Is this Vise Really Ideal? - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Is this Vise Really Ideal?

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

When I was researching historic workbenches, I tried like crazy to get my hands on a style of bench vise that (to my knowledge) isn’t made in this country anymore.

Featured prominently in the French “La Forge Royale” catalog from the early 20th century, the “Ideale Vise” is a quick-release metal vise that has some interesting characteristics.

First, it doesn’t appear to have any screw-thread mechanism , at least from the illustration. And from accounts that I dug up, it appears that you turn the handle one way to release pressure and then turn it the other way to apply pressure.

I’ve only seen one example of this vise (which might tell me something), and it was disassembled at the time. So I haven’t ever been able to give one a try. If anyone out there has used one, I’d like to hear about it. How does it function? Does it apply sufficient pressure? Is it fussy to maintain?

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 8 comments
  • Will

    There’s a clamp with that action at the high school that my college currently borrows the shop of. (We’re still starting up our Historic Preservation program.) I shall take some pictures next time and send ’em in.

  • Tom Bier


    Cam-clamping vises are not uncommon in machine shops. There are a couple reasons that they work better there than in a woodshop. The cam-actuated travel is limited which isn’t a problem with metal, but could be with wood compressing and sliding as it is worked. Second, the cam should get some lubrication which is readily available in a machine shop, not so much in a woodshop. If it starts to wear it will likely become unusable fairly quickly.


  • Mike Siemsen

    Is it really Ideal? My short answer to your question is, If it was wouldn’t there be more of them around? If it worked great other manufacturers would have copied it. My guess is that they wore over time and didn’t tighten effectively.

  • David

    Chris – I don’t have one, but if you want info, I’d highly suggest shooting an e-mail to the local region president of MWTCA. Many of these guys know 40+ years of information on all kinds of arcane tool-related items, with some being experts on REALLY esoteric items like patented apple-peelers. There’s an excellent bet that the regional president in your neck of the woods would know someone that’s a vise collector.

    There is, by the way, an alternative mechanism for quick-release vises that was manufactured in the past that have no threads on the guide rod. Instead, there’s a track of serrated teeth underneath one of the guide bars, and when the lever on the front of the vise is locked, it puts pressure between a catch on the front jaw and these teeth. It may very well be that this is a similar mechanism, and the drawing (etching?) isn’t detailed enough to show it.

  • HL

    The second casting in from the right end acts as a sliding guide on the rods and appears to also function as a lock.

    Note the "wheel" attached to the handle rod on the left side of that casting, and the cam between it and the right outside rod.

    The wheel is likely is eccentric and has rectangular bars or cams between it and the round rods.

    Turning the vise handle applies or releases pressure.

  • Pedro

    Based on the number of bars and the different points of anchor I think that this vise is either hydraulic or pneumatic. (Another think that makes me think that way is how tight is the handle to its base). These may explain how the movement of the lever would open and close the jaw.
    If I’m correct a pump or a compressor would be required to operate this vise. Another option would be steam and (then) a boyler would be required in this case.
    Any of the previous options would match a power orientated woodshop of the times. When noise and uncontrolled power would be the price to pay to be in the wheels of the progress.
    Nowadays I don’t think you may want to have a compressor going off to keep the pressure on the jaws, or an oily thing compromissing the finishing of the wood. Not to mention a running boyler on the back of your workshop. Wich will have to be certified by so many regulatory bodies that didn’t exist in the past such as ASME or NFPA.
    However I think you may be able to find cousings of these vises in a place where hydraulic presses are used.


  • Tom McMahon

    I bought two small benches, said to have come out of a school, at an antique shop. They both have vises similar to the one in your picture. One is unmarked but the other is marked EH Sheldon & Co. While similar they are not exactly the same but appear to operate the same.

  • Steve McDaniel

    I wonder if it functions like some metal working vises I’ve seen that also have no threads. These work by pushing the jaw against the work piece and then turning the handle, which causes the jaws to tighten on the object being clamped. They’re very fast and easy to use, as you don’t have to keep turning a knob to get the jaws to close. However, I’m not sure if it’s possible to easily vary the clamping force, which might be an issue when trying to clamp wood. Here’s an example of one of these vises:

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