The Z-Vice and more thoughts on the topic of workbenches

I had planned to buy the wood on Wednesday to redo my bench on Friday while I was home, but didn’t get around to it. It appears that this was a good thing, as I got something today that has made me glad I built it the way I did.

I’d mentioned the Z-Vice (Zyliss Vice) in a previous post, as I saw them being demonstrated at the Better Homes & Gardens show a few weeks back. I thought they were fantastic and would suit my way of working but they were not cheap though, so I didn’t get one at the time.

As it happens, I was at my local woodworking club today and one of the members had an old one for sale, unopened and much cheaper than new so I bought it.

The overhang of my benchtop happens to fit it perfectly, and I’ve been quite impressed with the testing I’ve done on it this afternoon. For those not familiar with it, it’s a portable vice that the demonstrators claim will do it all and sounds to good to be true – it holds wood rock solid for planing either along or across the bench, it makes a great carving or dovetail vice etc etc. The thing is, from my testing today, it actually does appear to do all of this remarkably well.

Here it is in action, the perspex was all I had to hand but it gives you an idea of the potential – it holds it firm while you rout and edge in this mode, or lets you plane long ways as in the second picture.

It actually did hold it steady very well – no movement at all. It’s also great across the bench or holding wood upright

There’s a number of features I haven’t explored yet but simply for the ability to hold work solid for planing makes it worth the price I paid. It also saves me a lot of work drilling bench dog holes as I don’t appear to need them anymore.


Portable Workbench – Revisited

Now that I have a full size bench I didn’t expect to be using my portable one as much but so far it seems that the opposite is true. I’ve already had it set up as a finishing table, and I moved it under the light while I did some tool restorations. It’s also home to the drop saw now, and the ability to clamp two extension arms into it is fantasic.

It’s lost the front vice to the big bench, but now it’s truly portable again. Given the price of these, I’d recommend one to anyone looking for some extra bench space and they really aren’t a bad place for a beginner to start either.

How come the vice is so much lower than the top of the bench?

“I have one question with the location of the vice, how come it is so much lower than the top of the bench”

That one question from a member of the Australian Woodwork Forums had me scratching my head and trying to figure out what I’d done wrong.

I’d taken the vice out of Dad’s workbench earlier in the year and mounted it onto my portable workbench almost exactly the same way and it looked fine there, so why did it look wrong here?

It took going back to the source and taking a look at dad’s bench to figure it out. His bench has a much shorter apron than mine does, and he’d also done one important thing I hadn’t thought about – he’d recessed the back jaw into the top of his workbench top, and drilled holes to let the bars though the apron as well, instead of having it slung under the bench like I had. This was also a lot stronger and meant he only needed short jaws to get them to match the top of the bench.

I’ve got plans to fit this the way he did when I rebuild the bench shortly, and I’m also thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should invite him over to help. He’ll enjoy it, I’ll enjoy it, and I might not be sitting here in a months time writing about how I didn’t install the vice properly.

Workbench revisited

I’ve had the pleasure of reading Christopher Schwarz’s “Workbenches : From design and theory to construction and use” this week after finding it build on the bottom shelf of the woodworking section of the local library and I’m currently wishing I’d found it a few weeks earlier.

It’s highlighted some issues with my recent workbench build that I’m sure would have come up anyway through use, but this has sped up the process of finding those flaws.

Firstly, I should have mounted the rails flush to the front of the bench so I could use the front stretcher as the back vice face and made use of the full width with the vice. This would have also made it possible to clamp boards for dovetailing to the front of the bench. Instead I left a 4cm overhand which is great for clamping but not for much else, as the struggle to get the vice faces on had already highlighted.

I think this would have the added benefit of letting my screw the top down on every edge and knock the last of the bow out of the top. It’s a lot better thanks to the weight I’ve had on it and the clamps but still isn’t quite flat.

Secondly, I have limited my ability to use holddowns and benchdogs properly by adding the cabinet below the bench. As much as I like it there if it’s going to stop the bench doing the job it was built for it has to move so I’ll use it elsewhere. This problem is at least easily fixed.

