For my workholding needs, I have been using the most affordable vise from Harbor Freight: Item #30999 4-inch Drill Press Vise. It was a huge improvement over holding things by hand, but it wasn’t great, and I’m ready for an upgrade. Now I have Micro-Mark’s Item #87469 2″ Self Centering Machinist’s Vise with Swivel Base and first impressions are promising.
The Harbor Freight vise was sufficient for most tasks. The most important feature were removable jaws: I designed and 3D printed many custom jaws to hold pieces of various projects. Once I’ve clamped something down, it stays put, fulfilling the point of a vise. My problem was that the sliding jaw had quite a bit of play along its motion. This caused two problems. First: the tiny amount of play in its motion means it can be difficult to clamp something exactly where I want it. As I tighten the vise and take up slack in its play, those jaws might shift a tiny bit which also shift position of my workpiece. Second: this vise expects all forces to be downward, which is reasonable for a drill press vise. But sometimes my drill bit would pull on the work piece as it drilled, and that would lift the workpiece and sliding jaw upwards a tiny bit as well. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but every once in a while, that upwards lift ruins things.
When it comes to tools, precision costs money. The Harbor Freight vise was very cheap so its flaws were reasonable. To gain better precision I would have to move into the realm of vises designed for metal machining work. (And spend more money.) A 6″ vise is the standard baseline machining vise but that is overkill for my needs. (Example: Kurt DX6) I didn’t see anything promising on the Harbor Freight catalog, so I looked into the Micro-Mark catalog for accessories alongside their small metalworking mills. I started by looking at their Item # 82577 Quick-Lock Milling Vise, but that vise didn’t appear to have removable jaws. Then I looked at Item #21134 Toolmaker’s Vise which had removable jaws, but the geometry of the design gave me concern. All the machinist vises I’ve looked at had their leadscrew below the working area, so that a portion of clamping force is also directed downwards to resist upward pulls. I’m not certain #21134 does that. The only vise that seems to meet all of my requirements is Item #87469 2″ Self Centering Machinist’s Vise with Swivel Base. I didn’t particularly care about the self-centering aspect, but everything else looked promising.
A few days later it arrived in a well-padded box. The vise itself was coated in oil, sealed inside a plastic bag to avoid oil leaking into the shipping materials. I can confirm smooth confidence-inspiring movement in the jaws, which are removable as required. Even though both jaws move instead of just one moving, they still had far less free play combined than the singular jaw of the Harbor Freight vise. The resistance to upward lifting forces is still a question mark until I really put it to use, but I’m satisfied with everything else.
The only criticism is the handle, which extends below the level of the base. When I bolt this vise to a surface, I might not be able to crank it all the way around unless I make sure it dangles over an edge. Otherwise I would have to remove the handle and reinstall it at a different angle for every turn, which could get annoying. I’m not sure how serious of a problem this will be in practice, time will tell.