Face vise front alignment question


Mr Sellers,

I am trying to design and plan my first work bench. I’m liking the Roubou style, but after reading your blogs and watching all the videos I am intrigued with your jointers bench with the apron. My question had to deal with long panels and the front vice. You have answered the question about how the front vice doesn’t necessarily need to be flush with the bench (a big issue with those who promote Roubou’s bench); how do you handle these long boards? I’ve noticed in your videos and now see the behind the scene look at the bench how you have your tenon saws on the front apron – how do they not get in your way?

Thank you for sharing your accumulated knowledge. I always look forward to your new videos and posts.

Very appreciatively,
Jason Zvokel DSC_0168


Actually, I don’t really understand what the issue is if you are using the type of vise that I use. I try to imagine why I would want anything clamped tight to the long edge of a bench top and can, if I really apply myself, think of an occasion every five years where it might possibly be useful. Most tabletops are six foot long for the average family home. King size beds are around 6’3 (1.91m) less the posts, so are similar in length. Generally these two pieces if furniture are the longest in any household. DSC_0005 Putting the boards centred in the vise with 1 foot (300mm) of it fully gripped by the vise means I have 30″ overhanging. Usually glued up tabletops are made from 6 to 8″ (150-200mm) wide boards say 1-1 1/2″ (25-38mm) thick and usually hardwoods such as oak or cherry, walnut, maple and such. These woods in those diameters don’t bend easily with that much beam strength. The board will barely flex over so short a distance if being planed to true up. DSC_0018 Combine two in the vise as we generally do for edge jointing and we have twice the resistance to flex during edge planing. Now on narrower materials this does change but only marginally and narrower pieces can usually be taken care of on the bench top or still in the vise but moving it along on the vise. This is how I have done it for decades. Okay, most woodworkers downsize their materials for planing to near finished sizes. This is increased economy and ease of work.I tried to think of what I make as a rule here and I can scarcely think of many components being more than the lengths give but with 98% of component pieces being somewhere below 48″ (1.22m). Even then that is more rare than normal and most pieces are under 36″ (.91m). I could go on but then these pieces so readily fit into the standard vise that I’ve happily used throughout my woodworking life.
Now then, I added a tail vise because everyone felt my bench was lacking in some way and I even put dog holes at that end so I could take pictures to show what dog holes were and did. Again, I never use these additional “accessories”. However, what I can do and what I might find useful occasionally is adding a clamp in the tail vise as I do in my main vise from time to time. Now this can be used to support the end of a long piece of wood. DSC_0030
With regards to my hanging my saws where I do. I would be lost without this facility. Far more lost than I am without a flat-front aligned vise jaw. My three saws hang there patiently awaiting my interchange of use between the three. I find three saws can quickly and awkwardly clutter up a benchtop in a heartbeat. DSC_0024 My system beats any I have seen to date. They don’t really get in the way especially when you are used to them being there but even then this is rare as the vise with the jaw lining provides and 1 1/4″ (30mm) gap and the saws and hooks protrude only 1″ (25mm). The greatest advantage to the overhanging vise is crystal clear. DSC_0021 DSC_0011 You can grip your wood and install just about anything in the vise without struggling with a full handed overhand or underhand grip. This is no small thing. For those who might perhaps have made the mistake of installing a flush vise the answer is very simple. Just add a dummy wooden vise jaw to the face of your bench with two screws. That way you can remove it if you don’t like it or remove it when you want to clamp something along your benchtop edge. DSC_0026
Thanks for the question Jason. I hope my answer makes sense of it. I am answering this as a blog entry as it is a common enough question.

Oh, of course, there is always the maxim that you never miss what you never had.


  1. I work on a couple types of benches, at different places and some in the same studio. the truth IMO truly is mostly in your last statement – you never miss what you never had, this alluding to the fact that once you find and get used to holding your work in a certain way on a certain bench, you no longer worry about such things. it can all work, the small Idiosyncrasies are mostly a personal preference. Viseless benches work too!

