How to build an L-shaped tail vise using Lee Valley hardware
Ok, it doesn’t have to be L-shaped, but mine is. The style of vise is similar to the one on Frank Klausz’s bench. I like these vises despite what has been written about them. I know that I risk having my vise sag or lift, we’ll see. I picked up the tail vise hardware from Lee Valley and was surprised to not find instructions. I was not alone, I found quite a few complaints about this. Apparently Lee Valley recommends using Frank’s design in The Workbench book…which I don’t have. No problem, I like a good puzzle. I did find a good detailed article in the March/April 2003 issue of Fine Woodworking. Read that article for some really good details…or read my simplified version.
- The screw: this is what moves the vise, it is bolted to the vise via a collar near the handle, becoming one with the vise assembly.
- The rails: these help to support the vise assembly in place on your bench and allow the vise to move in a lateral direction. The vise assembly is attached to these rails by two bolts which are inserted through the lower rail, through holes bored into the vise assembly and threaded into holes pre-tapped into the top rail. The rails each have grooves on the inside face that sandwich the guide plate from above and below, holding the vise in place while allowing it to move laterally.
- The guide plate: this is bolted into the recess of your workbench and has a nut bolted to it for the screw to be threaded onto, enabling controlled movement of the vise.
For the workbench to accept this vise there are a few things that must be done.
First, there must be a recess for it to sit in. I’m right handed so my recess is on the right. My front slab is made up of 7 boards 1 7/8″ thick and I am going to recess into the slab by the first three boards for a depth of 5 5/8″.
The two other modifications come later and include a groove for the top rail to ride in and a hole for the head of the bolt on the guide plate, enabling the guide plate to sit flush in the recess.
The actual assembly of the vise is rather difficult to explain. So, I’ve drawn it all in Sketchup and made a video of the parts, assembly and how it will be attached to the workbench. I hope this video makes life easier for anyone else trying to use this hardware. E-mail me or leave a comment if you want the Sketchup model. I did not create the tail vise hardware model, I found it here and modified it slightly to make it more representative of what I actually bought.
A few video notes:
In making the assembly block, I did not pre-cut the dados in the blocks that receive the rails. I glued and doweled the four parts together, then cut the dados out for the top and bottom rails to fit into the assembly block. This allowed me to square up the assembly and use the top as a reference surface.
I used dowels where I felt it was necessary, though I believe the dovetailed front strip and the vise screw itself provide enough structure to hold the vise together pretty well.
I also used splines between the block assembly and its adjacent parts, to ensure the top surface was as close to flush as I could get during the glue up. The splines were inserted into a 1/8″ dado roughly 1/4″ down from the top surface on all pieces.
I did the glue up in 3 stages. The assembly block parts first, then the inner chop block plus the dovetailed strip, lastly the outer chop blocks.
This will come out of the clamps shortly and I’m going to set up a mock bench side to test the mechanism with. I should have a short clip of that sometime soon.
I also have to call out that I had a Woodcanuck First with this build. I had never tried to make half blind dovetails before. I used my Hand Tool School lessons to get the process straight and basically just went to it. The process, which seemed daunting at first, turn out to be a lot more straightforward than I anticipated. Are they perfect? No, but the gaps are pretty small and I’ll pare some strips of walnut to fill the gaps, then clean it all up with planes, sandpaper and scrapers and see how it turns out. In the end, I’m very happy with the way the vise has turned out.