Build a moxon vise
This little bench top-helper will lend a hand at a moment’s notice.
I recently moved to a condo that has a small 180 square foot workshop in the basement. While I still have access to a fully equipped woodworking shop, I find it convenient to use the basement shop in the evenings, or when I want to tinker with a new tool. Unfortunately, the shop lacks a proper workbench – instead, it has couple of worktables and a metal vise. Rather than build a new workbench, I decided it would be quicker, easier and less expensive to add a vise to the existing worktable.
After considering all my options, I decided on a Moxon vise because I could use it in the basement shop or easily transport it to the main shop. Plus, it can be clamped to just about any work surface, which meant I wouldn’t have to make any changes to the basement worktables.
Inset the Nut
To create a cavity for the nuts in the back of the fixed jaw, draw the outline of the nut and remove the waste with a chisel.
Basic threaded rod can be bought from most big-box stores, but higher quality threaded rod is available through Lee Valley and your local fastener supplier.
Clamp and Go
Once the vise is assembled, clamp it to your bench as required and start sawing.
There are a number of options when it comes to making a Moxon. You can make every part of the vise by hand, including the handles, threaded rods and nuts. This requires that you have a threading and tapping kit, and if you do, this is the least expensive option. However, it is also the most time-consuming. Still, anyone with intermediate-level skills should have no problem making all the parts.
A second option is to purchase the Benchcrafted kit from Lee Valley. At $155, this is the sleekest yet most expensive option. All you need to do is supply the lumber. If you like your projects to be as simple and easy as possible, then this is the route to choose.
The third option, which I took, was to purchase the rods and nuts from a local fastener supply outlet and make the handles myself. This turned out to be fairly inexpensive – the hardware cost $18. Whatever option you choose, you’ll need to purchase lumber for the vise body. I paid $28 for a 7-foot length of 2×6 Western maple.
Rather than using standard zinc-plated rod, which is available at any Home Hardware store, I used 3/4″ Acme threaded rod. Standard rod has V-shaped threads, whereas Acme rod has large square threads that run much smoother. Also, Acme rod has fewer threads per inch, so you can move the rod more quickly.
Most of the designs I looked at called for four nuts – two installed on the back of the fixed jaw, and two mortised into the front of the fixed jaw. I only used two nuts, mortised into the back of the fixed jaw (without glue). So far, it’s worked like a charm.
There really aren’t any critical measurements for the vise; size it for its intended use. I wanted a vise for dovetail work on stock up to about 12″ wide. The dimension I chose provides 15″ of space between the bolts. I used 6″ rods only because my supplier sells Acme rod by the foot. The result is that I can clamp stock up to 2″ thick, though I rarely dovetail stock thicker than 3/4″.
It goes without saying that you should mill your stock as accurately as possible. You want the base and fixed jaw to form a perfect 90° angle. Clamp the two jaws together, ensure that the top edges of the jaws are flush with each other, and drill the rod holes on a drill press – not freehand. Use an exact sized drill bit – if you use an oversized bit the front jaw will flop around too much.
If you think that you’ll be clamping angled stock in the vise, elongate the sides of the holes on the sliding jaws slightly – not the top and bottom of the holes. While you can elongate the holes with the drill bit, I found it easier to use a rasp.
I made the sliding jaw about 1/8″ wider than the fixed jaw so that it would register up against the worktable. I also extended the base past the jaws by 3″ on both sides to facilitate clamping. I like this better than placing clamps on the top of the fixed jaw to secure the vise to the worktable.
I’m no great turner, but I was reasonably pleased with the handles I made. Relieving the back of the handle will help keep your knuckles from hitting against the front jaws. I used Gorilla Glue to adhere the rod to the handles – epoxy would work just as well. Polyurethane glue foams but can be easily scraped off the rod. All told, this vise took me approximately four hours to build, excluding glue-up. The next time I mix up a batch of shellac, I’ll put a few coats on the vise.
I’ve only been using the vise for a couple of weeks, but I’m very pleased with how it has worked out. The vise is quick and easy to set up and holds stock securely in place. Plus it’s a great conversation piece.
Tip: place a nut on the rod, insert it into each hole, using it as a guide for marking out the shape of the mortise.
Sidebar: Even Pressure Top-to-Bottom
By Chris Wong
A Moxon vise does not do well clamping material that does not extend below the midpoint of the vise screws. To address this problem, I made two slotted pieces of wood. I used pan-head screws to hold them to the underside of my workbench top.
The screws should not be so tight as to prevent the supports from sliding easily. In use, I pull out the supports and place a scrap equal to the thickness of the piece being clamped in the vise. This prevents the jaw from racking when I apply pressure to my workpiece.
Install the Sliders
Wong used pan-head screws to lightly fix the wooden sliders under his bench, centered on his moxon vise. They remain under the bench, out of the way, until needed. (Photos by Chris Wong)
When required, Wong pulls the two sliders out and places a piece of scrap wood the same thickness as the workpiece on top of them. The piece of scrap keeps the vise from racking.