  2. On occasion I have rebuilt second hand door/window frames or made them for a job. The biggest was approx. 2700mm high and 1900mm wide. My current working space is overly compact, about 2.3x 2.3m with the advantage of double doors through which any sections I am working on which are overly long can protrude. The bench, designed for the materials at hand ( read weird serviceable hybrid composite/solid timber box section on lockable castors) and for storage as much as use is only 1600mm long with a flush vice on the left. With the doors on the right open and a support clamped against the front apron it was manageable. Some of this stock, jarrah, was only 140mm x 40mm but if it flexed too much it meant I was being lazy and not sharpening enough. When my full size shop is completed, about five times the size! I would like to construct at least one more bench for use and comparison. The best feature I have seen about various woodworking blogs is the authors ability to detail the pros, cons and vagaries of different bench designs and the various setups/add ons that can be incorporated to aid the construction of different jobs. There are many reasons why I like Pauls bench, a lot of them to do with Pauls ability to place the decision making behind the attributes into context. I feel that if your methodology is sound for your circumstances you can’t really go wrong. If you don’t like it – change it! We all have a learning curve. It is somewhat easier to learn from someone who has done the hard yards though.

  3. I’m not sure (if I understand you correctly Matthew) that I agree with you. There is a big difference from making do to having the right tools to do the job. To me, efficiency is arguably the mainstay or driving force behind industry (any industry) and that goes hand in hand with economy of movement or energy, whether by machine or operative, to produce a finished article.

    Yes. and if time is of completely of no importance, you can find a couple of scraps to screw to the bench to hold a workpiece but how much easier is it to simply pop the piece into a vice (please note the correct spelling!) waste a whole second and a half winding the handle and then you are back to work. I think you should differentiate between adapting and overcoming due to lack of a tool/tools and idiosyncrasies which are purely personal preference given the same circumstance.

    As for the maxim, ‘you never miss what you never had’, in many ways I totally agree with it but like most things there are exceptions. Being extremely fiscally challenged like many others, I am often faced with accomplishing a task in a round about and more arduous manner knowing that for the sake of a small but unaffordable tool the task would be made so much easier. That’s where my personal maxim that has helped me many times throughout my life kicks in and that is ‘Hey, it is what it is, man up/face up to it and get on with it. Life goes on’. So you can mentally adapt and overcome as well as physically do so.

    But back to this particular task, I would ask young Paul a question re- your saw hangers. Am I correct in thinking that the dowel/broom handle is the main support and the shaped piece, being just singly screwed, is a locking mechanism as such? Thank you young sir and don’t worry about being a year older than you were last week, you’re still just a young ‘un.

  4. Well spoked Gav. I agree 100% with all that you said barring a small correction and addition to your final sentence. Firstly, we’ve had to fall in line with those jolly foreigners across the ditch and become metricated, so it’s metres not yards! Secondly, move the full stop back to include ” but more importantly has the God given talent to be able to express himself so that all can easily understand”

    Other than that first class Gav.

    1. But, “hard meters” doesn’t trip off the tongue nearly as elegantly as “hard yards”, doncha think? L

      1. I do Lee but it’s not as bad as holding your hand up to your forehead, peering into the distance and saying “I can see for kilometres and kilometres”. Maybe The Who wouldn’t have written the song during ‘the summer of love’ if we’d been metricated back then?

        Oh, for you younger ones, the ‘summer of love’ was 1967. As Mary Hopkin sang the year after….Those were the days…….

  5. Actually Scoot I agree with you completely. everything you said is in line, and efficiency is indeed critical. I know this day by day as working with wood and furniture is my job, and I constantly have to accomplish tasks promptly and without playing around to maximize profit and meet deadlines. too long and you can loose money on a job!

