Height-Adjustable Portable Vise Stand

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About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

Intro: Height-Adjustable Portable Vise Stand

A while back I realized that having my vise fastened to a stationary worktable was incredibly limiting.

So I mounted it to the top of a log and added an old brake rotor for a base. Then I could drag it around my shop and use it wherever it was needed. It was a game changer!

However this initial vise stand had a few shortcomings, so I decided to build this new and upgraded version.

Read on to see how I went about making this adjustable vise stand, and maybe you'll want to make one too.

Enjoy!

Step 1: Background and Design Considerations

Here's a side-by-side look at the old stand next to the new version.

The old version was very useful and actually more sturdy than you might think.

However, here are the faults:

  • in some locations on my garage floor, the stand was a little wobbly
  • it never got tipped over, although it could have if I accidentally bumped it hard enough
  • there were times I wished it was either a little higher or a little lower
  • a few times I wanted to put a longer item in the ends of the jaws vertically, but the log was in the way

So this new version provides the following solutions:

  • tripod base - always perfectly stable
  • lower center of gravity as-is . . but allows for more weight to be added if needed
  • adjustable height
  • clearance below the vise jaws

Aside from these functional aspects, I just think it looks cool!

The height range to the top of the vise: from the ground, 32 1/2" up to 40".

That might not seem like a huge range, but it can make a big difference when using the vise to hold random sizes of hunks of metal while you're cutting and grinding.

Step 2: The Secret of This Project

The secret behind this project is the adjustable-height mechanism.

This was made by harvesting the adjustable pillar from an old Craftsman radial arm saw.

I know some people will find the idea of scrapping a tool like this offensive, but hear me out:

Where I live at least, these saws can be found at any time in local online classifieds. I've found them in various conditions, often for dirt cheap. I've even had one given to me for free.

So while they might be perfectly good tools that someone could theoretically still use . . the reality is that there is an abundance of these around, and not enough people who appreciate them, want them, and are inclined to keep and use them.

I think it's better to put some of the key parts to good use rather than see the entire thing get sent to the dump or sold as scrap.

With that in mind, I don't feel bad breaking down an old saw like this.

So I'll occasionally pick up an old Craftsman radial arm saw if I see one nearby for cheap. I'll strip it down for parts, which can be done with a few wrenches, sockets, and hex keys.

The parts include the motor and carriage assembly*, pillar assembly with a large leadscrew (what's that?) inside, a smaller leadscrew, several metal rods, lots of nuts and bolts, and all sorts of other little doo-dads and what-nots.

If you're a scrounger like me, there are a lot of useful parts worth holding on to.

*If you're doing this with a Craftsman saw, it's important to remove the motor and carriage assembly and set that aside. Do not throw it away. If you don't know what to do with it, ask google ; )

Step 3: Clean Up the Pillar Parts

With the pillar assembly separate from the rest of the radial arm saw parts, I decided to go to the trouble to take it all apart and thoroughly clean everything in degreaser.

This isn't necessary, but it's nicer to work with all clean parts.

Step 4: Modify the Crank

I'm going to call this the crank.

The long rod that extends from the base of the pillar has gears on one end that mesh with gears on the bottom of a leadscrew inside the pillar which raises and lowers the post.

This crank rod was cut down and a 3/4" hex head from an old emergency car scissor jack kit was welded to it. This short crank is used to raise and lower the post with the help of a socket attached to a cordless drill.

The following steps show the details of how this was made.

Step 5: Cut the Parts

There are probably several ways that this crank rod could be shortened and used. I just did what made sense to me based on the materials I had available.

The original crank on the radial arm saw had a handle that could simply be reattached to the cut down crank rod, but that would require hand-cranking to raise or lower the post.

So I chose to fabricate this instead.

The ends of these two pieces were cut off using a cutting disc in an angle grinder. Before cutting however, the metal surfaces were wire-brushed to remove paint and prepare them for better welds.

Step 6: Spot Welds and Masking Tape

I wasn't sure if this would work, but it did!

I first taped the the two pieces together temporarily using the wraps of tape to hold the the two pieces directly inline with each other.

This was to account for any gap that might have been on the cut ends due to me possibly not cutting them exactly perpendicular.

Two small opposing sections of tape were removed with an x-acto knife so I could do two little spot welds.

The spot welds were done and the tape burned up, but the two pieces were now tacked perfectly inline.

Once cooled, the joint was cleaned with acetone to remove the tape residue, and then a full weld bead was made around the joint.

This was then wire-brushed to make it look prettier. The finished part was shown earlier in step 4.

Step 7: Create Vise Support Plate

A scrap piece of 1/4" steel was used to create the top support plate onto which the vise will be mounted.

The vise base was traced onto the steel and it was cut out using a portable bandsaw (in my homemade stand, which is covered in this Instructable).

