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Cheap vises anywhere? Anyone?

DSC_0006This question addresses and issue of where can we get good vises a little cheaper. If you or anyone has an answer perhaps we can help one another.

Q:
Hello Paul,

Mark here from the Springfield show. I was wondering if you had any specific bench vices that you like, but are affordable. I was thinking somewhere under $75 US dollars, and is of good quality.

Thanks!

A:

I am not sure if such an animal exists. Here is what happened. Back in the early days of the internet, around 1987 for most people, imported vises started to be manufactured in Asia.Woodcraft and Rockler, two key players in imports, started offering quick release vises alongside key players like Record, UK and Jorgensen, USA. The domestic vises were then undercut with vises that looked the same or similar but at less than half the price. They touted that these vises had the same features and of course they did appear to be so. Most woodworkers didn’t realize that a good Jorgensen or Record (Not the Record Irwin type produced now in Asia) vise would last a craftsman in full time use about 75-to 100 years. The new knockoffs began taking ground even though they started to have worn out parts in a matter of months for people like me. Now I am still using vises made in the early 1930’s that are as good now as they were when first made in that they have no replacement parts and operate smoothly and effectively. Needless to say, people working with wood at weekends, the prime buying market, did not realize that they were buying inferior goods because the knockoffs were lasting way beyond the warranty dates by years. A vise used on average half a day a week is working only one twelfth the time I might be using my vise, so no wear evidence will show for twelve years. In the schools I starting in the 1990’s to date, when we could no longer buy the Record vises of Sheffield UK quality due to takeovers of Record Marples. We ended up with imports and paid as mush for replacing parts as we did for the vises themselves.

DSC_0123In the latter parts of the last century, takeovers took place whereby American Tool bought out the UK Record Marples company of Sheffield fame. That was the beginning of the end really. Praxair bought out American Tool and then Irwin came on the scene disguised from the parent company Newell Rubbermaid of Rubbermaid plastics fame. Now obviously credibility ends there. Record stopped producing their vises for a season of a few years and imports from Asia increased to take over. An Indian company bought the tooling and the US giants  touted the vises produced as being of equal quality because, after all, the tooling was the same as the Indian company. Fact was the quality of materials and standards of workmanship dropped drastically yet again. Irwin with the Record name now come back on the scene to present an Asian vise under it’s Irwin Record disguise and lo and behold prices stay the same but these Chinese vises are now equal to the knockoff quality they were ousted by back in the late 90’s and we, numbed and dumbed down think we are buying the kind of quality Record was once well known for.
You see, what’s happening is that with each generation we lose a little bit of history and no one in two generations will know anything of what took place when we were deceived into buying cheap goods. THe past generations will not know what we expected of something such as a simply vise. These industry giants generally express zero loyalty to domestic production.
So, in answer to your question, I think that you will need to consider buying secondhand as an option first. Not so easy in the US and often difficult in the UK. I did a quick search under woodworking vise/vice and found several promising ones for under you price. Other vises at twice your limit are possible from a variety of suppliers, some domestic US and some (mostly) imports.

I think cheap needs to be revisited by all of us and ask the question, is it false economy? Are we able to have tools and equipment tested out thoroughly any more and is what we are buying of the same quality. Remember my blog on the Two Cherries saw put out by the famed German makers six months back? It might be worth reading again. Same with the Nicholson file situation I blogged on yesterday.

14 Comments

  1. J Guengerich on 17 January 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Paul, I totally agree with the false economy conclusion when talking about most products. I have yet to be in any work environment where going cheap hasn’t bit us when we we really counted on the tool/machine. For something as important as the bench vise it would be best to go with a well built product. If someone is wanting something to get by with until a bench is built, the old Zyliss and Vunder vises are adequate and quite adaptable. Just don’t pay too much on eBay, they have a following.



  2. Dave Bennett on 17 January 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Perhaps, what is needed in the woodworking world is something akin to “America’s Test Kitchen”. An independent look that honestly compares and tests the tools and equipment currently available.



