Introduction: Restore an Old Vise

Picture of Restore an Old Vise

About a year ago, a friend of mine found a really cool light-weight vise called a Versa-Vise. It has deep, narrow jaws and a ingenious free-rotating base that locks automatically via a cam when the jaws are tightened. I was immediately taken with how useful it was - not so much as a vise! in the metal crushing and bending sense, but more as a third hand when you simply need something held in a particular orientation while you work on it. Additionally, the narrow, flat jaws don't get in the way quite like a traditional vise's jaws do making it perfect for working on things like gun stocks and musical instruments.

I knew at that point I wanted one.

After a bit of research it turned out that the vise in question (Versa-Vise) had been out of production for a good number of years. There are new-manufacture knock-offs available - often called "parrot vises" - but the quality just isn't there; they tend to be smaller, have shorter jaws, and generally aren't as well constructed. I spent a few months searching on eBay for one (Versa-Vise) but the ones that showed up were either in really rough shape, or, really expensive.

Eventually, my casual trolling on eBay paid off and I ran across a vise called a "Gyro-Vise" which looked virtually identical to the Versa-Vise (possibly a re-branded version) and although it was not pretty to look at, I could see it's inner-beauty (i.e. the vise had only surface imperfections - structurally it was in good shape ;) - so, I bought it.

Realistically, this could have been the end of the story. Truth of the matter is that it's a tool that's going to get a *little* bit of abuse, and it doesn't need to look good - only function well - BUT - I figured that I'd put a few hours into sprucing it up so that I didn't feel like I was going to catch cooties from it every time I used it (total time invested about 8 hours - not including time spent waiting for paint to dry).

Materials and tools:

  • Sandblaster - or some way of stripping the old paint and rust off. Sandblasting is preferable since it leaves a very "toothy" surface for the paint to bond to. Chemical strippers will do the job too, but will be a lot more work.
  • Quality paint - formulated for application directly to bare metal. Don't skimp here - good paint will last for years - cheap paint might peel off in months. I used Rust-Oleum brand, formulated for application directly to bare metal.
  • Quality oil - Depending on your location (humidity) bare metal can rust very quickly. You will want to paint the surfaces as quickly as possible, and once it's cured, apply oil to the bare metal. I used CLP.
  • Optional - materials to make a base. I wanted a portable vise, so, I built a base from Baltic Birch plywood and laminate scraps. An old piece of kitchen countertop would work, too ;)

Step 1: Refinishing

Picture of Refinishing

As you can see, the original vise was kind of ugly, but when you look past the ugly paint and dirt you can see that the metal is in good shape - no serious damage, deformation, pitting, scars, etc. This is a great candidate for a restoration.

Due to it's construction, I had to sandblast and paint the vise completely assembled - which isn't ideal. I'm assuming that when the vise was originally assembled, the screw was threaded in, and the handle pinned/welded in place. This simply meant that I had to do part of the sandblasting with the jaws closed, and part of it with them open.

Painting the main part of the vise also required that it was done in two passes - with the jaws open (let the paint dry to the touch) then close the jaws, re-mask any areas that needed it (like the screw) and paint the parts I couldn't get to on the first pass. I purposely didn't paint any of the wear areas or places where there was metal-to-metal contact as those areas would get scarred up over time and it's likely that the paint would gum up the operation of the vise.

Once the paint was dry (about 8 hours in 90+ degree temps) - I put a light coat of oil over all of the exposed metal parts. At this point, the vise operates as smoothly as any vise I've ever used. It looks and works like new - and could have been mounted to a bench ... but I wanted a portable vise - so on to making a base.....

Step 2: Building a Base

Picture of Building a Base

This step is totally optional, of course. I like a portable vise - at least for a light duty. There will be times when you are working on something in the house - or elsewhere - and being able to bring the vise to your location is really handy.

