Veritas® Twin Screw Vise
by Wayland

Veritas® twin-screw viseFollowing my tendency to do most things in the wrong order, I waited until I had 3 years of woodworking experience and all the power tools I wanted (well, one never has all....) before deciding it was time to get a vise. (I suppose sometime in the not too distant future I'll build a shop and then, maybe I'll acquire some wood.) Well, I do have the excuse that I bought a Workmate® to help me with my very first project, and, while it was very useful, I have to set it up each time I use it and it's just not there when I want to clamp something quickly.

But I digress. After looking at the catalogs for some time and comparing the designs, I decided on the Veritas® twin screw. My reasons were several. First, I thought it would be easier to mount on my bench, which is not a "big-slab" bench, but which consists simply of a top of three 2x10's screwed to a frame of 2x4s and 2x2's with some drawers and shelves. That pretty much eliminated some options like the big tail vises, and many of other build-your-own,-start-with-just-a-screw options seemed like more work than I wanted. (With a limited amount of shop time, I'd rather spend it building furniture and cabinets.)

Second, I thought that, if well set up, the Veritas® twin screw it would be easier to move from one part of the bench to another than even a fully-made vise. The way I figured it, the whole vise attaches to the bench via the rear jaw, so if there's a convenient way to mount and move the rear jaw, there's a convenient way to mount and move the vise. So even though it required a little more up-front work than a fully-made vise like a Jorgensen or the various pattern makers vises, it didn't require mortising and fitting (which I thought might not work on my thin top anyway), but required only a place to attach the rear jaw.

Third, the nice man at Highland Hardware assured me that it was much better in the fits and finishes department than the other vise screws (also with the Veritas® name, but made in Eastern Europe instead of Canada) they had on offer.

Fourth, I found the simple elegance of the design very appealing. It uses two large (~1-1/8" x 16") screws to support the front jaw assembly, and nothing else. The two screws are connected by a bicycle chain and sprocket mechanism which turns them in tandem. The chain mechanism can be disengaged, however, to clamp something that is slightly out of square. The twin screw design means there are no guide rods to jam . Each screw engages a stout nut mounted in the rear jaw by four wood screws.

The catalog description read "wood components not included," so, when the package arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find handles. They are maple, and nicely sanded (albeit not finished). The end caps attach with screws and the package includes a crank handle that attaches to either of the handles for quick operation (the design rather precludes a quick-release mechanism0. The nicely finished screws are about 16" long, yielding a maximum opening of about 12." Veritas® have thoughtfully provided a couple of steel pins to be installed in the rear jaw just above the screws to keep the work away from the grease on the screws. All the hardware was there, including a square head driver because some of the screws used square heads.

Veritas® includes a nicely detailed set of instructions with a firm but humorous enjoinder to follow them, cautioning the user to get creative only after reading them. This is what I did. They called for jaws of at least 2" of hardwood; that struck me as too heavy and too limiting of the vise capacity. I would like to be able to clamp a piece a full 12" wide, because that's the width of my planer. Also, as my bench is on casters, the drawers are full of tools, and it's hard enough to move as things stand now...and I do need to move it. In my small shop I need to park it in the middle when it's in serious use, then push it back in the corner when it's not being used for large items. I was also concerned hardwood jaws might dent my plywood, with which I work a lot. Nevertheless, I still wanted jaws sharp enough to clamp something small, so I perceived a compromise in the making. I eyed an ugly rough sawn plank that had been in my shop for about a millennium. It was 2" thick and the only thing that had prevented me from using it previously was that it was very long and I was saving it for something where I needed a long piece. Anyway, I was tired of looking at it, so down it came to do duty as vise jaws. After planing off the minimal amount to straighten it and take off the grey, it ended up only 1-1/2" thick, about the same as an already' planed 2" board, but somewhat flatter and straighter. Only upon getting all that dirt and grey fuzz off (and nicking my planer knives in the process) did I discover that it was Douglas fir, hardly the best choice since it is both soft and relatively heavy. Oh well, I was committed, too late to change course now. Upon measuring the fittings for the vise, I decided the 3" total jaw thickness wasn't quite enough. The rear nuts are deeper than the front bushings so the extra thickness would logically be added to the rear jaw, but Veritas®' instructions have you taking a tapered 3/32" off the rear jaw inside face, so I decided to add it to the front jaw and counterbore the holes so the rear nuts would fit in them. I glued 1/2" 9 ply plywood on the lower portion of the front jaw and a piece of hard maple planed to the same thickness to the top portion. I grooved the front jaw horizonatally and vertically so the vise would hold round stock (Veritas®' instructions mentioned nothing about this).

