The Unusual Face Vise of the Loffelholz Workbench

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One of the odd things about the face vise I’m building into this Holy Roman Empire Bench is the twin-screw face vise. Unlike every other face vise I’ve seen in the wild, this one is inset into the benchtop instead of proud of it.

Why? On its surface this plan seems less than ideal. Because the jaw of the vise will be sitting in a notch in the benchtop, it won’t be useful for edge-jointing long boards. If the jaw were proud of the benchtop, it would be ideal for edge-jointing.

I’ve been scratching my head about this for months (maybe longer). The best explanation I can come up with at this point is that this assembly allows you to save a little wood. You can cut the jaw away from the benchtop and then use the off-fall as the vise’s jaw.

So that’s exactly what I am doing today.

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The jaw is 1-3/4” thick x 26” long. I laid out my cuts and then used my circular saw to kerf the benchtop, giving me a nice guide for my rip saw. After ripping the jaw with a handsaw, I clamped the jaw and benchtop together so I could crosscut the jaw free from the benchtop without it falling or splintering away from the work.

The resulting surface from this operation is pretty clean, though it is a little in wind (less than 1/16”), which I’ll address after the bench dries a bit more (did I mention the top was at 60 percent moisture content?).

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Next up I’ll dress the jaw cautiously so I don’t lose too much thickness. Then I’ll turn the threaded screws and nuts for the vise and line the jaw with adhesive cork.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I think I’ll scratch my head bald about the end vise. More on that in the coming week.

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13 Responses to The Unusual Face Vise of the Loffelholz Workbench

  1. admiralbumblebee says:

    Perhaps there was some sort of vise accessory used with it that was not described? Something like a saw vise that inserts in and allows you to clamp proud of the work surface. Or perhaps any number of potential ways to use the vise to clamp on a board that’s sitting on the bunch top.

    • Perhaps. But there is none shown in the codex or discussed in the text. I have devised a spacer block that could be used to help with edge jointing, but it will only add 2″ of clamping depth compared to what you can do on the benchtop. Pretty worthless.

      At this point, I think you were supposed to:

      1. Clamp narrow board (6″ or less) between dogs for edge jointing.
      2. Clamp short boards (4′ or shorter) in the vise and plane toward the notch (backward from what we usually do).
      3. Skew the chop like a crochet and use a board jack for long and wide boards.

      Experimentation will tell.

  2. waltamb says:

    Interesting name for a workbench… Loffelholz ?
    “Spoon Wood” Workbench?

  3. How are you making the face vise threads?

  4. charlie says:

    This bench is very low. Do you think the ancient Romans might have used their feet in some way to hold down their work?

    • It’s only a couple inches shorter than my workbench. I like a low bench for most handwork chores, especially when using wooden-bodied planes.

      I don’t have any images of Romans using their feet on these benches. They are shown using them like we use them. But the Chinese….

  5. Niels Cosman says:

    I wonder if this feature isn’t a product of artistic license/misrepresentation.
    Does this form of inset vise represented anywhere else or just this drawing?
    Reminds me a little bit of this:
    https://www.behance.net/gallery/35437979/Velocipedia

    • As always, images are lying bitches. So you could be right.

      It’s interesting to note that the author of the codex drew the vise the same way twice (both by hand). And it supposedly represents his designs. So I’m inclined to think that – like it or not – Martin Loffelholz thought it should be that way.

  6. franktiger says:

    Woodworking in estonia has a lot of workbenchs that are in various configurations, which has me still thinking of the ironwood Mexican workbench posted earlier this summer.

  7. … and the Crucible shirts are available where?

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