I built this base out of Baltic Birch plywood and laminate scraps that I had lying around. I cut a 14"x14" base from the plywood, and a slightly oversized piece for the laminate. I cut the laminate oversized because it's very difficult to glue laminate to a substrate and have it go on *perfectly* aligned (using contact cement). Once the laminate was bonded to the plywood, I used the tablesaw to clean up the edges, then a 45 degree chamfer bit in the router table to break all of the edges as they're pretty sharp (a file would work, too).

Step 3: Mount the Vise

Picture of Mount the Vise

There aren't any hard-and fast rules here. No matter how you mount the vise - whether directly to a bench or to a base - you'll want to make sure that you allow the handle room to free-swing along the edge of the bench or base. You don't want to have to do a partial turn, slide the handle, another partial turn, slide the handle, etc, etc - that'd be very annoying. Be sure to close the jaws of your vise all the way, then scoot the vise over to the edge of your mounting surface - making sure you can swing the handle without hitting anything.

I used allen-head cap screws threaded into t-nuts to mount the vise to the base. Vix Bits make getting the holes aligned with the base really easy. A Forstner bit was used to make the depression that the t-nut flange sits inside (spade bit would work as well) - this was done so that the base wouldn't sit on the t-nut flanges and possibly scratch up whatever the base was sitting on.

Step 4: Final Pics

Picture of Final Pics

I'm really happy with the way this vise restoration turned out. At this point, I'm thinking I'm probably going to add a lock-knob to the pivot function as well as fabricate some magnetic soft-jaws - so - keep an eye out for potential additional Instructables.

In our "everything is disposable" world, there's a great amount of satisfaction in taking something old/beat up/forgotten, and giving it a new lease on life. I don't see why this vise wouldn't have another 50 years worth of use in it - and in many ways it gives credence to the old adage that, "They don't make 'em like they used to" ....


TLeBlanc22 (author)2015-10-27

Just stumbled on this thread... I have an "experienced" Versa Vise I got on eBay. I like your portable mounting method. What size VixBit, cap screw and T-nut did you use to mount the vise...don't see the specifics mentioned. I'm planning to mount mine to 3/4" stock, looks like that's what you used, so the bit, screw and nut should be the same.

jwilliamsen (author)TLeBlanc222015-10-27

The cap screw and t-nuts are both 1/4-20, with the cap screws being 3/4" long. The Vix Bit was 1/8" , but any size that provides a decent pilot hole would work as the hole the Vix Bit drills is followed up by a drill bit large enough to accommodate the outer diameter of your t-nut's shank.

TLeBlanc22 (author)jwilliamsen2015-12-02

Ah, thanks for that...will save me a lot of trial & error. I've already drilled the pilot holes using a VixBit...they do work very well for centering the hole, thanks for that tip...useful tool.

I bought my Versa Vise on eBay, as did my son-in-law. Wish I had the "extra" swivel fixture that you have. I've seen pictures of the "originals" that were available with the Versa Vise, but have never seen one for sale. Somebody make that for you?

jwilliamsen (author)TLeBlanc222015-12-02

The extra swivel came with my vise, as it did with a lot of the earlier vises, but was discontinued (my understanding) because it has a significant shortcoming: it won't stay in position unless the vise is clamped on something - so - when it's loosened, it tends to flop down. This can make working on some pieces akin to herding cats. This has been rectified in some knock-off designs by adding a threaded knob to lock the x-axis rotation like in this vise from Garret Wade Co.:

I plan on adding this feature to mine as soon as I can find a decent threaded knob. I'm considering counter-drilling and tapping the threaded knob and threading in a brass-headed screw to keep from marring up the pivot shaft of the vise. If I do that mod, I'll be adding it to this instructable.

TLeBlanc22 (author)jwilliamsen2015-12-03

I've seen similar swivels that others have had made in machine shops, with a knob. Didn't think about using something like brass, softer than steel, to avoid marring the shaft. Thanks for the feedback, very useful.

