Some Assembly Required: A Tale of Two Vises (Part 2)

After installing the Benchcrafted Glide Leg Vise – about which I have nothing to say that isn’t praise – it was time to move on to the tail vise. I considered a lot of different options, including the Veritas Surface Vise (simple, easy to install, but I was afraid it might not be heavy enough for what I would put it through), a heavy Veritas Twin-screw Vise (overkill for the right end of my bench), the Lie-Nielsen Tail Vise (nice, but not the design I wanted), a traditional wagon vise (nice, but was going to be difficult to install – because I didn’t plan for it in the original bench design)… and I finally found exactly what I was looking for: the Veritas Quick-Release Sliding Tail Vise.

It had every feature I wanted: looked simple to install, required minimal modifications to the bench, and did exactly what I needed – open and close rapidly and solidly to hold work between dogs. The leg vise is more important to me and the kind of work I do, and I held out for exactly what I wanted.

But the kicker was when I found the Veritas vise on eBay new in its box for about half retail price. $139 was just too good to pass up. It arrived, and like the Benchcrafted vise, I set it aside until I was recovered from surgery. I did, however, read the instructions: seven pages (including cover and end pages). Looked really, really simple to install.

I thought I was facing an afternoon’s work. Thus are battles won and lost.

Part 2: The Veritas Quick-Release Sliding Tail Vise

Before I begin the saga… please note: Most of this was my fault, and not that of the good people at Lee Valley. This is an extremely well-made and well-designed product.

The instructions (and intention) of the designers are to install the vise on a bench where you’re adding a front apron. However, I was installing the vise in a new bench, and decided to place it in a new cutout, not in an added apron. That changed everything.

Problem #1: If you’re installing this vise without adding a front apron, the dimensions of the jaw are wrong. It’s intended to be fit into place, and the apron added afterwards flush against the jaw of the vise. That’s well and good, but my intent was to inset the vise into a cutout in the bench top, ending flush against the leg of the bench. So I made the jaw, attached it to the mechanism, and forged ahead.

I was worried about the long instructions for the Benchcrafted vise. For some reason, I was thinking that “long exacting instructions” were more difficult than “short, simple instructions”. What was I thinking?

The Veritas vise is pretty simple. But I found the instructions (particularly the drawings for the jaw) extremely confusing. By comparison, the step-by-step Benchcrafted instructions, with photographs of each stage and details on construction of the pieces were vastly better. The Veritas instructions were a lot like IKEA instructions by comparison.

Making the first cut adjacent to the leg for the jaw was a couple of minutes work with a carcase saw.

Problem #2: Simple cuts aren’t necessarily easy. All I had to do was cut out the area for the jaw – about 17 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2″ of the front right corner of the bench. I decided that the best way to cut this area out was with a bowsaw.

I have a love/hate relationship with my bowsaw… it feels great to use and is extremely versatile. But the blade just wasn’t quite up to cutting an area 4 1/2″ thick in soft, resinous wood like southern yellow pine. As the cut advanced, it started to bind slightly, so I cut and inserted a small wedge in the end of the kerf to keep it open while sawing.

About halfway through, I shifted my stance… and the saw started to cut at an angle. This is what comes from trying to make a straight cut against a single line. I didn’t check the tracking of the lower part of the cut often enough, and didn’t realize the drift was occurring until it was too late. The result: the cut was nice and straight on the top of the bench, but drifted about 1/2″ on the bottom.

Lessons: 1) Make cuts like this with a panel saw, not a bowsaw – bowsaws work better in thinner stock (some will disagree, but that’s where I’ve gotten into problems – and yes, it’s tensioned correctly). 2) Watch two lines when you’re cutting, not just one. 3) Plan this kind of hardware carefully before you build the bench – I could actually have built the top to accommodate the vise in the first place.

Having miscut the inside face of the jaw, it was time to drop back and punt. I decided to make a “design alteration” and re-face the miscut area with an inset piece of mesquite – to match the jaw itself. That meant recutting the inside jaw surface (correctly, this time) and adding a mesquite liner. Since I had to do that anyway, I decided to do the same thing to the end. I set a piece into the leg – since cutting flush to the leg had exposed the leg joinery, and it would match the other side.

Mounting the vise plate to the base was exacting, but not difficult. It suggested turning the bench upside down (a practical impossibility at this point), but I compromised by tipping it up on one end and clamping the mounting plate on the bench to drill the pilot holes. The rest of the installation went smoothly…and when I closed the vise, the Ugly Truth came out – the jaw was about an inch and a half too short to close. After a lot of head-scratching, I came back to this line in the instructions: “Back the vise off slightly (one or two turns) and install the apron so that the jaw clamps up to the apron before the vise uses its full travel.”

Lesson: Check the fit of all parts before assembly, no matter how right you think you are or how heavy the parts. Enough said about that.

Grrrrrrrrrr. There was no good answer except to make a new jaw. Fortunately, I had enough 8/4 stock on hand, and I only wound up wasting a little of the original jaw – the wood was “repurposed” for other assemblies.

Problem #3: Not having an apron to align against the vise after it’s installed makes the tolerances smaller and the installation more exacting. It still wouldn’t quite, quite close – by about 1/8″. So I dismounted the jaw (again) and trimmed out the mounting holes to allow the lag screws to be set slightly forward in the jaw and let it close.

Drilling out the dog holes in the top of the jaw was slow, but not difficult – with a forstner bit and a drill guide.

There was a slight bind opening and closing the vise, which was easily rectified with a couple of washers between the jaw and the hardware at the handle end. Once completed, it opened and closed nicely – it’s very well made, and operates smoothly.

Problem #4: The Veritas Quick-Release Sliding Tail Vise is not intended to be installed on a bench with a sliding deadman. The holes in the jaw are nice and close to the front of the bench – and when I drilled the matching holes in the bench, I drilled right into the slot for the sliding deadman. I really didn’t see this coming. The holdfasts drop right in the way of the deadman track.

Lesson: Thimk.

There’s no good solution for this. It doesn’t really hurt anything; it just means that I’ll have to move the deadman around when setting holdfasts in place. If I had thought about it in advance, I could have made the jaw thicker and set the holes farther inward… but that would make the vise heavier to operate.

The only real complaint I have about the vise itself were the instructions, which were sketchy and somewhat confusing. I had gotten spoiled to the clarity of the Benchcrafted instructions, which take into account a lot of different mounting options. The Veritas tail vise is intended to be installed one way and one way only. Modify At Your Own Risk. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably go with the Benchcrafted tail vise instead – it looks like a more difficult installation, but it would be easier (I think) to inset it farther back and avoid the deadman track. But then again, I really like the quick-release mechanism of the Veritas vise, and I’m happy with the end results… just not the process I went through.

Is this their fault? No – design of the bench was up to me, and I didn’t put all the pieces together first. Ultimately, it works well – I’ll find the overlap of dog holes and the deadman track annoying, but it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s just a lesson.

Music that day was Leo Gosselin’s Celtic Vision (for Chapman Stick) and a bunch of old ’80s stuff.

Ross Henton

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