Introduction: Magnetic Soft Jaws for a Vise

Picture of Magnetic Soft Jaws for a Vise

This is a set of soft jaws I made for my vise. They are made from 1 x 2 inch furring strips. 

A few weeks ago I was watching the Woodsmith Shop TV show on PBS. They showed a set of homemade soft jaws for a vise held in place by magnets. That set used very powerful button magnets set into the wooden jaws on the back side. Fitting the button magnets seemed like something requiring more time and precision than I wanted to devote to the project. 

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
  • Saw
  • Tin snips
  • Grinder
  • Drill
  • Vise
  • Screwdriver
  • Ceramic block magnets from Harbor Freight (one dollar)
  • 1 x 2 furring strip
  • Old sheet metal
  • Screws

Step 2: Paper Pattern

Picture of Paper Pattern

Cut two pieces of furring strip the length of the jaws. Place one into the vise as you want it to be when finished. Place the magnets on the vise where they will not slide around easily. See the photo. Take a piece of scrap paper and crease it to fit between the furring strip and the top of the magnet. These magnets are quite strong.

Step 3: Cut Two Pieces of Sheet Metal

Picture of Cut Two Pieces of Sheet Metal

When we replaced our old water heater I saved the sheet metal skin to use for future projects. The pieces I cut are about two inches long and a bit wider. 

Step 4: Bend to Fit

Picture of Bend to Fit

I used a grinder to smooth the edges on the sheet metal pieces. I used the vise to bend the sheet metal and tweaked the bends until the fit was pretty good. See the second photo. Some adjustments in the bends were easier if I turned them over and pounded with a hammer.

Step 5: Drill and Attach

Picture of Drill and Attach

I made certain the sheet metal fit both the magnet and the furring strip. I marked the placement of the mounting holes and drilled the sheet metal. Then I drilled smaller holes in the furring strips and attached the metal with screws. I repeated the process for the other soft jaw.

Step 6: When Not in Use

Picture of When Not in Use

My metal workbench has an upper tier where I can stick magnetic things for easy storage and retrieval. I rounded the sharp square corners with a grinder. When I want to store the soft jaws, I peel the jaws and their magnets from the vise and stick them onto the upper frame of my workbench. 

Step 7: Finished

Picture of Finished

My soft jaws will do what I need. They will stay in place very well when in use. They are easy and quick to remove, as well as to put in place. And, the cash outlay was only one dollar.


Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-26

Do you have an idea for using something other than wood? I saw a different Instructable that uses an eraser but I'm wondering if something else can be used

Phil B (author)Yonatan242015-12-26

I am sure many materials could be used as long as they are soft than what will be held in the vise. I had wood available and it is easy to attach.

lucidpsycho (author)2014-10-06

Where was this when I needed it... thank you for the idea! will definitely try.

Phil B (author)lucidpsycho2014-10-06

Thank you for the comment. I wish the magnets were lower in profile. Once in a while the rising sheet metal gets in the way of something I am trying to do, like use a hand plane on a small piece of wood. I also wish I had had the idea earlier.

MetalworkingMaster123 (author)2014-09-28

I cut an advertising magnet for the Friendship Centre in half and added some plastic sheet and foam. I just made free vise jaws!

There is something called the Friendshhip Center near where I live. Where do you live and what is the Friendship Centre you have in mind?

MetalworkingMaster123 (author)2014-09-28

Oh, and by the way, the magnets are just used as sheet metal.

MetalworkingMaster123 (author)2014-09-28

Oh, and by the way, the magnets are just used as sheet metal.

Fikjast Scott (author)2014-02-10

great thinking, I am going to make one. my vise covers are always falling on the ground. I like the magnets. Also, I am going to take this idea and make some soft jaws with oversize rubber erasers

Phil B (author)Fikjast Scott2014-02-10

Thank you. They continue to work well for me. I wish the magnets had a lower profile so the top of the soft jaws was higher than the bends in the metal for the magnets. I hope you will do an Instructable of your eraser jaws.

