Woodworking vises free up your hands to carve, screw, drill or do whatever task is needed while your work stays securely in place. But, choosing the right type of vise and mounting location isn’t as obvious as it might seem. Learn why woodworkers prefer a vise like the aptly named Cabinet Makers Vise for its versatility, compactness and all-wood jaws plus other types of woodworking vises.
A vises number one job is hold onto your woodworking piece when you need it.
And then disappear when you don’t so it doesn’t take up valuable space on top of the bench.
Which makes understanding all of the types of of vises the first priority before drilling, screwing or altering your bench:
- Cabinetmakers vises
- Front vise
- Swivel head vise
- Pivot jaw vise
- Wood screw vise
- Quick release vise
As with buying any woodworking tool there are three criteria most buyers are looking for: budget, quality and usability for the specific woodworking projects. In this guide learn which vises best fit your priorities.
Top Woodworking Vises
Best overall wood jaw:
› Woodstock Front Vise at Amazon ($122.76)
› WoodRiver 10.5 Quick Release at Amazon ($254.98)
› Groz Clamp On Wood Vise at Amazon ($46.64)
› Pony Front Vise at Amazon ($64.99)
First and foremost most woodworkers will own at least two or more vises. And a flush mount cabinet makers vise is almost always one of them.
Besides a design that keeps your bench top clean, here’s what woodworkers like about this vise:
- Birch jaw plate that uses your bench edge as the second jaw
- Traditional wood handle
- Flush mount design
- Jaw has holes for two bench dogs to clamp horizontally (to matching holes on your bench)
Last but not least, vises take some time to install so be sure to check out the installation manual first: Model D4648 Installation
Don’t let the the metal jaws fool you: they are there to let you supply your own jaw material.
Like almost all woodworking vises, this model simply installs underneath your bench and uses your choice of jaw material.
Manufactured by WoodCraft this vise features:
- High quality screw
- Quick release lever to dis-engage the screw and allow quick opening and closing
- Heavy duty cast iron design.
- Retractable bench dog for clamping horizontally
Easy to Use & Portable
The simple fact about the best woodworking vises is they require a clear area under the bench to mount to. And some skills to install. Realizing not every woodworker has the space, skill or time this clamp-on vise installs in minutes and lets you add your own wood jaws.
A woodworkers bench can range from a masterpiece built from 4-inch thick soft maple to a simple 3/4″ sheet of plywood. Which calls for a vise that can be installed on benches that don’t have the free space for a traditional woodworkers vise.
The solution? This cast iron clamp-on vise from Groz that features:
- An adjustable clamp for benches up to 2-inches thick
- 6-inch jaws
- Toe-in feature for even clamping
And when you’re not using the vise simply unclamp it and store it for next time.
Before You Buy a Vise: Installation Tips
If you haven’t realized yet, most woodworking vises require installing the vise to the bottom side of your woodworking bench.
Which, for many, creates a fear of purchasing the wrong vise, not installing it correctly or even having it fall off during use.
But its a job that any woodworker should be able to accomplish in about an hour by following these simple steps.
Tip #1: Bench Thickness
For almost all benches you’ll need a minimum of 1-1/2″ of bench thickness and a 8-inch by 12-inch free area under the bench.
Lacking thickness? Add a skirting board or “apron” to the edge of the bench and backing material behind that to support the vise. Be sure to use plenty of glue and structural screws.
Tip #2: Free Area Under Bench
This one can be a bit more difficult to fix on existing on benches, but for new benches be sure to plan a large enough area to support the vises under-bench mount and screw supports.
To avoid any issues later, its best to buy a vise, measure, and then finalize your bench top dimensions.
For existing benches, look to see if you can drill into 2×4″ supports or simply replace & upgrade your bench top to support the vise.
Tip #3: Precision Matters
While a vise might seem like a rough tool, when you add it to your bench you will need a secure and precise mount:
- Perfectly level with surface of bench
- Mounted with heavy duty screws or bolts to avoid shifting
- Use all mounting holes
Tip #4: Upside Down
I’m always amazed when I see mechanics or other trades work on the floor.
Which might be why I have benches, folding sawhorses and even the Bora centipede table on the ready. And why when I install a vise I’ll almost always flip the bench top over and install it where I can see what I’m doing.
Best Woodworking Vises
While the primary factor in woodworking vises is mounting location, there are advanced features and other criteria, including:
- Brand reputation & longevity
- Product performance
- Durability and manufacturing quality
- Flush mount
- Quick release
- Jaw pivot or fixed
- Swivel heads
Best Vise for Cabinet and Furniture Makers
When woodworkers think about putting wood in any clamp or vise the first thought isn’t will it hold.
