Saw Talk #9: Making a Saw Vise

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Blog entry by Brit posted 03-18-2012 05:16 PM 46268 reads 60 times favorited 52 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: File Holder for Jointing Saws and Scrapers Part 9 of Saw Talk series Part 10: Hand Shaping and Sharpening the Teeth on a Backsaw »

When I did my research, I found a number of good saw vise designs on the web. Some were simple, whilst others were more complex. The fundamental requirement of a saw vise is that it clamps a saw securely while you sharpen it, everything else is just icing. So it can be as simple as sandwiching the saw plate between two pieces of wood in a vise on your bench. Last December, I had the privilege of attending a saw sharpening class with Paul Sellers at Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. At the beginning of the class, Paul looked at the saws we’d brought with us and then went over to the bandsaw and cut some batten to a suitable length for each saw. He drilled a hole in the batten and then ripped a kerf from one end up to the hole. This was a great example of an uncomplicated saw clamp.

Paul shared a lot of great information with the class and whilst it didn’t automatically turn me into a saw sharpening expert, I got enough hands-on time to know that I wanted to hone my saw sharpening skills so I could maintain my own saws for the rest of my woodworking life. Using a saw that has been sharpened to task is a real joy and one that many woodworkers have sadly never experienced. That being the case, I decided to make a saw vise that would meet my needs and hopefully see me out.

Here’s the design brief I wrote down for my saw vise design:
  • It should not be necessary to remove the handle in order to sharpen a saw
  • The saw vise should cater for all my saws from an 8” dovetail saw up to a 28” rip saw
  • It should not be necessary to move the saw in the vise in order to sharpen all the teeth
  • It should not be necessary to remove the saw from the vise to sharpen from the other side
  • The vise should be substantial enough that it will absorb any vibration caused by filing
  • It should provide even clamping pressure along the length of the saw plate
  • It must work on my B&D Workmate and on the workbench I intend to build in the future (a split-top Roubo with a twin screw bench-on-a-bench add-on)
  • Apart from the hardware, it must be made out of materials I already have.

This is what I came up with in Sketchup:

I decided to use a piece of 25mm MDF instead of building a frame like other saw vises I’d seen, mainly because I have been moving it from A to B for the past 18 months and wherever I put it, it always seems to be in the way. This design utilizes the clamping action of my Workmate (or any twin screw vise) with the addition of variable, localized clamping along the length of the jaws. I use Sketchup to refine ideas and model solutions, but I usually end up making subtle changes as I progress through a build.

So I dragged that pesky MDF to my Workmate and laid out one of the jaws.

Grabbing some saws I tried to decide on the best position for my localized clamps. I must have pontificated for at least 30 minutes until the surface was peppered with pencil marks. In the end, I threw down my pencil and went indoors to munch on a chicken leg.

Suitably refreshed, I turned the board over and after 5 minutes, I had the positions marked out. I went for four clamps instead of the three shown in the Sketchup drawings. The marks made by the awl were too small to see in the photo, so I’ve placed a red dot where they are.

I grabbed my jigsaw and cut out the shape…

…then cleaned up the saw marks with some P80 grit sandpaper.

P80 wrapped around a tube of sealant works great for curves.

I used the first jaw as the template for the second jaw.

When it came time to drill out the holes, I got one hole drilled with my cordless before the battery went flat. Luckily the Millers Falls 2B was charged and ready to go.

I’m using carriage bolts which have a small square section on the shank just under the head, so I needed to square the holes to allow the bolts to seat properly.

I wrapped some blue tape around a 10mm chisel to give me my depth, got my shoulder behind the chisel and went around each hole to square them off.

This is pretty easy to do in MDF and they were done in no time at all.

Then I put the two vise jaws aside and turned my attention to the top and bottom spacers. I’m using some Sapele (44mm x 44mm). I wanted the gap between the vise jaws to be 40mm, so I ripped the Sapele in half with my jigsaw…

…scribed a 20mm line all around the edge of each half with my marking gauge, and planed the sawn face down to my gauge line.

Note: If you want to do any planing on a Workmate, you need to add some ballast to the base, otherwise forget it.

Also, collecting the shavings as you go and chucking them straight into a carrier bag hung from one of the handles, is preferable to chasing them around the garden at the end of the day (don’t ask me how I know).

So here’s the dimensioned top and bottom spacers and the two bench rests that go on the outside of the jaws. I left the ends rough and slightly long for the time being. I’ll plane them flush with the jaws after assembly.

I’m using a brass piano hinge to join the two jaws at the bottom and I needed to cut down the hinge to 510mm. Although piano hinges are one of the strongest types of hinges once installed, they’re extremely flimsy before they’re installed and need to be handled with care. The leaves are quite thin and hacksawing the hinge can easily bend them. So I made myself a little jig to ensure that didn’t happen. I made two rip cuts with my backsaw which tapered in towards the bottom of the cut and knocked out the waste with a 1/8” mortise chisel. If you hit the waste at the bottom on one end, it will pop right out. Then I sawed a kerf perpendicular to the tapered slot and pushed the folded hinge into the jig so that my mark lined up with the kerf.