I managed to find some 1/4-20 stainless 3-prong T-nuts last night at Lowe's, waiting on the stainless 1/4-20x3/4 cap screws, they were out of stock. I can work with standard cap screws to do the initial test installation to make sure everything fits the way I want. Looking forward to being able to use the vise.

I didn't refinish the patina...will lightly oil and wipe, like the rest of my tools.

TLeBlanc22 (author)jwilliamsen2015-12-02

Ah, thanks for that...will save me a lot of trial & error. I've already drilled the pilot holes using a VixBit...they do work very well for centering the hole, thanks for that tip...useful tool.

I bought my Versa Vise on eBay, as did my son-in-law. Wish I had the "extra" swivel fixture that you have. I've seen pictures of the "originals" that were available with the Versa Vise, but have never seen one for sale. Somebody make that for you?

TLeBlanc22 (author)jwilliamsen2015-12-02

Ah, thanks for that...will save me a lot of trial & error. I've already drilled the pilot holes using a VixBit...they do work very well for centering the hole, thanks for that tip...useful tool.

I bought my Versa Vise on eBay, as did my son-in-law. Wish I had the "extra" swivel fixture that you have. I've seen pictures of the "originals" that were available with the Versa Vise, but have never seen one for sale. Somebody make that for you?

Yonatan24 (author)2015-08-11

Is there a chance that you can give a link to the vi"S"e you bought?

Thanks in advance :)

jwilliamsen (author)Yonatan242015-08-11

Well .... I bought it on eBay and the auction is closed (obviously) so there really aren't any links to speak of ... assuming that's what you meant. The pictures of the vise when it was red are from the original eBay auction. If that's not what you meant, please clarify and I'll try to answer ;)

Yonatan24 (author)jwilliamsen2015-08-11

Ok Thanks,

I searched for the name on google and eBay and there weren't any results that were close to what you bought...

Yonatan24 (author)Yonatan242015-08-12

I couldn't open the link so I searched "versa vise" and then I saw you sent another link that worked but was the same thing that I searched...

jwilliamsen (author)Yonatan242015-08-12

That's really interesting - I did an ebay search for "versa vise" (no
hypen) just now and got a half-dozen hits. See if this link works for

Yonatan24 (author)jwilliamsen2015-08-12

Thank you I tried searching "versa vise" again and it only showed 26 results...

Yonatan24 (author)jwilliamsen2015-08-11

I searched for Gyro-Vise and Versa-Vise

jwilliamsen (author)2015-08-12

OK - it looks like that link didn't stick - here it is in plain text:

buck2217 (author)2015-07-01

That came out nice

Bushie (author)2014-12-01

AND, both spellings can be seen in use down here in Oz !!! Though, in most cases I see the American spelling "vise" being used more often these days, while 'vice' is used for bad habits and lewd behaviour...

AND, while on the pedantic ~ the author's use of "trolling", as in "..trolling eBay," is ALSO wrong ~ the correct term should have been "trawling" through the internet, eBay, etc.

THE tag "Trolling" carries much more negative/threatening/harassing meanings to it ~ AS a quick internet search of meanings and definitions will prove.

jwilliamsen (author)Bushie2014-12-01

Thanks for the correction, Bushie - I fixed that - "trolling" didn't sound quite right .... ;)

jwilliamsen (author)jwilliamsen2014-12-01

LOL - OK - now I'm questioning myself. I checked the Dictionary, and trolling is in fact, correct:

"to fish for or in with a moving line, working the line up or down with a rod, as in fishing for pike, or trailing the line behind a slow-moving boat."

Fikjast Scott (author)2014-12-01

came out great, I like your idea for a base.

well done

grsimpson (author)2014-11-27

You might check for a new vise but your restoration was great and worthy. We used them in gunsmithing school back in the seventies and they were great. You can strip paint with oven cleaner and rust with oxalic acid (mix powder with water), eats rust but not the parent metal.

