A Parting Gift from Jennie Alexander
Last week the woodworking community lost one of its giants. Jennie Alexander (1930-2018) passed away in Baltimore, where she lived and worked as a jazz musician, attorney and revolutionary chairmaker.
Her book “Make a Chair From a Tree” (Taunton and Astragal), launched the careers of thousands of woodworkers and helped ignite the green woodworking movement in this country, which is still growing by leaps and bounds.
Before she died, however, Jennie had one last innovation to share with woodworkers. It’s a double-screw vise (some of us call them “Moxon vises,” but Jennie preferred “double-screw”). And it’s made in a very Jennie-like manner – very inexpensive and very effective.
The example you see here was constructed for Jennie by Mike Siemsen according to her specifications. Mike thought the device should be named the Alexander Bench Clamp.
The genius of the vise is that it uses inexpensive F-style clamps. At the time they built the vise you could buy just the 5/8” bar and sliding head from Jorgensen. I can’t seem to find this part on the Internet, but that’s no surprise because a lot has changed with the Adjustable Clamp Co. lately.
Anyway, you can still by 3700-series Jorgensen clamps, remove the stationary heads and construct this vise. Mike used 3712s for this vise.
The bars of the clamps slide into grooves that are plowed into the front jaw and rear jaw. Then secured in place with screws that bite into the bars in the front jaw.
One of the things Jennie liked about this design (besides its low cost) is that the metal parts and adjustments were all behind the rear jaw. That way the operator wouldn’t snag himself or herself on the hardware.
The vise works very well – we have two here in the shop that we use all the time for dovetailing. One is small and one is large – for dovetailing carcases.
Here are the part sizes for the large vise:
Front jaw 1-3/4” x 5” x 30-1/4”
Rear jaw 1-3/4” x 4” x 30-1/4”
Foot 1” x 4-1/2” x 43”
To hold the clamp bars, both jaws have a 1/4” x 3-1/4” groove cut into both ends. The foot is secured to the rear jaw with glue and a couple nails.
The vise is secured to the benchtop with holdfasts or clamps.
Jennie was always working on gizmos such as this to make the work easier without spending a ton of money. I hope you enjoy it and think of Jennie every time you use it.
— Christopher Schwarz