  3. Stephen P on 17 January 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Very interesting to read. That’s very unfortunate. I find myself buying from small american companies more and more if I can since craftmade items seem to be enjoying a resurgance. However these items don’t come cheap. I am hoping to build a version of your work bench soon. I was surprised by how much vises cost.



  4. Bill Schenher III on 17 January 2013 at 6:54 pm

    My only advice would be find a vintage model vise on craigslist or ebay. if not, save your pennies and buy a more expensive vise. or , use hold fasts and stops. you can work without a vise , it is very possible.



  5. Ethan Sincox on 18 January 2013 at 10:39 pm

    I’m with Bill. Start with Craig’s List because you don’t really want to pay the shipping costs for a vise.

    But you might have to be creative to find what you want. I have a 52 1/2D and a 52 squirreled away and paid a total of $85 for them. In both cases, it was creative CL searching and a little bit of knowledge that led me to them. The 52 1/2D was listed with several other vises all leaning against a garage door. The picture looked like it was taken from 30′ away and the description had no vise names in it. But I was looking for an old Record vise and I knew they were blue and one of the vises was blue, so I asked for more description and better pictures. You get the point…

    When searching, try to be as inclusive as possible with your search terms – start with just “vise”. And don’t forget that people use alternate spellings, so search for “vice”, as well. In some cases, you should search for misspellings (e.g. wrought iron is commonly called “rod iron” on CL).

    Keep at it, too. Check every few days (or sooner, if you want). Sometimes things go fast on CL and it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

    Good luck!



  6. Ed Hopkins on 22 January 2015 at 4:28 am

    One thing to add here: I searched fruitlessly for an old, solid woodworking vise (craigslist, ebay, searchtempest) and then my genius wife suggested I post a want ad on my city’s craigslist. Yesterday I bought a beautiful old Craftsman for $60, practically no rust, probably from the 40s. And today someone contacted me about another old vise he’ll let go for $50.



  7. Camden Toler on 26 May 2015 at 6:35 am

    i know that this is an older thread, but i felt compelled to offer up my take. 1st, though, i’d like to say thank you to Mr. Sellers for continuing to bring good, solid, common sense solutions to real shop problems. when i search Google with a question, i invariably find the most satisfactory answer here.
    Anywho, false economy, imports, etc. have essentially devastated the quality tool market for at least 2 generations, and despite the resurgence of small boutique makers, we may never really recover. we compromised quality for convenience, and we are paying the price in spades.
    There is another factor to consider when looking at the second hand market, and that is the ebay effect. 10-15 years ago, you could still find real treasures for extremely short money if you were determined, but now every local-yokel thinks grandpa’s cracked Dunlap smoother plane is worth $100, AT LEAST… Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but if you like old tools as much as i do, you know what i’m getting at. There are television shows, blogs, auction sites, and more… All very convincing if you don.t know tools and think old and rusty equals a payday. How does this pertain to affordable vises? 2 years ago i passed on 2 Emmerts for 500 total. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid. Today I got on FleaBay to kill some time, and i see what my throw-away craftsman 3 1/2″ jaw swivel vise is selling for, and i nearly spit my Ovaltine all over the screen!
    I still spend a lot of time in flea markets, yard sales, estate sales and auctions, but the magic is gone. This age of instant information has come with a price, just the same as the previous age of convenience and disposability. Is it worth it? I think that sites like Mr. Sellers keeps here help tip the balance in our collective favor, yes, but the scales have not yet stilled.
    My advice to anyone looking for long term solutions to work holding is probably going to sound like rhetoric at this point, but i’ll say it anyhow: build a bench that works for you, and build in the types of work holding that work for you. Keep prowling the 2nd hand market, because there ARE still treasures, if a bit fewer and farther between… but learn how to cut your own wooden screws, and make your own vises. Who knows what travisty the future holds for those who still work with their hands? Wouldn’t you rather be able to shrug it off, comfortable in the fact that you can just build whatever you need? My 4 year old son is learning how to care for the couple of tools he has, because i cannot guarantee he will be able to buy them in his future.
    Thanks again to Mr. Sellers for the good info.



