There is nothing like experience. As contractors, one of the greatest lessons that we have learned over the years is that hard work indeed pays off. However, as you may have discovered in your own experiences, hard work alone doesn’t always yield the desired results. On the other hand, working smart (in combination with hard work) can produce superior results. Engaging one’s brain before engaging one’s body (and tools) will almost always make a project go more smoothly, is safer and will produce better quality results.
Working smart can be expressed in many ways. Some examples are having a plan before proceeding with a building project – be it big (like a remodeling project) or small (as with a craft or repair). Having the right tools and making sure that they are sharp and in good working order is another means of working smart. Aside from experience, patience and a good plan, good tools, more than any other single element, can make or break a project. Not to mention the fact that good, well-maintained tools can make a project significantly safer.
Having a helping hand is another means of making a job go more smoothly. Having someone on the other end of a board or at the bottom of a ladder can make a project simpler and more pleasurable. The reality is, however, that a helper is not always available and, thus, one must fend for himself.
Our dad was an avid do-it-yourselfer. We were thrilled to be his helper whenever the need arose. However, when we were in school or otherwise occupied, dad managed just fine thanks to an extra set of hands that were always available to him in his workshop in the form of one bench vise. We were amazed how something so small could be so powerful and cause dad to work up such a sweat. We were glad that dad had such a reliable help when we couldn’t be available.
From that point on we learned that a vise was as essential part of any good workshop and that is could always provide a much needed “extra pair of hands.” A vise can hold materials while you cut, sand, drill, solder or perform dozens of other jobs without fear of the material slipping or moving out of place. This is especially true when using power tools – a vise is not only a convenience, it’s an important piece of safety equipment.
A vise isn’t a very complex tool. It consists of a fixed jaw and a moving jaw that travels on guide rods or a guide bar and is driven by a threaded rod with a handle to turn it. The jaws have corrugated or smooth metal faces that are often replaceable. Depending upon the overall size of the vise, the jaw face size (width by depth) ranges from about two inches by two inches to six by three inches. The maximum opening or vise capacity typically ranges from three to seven inches.
One slick feature that can really improve a vise’s usefulness is an optional swivel base that will allow the vise to be rotated to the left or right. Equally valuable is an optional anvil, which acts as a perfect surface for hammering out material. Many vises are equipped with a secondary set of pipe jaws to hold pipe, rods, dowels, tubing and other circular material.
Dad did so much plumbing work he had a special “pipe vise” that was used exclusively for plumbing pipes. Although both of dad’s vises were mounted on his workbench in his shop, many or today’s vises are as mobile as the people who use them. And where all vises were once made of steel, high impact composite materials have become a favorite of do-it-yourselfers looking for a highly-portable extra set of hands. Vises are now standard equipment on many portable workbenches.
A vise should be treated like any other tool purchase. Tools are an investment that can last a lifetime if properly maintained. And other than a little periodic cleaning and lubrication, a vise is virtually maintenance free. When it comes to vises, size matters. It is better to go with a vise that is slightly larger than what you believe you will need rather than struggling with something that is too small to accommodate your needs. An undersized vise can also quickly become a safety hazard and knuckle buster.
If you have a workbench, we suggest that you get a steel vise with an anvil and swivel base that bolts directly to the bench top. If, on the other hand, your work surface is a traveling affair, then a clamp-on vise will probably better suit your needs. Finally, if an extra set of hands for light to medium crafts projects is what your looking for, have a look at the portable composite products that can really come in handy – no pun intended.