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3 Classic Vises made with Pipe Clamps

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3 Classic Vises made with Pipe Clamps

Increase your bench’s versatility on a budget.

By Chad Stanton

As a professional woodworker, leaving the comfort of my shop to work on a jobsite is part of the routine. I always take along a portable bench that’s equipped with three inexpensive vises made with pipe clamps. They’re durable and simple to operate. To build them, all you need is some plywood and construction lumber. Almost any brand of pipe clamp will work. These vises can also be adapted to fit a larger, stationary bench, too.


Face vise. The face vise is the workhorse of any bench. It’s usually the first—and sometimes the only—vise woodworkers buy. Typically, it holds boards so their edges can be worked.

Click any image to view a larger version.


Tail vise. The tail vise, typically used in conjunction with bench dogs, is used for holding parts flat for face work. Mine has an adjustable guide board, similar to a leg vise. The guide board keeps the jaw from spinning and enables the vise to hold large workpieces.


Moxon vise. The Moxon vise is essentially a face vise with two screws. Because it clamps to your bench top, it brings your work closer to eye level—a dovetailer’s dream. My design also features a quick-release handle.



Face Vise

This is the simplest and most-used vise of the three. You can use whatever length pipe you like, but I find that a pipe about 14" long is sufficient for most tasks (Fig. A).

Cut the jaw’s pieces (A) slightly oversize, so you can true up the edges aft er gluing them together. Two pieces of hardwood, such as oak, make for a stiff , rugged jaw. I rounded over the jaw’s outer edges, but that’s optional.

To drill the vise’s holes, temporarily screw or nail the mounting block (B) to the jaw’s back side. Make sure the mounting block is positioned so that when the vise is installed, the jaw’s top edge will be flush with the bench’s top.

Use a drill press to drill the holes for the pipe and guide rod (C) through both the jaw and the mounting block (Fig. B). Th e guide rod prevents the jaw from spinning. Next, separate the mounting block and jaw, and drill the lag screw holes in the mounting block. Using a metal-cutting bit, drill holes in your clamp’s sliding head and the jaw of the stationary head.

To mount the vise to your bench, clamp the mounting block under your bench’s top, flush with the bench’s front edge, and then fasten it with lag screws.

With the clamp’s sliding head removed, insert the pipe and guide rod through the jaw and mounting block. Reinstall the sliding head and then tighten the clamp on the two parts, with the stationary head positioned vertically and the sliding head positioned horizontally. Along with the mounting block’s relatively short length, the sliding head’s horizontal position makes the clutch plates easy to reach. Fasten the heads to the jaw and mounting block using screws, and secure the guide rod with a cotter pin.

To adjust the vise, reach to the back of the mounting block to squeeze the clutch plates. Slide the jaw into position and tighten using the clamp’s handle.


Cutting List


Fig. A: Exploded View


Fig. B: Pipe and Guide Rod Locations

Squeeze the pipe clamp’s clutch plates to adjust the jaw in or out to suit the size of your workpiece.



Tail Vise

Like the face vise, first glue up the jaw (A) and faceplate (B) assembly. You could probably get by without the faceplate, but a stout wood like oak stands up to hard use much better than pine. Square up the assembly using a jointer and planer, if available. If not, a tablesaw or circular saw will do.

Mark and drill the jaw’s pipe hole using a drill press. Also drill out the mortise for the guide board (C). A Forstner bit works best for this, because it lets you overlap the holes. Clean up the mortise’s cheeks using a chisel.

Clamp the jaw in position to your bench’s end. Using the pipe hole and mortise you just made as guides, mark the hole and mortise on the bench’s leg.

Use a hand drill to make the pipe hole through the bench’s leg and to excavate most of the leg’s mortise. As before, clean up the mortise using a chisel. Make sure the pin board slides freely through the leg’s mortise.

Drill the adjustment holes in the pin board (Fig. D). Insert the pin board in the jaw’s mortise and, on the drill press, drill the hole for the knockdown pin (D). Assemble the two parts. Th e knockdown pin makes full disassembly easy for transport. I added a wooden knob to my pin to make it easier to remove.

Drill screw holes in the clamp heads. Insert the pipe into the jaw and slide the assembly into position on the bench. Reinstall the sliding head, tighten the clamp and install the clamp head mounting screws.

Drill the dog hole in the jaw’s top, and a series of holes in line with it on your bench’s top.

Use the adjustment pin (E) to set the vise’s opening according to your workpiece’s size. I fastened my adjustment pin to the jaw using screw eyes and a light chain, so it doesn’t get lost.

I used a 16" pipe for this vise. Like the face vise, reach under the bench and squeeze the clutch plates to adjust the clamp.


Cutting List


Fig. C: Exploded View


Fig. D: Guide Board Hole Pattern

Insert the adjustment pin in the hole that gives you the jaw opening best suited to your workpiece. Adjust the pipe clamp by squeezing the clutch plates to release their grip.



Moxon Vise

Named after 17th-century woodworker and author Joseph Moxon, this vise specializes in securely holding wide boards. Two clamps provide even clamping pressure across the whole board with no racking. Th e main feature my version has that the original didn’t is a quick-release mechanism (Fig. G and photo below).

Another benefit of the Moxon vise is its height. It clamps to your bench’s top, so your work is at about chest height. When you need to be close to your work, such as when cutting dovetails, this is the vise to use.

Unlike the other vises, I used 1/2" instead of 3/4" pipe clamps. Half-inch pipe clamps provide all the holding power I need, and I saved a few bucks. The pipes are 12" long.

A good vise must be extremely stable. I made this one extra-beefy, since it isn’t actually attached to a bench. Using two thicknesses of 3/4" plywood allowed me to make deep, strong, rabbeted dado joints without having to actually cut dadoes.

To build the vise, glue up the front jaw pieces (A) and set the assembly aside. Meanwhile, assemble the top and bottom (B), including the buildup (C) and filler (D) pieces. Use a plywood off cut as a spacer to create the dadoes. Trim the front jaw to final size and round over the outer edges if you wish.

Glue and screw the outer and inner sides (E and F) in place. Turn the assembly upside down and position the front jaw, rear jaw (G), rear jaw buildup (H), and guide blocks (J).

Mark and drill the front jaw holes using a drill press and then reposition the front jaw on the assembly. Slide the drill bit into the jaw’s holes to mark the hole centers on the rear jaw. Mark and drill the rest of the jaw/guide block assembly in the same manner. Finally, drill the holes in the ends of the guide blocks (Fig. F).

Next, cut out the levers (K, Fig. E) and handle (L). Mark the levers’ radii before drilling their holes. If you drill the holes first, you won’t have a place to position your compass for drawing the larger radius. Drill the holes in the levers, cut the bridle joints, chamfer the handle and glue the dowels (M) in the levers.

After the glue dries, slide the guide blocks onto the dowels (do not glue) and screw the whole assembly in place.

Before attaching the bottom, assemble the vise as you did the other vises, by removing the sliding heads and inserting the pipes through the jaw assembly. Set the push bar (N, Fig. H) in place and make sure the sliding heads are oriented properly before screwing them to the guide blocks. Th ere should be about 1/16" of play between the push bar ends and the clamps’ clutch plates. Adjust your push bar’s ends as needed to fit behind your clamp’s clutch plates.

Install the push bar retainers (P) and test the handle’s operation. Lastly, attach the bottom using glue and screws.


Cutting List


Fig. E: Lever


Fig. F: Guide Block End Hole


Fig. G: Exploded View


Fig. H: Push Bar End Taper

Pull the handle towards you to release the clutch plates for quick adjustment of the front jaw.




This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2013, issue #167.