The plate was then spot welded to the top of the metal post using a mig welder.

The basics of my welding setup:

For cutting and grinding metal, I have:

- - - - -

If you're new to welding I strongly recommend this excellent welding class right here on Instructables: Welding Class

Step 8: Run Bead

A full bead was then run around the top of the post and the plate.

Step 9: Add Mounting Bolts

Three 3/8" bolts were welded to the topside of the metal plate which will be used to mount the vise.

These bolts were soaked overnight in vinegar to remove the zinc plating so they would be safe to weld.

Step 10: Pillar Assembly

The pillar assembly was then put back together with fresh grease added to the gears and the internal leadscrew.

Step 11: Make a Tripod Base

This is where things got a little tricky.

I needed to take a four-cornered object with four obviously perfect mounting points, and create a three-legged base for it. I also wanted to not weld the base in place around the pillar. If I ever needed to remove the pillar I wanted to be able to do so without cutting through welds.

The solution appears simple now, but I stared at it for a while before I had a plan that seemed relatively easy and elegant. But I got there eventually. The following steps show the details of how this was made.

Step 12: Top of Base

The top of the base was made from three pieces of 1 1/2" angle iron, leaving one side open where the crank sticks out from the pillar assembly.

If you're making one of these you'll need to measure against your own pillar assembly for exact measurements. But the photos above show the process I used.

Step 13: Add Legs

The legs for the tripod were made from U-shaped scrap steel. This metal was actually the back lip of the metal table on which all the parts are showing in these photos.

Any scrap metal can be made to work - this is just what I had and felt would work out nicely.

I cut three pieces 10 inches each using my portable bandsaw. Each end was then cut with 45 degree angles using an angle grinder and cut-off disc.

The back leg was welded in place first.

Then the two remaining legs were added to the front edges of the base top as shown. I just eye-balled the angles here, and they came out close enough for me!

These two front legs had little bits of metal welded into the top gaps to reinforce them (see photos).

Step 14: Add Leg Braces

To keep the legs from splaying out and make the whole structure more rigid, I added braces between each of the tripod legs made from more scrap angle iron.

These pieces of angle iron all come from old bed frames.

The pieces were rough-cut slightly oversized, and then propped to height with a block of wood and held in place to mark where to cut them down for a perfect fit.

They were then trimmed as needed, paint was ground off, and they were welded in place.

Step 15: Add Feet and Pegs

Small feet were then added to each leg of the tripod as shown. These were cut slightly oversized to allow for the weld.

These little feet are perfect for just sliding the stand around when I need to move it.

Pegs were added to hold flat barbell weights if I ever want to put some additional weight on the stand.

Step 16: Reinforce Top Plate

At this point I added some reinforcing brackets to the top plate.

These pieces were cut and welded in place as shown.

Step 17: Test Fit

Before painting the base and final assembly I did a test fit.

Everything was looking good to me!

Step 18: Paint the Base

The base was painted with a coat of primer and then a few coats of black spray paint.

Step 19: Bolt Pillar Assembly to Base

The pillar assembly was bolted to the completed tripod base using 3/8" bolts, washers, and lock nuts.

Step 20: Mount Vise

I placed some pieces of rubber from an old yoga mat to act as little gaskets between the vise and the post top plate, just to absorb any differences in flushness that might exist between the vise and top plate.

The vise was then mounted to the stand using 3/8" locknuts and washers, the bolts were trimmed off using an angle grinder, and the excess bits of rubber were trimmed off with a utility knife.

The stand is rock solid!

And there is no play whatsoever in the post/pillar mechanism either, which is fantastic.

Step 21: Bonus Step: Vise Clean Up

I got this old vise several years ago, and at the time I snapped a few photos as I cleaned it up.

This little project was never made into an Instructable, so I'm including the photos here just for fun.

This is a Record 3VS vise made in Sheffield, England. I actually consider it a prized possession and I use it almost daily. So it really deserved a nice custom base.

When I got it, it was apparent it had led a fairly pampered (albeit slightly damp) life. Aside from being dirty and having a bit of surface rust, the vise was in excellent condition.

As shown in the photos the vise was disassembled, cleaned, rust removed, screw regreased, bare metal waxed, and reassembled.

This concludes this ministructable.

Step 22: That's It!

Thanks for reading along.

If you make a vise stand like this, please be sure to leave a comment and share some photos. I'd love to see how yours turns out!

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    35 Discussions

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    otomoton

    7 days ago

    Awesome re-purposing of the radial arm-saw mechanism.

    The only thing that made me sad about this instructable is that I thought you were going to show a shop fabricated mechanism to do it that I could copy myself. C'est la vie.
    Great job!