Now I could saw the hinge without fear of it being bent should the hacksaw suddenly grab.

After de-burring it, I had my hinge.

Now it was time to start assembling the components. So I laid out the holes for the bottom spacer making sure that the screws wouldn’t interfere with the hinge screws.

After drilling the clearance holes and countersinking them…

…I glued and screwed them to each jaw.

While I was waiting for the glue to set up, I cut out one end of the top spacers to allow room for the saw handles. Then I glued and screwed the top spacers in place.

While they were drying, I rounded the ends of the bench rests.

Then it was back to the jaws again to rout a bevel on the outside top edge. I need a bigger bevel than this, but I thought I might as well remove some of the waste with the router and this was the biggest bevel cutter that I had.

Next I routed a rebate into the upper spacer to allow for the spine of my dovetail and 12” carcass saws.

To find the ideal position for the bench rests, I mounted one of the jaws in the Workmate, grabbed the magnifying glass I’ll be using and a saw file and moved the jaw up and down until it was at the most comfortable height for filing. Then I put the bench rest against the jaw and drew a line to mark the position. I only screwed them on in case I want to alter the height at a later date.

With the bolts in their holes to ensure the two halves were aligned correctly I put the two halves together to mark out for the hinge screws. I inserted four hotel card keys stacked together between the bottom spacers. Since this is 2-3 times the thickness of a saw plate, it will help ensure that the clamping pressure is focused at the top edges of the top spacers.

With the hinge taped in place, I pricked the position of the holes with my awl, drilled the pilot holes, waxed the little brass screws and gingerly hand-tightened them.

I cut the bolts to the correct length and de-burred them.

I didn’t want to leave the threads exposed in between the jaws in case they scratched the shiny brass spines on my backsaws, so I cut some pieces of garden hose to fit over the thread. By the way, has anyone seen that fourth star knob? I know I bought four, but where it is now is anyone’s guess. I bet it’s those damn squirrels again!

When I cut out the jaws, I allowed quite a bit of height because I didn’t know whether I’d prefer the vise up high, low down, or somewhere in between. Now I had my bench rests positioned where I wanted them, I was left with a surplus of MDF between the bottom of the bench rests and the hinge. Well I couldn’t live with that, so I measured down 5” and cut the rest of the MDF off. Of course I should have measured for the bench rest height when I first cut the MDF out shouldn’t I? “Yes Andy”, they shouted in unison. Still, I’ve heard that it is OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Well I learnt that without even trying, I can be a prize plonker. :-)

Anyhow, I split off the MDF from the bottom spacers with a chisel, cleaned up the glued face and re-attached them. So, it now looks like this. Much better don’t you think?

I had just enough daylight left to increase the bevels at the tops of the jaws, so I grabbed my electric scrub plane as I call it and went for it. I’ve never planed MDF before, but it worked out well.

A couple of passes with my Stanley 607 along the tops of the jaws and a few swipes with my block plane on the faces of the jaws brought them into perfect alignment. All of a sudden, or so it seemed, the saw vise itself was finished. I still had a bit of the 44mm Sapele left, so I added a little holder for my saw file.

I drew out the shape on the wood.

Drilled and countersunk the hole for the file.

Cut off the corners with my crosscut saw…

…and rounded the end with my rasp and file.

Cut out the rebate with my rip saw and shaped the other end.

I will be putting two or three coats of water-based acrylic varnish on it before I post it in my projects, but until then here’s some shots of the saw vise set up for a variety of saws. Fine woodworking it ain’t, but it works brilliantly and clamps very tightly.

8” Dovetail Saw

14” Tenon Saw

26” Hand Saw

Some more random shots.

Now I’ve got to work out how I want to sharpen all my backsaws. In the next episode I’ll post a picture of each saw, stating how they were originally sharpened and what I’m going to change them to. I’ll also explain what I plan to use each saw for.

Thanks for watching! Have you found that knob yet?

<<<EDIT: 21/03/2012>>>

Before I applied the finish, I thought I’d better check that all of my saws fit in the vise. I found that the handle on this little 20” Disston Panel saw wouldn’t allow me to get the saw far enough into the vise. I have therefore increased the length of the cut-out and reduced the height of the jaws along their entire length. Although my design criteria stated that I didn’t want to have to remove the handles when I sharpened my saws, I don’t actually mind for the Disston type fixings. It’s the split nuts on my old English saws that I didn’t want to keep taking out and putting back in if I didn’t have to.

Here’s the saw vise after finishing. I think I might just have a go at this little 8” dovetail saw this afternoon.

Just wanted to update the blog in case anyone was thinking of copying my design.



-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

52 comments so far

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 4060 days

#1 posted 03-18-2012 06:00 PM

Very nice Andy. Sweet 607 too. I look forward to you building your bench. However, you seem to be pretty accomplished on your Workmate. You kind of remind me of commercials they have for our armed forces here. They do more before 9 am than we do all day. You do more with your Workmate than I do with anything! Great job.