There’s a couple of other things the book has made me want to add – a crochet and a sliding deadman. Both could come in very handy.

I’ve decided to take the opportunity of the bench not quite being finished to fix some of these issues. To fix the overhang, all I need to do is cut a few more crossbars a bit longer and replace the existing ones, which will let me fix some messy joinery and possibly strengthen the bench in the process. The cupboard will just unscrew, and I will look at routing a grove for a sliding deadman.

It may seem silly to some to take an almost fully built workbench apart right away and make changes but I’d rather get it right the first time. I’ll keep you updated on the changes.

More progress on the workbench – Part 3

Well I didn’t get it quite finished today, but I got the front vice installed, along with a cupboard in the front. The top is partially screwed down.

I have to admit to cheating with the cupboard – my late grandfather made it for my mother about 15 years ago, but its been my parents garage for a few years now as it no longer fit with their redone kitchen so I salvaged it to put into my bench. I wasn’t sure about the idea but built the frame to fit it, and once I put it in place I knew it had to stay there. It just felt right.

It adds a little storage and looks nice, but the thing I like most about it is that it’s something my grandfather made in something I made. Dad’s vice and mountings are in there too so there’s three generations of the family’s work in this one bench.

Still to go – finish mounting the benchtop, put faces onto the vice, put the bottom shelf in then finish a few tidy up bits and pieces, but here’s what it looks like currently.

More progress on the workbench

Last weekend I all but finished the workbench legs. Today so far I’ve managed to cut and put together the frame, so it’s starting to look like a proper bench instead of a big pile of oddly shaped wood. I’ve only stopped long enough to give my back a rest and grab something to eat then I hope to have the frame finished and sanded this afternoon, ready for the front vice and top to be put on tomorrow.

Here are the legs, ready for the crossbars. I’m quite hopeful that it will be a solid bench given how stable these seem by themselves.

Here’s the same legs with the first crossbar fitted.

Next is the frame put together with the top rails in place. I found at this point that while my concept was sound, my joinery skills aren’t so there was some fine tuning to come to get it all square.

Another picture of the frame clamped together so you can see the joins more clearly

The next step was to glue and screw the top rails to the legs. Two screws each to start with, the other two will go in at the end and be used for final squaring of the frame. here’s the frame once this has been done.

To save time by not having to continually swap the drill and countersink bits, I put the countersink bit into my hand drill. I find it also lets you control how deep you go better than the electric drill anyway.

I noticed when I put it all together that the parts I hand cut were much more square than those I did on the power mitre saw. I’ll have to have a look at that and fix the alignment. Here’s the hand cut parts.

And here’s the machine cut ones. Notice the gap on the right hand side. The second crossbar did fix this a lot but I’m still surprised out how much it was out.

The last couple of things I did before taking a little break was to put in one of the secondary crossbars and to put a chamfer on the end of the legs, and sand them flat. This is mostly for appearance but I think it looks much nicer done than left totally square.

Back to work now!

Building the workbench legs

I got time yesterday to start cutting and putting the workbench legs together. These are made of two 100mm x 50mm pieces of oregon laminated together with PVA glue. One piece is the full 75cm height, while the other half is two shorter lengths glue in place to make lap joints with the cross rails.

I rough planed the wood, got the pieces cut and glued up, and I’ve started sanding them now. I’ve also run a light chamfer on the edges and plan to run a larger chamfer on the bottom of the legs as well. I may end up running the roundover bit over it all but I think I like the hand done look more.

Here you can see the one half marked up, ready for the other half to be glued in place. I used an offcut as a crossbar to make sure I got a good fit when setting these down, and again once I’d tightened the clamps as it shifted the workpiece a little.

Below you can see the end piece glued in to form the lap joint for the bottom rail. I’ll need to trim a bit off the small end block before I can finish this leg as I overcut it a bit. You can see the spacer in this picture as well.

Next weekend I hope to finish these off and get the base together. I’m going to have to screw the benchtop down from above as the bow isn’t coming out of it as quickly as I would have liked, but that should be fine. Then I can mount the front vice and drill some dog holes.