Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Emmert revisited, and a summation of the process to date.

Edit: 12/19/2011: I have written up a more concise and better illustrated narrative on how to install the Emmert Pattern Maker's vise here

Edit: 11/1/10: The bench is back together, and I've since posted some tips for anyone who wants to install one of these monstrous miracles.

So, I've been playing with... er... USING... the Emmert for a few weeks now, and I've run into a problem. Setting the vise into the front edge of the bench top was simply not a good idea. At least, not the way I was trying to do it. I read Roger Van Maren's account of how to do a flush mount, and it looked nice enough to me. And the lasting impression was that it would be a good idea.

Originally, I had a mental image of a big vise, traced out and neatly inset into the front of the bench. I thought that a reasonable clearance around the vise would be enough to let it rotate freely. It sounded neat, and clean. The reality is that the Emmert Universal vise is Big, Versatile, and it Needs Room to move around. My own mental image of an inset vise has proven to be possible, but impractical, as it restricts the most useful features of the vise.

I struggled with the issues of laying out and mounting the vise, and this is a brief run-down of my experiences in mounting an Emmert U-6 Universal. I'm not saying that this is the way to do it,  I'm simply putting down what I went through to learn what I know now.

The U-6 is huge. The main jaws are 18" wide, and 6" high. This is without the small machining jaws that are on the bottom, which have already proven their worth. The whole thing weighs something in the neighborhood of 90 pounds. This is not like other vises I've installed. Most others I could mount by lying on the floor, holding up with one hand, and drilling and installing mounting bolts with the other. Installing an Emmert is a not so easy.


I knew I wanted the rear jaw to be flush with the bench. But the fact still remained that I needed to figure out a practical way to do an accurate layout, so that I could mount 90 pounds of cast iron with half a hope of getting it where I wanted it.

Eventually I conceived of clamping a board to the front edge of the bench, and wrapping the vise around that. The back face of the board would align the vise with the front face of the bench. Brilliant! After this, I took the vise off, laid down a piece of plywood to trace out my pattern, and put the vise back in place. I used the old pencil and washer trick to trace around the vise, and made a pattern that I could use to cut out my inset. And it worked.

I think that laminating another piece to the front of the bench to be in line with the vise is a better idea than flush mounting. But for those of you who want to keep the front of the bench the way it is, and are cutting into an existing bench top, I think a square cut corner notch is the way to go. But you still need to lay out and align everything before you cut the notch out. And the method I just described proved to be a viable way to do that before you cut into anything.

-Side note on the mounting plate. I mounted the plate to be just below the bench surface, which makes sense to me. But it wasn't a simple routing job. The mounting plate is actually tapered in thickness, and is thicker down where the holes are for the screws. So I had to use a chisel to make the recess deeper at the other end. I had read somewhere that the vise requires #18 wood screws. So, that's what I bought. And when it came time to do the mounting, they turned out to be too big. I drilled out the holes and countersunk further. So, my vise uses #18, but my suspicion is that other vises may call for something smaller. 

-Cutting everything out. Using the pattern I got from tracing out the upside-down vise, I used a router with bearing bits to cut into the bench top. But then I realized that I couldn't rotate the vise within the cutout. So, I broke out the carving tools and went to work. It was a pain in the ass.

AND I had to hog out a trench for the beam that houses the threaded rod. I've seen pictures of the chunk of wood that has to come out to clear the vise hub, but I hadn't really thought about beam clearance. Without the trench, the beam hit the underside of the bench, and the vise wouldn't sit square. Clearly, my bench top is thicker than the ones I've seen other pattern vises mounted to. Or, maybe I am. Or both.

-Recently, I noticed that when the vise is tilted, and I rotated the vise, the top flange of the rear jaw bangs into the top, front edge of the inset. I'd carved out a curved recess to allow the vise to rotate in a vertical direction, but it was looking like I'd have to carve more to allow it to rotate around the top edge of the inset. I decided that I'm not going to keep carving forever to make more and more clearances around the vise. It probably would have been an easy fix, but the process so far has just made things uglier and uglier.

-Flash forward to the other night. I had wrapped up work on another project, and the bench was cleaned off. I took advantage of the opportunity, and took the vise off. I took the bench top to the band saw, and ripped a notch where the vise is to be mounted. I made the crosscut to take the last piece out with a Festool track saw. If there's an irony here, it's that it was easier to move the whole 8' bench top to the band saw to do the ripping, but it was easier to do the crosscutting part with a handheld power tool.

As I said before, if I were going to build a bench to hold an Emmert, I'd laminate most of the top, mount the vise, and then laminate one more board to the front to get the front edge to be flush with the rear jaw. This whole learning process has done nothing but reinforce that opinion.

On the one hand, I hope it'll be the last time I have to deal with any of this, and I can now get back to work. On the other hand, knowing what I know now, it would also be fun, for the sake of the blog, and the people who read it, to do a new install, and document the process a little better. I'm on the fence about writing up my own version of a comprehensive set of mounting instructions; there are a lot of good resources out there already, and between this entry, and the second one, I think I've put up all the information that I would have found to be useful. But if I get enough requests for a step-by-step, comprehensive instruction set, I'll do it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting process, and helpful observations. I'm thinking about a workbench build that would incorporate a new Emmert-style patternmaker's vise and this is all good stuff.

Thanks also for your service and congrats on your recent wedding!

-Anonymous Comment Leaving Person

JW said...


Any other questions I can answer for you on the topic?

Anonymous said...

Sure, while we're on the subject. I know a tool often doesn't suggest itself until you need it, but what specific tasks do you plan to do with this particular vise? Carving? Sawing dovetails? Fret saw stuff? That's what I would see myself doing with one, but someone else might have other more interesting tasks I'd never considered.

