The Best $139 I’ve Spent on my Bench - Popular Woodworking Magazine

The Best $139 I’ve Spent on my Bench

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs


After 19 years of building workbenches and testing workholding devices, I am darn picky about what equipment I have on my benches.

In truth, I don’t have a lot of vises on my benches because I prefer simple workholding. But when it comes to my leg vise – the most important part of my bench – I am an absolute fool for Benchcrafted’s Crisscross. Paired with the company’s Classic vise screw, you get a leg vise that has no equal. And I can actually say that because I’ve tried (and endured) every form imaginable on the planet.

I have the Crisscross currently installed on my Holtzapffel bench, which is at the back of my shop. At the front of the shop I have an 18th-century-style oak bench that I vowed to keep very un-modern. No tail vise. No parallel guide for the leg vise. No dogs. Just a holdfast, a planing stop and a dirt-simple leg vise for workholding.

After 19 months with that setup, I am satisfied with everything but the leg vise. I want a Crisscross. And so today I started installing one – I bought the “retro” because it’s easy to retrofit on an existing bench.


Why am I so wild about the Crisscross? Because it makes workholding absolutely effortless and allows me to clamp things that would be painful to deal with if I had a quick-release vise. It works almost like magic. When the jaw encounters the work, the two iron arms tense up against the leg to hold the work in the perfect position without bowing, racking or denting the piece.

The technology has been around for a long time. I’ve seen it advertised in 19th-century publications. But for some reason it never caught on like it should have.

I love it. And if you are thinking about building a bench this year, I highly recommend you consider adding a Crisscross. It’s $99 for the kit for new benches and $139 for the retrofit version.

The Benchcrafted site is down for inventory today, but they will reopen on Jan. 1, 2016. Read all about it here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 22 comments
  • Wood5200

    . I have purchased the book “workbenches” by Christopher and in the process of building the Roubo bench and am having fun doing it…. I know that mr. Swartz does not have a great love for the tail vise but I am adding one to this bench. Purchased the product from Lee Valley. As I have read elsewhere that instruction do not come with it and did not. I cannot find any plans anywhere for building this vise and installing this mechanism… Any help as to where I can find this???? Thanks for your possible help… John

    Sent from my iPad

  • Mamias

    Hello Christopher
    First,I would like to thank you for all your contributions to the world of woodworking.

    I am currently making me a work bench (how initiatory step in the life of a woodworker) .Like you, I have chosen the cricross, but I have a question, I should like to you ask here.

    The English work bench with his tilted face vise, can tighten the vertical boards better centered in the jaws. Does this advantage seem to you significant? I ask you this question because I thinking of changing my workbench plan and tilted his feet

    do you bother answer me on my following email address, i am sorry but i didn’t know where to ask it to you.
    sam.mamias * gmail . com


    Samuel Mamias

  • Archer Yates

    I wrote to Benchcrafted and ask how to retrofit one of their kits to my newly built european style workbench top has a 4 inch overhang over the legs. I used the plans purchased from Lee Valley.
    Jameel’s reply was any other their kits would work. I know I will have to fit a spacer leg to bring the leg flush with the top, so what parts do I need to order, those for a new bench or a retro-fit?
    do you need a photo? how to post a photo?

  • AlanWS

    When you say this works better than anything else you’ve tried, does that include a chain leg vise from Ancora Yacht? It seems like another way to do the same thing.

  • Formidable


    That looks (and sounds) fabtastic. Merry Xmakwanzakha!

    Ever since you posted about Hovarter’s face vice kit back in 2014, I’ve visited their website and watched their videos a few times. I just checked again and It looks like they have a “crisscross” for the VX20 now! Have you tried it?

    I’m looking to build a new bench this coming Fall, so I’ll have to make a decision. To make it tougher, I spent some time with the Lake Erie folks at Handworks in Iowa last May and I really liked the way that fat wooden screw felt. (Wait, did that sound weird?) Anyway, I want all of them but..must…choose.

    And, just now, I just had a vision. It was a triangular bench with three face vises. Holy cow. That could be the answer. What do you think?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      I have not used the new Hovarter equipment, I’m afraid. But everything he does is top shelf.

      • Formidable


        Thanks dude!
        You say all the right things.
        Now if I buy a Hovarter, I can expect a frisson of glee every time I step up to the bench.
        Of course, if I don’t get that special feeling, I can blame you! Yay!

        While you’re at it, I’m looking for advice on a new car, oh and who to vote for this election….

        You, graciously, rock!

  • hmerkle

    What is included in the retrofit that is not part of the new version?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      The retro kit includes two castings that make it easier to install in an existing bench.

      The basic kit requires a drill press and a disassembled workbench.

  • alpen

    Not that I doubt the utility of the criss-cross (I’ve used it, and it’s amazing), but I am curious about your statement alluding to the fact that it can hold things a quick-release vice could not. What does the release mechanism have to do with its ability to hold work?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      A quick-release vise typically has two guide bars and a screw located about 4″ from the benchtop. It holds only narrow pieces with ease.

      A leg vise – and leg vise – usually has 8″ of unobstructed clamping surface until you get to the screw. And no guide bars. You have much more clamping surface. Period.

      • alpen

        Ah, OK. I see what you are talking about. An advantage of the leg vice, not the Crisscross specifically. Fair enough. I definitely plan on using the Crisscross on my next bench.

  • Derrick

    How do you ensure proper toe in during setup? I can always get it toe in during use with my parallel guide, but how do I ensure it is properly toe in if I wanted to retrofit a crisscross?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      You can easily shim the bearing plates with a thin piece of cardboard. Simple.

  • pmcgee

    “No parallel guide for the leg vise.” … was the bottom end at a fixed distance before?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Nope. The traditional way was to wedge blocks of wood between the chop and leg. Worked fine.

  • matt1979

    Lastly Chris, how concerned should one be with how the mortise for the crisscross in the leg may cut into the tenons for the stretchers?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      I’ve cut into the stretchers at least a dozen times when installing these. Doesn’t make a difference with a well-made bench.

  • dyfhid

    My son, who is admittedly a procrastinator, handed me a piece of paper on Christmas day which stated that my crisscross will be arriving in January. Apparently, he ordered it the 22nd and learned that day of Benchcrafted’s shutdown at the end of the year 🙂 I told him he should follow Jameel’s blog, and he would have known about it well in advance! I hold no grudge though, just happy to learn the crisscross is on its way, and that I have evidence that I raised my boy at least partially right – he was late to order it, but he ordered the right thing!.

  • matt1979

    Chris, I currently have a wooden screw with a parallel guide on my bench. Truthfully I’m not satisfied with the work holding when I’m trying to joint a board. Inevitably when I get to the end of the board it will slip downward in the vise. I added leather to my chop and the side of the bench to try and correct this and it helped a little bit. Would installing a crisscross vs a parallel guide increase its grip?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Perhaps. Usually when a leg vise won’t hold it’s because it doesn’t toe in properly. The chop should touch the work at the top first. If it grabs below the top edge of the chop, the work can easily sink when you work it.

      The Crisscross removes the guesswork with a parallel guide. And if the chop is properly toed in, it will always grab your work properly.

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