Woodworking Vices - A Brief Guide

Site & Workshop

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” - Abraham Lincoln

Although we may not have a choice in our personal vices and virtues, we can at least make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a woodworking vice!

A good bench with a solid vice is one of the foundations of the workshop. At its simplest, the definition of woodworking vice is: a work-holding tool that uses a screw to close a pair of jaws around the workpiece. It is therefore quite different from hold downs or wedged holders, which do not use a threaded screw.

Before the Middle Ages, workpieces were commonly secured using a Wedge Holder. One or more wedge-shaped pieces of timber would be lightly hammered in to secure the work between two stops. This method was superseded by a screw system using a wooden thread to produce the necessary clamping force; the beginning of the style of vices that we are familiar with today. During the Industrial Revolution, this design was upgraded, and steel screw-threads became the standard.

What is a woodworking vice used for? 

Vices come in a diverse range of shapes and forms for a variety purposes. Metalworking and other crafting vices are often benchtop mounted and made from cast iron or forged steel with rough jaw faces. These textured faces are not ideal for woodworking as they will mark the workpiece.

Woodworking vices can be categorised by their location on the bench. They tend to be anchored underneath or in-line with the benchtop. This ensures that the upper side of the vice is level with the bench’s top surface. Front Vices or Shoulder Vices are mounted on the long side of the bench, such that the screw is perpendicular to the forward edge. Vices with screws that are parallel with the long edge of the bench are known as End Vices or Tail Vices. Being the central mechanism, a quality screw is essential and is a reflection of the quality of the vice.


The second component, the jaws, are the surfaces used to grip the workpiece. In woodworking vices, the jaws are often constructed of hardwood faces mounted to the metal structure. It is essential that these faces be of a smooth material in order to not mark the workpiece. Their durability is key, hence the use of hardwood faces that are not easily damaged by substantial force. 

The Front Vice

The Front Vice is typically mounted to the front of the workbench with the jaws level to the top surface. These are usually defined by the width of their jaws. Some models feature quick-release functions, so the outer jaw can be slid along the thread without turning the handle. This can be a valuable time-saving feature if you are often changing between different-sized workpieces.

The style of front vice (that you will probably be familiar with from college woodwork class) with a full, deep front jaw is often called a ‘Woodworker’s Vice’.

Our current favourite front vices are the Pony Jorgensen Rapid-Acting series. They’re lovely and robust, well-engineered and smooth. We’re also fond of the Baladonia Front Vice Screw – a cost-effective, reliable and versatile front vice.











The Tail Vice

Tail Vices are commonly used in conjunction with Bench Dogs to secure timber along the surface of the workbench. This is especially useful when working on long pieces that need support along their length. They usually do require some planning (and some woodwork!) to install them, however putting in this extra effort allows you to customise the vice to the exact configuration you need.

The Benchcrafted Tail Vice is a premium option that has a lot of fans: with minimal backlash, super-smooth action and an excellent fit and finish, it might be considered the Rolls-Royce of tail vices!










The Leg Vice 

A Leg Vice is great for holding heavy or long boards, using the leg of the bench as the rear jaw. These are reasonably uncommon these days, however they do have their adherents. The old style used a hinge pinning the bottom of the jaw to the bottom of the leg, which limited its parallelism.

We are a fan of the modern version, such as the Benchcrafted Classic Leg Vice, which uses a metal ‘criss-cross’ to keep the jaws connected and aligned, enabling a greater useable range.












The Patternmaker's Vice 

A Patternmaker’s Vice lets the workpiece to be rotated in multiple directions, allowing it to be worked on from different angles. This type of vice is typically used in carving, luthiery, and other crafts, and is commonly mounted to the top of the workbench.







The Moxon Vice

A Moxon Vice is a double screw clamp that is used to hold timber vertically in-between the two points, commonly used for joinery purposes. Due to the twin screws, they are ideal for adjusting the clamping pressure across the workpiece. They are experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment.

Commercial offerings such as those the Torquata Moxon Vice Hardware Kit and Benchcrafted Moxon Vice Hardware Kit are sold as hardware packages, requiring you to supply the timber and assemble the vice – an enjoyable weekend’s project with a very useful outcome!


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