Moravian Bench Reimagined #3: Build Which Bench

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Blog entry by MagicalMichael posted 09-30-2019 08:44 PM 324 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Why A New Bench Now Part 3 of Moravian Bench Reimagined series Part 4: Which Bench, Part 2 »

Deciding to build a bench taller than 34-35” opened up a pandora’s box of questions for me. Once I had decided where I would place this new bench, I more and more visualized it in that space and felt less and less good about the shoulder vice sticking out. If I wasn’t building a shoulder vice, then I wasn’t building a Scandinavian bench, so what kind of bench should I build? And if I wasn’t building a traditional bench should I build a traditional tail vice?

I pulled out my old Scot Lewis “Workbench” book and sprang for one of Chris Schwartz workbench books; I began following the Workbench Smackdown Forum here on LumberJocks. The more I read, the more conflicted I became. I watched untold YouTube videos on benches, mostly “classical” Roubos and Split Top Roubo. I think I watched the F.W. video series on building a Shaker bench at least three times. It became apparent to me that the biggest questions of all were what vices did I want and what vice hardware did I want. So I focused my research on those questions.

I began by ruling out a metal vice, a decision that proved about as stable as my decision to build a Scandinavian bench! I spent a lot of time looking at both the Lie-Nielsen twin screw and the Veritas Twin Screw. I have had a life long love affair with bicycles, one of the great achievements of human engineering. For thirteen years I bike commuted thirty miles each day, with about a third to half of that on dirt roads. I also spent a lot of time cleaning bicycle chains. So the idea of a chain and sawdust in the same hobby was too hard for me to accept, despite many people telling and showing me that it was just fine. I became infatuated with the Hovarter twin bar vice and at one time thought I had made a settled decision to buy and use it. But a conversation with Chris Schwartz and some deeper self reflection gave me pause. He pointed out that at some time I would probably have maintenance to do. I envisioned myself trying to fix a gizmo on the underbelly of my bench…. not a pretty picture. I’m a sucker for new technology, having once been engaged in technology forecasting for IBM. My fascination with leading edge technology has had its drawbacks – I now have a hot water & heating system that is ultra efficient but I can’t find a plumber who understands it well enough to like working on it. So I began to wonder what happens to this bench if someday it needs a vice part and either the vice isn’t made anymore or the company doesn’t even exist? That wasn’t an absolute deal breaker but it certainly gave me pause. Perhaps best to stick with a proven system – big screw & nut.

I built the out feed table and added a leg vice attached with a Lake Erie (L.E.) screw & nut. The workmanship (why is there no plural of that word?) is superb and I have found a leg vice to be almost as useful for my work as a shoulder vice, and, to be fair, better at edge planing, although I have found a bench top wedge even faster than a leg vice.

Does a one man workshop need two leg vices? Probably not. I relooked at the twin screw vices and tried to get past my prejudices.

Using the out feed table based on a classic bench with the leg vice slowly brought me around to the idea of a split top Roubo. The split top looked easier to build and I liked the moveable center stop. Thinking about the tail vice I could see the advantages and disadvantages of the traditional tail vice and a wagon vice. The former would give me one more, but little used, clamping option and the latter offered a stiffer right end and a much easier build. But which hardware? I narrowed it down to three – L.E., Benchcrafted and the Hovarter. I still had reservations about the latter’s technology but I liked the super speed, which also eliminated the need for a great many dog stop holes. I think I changed my mind every two weeks for a year. I kept rereading the various installation manuals searching for some flaw and trying to understand if one was notably easier to install than the others. The Hovarter vice requires a very large end cap, 6-7”, which I didn’t like. I finally decided that the Benchcrafted metal screw, which doesn’t retract out the end of the bench, trumped Lake Erie’s slightly lower cost and beauty. Then, of course, I doubted myself.

About this time I grew even more frustrated with the way my tail vice was working and, as luck would have it came across a Youtube video extolling the virtues of an unusual tail vice by HNT Gordon. You can see it here:

and here:

I decided to spring for and install the HNT Gordon Tali Vice, site unseen, into my out feed table. It was very easy to install, works extremely smoothly, and has more than enough grip with very little hand pressure. The only drawback I have found is the slowness. It moves forward and backward much more slowly than the L.E. and Benchcrafted screws. I try to make sure I gang pieces by length when using it. Up until last week that slowness kept me looking for an alternative solution. The Gordon Vice in addition to being super smooth and easy to install has an advantage, at least for me, over L.E. & Benchcrafted. Because the vice attaches to the bottom of the bench it does not require an end cap. I intend to add an end cap but now don’t have to engineer it to resist the counter force of the vice screw against the nut and onto the end cap . That really simplifies the task of adding an end cap.

Somewhere in this process I purchased the Benchcrafted plan for a split top Roubo; studied it, rescaled it to the size bench I wanted and converted it all to metric – 1000 X 600 X 1980 MM. (Having completed 24 graduate school hours in applied mathematics and statistics, I have learned that I am not smart enough to do fractions). That still left me with the question of which dang vice to build.