Nice one Phil, I use this method sometimes but I have rear earth magnets on my wood

It is good to hear from you. Thank you.

future engineer (author)2013-06-15

that is a really good idea i always try to hold the wood in the vise with one hand as i tighten it, when i need soft jaws

Phil B (author)future engineer2013-06-15

I have done the same thing for too long and did not enjoy it. Thank you for looking.

louis.m (author)2013-05-29

I am sorry to write this, but. . .

The entire vice might get magnetic after a while, and all kinds of metal scraps will get stuck on and in it, and to the magnets !

Phil B (author)louis.m2013-06-01

Most of the vise is made from cast iron. I do not believe it can be magnetized, but the jaws could become magnetized. If it is ever a problem, I can remove their screws and degauss them.

teotsin (author)2013-05-31

Thank you for the great idea!
Heres my quick and a little sloppy version (no magnets)...

Phil B (author)teotsin2013-05-31

Your version looks like it will get the job done nicely. You could make an Instrucsble about it. Thank you for sharing.

RobTurrentine (author)2013-05-26

Very nice idea. I usually put a rag in the jaws when I need to protect what I have in the vise. This is really great.

Phil B (author)RobTurrentine2013-05-28

Thank you for your comment. A rag is a good quick solution, if it meets all of your needs.

danzo321 (author)2013-05-27

Did I miss something? What attaches the bent metal to the magnets?

Phil B (author)danzo3212013-05-28

The magnetic attraction holds the sheet metal to the magnets. You may glue them, if you wish. I chose not to attach them with glue, etc. because it is a simpler way and I am free to borrow the magnets later for some other temporary use.

bob Cosenza (author)2013-05-23

L22JL6UV94, harbor freight rare earth magnets, 10 mags for 2.99, can't get much cheaper than that

Phil B (author)bob Cosenza2013-05-23

I saw those at Harbor Freight, but opted for these bigger rectangular magnets. I am glad the button magnets work for you.

bob Cosenza (author)2013-05-23

Great idea, I did mine with some old oak flooring board cut offs and used the rare earth magnets counter bored and super glue into place, a very fast time frame, the oak is also thinner with none of the metal up on top, great idea thank you

DAYJAY (author)2013-05-23

Good one. Well done.
(I too miss Pop Sci mag DIY projects...)

Phil B (author)DAYJAY2013-05-23

The old magazines are all available on-line. I did an Instructable about how to find and navigate them with links. I also included links to some projects I would have liked to have built, but never did. Here is the link to that Instructable.

wdsims63 (author)2013-05-23

I love this idea Phil. Nice work. Did I miss where you said what you used to attach the magnets to the sheet metal? I assumed you glued them together and didn't just trust the magnet to hold onto the sheet metal.
I was thinking yesterday that my vise could use some soft jaws. Harbor Freight to the rescue! (Which is where my vise came from to begin with...)

Phil B (author)wdsims632013-05-23

You certainly may glue the magnets to the sheet metal. I chose not to glue or otherwise fasten the magnets to the sheet metal. These are strong magnets and they do not move around easily. And, the way I planned these jaws means that the magnets only need to keep the jaws against the faces of the vise until I can tighten the vise on whatever I want to hold. Leaving the magnets loose also allows me to use them for some other temporary impromptu project before returning them to my vise jaws.

wdsims63 (author)Phil B2013-05-23

Fair enough. Thanks for the reply.

I have some cheap disc magnets that came out of a shower curtain, so I may try my soft jaws with those. It is even tempting to try and sink them in the back like you mentioned they did on the Woodsmith.

As you said, you don't really need the magnets once you tighten down on the piece.

Phil B (author)wdsims632013-05-23

And, if you look closely at the jaws I made, part of the sheet metal rests on top of the factory jaws to support the weight of the soft jaws and keep them from slipping. The magnets need only keep the soft jaws against the factory jaws until the vise is tightened. I did adopt the Tim Taylor philosophy of "Wuh! More Power!" just to be safe.

BrownsFan (author)2013-05-23

Great idea. I am going to make some for my vise, but I am going to use magnets I salvaged from old hard drives! Most also have predrilled mounting holes which will make easy to attach to soft jaws.

