This project was inspired by the classes I took with Ron Herman and Mike Wenzloff during the recent WIA conference. I decided that it was high time I outfitted myself with the proper tools so I could accomplish that. I had a Stanley 42X saw set and I recently purchased a set of the appropriate files from Peter Taran at Vintagesaws.com. All that was lacking was a vise. I decided that I would build my own saw vise. At the worst I would get some exercise using my hand tools skills as well as get a vise to practice on and use.
I spent some time looking online for examples of shop built saw vises. I found a couple of good examples but two stood out of the crowd. One was made by Daryl Weir and the other by a gent named Jasper. Jasper's plans were located on one of my favorite web sites The Norse Woodsmith. Daryl's design used plywood trimmed with thick hardwood jaws to make a nice stable assembly. Jasper's used solid wood which was joined via dados and half laps. I liked the simple design of Daryl's but I thought that the plywood "web" would make it difficult to hold a saw prior to tightening the knobs. Jasper's was made from solid wood which made up an opened frame that attached to the jaws. But this design seemed to lack lateral stability (which the author acknowledged). Further, the jaw assemblies on Jasper's used 2 bolts as a pivot. That just seemed kind of clunky to me.
I decided that I would take the features I liked from Daryl's and incorporate them into my version of Jasper's vise. I would add stretchers to each "jaw assembly" to increase their stability, and replace that pivot bolts with a piano hinge. Jasper's design called for wing nuts for drawing the jaws together. I decided I wanted a solution that more convenient to use as well as one that gave me a more positive clamping mechanism. I went with a set of cam clamps from Rockler (Lee Valley also sells a version of these). These cam clamps allow you to tighten up just enough so you can get the saw in and out. But when you move the lever into the "locked" position, they exert just the right amount of force to lock the jaws in place.
Some talk with my "design consultants" also showed me that I needed to increase the angle on the outer portion of the jaws to allow filing below the horizontal plane. With my ideas in my head I set to work on my design and drew up the plans for the improved version using a solid modeling program.
With the design (mostly) on paper, the time came for stock preparation. For this project I chose 8/4 Hickory I had. I spent a couple nights after work planing the stock to the proper thickness and then moved onto cutting the pieces to the correct size.
I used a tablesaw to rip the stock to the correct width and then cross cut it to the correct length using my backsaw and a shoot board. Once I had the pieces to the correct size, I laid out the major joinery.
Each jaw would get (2) dados on their "back" that were sized to receive the half laps on each of the legs. This was one of those projects where I needed to think the order in which I cut the joinery. So before I even started forming the jaw profiles I decided that I would cut the dados in the back of the jaws, then the half laps on the legs. This way I could dry fit them and determine if there were any problems early on in the game. It would also be a lot more difficult to hold he jaws while I worked if I had cut them to their final shape.
I formed the sides of the dados using my small tenon saw and then removed the waste with a chisel and followed up with a shoulder plane. Then I used a router plane to refine the depth. After cutting the dados, I moved to the tablesaw and cut the 45 deg bevel on the face of each jaw.
Around the same time I started working on the half laps on the legs. I used my router and shoulder plane to ensure that the half laps face were parallel to the outer surface of the leg. I wanted to make sure that I had a good fit and that the legs were perpendicular to the jaws before I laid out the mortises for the stretcher panels.
After I performed a dry fit I found that the dados on the jaws were a bit too shallow. I decided to deepen them by a 1/4". When I deepened the dados I found I also found that the chamfer at the top of the legs was proud of the surface of the jaws. But a couple passes with a low angle block plane solved that problem.
Once I was done with that I moved onto the stretcher panels
The stretcher panels were made from pieces of 3/4" oak plywood (scrap from my tool cabinet project) trimmed with cherry.
Using the dry fit legs and jaws as a template, I final cut the stretcher panels to size and then cut the tenons.
Then the mortises were laid out on the legs and cut. I drilled out the waste using a Forster bit and then cleaned it up with a chisel, and then a router plane.
Each jaw has a relief cut that "should" allow you to clamp a saw in place without removing the handle (more on this later). I cut these out using a bandsaw and then tried out the fit.
Once the dry fit verified that I hadn't screwed up I glued and fastened the pieces together using wood screws in counter bored holes. These holes were later filled with hickory plugs.
At this point I sized the spacer. This spacer keeps the jaws evenly apart as well as giving me a place to fasten my piano hinge. In order for the hinge to sit flush with the base of the short legs I needed to cut a small 1/8" x 3/16" rabbet along one edge of it and the short leg assembly. I took great pains to have the jaw assemblies secured while I was installing the hinge. If I installed the hinge incorrectly, the jaws wouldn't mate well enough.
With the hinge in place I turned to installing the cam clamps mechanism. I drilled the 5/16" clearance holes for the 1/4"-20 x 4 1/2" lg carriage bolts and installed them and the cam clamps.
During my final assembly I noticed that the contact area on the jaws did not allow me to hold smaller saws like my Graymercy Dovetail saw. I disassembled the vise and used my shoulder plane to form a rabbet (with a wooden batten as a fence) along the lower edge of the jaw's face. This rabbet now allows the spine of a dovetail saw to be held in the vise so that the blade will project sufficiently for jointing and then sharpening.
Saw vise before relief cut
Saw vise after relief cut
There was this cut out on Daryl's saw vise that allowed him to hold a saw without resorting to removing the handle. After some thought on the matter I decided that I wanted to be able to duplicate that feature. Using the saws I had on hand, I laid out the cut and then used my bandsaw to increase the relief on the right hand side of the jaws. I did this on the right since I am right handed and will most likely always install saws with the handle to my right.
I used a rasp to smooth out the curve and then some scrapers to clean it up further. Once completed, I sanded the vise to 220 grit and applied a coat of sealer (dewaxed shellac) and then several coats of clear shellac.
After the finish had sufficiently dried, I installed the saw vise in the front vise of my workbench and then got my saws out. I tried them one after another and was pretty darned pleased with the results. The vise held them in a rock solid grip.
One final touch remains. A quick signature at the base and a coat of wax and I'm done!
Now that this is done I need to turn some handles for my files and take this vise for a REAL test drive. I'll report back with any relevant findings.