Building a Metalworking Vise, Layer by Layer

Machine shop wisdom says the lathe is the king of machine tools. We ascribe to that belief, although the common aphorism that the lathe is the only tool that can make copies of itself seems a bit of a stretch. But in the shadow of the almighty lathe is a tool without which even the simplest projects would be vastly more difficult: the lowly vise. Trouble is, finding a good vise can be a tall order. So why not take matters into your own hands and build this very sturdy vise from scratch?

Most commercially available vises are made from a couple of large castings, but as complete as [MakeItExtreme]’s metalworking shop has become, casting molten iron is not a tool in their kit — yet. So they turned back to what they know and welded up the body and jaw of the vise from mild steel. The video below shows the long sessions of welding and grinding that bring the body and the jaw into being, in the process consuming miles of MIG wire. The main screw is cut from stainless steel and threaded with the correct Acme form for such a high load application, especially given the mechanical advantage the long handle provides. The jaws have dovetails for replaceable inserts, too, which is a nice touch that’s hard to find on commercial units.

Vises on Hackaday tend to the lighter duty varieties, such as a 3D-printed vise, the Stickvise for PCBs, or even a fancied-up woodworking vise. It’s nice to see a heavy metal build for a change.

48 thoughts on “Building a Metalworking Vise, Layer by Layer

    1. Generally the reason why a lathe is said to duplicate itself is because it can thread a leadscrew. A lathe can also produce prismatic parts with a Y axis attachment.

      Of course the question itself is quite poorly defined and producing a complete lathe or mill with only one machine isn’t viable even if the tool can technically perform every operation to some degree.

    2. Disagree about a mill, the lathe certainly is, and rightfully called the ‘king of machine tools’. You can’t easily produce round items on the mill, but you can mill on the lathe.
      For example the metal lathe plans described in LC Mason’s book ‘Building a small Lathe’ (a Model Engineer publication from the early 1970s, ISBN 0852426879) requires a lathe to build the lathe.

  1. I repaired a shitty vice in a similar way, replacing all the broken iron with channel and flat plate. i’m surprised more people don’t make vices as a good one that won’t shatter from pounding it with a sledge is dear.

  2. If you took all the effort t build up a vise from scrap it is actually cheapear to make some patterns from old pallets and pay a visit to one of the local foundrys. Before anyone goes ape every city, town has a foundry you just have to go hunting and even those big impressive looking factories usually have a jobbing center.
    Bloody nice nice job on the build though.

    1. We don’t have actual manufacturing as it’s been outsourced to the 3rd world and training is dying off here and the only fields left are the superficial, I smile everytime I see a machine shop or other such shed atleast its not been totally killed, There are plenty of people DIY but the way our pathetic NANNY STATE is ran we will see even less jobs and more migrants with less skills than we have all to increase the vote count and keep the over paperfied fallacy writing legislators.

      1. I wonder what 3rd world countries I’ve been to in the last month then? I’ve been to a couple plastic injection molding companies, a couple machine shops, and one place that manufactures welding robots. Our company does their IT and network infrastructure.

      2. I know my midwestern state has more than a dozen, sure, some will only work with aluminum and others won’t do outside work, but one of the local farriers has a small one where he could do it in 5 or 6 pieces then weld them up.

      3. Not true, there is a ton of manufacturing in the US. There are many, many machine shops in the Portland area, one being the largest job shop on the west coast with a 200,000 square foot building. Also many injection molding shops and other manufacturing facilities.

  3. I’d like to see the application. I’ll use a small cheater bar at work, but that’s for CNC and it’s nowhere’s near as much torque as they’re getting out of their handle.

    1. One similar size, used a 3ft cheater, put most of my 230lb on the end and managed to press a bushing supposed to need a 10 ton press. About 6 threads to inch on screw I think.