Also, would having a detachable front lamination get around the flush-vs-maneuverability issue?

--Anonymous Comment Leaving Person

JW said...

Going backwards...

I think the detachable lamination is a creative solution, but also unnecessary. The compromises I made came from trying to force compatibility between the factory-built bench, and a retro-fitted vise. Building a new bench from scratch, with a pattern maker's vise as part of the starting plan, is a whole different ball game.

The gap on my bench between the right edge of the vise, and the left edge of the front face of the bench, is about 2" wide. But I laid it out that way for aesthetic reasons. The bench top has a bit of a skirt that goes all the way around. There's a pre-existing gap in the skirt where the old face vise used to be. I cut the end of the notch to be in line with that gap, because I thought it would look a little bit cleaner. It's not ideal, but not really problematic either.

On a new bench, all that's required is clearance for the vise to rotate. Once the vise is mounted, you can rotate it, and find out just how close the lamination can start. On a new bench, I think the gap would be an inch or less. But realistically, it's an aesthetic decision: My vise is 18' wide. Reproductions are 12" wide. That's a big vise. Having an unsupported inch or two to the right of the vise is fine. Work that would need the support of the front of the bench will be much longer than that inch or two.

I also should probably have mounted the vise all the way to the left edge of the bench, but I chose instead to mount it so that the dogs in the vise jaw lined up pretty well with the dog holes that are already in the bench. That brought me in from the end by an inch or two. On a new bench, you can mount the vise all the way to the end, and drill the dog holes to line up with the vise.

As for what kind of work, the decision to finally mount the vise was fueled by my desire to build chairs. I was playing around with some Maloof-inspired designs last winter, and the going through the process of shaping the pieces made it really clear to me that having a vise that would allow me to manipulate the pieces more easily would be invaluable. Back at North Bennet, we went to weird lengths to hold cabriolet legs in place to work on them. We'd clamp them in an I-beam clamp, and clamp down on the end of that clamp in the front vise. It worked, but it was less than ideal. I think working with this vise will be easier.

Other work... there was some interesting talk on Chris Schwartz' blog a couple of months back about sitting a twin screw vise on top of the bench, to keep from having to stoop over to saw dovetails. Rotating this vise 90 degrees would allow me to do something similar, in terms of stabilizing the board at a higher elevation. I think that Schwartz' solution of using two boards and two F-clamps is a hell of a lot more affordable for most folks, and is a lot more reasonable and task-specific than buying a pattern vise. I think if I found myself using a pattern maker's vise to hold a shop-built twin screw vise made out of boards and F-clamps, I'd really need to turn myself in to... whoever it is that should punish me for being that retarded.

Lastly... I'll just use it for regular front vise type stuff. The bench dogs line up well enough with the holes in the bench top. The jaws line up well enough with the front edge of the bench. So I'm sure that all the the regular planing and panel work will be happening, too.

Anonymous said...

Good to know. I've got a Sjobergs and I'm not loving it. The top is okay but the vises are meh. The base is made of 2 x 3s and shakes even when just sawing something--in the end vise even! If I made a new base and put in some new vises it would be okay but then, it'd be halfway to a new bench. There are some good ideas out there, but mostly it's Roubo this, Roubo that. I think a pattern maker's-style vise in the configuration would be much more useful, more versatile.

I've been thinking about making some appliances for dovetails. The sawing and paring seem to be something that would be better accomplished at a height of about the bottom of the sternum. Not so much crouching. Something like an upright, quick-acting right-angle clamp.

--Anonymous Comment-Leaving Person

JW said...

I hear what you're saying.

I could have bought the lumber for roughly 1/4 of the price of my Sjoberg Elite, which I really didn't like for a while. When I moved into this shop, the first thing I did was build a different bench.

Building a bench also requires a way to mill the lumber, which means at the very least a jack plane and a benchtop planer. The cost of the lumber and the planer is less than half the cost of my Sjoberg Elite. The home-built bench would be better, I think.

You're right about sawing dovetails. Chris Schwartz was experimenting on his blog with a sort-of twin screw vise, made out of two stout boards, about 7-8" wide, and a couple of screws, which he eventually replaced with quick acting clamps. Google Chris Schwartz and Moxon twin-screw vise, and you'll see the start of the rabbit hole on that one. The vise got clamped to the front edge of the top of the bench, and raised the working height of the dovetails to about the height you're talking about. And his final, quick-clamp version was cheap and simple enough to be really practical, even for budget-constrained basement tinkerers.

Thank Schwartz for the Roubo craze, too. He's done a lot of work building and experimenting with different workbenches, and so he's the big gorilla in the room whenever the topic comes up on the message boards. He's earned his authority on the topic, but that doesn't mean the Roubo (his favorite) is the be-all and end-all. I'd rather have something I can break down and move if I need to... because I've had to. But it does help to have a good, thick top, and a good, stout base that's flush with the front of the bench.

My advice on your Sjoberg: I'd make it work for as long as you can, while you plan and build your next bench. Install either some diagonal braces, or some really wide plywood stretchers in the base. That should help stabilize it enough to work on.

I just went through and added workbench tags to the relevant entries in this blog, in case you're curious enough to see what I've done in the past. There's an entry from 1/1/2009 where you can see my first bench, and my most recently built bench, which were modeled after a design from Ian Kirby. They're definitely not Roubo, but they were easy to build, and have served me really well.

Scaffolding WA said...

so much interesting

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for all of the insights regarding your install and all of the nuance you discovered in the process. I'm pretty excited to have discovered your blog the week I'm starting on my Emmert T-5 restoration and installation. Cheers
Chad Magiera