Woodworking in the great white north.

How to build an L-shaped tail vise using Lee Valley hardware

imageOk, 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.

imageLet’s start with the hardware.  The vise consists of three parts:

  • 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.

imageFor 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.

imageThe 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.

imageI 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.


23 responses

  1. Steve Jones

    Nice job. The Sketchup animation was very helpful. Now thinking hard about using a true tail vise on my new bench. Thanks.

    February 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

  2. Steve Jones

    Upon further review, please email the Sketchup model. Thanks again.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:44 am

    • lol….I know what you mean. I figured this was going to be pretty straightforward, until I opened the box and then double checked that I got the right hardware. 🙂

      The e-mail is on it’s way shortly.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:24 am

  3. Awesome, Ian! I had to laugh about the lack of instruction. I’m still waiting for the last part of a glass shower door that was custom. It arrived without any type of instruction, too. Although it will look nice when done, it has been a series of wrong parts, broken glass and misdirected shipments. Some days are like that, I guess.

    Great job!! Thanks for the explanation!!

    March 1, 2012 at 9:00 am

  4. Very cool Ian. I’m glad to see you went with this style of vise. I think too many bad things have been said about it without any real life evidence. The sagging thing has been a criticism for years but I have to believe modern manufacturers have licked that problem by now. I know the Lie Nielsen version got some high praise for that so I’m curious to see how this version works for you over the years. The tail vise’s ability to firmly clamp a long piece upright is hard to equal in other designs so it is good to see someone giving it a shot.

    On a side note, what did you use for the screen cast? I’ve been thinking about something like this myself and just haven’t gotten around to doing the research on how to do it.

    March 1, 2012 at 11:35 am

    • Thanks Shannon, I hope everyone doing bench builds can do a ‘one year later’ review of their benches, that would be a great addition to the web resources on workbenches.

      Screen casting process:
      (caveat: I’m cheap!)
      I downloaded a free copy of HyperCam 2. It’s got very few bells and whistles, but it does a decent job of screen recording. It produces an AVI in whatever resolution you chose to record at. You can set the frames per second rate as well. It’s very basic, but works pretty well. It’s made by Hyperionics Technology.

      From there I just used windows movie maker (ya, blah) to put the titles in. I saved the movie in NTSC AVI format, then used a converter (Any Video Converter) to make it an MP4 and make it a manageable size.

      It’s not glorious, but it works.

      In the past, I’ve used Camtasia for this sort of thing at work, I liked it a lot, but it ain’t free and I’d rather spend my money on TWWG and HTS. Oh…and tools! 🙂

      March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

  5. I’m a bit late to the post, Ian, but well done. Looks like your going to have a great bench. I’m curious though, why make the vise first? Was it the lack of instructions? Did you need the physical vise done so that you could then build the benchtop to fit it?

    March 11, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    • Thanks. Yes and yes. The lack of instructions meant that I did not know how long the vise would end up being, I was aiming for the shorter end of the spectrum. Not knowing that meant that I would be guessing at the size of the recess for the vise when I built the laminated slab. I did build it in SketchUp and it turns out that it was reasonably accurate, enough that I could have used it as a guide, but I didn’t trust that what I did in SketchUp was going to translate properly once I started building it.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  6. Hi there,

    Thanks so much for posting this. I always loved the look of the classic L shaped tail vise but after having read several books that talked about the potential for it to sag I was dissapointed. As much as I’d love to have a benchdrafted tail vise, they are pricey so I think I might give this vise a shot. I already have a leg vise on my bench that has the lee valley screw and it works great. Can I get a copy of your skecthup model as well please?

    March 15, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    • Thanks Jason,

      I’ve sent the file. I’d love to see how your leg vise went together. I’m going to use the lee valley hardware for that too. I haven’t thought that through too much yet.


      March 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

  7. Pingback: Installing the tail vise « Woodcanuck's Blog

  8. Gregory M Dick

    Nice work; thanks for your effort. I’m in the planning stages for my first real cabinetmakers workbench. I’m currently conducting the debate, with myself, about “end” vises. Traditional “L” tail vise, or Non-traditional no “L” tail vise, or Wagon vise. I too would appreciate a copy of your Sketchup model.
    Please and Thank You!
    PS – I thought that clamping on the leg of the “L” caused severe racking?

    October 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm

  9. Nico

    Nice job, can I get a copy of your sketchup model please ?
    Greetings from Italy

    April 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

  10. Will

    I’d appreciate it if you could send a copy of the Sketchup model my way as well.

    April 30, 2014 at 1:20 am

  11. Brock Martens

    Looks Great! Could you send me the sketchup file please?

    August 6, 2014 at 1:07 am

  12. Hi! I just downloaded Sketchup to try to make the end vise drawing, but the learning curve is a killer! I’ve got my bench nearly finished, except for this final vise, which is like yours, the Lee Valley set up. Are you still willing to email a copy of your Sketchup drawing? I clicked on the original version, which has been removed from the 3D Library. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
    btw, I bought the first edition of the Workbench book by Taunton Press for $10 through ABE Books: a very nice hard backed edition.

    August 20, 2014 at 9:20 am

  13. Brock Martens

    What did you do with the two bolts that held the rails together? did you drill a hole in the two block that the rail “hug” for them?

    October 8, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    • Sean Beaumont

      I am also wondering about the nut, bolts and screws used in construction and the best depth for table top and material. Would also like and am requesting plans. Best bench rise site I have come across in a sea of internet bench sites. Practical and doable. Sean

      January 6, 2015 at 11:14 am

  14. Jim Grafton

    I really appreciate your detailed assembly video Ian. It looks like it will be a beautiful and functional vise for years to come for you. Could you also send to me construction details and your Sketchup drawings. Thanks so much. Jim

    October 16, 2015 at 12:43 pm

  15. Alan Maund

    Hi Ian;
    I too purchased the L shaped tail vice from Lee Valley and would greatly appreciate the Sketchup model.

    April 16, 2016 at 2:02 pm

  16. Bill Lemoine

    Nice job! Could you please send or direct me to the dimensioned sketch up model? I would really appreciate it.


    September 2, 2016 at 8:20 am

  17. Pete McGrath

    Hello Ian, This post was a Godsend. I have a bench halfway built and have been looking for plans for weeks. Bought Schwartz’s book but could not glean enough info to feel confident in building. Between your site and the reference to the correct FWW mag (which took an hour to find on their site) I feel like I can actually build this. Thank you very much!

    January 30, 2017 at 10:06 pm

  18. Bob St. Cyr

    I just returned from our local Lee Valley (Waterloo). They have a really slick quick release tail vice hardware for $399!!!! There’s one on the floor installed in a demo. A staff member went in back and brought out the hardware you used – $98 – more my speed but as you say, no instructions. Thanks for your great explanation and sketch up I’m off to pick up my hardware and install a tail vice on the bench I built 25 years ago. I am fortunate to have an old Oliver pattern makers vice (like the Tucker only bigger) but there have been a few occasions where the tail vice would have been great. Bench has had that empty corner for all this time.

    August 18, 2017 at 5:50 pm

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