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What is a Universal Vise?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sometimes referred to as a toolmaker's vise, a universal vise has the ability to set up a workpiece at compound angles. A simple vise is a tool that uses two jaws to secure a workpiece in either a horizontal or a vertical position. A universal vise is a multi-purpose clamping apparatus that adjusts to hold an object that is irregularly shaped. Typically, this gripping tool swivels and holds an item in diagonal, horizontal, or vertical positions. Manufacturers sell universal vises in many sizes and configurations and often customize the vises to serve a specific purpose.

There is not a standard configuration for a universal vise. Universal is a buzzword that many manufacturers use to describe vises that are more complex than a simple vise. When purchasing one of these vises, a buyer should consider what his or her project needs. Some projects need permanently stationary or fixed vises, whereas other projects may need mobile or portable devices. Universal vises are available with a variety of components, such as soft grip jaws for woodworking.

Some of the jobs that need universal vises include CNC machines, mills, and other industrial machines; large and small woodworking tasks; and fly-fishing tackle fabrication. These vises range in size from very large ones with large jaws to very small, tabletop models. Often jewelers set up small universal vises to hold the pieces of jewelry during production. Some of these types of vises have specialty attachments. For example, the fly-fishing tackle maker's and the jeweler's vises often have alligator-type clamps and rubber- or silicon-lined jaws.

One of the most practical components of various universal vises is the swiveling base. This allows the worker to adjust the angle of the work without removing the piece from the vise or without repositioning the vise on the workbench. Some vises have multiple swivels, allowing the worker to reposition the item horizontally, vertically, and diagonally simultaneously.

When shopping for a universal vise, often it is useful to test the vise. The jaws should grip securely without allowing the item to slip. If it is a portable vise, it should allow the worker to fasten it firmly to a table or bench. Sometimes vises tend to move while the operator is working on a project. This is not only annoying, but it may be dangerous.

Some manufacturers sell accessories for their universal vises. For example, a company that sells a universal vise for making and customizing golf clubs offers accessories such as an extension, extra jaws, and a drip catch pan. Check with the manufacturer about accessories that may be available.

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