Rockler End Vise
Top Pick for Woodworking
A vises number one job is holding onto your woodworking piece when needed.
And then disappear when you don’t so it doesn’t take up valuable space on top of the bench.
But with multiple types of vises available, the choice in vises isn’t always apparent as designs range from:
- Swivel head
- Pivot jaw
- Wood screw
One of the biggest hurdles to buying a vise differs from the vise itself: it’s how you mount it to a bench. While easiest to attach with the bench top off, most vises are as simple as installing four (or more) lag bolts and making a pair of wood jaws.
Editor’s note: In this guide, we installed the Rockler 12-inch vise on the end of a 2-1/4 inch solid maple top.
5 Types of Woodworking Vises
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.
Type #1: Front Vise
A front vise is one of the most popular woodworking vises as it simply screws to the underside of a bench and has all-wood jaws. And, so you can customize the vise to your bar, these styles come with or without wood jaws to allow matching thicknesses or jaw wood.
Features to look for:
- Quick release for fast opening (a turn of the handle closed engages the threads)
- Quality wood handle
- Jaw material is optional – most woodworkers like to make matching jaws
- Lastly, a high-quality, centered screw for even clamping force is desirable
Type #2: Woodworkers Vise
If opening your vise quickly is a priority, then quick release is a top feature to look for. After you’ve installed your vise, opened it up, and clamped a 4″ thick block of wood into it, 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 watch is a quick-release vise that disengages the screw mechanism and allows you to skip the screwing and rapidly open OR close the vise.
Type #3: Swivel Head Woodworkers Vise
For the ultimate wood vise, you’ll want to 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 among the most expensive vises as the mechanisms for supporting a 360-degree rotating head are complex. And it will require a custom cut and installation into your workbench (so make sure you install it where you want it!).
Type #4: 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 to be one of the more “custom of custom” types of vises, it’s worth a look if you regularly clamp irregular shapes.
Type #5: Wood Screw Vise
For a genuinely unique vise that is 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.
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: Rockler Wood Vise
Shown: Rockler 12-inch Wood Vise (Amazon)
When woodworkers think about putting wood in any clamp or vise, the first thought isn’t will it hold.
As you can guess, woodworkers want to know: will it damage my workpiece?
This is why many woodworkers’ benches, including mine, have a cabinet maker’s vise, as it allows soft-faced wood to match up to the bench’s edge.
After installing this vise and operating it, we were surprised at how fast and smooth the quick-release action works, the speed of opening and closing, and, of course, the massive clamping force. The included all-wood handles matched our pine jaws, and the only issue during installation was finding the correct screws for attaching the jaws. While the cost is high, the durability and stability of this vise make it well worth it.
Best For Existing Benches: Eclipse Quick Release
See on Amazon: Eclipse Quick Release Professional Vise
For a new workbench, planning and designing a spot for your vise is best. And, with the Eclipse quick-release vise, you can 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 encountered, 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. While a high-end quick-release vise will sell for 2-3 times the cost, this budget-friendly vise will let you make your jaws (an excellent woodworking project!) and customize them to fit your bench thickness. All without breaking the bank on a brand name vise you’ll use for decades.
Budget Vise From Pony
Shown: Pony Medium Duty Vise (Amazon)
It’s easy with vises to spend more on the vise than the workbench.
Therefore, if you want to accessorize your bench and NOT break the bank, the Pony branded 27091 wood vise is a great entry-level 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 onto most benches and, in minutes, have you set up to hold your woodworking projects in place. The downside, though, is the small handle could be more convenient to use, and the design won’t allow for supporting larger pieces of wood. But this setup will work fine on a budget and basic bench. Just spend some time making a quality wood jaw for this vise.
Budget Front Vise From Yost
Shown: YOST 10-Inch Front Vise (Amazon)
A Yost front vise is an excellent option for woodworkers who want to make and handle the jaws.
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, you’ll add a professional touch to your workbench with some work and a custom jaw.
Similar in design to the high-end Rockler vise, this vise from Yost will give you all of the freedom to connect and build your own jaws at a fraction of the price. THe downside, though, is you’ll need to make or buy your own handle.
Best Woodworking Vise for Carving
Shown: Real Avid Gun Vise (Amazon)
For woodworking centered around small pieces, carving, or if you want that vise that will do everything, you’ll want to consider a swivel vise.
This vise will:
- Swivel 360 degrees in a vertical rotation
- Main jaw will swivel 5 degrees
- Last, 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.
A woodworker carving vise requires flexibility to move your piece through many angles. And this easy-to-attach and soft-jawed vise will let you quickly align, clamp and work on smaller pieces of wood.
Portable Woodworking Vise For Indoor Use
Shown: Sjobergs Portable Vise (Amazon)
Now and then, you run across a tool you have yet to see.
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 (e.g., sanding)
- Open to 4-1/2″ to clamp most projects
So, if your woodworking projects take you indoors, this rare vise 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.
Wood Vise Features and Review Criteria
By now, you probably realize that there are a variety of woodworking vises. From features like the quick release and pivoting jaws to integrated dogs for horizontal clamping, there is a lot to consider.
Are you still trying to figure out where to start? It’s always safest to start small, go with the features that fit your budget. But most importantly – wait to cut your workbench until you are satisfied your purchase is what you need.
Tips to Installing a Woodworking Vise
First, you’ll want to wait until your vise arrives before tackling any installation step. While that might seem obvious, don’t download templates and attempt to precut a patternmaker’s vise.
But there are 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 large 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 will give long-term durability, a firm hold on hardwoods but a soft edge for less dense woods.
- If your projects are softwoods like 2×4 or other dimensioned lumber, go with a sapless cut of quality pine.
- Last, if you want a softer surface, you can look at 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 are installed securely.
Not sure about screws? It’s also OK to recess a lag bolt for that extra security.
Wood Vise Installation Tips
If you haven’t realized yet, most woodworking vises require installing the vise to the bottom of your woodworking bench.
This, for many, creates a fear of purchasing the wrong vise, not installing it correctly, or even having it fall off during use.
But it’s 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 bar.
Are you lacking thickness? Add a skirting board or “apron” to the edge of the bench and the 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 benches, but for new bars, be sure to plan an extensive enough area to support the vises under-bench mount and screw supports.
To avoid any issues later, buying a vise, measuring, and finalizing your bench top dimensions is best.
For existing benches, see if you can drill into 2×4″ supports or replace & upgrade your benchtop 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 the surface of the 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.
This 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.
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 primarily 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 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 helpful in your shop. On the other hand, if you go too cheap, you’ll regret the decision and look to upgrade later.
Installing the best wood vise properly will make your woodworking projects easier, improve quality and be 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.