A Moxon vice (=vise) is one of those rare tools that is so indispensible that it either takes pride of place among a woodworker’s arsenal of hand-tools, or else it is high upon the proverbial (and inexhaustible) list of future tool purchases. A third alternative, of blissful ignorance, thankfully does not exist for you (the reader), because you are about to be enlightened as to the Moxon possibilities!
In this brief article, I do not traverse the history of Moxon vices or try to convince you that you need one: I assume both. Rather, I invite you to share my passion for acquiring and using tools, and for improving them if possible. Before I begin, however, let me state what is perhaps obvious, that the Benchcrafted Moxon screws and hand-wheels are the best hardware of their kind available today, in my humble opinion.
The reason why a Moxon vice is so useful is clear: a higher working level is beneficial for detailed hand-work. For the younger woodworker, it saves the back from those aches and pains that come from hours of hunching over one’s work. For the older woodworker, it allows the project at hand to come perfectly into the range of focus of bi-focals. Regardless, the best solution is arguably a dedicated bench and vice solution at a level between 125-150mm higher than the bench height typically used for hand-planing. Assuming that like me you do not have enough space for such a bench, an excellent compromise is a bench-top bench solution: enter my Moxon vice.
This Moxon vice uses Benchcrafted hardware, is wider and taller than most examples (measured in metric NOT imperial!), includes an integrated bench-top bench design, and has a few other nifty features. I have chosen quarter-sawn New Guinea Rosewood for its low movement in service, and picked out boards with relatively low mass to aid in moving the completed vice more easily. (New Guinea Rosewood has a naturally wide variability in density – approx. 600-800kg/m3 – and some boards are even lighter in weight.) But the key design concept is the bench-top bench, which involves a braced, dovetailed box attached to the inside chop. This approach has a number of upsides which are outlined below. The only possible downside is the overall weight of the vice – many articles and blog-sites are fixated on keeping Moxon vice weights as low as possible. Below, I provide the weight of my design so you can decide whether it is too heavy for you.
Let’s get into the design and construction…
Carrying/Moving the Vice
Many examples of Moxon vices do not have a bench-top bench behind it, and as such are much smaller and lighter and therefore more easily moved around (e.g. from a shelf to the bench-top and back again). However, for me these tools have less capability. I find the best way to move my Moxon is to grasp the right hand-wheel (with my right hand) and the holes at the rear (with my left).
Clamping to the Bench
As for clamping down the vice adequately, any number of options are at our disposal: bar clamps, quick-action clamps, hold-fasts, or even bolts. In my opinion, it is hard to beat the speed and effectiveness of hold-fasts (e.g. Grammercy). The outside chop is offset a little lower than the inside chop so that the vice is easily lined up to the edge of the bench (with the vice closed). The numerous holes around the vice at once cater for any clamping eventuality and also reduce the weight of the vice.
Vice Width and Screw Positions
Increasing the length of the chops ensures an ample working area both inside and outside the vice screws. A width of 1000mm, with the screws located 150mm in from each end, leaves approximately 680mm available between screws. This is more than adequate. I am not concerned with “chop flex” as the addition of suede to the outer chop results in very effective clamping at low pressures (yes, just like in the YouTube videos).
The increased working area outside the screws allows for very quick clamping and unclamping of stock. Thus, when marking, sawing or chiseling dovetails, stock can be reversed by sliding sideways, flipping, and reinserting between the chops. This is faster than lifting stock vertically from the central area of the vice, especially for deep drawers.
Square versus Beveled Front Chop
Some examples of Moxon vices have a large bevel on the top edge presumably to ensure that a dovetail saw blade does not hit the outer chop (particularly when cutting half-blind dovetails). However, such a bevel hampers the use of the front chop as a registration for square when chiseling out said half-blind dovetails. I have inlaid a strip of Wenge along the top of the chop to provide a hard-wearing surface for my chisels (and it looks nice to boot!). I avoid sawing into my outside chop by simply raising the work-piece a little higher in the vice.
A Lowered Outer Chop
The outer chop is purposefully not flush with the top edge of the inner chop (and therefore the integrated bench). Rather, it is set 10mm lower. This design feature becomes very useful when transferring the positions of dovetails into the pin board. With flush chops, the outer chop is prone to damage from a stray marking knife, while the offset arrangement protects the outer chop from damage. Although it might appear that the uneven nature of the chops could affect the efficacy of the vice, I have found this is not the case in use. I think the solution of a lowered outer chop is less fiddly than raising the pin board up a little (say half an inch) and using a spacer to support the tail board – but to be clear, my solution lends itself to the integrated bench-top bench design.
Let’s face it: Although this vice has a myriad of uses, it really is a dedicated dovetailing machine. And any design feature which aids dovetailing is a bonus. This is why I have opted for a permanent, integrated fence both vertically (between the chops) and horizontally (on the bench-top bench). Gone are the days of clamping the pin board in the vice, and hoping that I can hold the tail board straight and square while marking the pins.
Now I can quickly and easily line up both components of a dovetail joint and transfer the layout marks with confidence that the stock is lined up and square. The fence is parallel so that the vice caters for narrow or wide stock (on either side of the screw as necessary). I find that for most joints, holding the tail board against the fence while marking the pins is sufficient. However, for much wider stock, I prefer to use the hold-down clamp to ensure that there is no movement while I mark out a wider set of pins.
I prefer to work on the left side of the Moxon vice so I can position the stock with my left hand, while adjusting the hand-wheel with my right. Consequently, I do not feel it is necessary to install a second fence on the right side. Obviously, lefties might like to reverse the layout.
On some Moxon vices, I have seen a moveable fence which serves the same purpose of lining up stock for marking. I prefer the permanent fence because it is more likely to be (and stay) square. In order to accommodate the fence, I cut a trench into the inside of the outer chop. Consequently, the Moxon vice may no longer be used for clamping longer stock in a horizontal position. Since marking out is critical to joint quality, I do not consider these aspects of my design to be negative. You will need to weigh up the alternatives for yourself.
Integrated Bench-top Bench
The key distinguishing feature of this Moxon vice is the integrated bench-top bench design. It has the following advantages:
- Integrating the inner chop with a bench-top bench affords much greater rigidity to the vice and bench overall. It also provides numerous clamping options around the vice.
- The design allows for a fence to be permanently attached, which aids perfect alignment and marking of joints.
- A braced, “box-style” bench, as opposed to a solid bench, means that the working surface area of the bench can be increased without unduly adding to the weight of the vice. There is plenty of support for shorter and longer stock.
- The box design also offers a great place to store hand tools while executing a dovetail joint. Chisels, marking knives, gauges, and mallets – all of which are prone to rolling onto the floor – maybe laid inside the bench-top bench, within easy reach.
I am well-pleased with the result, and the features suit my working style. Perhaps some or all will suit yours too? But what about the possible downside associated with a heavy Moxon vice? As promised, I said I would tell you the completed weight of my Moxon: 17.7 kg, including the not inconsiderable weight of the Benchcrafted hardware. As a comparison, I weighed a board of American Oak for a current project. The board (3m x 250mm x 38mm), which weighs 24.5kg, has been moved several times before being machined to size. I leave it up to you to decide whether that is too much for your situation.