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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I'm thinking of building a modified Nicholson-style vise as the side vise on my workbench. I saw a video from the Unplugged Woodshop out of Canada (link below) on a Nicholson-style vise that had one bench screw and one square wooden anti-racking bar. The challenge of making a similar a vise appeals to me.

My plan was to make a similar vise with a centered bench screw and two square maple anti-racking bars. The problem is that the wood I have out of which to make the vise jaws is Doug fir and it's presenting a problem. I cut two 7/8 square bars out of a piece of hard maple I had lying around and thought they would be perfect for the project. Then reality set in. I tried to cut through mortises in Doug fir to test my ability but found the wood to be extremely frustrating...hard to work with a (very sharp) hand chisel and mallet. I tried several times, starting with 7/8 round holes but could not fashion a good-looking, snug fitting mortise like the one in the video. And my chisel quickly loses its edge and needs to be resharpened. I don't have a hollow-chisel mortise.

Do I need to give up on Doug fir and use a different species that is more amenable to machining? Or am I doing something wrong?

 

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I'm currently working in some very dry D fir for a door and making mortises and not finding it a problem. Try shaving it as opposed to chiseling off substantial amounts of wood. It trims better and cleaner that way. The heavy cuts turn out rough.

One issue I can see possible for that setup is the potential of swelling and contracting of the anti racking bar with changes in humidity. Also, the farther from the screw, the more it will rack, bar or no bar. Even if the bar was metal through a metal mortise it would still rack some. The only type vise I know of that won't rack is the Veritas (LV) twin screw vise. It's pricey but well worth it.
 
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Force exerted that twists the components of a joint in opposite directions.
A
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Racking is...in this case...the property of a vise jaw to twist away from alignment with the other jaw or to tilt so the faces of the two jaws are not in the same plane. The two (typically) steel bars on either side of a woodworking vise are to prevent racking, e.g., twisting in a lateral direction or tilting fore and aft.

Questions, sincerely posed, are not ignorant. They are a quest for knowledge.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
As regards through mortises in the 1-1/2" thick vise jaw, I'm considering trying to use my jig saw to rough out the hole after boring and then use the (very sharp) chisel to clean up the edges. Comments?
 

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That should work. It would be good if you have a square with only about a 1" wide tongue on one side or a try square like that to check the sides of the hole with as you remove material with the chisel.
 
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Chuck, If you are talking about the fibers of the wood tearing and crushing as you mortice the wood, it is because the dark grain of douglas fir is as hard as many hardwoods, but between the grain it is very soft and it tends to crush. You can change the angle of your chisel from 25 degrees to about 17 degrees to make cleaner cuts...BUT it also makes the chisel much weaker. if you re grind your chisel to 17 degrees, reserve it for use on pine only to keep from breaking the tip off.
 

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Racking often occurs when you place a small piece of wood near one end of a vise without a similar piece on the other end. As you tighten down, the open end tries to close down more than the end holding the piece, so the vise sides are no longer parallel, and sometimes this can twist the work piece, or even damage the vise mechanism or the wood in the vise itself. It is undesirable at any rate, given the amount of force a vise can apply. Add the second piece to the other end of the vise and it won't rack.

The photo is of a little jig with several thicknesses of ply you insert to avoid racking. Without the jig inserted, tightening enough to work the piece on the left would possibly twist the workpiece a bit, making it harder to cut the dovetails 90 to the board's surface. which would produce a useless joint that cannot mate or glue up properly.
 

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Have you considered making a template and routing them with a plunge router? Either drilling the hole like you are then routing them square.
Another consideration is to take a rasp and make a round tenon on the end of your square guide piece.
Herb
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 · (Edited)
Have you considered making a template and routing them with a plunge router? Either drilling the hole like you are then routing them square.
Another consideration is to take a rasp and make a round tenon on the end of your square guide piece.
Herb
Hadn't considered that, Herb, but I will take a look. Maybe a hybrid approach? The bars are 7/8" square and the jaw is 1-1/2" thick. Perhaps a round tenon 3/4" in diameter by 1-1/8" long on the bar and a square 7/8" mortise on the jaw 3/8" deep backed by a 3/4" through hole? That might be fairly easy to do and mechanically strong enough.

That would save me having to chop through 1-1/2" of Doug fir. Maybe I'll just use 3/4 or 1" oak dowel. That would save me trying to align 3 sets of square holes...two in each of the front jaw, the rear jaw and the under-bench support.
 

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Hadn't considered that, Herb, but I will take a look. Maybe a hybrid approach? The bars are 7/8" square and the jaw is 1-1/2" thick. Perhaps a round tenon 3/4" in diameter by 1-1/8" long on the bar and a square 7/8" mortise on the jaw 3/8" deep backed by a 3/4" through hole? That might be fairly easy to do and mechanically strong enough.

That would save me having to chop through 1-1/2" of Doug fir. Maybe I'll just use 3/4 or 1" oak dowel. That would save me trying to align 3 sets of square holes...two in each of the front jaw, the rear jaw and the under-bench support.

As for alignment goes if you could drill each set of 3 hole at the same time would help. Like put the center Screw in and use it to clamp the assembly together then drill a pilot hole all the way thru the 3 pieces on each guide position, then remove and drill out the larger hole for the bar.
Herb
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
We had our grand-daughter visiting from out of town for the last several days and my wife is scheduled for cataract surgery later this week so I won't be able to get back to the side vise project for a while.

