Jump to Navigation

Be sure to visit the Hand Tool Headlines section - scores of my favorite woodworking blogs in one place.  Also, take note of Norse Woodsmith's latest feature, an Online Store, which contains only products I personally recommend.  It is secure and safe, and is powered by Amazon.

Saw Vises - Old and New

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Click to enlarge

 

 
Figure 1. The New Saw Vise from Gramercy Tools
 

 I don't think there's been a decent saw vise on the market in decades.  Sometime in the 60's, most all hand tools went out of favor with the advent of portable, reliable, and relatively cheap electric motors for use in powered hand tools such as circular saws and the like.  Hand saws became so very old school and fell out favor, so the market for them - along with the tools for maintaining them - dried up.

But - because they were so commonly used before, there's been a plethora of old saw vises to fill the void.  With the old school methods making a comeback, and age or wear claiming the life of them more and more, those tools have been getting fewer and fewer. 

Someone has stepped in.  Gramercy Tools is introducing a new saw vise, one worthy of the vises of old.  It looks impressive. 

Based on an old Wentworth saw vise design from the late 19th Century and made from heavy bar (or sheet, depending on how you look at it)steel (not cast) the vise looks to be the only really decent vise available new today.  Certainly it's far above quality wise than any other new vises that I've seen.

At $120, (< $100 if you pre-order before Oct.) it's not necessarily cheap, but really is not all that bad.  Sure, you can pick up an old one for sometimes just a few dollars, but if you are buying it used off the internet you are always gambling - you really don't know what you are going to get.

Let me tell you of my experience with saw vises - as it's rather extensive.  Over the years I have had something like 5 different Disston 3D vises (one of the best vises ever made); a Wentworth #1 that was my dad's, a Sargent, and a Disston #1 and a couple of Disston #2's, a couple of homemade wooden vises, a wonderful 18" cast iron vise I bought from another hand saw enthusiast; and over the years I've owned or used several iterations of wooden vises.  Yes, I know - that's well over a dozen different vises.  I's obvious I have a saw problem... 

I've had the Wentworth since Dad gave it to me.  it still had the original leather strip in the jaw to hold and quiet the saw.  Before that one I had a homemade wooden vise.  I ran across a lovely old Disston #1 for a song, and couldn't turn it down.

Disston #1 vise

My Disston #1 vise

Just so you know, the major difference between a Disston no. 1 saw vise (pictured at left) and a #2 is the ball that allows you to set the angle of the vise at various angles.  The #2 is much more limited in it's movement.  Only the oldest have the printing on the jaw as prominently as mine - which is one reason I liked it.

Where I'm currently living, there are no real fleas or antique markets (if I had the time) that have old tools like these around, so that's simply not an option.  Back where I grew up there were plenty - but I never get back there anymore, nor do I want to go to flea markets when i do...

I'd been using a wooden homemade vise for years and decided it was time to upgrade, so I purchased the #1 for something like $15 plus $20 shipping.(total $35).  When I got it, I found it was worn past the point of usefulness - when you clamped a saw in it, one side of the jaw would ride up so the jaws clamped unevenly.  The only way to fix it would be to bore out the joining parts and insert bushings into it, something not too easy to do in cast. 

So, I bought a #2 for about the same price (total now about $70).  The clamp was broken.  I rigged it so it would work, but it was a pain.  I picked up another #2 (total now $95) I happened to run across for part, and made one out of two.  It worked well, but I thought it was a bit short for my needs.  So, I went off in search of what I had heard was the best, a Disston 3D (or D-3 as it is sometimes referred to - I've seen it both ways).

I found one for $27 plus shipping (about another $20, so the total is now $142), and it was bloody perfect.  I loved it!  I'd never look back.

http://norsewoodsmith.com/files/images/vise/disstonvise.jpg

A Disston 3D vise complete with filing guide from Disston's catalog.

About this time I got the Wentworth.  I liked it, but was much more enamored with the 3D.  At least until I accidentally dropped it, and it broke into 2 pieces.  No problem, I'll just pick up another.  This time, I found one for less!  About $15 plus another $20 shipping (total now $177).  When it arrived, I was disappointed - the cam was worn so badly it would not clamp blades tightly anymore.  I put the one off of the broken one I had on it and it was better - but still not good.  I epoxied a piece of spring steel on where the cam rides - but to no real avail.  The thing just wouldn't work well. 

