A Garter for a Curvy Leg - Popular Woodworking Magazine

A Garter for a Curvy Leg

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

Trying to explain a “vise garter” to someone using only words is impossible for me. I’ve tried. I’m not man enough to conquer the garter.

The job of a vise garter is to lock the vise screw and the vise chop together, allowing them to move in and out in tandem. Usually you need to add a garter if you are using a wooden vise screw , metal vise screws have this function built into their casting.

You can use a vise without a garter, but it’s not as convenient because you’ll sometimes have to manually pull the vise chop away from the workbench after you release the screw’s tension on your work.

There are two basic kinds of garters: Interior garters and exterior garters. Both work exactly the same way; the only difference between them is their location. Exterior garters are mounted on the surface of the vise chop. Interior garters are driven into a mortise in the vise chop that intersects with the hole for the vise screw.

So how do they work? Let’s look at some photos. The photo below shows the ash wooden vise screw I installed in our new workbench on Monday. This screw is from BigWoodVise and is , in a word , extraordinary. It’s perfectly finished and dimensionally accurate. It’s worth every penny.

See the two grooves on the shaft? One is right up against the hub, and the other is a little ways down the shaft. The groove next to the hub is for exterior garters. The other groove is for interior garters. So this vise screw will work either way.

We’re using an exterior garter for this leg vise (I think they’re easier to install), so the first step was to plane down some hard maple so it fit easily into the garter groove. These grooves are about 3/8″ wide.

Then I cut the garter stock to size , 3-3/4″ x 3-3/4″, ripped it in half and bored a 1-5/8″ hole through the middle of the two pieces while they were clamped together.

Then I assembled the leg vise. I put the garter around the groove and dropped the screw into the vise chop. Then I screwed the garter to the vise chop. Don’t use glue , you want to be able to remove the garter for repairs to the vise someday.

The photo below shows how everything locks together. You can see the 2″ hole through the vise chop, the two halves of the garter and the 1-5/8″ hole that is created when the garter is screwed down.

I like the diamond shape of this garter. And when we paint it black I think it will look really sweet , though it’s not as nice as the garter Lucy wore on our wedding night (just in case she is reading my blog this week).

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 15 comments
  • Bill

    Yeah, there’s a good kwestchun: why the sheet metal screws? Why not wood screws? Or at the very least, some nice flat-head screws that you can be countersunk flush with the face of the garter.

    Yeah – huh? Why? Huh? Yeah.

  • PAUL


    Pleeze do not "paintitblack"and IMHO countersink screw holes, or use sqhd lags!!

    If it was contrast you are after, use Ebony or Purple heart!!!!

    I dovetailed my garter into the backside(face?and pegged it in place)it is flush. I suppose it could mounted proud on the outside?

    Later, Pablo(Paul,long story,do not ask)

  • B.L.Zeebub

    I’ve removed the garter from my tail vise. It has enough mass that I can slide the chop/jaw closed on a workpiece and it will hold it just enough for me to adjust it’s working position then I can spin the screw and tighten it. It’s not much of an inconvenience to have to pull the chop/jaw open enough to free said workpiece afterward.

    But I do keep the garter in on my face vise. My bench has two Hickory screws per Howard Card [retired again].

    Just my two centavos.

  • Patrick Williamson

    I have a leg vise on my bench. I had to design it pritty much from scratch, because I was very broke at the time and I had a ready made metal base to start with. I looked at every picture I could find and they were mostly of the Roubo leg vises. I don’t have a garter but I wish I did sometimes. I made every part of my vise even the screw. My vise has two screws though, one for clamping presure and the other keeps the jaws from racking. It works really well and I love it. It is my primary vise. If you have any questions or would like to see pic just email me at hpwllmsn@att.net .

    Thanks Patrick Williamson

  • John Griffin-Wiesner

    As someone who failed to grok the vise garter the first umpteen times I tried, I understand your pain in trying to explain it. That third photo, of screwing the split garter onto the chop is worth a lot.

  • TS Jones

    Thanks Chris, very informative. I was thinking that you had to cut some threads in the garter in order to get it to work. I see now that is not necessary.

  • Guy Forthofer

    Is this a special order vise screw? I didn’t think BigWoodVise screws came with the groove next to the hub.


  • Bill

    Another slick way to apply an exterior garter like that is is to mortise it into the face of the vise chop. That way the face of the vise is nice and smooth and flush, and you get that extra 3/8" of vise screw travel. More work, yeah, but it makes it look nice.

    I did it with a metal vise screw that I used to fab up my own tail vise: http://www.ilikerust.com/Workbench/TailVise1.jpg

  • Jim Turner

    Thanks to your influence, my Roubo interpretation was constructed in 2007, all yellow pine with ash leg vice and screw (lathe turned and hand cut threads on two glued up pieces). As my goal was all wood construction, I did sliding dovetails on trailing faces for screw nut (behind leg) and flush split garter (inside face of chop). Both work well and are easily replaceable. Don’t ask about quality of dovetail execution.
    The ash crook is doweled in (2 pieces @ 3/4), hence, only metal is in the hold fasts.
    Still trying to figure all wood tail vice design. Any suggestions?


  • Auguste Gusteau

    You have reason, Dave. I had not thought about the baseball diamond. At the next wedding anniversary, I will give one to my wife.

  • Gregg

    Sorry, I should have said the pros and cons of the wooden vise vs the Glide from Benchcrafted.

  • Gregg

    I too am a fan of leg vises and would like to install one on the workbench I am planning to build in the near future. I would love to see the pros and cons discussed of the wooden screw vs the new Glide from Jameel which looks pretty sweet.

  • bwnunn

    If you use a garter in a twin-screw configuration, do you lose the ability to taper?

  • dave brown

    I researched geometric nomenclature and a baseball "diamond" is just a tilted square. So, is Chris’ garter a tilted square for a curvy leg? More of his juxtaposition of rectilinear and curved surfaces. 😉

  • Ray Schwanenberger


    I plan on building my bench to accept a sliding leg vise and have purchased an inexpensive metal vise screw from Wodcraft for that vise, (contents of my wallet kept me from buying another Glide from Jameel). I prefer the looks of the wooden vise screw but how does it compare in function to a cheaper metal vise screw. Also is it a matter of adding some bees wax to lubricate the wooden screw?


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