One thing I’ve learned over the
years is that a good saw vise is hard to find. It’s not a
matter of quantity… finding one is very easy…they are
everywhere on eBay, antique shops and tool dealers. The
problem is finding one that functions well.
As I learned to sharpen saws
early on, my experiences with saw vises paralleled very
closely with my experiences with women. At first, I didn’t
know what to look for, so I would just buy everyone I found
and stick my saw in it to see how it worked.
Soon enough, in
addition to lots of sub-par vises (and unsavory
ex-girlfriends) I ended up with a very clear idea of what
was required of a solid, functional vise. It wasn’t until
then that I was finally able to find a great vise that could
serve all of my needs, because until then, I never knew what
So, now I know exactly what I
require in a good vise.
And what it all boils down to
is that because I do a lot of re-toothing by hand, I need a
vise that is as solid as a Nazi bunker. When you’re
re-toothing a 4 or 5 point rip saw, any weak point in the
vise will flex with your file stroke… and this robs your
file of its work. Not good. So I can now look at a vise and
tell if its going to be any good without even picking it up.
Now before you start lauding me
with praise, I should probably tell you that being able to
tell a good saw vise from a bad one is not rocket science. In fact, it’s probably common sense for your average second
grader… in most cases, bigger equals better. Why it took me
so long to figure this out, I don’t know (I never was very
smart anyway). Perhaps, just like those many ex-girlfriends,
I wasn’t paying attention to the right… details.
Anyway, I figured I would share
my experiences and critiques with each vise I’ve been
enamored with over the past few years.
It all started 8 or 9 years ago
the first time I sharpened a saw. At that time, I didn’t
even know that there was such a thing as a saw vise, so I
did what any power tool woodworker would have done and used
my Black and Decker Workmate. With two pieces of MDF as vise
jaws, I clamped my vintage Disston dovetail saw into the
Workmate and had at it… with surprisingly good results.
Workmate performed admirably, and if all I ever needed to
sharpen was back saws, then this would probably be all the
saw vise I would ever need. The jaws held the work more
securely than you’d ever need, it was easy to operate, and
didn’t deflect under my file stroke at all. Again, I was
filing a 15 point DT saw, so the stroke had minimal force
behind it, but this set up could easily handle anything up
to an 11 or 12 point saw with no problem. Go figure!
Alas, the burgeoning saw
disease was destined to soon metastasize to my brain and
completely take over my life, so when I started to file hand
saws I quickly outgrew my Workmate. I did try to make it
work, but the poor bugger just didn’t have the mass to pull
it off, and with its splayed steel legs, getting a stool
close enough to the vise for long filing sessions was an
exercise in futility. Oh well… who doesn’t like an excuse to
buy a new tool?!?!?
Here’s the point in the story
you all know so well… your first love… and boy, was she a
looker! A vintage, turn of the century Disston #2… you
know… the one with the raised lettering proclaiming her