The best thing about this weblog (besides attending the endless cocaine parties) is getting to hear the opinions of other woodworkers. After posting photos of the wagon vise I adapted from the circa 1920s La Forge Royale catalog, I received a lot of emails from people who suspected what I suspected: The tail end of the wagon vise looked weak.
The feedback was a like having a dozen voices in my head , but in a good way.
So last night I attempted to set things right. I added an end cap to the end of the bench. The cap is 1-1/4″-thick yellow birch and is bolted to the benchtop with four 3/8″ x 6″-long lag bolts and fender washers. I had to make a new sliding block for the dog to ensure the dog would travel enough to be useful, but otherwise the modifications were only a couple hours of work in total.
After installing the end cap and reinstalling all the vise hardware, I went ahead and flattened the entire benchtop and trimmed the end cap to fit the end of the bench. This end cap will prevent the end of the bench from ever splitting out. This sounds like tough talk. Well, it’s a tough vise. I closed the screw as tightly as I could manage and nothing was budging anywhere. It was completely solid.
But is it useful for woodworking?
Today I chatted at length with Joel Moskowitz at Tools for Working Wood. Joel is a great touchstone for me when it comes to traditional benches (it was his copy of Andre Roubo’s book that inspired this bench in the first place).
Here’s what he had to say: “I’m not so sure about the wagon vise.”
The underside of the wagon vise. The sliding vise block is shaped like an upside-down ‘T’ with the wide part of the ‘T’ riding in the tracks below the benchtop. The tracks prevent the block from drooping or riding up. They do this quite well.
It’s a fair point. This style of vise is authentic, but it is a rare and historic footnote. I’ve seen a lot more engravings of wagon vises than I’ve seen in the flesh. Rob Cosman, the DVD host and Canadian distributor for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, has made at least one of these vises and really likes them. But the majority of the bench-using world seems to prefer a tail vise. Or a twin-screw. Or something else.
A look at the completed wagon vise. In addition to being able to clamp flat work between dogs, the vise allows you to clamp odd-shaped work (spindles? spokes?) between the vise jaw and benchtop.
Here’s the way I look at things: Just because an idea didn’t catch on doesn’t
mean it’s stupid. The Stanley No. 62 (the low-angle jack) never was a successful tool in its day, but the modern versions from Lie-Nielsen and Veritas are extraordinary tools. Period. Things change (such as manufacturing technology), and timing is important.
So is the time right for a wagon vise? No clue. I think the vise is as useful as any tail vise I’ve used, and it is a simpler mechanism that is now easier to make using modern tooling (this sounds like the same arguments for the modern low-angle jack planes).
But who knows? As I told Joel: “We’ll know in a year if the wagon vise is worth a darn.” That year-long trial period starts today.