Racking is as old as
vises are! End vises, face vises, Moxon vises...
Most seem to suffer from it.
Over the last twenty years or
so, there has been a hand tool renaissance, and there are
thousands of resources for hand tool enthusiasts out there.
Oddly, when one searches for ways to solve the racking
problem, there seem to be far fewer ideas to deal with it.
One typical problem; the work piece is only held on
In most cases, vise racking is
a bad thing... The problems are two fold. First, clamping
forces can be fairly high, and racking the mechanism can
cause long term distortion that can lead to sloppy and poor
vise performance. Second, it can cause problems with holding
the work piece. Typically, racking causes the piece to only
be held on one corner. Further work efforts cause it to slip
or pivot, thus making it hard to accomplish anything.
So, here's a great way to spend
an afternoon between projects, get in touch with a few of
your tools, and solve the problem. I went "old school" on
this project, but you can speed it up a lot if you knock the
mill work out with power tools.
This all started for me when I
rehabbed an old Stanley #605 and got a new (to me) dovetail
saw. I was anxious to both, "get in touch" with the plane,
and figure out the dovetail saw. So, having some scrap
poplar shorts, I planed a piece to about 2" x 3/4", and
about 10" long. It was just dumb luck that things worked out
as they did, but I'm not one to thumb my nose at
I have a little bench on
bench/Moxon vise. It raises my work up a few inches above
the bench for joinery work... it's much more comfortable for
that type of work. Anyway, after laying out the pins, I cut
about 2" off the other end to keep the vise from racking
while I was working on the dovetails. Every time I took
pressure off the part I was working on, that little 2" block
would fall out. It was a hassle.
What It Is...
These are nothing more than 8"
sticks. A 2" section is dovetailed into a 6" section. It
simply makes a corner. It fits perfectly with the textbook
definition of an appliance: "a piece of equipment for
adapting a tool or machine to a special purpose."
A "guilt free, no harm, no foul" way to practice
dovetails and still
wind up with a useful appliance.
What It Does...
It's not really just one single
appliance. Rather, it is several of them. They are a series
of dovetailed corners. Mine run from 3/4" down to 1/4" in
1/16" increments. They hang on one side of any vise you
have, and keep the vise from racking. They don't fall off
when you loosen the vise. And, if you need to work something
thicker than your biggest spacer, they can be ganged
Once built, these will last as
long as you do woodworking. If you find yourself working
something of an "odd size," just make a new one, mark the
size, and enjoy it for the rest of your woodworking life.
When not in use, they sit patiently on the shelf waiting to
be called into service.
When not in use, they just wait patiently up on the
And, if you happen to get a new
dovetail saw, this is a great way to make some guilt free,
no harm, no foul practice dovetails and still have a useful
appliance when you're done.