Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vises: Are They Necessary?

If you're an ancient Roman, the answer is "non, nunquam."

Recently I read Old Ways Of Working Wood by Alex Bealer. In it, he mentions the Romans' methods for securing workpieces to their benches without the use of vises.

With all the recent talk about vises—as many woodworkers are in the midst of or have recently finished their bench builds—it's an interesting idea to think that we might not need them.

I omitted an end vise on my new bench because I realized that in 20 years, I have never used the one on my old bench.

We can figure out how the Romans face-planed boards, as many of us use planing stops, but how did they edge join without the use of a vise or crochet?

According to Bealer, they drilled two parallel rows of holes into their benchtops. The workpiece was placed on-edge between the holes, and tall pegs were slipped into the holes. In between the workpiece and pegs, they placed thick wedges.

I had to try it.

The cheapie workbench I've been using for two decades came equipped with board supports, so I dropped two of them into the dog holes on my benchtop, on either side of my workpiece.  Then, I placed one thick wedge in between a peg and the board.

It held fairly well. If the tall pegs were thicker and had longer dowels to drop into the dog holes (mine are only an inch and a half long), and if two wedges were used instead of one, I think it would work better.  In lieu of those things, I put a planing stop in front of the workpiece and then the system worked great.

It's worth considering. Even if your bench is loaded with vises, you never know when a little ancient ingenuity will come in handy.