  8. James on 2 October 2015 at 1:40 pm

    The problem is now that everything worthwhile is out of the price range I’d an average income earner. When everything was American made (back when) we could all afford it. Now an American company puts “Made in U.S.A.” and they charge through the roof and they over charge, plain and simple. There is no reason a vise should cost as much as some used cars, PERIOD. If these American made products were affordable for my Dad then why do these “American” companies make it unattainable for the average worker, what’s the difference between American made back in the day and now. I’ll tell you, today these “American ” companies rake us over the coals. American made then and American made now, only now the price is outrageous. Case in point, if you wait you will see the same product on sale, sometimes half the price, I know they are making money, but charge less. Also, to play devils advocate, you have a vise that’s 70 years old or something. Companies would go out of business if they only sold one or two vises that get handed down. Also, Bentley and Rolls Royse aren’t worth near what Honda or Ford is. So top exclusive companies don’t make the money larger companies do, even if they have a better product, so they rake you over the coals so they can drive the new extended cab Ford pick up truck.
    Lastly, steel and other things that make that vise up aren’t that expensive. Look at the price of metals on the commodities exchange. And don’t tell me the process and hand made. For extreme precision they rely on machines, not flawed people, that can tired and sick and depressed.
    Things got to change so quality American products can be made affordable to average to below average wage earners (that aren’t in the “construction business”). Let’s face if you are a above average earner, live in a city or sick, you are not using these tools anyway. It’s for people in the business or poorer people that can’t afford others to do the work.

    Thanks for your time brothers

    James

    P.S. Let’s get these American products made better, but a little less expensive LIME IT WAS WHEN MY DAD GREW UP DURING THE DEPRESSION AND STILL WA ABLE TO GET AMERICAN MADE. TODAY IT’S A JOKE.



    • Mike on 14 August 2016 at 5:40 pm

      It’s not so much that American made products are so expensive, it’s just most of us are underpaid. Make a blender for 15 bucks in China and no one minds buying another one in six months. I wonder how much China and cheap products fill up the land fills?



      • Paul Sellers on 14 August 2016 at 5:47 pm

        ‘Fraid we’re all to blame. Everyone wants it cheaper. The big box guys tell makers what they will pay and hey presto! There it is bang on the buck. Bringing the reality of high demand for low cost goods and price controlling by these dictators is the problem. Admitting that we don’t want to pay a reasonable or fair price will be the first step to recovery. We are addicted to finding a bargain no matter whether it is fair or not, whether it affects the land fill or not or whether we are spending or consuming the future income and benefit of next generations or not. My mother bought an Indesit fridge when I was ten back in 1960, imagine this, and got rid of it when I was 57 and it was still in full working condition with the same light bulb.



  9. tony on 24 December 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Hi Paul do you have any links where i can but a decent vice. Im a mobile carpenter joiner i have a mobile bench that i take with me where go. There has come a point where i need a vice now clamping to the bench the cutting dont really cut it any more.

    Regards

    Tony
    Greenwich



  10. Tone on 12 November 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Would making your own leg vice – perhaps using a scaffold leveller as the threaded bar (several have made these on youtube/google) – be a viable alternative?



    • Paul Sellers on 12 November 2017 at 5:14 pm

      Nope1 Not for me anyway. I don’t like leg vises, they are slow, unhandy and I don’t believe they work nearly as effectively as quick-release vises.



  11. Christian on 12 December 2018 at 8:55 am

    Hi Paul,

    I bought a record 52 E but just afterwards found it is not a 1/2 so “only” 7 inch wide it seems. Still enough for a beginner that does smaller woodworking?

    Best
    Christian

    They ship it to Germany for around 25 Euro what seems fair in particular given that you do not find these vices in Germany.



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