At first glance a bench vise seems a straightforward item. Basic, robust engineering, with a simple function, and intuitive use. But go shopping for one, and you’ll find you have a harder choice than you expected. Size, materials, jaw options, and more. Suddenly, it’s not such a simple purchase.
After getting to grips with a whole bunch of different vises, the five follow are those that came out on top. A brief explanation of their features and benefits accompanies each one. If you’re ready to buy, check out the recommendations in that product list.
For a full breakdown of the components and materials that make a top bench vise, you can read the following report. It provides all the knowledge you need to compare and contrast bench vises on your own.
Types of Bench Vises
There are three main types of bench vises: benchtop, front, and end vises. Each style has its merits, though the project at hand will most likely determine which will work best for your needs.
As the name suggests, benchtop vises (also known as machinists’ vises) mount to the top of your workbench. While some models clamp onto the workbench surface, some bolt directly through the table for the strongest possible attachment.
While some vises are suited to different tasks and materials, the benchtop vise is more of a “do-all” device. They have strong jaws and exert a lot of clamping pressure. They also hold the workpiece off of the table’s surface—very helpful for welding or wrenching. Though great for mechanics and metalworkers, their use for woodworking is somewhat limited.
Front vises mount to the front of your workbench. They’re popular among woodworkers because their position allows you to perform such tasks as planing, routing, or dovetailing without having a long piece of board jutting out into the middle of the workshop. Some of the best front vises feature rapid action, also known as a quick-release, which allows you to quickly adjust the vise to size on a workpiece before snugging it in place with a quick turn of the handle.
End vises, which mount to the end of a workbench, look and work very similarly to front vises, though their intended use differs slightly. Woodworkers may opt for an end vise if they do a lot of surface planing and flattening—tasks that require complete stability from your workpiece. You can lay a board across the top of a bench, flip up the “dog” (a small metal peg that sits inside the jaw), place an additional dog in a hole in the work surface, and then tighten the vise to hold the board in place. Both dogs should sit below the board’s surface to limit the chances of striking the board with an expensive hand plane.
There aren’t a lot of other uses for an end vise, as most materials will stick out into the workshop if clamped into one.
Things to Know Before Choosing A Bench Vise
While you are going through the virtually infinite list of bench vises, you will find yourself bewildered in options that will have similar features, if not better. However, things might look the same, but a lot is going on under the hood.
Every vise will serve the same functionality, but there are some things that you should keep in mind before you set out to buy one for yourself. These are as stated:
Jaws are the most crucial aspect of a bench vise as they are the only thing that will securely hold the workpiece that you are working on together. Keep in mind how much space you are going to require in between the jaws when you are out in the market.
As most of the jaws of a vise can open up to a specific length and have different width and depth. Also, certain types of jaws can only handle specific workloads. So, if you are going to do hefty works, choose the one that will be able to hold that pressure.
Swivel, in case of bench vises, plays a significant role in case of getting your object placed securely in the position you are comfortable enough to work with your workpiece. A full rotation feature makes working with a vise just a walk in the park.
Most of the vises offer a base rotation mechanism along with the swing. The base swivel makes handling the object you are working on much more efficiently. You will find yourself making less frequent position changing because of this feature alone.
Sometimes you can find yourself hard-pressed to choose because the models you fancy come with the same jaw width and opening. This would be the moment then to consider the overall size and weight.
If that’s the case, you need to go back and review your purpose. Do you plan on subjecting your tool to some serious pounding? If so, you should go with the model that’s heavier and looks sturdier.
Size and weight will also be important factors if you want to have a portable unit. However, keep in mind that smaller vises may be excellent tools under the right circumstances but they typically have fewer capabilities.
If you’re leaning towards a heavy-duty model, it would also be wise to pay attention to how the model will be mounted. Aim for one with at least three mounting tabs but the best option for a bulky vise is four.
Jaw opening—the distance between the jaws when the vise is fully opened—is an important consideration, as it determines how wide of an item you can clamp in your vise. Commonly, most jaw openings match jaw width, so a 6-inch vise will have a 6-inch jaw opening and jaw width, though this isn’t always the case.
Woodworking vises like front- and end-mounted vises will have larger jaw openings for clamping wide boards in place. It’s not uncommon to find a woodworking vise with a jaw opening of more than 10 inches.
Throat depth in both bench vises and woodworking vises refers to the distance from the top of the jaw to the top of the screw mechanism that tightens the vise. Essentially, it quantifies how deeply you can clamp a workpiece down inside of a vise.
Throat depth is important, particularly when edge planing wide boards or welding wide pieces of steel. The larger the throat depth, the easier it is to clamp these wide materials toward their centers, providing more stability and holding strength while allowing you to apply more leverage or weight. Generally speaking, the larger the vice, the deeper the throat depth.
Many of the bench vises in the market are featuring this convenient mechanism. A quick-release lever will let you unlatch the object in between the jaws faster, which means you do not have to rotate the spindle to release the workpiece manually.
However, this feature is not a must-have feature. It is just there to make your work quicker and efficient.
