A Parting Gift from Jennie Alexander - Popular Woodworking Magazine

A Parting Gift from Jennie Alexander

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

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


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Showing 13 comments
  • JoeS01

    What is the most accurate way of cutting the slots at the ends of the jaws?

  • john2t

    I woud just cut the grooves in the wood and use standard F clamps with no modifications. That way I could use the clamps elsewhere.

  • gjs

    F-clamps at Harbor Freight are inexpensive and solid. I am using them (original buys) for 9 years. Intend to buy more soon.

  • tmsbmx

    When I read that Jennie had passed away I was reading your blog and looking up her work. I was so excited to find all this information on green Woodworking so much I was telling anyone who would listen and then like a punch to my chest I read the sad news. Never had the chance to meet her but in the minute she changed the way I look at Woodworking and that’s a pretty big present from someone I never even met.

  • Joel Jacobson

    The Washington Woodworkers Guild was fortunate to have a presentation by Jennie Alexander.

  • mbarone002

    Can you please post the dimensions for the smaller version of this vise? Thanks!

  • Saville

    Any reason to cut the entire groove on the inner jaw? Could you not just drill a couple of holes and connect them with a file so the bar slides into the slot?

  • Bob adams

    My “Moxon Vice” is 1 1/2 Poplar scrap. 42″ long, 6 1/2 ” high. Same basic design. I use 6″ c-clamps. Thought I was being unique. And cheap. Nice to know my design was already being used.
    Bob

  • swirt

    The simplicity of the design is quite simple yet elegant. I put the clamp heads on my Bulloxon on the back side for the same reason… bumping into things sticking out the front of a vise is painful and ruins your mood.

  • thomas43

    Hi Chris, I’ve been a fan since seeing you, on Roy’s show. I’m planning to build my first bench. I have your book “Workbenches Revised Edition: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” on order. My question is, I see the bar clamp is anchored/screwed to the front jaw, what is the function of the screw on the rear jaw? Thank you Thomas

    • Jacob

      I had the same question, and I think I see now. In the third picture you can see the screw is positioned toward the outside of a line that is drawn up from the edge of the bar. It is probably to keep the bar from rotating out of that groove.

  • Jacob

    This is a really great idea. I have been working on plans for something similar using veneer press screws. It never occurred to me to have the screw handles on the bench side of the vise. One question on this design, what is the screw on the inner jaw for? Wouldn’t you want the clamp bar to slide freely through that groove?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      The screws in the rear jaw do not intersect the bar. They constrain the bar and prevent it from wandering out of the slot.

      Chris

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