Phil B (author)BrownsFan2013-05-23

Magnets from an old hard drive will be excellent. One of my projects has a couple of bolts I need to keep nearby and not lose. I attached a hard drive magnet to the project and let it hold the bolts. The husband of my wife's cousin was visiting. With a great amount of control I placed one of those bolts on the hard drive magnet. I was being very careful to conceal how powerful those magnets are. Then I handed him my pliers and told him to pull the bolt from the magnet. It was one of those priceless moments. If the magnets are too strong for easy removal, you could put a couple of layers of tape over the faces of the magnets to weaken the connection just a little.

Phil B (author)2013-05-22


If you have a router and a table for it, set a fence on it. Put in a V bit. Let the top edge of each jaw ride against the fence to insure uniformity. You could also lay the blade on a table saw over at a 45 degree angle and use a fence. You will need to reverse each piece end for end and run them a 2nd time to finish the V. Beyond these methods, you would need to mark carefully and use a chisel by hand to make grooves.

profpat (author)2013-05-22

this is what i need for my bench, vise, i also need a v-block type to hold cylindrical objects..

Phil B (author)profpat2013-05-22

If one jaw has a "V" groove, the task is easy. If both jaws have a "V" groove, care must be taken to make certain they align. Someone spoke of making more than one set of jaws, each for a different use and purpose. Thank you for looking and commenting.

profpat (author)Phil B2013-05-22

whats the best way to make a v grove?

Plognark (author)2013-05-22

This is one of those brilliantly simple things that I really should have thought of on my own :D

Phil B (author)Plognark2013-05-22

I was admittedly building on someone else's idea. Thanks.

NTT (author)2013-05-20

Wouldn't it be simpler to just recess the back of each block -- where they make contact with the front of the jaws, and glue the magnets in the recesses?

Phil B (author)NTT2013-05-20

I mentioned in the text of the Instructable that is what the folks at Woodsmith did. I did not want to do that because I did not see any button magnets strong enough when I was at Harbor Freight, and the drilling would need to be fairly precise so the magnets are not crushed in use, but still close enough to the surface to grab the steel jaws. You can do that, but I had reasons why I did not want to do that.

Creativeman (author)Phil B2013-05-20

Another good idea, Phil, thanks...I read it yesterday and decided right then to make a pair. I did what the NTT suggested, and just drilled out recesses for four magnets...then epoxied them in place.

Phil B (author)Creativeman2013-05-20

Thanks. As you may have seen in my reply to NTT, what you did is pretty close to what the folks at Woodsmith did in their TV program demonstration. Do the bottom edges of your wooden jaws touch part of the vise? I do not have Forstner bits. What you did would certainly work better if done with Forstner bits.

Creativeman (author)Phil B2013-05-20

I did see your reply. I think the bottom edges touch the vice worm. Yes, forstner bits make this method possible. I've found them indispensible in woodworking. I was used to just using a couple of blocks to pad the vice jaws...never thought to use magnets...duh! Funny though, I have made push sticks for the table saw using the same magnet technique...go figure.

bobzjr (author)Creativeman2013-05-21

How do the magnets function with the push stick? Are the used to hold the stick itself down to table surface?

Creativeman (author)bobzjr2013-05-21

The magnet just allows me to store push stick and other aids on the table saw body.

bobzjr (author)Creativeman2013-05-20

Creativeman, Nice explanation for the jaw pads. Effective having each shot accompanied by a meaningful short message. I'll borrow this method... :)

Creativeman (author)bobzjr2013-05-20


bobzjr (author)2013-05-21

You inspired me last night.  To preserve integrity of pressure areas, I'm placing the magnets on top rather than inside the vise.  This wood is probably too thin to include grooves.

Phil B (author)bobzjr2013-05-21

Thank you for your photos and for the update. The concern you had about the integrity of the wood, etc. is what also led me to look for a way to put the magnets on top rather than on the jaw faces. If you wish to add grooves, you could always make your grooves in some 3/4 inch stock and glue it to the faces of your jaws. A lot depends on what materials you will clamp in your vise. Lately I was clamping some aluminum bar stock I did not want to mar. Your jaws would have worked fine for what I was doing. Sometimes I want to clamp a nice piece of wood in my vise. Your jaws would likely do what I need there, too.

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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