Chris Schwarz's Blog

Threading Small Vise Screws

This week I’m building a pair of portable workbenches for an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine and spent yesterday turning lots and lots of threads for the vise and for the garbage can.

Instead of using a manual threadbox for these benches, I decided to try the Beall Tool Co. wood threading system. It uses a router to power the threadbox to make the screws. The holes are tapped as usual with a manual (but very nice) tap.

The Beall definitely makes cleaner threads than the current crop of new hand-powered threadboxes, but it also requires some finesse for good results.

I’m going to write up some details for the magazine, but here are a few hints.

1. Avoid store-bought dowels. I bought a few dowels to practice on and get the jig set up. Bad idea. Even though I picked the best 1-1/4” dowels from the rack, they were still oval-shaped. As a result, they would jam in the threader. Instead of buying some of the Chinese-made dowels that look like poplar, you should flush your money down the toilet – it’s the same thing. Threading those things was like shoving wet toilet paper into a kitchen disposal. The results were not pretty.

2. Hard, diffuse-porous woods such as maple seem to work better than ring-porous woods such as oak. The threads were less likely to chip out.

3. Beall sells precision dowel stock, but I just turned my own. I turned my dowels a few thou under 1-1/4”, which went through the threader smoothly.

4. Longer lengths are better – up to a point. I found that turning and then threading 12” lengths was pretty ideal. Longer lengths got wobbly on the lathe. Shorter lengths were more difficult to manage in the threader.

5. Little adjustments make a huge difference. Dropping the router a few thou was the difference between bad threads and good threads.

The video below shows what the process looks like. (The music is “Laid Ten Dollars Down” by the Black Twig Pickers.)

— Christopher Schwarz

• This bench is based closely on The Milkman’s Workbench that I wrote about last year. Check out the photos here.

• I’ve written a ton about workbenches here on the blog. You can read it all for free here.

• ShopWoodworking carries both of the books I’ve written about workbenches. Check those out here – “Workbenches” and “The Workbench Design Book.” Or you can see all the material we have in the store on workbenches using this link.

24 thoughts on “Threading Small Vise Screws

  1. Gus

    Hi Folks,

    What kind of lubricant should I use to lubricate the wooden threads?
    With the current state it’s noisy and hard to turn them.

    Any suggestion?
    Thanks,
    Gus

  2. zephyrblevins

    A friend of mine, who has a lathe, turned two blanks for me to thread for a Moxon vice I was making. After I threaded the blanks, he suggested I apply a coat or two of “thin CA glue”, that turners commonly use, to harden the threads. I tried it. The thin glue easily spread around the threads without any clogging of the thread “valleys”. It dries very quickly, and did not noticeably thicken the screw or otherwise make turning the screw any more difficult.

  3. wphred

    Chris,
    Have you ever tried making your own tap and screwbox? In an early addition of FWW (I have it in their Technques 1 book) Richard Starr has a nice article about making your own tap and box. The technique may be limited in how small (in diameter) a screw you can make, but 1 1/4 inch screws would be possible. The article starts on page 74 and runs through page 80. Some nice drawings and pictures make it look like a straightfoward project.

  4. David Keller

    Dave – Alcohol is certainly better than water, but it’s still a polar protic solvent (like water), and it will still swell hydrophilic materials like cellulose (wood). Doesn’t matter while planing end-grain, but when the tolerances have to be within a couple of thousandths, even a little swelling can cause problems.

  5. robert

    Chris:

    For threaded parts, have your tried using apple wood? I have found it to be by far the best wood that I have encountered for really fine turnings. A local orchardist who also owns a saw mill was my source apple wood.

  6. Tim

    Having read about your treadle table saw experience at the Woodwright’s School I would love to see you use a treadle lathe. Possibly stompin’ in time with some good bluegrass music. Shenanigans aside, I’m glad you brought up the Beall system. I automatically assumed a router based threading system’s price would be astronomically high, but after following the link I was pleasantly surprised to find out the kits are quite reasonably priced. And not being an Ebay thing they won’t be subject to the “Schwarz Effect”.

      1. lindhrr

        I would add that if showing the how to …..you should show also ‘Proper use of tools”. What you were using is improper..and its ashame to show those not informed on this procedure.

  7. davegutz

    Chris,

    It was quite a shock to see the vice grip method. I took off points for visual style but the music evened it back up again. I guess the huge root on the apparently well made tap keeps it from tipping, jamming and breaking – or it’s too big to break.

    -Dave

  8. AndyM

    I agree with you. The thing that makes me very frustrated, however, is why the retailers who sell the threadboxes don’t add $10 or $20 to the production cost and produce a quality product. I would gladly pay it, as would many others, because the current product is junk.

