Comparing Carver’s Vises (Don’t Waste Your Money)

The green carver’s vise I adore.
The red version from StewMac.

I’m a big fan of the Taiwanese-made “carver’s vise” sold by many vendors with slightly different paint jobs. The vise is inexpensive and incredibly versatile, especially for chairmaking operations. Most students who take a chair class here seem to end up ordering one after using one of ours. The vise basically replaces a shaving horse.

Recently I decided to buy a few more of these vises so that every student could choose between one of the carver’s vises, or one of our also-excellent Hi Vises from Benchcrafted

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After writing about my love of the green Taiwanese vise, several readers told me I should try the version from StewMac. The company has upgraded the vise to improve its performance.

I ordered one and immediately put it to work on the comb-back stick chair on my bench. Here is the short version of the review: Don’t bother with the StewMac. The upgrades are unnoticeable.

Instead, buy the Grizzly version of the vise, which is on sale for $129 with free shipping until Aug. 14. This is not a paid advertorial. If someone asked me to do something like that I’d tell them to poop up their own butts. The Grizzly version is basically half the price of the StewMac version (after shipping and taxes). And they work the same.

Let’s take a closer look.

The StewMac version is supposed to have hardwood jaws. They aren’t hardwood. They are a softwood – just like the jaws on the green versions.

The StewMac version has roller bearings to make the vise operate more smoothly. There is no difference in the speed or ease that both vises close. Both are swift. Neither is smoother than the other.

The StewMac version has a round handwheel with a plastic handle. The cheaper green versions have a simple cast handle. I prefer the simple cast handle. I don’t like plastic, and there is literally nothing wrong with the all-cast-iron handle. 

Nylon locknuts.

The StewMac version has nylon locknuts on the jaws. The green versions use common threaded bolts. This is the tiniest upgrade ever. Yes, the locknuts are smart and a bit better. They prevent the jaws from freezing up temporarily when you over-twist them, which is not a big deal. So yeah, good call. But it’s not worth the $74.75 extra for the StewMac.

Oh, and the StewMac is painted red instead of green. Whoever painted these vises – both the red ones and the green ones – had just failed an eye exam. The paint job is B- at best. But I don’t care about the paint job because it doesn’t hold the work.

Note the front jaw is ash instead of the softwood. After replacement, this jaw has yet to fail.

What I Would Upgrade

If I wanted to “upgrade” the green vise, here’s what I would do.

  1. Improve the jaws. They are softwood covered in a tough urethane. But after a while the jaws and their screws fail. I have fixed this on some of my vises by using a tough hardwood for the jaws, such as ash. 
  2. Lengthen the wingnut that secures the vise to the bench. The cast wingnut is pretty perfect. But I would prefer a bigger one so that I could get some more leverage to tighten and loosen the wingnut. It is easy to overtighten the vise by rotating the vise’s body in use. A larger wingnut would fix this problem.
On all these vises, a bigger wingnut (longer shafts on the balls, please), would be an improvement.

But other than that, the green vise is cheap and perfect. Unless you just prefer red.

— Christopher Schwarz


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