How to Use a Bench Vise?

A bench vise is an essential tool for metalworkers, woodworkers, as well as DIYers. It gives you the ability to firmly and securely grasp an object that would be difficult or impossible with other clamp types.

In fact, bench vises are so useful; they’re often referred to as “the third hand” for their ability to act as an extra pair of hands. As their name suggests, they’re normally mounted to a workbench or other sturdy platform, most of them offer a level of grip that puts other clamps to shame.

While it may seem fairly obvious, there is actually a right and wrong way to use a bench vise.

I’ll break down how to use a bench vise safely, so you can complete that project without worry.

What is a Bench Vise?

Before we take a look at how to use a bench vise, let’s briefly explain what a bench vise is and what it’s used for.

bench vise diagram

A bench vise is a mechanical apparatus used to secure an object so you can work on it. It features two parallel jaws, one fixed and one movable, with a lead screw threaded through it.

A lead screw rotates and moves the jaw open or closed. It attaches to a handle at the front of the vise that acts like a lever that turns the screw and opens/closes the jaws.

The handle is actually engineered to limit the amount of force you can apply to the jaws. It will bend when too much force is applied, saving the jaws from being damaged.

The jaws provide the contact point between the vise and the workpiece. They’re normally made from hardened steel and have some type of serrated pattern etched into the steel to increase the grip on your workpiece. Higher-end vises often have replaceable jaws so you don’t need to toss the entire vise should the jaws form cracks.

Soft jaws are sometimes added on top of the steel jaws to prevent damaging delicate surfaces. Woodworking vices typically have wood jaws which allow you to grip wood workpieces without damage.

The vise can be secured to a workbench in a number of different ways, depending on the particular design. Larger, heavy-duty vices are typically mounted using four bolts through the base, while light-duty vices are often mounted using a second clamp on the base.

Many also feature a small anvil striking surface for forming and shaping behind the jaws.

Vices come in a variety of different sizes, depending on the intended use case and the amount of space available.

How to Use a Bench Vice Safely

Using a bench vice safely is not that complicated but there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid damage to the workpiece or the vice itself.

Before you start doing anything you’ll want to make sure the vice is attached securely to your workbench. Check on the mounting bolts and nuts to make sure they’re properly tightened and that nothing feels loose. If the vise has a mounting screw, ensure that it’s tightened securely.

Take a look at both of the jaws for any small cracks or fractures. If you find any then it may be time to replace the vice or the jaws (in case the jaws are replaceable).

The goal of a bench vise is to keep your workpiece suspended beyond the edge of the workbench. This enables you to clamp larger objects without the workbench getting in the way.

If you’re working on a long workpiece like a section of pipe, then you’ll want to clamp the jaws as close to where you plan to cut. This will give you the best grip as well as greatly reduce vibrations and wobbling.

using a bench vise

If you’re going to do any hammering or shaping on the small anvil, then wearing a good pair of safety goggles or a face shield is important.

What to Consider when Choosing a Bench Vise?

When choosing a bench vise, you’ll want to consider the object size you plan to clamp. Vises are available in a wide variety of jaw widths, which refers to the width of the jaws when opened to the maximum.

As you might expect, the larger and heavier the object is, the bigger the vise you’ll need.

Another important consideration is whether you’ll be regularly holding pipes and other rounded objects. If so, you’ll want to look at vises with integrated pipe jaws. These will enable you to easily hold rounded objects, which would be difficult or impossible with typically flat-faced jaws.

If you plan to with odd-shaped objects then you should consider a vise with a swiveling base. These vises have a base that rotates 360-degrees so you can maneuver the object in any direction.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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