6

It will probably have to wait until next summer but I am going to build my first woodworking bench soon.

I want to have at least one vise on it. I was thinking the front or leg vise. They both clamp in the same location.

Leg vise can be built from solely wood components and has a deep throat. It also is the largest of all bench vises from what I can tell. A "con" could be that a traditional leg vise relies on a parallel bar at the foot. Modern ones have different designs.

Front vise has a smaller throat and typically has metal for the track. The overall design itself is smaller as well.

I am hoping to use this to help with sawing dovetails. I understand that it is not the only way but I feel more comfortable with the boards in a vertical position. I would like this fact not to distract from the actual question of vise choice. Merely an attempt at providing context to the question.


I'm sure that I know the basic differences between the two but I want to be sure I am not overlooking any feature or potential draw back. I think both would work for what I am trying to do. What are the functional differences between a leg and front vise? What criteria might make me choose one over the other?

  • This is a complex question with many possible permutations of Answer. Just to check, had you thought about building your own vice and if so are you OK if it doesn't feature conventional hardware? Also just to note, you can do dovetailing without any vice, e.g. if your bench allows holdfasts to be used horizontally (usually they go in holes in a front apron but this isn't absolutely required). – Graphus Oct 25 '15 at 20:23
  • @Graphus I did not think this would be too complex but can narrow it if I knew how. I was hoping to build my own... I love building my own stuff. I had figured on making my own threaded dowel for a leg vise. I added the dovetail as an example (I figured someone would ask why I was asking) and I feel I would be more comfortable sawing boards in a vertical position. – Matt Oct 25 '15 at 22:24
6

What are the functional differences between a leg and front vise?

I think you've already hit on them pretty well in your Question.

Leg vise can be built from solely wood components and has a deep throat. It also is the largest of all bench vises from what I can tell. A "con" could be that a traditional leg vise relies on a parallel bar at the foot. Modern ones have different designs.

Front vise has a smaller throat and typically has metal for the track. The overall design itself is smaller as well.

For what it's worth, you can build a front vise entirely out of wood too.

wood face vise

What criteria might make me choose one over the other?

I'll try to expand upon some more considerations below.


Front (Face) Vise

Face vises are generally like the wooden one shown above. They have a center screw for tightening/loosening the vise with a set of parallel guide bars to help keep the vise from racking.

As you stated, they generally have a shallow throat (the distance between the top of the screw and the top of the vise). This means they may not be able to hold some items as securely as other vises since there is less clamping surface.

When clamping with a face vise, if you clamp the piece in one end of the vise, you will want to clamp a rack stop or another similarly-sized piece of wood in the opposite end to keep the vise face from racking.

Since a face vise has a small footprint, it may be possible to slip a drawer carcase over the vise to fix it in the jaws. I can't find a picture of this online, but I've done it before. This is not possible with a leg vise because of the leg vise's length.


Leg Vise

Leg vises act like a Class 3 lever (mechanical advantage always less that 1.0). Consider the image below (from Lake Erie Toolworks). This has a similar criss-cross bracing to the Benchcrafted example you provided.

Lake Eire leg vise

Just so you're aware, the criss-cross (aka St. Peter's Cross) is nothing new for leg vises. It's just another way that craftsmen have historically found to cope with the balance of forces at play with this vise.

Compared to the face vise, the leg vise has a deeper throat but it has a narrower face. Thus, it can clamp things more deeply in the vise and is able to apply a higher force to a smaller area. Also, because the face is much narrower, leg vises usually don't have issues with racking like face vises do.

However, since leg vises have a narrow clamping width, they usually need the help of a deadman to hold longer stock. You'll find these on just about every Roubo-style workbench.

deadman


Moxon Vise

I am hoping to use this to help with sawing dovetails.

I know your question specifically asked about leg and front vises, but you mention doing dovetails as one impetus for choosing a vise. I offer that building a Moxon vise is a better solution that either for doing dovetail work.

moxon vise

The Moxon vise is especially suited for dovetailing since it firmly clamps boards in the vertical position at a height that is comfortable for sawing dovetails. Spend a couple hours hunched over a leg/front vise sawing dovetails and you will come to appreciate the joys of a properly-constructed Moxon vise.

  • 1
    Bitchin' answer. Thanks. Never heard of a moxon vise but it looks like a simple benchtop one to get started with. – Matt Oct 26 '15 at 19:27
  • I made mine out of some scrap boards and a couple veneer press screws from Lee Valley. They're quite easy to make. – grfrazee Oct 26 '15 at 19:42
4

Leg vise can be built from solely wood components and has a deep throat.

