'C' clamps don't last forever. The most common wear happens when the swivel head becomes loose and falls off of the moveable jaw. This doesn't render them useless, but it can be annoying when you have to hold the swivel in place as you set your clamp. There is, however, an option for these old clamps other than throwing them out.
I was looking into wood vises for my island work bench and was surprised at their cost. Even the kits can set you back hundreds of dollars, and still require time and wood to construct. By cannibalizing parts from an old clamp, I was able to create a fully functional woodworkers vise, and by the inclusion of recycled wood, I was able to do it at zero cost.
More importantly, it can be created with only hand tools using a minimal amount of resources, meaning this vise can be put together by anybody, regardless of the size of their workshop.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
- Hack saw or angle grinder
- circular saw or hand saw
- Drill with spade bits
- chisel and hammer
- Broken 'C' clamp
- 2x6" - approx 6 feet
- 2x3" - approx 8"
- 3" deck screws
- carpenters glue
- 6" bold with washers and extra nut
- 1" dowel
Step 2: Cannibalizing Your Clamp
First you need to unscrew the moveable jaw from the clamp. With the swivel off it should come out easily, however if you're working with a functional clamp, you may need to cut it off.
Next take your hack saw or angle grinder with a quick cut off wheel and slice off the threaded nut end of the clamp just before the bend, leaving plenty of armature. Most clamps are cast and should cut easily with a hand saw. They are also often cast in a 'T' or an 'I' shape so you'll need to cut some of that material away leaving one flat edge that you should drill two holes into for mounting screws. When cutting away the extra material, leave a small wedge of metal attached to the nut end of your piece. This will wedge it into the drilled hole and help prevent the nut from spinning free under the pressure of tightening.
Step 3: Cutting Your Boards and Drilling the Screw Hole
You'll need a piece of 2x6" that is exactly the height of your table surface as a mounting base. The clamp assembly will be mounted to your table leg and the length will go a long way to strengthening it. You will also need a second 2x6" that is approx 24" long as a clamping board. Set this one 4" higher than your table surface. You'll also need two 2x6x3.5" pieces to act as the 'face' of the clamp
Next you need to decide where you want the screw to be. I set mine at 12" from the top of the clamping board. The general idea being that higher means more clamping force while lower means more range. I recommend lining up your boards, with the clamping board offset by 4" and piloting a small 1/8" hole through both, in your screw location. This will mark out it's position and ensure the holes align.
Once your holes align, take your mounting base and, on the side that mounts to the table, drill a hole only the size and depth of the nut with the 'tongue' hanging out. Then you can drill the rest of the way through with a bit the diameter of your screw. Now take your nut and hammer it in to the hole. The wedge you left on it should make it fit very tightly, and with the 'tongue' screwed down, the nut should be secure.
You'll need a channel for the screw to pass through on the clamp board. You can do this by drilling a series of holes, inline (starting at you 1/8" pilot hole and working upward), and then carving out the extra material with a hammer and chisel. The channel should be 1.5" long and as wide as your screw.
Now you can glue the 'face' boards to the clamp and screw them into place where they should sit 1/2" above the table surface and the top of the mounting board.
Step 4: Creating Your Hinge
Cut two blocks from the base of your clamping board, each being 1.5" wide and 3.5" long. Through the remaining piece, drill a horizontal hole, 1" from the end the size of your 6" bolt. This is the pivot for the hinge.
Next, you need to create and add your pivot blocks. Cut them to 4" then drill a hole 2" from the top end, the size of your 6" bolt, and use a round file to lengthen them to 1". The extra play in the hinge helps alleviate some of the stress from clamping preventing your blocks from cracking.
Now, cut two channels, the size of your blocks, into the mounting base. Apply carpenters glue, then screw them into place.
Finally, install your bolt, but don't tighten. The entire mechanism should move freely in the grooves in the blocks. A nylock nut would be preferable, however, a good trick, to preventing the nut from backing off is to put a second nut on and tighten them together.
Step 5: Assembling the Clamp
You'll need to create a spacer for your screw. I used my hole saw and cut a 2" disk from a 2x4", then drilled the center hole out to the diameter of my screw. You can make as many of these as you wish, depending on the space you want for the 'T' of your screw. A good suggestion would be to cut two of these disks, then cut a small channel across the surface of one for the 'T' to rest in. You can then apply a bit of almond oil between the two spacers and create a lubricated bushing system that will allow you to tighten the clamp more smoothly.
You'll notice from the images that I started with the one spacer, then added the second and found it was an immense improvement in the design.
With your clamping system built, you'll need to mount it to the leg of your workbench. I simply used 3" deck screws, at 6" intervals and screwed it through the mounting base and directly into the table leg. Now you can install the spacers on your screw, and screw it into place.
With your clamp made, you'll need a way to brace your work.
Step 6: Cutting and Drilling the Pegs
The pegs were created out of 1" hardwood dowel, with the bottom 1.5" carved down to 5/8" and sanded. Then a series of 5/8 holes were drilled directly into the table, at 2.5" intervals, and 4" apart, so they centered on each beam, however you can change the spacing as you see fit. A good idea, which I wasn't able to do here, was to drill a single, offset hole between each row of pegs. This single hole is handy for projects that may have a unique shape that wouldn't fit properly in the two peg system.
Since my table is rough built, the ends of the boards don't line up exactly, to I took my measurements from the end of the clamp face using a combination square, then extending the lines down the table. This ensured my dowel holes were all set inline with the clamp face.
Step 7: Finished
That's it. You now have a woodworkers bench vise that's ready for any project. I created mine along the width of my table, making my range less than 4' however it would function the same if you were to mount it on the length, giving you the ability to clamp much longer items.
You have the option of using the pegs themselves as a brace for whatever you're clamping, or inserting a piece of wood to act as a straight edge. You can even create a fence, if you choose, by mounting the dowels into a piece of 2x4". The options are endless.
As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable and thanks for following.
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