If you work alone, then using a bench vise to help hold items or clamp things together can be useful. Of course, using the vise seems to be a very simple thing. After all, you turn the handle and close the vise. Then, you turn it the other way to open it again. How complicated can it be?
Most likely, the answer to that question is “more complicated than you first think.”
Let’s look at the various parts of a bench vise.
This is the part of a vise that holds it all together, literally. The base of a vise is the part that is secured to your bench. There are different types of bases, however. Some bases are designed to be clamped into place, while others are bolted down. There are also vacuum and swivel bases available for different purposes.
This is where the item you want to clamp is placed. When talking about the jaw of a bench vise, we’re having a conversation about two different parts. Depending on the scope of the job, the jaws can be made of wood, plastic, or metal.
The Sliding Jaw – This is the part of the jaw that moves when you turn the handle. It puts the pressure on whatever you want to clamp. For any new folks, you can easily tell which side of this component is the sliding/dynamic jaw. It’s the part of the jaw with the handle sticking through it.
The Static Jaw – This part of the jaw doesn’t move. In fact, it provides the “unmovable object” that the sliding jaw uses as a backstop for the pressure it applies as you turn the handle. This static jaw includes the largest part of the vise, including the base that’s attached to the bench or surface it’s resting on.
We mentioned the sliding jaw that applies the pressure when you turn the handle; this is what that jaw is attached to. This is the part of the vise that moves when the handle is turned, applying the pressure.
This is where the magic of a bench vise happens. The force you apply to the handle is converted to movement of the sliding jaw toward the static jaw. This screw can be seen attached to the handle—it’s the part that extends into the vise.
The main screw of a vise is extremely important. If a vise has a main screw that wasn’t manufactured to spec or has flaws that cause weaknesses, your vise won’t hold well at all. You’ll still be able to apply pressure, but, with a bad main screw, it won’t maintain the pressure you want.
There’s more engineering in the handle of a vise than you probably realize. Archimedes said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” The principle of leverage allows you to transform a minimal force into an unstoppable one. That’s exactly what the handle of a vise is — a lever.
What you may not realize is the fine engineering that goes into making a bench vise’s handle. If a handle has been designed properly, it will bend if you apply more force to it than your vise can handle. This is called “over-torquing” and can be a safety hazard.
While it may not seem possible, simply turning the handle too much can have almost explosive results. The power you put into moving the handle is multiplied by the action of the main screw. If your vise handle bends while you’re using it, you should stop immediately and release some of the pressure.
Part of the fixed body of an anvil (the part that is attached to your bench), this gives you a place to do light shaping of materials. You can use it as a base to hammer small objects like bent nails. This part is usually only found on metalworking vises.
The sequel to the first part of your bench vise on this list, it is the serrated areas at the top of both the sliding jaw and the static jaw.
This is the actual point where your vise meets whatever you’re securing. Of course, if the item you’re clamping with the vise is easily damaged (in other words, if it’s anything other than a hard metal), you may want to take some precautions.
Firstly, don’t exert too much pressure or you can destroy whatever you’re trying to hold in place. Moreover, even if you don’t destroy it, you can scratch or crack the item if you apply too much pressure.
To help prevent this, you can get “soft jaws” or “jaw caps” to fit over your actual vise jaws that will reduce the risk of scratching and minor damage.
Higher-end bench vises will come with the ability to replace the jaws so that you can work with all types of materials when using your bench vise.
Not every bench vise may be equipped with this feature, but some metalworking vises include yet another set of jaws. These pipe jaws are located on the insides of the sliding and static jaws. They allow you to hold a pipe or other oddly-shaped objects firmly in place to make cutting them much easier.
A bench vise isn’t as simple as it first appears, and many people tend to take them for granted. This tool is incredibly powerful and versatile, allowing you to accomplish things that would not be possible with your bare hands.
If you don’t have a bench vise, you might be amazed by what a difference one can make in your workshop. Whether you’re working with wood, metal, or even on motors and other mechanical jobs, you’ll soon wonder how you ever made it without a bench vise.
Now that you understand the power and utility of a bench vise, take a look at our list of quality bench top vises to help you find the best tool for you. You’ll be amazed at how useful a bench vise can be in your workshop, no matter what job you need to do.