Wood for vise jaws: Hardwood or SPF?

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Forum topic by WilsonLR posted 05-28-2022 11:42 AM 450 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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73 posts in 248 days

05-28-2022 11:42 AM

I have the Rockler 12” vise hardware to make a first ever (for me) end vise on my 30 year old unconventionally built home made bench. I’m fed up with trying to do everything with clamps. My goal is to finally have a proper work holding bench.

The plywood substrate and particle board top is a mere 1.5” inches but it is 30” x 72” and wonderfully flat due to its unistrut on base cabinet construction. I’ve figured out a way to mount the vise hardware and can drill some holes in the top for dogs. I plan to glue laminate on the top to inhibit chipping around the dogs.

Anyway, the jaws can only be about 4” deep (top to vise screw) but it’s better than nothing. At my age/stage, it will be the last and only wood vise for me. I see some folks use dimensional lumber from the big box store for the jaws while others use Hard Maple or Beech. Having never had a woodworking vise, I am wondering which approach to take. It’s 20 miles to nearest hardwood supplier and all that’s available is hard maple.

I mainly build theater sets. Any advice on SPF vs hardwood for the jaws?

-- Les

9 replies so far

View Thedustydutchman's profile


282 posts in 399 days

#1 posted 05-28-2022 11:55 AM

My vise is beech but to be honest in my opinion it doesn’t matter. I used the beech because its what I had in the shop at the time. I feel that softwood grips a bit better but it does get beat up faster. Mine has leather glued to the inside to help with grip. Use whatever is handy and line it with cork/rubber/leather and it will be fine

-- Jerry H - Holland Michigan

View SMP's profile


5383 posts in 1397 days

#2 posted 05-28-2022 12:54 PM

I used 6/4 maple on mine. But mainly becuase I wanted the sides to extend past the jaws on each side to make it easier to clamp pieces for dovetailing etc. I didn’t want any flex doing this. The 6/4 maple works well for the this whereas thinner/softer woods would flex like crazy with some of the things I have clamped. The only problem with hard maple is its not real grippy so i lined the jaws with suede.

View Bearcontrare's profile


383 posts in 628 days

#3 posted 05-28-2022 04:23 PM

I have a complete antique leg vise that I bought for the hardware, but the original jaws are just plain old pine. Ya know what? That thing grips like a BEAR. the ONLY reason I made new jaws was so they would fit into the bench I was making at the time, but I copied the original very closely, using reclaimed lumber. Still grips like no one’s business. Easy and inexpensive if it ever needs to be replaced, which I doubt it ever will.

-- Barry, in Maryland

View therealSteveN's profile


10186 posts in 2066 days

#4 posted 05-28-2022 07:39 PM

SPF will usually be sawn for greatest yield, so getting something quarter sawn (a more stable cut) won’t be easy to find. Getting QS hardwoods isn’t that hard to find, so based on that I would go hardwood, and QS. You will see less movement, and specifically almost eliminate cupping, which is what I am used to seeing on benches made with SPF chops.

I don’t want the uneven clamping of cupped boards. I want a secure, flat faced grip.

-- Think safe, be safe

View bondogaposis's profile


6193 posts in 3843 days

#5 posted 05-28-2022 09:27 PM

It makes no difference, as they are sacrificial and easily replaceable..

-- Bondo Gaposis

View johnstoneb's profile


3224 posts in 3664 days

#6 posted 05-28-2022 09:45 PM

As Bonogaposis says they are sacrificial and replaceable. Any racking when clamping with one end of the vice will be in the hardware not the wood just use a spacer same thickness as work to stop or minimize the racking. softwood or hardwood use what you have available.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View WilsonLR's profile


73 posts in 248 days

#7 posted 05-30-2022 10:09 AM

Thanks guys. Next question is about thickness. Is 1.5” thick enough for 3/4” dogs in the jaws?

-- Les

View AlanWS's profile


220 posts in 5050 days

#8 posted 05-30-2022 12:59 PM

I’d agree that the type of wood is not critical, and also that stable (quartersawn) is helpful. SYP can be resinous, so make sure the piece you put at the surface doesn’t have so much pitch it gets on your working stock. If it does, line the vise with cork or something.

With regard to thickness with dogs, it depends on the type of vise. If there’s a metal jaw you are lining with wood, 1.5” is plenty. If the wood is the whole jaw, I would go a bit thicker, 2-3”. Also, planing a slight taper so that it meets first on top, and does not close further down until you crank on the pressure helps to make sure it always grips well. This can make a thicker vise jaw more desirable: if you screw up or it warps, a thicker jaw still can be removed and planed to make it behave. A thinner jaw may need a lining glued on if it misbehaves.

-- Alan in Wisconsin

View WilsonLR's profile


73 posts in 248 days

#9 posted 06-07-2022 10:32 AM

Thanks for all the experienced advice. In the category of using what I could put my hands on, there was nothing of interest in the dimensional lumber locally so I made the trip to the nearest hardwood store. I found a scrap piece of white oak for $8/bf already milled S3S to 1-1/2” so I made due and got the vise built and finished to match the old benchtop. It’s easier on the eyes than a bright shiny “add-on”. I guessed on the dog hole positions. Should have done more research and gone with the first one 2” in instead of 4”. Ordered some dogs and will drill some holes next; maybe edge band the bench with the leftover white oak. I’ll see how it goes. Thanks again.

-- Les

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