Leg Vises – What’s the Big Deal?

As most hand-tool woodworking trends get their start these days, I think leg vises gained popularity when Chris Schwarz installed one on his bench which was featured on the cover of his 2007 book, Workbenches: from Design & Theory to Construction & Use.

It seems like every woodworker out there is building a bench and many are incorporating a leg vise.

BenchCrafted is now selling hardware for their Glide Leg Vise.

BenchCrafted has also prototyped a more convenient mechanism, St. Peter’s Cross, which does not require the user to adjust the pin at the bottom of the vise when clamping different thicknesses of material.  (Thanks to Charles Mak for the link.)

Jim Ritter of Ancora Yacht Service is now manufacturing a vise mechanism that serves the same purpose as St. Peter’s Cross – the Chain Leg Vise.

That’s all good and well, but I still have one question about leg vises: What’s the big deal?

10 thoughts on “Leg Vises – What’s the Big Deal?

  1. I don’t have one but I want one. Why? They clamp well. From bench top to screw is deeper than other vise forms. Depending on chop & leg construction, vertical clamping of longer boards is better & easier. If money is the object, one only needs a single screw and head for a handle to make one..

  2. I have one, and it is home-built. As Curt pointed out, all that was required was a screw, a nut, and the time to build it. That’s a big part of the reason I went with the leg vise, rather than just buy the latest doo-dad. Compared to a standard (cheap) quick release the workholding power is much more robust, and there are a lot fewer screws to worry about. The single screw on mine is about 11 inches below the benchtop, so you can hold wide boards on edge well. Also, the clamping works all the way to the floor rather than just at the top for most other designs. There are a lot of other vises that work just fine, but I like the leg vise for sheer simplicity.

  3. I’m very much a rookie at hand tool stuff so I should probably read the responses rather than write one of my own. But here goes.

    I don’t have one but am intrigued by the fact that it appears they would hold well since you could insure that the vise jaws were flat to the work. My own vise racks badly in two dimensions so I rarely get a good grip on anything but I could probably just buy a higher quality vise of the same type as I already have and achieve similar goals.

  4. Hi Chris, thanks for including my chain leg vise. The leg vise is very old, very versatile, easy to build and can in some cases be inexpensive. No guide bars so you can clamp clser to the screw without wracking the jaws. Panels can be clamped the entire length of the jaws. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.


  5. I was surprised at how easy a leg vise is to install. The other reasons I like them: the large clamping capacity with wide boards, no racking with a single screw and parallel guide, connection to the past (the leg vise is purportedly the oldest known vise design–15th century), extremely strong grip, and perhaps most importantly, they’re just plain cool looking.

  6. Hey Chris,
    Quickness, holding power, versatility, holding power! My workbench has a Benchcrafted leg vise and the only negative (aside from the expense) would be having to mess with the parallel guide and pin.
    Since the bench is already built, Jim’s Chain Leg Vise Modification is looking like a logical modification to eliminate that one inconvenience.
    Since the early 1970’s, the bench I worked on had a shoulder and end vise, and in my opinion, neither of them had anywhere near the holding power of the leg vise. Hopefully the Roubo will outlast me, but if for some reason it doesn’t….the next bench will have a leg vise as well.

  7. I love that vise. I’m building my first table,and after watching your vise it looks easy to install and great quality. Your vise will be on my table! Thank you.

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