Hardware can be the bane of a woodworker’s existence. We usually design first and then try to bolt and screw our dreams together with off-the-shelf components. If we’re lucky it works, but just as often either the hardware or our dreams have to be cut down to size. For some specialty purposes the hardware can also be prohibitively expensive.
Such was the case when my friend and I set out to design our tail vise. Instead of paying full price for off-the-shelf hardware, we decided to have our own custom-made. It would require a much bigger up-front investment, but we felt that it would pay off over the long haul. We would get just what we wanted, and we would be able to guarantee the quality.
With entrepreneurial confidence, I embarked on a walking tour of Toronto machine shops. I located a source for 18-in., Acme-threaded Record benchscrews and needed only the three metal plates, cut to length, drilled for screws and machined with grooves, and a nut for the Record screw. A simple project. Or so I thought. Instead, I was turned away from more shops than I care to remember. The odyssey taught me more about the economics of production in two weeks than I would have learned in a year of business school.
In the sprawling suburban outskirts of town, I finally found a willing, if not enthusiastic, machine shop – for a minimum order of a hundred units. Our initial run was for five prototype benches, but we were optimistic. We persuaded a local tool store to join us in the order. The milling machines began to roll. We took our five vise assembles back to the shop and the other 95 were delivered to Atlas, where I feel certain most of them can still be purchased. We were ready to begin making benches.
Planning for production, we designed the tail vise which we built out of African padauk. The four-piece construction required four router jigs to cut the recesses for the vise hardware. A core-box router bit was used to cut the half-round channels for the benchscrew. Two more router jigs were needed to prepare the mating face of the workbench for the mounting hardware.
The beauty of having hardware manufactured to your own specifications and using production jigs is consistency. The jigs result in a neat, predictable tail vise, and the hardware fits perfectly. The fifth vise will work as well as the first. But, unless you plan to build the other 95 benches, it’s a lot more efficient to buy standard components and make the vise without jigs. Some dreams are best trimmed down to fit reality.