Last July, I escaped an ever widening house repair project and traveled to Maine for the Lie-Nielsen Open House. Believe it or not this was my wife’s idea. She loves the B&B we have stayed at, the active woodworking demos and the lobster dinner. Gordon was there and I got to play with his face vice. Case closed. He gave me a chit for free shipping; I came home and ordered the face vice. It is a wonder, a work of art.

Phew, this feels like enough for one day. To be continued.

-- michael

4 comments so far

View siggykc's profile


17 posts in 91 days

#1 posted 10-01-2019 12:07 AM

Hey Michael,

Good day from Oz.

I love the post.

Landing on a bench design is quite a decision to make, especially considering the hours put into the build. I’ve more recently built (well, I’m in the final stages of finishing it) a mini-roubo design of bench with Bench Crafted gear on it. TBH I built it because I was sold on the BC hardware. My old man advised a more Klausz/Tig style bench, but I pressed on.
Funnily enough in order to build it I made use of my dad’s Ulmia style workbench (he made it to his own specs but it has the same style of front and tail rise) and experienced some advantages of it.

After studying his, and a few other European woodworking friend’s benches, I’ve come to realise that should I build a bench again I’d do a few things differently. Some thoughts:

A 115mm roubo top isn’t necessary. I’d do a 65-70mm top, with the dog hole portion and front apron at 100mm thick. It has been back breaking work for me to lift the table top halves on my own to flip them over or test fit them onto my bench…..and I’m a fairly fit 30 year old fella (albeit slightly smaller in stature).
I think down here in Oz, we have a similar mindset to the good folks of North America in that the bigger and beastier something is, the better. The Germans and Scandinavians I think recognise that this overkill is sometimes not practical. The lighter weight English style Nicholson workbenches make clever use of a torsion box design (as does the Paulk bench) and I think combining this clever thinking with old world craftsmanship is what I’d do next time.

The Scandinavian tail vise with its open front has the advantage of being able to clamp oversized tall items. I used it for cutting the dovetails in my bench top (see my blog entry for pics), and when I had to plane the end grain for the ends of my workbench tops. It is awesome. I really want one on my next bench!
The BC and HNT Gordon are enclosed designs that simply don’t allow this.

All in all I could keep picking apart designs and perhaps the time spend doing this could be used to build 2-3 benches, one of each design and sell the unwanted ones.

But for practicality sake, I’d consider:
Weight – especially if you have to move it on your lonesome.
What will be made on it – should dictate which hardware to use
What tools will be used on it – is it for carving/delicate work/gilding, or is it for doing Thor-like heavy planing work

Just my 2 cents sire.
Keep the posts flowing. It’s great to throw ideas around and learn from each other.

Also, as an engineer I too am frustrated at this weird imperial system the Yanks and Brits use.

Can I suggest some free Split Top Roubo plans that Guido Henn – a German master cabinet maker, has online. Google “Guido Henn Roubo pdf” and it should come up. I discovered this a little later when I was well into my build, but his conversion of metric units makes much more sense, especially to us simpletons trained in maths.

Best regards as always,

-- Siggy,

View siggykc's profile


17 posts in 91 days

#2 posted 10-01-2019 12:51 PM

Holy moly,
Sorry Magical Michael,
Do forgive the length of my prior comment. My consuming of a few evening beers results in things like that.


-- Siggy,

View Sylvain's profile


881 posts in 3012 days

#3 posted 10-01-2019 12:57 PM

Your choice is made.
Any reason to think Gordon would stay in business longer than Hovarter?
IMO Hovarter seems much more innovative and might attract more business.

The Gordon vice body is in aluminium; you have to use treated screws and washers to fix it to the bench (or to fix any jaws to it) to avoid galvanic corrosion.
Zinc plated screws and washers as a minimum precaution.
I don’t know how the vice itself is constructed. Does it use a steel screw? and what precautions against corrosion have been used inside?

I see the Horvater mechanism-housing is also aluminium. So no difference there.

Will Meyers is producing a nice mechanism, but if you know somebody with basic metal working skills and equipment, the one he made in his first Moravian is not that difficult to make. See here page 28 to 32
Note that left-handed thread screw and bolts are recommended.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View MagicalMichael's profile


150 posts in 1029 days

#4 posted 10-01-2019 04:41 PM

I connected with Myers about his vice hardware and after a while got back a message that they were out of stock and it would be for a few months. I didn’t want to go forward w/out a more specific time frame.

There is really nothing particularly new in the Gordon vice except closing it in a sealed tube. The Hovarter vice is a whole new thing. I hope it proves durable because it looks very functional. The Gordon vice is very heavy and the workmanship on all of his stuff is if the highest quality so I am not concerned about it’s longevity.

Ziggy, Thanks for the kind words. I don’t follow your comments about working end grain. I don’t ever remember doing that in my tail vice, but rather always in the shoulder vice. I feel confident that the Gordon vice will do everything that a leg vice will. Its holding power comes primarily from having zero racking.


-- michael

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