    I may be wrong about the cost of upgrading the product, but it seems like manufacturing it to closer tolerances and upgrading the cutter would do the trick.

  9. David RandallDavid Randall

    With the version of Jonas’s father’s bench that I’ve been working on, I’ve cheated with my prototype.

    Not having a screw box, I bought 4 identical malleable iron clamps at $5 each. By undoing the clamps in a vise I popped the pads off the ends of the screws, so I could unscrew them fully. I sawed off all but the straightish piece leading from the threaded boss in the frame. This left a keyhole shape.

    I spaced out where the vise screws should go in the front rail from Jonas’s pictures and description, then drew around the keyhole shapes. Using a brace and bit I first drilled a depression for each boss into the front rail, then cut out the tail of the shape with a chisel. When each piece was a tight fit, I marked the center through the threaded hole and drilled through for each vise screw.

    With the bench assembled, the vise screws were screwed through the rail. Tightening these with their pads on the end against scrap wood popped the pads back on. This leaves four screws at the front of the bench permanently in position.

    1. Jonas Jensen

      I think that sounds like a good solution.
      I am building a Roubo workbench at the moment, and I am using the threaded part of an old book binders press for the wagon vise.
      Brgds
      Jonas

      1. David RandallDavid Randall

        Thanks Jonas,

        Like you, I also used a secondhand threaded adjuster (not sure what it’s from, but the threading is excellent) for the wagon vise on my version of your father’s bench.

        I didn’t glue the front rail in place, but used carriage bolts through the joints at each end so I could fiddle with the wagon vise to get it right.

        This is a most useful addition to my existing bench, but I’m also working on a simple knock-down stand so it can be truly portable, and not rely on being clamped to a bench top.

        Looking forward to seeing Chris’s solution!

        Regards,

        David

        1. Jonas Jensen

          Hi David.

          I have been doing some thinking regarding how to make the milkmans
          bench portable in conjunction with the ATC without adding hardware to
          the chest.

          My idea is to make a large tapered sliding dovetail e.g. 2″in the wide
          end, 1″ in the narrow end and a length of 12″. The thickness of this
          could be 1/4″. The angle of sides could be 1:8 or whatever angle you
          like. It should preferably be made out of some hardwood.
          This oversized dovetail is glued and screwed to the bottom of the
          milkmans bench, with the narrow end away from the wagon vise.

          Then on the forward part of the lid of the ATC, you make the dovetail
          shaped rabbet (or what you would call it).

          So to mount the bench, the dovetail is entered in the dovetailed
          impression in the lid, and the bench is pushed towards the shallow
          end. That way, if you use it to plane something, it will mount itself
          firmer with the strokes.

          To loosen the bench, it needs a tap on the opposite end (the end
          without the wagon vise).

          This mounting system allows you to still open the lid of the chest,
          eventhough the bench is attached.

          The downside is that you need to remove the bench in order to push up
          one of the bench dogs, but I think that I could live with that. And
          off course you would have the dovetailed impression on the lid of the
          toolchest as well.

          I haven’t given any thought to that it will be a very low workbench, so perhaps it isn’t such a good idea anyway.
          But I think that it could work.
          Brgds
          Jonas

          1. David RandallDavid Randall

            You’ve a great idea there Jonas!

            The weight of the tool chest takes care of mass, and you could carry a simple frame around to lift the chest and bench to the right height. how about making the frame fit on the top of the chest instead? Then you’d have space to get under the dogs, and to clamp stuff to the benchtop.

            Lee Valley has produced pop-up round bench dogs that might also fix the problem of reaching under the bench to raise them, though if you have one of these in every dog hole, it starts to get expensive.

            Best regards,

            David

  10. David Keller

    One tip to using the Beall system (or a manual threading box, for that matter) is to wet the dowels thoroughly with mineral spirits. The mineral sprits won’t cause the dowel to swell as water will, and it makes the wood fibers considerably less brittle, so the threads chip out far less.

    I’ve also tried coating the lathe-turned dowels in hide glue. This works wonderfully to prevent chip-out during the threading operation once the glue’s been given a couple of days to cure and the dowel dries out. The disadvantage to this method is that some woods tend to change shape enough that one has to guesstimate turning the dowels about 10-20 thousandths undersized to ensure they don’t jam in a thread box.

    1. davegutz

      David,

      I’ve found using alcohol to lube end-grain plane shooting helps on the tough cuts without any apparent effect on the wood. Have you tried that?

      Dave

COMMENT