When it comes to woodworking vises, I’m quite fond of the leg vise. Once you buy a vise screw (an inexpensive metal screw runs about $30. We’re making this leg vise using the wooden screw from Big Wood Vise), you can build the rest of the vise yourself.
As a result you can size everything about the vise to your needs, including where the handle goes, where the parallel guide is located and how wide the chop is. Unlike quick-release vises, there are a lot fewer metal bars in the way of your work. And the holding power of a leg vise is extraordinary. You can crack walnuts with this thing.
Whenever I show visitors my leg vise, they tend to ask about the “parallel guide” near the floor. Things like: “What the heck is that for?” and “Isn’t that a pain to use?”
The parallel guide has a couple important jobs. One, it keeps the chop parallel to the leg. Without a parallel guide the chop can spin and sway. Two, it acts as a pivot point for the chop.
By putting a small rod of metal through one of the holes in the parallel guide it causes the vise’s chop to pivot toward the benchtop when the metal bar hits the bench’s leg.
To use the parallel guide, you just slide the metal bar into the hole that most closely matches the thickness of the work you want to hold in the chop. Then close the jaw. Yes, you do have to stoop on occasion to remove the metal bar, but it’s really not a big deal. Plus, with the metal bar in the hole closest to the chop I can clamp anything between 3/8″ thick and 7/8″ thick. That covers a good deal of my work.
The only real downside to the leg vise is that it isn’t as effective for clamping casework sides for dovetailing , that’s the super power of the twin-screw vise. So to clamp wide casework sides with a leg vise you need to clamp one end of the case with the leg vise and the other end with a bar clamp that reaches across your benchtop. It’s a bit of a pain, but if you’re not building highboys every week, it is a compromise I can live with.
– Christopher Schwarz