Introduction: Restoration of Wilton Bullet Vise
I've attached a reference diagram from a Wilton Vise parts website that I modified to more accurately reflect the actual vise I restored. This was my third vise restoration, but the first of this design. Although it was fairly straightforward, there are a couple tricky steps. If you have never disassembled a Wilton Bullet-style vise before, I would highly recommend watching the excellent two part video on Wilton Vise restoration by Keith Rucker on YouTube. Bullet-style Wilton vises are popular among metal workers and old tool collectors for their quality, durability and classic look.
The vise pictured is a Wilton Bullet Vise Model 930 MC (No. 5) with 3" wide jaws. The identifying company and model information can be found on the sides of the back jaw. You can tell the age of the vise by looking at the bottom of the guide rail (with the vise opened wide). As can be seen, it is stamped with 4-53. Wilton provided a 5 year warranty on their vises with the expiration of the warranty stamped on the vise, so this vise was made in April of 1948.
Although old and rusty, the vise opened and closed well, rotated on the swivel as expected, had no visible cracks and wasn't missing any parts. However, there were many metal saw lines on the jaws and even the swivel clamps. Also, the jaw face screws were in very rough condition and I'm pretty sure the vise had not been oiled in a very long time.
Step 1: Disassembly - Part 1
A couple days before you begin disassembly, spray some WD-40 or your preferred solvent on parts of the vise that touch or are attached to other parts of the vise, such as the jaw face plates, screws, pins, etc. Let the WD-40 soak in and penetrate the rust and dirt.
Before you begin taking things apart, get an empty box for parts storage, some disposable gloves, rags for grease and your smartphone to take disassembly pictures along the way which will be extremely helpful when you reassemble the vise.
Start by loosening and removing the two lock nut handles (#13 - aka the little handles on the sides of the vise). This will allow the vise to separate for the swivel plate. Note that the center post/pin (#15) just rests in the swivel base and might come loose (or lost). If you want, you can remove the center post with pliers for safe keeping.
Next, completely separate the front and back jaws by loosening the main spindle handle until the two jaws are disconnected.
Finally, remove the three washer screws (#2) holding the horseshoe washer (#3) in place. When the horseshoe washer is removed, the spindle handle can be pulled from the front jaw (#4). The three horseshoe washer screws were replaced by three new 10:32 socket head stainless screws from the local hardware store.
Step 2: Disassembly - Part 2
The next step is a little tricky and required some trial and error. Originally, I tried to remove the vise nut retaining pins (#9) first, but found that wasn't ideal. Using a small diameter wooden dowel road stuck through the opening in the back jaw (#8) and the center of the vise nut (#11), I tapped the end cap loose. Be careful! Mine shot about 30 feet when it came loose, but it wasn't damaged.
Then, using a steel punch, I drove the vise nut retaining pins (#9) in toward the center of the vise. If you can't see the pins clearly, use a wire brush to remove paint or buildup until you can see them clearly. These two pins hold the vise nut housing (#10) and vise nut (#11) in place. When I did this step, the first pin came loose and fell out, and the second pin got wedged inside the vise nut (still inside the back jaw). I got the stuck pin dislodged by first tapping the vise nut out of the back of the back jaw (where the end cap was), and then used a steel punch (shoved through the hole where the sister pin was on the other side of the vise nut) to drive the stuck pin out from the inside of the vice nut, back out through it's original hole.
The vise nut housing (#10) came out next, but required a large circle punch angled through the back jaw. It slowly came loose after a few stiff hacks from the hammer.
Finally, came the saga of the four face screws (#6) holding on the two jaw face plates (#7). After cleaning them as best I could with solvent and a wire brush, I realized there was no usable surface to get them out. A stripped screw extractor got three out, but number four wasn't budging. Long story short, a local machinist and $20 got number four out. Four new 10:32 socket head screws were bought to replace the old screws.
Note: I did not see a need to remove the back jaw guide rail, so items #17 and #18 were left in place.
The vise was now disassembled.
Step 3: Degrease and Remove Paint
Before you start this step, have some old rags handy. After using some spray solvent and wiping off all the old grease and dirt I could reach, I used an angle grinder with a wire brush to remove paint and rust. Make sure and wear a decent disposal respirator mask and eye protection. I would also recommend a work apron and gloves. Let the grinder do the work. I touched up the small areas the hand grinder could not reach with a Dremel tool and small wire brush. Having access to another small vise is really helpful with the small pieces. Clean down to the bare metal.
I switched the grinder wire brush to a moderately abrasive sanding head and very slowly began removing the saw marks from the jaw faces and tops of the swivel clamps. If you chose to do this go slowly and don't remove too much metal from the jaws.
Step 4: Mask Surfaces and Paint
Before painting, thoroughly wipe off the parts with acetone or rubbing alcohol. Wear protective gloves. Using painters tape, mask off the areas where the jaw faces mount, the arm of the front jaw and the little flat anvil section on the back jaw. I used foam hearing protection in the swivel plate holes where the vise lock bolts pass through.
After researching which colors best matched, I selected Rustoleum Verde Green Hammered Spray Paint. One 12 oz. spray paint can was enough for about 3-4 coats. Follow the directions on the can, but when in doubt, multiple light coats are best. When the paint is completely dry, remove the tape and let the paint cure for several more days. I left the entire spindle handle and lock nuts unpainted.
Step 5: Lubricate Key Components and Reassemble
As on my other vise restoration projects, I decided to use Frog Lube Paste for a lubricant. Most people will probably prefer white lithium grease, which, of course, is fine. I lightly coated all vise surfaces that rub against any other vise surfaces. The spindle handle threads, top of the swivel base, and front jaw sleeve (the part that inserts into the back jaw) got a a slightly heavier coating. Assembly is essentially disassembly in reverse.
Two points worth noting to avoid potential frustration:
- Reassembling the vise nut housing (#10) and vise nut (#11) was tricky. I hadn't paid enough attention to their orientation when I disassembled the vise. Just by looking with the naked eye, it's tough to tell if they are right or need to rotate 180 degrees. Fortunately, my smartphone pictures saved the day, and I was able to tell how they should go based on imperfections in the metal. First insert the housing (ensuring the holes are aligned), then the vise nut (also ensuring the holes are still aligned), and then drive the pins in from the side. Once that is done, the end cap can be gently tapped back into place with a soft mallet.
- The replacement screws I bought for the horseshoe washer needed modification. The head of the screw was too wide and rubbed against the spindle handle. To fix this, I clamped an iron file down on my bench and then used my cordless drill (with screw in place of a bit) to slowly grind down the diameter of the screw head. It took some work, but I eventually got it done for all three screws.
Once the vise is assembled, work all moving parts to ensure proper function. Wipe off any excess lubricant.
Step 6: Enjoy!
With occasional oiling/greasing, this Wilton Bullet Vise should hopefully last another 70+ years.
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