I've pretty much decided to go with round hardwood anti-racking bars instead of square. It'll be much easier to perfectly align the holes in the jaws. The final configuration will be much more like a traditional cabinetmakers side vise with center screw and two outboard bars rather than a Nicholson style but it'll be much easier to build and about as stable. Stay tuned.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
I'm beginning to acquire the materials to build the side vise. I've been thinking about this part of the project from the beginning and I'd really like to make a vise that's not complicated, economical, made of readily-available materials and will be rugged enough to do the job. I've already acquired the bench screw from Grizzly so that part is chiseled in stone. There is also the possibility of cutting an Acme-thread hardwood dowel for the screw if someone would want to try that. The rest of it, however, has been the subject of much thought, many revisions, redesigns, etc.

But now I've pretty much settled on Doug fir for the jaws with hardwood faces. The vise framing will be integrated into the bench frame and will also be Doug fir. There will be a steel plate on the front that will perform two functions: 1) Hold the adjustable jaw square with the rear jaw, and 2) capture the bench screw. The guide rods are plainly going to be an experiment and may have to be redesigned somewhere downstream.

I intend to make them out of 3/4" hardwood dowels that ride inside sections of 1" Schedule 40 PVC pipe. The PVC has an inside diameter of just over 3/4" so that seems OK. The outside diameter of the PVC is just a hair under 1-1/16" so I will have to acquire a 1-1/6 (27mm) Forstner bit (if I can find one) or a 27mm hole saw (which are available for about $6-8). There will have to be sufficient framing to prevent the guide rods from racking and/or binding...I hope.

It'll be interesting...wish me luck. I'll get started on it shortly and I'll post progress pics.

ADDED: I should make it clear that what I'm trying to accomplish is design and build a cheap, usable vise that someone of modest woodworking skill can copy with readily-available materials. For those of us with relatively modest means, dropping about $150 on the materials for the basic bench is tough enough without having to pony up a similar amount for a side vise. I already made a cheap Moxon-style end vise out of a couple pipe clamps and it works very well. If you missed that, here is a link.
 

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Have you considered making a template and routing them with a plunge router? Either drilling the hole like you are then routing them square.
Another consideration is to take a rasp and make a round tenon on the end of your square guide piece.
Herb
I have never seen square corners cut with a router. How do you do that?
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I found a 27mm Forstner bit at Woodcraft for $10.00...I'll get started on the vise as soon as it arrives. I prefer a Forstner bit to a spade bit...it cuts much cleaner and more precise.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Got started on the side vise today...began by boring the holes in the front and rear jaws and the rear support. Pictures below. The jaws and support are Doug fir, the outside of the guide rods are 1" Sched 40 PVC and the inside guide rods are hardwood dowel. We'll see how this works.

You may notice what look like square holes in the rear jaw. That was the initial design but I changed it to make it easier to build...and easier for anyone to replicate. The initial holes were square and 7/8". The current holes for the guide rods are 27mm (1 1/6") and the PVC fits very nicely. The hole for the bench screw is 1", the actual diameter of the bench screw.

The jaws were bored by carefully measuring the first one and then double-sided taping the other two...one at a time...to it and using the first holes as guides. It came out nearly perfect...I will need to do a TINY but of sanding on one of the holes.

The finished vise will have hardwood jaw faces. I haven't yet determined what species...I'm leaning toward maple or beech but I'll have to see what the comparative costs are.

I'm hoping this will serve as an example at the kind of work that is possible in a small, modestly-equipped shop with mostly older, low-cost machinery and tools.

Here are the pics:
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
I've been waiting for someone to point out my error but either 1) nobody noticed, or 2) nobody wanted to point it out...but I will:

The front ends of the guide rods should be firmly attached to the front jaw. Just as soon as I finished boring the holes in the front jaw I mentally kicked myself. The error, however, is easily fixed. I have some two-part epoxy left over from another project so I will cut two 1 1/2" sections of the PVC and epoxy them into the jaw, along with epoxying the inner guide rods into the short sections of PVC. I'll set the jaws and rear support up as you see them in one of the pictures until the epoxy dries and everything will be good to go.

I don't mind making mistakes. That just helps me learn how to correct them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Got a little farther on the side vise...notched the top and edging so the vise would be flush with the top and bored the holes in the skirt. Chamfered the front jaw and dry-fitted the parts. Still need to acquire a steel front plate to capture the bench screw and distribute the force evenly to all parts of the jaw. Here I'm thinking of a readily-available 3 1/2" fender washer with a 3/4" hole. I'll cut it in half, mortise it into the front jaw (it's 1/4" thick) and drill holes for screws. And I still need to cut the PVC and epoxy the guide rods into the front jaw. It's coming along...here's a couple pics to show progress. In the first pic the vise is not assembled correctly but I wanted to show the perspective of the bench with both vises visible.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Today's work is not visible so no pictures. Fitted and refined the under-bench support for the guide rods in preparation for epoxying the outer guides into the rear jaw and under-bench support, and epoxying the inner guides into the jaw. The work was tedious and took about three hours. There was a lot of fine tuning and tweaking. I did install the threaded flange for the bench screw in its final location but have not fastened it to the support yet. I took the opportunity to clamp a small board in the vise. Even without the steel front plate it holds TIGHT. I didn't want to tighten it too much and damage the jaw but that brief test was very encouraging. The next increment will have to wait until I have acquired the front plate (a 3 1/2" fender washer, 1/4" thick with a 3/4" hole). I'll cut it in half and drill and countersink screw holes. Then I'll mortise the front plate into the jaw, install the bench screw and do the epoxying. That should finish it off except for the hardwood jaw faces. Pics to follow where feasible.
 
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