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I have seen many examples of different kinds of workbenches and instructions for building them online, and when they feature a face vise it is nearly always positioned at the left hand of the bench. Usually, no reason for this is given, but I have seen reasoning that the vise should be on the right for two reasons (sorry, read this a long time ago and I don't have a link): 1. when cross-cutting wood by hand, the board sticks out past the left hand side of the bench, you saw it with your right hand (if right handed) and then you can hold on to the sticking out part with your left hand. 2. You spend most of your time standing in front of the vise, and if right handed you can place your tools on the bench within easy reach.

My bench (which was left by previous owners of my house) is in the back left corner of my garage, so that the left hand side is against a wall and the right hand side is free. Due to the position of doors, this cannot easily be reversed. I hope one day to build a bench which can be raised up on casters, but for now it is what it is. I have been happily using it with a small vise attached towards the right hand side, as the left is blocked by a wall. Both the points above are slight annoyances, but no more than that.

I have now acquired a much bigger vise (old Record 52 1/2). To fit this will require some modification to the bench structure. Before I do that, I want to check - what is the best position to put a vise if I can't put it on the left hand edge?

It's probably an obvious question - if I can't put it on the left, I have to put it on the right. But, I want to check in case there is some advantage to putting it in the middle, for example, or something else I haven't thought of.

  • Ugh - didn't realise I wasn't logged in. Now it's gone and created a random username for me. Is there a way to delete this and repost as my normal user? – user8275 Feb 17 at 11:20
  • Click on your profile icon on the right side in the top Stackexchange menu bar to take you to your profile page. Select 'edit profile and settings to make changes. – Ashlar Feb 17 at 15:32
  • There is plenty of discussion on the web regarding this and more on WSE regarding bench design and vises. The simple answer is that vises hold better when you push toward them, with the mass of the bench behind the workpiece. Therefore, if you are right handed put the vise on the left side or on the right if you are left handed. – Ashlar Feb 17 at 15:37
  • Can't seem to find a way to delete it, but nevermind. Signed in as my normal self now. @Ashlar - yes, I see lots of questions on workbench design. I'm not really asking "what's the best place to put a face vise" - I understand that if I'm right handed I should put it on the left. My question boils down to "if I can't put it on the left, where's the next best place?". – MarkH Feb 17 at 16:21
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Remember a workbench doesn't need a vice at all and start from there :-)

Because of the nearly universal mounting of vices to Western workbenches it is hard to think outside the box but spend some time brainstorming the various ways a vice might not be used for holding workpieces of various types and you're sure to come up with some reasonable alternatives. The reason a no-vice bench can work, and work well, is the many other workholding solutions1 that a bench can employ.

Die-hard vice users will often argue that all of them are dodges or make-dos that a vice can do faster or more securely, or both. But there are plenty of guys using vices without a quick-release mechanism, so holdfasts for example are far faster. And there are plenty of vices2 which are very bad for racking when work is held to one side, so there's potential there for the vice to be neither faster nor better.

You mention cross-cutting of wood as one of the primary reasons for the conventional siting of vices and that's correct, but some people don't like to do much sawing of long pieces in a vice, wherever it was installed. Instead they prefer to saw low down on sawhorses (as was common in previous generations). This is not to say that a vice isn't useful for holding work for sawing, far from it, but with long pieces discounted so you're now only thinking of smaller pieces not having to hold the wood to be cut in a vice begins to seem more reasonable.

I have now acquired a much bigger vise (old Record 52 1/2). To fit this will require some modification to the bench structure. Before I do that, I want to check - what is the best position to put a vise if I can't put it on the left hand edge?

Where it makes sense to you.

FWIW I'm a right-hander and I'd be perfectly happy to use a bench with the face vice mounted to the right side because even this is a distinct step up from a bench with no vice on it at all.

Something else to consider is it's possible you might get on best with it installed as an end vice instead of any face-mounting option, although this can complicate installation on many benches.


1 Got to be literally dozens, from at the very simplest the bench hook to holdfasts in wood and metal, rising planing stops (mortised into the benchtop), screw-adjusted metal planing stops, dogs or pegs/pins (and many variations of these), doghole-mounted cam clamps, various kinds of clamp hold-down including now numerous T-track types etc. etc.

2 The majority?!

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  • Continuing from your statement that workbenches don't need vises, I wonder if I can take it further and say that vises don't need workbenches. A workbench (without a vise) is just a flat, solid surface for doing things like planing, layout, cutting certain kinds of joints. A vise seems to be unrelated to the tasks which make use of the top of the workbench. I'm now thinking of mounting the vise on a small side table which is attached to a brick wall and very solid, but too small to use for most workbench tasks (there's more space around it to mount a vise than on my main workbench). – MarkH Feb 18 at 11:03
  • Now that's some outside-of-the-box thinking! A vice isn't completely unrelated to working on the top, plenty of workholding interactions possible between one and various stops in dog holes for example. But yeah if this makes sense to you I'd certainly try it. If it doesn't work out as you're visualising you can always move it. – Graphus Feb 18 at 17:42
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    BTW one tip I wanted to be sure to pass on that's a great help in mounting a vice solo is to use it to clamp a board that reaches all the way to the floor. This way the vice itself supports nearly all its own weight during the trickiest part of the installation! It's a neat trick that I can't take any credit for, it was posted years ago on a UK woodworking forum and for all I know it's one that has been passed down generation to generation. – Graphus Feb 18 at 17:43

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