  4. Surprised it’s so heavy, I’ve got a big bastard of a 40 year old Draper, 8″ wide jaws, it actually lives UNDER the bench mostly because the bench is a repurposed table and I keep meaning to build a “real” bench when I get a round tuit. Once in a while I lift it up there, mostly I only need it’s half size little bro or clamp on hobby vise. Anyway, lack of hernia etc seems to suggest ~100lb at most.

  5. “Lowly vice”
    LOWLY VICE?!?! A nice hefty forged vice is the jewel in the centre of a properly equipped workshop.
    And by the way, safety first. Always use protective… jaws.

  6. Too bad that HRS (hot rolled steel) is so soft.

    The legs of the channel, that slider is made from, will buckle as the web bows into an arc.
    This will cause the vise to bind as you try to close it past the bend.
    The legs will wear grooves into the base pretty quickly also. This will make the vise get sloppy.

    These two issues will cause you to stay frustrated with the jaws no longer being (vertically) parallel.

    HRS is just not ideal for a cantilevered clamping fixture, when you need parallel surfaces to stay parallel.

    I would do as Barry mentioned and go with the Foundry idea, –IF– you can’t obtain/buy a commercially made one, that suits your needs.

    1. Welding the structure together is a bad idea anyhow, as the welds are the weakest points.

      The whole thing -looks- solid, but the plates are actually only connected at the edges so all the stresses are held by thin ribbons of steel that are nowhere near as strong as the base material, so if you whack it hard enough the whole thing will rip into pieces.

  7. I’ve got mixed feelings about this construction. Once you give her the 200 pound gorilla a few times she’ll have a bad case of the weeble wobble. Eso no es bueno.

    The sliding tracks need to be hardened. The lower construction itself is quite thin.. I don’t know.. It probably won’t last very long.

  8. nice to see a craftsman at work. but he has lots of equipment to work with, a lathe, a mill, mig welder and who knows what else is in his shop. this project was not a one evening project. it took a lot of thought too.

  9. OK, takes some money and proper supplies but why not thermite and melt some scrap but quality carbon steel for a vice?
    We do not need aerospace grade stainless alloy here IMHO.
    Do a lost PLA casting mold, honeycombing the PLA interior is best, not sure what to use but I think even plaster of paris would not deform or liquify but I dont know, otherwise do sand casting. I remember that they used to weld railroad track with thermite. Not sure the ratio of thermite to scrap chunks or how small the buts need to be.
    Otherwise how much $$ in oxygen/propane do you need to liquify steel vs miles of MIG line?
    I ask why not literally in search of a reason it will not work, I can’t say for sure that thermite is the best way, but there has to be a way to do DIY steel casting with minimal infrastructure.

    1. Well if you wanna do some voodoo metallurgy you should at least realise that …

      Iron formed in thermite from iron oxide is pure, so dilutes the carbon content of whatever you mix it with. Useful steels have a fairly narrow carbon range, below 0.5% and you’re making squishy wrought iron, above 1.8% you’re making shattery cast iron. So if you start with carbon steel and thermite, odds are you get wrought iron. You probably want a lower carbon cast iron.

      Plaster of paris: It sets by hydrating a molecule with water, which binds everything together, do we remember what temperature water boils at? Yah, so anything over 100 C you’re driving the water out of it and reverting it back to powder again. You can’t even cast a low temperature solder alloy in it (Discovered that when I was 11ish :-D )

      1. Well, there’s not really anything wrong with “wrought iron”, or as we sometimes call it, “low carbon steel”. The wear surfaces want to be hard, but you can carburize those easy enough (which will apparently put you a step ahead of the one in the article). The soft core means you need beefier construction to handle the same forces, but it seems quite workable if you’ve got some good reason for doing it that way, and design it accordingly.

      2. Using thermite for voodoo metallurgy seems like an interesting idea though. Perhaps other alloying elements like chromium could make the process less exothermic, and flux could clean the whole thing up.

        Would be cool to discover a mixture that lets you can forgo a traditional casting process and ‘fire’ your part into near-net shape directly.

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