Chris Schwarz's Blog

I'm a Leg Vise Man

When it comes to woodworking vises, I’m quite fond of the leg vise. Once you buy a vise screw (an inexpensive metal screw runs about $30. We’re making this leg vise using the wooden screw from Big Wood Vise), you can build the rest of the vise yourself.

As a result you can size everything about the vise to your needs, including where the handle goes, where the parallel guide is located and how wide the chop is. Unlike quick-release vises, there are a lot fewer metal bars in the way of your work. And the holding power of a leg vise is extraordinary. You can crack walnuts with this thing.

Whenever I show visitors my leg vise, they tend to ask about the “parallel guide” near the floor. Things like: “What the heck is that for?” and “Isn’t that a pain to use?”

The parallel guide has a couple important jobs. One, it keeps the chop parallel to the leg. Without a parallel guide the chop can spin and sway. Two, it acts as a pivot point for the chop.

By putting a small rod of metal through one of the holes in the parallel guide it causes the vise’s chop to pivot toward the benchtop when the metal bar hits the bench’s leg.

To use the parallel guide, you just slide the metal bar into the hole that most closely matches the thickness of the work you want to hold in the chop. Then close the jaw. Yes, you do have to stoop on occasion to remove the metal bar, but it’s really not a big deal. Plus, with the metal bar in the hole closest to the chop I can clamp anything between 3/8″ thick and 7/8″ thick. That covers a good deal of my work.

The only real downside to the leg vise is that it isn’t as effective for clamping casework sides for dovetailing , that’s the super power of the twin-screw vise. So to clamp wide casework sides with a leg vise you need to clamp one end of the case with the leg vise and the other end with a bar clamp that reaches across your benchtop. It’s a bit of a pain, but if you’re not building highboys every week, it is a compromise I can live with.

– Christopher Schwarz

26 thoughts on “I'm a Leg Vise Man

  1. Adrian

    One thing puzzles me about the leg vise. It seems like no matter how you adjust the parallel guide, the clamping arm is not going to be exactly parallel to the leg when you clamp something. So wouldn’t this tend to round over the corners of the workpiece and also wouldn’t it tend to be not secure because the grip would be only at one corner? What have I missed?

  2. Bill Bach

    I built my parallel guide out of steel bar with notches in the top on half inch centers. A horseshoe-shaped piece of thin plate steel drops over the parallel guide to bear against the leg. Same concept as the wood guide, but more bearing against the leg, a strong connection to the chop with a welded on flange, and, for me at least, a simpler change of settings. Welding is fun just like woodworking. By the way, I built my Roubo out of wood on hand that I had cut myself over the years: Bigleaf maple top (9 foot since that’s what I had), ornamental Kwanzen cherry legs and stretchers from a neighbor’s tree, Oregon ash vise chop, deadman, and sliding dovetail bench ends, one plain breadboard type and one that acts as fixed jaw for a wide end vise. Oh, and some Oregon oak slats under the bench for tool chest storage and black locust drawbore pegs. All air dried for at least 20 years and no other project called for them.

    Bill Bach
    Rural Oregon

  3. Matt Sullivan

    Would you please list a few sources for the leg vise screw? Looks like it should be about 12-18" in length – does that sound right?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  4. Jerry Palmer

    The leg vise I retrofitted to my store bought bench exerted so much force that, regardless of what I tried to prevent it, it would pull the piece I added to the leg for sufficient width to accommodate the screw out of alignment with the bench top. Finally I added an 8/4 white oak apron to the front of the bench which extended below the top of the leg bracing it. I added two rows of 3/4" holes to the apron to make use of hold fasts. The apron also gives me something to which I can clamp one edge of wider pieces for dovetailing etc.

  5. Dave Bozell

    Chris,

    Sorry, but I have another question about the parallel guide and the chop. Doesn’t the chop have to rotate slightly in relation to the parallel guide? I would think that clamping a 3/8" board in the 7/8" hole would put a great deal of stress on the connection between the parallel guide and the chop if it were fixed. Thanks for your help.

    Dave

  6. John Walkowiak

    Hi Chris,
    Regarding a leg vice not being ideal for dovetailing wide panels such as a case side. If the leg is thick enough so as not to bend, angled, and is 10 – 12" wide, it will pin a wide panel in the middle, hold it tight, and allow it to drop to the floor if necessary. Add Mike’s scissors action and perfection has been achieved!
    John

  7. TS Jones

    Ok, how did you make the thingy on the back of the table leg that is holding the wooden screw? And also how did you make the whatyoumacallit on the front that retrieves the chop when you untighten the vise so the chop won’t set there and look at you while you loosen the vise? I hope this will be illustrated in one of your articles in the magazine or somewhere. It looks tricky to me. Do I have to worry about this when I buy a metal vise screw or is this only a worry for the wooden vise screw? Thanks, Turner

