Introduction: Restore an Old Vise

About: I am a perpetual student, researcher, and hopelessly dedicated skill collector. I hope that you can find something inspiring or useful in the instructables I publish.

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

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

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

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

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" ....