covers are also easy to replace as they wear out.

What is the body of a table vise made out of?

Most heavier vises are made out of cast ductile iron or cast gray iron. You will occasionally find smaller vises made out of aluminum, and larger vises made out of forged steel, but the vast majority of vises are ductile or gray iron. Ductile iron is usually the best material for the price (in my opinion), but if you want more details, I wrote a whole article on the different materials a vise body can be made out of.

What are table vise lead screws made out of? What about the handle?

The lead screws are usually made out of hardened high carbon steel. This is ideal as you need a material that is hard enough to resist the wear and tear that a lead screw will endure, but it must not be so brittle that it will completely snap under high clamping loads. Lower carbon steels are too soft and need constant repair. High carbon cast irons are too brittle and will fracture too quickly.

The handle can be steel or a softer material like aluminum. Some manufacturers actually design their handle to bend under high clamping loads to try and discourage you from clamping things too tightly and breaking your vise. Whether you actually want this feature or not is up to you.

A table vise can come with a number of optional features such as:

What is a table vise used for?

A table vise can be used for a number of things such as:

  • glueing
  • filing
  • sawing
  • holding steel rods and bars
  • holding lumber
  • holding pipes
  • drilling
  • screwing
  • buffing
  • grinding

Just remember that a table vise is generally smaller in stature. If you plan on subjecting your vise to heavy workloads, you may have better luck searching for “engineers vise” or “metalworking vise”. I review some on my article on bench vises for sale.