Our Top Picks
Now that you have an idea of which style of vise will work best for your bench and in your shop, you’re ready to start shopping. The following bench vises—from woodworking vises with quick-release functions to heavy-duty cast iron models—were selected taking the above factors into consideration.
For a medium-duty, no-frills bench vise, this one is worth checking into. It is a 30,000 PSI steel vise with 6-inch wide serrated replaceable jaws and a jaw opening of up to 6 inches, covering most DIY and home workshop needs.
There’s a double-lock swivel base with roughly 160-degrees of rotation for getting a better angle on your workpiece. The vise also has a large, flat anvil work surface for hammering away at your to-do list. The jaw screw is covered with a square sleeve to keep the vise working as smoothly as possible while deferring damage. The vise lacks pipe clamps, however, so it is more difficult to secure round stock like pipes and metal tubing.
This low-cost vise provides the secure foundation needed for most basic tasks, while costing significantly less than similar options. Its jaws can fit objects up to three inches wide, and at just 11.22 pounds, should be simple to mount without too much hassle. Plus, its compact size makes it a great fit for weekend warriors who might not have the space, or a big enough work bench, to handle a larger unit.
We’ve used Irwin hand tools for years, and have always had a positive experience with their performance and reliability—especially clamps and vises.
As mentioned earlier, Yost makes a lot of bench vise models. And we yet another bench vise from Yost that is much larger than the previous one.
Yost’s Model 465 bench vise is present in the 2nd position in this article as it is the largest option in this article. And since it is slightly expensive than the last Yost bench vise, it comes with a 3-year warranty.
You get a jaw width of 6 ½ inches along with a jaw opening of 5.5 inches. As it offers a throat depth of 3.75 inches, you can easily hold most workpieces easily.
Due to its large size, it can offer a high clamp force of 4950 pounds and a torque rating of 116 ft-lb. In other words, it provides an excellent grip while holding different kinds of objects using this bench vise. Just like the previous bench vise from Yost, this one also has a rotating base with a 360-degree angle for ease of use.
Tekton can be another great option if you are looking for a bench vise. The Tekton bench vise present in this article can be a great affordable option.
You get a 4-inch jaw width in this bench vise that is made out of steel and easy to replace. It also offers a throat depth of 2 ⅜ inch along with a jaw opening of 3 inches. All of these things allow this bench vise to offer an excellent grip while working with your power tools. You also get a swivel base with a rotation angle of 120 degrees.
It uses cast iron for its construction that allows it to have a tensile strength of 30,000 PSI. This is quite useful as you also get an inbuilt anvil in this bench vise. But the best part about this bench vise is that it offers a lifetime warranty to its users that makes it highly reliable.
A vise which is a good fit for the DIY enthusiast working with a moderate budget and a mid-sized shop The Olympia Tools 38-614 4″ Mechanic’s Bench Vise is one of the most economical options available when shopping for a budget bench vise. The strength of this vise is well beyond what most people will need and the grip is solid when tightened down with only a little wiggle in the swivel.
Included replaceable jaw faces are a nice feature too often absent in this price range but mandatory for someone like me. My only real complaint is this model it doesn’t move as smoothly as I’d like when opening and closing the jaws but it’s to be expected from a budget vise.
- Never wind the front jaw/slide all the way out. They can be very heavy. If they become detached they can fall and cause injury. They can also be extremely difficult to re-align.
- When you’ve finished work for the day, open the vise jaws slightly and leave the handle in the vertical position. If you leave it horizontal, it can catch you at hip height when you pass, leaving a surprisingly painful bruise.
- Never use extension bars on the handle. The supplied handle will apply the maximum pressure intended. Trying to exert more can potentially damage the vise, or cause injury to the user.
- Never leave a vise closed when not in use. Doing so causes stress that can lead to fractures.
Keep reading for answers to commonly asked questions about these useful workshop apparatuses.
How do you install a bench vise?
Install a benchtop vise over the top of one of your workbench’s legs to distribute force directly into the ground instead of absorbing it. Right-handed woodworkers typically like their front mount vises on the left side of their workbench and their end vices on the right end, while lefties prefer the opposite.
Which Type of Bench Vise Do I Need?
There are lots of different bench vises for different workplace environments. For example, plumbers will use a pipe bench vise that features specially-designed jaws to hold pipes. These are available with chains or yoke.
There are also metalworking and woodworking bench vises (usually heavy- or medium-duty) that have their own applications relating to those specific industries – although some woodworking vises can be used in metalwork as well.
What can I do by using a bench vise?
A bench vise will allow you to do multiple works with the most efficiency and accuracy. You can work like cutting, drilling, sanding, and even gluing with the help of a bench vise. You can do them without a bench vise. It is a utility, not a necessity.
What does the PSI rating mean on a bench vise?
If you’re shopping for a bench vise, you’ve probably noticed that they feature a psi rating. The psi stands for pounds per square inch. It’s the pressure used during the casting of the vise; it’s also a direct reflection of the iron used to make the vise. A psi of 30,000 is an acceptable ratio for a gray cast iron bench vise, and a psi of 60,000 is acceptable for a ductile cast iron model.