Universal or Patternmaker's Woodworking Vise - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Universal or Patternmaker’s Woodworking Vise

 In Shop Blog

Some call it a Patternmaker’s vise, others name it a Gunstock Carving vise, and the luthiers among us, obviously, refer to it as Guitar Maker’s vise. Many names for the same vise that has been in manufacturing by the same Taiwanese company for a few decades now. I have always wanted to get one, but the heavy price tag prevented me from acquiring it. That is until last week, when I noticed a price drop in the Woodcraft monthly sale flyer, $99 instead of $145.

Why does this vise receive so many mentions and regular appearances in a number of catalogs, including a recent debut in the Lee Valley catalog? I guess it is the versatility of the vise and the fact that it is built like a tank.

To me, this vise’s most important feature is the adjustable swiveling jaws, which allow the two jaws to pivot and conform to non-parallel workpieces.

The vise arrives with hardwood jaws that a lined with 1/8″ thick urethane film.

Once the bolts, which tightens down the jaw’s turrets are loosened, the jaws can swivel. Then, when the jaws adequately embrace the tapered workpiece, the bolts can be tightened to lock it in place. This design facilitates the repeated and convenient clamping of tapered items and allows great flexibility in holding odd shaped workpieces such as sculpture work and other carved objects.

A 13/16″ wrench for tightening and loosening the turret’s bolt.

The only shortcoming of the original Bolt/jaw’s turret relationship is that you can’t have a convenient autonomous swiveling of the jaws. If you loosen the bolt, hoping to reduce the friction to allow the jaws to conform to your workpieces as needed, you will discover that the turrets may become too loose. In addition, the bolt may tighten (or loosen) its grip on the turrets depending on the direction in which they turn.

I hope to overcome this shortcoming by purchasing a spring washer capped by a bronze washer to act as a thrust bearing under the bolt head. Apparently, I am not the first to notice this issue. Stew Mac, a leading luthier supplies company, has souped up the original design and among other improvements have replaced the bolts with a threaded stem + a lock nut. After the threaded stem is tightened into the turret base, the user caps the assembly with the lock nut. The lock nut allows for a moderate swivel friction without the annoying loosening up of the turrets. If you wish to upgrade your old (or new) vise, you can invest $8.85 in just the after-marker stems & nuts modifying kit that is sold by Stew Mac.

The common way to connect the vise to the bench is via a long stem screw that penetrates the bench through a hole. Then, you mount a massive wing nut on the acme thread and spin it up until it tightens the vise’s turret base to the bench top. Part of the required out-of-the-box assembly work is to thread in and tightened the main vise stem screw to the base. I found that a 12mm wrench is the most appropriate size to use.

You will have to drill a 3/4″ hole in your workbench to accommodate the vise’s stem screw if you don’t already have round dog holes set up. 

Above: Fresh out of the box, my vise had way too much slack between the handle’s base and the vise head. I wish the maker had paid more attention when mounting and securing (with a spring pin) the handle onto the screw.

To conveniently elevate the vise from the surface of the table, I made a removable wooden base with a radial 3/4″ groove. To install the plate, just loosen the mounting nut and insert the base under the original steel base.

One last observation on this vise: I hope that Woodcraft will ship this vise in a double box and not rely only on the manufacturer’s packaging. Although my vise arrived unbroken, the turret base of the massive vise punctured its way out.  Another plea to Woodcraft is, please include assembly and use instructions to help users through the process.

On a related note, while I was organizing and cleaning our school’s wood shop for the new academic year last week, I found a sealed catalog envelope that was sent to us by Woodcraft back in 1984 (the year I graduated high school!). Opening this envelope was like opening a time capsule. Although the pages have yellowed a bit, the crispiness of the paper and the vividness of the color images was as good as new. In fact, I think that Woodcraft is still using some of these images in today’s catalogs. It is fascinating to see how prices have changed so much in the last 34 years. Some, such as the price of the Swiss Made gouges increased .. others, like the Patternmaker’s vise (at the time Woodcraft called it: Universal or Patternmaker’s Woodworking Vise) have decreased, from $199 in 1984, to $144 today… go figure.

Back in 1984 a set of 12 gouges, one mallet and two slip stones, by Pfiel, Swiss Made, costed only $119.95. Today it cost $500.

 

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