Cutting dovetails by hand is satisfying
and rewarding work, but securing
the boards for sawing and chopping is
anything but. Face vises typically don’t
grip boards firmly enough for sawing,
because they rack. Th e solution—adding
a spacer of equal thickness to the
workpiece on the jaw’s other side—prevents
racking, but it’s a hassle.
Securing boards for chopping—wide
boards especially—is also awkward,
because it usually calls for two clamps
and three hands. This two-position vise
solves both of these problems, and it’ll
hold boards up to 18" wide.
Glue up three layers of plywood to
make the platform (A, Fig. A and Cutting
List, below). When the glue is dry, cut
the platform to final dimensions. Saw or
rout a groove for the T-track and install
it (see Sources, below). Then drill holes
near each corner to allow clamping the
vise in the vertical position. Make sure to
size the holes to fit your clamps.
The chopping plate (B) and support
spacer (C) function as the vise’s rear jaw.
Cut both parts from a single piece of plywood
to assure they’re exactly the same
thickness. Attach the chopping plate
in front of the T-track and the support
spacer behind it (Photo 1). Use screws
to fasten these parts, so that when the
chopping plate gets too nicked up, you
can easily replace them.
Find a suitable block of hardwood
for the jaw (D); hard maple is a good
choice. When you’re using the vise for
chopping, the jaw’s front edge guides the
chisel, so the jaw must be square and its
front edge must be perpendicular to the
platform (Photo 2).
Lay out the jaw’s slots and drill a
5/16" hole at the point where each slot
will end. Create the slots by sawing in to
each hole (Photo 3). Ease all of the jaw’s
sharp edges except for the front edge of
the face that contacts your workpiece.
You’ll want that crisp and sharp for lining
up with your workpiece’s layout line.
Next, make the cam clamps (E).
You could buy them, but they’re easy to
make and a great way to use up some
nice off cuts. Lay out the clamps’ holes,
slots and profiles on two blanks (Figs. B
and C). Drill holes for the cross dowels
and cut the slots using the same method
as for the jaw (Photo 4).
Cut out the cam clamps and sand
them to the profile lines (Photo 5).
For each clamp to function properly,
its break-over points must be slightly in
front of the cross dowel’s center diameter.
So when sanding the cam’s large end,
be careful not to change these points.
To assemble the cam clamps, slip the
hardware onto each bolt in this order: first a washer, then a conical compression
spring (available at any hardware
store), then two more washers. Insert a
cross dowel into each clamp and then
thread in the bolts (Photo 6).
Conical compression springs are
really handy for sliding boards in and
out and adjusting their position. They
compress to about 3/16" and provide lift
up to 1". That’s plenty of adjustment for
most of the stock you’ll be dovetailing.
Slide the bolts’ heads into the
T-track, and then slide each bolt into the
jaw’s slots. Th e jaw fits between the top
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Cam Clamp Dimensions
Fig. C: Cam Clamp Pattern
Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.
3' Universal T-track,
1/4-20 Cam Clamp,
Cross Dowel 1/4-20
x 1-3/16" length,
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2014, issue #172.
Click any image to view a larger version.
Saw comfortably. When the vise is clamped vertically, it
raises the workpiece to a comfortable
height for sawing pins and tails.
Chop accurately. When the vise is clamped flat, the jaw
acts as a support fence to assure precise,
Clamp quickly. The jaw’s spring-loaded cam clamps
provide fast, secure clamping of stock
from 3/16" to 1" thick.
1. Fasten the vise’s sacrificial chopping plate and support spacer
after assembling the platform and installing the T-track.
2. Mill the jaw dead-on square to assure perpendicular chisel cuts
when removing the waste between your saw cuts.
3. Bandsaw the jaw’s slots after drilling stop holes to define the
4. Cut a slot in each cam clamp after laying out a blank and drilling
5. Finish-sand each cam clamp after rough-sawing the profile. Be
careful not to change the clamp’s break-over points.
6. Thread each bolt into the clamp’s cross dowel after installing the
washers and springs. Then slide the bolts into the T-track and
install the jaw.