    to clarify my point from before – I work at benches with proud vises like Paul does, I also work at a flush mounted roubo benche, and a viseless set-up. working with it comfortably and fast for me is just a matter of getting used to the motions, they all work! viseless bench? no prob if it’s build correctly, you tend to to more things on the bench top – Paul does more in the vise. how long does it take to use a holdfast and a dowel to clamp a piece for cutting a tenon? not long, and I like the organic nature of it. this is why I say it depends on personal preference, all these traditional methods have proven themselves over time for real workman of the past and they can prove perfectly for workmen today too. no vise at all would be less than ideal for some things, who said you can’t have a portable vise for when you really need it? there is more than one way to work effectively.
    type this in youtube “Mike Siemsen, Workholding on Viseless Bench”

    once think I will suffer with Personally is not having a planing stop! Paul hardly uses one!! he uses the vise in many case where I butt the wood to a stop, such as planing, cutting with chisel, sawing shoulders… does this mean one is better than the other? not to me. it just proves that it’s personal. I don’t like chopping in the vise so much either.. so what? how you hold you work is up to you – AS LONG AS YOU ARE COMFORTABLE with whatever set-up you use. sometimes people forget and bench accessories… and everything must be “built into the bench”, so not true, and so not the ultimate in practical.

  6. It’s always interesting to see the little details of how you set up your creative space. Years of daily work causes one to develop small improvements in efficiency, comfort, etc.

    I see that in even my job as a delivery driver. Riding with another driver always gives me several ideas of how I can improve, even if only in small ways.

  7. My two cents. I’ve always found that to keep long stock from swiveling in the vise (note Americanism) you have to squeeze the bajeez out of it, which on general principle I don’t like to do. I like to hold things with just enough pressure to keep them in place, without distorting them. Of course, if all my stock was perfectly flat, true, and incompressible, the only problem I would have would be to find a cheater pipe that fits over the tommy bar. Sometimes I have wanted to join up freshly resawn stock before milling it further, and that often results in slight warpage as the stock stress relieves after the saw blade. Squeezing a portion of it flat while working it, and then having it spring back out of its new shape seems a snag.

    Resting the stock on something to resist the downward pressure, while lightly gripping it with the vise to keep it from rattling about, seems to me an elegant and unprofligate balance of forces. When planing up a single piece of stock, for example, Ian Kirby counsels simply propping it on the bench, one end against a stop, and learning to keep all your forces in line enough to keep the work from skating about. Maybe slip a piece of paper or two under it where it doesn’t contact the bench top, so to keep the planed edge from springing out of truth.

    Of course, planing two edges at once before joining, to compensate for minute unsquareness is so completely useful, not to say indispensable, that we have to make allowances for such technique.

    I must say, I really envy Matthew, having all these work holding modes at his beck and call! L

    1. What kind of vise (correct spelling or not) (I like vice for the definition villainy and crime and the determinate spelling of ‘vise’ for its singular uncomplicated definition to clamp or cramp work in) do you have? I don’t have to use anything but general pressure on my record and Woden vises and I can clamp massive sections with long overhangs quite easily.

    2. Lee, Perhaps you have some leather or something softening your vise jaws? that can greatly increase the amount of force needed to clamp something. I tend to use super thin artificial leather for that reason.

      It took me 6 years! to build a proper bench, and honestly it’s not a complicated project, I’d say if you feel the need for better work holding go ahead and make your bench, it will be time well spent!

      1. I use leather in one of my vise jaws which radically improves to give slip-proof holding and less needed pressure too.

        1. I know a lot of people say that, so maybe it’s the type of leather used? I find that soft and\or thick leather increases the pressure needed as the leather has some give in it. super thin leather increases grip for me, but no more than a 1\16 of an inch thick, preferably less.

  8. I prefer a flush mounted vice. I support the free end of a board either with a peg, or a holdfast in the apron. One other thing, I keep my tools on a rolling tool board I can locate wherever I want.

  9. I almost think that the question of whether or not Paul’s saws get in the way is moot. When holding long work pieces in the vise, is it not usually for edge planing? It is not necessary to access the saws for that. When cutting long stock to length, et cetera, one can first grab the saw to use before clampiing/cramping. Door rails require ploughing and mortising, but not tenoning, so no problem there either. The whole question seems to be a matter of the self-trained pretenders-to-the-crown who learned from Moxon and Roubou books telling us what must be. Better to listen to the voice of experience as when Paul speaks. We don’t use tools that have been abandoned for better tools or we would still be using fish-tail chisels for bench work. Paul’s joiner’s bench came about because of necessity and efficiency for the kind of work he does. He didn’t invent it, it is a product of cumulative experience handed from one craftsman to another. There is often very good reason for tradition.

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