I used the Wentworth for a while, but my shop was very small, and the way it was made it really requires permanent mounting which just took up too much space.  I kept a watch out for more 3D's, and set up snipe software when one did come up.  I picked up an old Sargent also for like $20 (total now $197) - it worked well, but was a little light for my tastes.

After many months, one did come up, mis-listed, and I won it.  Then another one, just like that, before I had even received the first - with shipping, they were both about $45 each (total now $277).  Both arrived within days of each other, and both in great shape.  I put one into storage as a backup and use the other regularly.

http://norsewoodsmith.com/files/images/vise/sawvise.jpg

An 18" saw vise

Finally, a friendly woodworker contacted me with a saw vise he'd found and offered it to me for something like $45 (total now $322).  It is a truly awesome vise, a full 18".  It also pretty much requires a place to live, so it's waiting for me to finish off my shop enough to give it a place of honor within - but I can say that my saw vise shopping days are pretty much done, with the stash I have.

I love the 3D's I have also.  I wouldn't trade them for the world.  But looking on the auction site, they regularly go for well over $100, and if they have the saw filing guide they can command several hundred dollars.

Perhaps you are lucky enough to live in a part of the country where the old tools are still plentiful.  Or, perhaps you or your good buddy have the time to scour local garage sales and flea markets for them.  If so - great.  Go get one.  If not...

Tools For Working Wood is selling a wonderful new saw vise for $120.  Hindsight is 20-20 - I'd buy one now, knowing what I know.  It would have saved me over $200.  Ok, maybe $100 - I'd still have bought the 18" one and at least one 3D...  but I have a saw problem, and you may not.  As a bonus, the new saw vise Gramercy is offering is nearly 15" long - bigger than a 3D, and certainly much larger than the old Wentworths.

I've dealt many times with the company and can endorse them wholeheartedly, so no worries there as far as I'm concerned - they are a rarity among today's retails - they stand behind their product.  I've had nothing but good experience with them.

Leif

Disston #1, #2, and #3 vises

 

Comments

Comment: 

Great post and I appreciate the look into old vises.  I too have been impressed by Joel's new vise although my sharpening experience greatly pales in comparison to yours.  I'm hoping to get a test run of this vise at WIA in Valley Forge.  Gramercy always has a nice booth at events like these with a lot of hands on opportunities.

 

Shannon

www.rogersfinewoodworking.com/blog

Comment: 

I happened to be in New York a week or so ago, and got to see the new vise firsthand, and ordered one on the spot. I too have had many saw vises, and some were better than others, but all had failings. I liked the Wentworth the best, as it was the most stable and vibration-free. I also like a Lodi, as it holds a 30 inch saw very well -- but I have to hold it in my bench vise to use it. I can't wait to get the new tool from Joel and give it a try.

 

John Cashman

Comment: 

i have a disston no.2 vise.how do i go about dating it.no broken parts.i real good shape.i dont want to sell it.thank you...mark

Comment: 

Hi Mark!

I'm not exactly sure how to date them - but here's my best guess.  If the words DISSTON USA are cast into the face of the jaw like my #2 above, it's probably from after 1930 or so - perhaps as early as 1917.  If it has.  If it has a single line that say HENRY DISSTON & SONS like my #1 shown above, I'll bet it's from the 1896 - 1917 era.  If it has three lines (in a font similar to the #1 vise above) that say HENRY DISSTON & SONS, USA, and No. 2 on each line, it's from the 1880 - 1896 era.  At least that's my best guess based on the catalogs I've seen - but I'm certainly no expert and could be off, as I'm only going off of memory...

I don't believe there's been a type study done on the vises like the one for saws on the Disstonian Institute web site...  I think that what logos you see on the face of the jaws in the various Disston catalogs over the years would be the only way to do it with any real accuracy..

HTH

Leif

Comment: 

Saw vises or any old tool that makes a come make the hand tool community a better place to live.

Comment: 

I have been searching the internet off and on for information about a saw vise I acquired. Yours is the only one I have found that looks like it. Thought you might be interested to see mine and was curious if you have located any information about yours. Mine is 28" but the castings look very similar. Your picture is small but it kind of looks like it was modified. So far I have been unable to locate any identifing marks. Here it is:

28" Cast Iron Saw Vise

Thanks for a informative post.

 

 



Blog | by Dr. Radut