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What is a Woodworking Vise?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A woodworking vise is a device used to secure pieces of wood for cutting, fashioning, or other types of woodworking. Most modern versions of the woodworking vise are made of metal, though others are made of wood to prevent damaging the wood being worked on when being compressed by the jaws of the vise. A woodworking vise will open and close to allow wood of different sizes to be fitted between the jaws of the vise; one jaw is fixed in place, while the other moves in and out on a screw-like system controlled by a turning arm.

The difference between a woodworking vise and other types of vises is subtle, but important: many vises feature jaws with teeth that hold pieces of material more effectively, but a woodworking vise does not feature these teeth. Instead, the jaws feature flat surfaces to avoid making indentations in the wood when clamped. The surfaces of the jaws are often quite broad to distribute the clamping load onto a larger swath of the wood rather than in one centralized location, which can risk the likelihood of cracking or otherwise damaging the wood. Some metal woodworking vises feature blocks of wood within the jaws to further prevent the metal from damaging the wood.


Much of the process of woodworking is done indoors at a work bench, so a woodworking vise is often designed to mount to a work bench or other solid surface. In some cases, the fixed jaw side of the vise is actually part of the bench, and the moving jaw is set flush with the top of the bench itself. This allows wood to be secured close to the surface of the woodworking bench for more stability and ease of use. Other vises are mounted to the top of the bench or the side of the bench with two jaws independent of the table itself.

Vises are not always mounted to tables or workbenches. Some handheld vises feature two jaws fixed to one or two screws operated by one or more handles, and the jaws can clamp down on one or more pieces of wood. Such clamps are usually used for lighter duty jobs, since they are less secure than vises that are mounted to a table. Handheld vises may be used, for example, to clamp two pieces of wood together during the gluing process to allow the glue to cure without the pieces of wood moving.

Discussion Comments


Does anyone have any advice about buying one of the vises with the "quick clamps" on it? Basically, instead of having to use the handle to turn the vise, it sort of works like a cabinet clamp where you can squeeze a lever and slide the jaws into place and then fine tune the pressure.

The vise I have right now was pretty cheap to start with, and the handle on it ended up breaking, which just proves how cheap it was. I have seen these new clamps when I have been walking around the hardware stores, and it seems like it would be useful for me. For a lot of my projects, I switch back and forth between things that are thin to thick, and spinning that handle takes a lot of time.

Basically, I'm just interested in how well they work, how much they cost, and if anyone has any tips about what features different clamps have that are worth spending money on.


@stl156 - Something you might try doing to stop your clamp marks from showing up is get a towel or cut up an old shirt or something, and find a way to wrap that around the inside of the vise jaws. Normally I don't have a problem with it, but I have noticed if I am clamping a small piece of wood or something made of soft wood, I can see marks, so I came up with that strategy.

As far clamping pipes, it seems like I have seen special rubber covers you can get to put over the top of the vise faces to hold round things. Surely there is something out there, because people who do woodturning would need their vise to hold round pieces of wood. I would just look through a woodworkers supply catalog and see if you can find anything.

If you can't find anything, the other option I would try is to just take some other pieces of wood cut to the same size as the vise, and put a V notch in them with a table saw that is the same size as the pipe. You'd have to change out the wooden faces each time you used it, but it should work.


@JimmyT - The vise I have has the wooden pieces on the inside of it, but I still find that it leaves marks on the wood sometimes. Do you or anyone else have suggestions on what might be causing it, or how to make it stop happening? I don't think I am overtightening the vise, since if I make it much looser, the wood doesn't stay still.

Also, can you buy attachments or anything to transform a regular wood vise into something that can hold metal pipes? I like to make kind of industrial modern art type projects, and I find myself a lot of times either needing to cut the end of a piece of pipe or drill a hole through it or something, and it is always pretty difficult, since I don't have the right materials. I know you can buy special pipe clamps, but I don't really want to go out and spend the money on it given how little I would use it.


I think having a woodworking bench vise is an absolute necessity if you are going to be a productive woodworker. I know I used mine all the time for different things. It's especially good, because most people don't have a second set of hands around to help them most of the time.

One thing I would add is that a lot of times, vises you buy from the store won't have the wood on the inside of them, but I've always thought it was important to have it there. Usually there are a couple of screw holes where you can attach the wood. Otherwise, if you just keep the metal faces, it can still cause marks around the edge. I guess the wood just adds a little more "give" to stop the wood from getting dented.

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