Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Budget Moxon Vise

All the cool kids are building "Moxon vises" these days.  Actually, the cool kids built them several years ago, and I'm finally getting around to it.  It's basically a fixture to hold workpieces up a little off the bench, and especially to hold boards up vertically for dovetailing.  I've got quite a few drawers to build in the near future, so it's time.

I don't need to build a big one with $150 worth of (admittedly very sweet) hardware like you can get from Benchcrafted or similar.  I built mine with 2x6 lumber left over from a construction project, and $12 worth of hardware from the local Ace Hardware.  It works great, and unlike other "budget" Moxon vise plans I've seen, I'm not ignoring the cost of the expensive hardwood scraps that people use for the body.  I could have picked up a kiln-dried 2x6x8' stud from the local home center and built this thing for $15 as long as I also used that stud to make the handles.  The handles are long to cover the nuts, but also to cover the end of the bolt threads.  There isn't any metal exposed on the front of this thing to ding your tools or yourself on.

The $15 Moxon Vise

I used a couple of 1/2" x 5" carriage bolts to provide the clamping force, with long coupler nuts inserted into turned wooden handles for leverage.  The only little innovation to this design are some springs over the screws that push the jaws open when you loosen them.  With this setup, clamping depth ranges from 0" to about 1 5/8", and if I need more for some reason, I can just swap out some longer carriage bolts.

I milled the lumber down a bit by machine to make it square and prettier, and then used a hand plane to ease the edges and chamfer the upper front.  I clamped the two vise jaws together and drilled a 5/8" hole in the center a few inches from each end.  Then, I countersunk a 7/8" x 1/2" deep mortise around each hole with a forstner bit, using a scrap of oak to center it over the through hole.  The depth of both mortises together should be just a bit more than the length of your spring when it's fully compressed so that the jaws can close completely.

I glued a 2x4x20" base to the rear jaw, to give me something to clamp the vise down with and make the base wider for stability.  Either hold-downs in dog holes behind the vise or clamps at the front of the bench make for a secure setup.

I turned some 2" square x 3" cherry stock into simple handles at the lathe, drilled a 1/2" hole almost all the way through them, and then chiseled that hole a bit to fit a 1/2" coupling nut.  The length makes for a good friction fit into the wooden handle, with lots of bearing surface so the wood doesn't wobble or strip out.

I wiped on a coat of Watco, which, along with Zinnser shellac products, are my go-to finishes for most shop projects.

Detailed parts list:
1/2 x 5 carriage bolts, 2ea
1/2 flat washers, 2ea
1/2 coupling nut (1-3/4" long), 2ea
3-1/4" x 3/4"dia x 0.050 wire spring.  With firm finger pressure (~5lbs) it compresses fully to 3/4" length.

the hardware I used for my cheap Moxon vise
18 x 5-1/4 x 1-3/8, 2ea jaws
22 x 3-1/8 x 1-3/8, 1ea base
1-3/4 dia x 3 for handles.  If you don't have a lathe, you could use large dowels, or cut the corners off a piece of square stock to make octagonal handles.  The larger the diameter, the more leverage you can apply to the vise, but you don't need a lot.

I just finished using it to make a small dovetailed cedar box, and I've got a modification in mind already.  I typically cut tails first then I want to clamp the pin board in the vise and hold the tail board perpendicularly to mark the waste on the end.  I usually just hold it down by hand, but any small movements can make for some ugly gaps.  So, when my new plow plane comes in the next week or so, I think its first task is going to be to make a groove in the upper part of the rear jaw for a clamping shelf just below the upper edge.  That, combined with a little support device (aka block of scrap) will let me clamp the mating board down securely so I can concentrate on accurate marking.  This is a feature found on many of these devices, but I didn't build it originally because I was trying to keep it as simple as possible.