Making the Vise Chops – Part 1

Enough diversions!  It is time to get moving on this workbench again.  No more tool restorations or purchases for a while.  I blew my tool savings on my recent bandsaw acquisition.  In an earlier post, I refinished the Grizzly vises that I am going to install on my bench.  Now I need to get cracking with the actual installation.

These particular vises have no jaws or chops.  The edge of the benchtop serves as the back chop, and a front chop must be made.  I will start there as my first step.   I agonized over how I was going to do this for a long time.  I just couldn’t get my head into a solid plan. When I opened the vises, I was surprised that there were no instructions.  At the very least there should be a single page drilling template marking the dead center of the three needed holes.  I vented about this (at length) in a previous post.

My bench has a rather thick top (4 ½”) and these vises install on the under side.  This means that the distance from the guide rods to the benchtop will be nearly 5″.  In some ways this is good as it gives me plenty of working space.  However, all of the forces that will be exerted by the screw when I tighten the vise will be more than 5″ below the top surface.  This will have a tendency to make the vise want to rack from top to bottom.  It won’t be good if tightening the vise causes it to open up at the top.  I have a couple of strategies to counter this problem:

  • First, I’m going to drill the holes in the chops as close as possible to the exact size of the guide rods and screw.  Using my calipers, I determined these to be 20mm and 30mm respectively.  If possible, I want no play in these holes.
  • Second, I’m going to use thick chops (a little over three inches).  This will reduce the opening capacity of the bench, but it also means that the guide rods are anchored in 3″ of wood.  Coupled with the tight fitting holes, this should mean no play or wiggle.
  • Last, once all the holes are drilled and everything is square and plumb, and before I install the leather lining, I will take a hand plane to the inside face of the vise chops and take a few more passes at the bottom of chop than at the top.  This should ensure that the top closes first.

If my theory here is correct, and assuming I manage to pull of such a tight fit, the only way for this vise to rack top to bottom, will be for the guide rods and main-screw themselves to flex.  I suppose that is possible, and a progressively so as thicker and thicker objects are clamped in the vise.  But my hope is, that for 8/4 and thinner material, it should be insignificant.

So, to start, I needed a template for drilling the holes with a high degree of accuracy.  I tried copying the face plate on a xerox machine and quickly found that I had to set the machine to make a mirror copy.  Even so, I found that when the real face plate was placed on top of the copy, it never lined up perfectly.  I scrapped this idea.

I then experimented with scanning the face plate on a flat bed scanner and importing the image into Photoshop.  My formerly good Photoshop skills have gotten so rusty, I couldn’t remember how to convert the image into a scaled vector image.  I scrapped this plan too.

In the end, I just traced it with a pencil very carefully.  I stood the base plate on its edge to trace it, and the face plate I laid flat.  I also traced the inside of the holes.  Once the holes were traced, I used a compass to find the center of each hole and marked it with a pin prick.  I’ll save these for later when I need to drill the holes.

With the paper drilling templates made, I turned my attention to making plywood templates of the actual vise chops. In designing the chops, I basically just drew what looked good to me.  I used a square, compass, and rule to draw out a double roman ogee on the bottom.  I experimented with various radii until I had a lower chop that would work.  Had I just left the vise chop rectangular, it would have been much less work, but it would have looked clunky.  I think this profile looks much nicer.

Making a template for the two face vises.

Making a template for the two face vises.

I used a square, compass, and rule to design and lay out the vise chop template.

I used a square, compass, and rule to design and lay out the vise chop template.

Once the design was drawn on the ½” plywood, I cut it out.  First square cutting the ends on the cross-cut sled, where you can already see may partiality for double roman ogees.

Trimming the template to the pencil lines.

Trimming the template to the pencil lines.

I then stood the template on its edge and using the miter gauge, cut the shoulders of the ogee transitions

I cut the shoulders of the transition vertically at the table saw.

I cut the shoulders of the transition vertically at the table saw.

The rest of the cut was completed at the bandsaw.

The rest of the cut was completed at the bandsaw.

The curves were smoothed with a sanding drum in the drill press and then files and sandpaper.

The tail vise chops need to be narrower in order to fit the width of the bench and so they required a different lay out.  The previous ogee design did not leave enough wood around the face plate, so instead of using a compass, I got out my french curves and again drew what looked good to me.  I had to draw it on paper a few times until I came up with a design that I liked and would work before drawing it out on the plywood.

I made paper cut out templates of the vise face plate and base plate.

I made paper cut out templates of the vise face plate and base plate.

So, here’s my two templates:

Finished face vise chop template.

Finished face vise chop template.

Finished tail vise chop template.

Finished tail vise chop template.

I am going to make these beefy vise chops out of douglas fir since that is I what I have.  I went to a lot of time and effort to wrap my benchtop in sapele and covering up a large part of that with douglas fir won’t look good.  I decided that I would cover the douglas fir with a very thick “veneer”.  I’m not sure if you can sill call it a veneer when it is over ¼” thick, but I’m using the term here.

About a year ago at a garage sale, I picked up a dozen or so boards of mahogany that were reclaimed shelving.   I selected two boards from my pile to use on the vise chops.  They had a coat of stain and finish on them, so I sent them through my planer set to a very light cut.  They cleaned up nicely.