  8. Kurt Schmitz

    Ditto on the leg vice fan club – I couldn’t imagine working on a bench without one. The Gluebo really is looking good, the top’s edge looks like solid wood in the pic, but I was silently hoping you’d add a drawer under the top, outside the right set of legs, so I could copy that detail to my bench (ala Roubo). Sorry, not a very original thinker…

  9. Mike Ray

    Good looking vise. Sweeter than the pipe clamp or all-thread I’ll be putting in mine. But I thought the top stretcher/leg vise combo leads to bad stress on the base. IE, the forces at work work best if all the lateral stress goes to a top attached to legs only. Appreciate it if someone could tell me why I’m wrong – or that it really doesn’t matter – because I’m at a bench building stage where I can add some top stretchers to the roubo base before I wrestle the top on.

    And how _did_ you flatten the LVL top, anyway? My top is 3 1/2" LVL, about to be glued up as 2 12" slabs run through the planer as close as I can measure ’em, and all I have is a block plane,homemade clamps, 5 minute glue, and no "assistant or a friend to help" get things lined up some. Going to joint the edges one more time and hope for something usable till I visit Liberty Tool or do the router-on-a-sled thing. (Lie Nielson is equidistant at about 20 miles away, but the wallet rules on this one.)

  10. raney

    Chris,

    I’ve just started to get to know my Roubo, but with a Veritas Holdfast in the deadman, I can clamp carcase sides down at the benchtop level – seems to work at least as well as a clamp. I’m not sure I see the need for a sliding leg vise (which I was considering adding) because of that…

    and Mike – I’d be VERY interested in seeing the St. Peter’s cross. I’ve yet to find a design I’m completely comfortable with.

  11. Mike Siemsen

    Chris,
    Maybe I will bring my leg vise with St. Peters cross to St. Charles so you can check it out.
    Mike
    Who will go through Saint Paul on the Way there.

  12. Christopher Schwarz

    Wayne,

    That part of the chop is for show only. Short leg vises look weird to me. Like a Stanley No. 3 that has had its toe busted off….

    Chris

  13. Wayne Anderson

    Does the extra length of chop below the parallel guide serve any useful purpose? If not, it could be shortened, and the bolt heads would not be an issue.

  14. Dave Bozell

    How is the parallel guide attached to the chop. I have a "vintage" unit that needs to be rebuilt and this is the one detail I haven’t worked dout yet.

  15. Christopher Schwarz

    Larry,

    Aren’t you a sharp-eyed guy.

    The chop will be relieved for the hex-head bolts the next time I take the chop off the bench. We’re still massaging details like that.

    I’m half-tempted *not* to counterbore the chop. It pivots the jaw nicely and firmly against the top.

    Chris

  16. Larry Gray

    What a novel place to store one’s drawbore pin!

    I’m another who has pitched his tent firmly in the leg vise camp. A couple hours using the rough prototype on my Pseudo Roubo prototype was all it took to make me a believer.

    Is the chop relieved to clear the bolt heads at the longitudinal stretcher? Or does the wooden screw yield enough slop in the works that this was unnecessary?

  17. Christopher Schwarz

    Ray,

    It’s a good idea — one I’ll be exploring in a future bench. This one is all but done. Just the dog holes to do….

    Thanks for the comment!

    Chris

  18. Ray Schwanenberger

    Chris might you consider making the deadman interchangeable with a sliding leg vise with a St. Peters Cross in place of the parallel guide? I know that changing to the sliding leg vise for larger casework is probably as big a pain if not bigger than using a clamp, but think of the opportunities this would present. It would give you something new to experiment with, hence more material to write about, not to mention the "Wow Factor". Just a thought.

    Ray

  19. Christopher Schwarz

    Luke,

    Swapping out your chop for something stiffer is well worth the effort. I made a chop out of yellow pine and had the same problem. After I switched to ash I was much happier.

    Just a thought.

    Chris

  20. Luke Townsley

    My leg vise serves me well. I ended up using 1 3/4 inch southern yellow pine (air dried) for the vise. It works, but flexes a bit too much.

    It was one of those things that trying it out that way was so easy and cheap that it was hard to say no, and yet it works just well enough that I probably won’t ever change it to a thicker, harder wood.

  21. dave brown

    See, I can relate to being a leg-vise guy. But then again, I’m a wagon-vise guy too. That doesn’t sound as cool as being a leg-vise guy.

    If I said I was a tail guy, I might be a dead-man.

  22. Eric Hartunian

    I’m also a leg vise guy. My bench is "shaker-esque", and the leg vise is a big hunk of white oak, with a Big Wood Vise screw (I used to have a metal screw, then switched to the wood screw, which is much faster to use). I have not found reaching down to adjust the guide to be too much of a problem, you use the same one or two settings 90% of the time anyway.

    Eric Hartunian

Comments are closed.