As you can guess, the question is will it damage my workpiece?
Which is why many woodworkers benches, including mine, have a cabinet makers vise as it allows for a soft faced wood to match up to the benches edge.
A flush mounted cabinet makers vise has many advantages over the other types of woodworking vises:
Best Woodworking Vise For Existing Benches
For a new workbench it’s best to plan ahead and design a spot for your vise. And, with the Eclipse quick release vise you’ll be able to choose from a 7, 9 or 10″ jaw size.
Here’s what to like about this vise:
- Simple design makes it easy to install
- Easy to install wood face pads to reduce marring
- Quick release for fast opening and closing
- And, quality construction with brand durability
Lastly, while Eclipse isn’t a name you may have run into, this Canadian tool supplier has been making vises since 1909.
While no vise does everything well, this vise excels as a multi-purpose woodworking vise with a quality build.
Budget Wood Vise
Shown: Pony Medium Duty Vise
It’s easy with vises to spend more on the vise than you’d spend on the workbench.
For that reason, if you’re looking to accessorize your bench and NOT break the bank than the popular Pony branded 27091 wood vise is a great entry point at a budget price.
And you won’t be sacrificing all the features as it has:
- Two large clamping surfaces you can outfit with wood pads
- A solid steel handle
- And, simple installation with just a few (not included) screws
This no frills vise will clamp on to most benches and in minutes have you setup to hold your woodworking projects in place.
Woodworking Front Vises
Shown: YOST 10-Inch Front Vise
When it comes to a vise one very valid concern is a painful one. You’ll risk running your hip or side into it.
And, that makes a compact front vise that uses the edge of the bench as a clamping jaw a very attractive solution.
Key features of this type of vise include:
- Mounts under your workbench
- Simple frame typically made from cast iron
- Woodworker installed front jaw to match your bench material and height
- Simple screw design
- Lastly, the handle is usually not included
For a compact, built-in look this is a vise most woodworkers will initially overlook. However, with a little work and custom jaw you’ll add a professional touch to your workbench.
While you can buy a cabinetmakers wood vise with the jaw or with the jaw the real things to look for are a cast iron design, a high quality screw and a handle that will fit.
Best Wood Vise for Woodcarving
For woodworking that is centered around small pieces, carving or if you just want that vise that will do everything then you’ll want to consider a swivel vise.
As it’s name implies, this WoodRiver vise will:
- Swivel 360-degrees in a vertical rotation
- Main jaw will swivel 5-degrees
- And last but not least, an auxiliary jaw can be inserted that swivels 30 degrees for clamping uniquely shaped pieces.
Again, with vises not being brand name tools there is a definite niche of brands and WoodRiver is a brand name of Woodcraft.
As you’d expect, the swivel capability of this vise drives up its cost. So, if you are looking for a budget vise you’ll want to look elsewhere.
However if you want a vise that will let you grow into any style of woodworking then this is a place to start.
Portable Woodworking Vise
Shown: Sjobergs Portable Vise
Every now and then you run across a tool you hadn’t seen before.
And, for many (including me), the Sjoberg portable vise is a unique tool that is PERFECT for interior wood projects that require holding and clamping a workpiece.
This unique, self contained vise will:
- Clamp to most surfaces
- Use integrated bench dogs to hold flat pieces horizontally (eg. sanding)
- Open to 4-1/2″ to clamp most projects
So, if your woodworking projects take you indoors this is the rare vise that will follow you inside. And that includes simply clamping to your countertop or kitchen table.
Just don’t get in trouble with any dust…
With not all woodworkers outfitted with a workshop and bench, this unique vise opens up your projects to the indoors and patio tables.
And, with a high quality vise, solid face, bench dogs and other features it’s not just a gadget.
Types of Woodworking Vises
As you know, when it comes to a wood vise there isn’t a one size fits all.
Which is helpful as not all benches were made the same. But, it makes deciding on a vise an unexpected decision process.
Take, for example, a 3″ thick solid maple bench is designed to be half of the clamping surface and will send you down the path of a cabinetmakers wood vise. On the other hand, a bench made from 3/4″ plywood will require a self-contained vise that doesn’t rely on the benchtop to supply half of the clamping area.
Cabinetmakers Front Wood Vise
You probably remember this vise from your woodshop days in high school, if that was your pursuit back then.
