Chris Schwarz's Blog

New Wooden Vise Screws From Lake Erie

When I built my French workbench five years ago I had two choices for the vise screws: steel screws from China or steel screws from Eastern Europe.

The choices today are far better, with steel and wood screws available from several continents. The newest entry into the market is from Lake Erie Toolworks in Erie, Penn. Run by Nick Dombrowski, this company makes maple vise screws that have details that I quite like. Dombrowski sent us a kit, and I looked it over this week.

It’s real nice. How nice? It makes me want to build another bench. (Sorry Lucy.)

Here are the pertinent details and what makes these screws a little different. All the wooden parts are maple, which is a common workbench wood. Though other species work great (I have ash and oak screws on my benches), some people want their screws to match their bench.

The threaded section of the screw is sizable , 2-1/2″ in diameter with two threads per inch. These wood screws are much faster than my metal screws (it’s not even close) and grip every bit as fiercely. The Lake Erie screw can be used with either an external brass garter or an internal maple garter (you can even buy the garter itself for $8, but come on people, I hope you can make your own garter).

The external brass garter is a serious piece of metal and simplifies installation. And, of course, it looks like a million bucks. It comes pre-drilled and countersunk for the screws (or bolts) to attach it to your chop.

Another nice touch is the handle, also maple. The handles come with rubber O-rings (some think these are a big deal — perhaps their hearing is more sensitive than mine). But what’s really cool about the Lake Erie handle is that its end caps thread onto the handles. All the handles I have, including ones I’ve made, have end caps that fall off. You can screw them or glue them, but they tend to fly loose at bad moments. The Lake Erie caps cinch down like crazy. And if they do loosen up, they’re easy to tighten.

As far as fit and finish go, all the Lake Erie components are superb , equal to the best work I’ve seen from other makers. I saw several kits of them at the Woodworking in America conference and I can attest that the company didn’t send us a ringer.

The Lake Erie screws are available in a wide variety of different configurations, from the most basic kit (just a single screw and nut) for $115 up to a deluxe twin-screw kit with brass garters for $355.

If I’d had all these choices five years ago, my French bench might have turned out different. I might have built it out of maple or ash (hey, I like clothes that match, too). And I might have been so satisfied with the result that I might not have built any more benches.

– Christopher Schwarz

14 thoughts on “New Wooden Vise Screws From Lake Erie

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    Paul,

    There were threading and tapping devices in the 18th century — just like today. Roubo even has instructions on how to make one. Larger screws can be cut on a lathe or even by hand with a saw and chisel.

  2. PAUL (But I'm Much Better Now)

    Chris,

    Regarding wooden vise screws. It would be very interesting to see how 18th century woodworkers made vise screws. IMHO this would be ultimate challenge for hand tool purists.

    I could do this easily on my Metalworking Machines. There was reference in "The woorkbench Book", but no detail.

  3. Bill

    Any advice on how to rip the long wide planks you recommend for workbenches? I’m getting some fairly ugly results (bowed basically). Thanks

  4. kenbuddha.myopenid.com

    Seriously, for enlarging a hole the Starrett oops arbor is very simple and easily less than $10.

  5. George Walker

    Concerning enlarging an existing hole. Take a holesaw the size you want to enlarge to and drill through a block of wood on a drill press to get a straight clean hole. Clamp that piece securely to your leg and use it as a pilot to guide it through. I used this method to drill out a bunch of doors to fit them up with new locksets.

  6. Kurt Schmitz

    When I reclaimed an old (cast, probably Sears-Roebuck) vice screw for use on my leg vice, I replaced the pipe handle with a length of oak that I rounded w/ my block plane. The end diameter matched up w/ the pipe couplings that were on the old handle – I simply threaded those back onto the oak and viola! Threaded end caps that are low profile and stay put. And I like the ‘clicking’ sound they make when the handle settles in after a good turn or two…

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Michael,

    I’ve made benches from all sorts of woods. I haven’t had one that I didn’t like. I think yellow pine is an outstanding bench wood — I’m not leaving it behind.

    Chris

  8. michael Gladwin

    Chris:
    can you expand on the ash or maple comment, has SYP lost its attraction or have you been making enough from your books to go up-market (deservedly so).
    Mike

  9. John Cashman

    Starret sells what it calls an "Oops" arbor, that has a hole saw the size of the original hole nested inside the larger size hole you want. It really makes for quick adjustments when you need to enlarge an existing hole.

  10. Brian K

    AAAndrew:

    The easiest/most accurate way I can think of is to set up a rabetting bit to take a 5/8" bite and go around the hole. Part of your hole will now be 2 1/2" and the other part will be 1 1/4". Put a straight cutting bit with a top mounted bearing (pattern bit) and have the bearing ride around the side of the rabbet wall and keep going down until you’ve cleaned it all out. Voila, perfectly centered 2 1/2" hole.

  11. Christopher Schwarz

    All those options would work. You also could just chisel it out. Perhaps an octagon-shaped hole?

    Chris

  12. AAAndrew

    Ok, let’s say something earth shattering occurs and I was able to get one of these beauties. How do I take my 1 1/4" hole in the leg and chop of my current leg vise and make it large enough for a 2 1/2" thread? Hole saw bit through 5" of maple? I can’t use an expansion bit since there’s nothing in the middle to bite into. Fill the hole and then bore another one? Cut it out square with a jigsaw or bow saw?

    Maybe these bench screw guys should also sell the bits to drill the holes along with their premium packages. 🙂

  13. Tom Iovino

    Chris –

    You are right about the folks at Lake Erie… They are a pleasure to meet and work with. And, their wood screw/vise hardware is top drawer! Very impressive operation they have.

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