My Bench Vise

Craftsman 506-51865

No matter how many tools someone has, there's always one or two (maybe more) that's your favorite, you know - those tools that bring you satisfaction and/or some level of joy.  I have a few favorites, tools that are my go-to's, old reliables.  My hammer is one, my drill press another, and the one I want to talk about today - my bench vise.  

The Beauty of A Sparrow

I know what you're thinking...a vise - you mean an adjustable chunk of steel?  Why yes, yes I do.  Because much like the lowly sparrow, there is great beauty and utility in a vise (although I may be a bit off concerning a sparrow's utility).  Much like my hammers, there are many different kinds of vises, a vise for every job so to speak.  There's woodworking vises, blacksmith vises, pipe vises, machinist vises, and the list goes on.  Here's a goofy little "artsy" shot of the vise in action (good grief, who does still life shots of a vise?). 

Of Simple Design

Much like hammers, vises are simplicity itself.  The stationary rear jaw of most vises are formed as part of the base, and have bolt holes to fix it to the bench. Also, on most vises (including mine) there's an anvil area on the back of the rear jaw.  The front jaw is fixed to a slide which conceals a long, heavy-duty, threaded bar. In the front of the front jaw is the winding handle which, when turned, moves the jaw, closing or opening the vise. 

Anatomy of a vise drawing
My vise certainly wasn't the first tool I got when I was setting up my workshop - but it was close.  And yeah, the vise isn't the sexiest tool in my arsenal, and the basic design really hasn't changed in at least a couple centuries, but I can't tell you how many times it's been an irreplaceable, solid helping hand.  

The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor. - Hubert H. Humphrey

My Bench Vise

So, we come to my vise.  Before we get into the details, let me just say that, in addition to the practical value of my vise, there is also a sentimental value in that the vise was given to me by one of my German relatives who passed in 2021.  Immer Arbeit Georg!

So that's a bit of an over-filtered "artsy" shot, but it's kinda neat isn't it?  Anyway, as I've mentioned before, Craftsman holds a special place in my heart ever since my dad swore by them when I was a kid.  So having a Craftsman vise always makes me think of my childhood.  I'm so glad to see that Sears sold off Craftsman Tools and now they're making a comeback, particularly at Lowes.  Here are my vise's specs:

Make: Craftsman
Model: 51865
Weight:  26.25 pounds
Jaws:  4 1/2"
Opens to:  6"
Features:  Swivel base, reversible jaw, anvil and built-in pipe jaws
Manufacture:  U.S.A.

As we know, Craftsman didn't actually make tools, they contracted other companies to make them to be sold under the Craftsman name.  Research on the web seems to indicate that Craftsman vices were likely made by Wilton Tools of Chicago, or Columbian Vise of Cleveland, two of the historic names in vises.  

Either way, in the late 1990's Wilton acquired the Warren Tool Group who had previously purchased Columbian Vise.  Oh,  and Wilton's Cleveland plant still has Columbian on the building!  Here's a Google Street View of the factory - sorry about the sign lineup, I just couldn't get in the right spot on the map.


Over the years I've either seen pictures or videos of some handy vise accessories, or thought of a couple myself.  Either way, once in awhile these little googaws make the vise so much more versatile. 

Saw-Sharpening Jig

The first accessory I made was a saw-sharpening jig - two straight slats of wood hinged at one end and a bolt with a wingnut at the other end.  Using this I can clamp my saw into my vise for sharpening. 

Bench Hook

Okay, this one wasn't specifically built for the vise, but I've found it particularly useful when used in conjunction with another accessory I made.  But here's a shot of the bench hook in action:

Vise Table

I have no idea what to really call this thing.  I'm sure others have one, and I may have gotten the inspiration from someone, but what I did was screw a thin strip of scrap wood to the bottom of a wider piece of scrap wood.  The thin strip get locked into the vise and gives me a small surface to work on.  This surface is maybe 6 inches wide and roughly 30 to 36 inches long.  There's something about the size and height that makes working on some things much more comfortable.  Here it is in action, restoring another pair of old pliers - you'll see them another day.

A few Random Pictures

Well, like I said at the beginning of the post - there really isn't much to say about the vise.  It was worth the discussion if only for that feeling of being in the present when I'm writing.  My mind saunters away from the stresses of work, and it's like the whole outside world is, well - out there.  Esoterics aside, the vise is involved in at least a small way in just about every project here at 173.  Here's a few pictures, the first of which is holding the card scraper while I burnish it:

Holding for a glue up of some project I've long since forgotten!

And holding the hedge shears for their annual sharpening...

The frugal man's soft jaws holding some threaded rod - again I don't recall what that was for.  I keep thinking I want to get some soft jaws for the vise, but then I do a job like this and a couple little pieces of scrap wood suffice.  Hmm, who knows - maybe one day.

While this one isn't a project, I did see a video by Scoutcrafter wherein he put some rubber washers on his vise handle to keep them from clanging into the handle nut.  He had a good reason for it, but the thing I got from doing it to my vise is - the handle doesn't clang anymore - for what it's worth!

That's My Story (and I'm sticking to it)

There ya have it - all you ever wanted to know about this chunk of steal and iron.  It isn't fancy, flashy or particularly fun, it's really just - there.  But it's there every single time I need it to be!  One of my favorite and most frequently used tools.

Thanks for stopping by!

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