How to Choose a Bench Vice

Experienced engineers working in the oil industry and in marine workshops know that a good solid bench vice like the Swindens range from the UK can save time and frustration when doing complicated tasks in confined spaces.  

Vices come in various forms. There is the general vice bolted to a workbench bearing the scars of years of hammering, welding, and grinding but still capable of holding anything. The handle may be a little bent from having a pipe been fitted as an extension for additional power to tighten the vice. Generally, it is difficult to break a vice. They are made to withstand rough treatment but let us have a look at what makes a great vice? Or, more importantly, what validates the price of a truly top-quality vice.

Along with the quality of the casting is the type of iron that has been used. Cast iron at thirty thousand psi is the standard material utilized in many vices. To reach a superior quality status, ductile iron is the preferred material because it can absorb vibration better and has superior tensile strength.

Ductile iron is also known as SG Iron (Spheroidal Graphite) and owing to the graphite structure there is less chance of the cracks developing in the casting. Furthermore, the lower casting temperature required for SG iron allows for a casting that is smoother and better able to form complex shapes. SG iron has superior machining qualities and consequently can accept closer tolerances. The superior appearance of top-quality vices like the Swindens Heavy Duty Swivel Bench Vice is a practical example of high-quality casting using high-grade material.

Vices that are made with SG Iron have the ability to withstand heavy-duty type usage where cheaper vices made with cast iron will succumb to cracking and fail. The higher price for the quality vices using SG Iron/A2 steel is more than made up for in the longevity of the product. A top-quality vice will be a once-off purchase and will last the proverbial lifetime even in workshops that undertake heavy and robust work. You can find 60 years old Swindens listed on eBay for over 20-30% of a new one.

If you’re a hobbyist woodworker, whether you’re working on something simple like a birdhouse or you are building a bookshelf and need to get it just right so you can place all of your antique tomes on top of it, one tool that you will undoubtedly use is the bench vice. Not only is the bench vice an extremely important part of your workbench, it is also a very important tool in its own right. If you’re looking for ways to get some of that old-school industrial skill into your woodworking, grab a bench vice and revert back to using it for its intended purpose. The modern shop is filled with gadgets and gizmos to help make things easier, but sometimes those tools make us lazy and lead us to doing things the “easy” way. Take a step back, rethink why you purchased your bench vice in the first place, and put it to work on your next woodworking project.

How flexible is your Vice?

The standard run of the mill type bench vice is normally bolted to the bench for stability. This allows the workpiece to be clamped in one position and held there. That is fine for simple operations but for more complex tasks that require the workpiece to be moved into different positions a more sophisticated arrangement is called for. In a standard vice moving the workpiece would require it to be removed and repositioned in the vice jaws or for the operator to adopt a body position that will quickly result in fatigue and discomfort.

The relationship between access and maintenance is a direct one. Difficult access results in maintenance standards being compromised. This is where a vice that is capable of rotating has significant advantages over the standard bench vice. A rotating vice allows the workpiece to be turned around without it being removed from the jaws. This saves both time and the inconvenience of having to remove and replace the workpiece in the jaws of the vice. (And really does reduce back pain!)

Some better-quality vices allow for the rotation of the workpiece through one hundred and eighty degrees, but superior vices extend the manoeuvrability to three hundred and sixty degrees. Top-quality vices go further than this and allow for rotation both in the horizontal and vertical plane. This allows for the workpiece to be perfectly positioned to allow precise access.

Versatile Bench Vice applications

Traditionally heavy-duty vices are bolted to workbenches inside workshops but there are many applications that require a heavy-duty vice outside of the workshop. Swindens has become almost standard equipment on many military vehicles. The versatility and strength of the vice have proved themselves in various fields and conditions.

The robust construction and the fact that the mechanisms are protected from the environment allows the vice to be used in almost all conditions. This means that there is no danger of foreign matter finding its way into the mechanism and causing jamming or sticking.

Some bench vices bring a whole new meaning to the definition of play. Part of the reason for cheaper vices to suffer from ‘the rather wobbly bits’ is the result of the quality of the iron used in the castings and the resultant tolerances required. Accurate and precise machining costs money and this is reflected in the higher price of better-quality vices but then the longevity of the vice is also going to depend on the tolerances obtained in manufacture. Close and accurate tolerances result in mechanisms that are smooth and definite which creates confidence in utilizing the vice.

With the addition of the Heavy-Duty Swivel base, the bench vice can be located in marine engine rooms where space is always at a premium. In confined spaces, the versatility of the swivel facility is very welcome. For most DIY enthusiasts’ space is always in short supply so to be able to orientate lengthy or large workpieces in a more efficient way will be a significant advantage in the vast majority of workshops.

bench vise

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