View terryR's profile


7732 posts in 3770 days

#2 posted 03-18-2012 06:03 PM

OH my! What a nice build, Andy!!! Looks quite functional and beautiful as expected from the master. :-)

Love how your vise fits in the old workmate, mate…

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View hhhopks's profile


663 posts in 3839 days

#3 posted 03-18-2012 06:12 PM

Absolute amazing.
It is definitely worth copying.
Your work is always among the best of the best.


-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 4041 days

#4 posted 03-18-2012 06:24 PM

Great build Andy! I have an old handsaw that I need to rehab so I am watching this with interest.
I see that we share the same plastic bag holding technique on the workmate.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Brit's profile


8511 posts in 4305 days

#5 posted 03-18-2012 07:08 PM

Thanks guys.

Shane – I’m looking forward to making a real bench too.

Terry – One of the things I didn’t measure for is whether is would fit between the jaws of the Workmate. I was relieved to see that it did. :-)

hhhopks – Feel free to copy anything I post.

llwynog – The simplest ideas are often the best. :-)

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Don W's profile

Don W

20389 posts in 4030 days

#6 posted 03-18-2012 07:14 PM

holy smokes.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View albachippie's profile


773 posts in 4497 days

#7 posted 03-18-2012 07:30 PM

This is great Andy. I have to admit, this project isn’t one that would necessarily get very high on my to-do list, but, I find your style of writing makes for compelling reading! The tips along the way are great, especially the collecting of the shavings as you go! We’ve all wished we’d done that at some point!

Keep posting,



-- Garry fae Bonnie Scotland

View jjw5858's profile


1135 posts in 4064 days

#8 posted 03-18-2012 08:22 PM

Looks really great Brit. I am also learning to sharpen saws so this is a real inspiration. Will try to blog some more auction finds…haaa. I had more luck again today. We are very lucky to have Paul Sellers on LJS, I will be posting the diamond stone setup I aquired as well…never saw such thin shavings…lol.

Take care and look forward to more!



-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

View hhhopks's profile


663 posts in 3839 days

#9 posted 03-18-2012 08:39 PM

I have followed many of your blogs since I have joined. It is good to hear you have a workbench coming up. I am sure it will be another classic and look forward for your post.

One thing that I am intrigued is how you managed to work on your projects with that that B&D workmate. It is kind of beat up now. Surely, you have take that workmate to no workmate had ever been before. The lesson that I have learned from you is that good tools will make the job easier but the person behind the tool is the most important ingredient.

Thanks again.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Don W's profile

Don W

20389 posts in 4030 days

#10 posted 03-18-2012 09:54 PM

That workmate is dedicated to a museum in Andy’s will.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Brit's profile


8511 posts in 4305 days

#11 posted 03-18-2012 10:05 PM

Don – I’m so glad it works well. I’ve read that sometimes the frame type saw vises don’t apply pressure equally along the whole length of the jaws. This design does. I was going to rebate the top edge of the jaws and stick some rubber on, but I’ll wait to see how it performs when I start filing. If it isn’t necessary, I won’t bother.

Garry – Thanks. It’s those little tips that we all pick up from each other that is one of the great things about LJs.

Joe – I look forward to seeing your diamond stone set up. I think that is the way I’ll end up going too. I’ll get some more use out of my 1000/8000 combination waterstone first though. :-)

hhhopks – My workmate has become the stuff of legends since I started blogging on LJs. :-) Regarding tools, I think a badly designed or made tool will always produce poor results and will only serve to frustrate the user. Well designed and properly made tools will inspire you and create the space in which you can grow as a woodworker as you learn the nuances of each tool. Good tools enable you to see, listen to and feel what you are doing and provide important feedback to your senses. Good tools don’t have to be expensive though.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Johnnyblot's profile


319 posts in 3738 days

#12 posted 03-18-2012 10:24 PM

Well done Andy. I’m sure this saw vice will give you great service for many years to come.
It does seem that your workmate will always be more famous. Lol


-- Gossamer shavings just floating around the back yard….-Bandit

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4302 days

#13 posted 03-19-2012 01:21 AM

Andy I am bad ADD, so let get this out of the way. First how did you get my grandfathers drill and second what did that poor clothes pin do to you? You broke it attached it to a pencil? ;)
Now on the important stuff. WOW mad that is sure one great jig. And all that fine work on a simple bench and outside to boot. Sunlight is the best light there is. You sir have again completed a great and useful project. You have thoroughly blogged about its construction.
The clothes pin will be stuck in my head the rest of the night. Thanks.
Good work.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View NormG's profile


6576 posts in 4466 days

#14 posted 03-19-2012 02:18 AM

What a great opportunity you were able to take advantage of and bring something back with you. Also great saw vice and thanks for sharing the process you used

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Brit's profile


8511 posts in 4305 days

#15 posted 03-19-2012 08:48 AM

Dave – Have no fear, the other arm of the clothes peg snapped off, so I just re-purposed it. No clothes pegs were harmed in the making of my pencil clip. I can’t remember where I first saw the idea. I know Mads blogged about it way back, but I’d seen it before that somewhere or other.

NormG – Yes it was great to attend one of Paul’s classes. He had a few college lecturers who wanted to learn saw sharpening and he opened the class to LJ members to make up the numbers free of charge.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

showing 1 through 15 of 52 comments

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