Monday, September 12, 2011

Moxon Vise with Metal Screws

Workbenches and vises have been very popular topics for magazines, bloggers, and manufacturers for the past few years. Thanks to Chris Schwarz and others, we have all been able to dive deeply into workholding theory for the shop. Building a capable workbench is becoming a rite of passage for modern woodworkers.

It doesn't look like this resurgence will slow any time soon. In fact, there are a couple great workbench builds going on right now across the web. For instance, check out Kari Hultman's blog, The Village Carpenter as she begins construction of a Roubo style bench. In addition, Marc Spagnuolo has announced that the winter build for The Wood Whisperer Guild will be a Benchcrafted Split-Top Roubo Workbench.

One design that has gotten a lot of recent attention is the Moxon Vise, which is a handy clamping accessory for working on the ends of boards. It excels at holding boards for dovetailing or tenoning with a hand saw. Based on a 17th century manuscript by Moxon, the common design spreading through the woodworking world comes from a recent article in Popular Woodworking Magazine by Schwarz. That guy is everywhere! The Moxon is a twin-screw vise that clamps on top of your workbench, so it raises the work up to a better height for sawing.

Schwarz's version of the Moxon vise
One downside to the Schwarz design is that it uses shop-made wooden screws, so you will need a threading and tapping kit.  This is about a $50 pain in the butt, and I've heard that the tapping kits are very finicky and tough to get working correctly.  On top of that, wooden screws will expand and contract with seasonal humidity changes so they may not always work smoothly.

After a little googling, I was able to find a cheap source for some 1" metal rod with Acme threads.  Using metal screws avoids the problem of working with a threading kit, and another bonus is that the metal screws are 4 tpi (threads per inch).  The wooden threading kits I found were 6 tpi, so the metal screws should screw in and out 33% faster!

I got the stuff from and the part numbers you need are 1-2983-100-3 for the threaded rod and 1-2984-100N for the nuts. I tried to find some surplus Acme rockets like Wile E. Coyote used, but no luck there.  Total cost for 3ft of threaded rod and four nuts was about $60 plus shipping.  This is enough for two Moxon vises, so the cost is about the same as a threading kit.

This is all the hardware you'll need for a couple Moxon vises

The first task was to cut up the threaded rod into smaller pieces.  I needed 7" lengths of thread for my design, which yields a 2 1/2" capacity in the vise.  If you want to hold thicker boards, you may need longer screws.

I rigged up these little stands to make cutting the threaded rod easier

I wanted to cut 7" sections of the rod for my purposes

You could go crazy with a hacksaw, but I used a sawzall to make the cuts.
Slip the blade into the slot in the stand to keep the cuts as straight as possible.

Flip the stand on its side and use a metal vise to clean up the cut.
Get it close to 90 degrees, and remove all sharp edges that can injure you.

My neighbor is a wood turner and he was kind enough to turn a couple walnut handles for me.  Did I mention how much walnut we have?  The plan was to epoxy the threaded rod into the handles, and it worked like a smelly, sticky charm.

One of the walnut handles my neighbor made, a section
of threaded rod, and 5-minute epoxy.  What could go wrong?

Put the epoxy into the hole, and work the threaded rod down into
the epoxy so that the threads get filled up.

Next, I needed to make the vise body and front chop.  I used a seasoned 2x10 that was laying around the shop (well, my neighbor's shop...but he looked the other way for a couple seconds too long!)   I stayed pretty close to the dimensions from Schwarz's magazine plans.  With luck and planning you will end up with a little more than 24" between the screws.

Front vise chop, rear body, and stabilizing support were cut and milled square.

The screws go through the front chop, and thread into the rear body of the vise.  For the wooden-screw versions, you would need to use a tapping kit to cut some threads in the holes in the main body.  I simply drilled some 1" holes and sunk the nuts into the back of the body so they wouldn't spin.

I used a knife to mark the locations of the nuts on the back of the vise.

A little drilling and chiseling created a recess for the nut to sit in.

The nuts are just friction fit, though a little epoxy would work fine also.

Here is the completed Moxon vise, shown from the back.  You can see why the nuts are countersunk, so they won't rotate when you tighten the screws.

All the edges are chamfered, and a little danish oil makes a good finish

The Moxon vise sits on top of your regular workbench, and you can just clamp it down to the bench top.  This provides a rock-solid way to clamp a board for working on the end.  It's great for hand sawing, and also raises the workpiece up to a much more comfortable height.