This type of vise is typically used under a solid wood bench with a top at least 1-1/2″ thick. And, because it can be adapted to any thickness of top, you can purchase one with an outer vise jaw installed or as just a plain vise and add your own jaw that matches your bench height.
Here’s a few features to look for:
- Bare metal for adapting to custom top thickness
- Vise plus a wood jaw that’s pre-made for your bench thickness
- Wood handle vs. metal
- Lastly, a high quality, centered screw for even clamping force is desirable
Quick Release Wood Vise
After you’ve installed your vise, opened it up and clamped a 4″ thick block of wood into you’ll have to do one thing when done.
You’ll need to screw the vise back closed.
Which, while easy to do, is time consuming.
So one feature to keep an eye out for is a quick release vise that dis-engages the screw mechanism and allows you to skip the screwing and just rapidly open OR close the vise.
Swivel Head Woodworkers Vise
For the ultimate wood vise you’ll want to at least take a look at a swivel head vise that will clamp your stock firmly, and then swivel to let you work on the piece without re-adjusting or clamping.
When would you use one? Well, this patternmaking style of vise has been used for centuries by gunmakers for rotating the stock while clamped. And for most woodcarvers the rotation allows access to all project surfaces
Lastly, these are one of the most expensive vises as the mechanisms for supporting a 360-degree rotating head are complex. And, it will require a custom cut and install into your workbench (so make sure you are installing it where you want it!).
Pivot Jaw Wood Vise
So what do you do with a piece of angled stock that needs to be clamped?
Use a pivot jaw of course. Or, at least up to about 10-degrees of pivot. While this wood vise tends towards being one of the more “custom of custom” types of vises it’s a worth a look if you are regularly clamping irregular shapes.
Wood Screw Vise
For a truly unique vise that is both functional and a conversation piece with fellow woodworkers a wood screw vise is a centuries old design.
- Custom design and install options not available with traditional metal devices
- Course threads for fast action
- Durable hard maple construction
Be sure to check out Lake Erie Toolworks for a complete selection of these vises.
Wood Vise Features and Review Criteria
By now you probably realize that there are a variety of woodworking vises. From features like quick release, pivoting jaws to integrated dogs for horizontal clamping there is a lot to consider.
Not sure where to start? It’s always safest to start small, go with the features that fit your budget. But most importantly – DO NOT cut your workbench until you are satisfied your purchase is what you actually needed.
Tips to Installing a Woodworking Vise
First, you’ll want to wait until your vise arrives before tackling any step of the installation. While that might seem obvious, don’t go download templates and attempt to precut a patternmakers vise.
But, there’s other things to consider:
- Screws: Head to a hardwood store and find the highest
- Holes: Use all of the holes supplied
- Pre-drilling: Make sure to predrill your holes. Failure to do so can split your workbench top. Or worse, leave you with a broken and twisted off screw.
Best Wood for a Woodworking Vise Jaw
If you’ve made the (wise) decision to go with either a jawless face vise or a larger flat jawed open vise you’ll need wood to protect your projects.
So what wood is best for a wood jaw vise? Well, consider these options:
- A hard maple is often the best as it will give long term durability, a firm hold on hardwoods but a soft edge for less dense woods.
- If your projects will be softwoods like 2×4 or other dimensioned lumber than go with a sapless cut of quality pine.
- Last, if you want a softer surface yet you can look at either contact cementing a felt or mar-free rubber.
Well, this shouldn’t be an issue. But, a wood vise must be mounted securely into your workbench. Needless to say, if you put a 100-pound cabinet on it you’ll need a bench made to hold that weight. And screws installed securely.
Not sure on screws? It’s also OK to recess a lag bolt for that extra security.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of wood is used for wood vise jaws?
Generally, maple is used for wood vise jaws as it is durable enough to withstand the clamping force of a vise. However, softer woods such as pine can be used if your projects will be made from mostly soft hardwoods like cherry to prevent marring.
How do you mount a woodworking vise?
Most woodworking vises are mounted from underneath a solid wood bench top. And, since most vise manufacturers do not include screws you’ll want to be sure to use heavy duty lag bolts with a pre-drilled hole to avoid splitting.
How do you choose a vise?
Choosing a vise is ultimately a decision on budget, your style of workbench and what types of woodworking projects you’ll tackle. While an expensive patternmakers vise is a top pick, if you don’t need the pivoting head and have limited space it will be more awkward than useful in your shop. On the other hand, if you go too cheap you’ll regret the decision and look to upgrade later.
Installed properly the best wood vise will make your woodworking projects easier, improve quality and more enjoyable.
Have another vise you’d recommend? Be sure to include a comment below.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.