The boring of the main holes and counterboring went smoothly, except for my mislocating one of the counterbored holes (there's a figure 8 there now. Oh, well...). The other reason for putting the extra material on the front jaw was that that's where the dog holes go, and, since you have to use 3/4" holes, in 1-1/2" softwood that doesn't give much of a comfort margin. After thinking about failure modes a bit, I decided to bore my dog holes just outside of the plywood-hardwood facings. Hope the glue holds.

The next step was to taper-plane the front face of the rear jaw so as to take 3/32" off the bottom and none off the top. Since Veritas® didn't specify how deep the jaw was, I decided to take 1/8" off mine because I had to have a fairly deep jaw, to clear all the structural members of my bench. The process went fine but there was a surprise awaiting me following final assembly.

I followed their instructions to the letter to locate the holes for the 3/8" steel dowels that hold work up off the screws. What they have you do is to draw horizontal and vertical tangent lines from the 1-1/2" holes for the main nuts and drill the holes for the dowels at the intersections of those lines. Guess what, they line up exactly with with the one each of the screw holes in the flange of the main nuts. I hadn't planned the jaws with enough space below the screws to turn the nuts at a 45 degree angle and remount, so I just figured "three out of four ain't bad" and left out the fourth screw. I think that, after all the hype about not getting creative, this is an incredible oversight on their part. The dowels could be located anywhere just over the screws as long as they don't interfere with those mounting screws. Clearly this is one place where I was remiss in NOT getting creative.

Final assembly and tuning the screws. Upon first inserting the screws and tightening, I noticed something that seemed strange at first, but that then made sense. As the jaws came together, the tapered 1/8" did indeed insure that the top closed tightly....initially. However, as the screws were tightened further, there was enough play in the front bushing that the jaws went parallel, and the gap between the top of the jaws was the same as it would have been had they never been planed. So, I'm thinking that taper-planing step is unnecessary and undesirable, and, if I ever re-jaw the vise, I won't bother with it. To me, a slip-on auxiliary jaw about 1/2" thick and 3" wide (high) for clamping really thin stuff makes a lot more sense.

Veritas® has a clever method for aligning the chain. You independently tighten the screws and then tighten two setscrews on one of the chain sprocket, so that the two screws tighten together. However, that wasn't good enough for me. I wanted the two handles to be aligned as well because I planned drawers under the vise that I wanted to be able to open. Since the nuts were held by four screws, I could tune it 90 degrees by rotating a nut that much. However my handles were off by about 40 degrees, so I had to shim one nut by a portion of a turn. The solution was edgebanding, the thickness of which corresponds to just about a tenth of a turn. Anyway I pulled off one nut, ironed on some edgebanding just under it, and reinstalled it. Worked like a charm, so that both handles were within about 5 degrees of horizontal when the vise was tight.

I had to take out 8 links from my chain because my distance between screws was a little smaller than the max. It went ok, but I had to use a grinder, rather than a file, to grind down the pin before I could knock it out. Those pins are HARD. By the way, the chain is a standard bicycle chain, so you can make the vise as wide as you want to.

Handle assembly was very straightforward. I put my rapid action crank about halfway between the end and the center, of its handle, because I wanted to be able to crank fast. It also minimized rubbing my hand on either the steel T or the end cap of the handle. The dimple hole in the middle of the handle is optional for the handle without the speed crank but for the one with it, it is necessary, otherwise the handle will turn in the T and the speed crank will no longer be sticking out at the right angle.

Now for mounting. Here I had a problem. Murphy's 132nd law says that the bench bolts on a Veritas® twin screw vise will be just the right length that the structural members will interfere with the nuts on a bench such as mine. I could correct this problem by getting some longer bolts for the top and shorter ones for the sides, but, to save a trip to the hardware store, I decided to mount it with lag bolts, which I happened to have on hand. If they pull out, I can always enlarge the holes and go with bench bolts later. Note that the only time any vise need be bolted stoutly to the bench is when using it with dogs. For normal clamping between the jaws of the vise, the mounting system, whatever it is, need only be strong enough to support the weight of the vise and its contents and whatever force is being put on it by the user.

All in all, I'm very happy with the vise. For about $150 you can get a real monster vise for only a moderate amount of work. I think it's an excellent compromise between a fully-manufactured vise and one that you have to build from scratch just around a screw.


© 2003 by Ellis Walentine by special arrangement with Wayne Miller of Badger Pond. All rights reserved.
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