Saw Vises - Old and New
|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.
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.
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.
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.
Disston #1, #2, and #3 vises