A mahogany shelf cleaned up at the planer.

A mahogany shelf cleaned up at the planer.

After planing, the boards were a little under ¾”.  I decided to resaw them in two and hope for a heavy ¼” after final planing.

I setup the bandsaw for re-sawing.

I setup the bandsaw for re-sawing.

I split the board down the center.

I split the board down the center.

I fed the re-sawed boards through the planer again and finished up around 5/16" thick.

I fed the re-sawed boards through the planer again and finished up around 5/16″ thick.

The douglas fir timbers were also something that I bought locally.  These were not part of the original tree that I had felled and milled to make my bench two years ago.  Last spring I found a woman who was selling a bunch of these “shorts” that she had acquired from a friend who worked at a mill.   The timbers measured about 4″ x 10″ x 48″ and were rough sawn.  I paid $5 each.  I jointed and planed them, painted the ends to help stop checking, and put them in the lumber pile to dry.  These have not dried anywhere near as much as I would have liked them to, and really should be left for another 4 years.  I’m not about to wait untill then to finish my bench, and I’m going with what I have.  Time will tell if this is a mistake.

Timbers that I plan on using for the vise chops.

Timbers that I plan on using for the vise chops.

I'll "veneer" the douglas fir with the 5/16" mahogany.

I’ll “veneer” the douglas fir with the 5/16″ mahogany.

The template for size reference.

The template for size reference.

I'll get one face chop and one tail chop from each timber.

I’ll get one face chop and one tail chop from each timber.

The douglas fir timbers being over 4″ thick are more than I need for these chops.  I needed to re-saw them down to a little over 3″.  To make the parts a little more manageable to re-saw, I rough cut them to length first.  In the above photo you can see how I divided the timbers.

I reduced the timbers to a little over 3" thick.

I reduced the timbers to a little over 3″ thick.

The new bandsaw handled this beautifully.

The new bandsaw handled this beautifully.

I was very happy with how well my new bandsaw performed.  I couldn’t have done this job without it as my 14″ bandsaw only has a 6″ resaw capacity.

I fed it through slowly.

I fed it through slowly.

The four pieces are now a more manageable size.

The four pieces are now a more manageable size.

After re-sawing the douglas fir, I sent it through the planer to remove any unevenness or bandsaw marks.  Next, I examined all four vise chop blanks to arrange them for best grain appearance.  I wanted the top edge to be as clear grain as possible.  The two faces don’t really matter as one is getting covered by mahogany and the other by leather.  I also laid out the mahogany veneer for best appearance.   I stacked all the parts in reverse order and got ready for the glue up.

I stacked all the parts in the order that I will glue them.

I stacked all the parts in the order that I will glue them.

I rolled on a coat of glue to all of the mating surfaces.

I rolled on a coat of glue to all of the mating surfaces.

I clamped everything to the benchtop and used cauls where needed.

I clamped everything to the benchtop and used cauls where needed.

I left it like this overnight to dry.

I left it like this overnight to dry.

This post is getting rather long so I’ll pause here.  In the next one, I’ll shape the vise chops.

More soon.

– Jonathan White

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
This entry was posted in The Grizz-ubo Bench and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Making the Vise Chops – Part 1

  1. joemcglynn says:

    Wow, I love the same of the vise chops! I wish I’d thought of that when I was building my bench.

    I’ll have to build another bench some day…

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Joe,

      Thanks. I had a good chuckle at your statement “I’ll have to build another bench some day…” Somehow, I don’t have that feeling. As this bench build drags on, I keep telling myself “At least after this, you’ll never have to build another bench.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m woodworking, so I’m enjoying myself, but I’ll be happy when I wrap this thing up. My shop is complete chaos.

      Jonathan

  2. Sylvain says:

    Dear Jonathan,
    I am curious about the chop being tightly fit to the vise rods and how it will work.
    The rods are made with just enough tolerance to ensure a smooth gliding.

    A screw has no guiding function and for a screw which is to be screwed and unscrewed all the time, the tolerances are larger to ensure an easy/rapid rotation. IMHO, I would not have a tight fit of the screw in the chop.

    I didn’t try this before, but wouldn’t it be possible to use the mounting plate (the one to be screwed under the bench top) as a drilling guide for the two rods hole?

    Sylvain

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Sylvain,

      I think it has to be looked as two issues. First the holes that pierce the vise chop, and second the holes that pierce the decorative wooden “skirt” that I will mount under the bench edge. For the chop, no gliding is necessary as the chop is fixed in place on these metal parts. The screw does have to rotate, but a shaft can rotate in a tight tolerance hole much easier that it can glide. I’ll also likely wax the inside of the main screw hole. For the holes that pierce the wooden skirt, you make a good point. I don’t want these holes so tight that the vise is hard to open or close.

      I had planed on using the base plate to guide the holes in the skirt as they need to be exactly aligned. We’ll see how it goes.

      Thanks for you input, it’s always appreciated.

      Jonathan

  3. Pingback: Making the Vise Chops - Part 1 | The Bench Blog

  4. Pingback: Installing the Vises on my Ambidextrous Grizz-ubo Bench | The Bench Blog

I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, or questions.