Bushie (author)grsimpson2014-12-01

Diluted Phosphoric Acid also makes a good rust stripper/converter (leaves a thin coat of Iron phosphate on the surface..).

gizmologist (author)2014-11-26

Thank you! Finally, someone who knows how to spell "Vise!"

stackerjack (author)gizmologist2014-11-27

An object for gripping things tightly is called a vice in the U.K.

In the U.S.A it's called a vise.

jwilliamsen (author)stackerjack2014-11-29

So, then, what would you call, "a fault, shortcoming, or bad habit" - which we call a "vice"?

Kevanf1 (author)jwilliamsen2014-11-30

A bad habit, shortcoming etc is indeed termed a 'vice' here in the UK. A tool for holding objects is also called a 'vice'.... It's our wonderful English language that uses the same name for many things :) Sadly it can be very confusing for those who do not have English for their first language :(

Vise is the American spelling.

Vice is the English spelling.

Great Scott! That's the second time in a week I've been caught by British English. Two countries separated by a common language... Cheerio!

jwilliamsen (author)gizmologist2014-11-26

Well, to be honest, I *almost* spelled it incorrectly - but I caught myself.  It's one of the many crazy English words that sound the same, but mean something different ...... which are almost as bad as words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently based on context. (Today I read a book.  Tomorrow, I'll read another one.)

I'm sure you'll appreciate this video: Word Crimes - Weird Al Yankovic

Ricardo Furioso (author)2014-11-29

A. I love this.

B. Thank you.

C. Did you do your own sandblasting?

I'm glad you like it :)

You're welcome

....and yes, I did my own sandblasting - but I have access to a blasting cabinet. I also have a "portable" blaster that I've used a number of times - only downsides are that it's a lot messier, and you tend to lose most of your abrasive.

BeachsideHank (author)2014-11-25

The Gyro- Vise was featured in a January 1965 Popular Science Article. It retailed for the amount of $15. To put that in perspective, I was making $50/ week back then, so it was serious money. Another feature, although an odd one was that it could be side mounted, probably great for holding something pointing heavenwards. And before I leave, here's a tip on counterboring with a Forstner bit on top of an existing hole: using the larger bit, bore through a piece of scrap, position over the smaller hole's center, clamp, and bore to desired depth, the rim will be guided by the walls of the scrap and stay true.

You know, you're right! I don't know why that orientation didn't occur to me ... thanks for pointing it out! :)

$15 in 1965 dollars is about $300 today (if you price it in silver - and way more if you take into account the massive precious metals manipulation).... - so definitely NOT a cheap vise. I feel lucky that I got away for about half of that in total.

Also, a very good tip on "freehand" drilling with a Forstner bit - thanks again. I'll have to think about making a hardwood template that I store with my bits - it would come in handy, I'm sure.

a-morpheus (author)jwilliamsen2014-11-27

This is an aside, but you can also calculate how much an old $ value is worth today with a CPI calculator, for example:

(says $15 in 1965 = $113.06 in 2014)

I don't know if it's the best method to make such an estimate though.

jwilliamsen (author)a-morpheus2014-11-27

Hmmm - well - let's just say that the method of calculating the CPI is a lot more ... uh ... "flexible" than it used to be. I don't know about anyone else, but the numbers coming out of the BLS are a bit suspect. I think they should just give up all pretense of accuracy and drop the "L" ....

cmartí (author)2014-11-27

Great piece of history, that vice was sold 1965

DAYJAY (author)2014-11-27

Great job... excellent photographs. Well done!

pfred2 (author)2014-11-24

I'd have left it. It looks like it was in fine shape to me. You should see what my vises that I use look like. They look like they get used, I can tell you that!

seamster (author)2014-11-24

That's a gorgeous looking vise! You should be proud to have that in your shop. Very nice work to get it back to beautiful.

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