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    seamsterotomoton

    Reply 7 days ago

    Ah, my apologies - perhaps I'll come up with a more from-scratch version at some point! ; )

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    seamsterTuomas Soikkeli

    Reply 7 days ago

    Thanks! I'm certain you could make something better and quicker, from a few pieces of rusty scrap metal. Your fabrication skills are far more advanced than mine! : )

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    HughB19

    12 days ago

    Very nice. I did something similar, but not adjustable height. However I had to turn the vice 180degrees to yours so that I had more stability when applying pressure on the clamped item. Nice project though, very nice. Oh, wheels with anchor bolts (that screw down and raise wheels off the ground slightly - and can be easily leveled) would be a nice addition too. 2 thumbs up from me.

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    HC15

    18 days ago on Step 2

    Dude. Sorry, but "harvesting" is a real euphemism for what happened to that old Craftsman radial arm saw. You're obviously a talented guy, and ended up with a nice tool, but considering the "waste" at the end...I just can't get behind this. I *do* get in front of my own 40-year old Craftsman radial arm saw almost daily, and marvel at how dependably perfect my crosscuts are. Just sayin'

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    seamsterHC15

    Reply 18 days ago

    Oh I get it.

    But if you had them almost literally falling into your lap, you'd wonder what to do with the extra ones too.

    The reality is there are a lot of perfectly good Craftsman radial arm saws going to the dump, because there are simply not enough people who appreciate them, want them, and are inclined to keep and use them.

    My logic is that there's no harm in making use of some of the key parts and encouraging others to do the same, rather than to see the entire things get tossed.

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! : )

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    FlorinJseamster

    Reply 13 days ago

    By them, clean them up, make them shine, sell them on ebay and make a buck. There are plenty of places around the world where better quality DIY-grade tools are not at all easy to come by.

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    seamsterFlorinJ

    Reply 13 days ago

    It's a nice thought, but not exactly feasible.

    These things are heavy old dinosaurs and are generally undesired, compared to newer, modern tools. Even if a person wanted to do as you say and flip them to make a buck, the time alone to acquire one, clean it, find a buyer, and ship it would absolutely not provide any justifiable return on your time and investment.

    Specifically, the shipping costs to get one of these into the hands of someone 1000s a miles away, would far outweigh any monetary value of the thing. The reality is these are outdated and most will most likely end up in a local dump. Repurposing key parts as I've shown here is a great alternative to seeing the thing end up rotting in a dump. Thank you for your comment.

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    Kwarseck

    18 days ago

    Will a car jack with an extension work? I am talking about the new tripod type not the old scissor jack.

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    FlorinJKwarseck

    Reply 13 days ago

    I think even a scissor jack would work, if it had arms long enough. A tripod car jack ... Idunno. Could be a tiny bit shaky. I wouldn't like that in a vise stand.

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    seamsterKwarseck

    Reply 18 days ago

    I can't say for sure, but I imagine there are a lot of ways to make something similar. So long as the tripod footprint is big enough, and there's some heft to the structure, and a lower center of gravity, I think you'd be in business.

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    Brian Schreiber

    14 days ago

    Great adaptation using the radio arm saw Column! I can suggest another adaptation call and make a double headed top to hold both your bench vice and a bench grinder!

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    seamsterBrian Schreiber

    Reply 14 days ago

    That's a good idea - or even make it so the top unit itself could be swapped.. hmm. gears turning! Thanks for checking it out and commenting. Always appreciated! : )

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    CPUDOCTHE1.

    14 days ago

    That looks like it would be unstable to me. I have my vise mounted on a 30"x60" table and when we bend 1/2" or larger steel rod cold, one of us has to sit or stand on the opposite corner of the table to keep it from shifting around.

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    seamsterCPUDOCTHE1.

    Reply 14 days ago

    For the case you describe where even your table alone can't handle that kind of leverage . . yes, a portable stand would be even less useful. For all of my general vise needs, it's working out great.

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    bongodrummer

    17 days ago

    Seamster, I love it! It was just yesterday that I was drilling a hole in something thinking, I really need this lower down to get my weight over it. I ended up getting a stool to stand on (which was as unstable and ridiculous as it sounds)... For other more fiddly, sideways forcing type jobs jobs its nice to have the vice good and high. Being able to move it round the shop is great too!

    I may have to put it on the project list... Did you consider making a wheeling attachment? Or do you just drag it about? Or use a sack-truck maybe?

    Thanks for sharing, B.

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    seamsterbongodrummer

    Reply 17 days ago

    Hey, thanks!!

    I thought about putting wheels on it for a moment, but realized just dragging it around as needed was good enough for me. Some wheels set slightly above ground level that only engage when you tilt the whole thing would be what I would have done, if I had gone that route. But I really, really like it as is. Thank you for checking this out, Cheers!

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    Tominaz

    18 days ago

    You just gave me a use for that old jack stand. Thanks cool project, eeuse of old things is what i like

    1 reply