With 24" between the screws, you could dovetail the side of a cabinet in this vise.

I can see why this vise has become so popular among woodworkers.  It's an easy build, and really is specialized for working the ends of boards.  Combine this with other vises on your bench, and you will be all set for any hand tool woodworking.

Here is a picture of my wacky English woodturning neighbor giving the vise a test drive.  I think he likes it!

He's having a little too much fun!
Have you built a Moxon vise?  Let's hear about it in the comments! 


Derek Olson (Oldwolf) said...

I have built a Moxon Vise and I absolutely adore the hell out of mine. I put a ledge on the back bard to I could clamp it to the bench with a couple hold fasts, but I have been using it mine for over a year now and it is still my favorite bench appliance ever. And it is more versatile than just dovetails and joinery. I've taken to clamping stock in it when I am edge planing a molding.

I like the metal threaded rod you used. I considered that approach for a time and backed into the thread box and tap. In honesty I had no troubles getting them to work well, you have to think about them like a plane that needs fine adjustment to work well, but the finicky part was turning the handles down to the right diameter.

At any rate, excellent work on the vise, you will love it!!

Anonymous said...

Well done, this is contagious, I made mine before summer and it is a great buddy to our shops
Thanks for sharing, keep it up !

Aaron said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I have been using the Moxon vise for a month or two, and have no complaints. I don't have a face vise on my the Moxon has come in handy for a lot of things.

Oldwolf, I also added a support on the back of the vise but I didn't dovetail it like yours. Just simple glue, so I still use the clamps so far. I bet my holdfasts would reach to the top though, I'll have to check.

Julio, you are right about this being contagious. Seems like everybody loves to talk about workbenches and vises!

Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron, thats a great setup you have but I'm not sure about the guy in the last photo, he looks like a real psycho. I wouldnt let him near any sharp instruments if i were you...


Jeff said...

Thanks for posting this. I may just try to make one myself. That would be the perfect reason to actually start dovetailing by hand.

Tom Stephenson said...

Me likey! I've been intrigued by the Moxon that Schwarz built, and like you was put off a bit by having to make the threaded rods. I like your method and will give it a go. Well done!

Aaron said...

This approach is dirt cheap, less than $40 for a Moxon vise. I'm going to use the leftover hardware to make myself a leg vise too...I can't resist the call much longer.

Tom Buhl said...

Aaron, I put mine together this week. I'll take some pix to share in a few days. Number of small simultaneous small projects going now which is not my usual mode of operation. Test run confirmed that I've missed this capability. i have two small face vices which sort of work but often need extra clamps and rigs. Also like making those dovetail type cuts at the new height.

I used the BenchCrafted hardware. Added a wider stabilizer than their plans and use holdfasts on that surface. Clamp bars sticking up seem threatening to my sensitive skin and noggin. Stabilizer piece is just glued but lots of glue surface with 8/4 Ash seems to be more stable than my little (until Guild Build) bench.

Also put a top cleat on the fixed jaw and made a 22w x 9d work surface with outboard leg. Planned to glue that to the cleat, but for now just set it on to see if I will use it and like it. If all glued up this will be a heavy beast for a moveable appliance.

Good to see you at WIA again this year.

Dyami Plotke said...

Well done, Aaron. After chatting about this at WIA I've been constantly turning the idea over in my head. I'm happy to report that I've received my Lee Valley screw and it seems machined well. I don't think I'll be picking up an Acme screw, but you never know. I could buy a build a few of these for less then the cost of the benchcrafted hardward.

Aaron said...

Tom, I agree about using the holdfasts. I've switched over to them too. My stabilizer is just glued on, and a wider footprint would make it really stable.

Dyami, glad to hear the Lee Valley screw will work. There are a lot of options out there besides the Benchcrafted parts. But wow, their stuff is nice.

The 36" screw that I bought was enough for the Moxon and a leg vise with plenty left over. In fact, my Moxon has about a 4 1/2" capacity compared to the Benchcrafted version at 2 1/4". You could easily make 3 Moxons from that 36" long metal screw.

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Unknown said...

You can save a good deal on the threaded rod and nuts by using 3/4" (~$35) .vs. 1" ($50+). 3/4" is PLENTY beefy enough for this application - it's what Benchcrafted uses on their Moxon hardware.

Unknown said...

I recognize that look on the wacky Brit, I've met that look before. Now that he really likes the vise, he knows where the wood came from and you get to build another one for him.