Chris Schwarz's Blog

Tested: The Benchcrafted Wagon Vise

These last couple weeks I’ve gotten to break in my new Benchcrafted wagon vise while building a dry sink for the next issue of Woodworking Magazine.

The dry sink is enormous (it looked so small on paper). And every surface has passed under a handplane. The wide stock was prepped entirely by hand. The narrower stuff I processed first with a powered jointer and planer , and then handplanes.

I’ve been planing narrow and wide stock on edge, and the faces of wide panels. I’ve been planing with the grain, diagonally and across the grain with a fore plane, jointer plane and smoothing plane. I’ve been planing joinery with a plow plane and a fillister plane. And I’ve been planing mouldings with hollows and rounds and a beading plane.

As a result, I’ve been planing what seems like acres of pine. I’ve filled up the garbage can at the end of my bench twice with shavings.

So I feel confident in saying that the Benchcrafted vise has gotten a good workout with a lot of the tools you’ll find in a shop that blends both power and hand tools. And with each workholding challenge I presented to the Benchcrafted, it swatted them all down with ease.

The vise’s sliding block moves quickly along its threads, so you’re not spinning the wheel endlessly. And you can engage it with both subtlety and enormous force. The vise holds its position when you clamp a panel and want to plane across the grain but don’t want to bow the work , a delicate balancing act that would cause my old hillbilly wagon vise to slip.

And when I wanted to use the vise to really clamp something hard , such as a drawer side , it made the workpiece feel like it was physically attached to the benchtop. Totally solid. It also was robust enough to disassemble joints when used like a spreader clamp (this operation would pull my old vise apart).

So I’m sure you’re thinking: “Great, but is it worth $350?”

For me, absolutely. I spent about $250 to build my bench out of yellow pine, and so the $350 Benchcrafted vise means I still have a bench that works better than any other I’ve worked on in my life for less than half of the scratch I would pay for a high-quality commercial workbench.

Is it better than a traditional tail vise? So far, I think it is. We’ll see if the Benchcrafted sags in use like a tail vise does , only time will tell that. But what I like about the Benchcrafted vise compared to a tail vise is that I don’t have the large “no work” zone you get with a tail vise. You cannot pound or lean on a tail vise or it will quickly sag.

How does it compare to adding a quick-release vise with a big wooden chop? I think it’s a draw. I like having the full support of the Benchcrafted wagon vise, but I also really like the quick-release function of a steel vise. If you don’t have the money for a Benchcrafted vise, a quick-release vise in the end vise position of your workbench is the next best thing.

Some will balk at the price. Fine. This vise isn’t for you. Me? I’m sick of the low-quality vise hardware that has passed through our shop during the last decade. It used to be easy to buy fantastic vises from England and America. But now you are rolling the dice when buying new vises. I’ve seen decent new vises from the emerging economies, but I’ve also seen some stuff that went right back into the box and back to the seller. Junk.

There are no regrets with the Benchcrafted. It is impeccably made, overbuilt like something from the USSR’s space program and flawless in use.

And that’s good enough for me.

– Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “Tested: The Benchcrafted Wagon Vise

  1. Michael Rogen

    Chris,
    When Jameel first introduced his amazing vise there were people who balked at the price calling it outrageous. Well I always think of golf and an analogy that I frequently use when issues of money come up similar to this. In golf people will spend $500 on a driver that they’ll use maybe 10-11 times in an average round of golf without blinking. But when it comes to spending the same amount on a putter which the average duffer will use 30 plus times a round they would never, ever drop that much cash on a lowly putter. It’s not the glamour club that the driver is and it’s the same with the vise. $350 is a small price to pay for someone (not everyone) who will use it the way you do and not have to worry about it’s quality or performance the 1st time or the 1,000th time. To some it’s the most important and most often used part of a bench, just like the putter is the most important club to a golfer.

  2. Rob Giovannetti

    Grats, Chris. I really am happy that it’s working out for you. While I’ll personally stick w/ my tails, I’m glad to know there IS an alternative if I some day decide I don’t want a tail vise anymore. As for cost- $350 is nothing for a quality tool. Heck, look at Festool and Leigh. They have some of the best tools on the market, and they come w/ an appropriate price tag. I think most people get sticker shock because it doesn’t have a cord…hey, there’s an idea: a motorized tail vise…hmmmmm, lol.

  3. David

    For those that can’t afford Jameel’s excellent hardware, I’ve a suggestion. Like you, I’ve been through a few Tawainese and China-made vises, as well as Anant (India). Most were poorly made – jaws machined out-of-square, lots of lash in the screw, a quick-release lever mechansim that would sometimes jump out of the catch and release the vise – typically at the worst possible time.

    So for the bench I recently completed (it’s a hybrid of the Nicholson and Lang benches), I had a real issue with the face vise. I’d spent way too much time and money on the bench and materials to buy another piece of imported junk, and a Veritas twin-screw wouldn’t fit (this is a small, transportable bench).

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could buy a Jorgensen iron quick-release vise for $150 at a local Woodcraft. It was about $40 more than the equivalent Anant, but oh, what a difference in quality. There’s very little lash in the screws, and the quick release is the "interrupted screw" design – far superior to the lever and latch mechanism found on lower-quality clones. The vise jaws were machine accurately, and places that could’ve been left sharp were eased to prevent a cut. And the best part – Made in Chicago, Illinois cast right into the front vise jaw.

  4. Shannon

    Chris,

    I am glad to hear the Benchcrafted vise meets your standards, but I was even more excited to read your thoughts on this tail vise stacked against a quick release vise. I have been following Jameel and his site for a while and debating about what to put in the end vise position for my new bench. I’ll be starting the top next week and it will be great to have the vise question decided so I don’t have to retro fit anything. Thanks for the honest review!

    Shannon

  5. Mike Lingenfelter

    I have learned the hard way that quality cost more and is worth it. Quality in small quantities, like this vise, can cost even more. I priced out many of the main parts of this vise on McMaster-Carr. When you include labor and a reasonable profit, the $350 price tag doesn’t seem that bad.

    Mike

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