The Tail Vise

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Blog entry by beaudex posted 07-15-2008 01:45 PM 8601 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Finally, the tail vise. Back in the design stages of the bench, I looked at all the various ways people hold wood. I knew at the time where this bench would end up for a good portion of its life so I made decisions based on that. I toyed with a couple of things, a tool trough (I think this is a good idea however only if you can walk all around your bench and not so deep, an inch would suffice), an end vise, the swing out arm vise (I am sure there is another name for this). In the end I settled on the vise you see below.

tail vise

Why did I choose this vise? primarily for space, but also I felt that each vise works better for certain things and when I looked at the type of cabinetry I build this vise made the most sense.

So I got the design for this vise from one of the older tools and shops magazines put out by Taunton (annual thing that comes with a FWW subscription). I would love to take credit for the design but I merely modified an existing design, if anyone is interested I can dig out the details of the magazine just email me.

Where I started: Well during the designing of the vise I knew from the plans I was working with that I would need to make a mirror image of the vise so I started by figuring our what parts needed altering if I was going to flip the vise. Secondly I had to get the hardware, I could not finalize the plans until I had the hardware in hand as different manufacturers of hardware build to different specs. I ended up with the tailvise hardware from Lee valley, I am happy with the hardware so far. As it turn out this hardware was shorter than the plan I had so I had to alter the plans further to accomodate this fact. (I could have left the vise longer but I would not recommend it)

tail vise

So on to the building: the plans start with a section called ‘the core’. essentially this is a huge chunk of wood which is sandwiched between two solid metal plates. The plans claimed that it was critical that this be made perfectly. I agree completely, when you build this core it should be perfectly square, flat and fitted to tolerances of at worst 1/32”. Additionally I would recommend that you use clear straight stock as well. You will never see this part of the vise so it makes it hard to use the nice stock on it however you will thank me when you are chiseling/drilling it out.

Once the core is done you then have to create the outer part (the part you see). I won’t go into the internal details as they are quite complicated combining blind mortises and extreme accuracy. I must admit there were a few places where I opted for bisquits rather than the mortises simply to speed the process.

The dog holes: these were cut using a dado blade set at a 5 degree angle. If I had it to do over again I would have used the round dogs however you will need either an extra long forstner bit or a combintaion of a forstner with a long drill bit to cut these holes.

The dovetails: these were difficult, especially the small ones in the middle, the trick is paring the sides square. you have to be very careful as the base can be very weak and an overly sharp blow may damage them. The whole process of creating this joint is fairly complex and difficult to describe with words, but keep in mind the following steps:

1. Cut the large tails first in the tail board.
2. Then draw their location on the jaws.
3. draw the smaller tails on the jaws keeping in mind 2 things 1. the angle that you choose for the smaller tails must allow clearance for a saw based on the location of the larger tails 2.the more room you give yourself the easier the chopping will be but also the smaller the base of the small tail the greater chance you will have of breaking it.
4. make a cardboard template of the pattern
5. cut and chop the jaws careful to keep the sides parallel by using the template.
6. use the template to transfer the pattern to the tail board for the small dovetail.
7. cut the small dovetail too small and then slowly work your way to an exact fit.
8. take your time, it will take time.

You can see from the photo below both the chipped jaws and the fact that I did not get a perfect fit for all the small tails. I have been meaning to fill in with a few wedges but just have not gotten around to it. The smaller tails add little structural strength so I am not overly concerned.

poor joint

The assembly is fairly straight forward just heavy.

Mounting. Hardware is all different however I believe they will all be the same in one respect and that is that the entire vise is held by a single large bolt which holds the entire thing up. I mentioned earlier that I could have made the vise longer. I would not do thiis unless the hardware was made for it as the longer you make the better chance that the weight of the vise will constants loosen the bolt forcing you to constantly retighten the vise. You have to lift the entire vise to attach it to the mounting bolt, it is heavy and you are going to have to do it over and over again to ensure a tight fit. I would recommend you get something that will support its weight in the exact right position (trust me on this).

Issues of note: There were a few things I would change about this project:

The jaws (the short thick bits at either end): I used some of my crappier lumber here thinking that its being laminated so it should be ok. This was a false assumption. Use the absolute best clear lumber for the jaws. I would try to get a nice hard wood for this, perhaps beech or hard maple. You can see from a few of the pictures that my jaws are already chipped and this is because of the poor quality wood I used to make them with.


The overall size of the piece: based on the plans you use I would build the whole vise 1/16” too big. As you can see from the photos, I would only have to plane it down by hand to ensure it is flat with the tabletop and sides.

The whole thing is very heavy, peices included. go slow and don’t hurt yourself. You are constantly fitting pieces together so you are picking up these large pieces over and over again.

Well that covers the tail vise, I will have one more short blog about the finish but aside from that this concludes the bench blog

-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design

6 comments so far

View lew's profile


12863 posts in 4269 days

#1 posted 07-15-2008 03:31 PM

Beautiful Job!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4297 days

#2 posted 07-15-2008 03:46 PM

View Callum Kendall's profile

Callum Kendall

1918 posts in 4217 days

#3 posted 07-15-2008 07:48 PM

Nice work!

Thanks for the post


-- For wood working podcasts with a twist check out

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4813 days

#4 posted 07-15-2008 08:17 PM

Nice craftsmanship!

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View FlWoodRat's profile


732 posts in 4423 days

#5 posted 07-16-2008 10:55 PM

Great looking work. Hope you get many happy years of service from the bench

-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning....

View PurpLev's profile


8551 posts in 4162 days

#6 posted 07-18-2008 03:25 PM

That vice is awesome! of all the vices out there, I think this one is the most complicated of them all (joinery speaking) and the most demanding to make from a woodworker – only to point out that it shows off some great joinery and woodworking abilities :) looking Good!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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