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Installing the Lake Erie Toolworks Wood Vise Screw (With a Twist)
By J. Norman Reid

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Though I've got a twin-screw vise and a single vise positioned as a tail vise, I decided I also wanted a leg vise on my workbench. I took a wood planemaking class in Scott Meek's woodshop and admired the leg vise he uses to hold plane bodies at a convenient height above benchtop level. Because I'm planning to make a few wood-bodied planes myself, I decided to add a similar leg vise to my workbench.

Several leg vise options are available, notably Benchcrafted's Glide Leg Vise with the Crisscross Hardware and the Lake Erie Toolworks Wood Screw. I really liked the idea of using a wood screw, partly because I liked Scott Meek's and partly because of my love affair with wood. But the Benchcrafted system comes highly recommended. I decided to combine the two systems, using the Crisscross mechanism in conjunction with the Lake Erie screw.

The Benchcrafted kit comes in two versions. There is a Solo model for installation in a new bench. And there is a Retro model for existing benches. I didn't intend to build a new bench, so I chose the Retro kit. In hindsight, since I planned to use a new leg standing taller than my benchtop, I could have chosen to go with the new installation and the Solo kit, but small matter. The Retro model works well; it just uses a slightly different installation method. I elected to go with Lake Erie's premium version, which in addition to a hard maple screw and nut includes a handle and external brass garters to hold the screw in precise position.

Benchcrafted's Crisscross Retro System

Lake Erie Toolworks Premium Wood Screw Kit

For both the leg and the chop, I chose maple.

The boards I used for the vise

To get the needed 2-1/2" minimum thickness, I glued 4/4 boards to 8/4 boards using Titebond III. The 4/4 sides face the inside of the vise because the deep mortises required to house the Crisscross need to go entirely through those boards and into the 8/4 wood to achieve maximum strength. For the outside of the chop, I used tiger maple, strictly as a matter of appearance and because I had a board on hand. I beveled the front edge of the chop at 45 degrees so I'd have easy access to my work when using rasps.

Gluing up the boards

My workbench is 35" high. Typically, leg vises are installed flush with the top of the workbench. However, I wanted to work on planes and other projects at a more convenient height, so I cut the leg and chop boards to 47", which positions the work 12" above my benchtop level. The leg rests on the floor for added stability and is attached to the workbench with lag bolts. The bottom of the chop is 1/2" off the floor so it doesn't bind up during use.

Following Benchcrafted's detailed instructions, I carefully laid out the mortises for the Crisscross assembly. I positioned the mortises 1-3/4" from the bottom of the leg; since the chop was raised 1/2" above the floor level for clearance, this meant its mortise is 1/2" closer to its bottom. The key here is that the two mortises must be exactly parallel to each other once laid out.

The boards marked for cutting mortises for the Crisscross assembly

On the drill press, I drilled a series of holes 1-7/8" deep to remove as much waste as I could from the mortises.

Drilling out the waste from the mortises

Then, using a long pattern bit in my router, I set up fences on both sides of the mortises and routed the sides and bottoms smooth. This left the corners and a wider area that houses the Crisscross bracket to be cleaned out by a chisel. I used a 3/8" mortise chisel for the thicker portions, then pared away the remainder with 3/4" and 1-1/2" bench chisels. When you pare the bracket area, it's important to get the sides 90 degrees from the bottom so the bracket will fit snugly and be properly aligned.

Chopping out the mortises so the side walls are square

Once I had the mortises cleaned out, I inserted the Crisscross with the cross pin temporarily in place to test its fit for smooth operation.

Next came the screw holes for the Lake Erie Wooden Screw. I located the center points of the holes 4-1/2" above the top of the Crisscross mortises, being careful that the holes were low enough so the assembly would be clear of the underside of my workbench. I marked the center points with a Shenandoah Tool Works Birdcage Awl to position the drill bit precisely. Then, on the drill press I drilled out the holes using a 2-5/8" Forstner bit.

Now it was time to install the Lake Erie Toolworks Premium Wood Screw. I could have chosen Benchcrafted's iron wheels and screw shaft, which are excellent products, but I liked the idea of using a wood screw; it just seems fitting for a woodshop.

The wood screw is milled from hard maple and works through a wooden vise nut tapped to fit the screw. The nut attaches to the back side of the vise. I secured the nut in place by cutting a mortise about 1/4" deep on the back of the leg, centered on the hole through which the screw passes. I sawed grooves on either side of the mortise to the depth I wanted, then removed the material in between with chisels and a router plane so the bottom would be smooth and square.

The router plane creates a smooth bottom in the mortise for the screw nut to rest

The mortise gives a mechanical connection to the nut to offset any tendency for it to wrack loose during use. After testing the fit, I then glued the nut into the mortise.

The Lake Erie screw nut fitted into the mortise

At that point, it was time to mount the leg vise to my workbench, which I did using long lag bolts with washers. Then I finished installing the Crisscross assembly by attaching the final clip to the cross pin.

The wooden screw is secured to the front chop with brass garters. I positioned them around the collar on the screw and marked the screw hole locations with a Shenandoah Tool Works Birdcage Awl. After drilling 3/16" pilot holes for the garter screws, I fastened the garters in place. The garters assure that the chop moves in and out when the screw is turned.

The garters enable the screw to move the vise jaws

Next, I applied a finish to the whole assembly. I chose walnut oil, which forms a chemical bond with the wood to provide a protective coating and dries much faster than boiled linseed oil. Finally, I installed a sheet of Benchcrafted's Crubber, a ground cork and natural rubber material, to the inside of the chop to add a soft and secure grip on my workpieces. I could have used suede, but I think the Crubber is grippier and I'm pleased with the way it works.

The leg vise jaws fitted with Crubber

I am looking forward to putting the vise to work. My plan is to use it for making wood-bodied handplanes but also for dovetails, rasping and other fine work, holding the workpieces at just below chest level where they can be conveniently worked. Yes, there's a lot of challenge to building a leg vise like this, but it was a fun process, with the payoff of having it for the work I want to do.

The completed leg vise

The leg vise holds work at a convenient height

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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