I first encountered the étaux in the La Forge Royale catalog many years ago, along with a bunch of other French workbench contrivances. I always meant to build one, but Benchcrafted beat me to it.
Benchcrafted calls its version the HiVise, and the thing is absolutely indispensable in our shop (in some cases Brendan and I both need it at the same time). If you make chairs or other curved objects, the HiVise will make your life 32 times easier. It grips odd-shaped parts firmly, easily and at a height where you can work on them comfortably.
If you have a tricky spine or the need to do detail work, the HiVise will make your life 14 times less painful. The jaws hold the work close to your eyeballs without you stooping.
The HiVise has a Crisscross mechanism, which keeps the jaws parallel at all times. But the vise has enough flexibility in its jaws that you can easily grip curved or tapered pieces – something that is tricky with metal-jawed vises.
We also love the HiVise’s optional mounting screw, which allows us to put the HiVise almost anywhere. I have clamped it to our thickness planer and table saw when I needed to work in the machine room. Thanks to the mounting screw, the HiVise clamps to the kitchen table or a picnic table at a state park.
For me, the HiVise has become such a part of my daily life that I might need to revise my book “Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use” again. The vise is that good.
— Christopher Schwarz
23 thoughts on “Get Thee an Étaux (aka a HiVise)”
My workholding to-do list has included creation of cybernetically enhanced helper monkeys. The HiVise might be a better short term solution.
I’ll be a customer if you solve the poo throwing issue.
So, maybe it would make sense to build a leg vise that protrudes above the top in a similar way. It may get in the way for some operations, but if it is at one end of the bench, perhaps that is not a problem. Thoughts?
There are a number of designs in Bernard Jones’ Practical Woodworker (available via PW) that do rise above the bench-top somewhat, but not quite as high as this. Practical Woodworker being an English publication, my guess is that they wouldn’t have bothered to note a tool which may have been more of a French custom and thus rare in the Anglosphere, mechanic’s and other bench-top vises being more common perhaps.
I suppose it wouldn’t be great for jointing an edge on wide boards now that I think a bit more about it. I do like the idea of getting things up bit higher. My bench height is great for planing, but really is too low for most other things. A high vise like this and a Moxon vise deal with this exact problem, but it seems like a band aid solution…..but perhaps the best solution. Hmmmmmm…..need to think about this a bit more.
Dead guys thought about it centuries ago. They even wrote it down when such things were closer to magic than mundane.
Think of the bench as a business wear. To be dressed to the nines, you need to add links, tails and bow tie. 🙂
Yeah, but I am more of a minimalist….and an engineer. I want the ideal solution. Realistically, though, hundred of years of evolution can out-design me every time. Maybe my next bench will just use holdfasts and a doe’s foot to hold boards for edge planing and face planing and have the Moxon and Hi-vise as needed. I kind of like the idea of the bench having no permanent vises. I can always add one if I really need it later. I have two big slabs of ash I plan to turn into my next bench, but I still probably have a year or two to muse about the perfect bench for me. I’m sure glad I don’t need to make a living at this!
I made one of these from the Benchcrafted hardware when it first came out. It is extraordinary and wonderful. I cannot recommend it highly enough. And it is fun to make. I made mine to be used with holdfasts or clamps. One thought: use nice stock for the jaws. You’ll appreciate the looks that much more. Splurge a little.
Anyone have any plans to share?
Go to benchcrafted.com, click menu, then instructions and scroll down to HiVise.
Thank you! 🙂
I’ve used a Versa-Vise on one of my benches for years for close up detail work. But I use flat wood blocks with leather faces to hold material between the jaws. For tapered projects, I replace one of the flat wood blocks with a third wood block that is slightly curved on the back (with leather face) and that curve allows holding pressure on tapered pieces. The more curve you put on the back, the more taper you can hold (to a point).
My 19th century undertaker’s bench came with a leg vise that stands proud of the front left corner of the bench about 10″. It seems much more handy than the typical leg vise that are made to be flush with the bench top. very similar to the HiVise shown above.
If I build a low bench would the HiVise work as a leg vise? that seems to be a tempting option!
Very cool. Thanks for pointing this out.
When I started woodworking 3 years ago, I bought a Lie Nielsen bench that was 36″ tall. I’m 6″ tall and that is where my wrist breaks. I love the bench. I’m not wild about the height. I find it too low. I really wouldn’t have know that till I worked on the bench for a while. I had planned to put “shoes to raise the bench about 3″ (maybe 4″).
This vise looks like another option. I especially like the journey many version where you can clamp it to things such as picnic benches. This would open up portability for when I go up to my father in laws for long weekends to his cabin.
In fact, it’s now got me thinking. If I could also clamp or have a thick 12″ wide by 2′ long section of wood say 3” thick to serve as a ultra mini bench that I can clamp as well, I would really have options. Hmmmm. Need to think more about this.
Basically what I’m thinking is that if I make an all in one unit that has a clamp and a thick bench like area (12″x24″x3″ thick) all built into one or easily assembled into one, then I can likely get by clamping this to things such as a plywood sheet on saw horses to woodwork. It would allow me to woodwork and make many things. It wouldn’t be a substitute for a real bench. It would almost completely reduce my need for what I’m attached to for anything. At that point, I might even be able to work on the kitchen table in the cabin. Might be overkill.
Just a tip for those (myself included) who don’t want to spend a fortune on shippng to Europe, the Hi-Vise and all of Benchcrafted’s stuff can be bought here from the excellent Dieted Schmid / fine-tools.com
That’s why the Oliver patternmakers vise with 18 inch jaws rotates 90 degrees. Use that feature all the time, then quickly rotate back out of the way.
Any photos or links you could share? New to this so it’s a bit hard to visualize what this would look like.
It does look like a very useful and well built piece of bench hardware. Also, the guy Bench Craft got from the modeling agency to demonstrate the vise on their website is 25.7 times more skillful than I have seen on other woodworking tool maker websites.
I posted a comment on your recent “étaux” post. I thought you’d like to see my bench. It’s 13′ long, I assume the undertaker made the coffin on one end and laid out the customer on the other. The top is 6.5″ thick. image.png
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