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I live in Brazil and here we have very low quality bench vise screws, and NO woodworker bench vises for sale. Buying overseas the price starts at 200 dollars with shipping (shipping and taxes are more expensive than the vise).

I want to start playing with woodworking, some cabinet making using MDF and plywood, and maybe some furniture using salvaged wood. Can I realistically work on wood using a bench with no vises, or just vises that uses wedges, bench dogs, etc?

I guess my major problem would be edge work (planning, cutting, routing, etc). Some of that can me solved using an engineer vise (available here) or holding wood to the bench legs using clamps.

Also, is there any good bench designs that DON'T incorporate a front and tail vises?

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    I really not trying to be rude, but what's wrong with a table? It sounds like you have access to some basic clamps, you can make your own guides. – Jason Feb 27 '13 at 20:12
  • I also use a simple table. If I need a piece to remain steady, I simply clamp it to the table. Heck. I'm actually using my table saw top as my gluing bench! (It's stronger and flater than my table...) – Maxime Morin Feb 27 '13 at 20:19
  • Not rude at all. This is probably what I'm going to do. I just thought that a bench could have some advantages like: bench dogs, sturdy top and legs, weight (stability)... since this sidetracked a bit, having a nice sturdy table (I'm thinking metal frame with a double plywood top bolted to the ground). – Luiz Borges Feb 27 '13 at 22:43
  • More often then using the vice, I clamp things to my bench. – Steven Feb 28 '13 at 1:32
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I have no vice and I've always been able to get by without one. In fact, in all the shows I've seen about woodworking, building houses, and doing home improvement work I cannot think of a single time I've ever seen anyone use a vice. I much more frequently use clamps anyways, which are much more versatile.

Good woodworking is as much about using your brains to improvise as it is having the exact tools for every single job. In many cases you can build what you don't have, which are some interesting projects.

  • To be honest, I don't recall seing a vise in use on any shows or videos, but they are always there, haunting my thoughts, making me believe they will be needed as if they were the ultimate tool. :) Since I don't have much pratical experience with woodworking I was looking for cases like yours be more self assured. – Luiz Borges Feb 28 '13 at 10:19
  • I hope this forum can put your mind at rest @LuizBorges. – GdD Feb 28 '13 at 11:54
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You can just make your own holdfasts and dogs and dog holes in a bench and with holes bored into it. You can use a pair of saw horses to make the bench and you can make the saw horses just free handing it and sitting on the wood. Any clamping pressure can be applied either with bought clamps or a Greek vice, which is simply some cords or rope wrapped around something, and a stick put in and wound up to provide pressure. Like what is used in a bow saw. You can cut corner protectors so you can clamp a box or frame together too. A set of tightening load straps with a ratchet on them would be a modern take on this.

Paul Sellers has some excellent videos on bench making, but he rarely uses dogs and holdfasts. You can use the dogs and holdfasts exclusively though, including your work and two folding wedges between your work and the dogs and tapping in one of the wedges to provide the clamping force and the sliding "folding" action of the wedge to provide the variable length you need for any work piece that doesn't fit neatly between your dogs, which are of course spaced out to however you have bored your dog holes.

If the legs of your bench are flush with the apron and the apron with the top, you can also bore dog holes and use holdfasts to clamp something like a door to the side of your bench. Maybe make the legs a little thicker to account for the reduction in strength causes by boring holes in them?

Finally you could make yourself a leg vice from some hardwood and any old jack screw or acme screw, say like they use on the bottom of scaffolding. Or you could even cut your own screw in hardwood! That's 'what they did in the old days for wine presses, etc, and eventually that lead to the printing press and the screw cutting lathe, so the sky's the limit man, only limited about how much time you want to put into it.

To cut a screw in a piece of wood without screw cutting equipment: mark the required pitch line on it and chisel out to the screw form you want. You can do this by drawing or printing out a triangle with the required pitch angle on it, or do what Maudsley did and set a knife at the right angle on a sliding carriage set on a straight edge, and press the knife into the wood (or lead or brass or other relatively (to the steel of the knife) material). Then rotate the work, and a spiral of the required pitch will be cut into the work, which can then be finished by hand.

You can make a straight edge by scraping to the rule of threes... so yeah starting with nothing but some iron and some logs, you can definitely cut a screw.

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A vise is a useful general-purpose clamp for holding pieces while you work on them. But there are certainly other ways to hold something in useful orientations.

I've seen a jig which is basically a simple vise using a couple of clamps to tighten the jaw and a couple more to hold it to the top of the bench -- and another construced an an "outboard" leg vise that could be screwed or clamped to an existing bench.

And a more traditional vise can usually be added to a bench later if you want it.

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If you have an English style bench with solid skirts, check out this video.

The video shows woodworking on a bench without a tail vise or face vise (and not a bunch of clamps) is an option if you use a bench with a mix of bench dogs, holdfasts, and doe's feet--slim boards with a fork at one end.

In the above link Mike Siemsen demonstrates their use when rip and cross cutting and planing. He is using a split top bench which also provides functionality that reduces the need for a vise.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. We tend to discourage link-only answers, as links decay over time. If you can, please add an image of the solution you're referencing to your answer. – Daniel Griscom Jan 4 '16 at 12:26

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