When I built my French workbench five years ago I had two choices for the vise screws: steel screws from China or steel screws from Eastern Europe.
The choices today are far better, with steel and wood screws available from several continents. The newest entry into the market is from Lake Erie Toolworks in Erie, Penn. Run by Nick Dombrowski, this company makes maple vise screws that have details that I quite like. Dombrowski sent us a kit, and I looked it over this week.
It’s real nice. How nice? It makes me want to build another bench. (Sorry Lucy.)
Here are the pertinent details and what makes these screws a little different. All the wooden parts are maple, which is a common workbench wood. Though other species work great (I have ash and oak screws on my benches), some people want their screws to match their bench.
The threaded section of the screw is sizable , 2-1/2″ in diameter with two threads per inch. These wood screws are much faster than my metal screws (it’s not even close) and grip every bit as fiercely. The Lake Erie screw can be used with either an external brass garter or an internal maple garter (you can even buy the garter itself for $8, but come on people, I hope you can make your own garter).
The external brass garter is a serious piece of metal and simplifies installation. And, of course, it looks like a million bucks. It comes pre-drilled and countersunk for the screws (or bolts) to attach it to your chop.
Another nice touch is the handle, also maple. The handles come with rubber O-rings (some think these are a big deal — perhaps their hearing is more sensitive than mine). But what’s really cool about the Lake Erie handle is that its end caps thread onto the handles. All the handles I have, including ones I’ve made, have end caps that fall off. You can screw them or glue them, but they tend to fly loose at bad moments. The Lake Erie caps cinch down like crazy. And if they do loosen up, they’re easy to tighten.
As far as fit and finish go, all the Lake Erie components are superb , equal to the best work I’ve seen from other makers. I saw several kits of them at the Woodworking in America conference and I can attest that the company didn’t send us a ringer.
The Lake Erie screws are available in a wide variety of different configurations, from the most basic kit (just a single screw and nut) for $115 up to a deluxe twin-screw kit with brass garters for $355.
If I’d had all these choices five years ago, my French bench might have turned out different. I might have built it out of maple or ash (hey, I like clothes that match, too). And I might have been so satisfied with the result that I might not have built any more benches.
– Christopher Schwarz