Yes, but actually any type of vice can be built entirely from wood if needed or desired (as many were in the past). It usually requires that the components are scaled up somewhat for needed strength, but in essence you're just substituting a threaded wooden dowel for any threaded steel rods, plain dowels for the alignment rods/bars and the jaws are just wood without having a metal plate or some sort.

It also is the largest of all bench vises from what I can tell.

Largest vice is arguably the end vice or one of the twin-screw vices commonly called a Moxon these days:

End vice + Moxon vice

As you can see, these are quite a bit wider than you'd tend to see in a leg vice. But in all cases it does depend on the scale on which the vice is built. It's quite possible to make a smaller Moxon-style vice just as you can have wider or narrower versions of all vices.

What are the functional differences between a leg and front vise?

It terms of their utility I suspect the answer is actually nothing. They work similarly enough that they could be considered interchangeable. Or to put it another way, someone with either a face vice or a leg vice isn't lacking something significant that the other has.

What criteria might make me choose one over the other?

Honestly I think leg vices tend to appeal to people mostly based on their looks and their traditional style, rather than being a decision based primarily on functionality. Although the homemade aspect of them is also a major factor for some people; however it must be said, versions of all vices can be shop-made.

Now regarding the use you intend to put them to, as I say in my comment above, you can do dovetailing quite happily without any sort of vice if the bench design allows an alternate workholding method, such as the traditional holdfast (or a modern variation), as this extract from one of Chris Schwarz's books shows:

Dovetails without a vice
(Note you could also use a pair of holdfasts to hold the workpiece firmly.)

So if you're after the simplest possible option that allows you to hold a workpiece vertically something along these lines is it. You could also use quick clamps, parallel clamps or F-clamps to clamp a board vertically to one of the legs of your bench as a very quick and expedient variation (useful as it doesn't require your bench to have a front apron or any horizontal holes bored in the legs, so in theory this method is adaptable to nearly any bench).

However that's not the solution I think would best suit you. When I started writing my reply in the morning before I got called away I was intending to build towards a recommendation of a Moxon-style vice just as in grfrazee's excellent Answer.

One of the chief advantages of using a Moxon-style vice for dovetailing specifically is that you can raise the clamped height of the workpiece above the usual height of working:

Sawing dovetails, Moxon

Nearly any vice can hold a board vertical with its top edge at that same height but with a conventional one the clamping surfaces are right at the level of the workbench so the piece is held much further down its length. This of course allows for more vibration as you might get sawing dovetails. When doing dovetails on smaller boards, e.g. for small drawers and boxes, this raised clamping height really comes into its own, so that you're not doing fine, accurate sawing bent over in the same posture you used when planing a board face.

Another of the key advantages of this style of vice as I see it is that they can be built by the woodworker in so many different ways, so there's a version out there that would suit any budget. Some makers use commercial vice hardware for some or all of the working components, others just buy a type of threaded rod with a few matching nuts and go from there, and some make every component from wood:

Many style of Moxon

Still others make the vice using nothing more than existing clamps:

Clamp-based Moxon

As you should be able to see from the above picture the one made using F-clamps doesn't even require that the clamps be built permanently into the vice, so it's particularly useful for the woodworker with limited space or means.

  • I kept buying f clamps every time I could get one for 10 bucks. I was hoping to use them for simple glue up but they could work for this easily with some scrap I have around. Thank you. Never seen a moxon design (Have seen as endvise but not by name) – Matt Oct 26 '15 at 19:48
  • 1
    I'd like to throw in my 2p of clamps. With some (right angle) wood, clamps and some fantasy you can quickly clamp a wood piece for sawing or whatnot. No need to wait for a bench vise being build/bought. – LosManos Oct 26 '15 at 19:51
  • In the vise collage ... the one in the bottom right. The dowels there are just used for alignment? So you would use clamps with that design you figure? – Matt Oct 26 '15 at 21:47
  • @LosManos, yes that can work well too. Same basic principle as clamping to the bench leg, although that's likely to be a bit more stable because you can dampen vibration and reduce turning moment.. – Graphus Oct 27 '15 at 8:55
  • @Matt, presume you mean bottom left? It's not clear in the reduced photo, those are threaded, not plain dowels. See more on that here. – Graphus Oct 27 '15 at 8:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.