The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Leg man


When it comes to woodworking benches, I am a leg man. I think the legs/base are more important than the bench top, though that probably puts me in the minority in the circle of workbench experts. Nonetheless, my workbench has stout legs along with a leg vise. The leg vise is my favorite feature of the bench. There is more than twelve inches of space between the bench top and the screw, meaning I can easily clamp a board sixteen inches wide with no problems. A leg vise is extremely strong, relatively inexpensive, and easy to install, and most importantly it does a nice job. However, my leg vise does have one problem.

When I changed the configuration of my bench top several things happened: The bench top lost 6 inches of width and gained 7/8 of an inch in thickness. To make matters worse, the chop of my leg vise, which is made of oak, was damaged when a large piece of pipe fell onto it, so I had to remove 1/4 from the top. This left me with a chop that is more than 1 inch lower than the bench top. Originally, the chop was just 1/16th of an inch lower, virtually flush. This placement allowed me to clamp thinner stock yet still have the ability to plane or saw it without interference. I need to replace the chop of the vice immediately, in particular for the next few projects I have planned. But replacing the chop isn’t so much a concern as choosing which wood to use.

Low vice. You can still see some of the damage on the right corner.

Low vise. You can still see some of the damage on the right corner.

As I was saying, my current chop is oak. It has worked well, and I probably could go back to oak even if I just want to run to a home center and laminate two pieces together to get the needed thickness. At the same time, rather than spend $65 on a vise board, I am wondering if a 2×10 piece of framing lumber would work. Douglas Fir is strong yet flexible enough to serve as a leg vise; at least I think it is. I could easily pick through the stock at Lowe’s and find a nice board, clean it up, and shape it into a nice chop. The cost would be negligible, I am just not completely sure whether or not it will hold up. On my current vise I added two coats of boiled linseed oil to the chop, and other than the fact that it’s too short, it looks pretty good. I would have to think that a few coats of linseed oil and some wax would protect the chop and keep it in decent shape. I know that woods like fir tend to splinter, but I think it’s worth the risk.

In any event, if anybody has an opinion or some advice on the topic I would appreciate it. I know I like to pretend that I know everything, but I’m the first to admit when I need a little help, from time to time that is.



  1. Kinderhook88 says:

    I can’t weigh in on this. I feel unsure of an opinion other than “try it and see”. I’ll retweet it and maybe someone will chime in.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve seen people that have built them with construction lumber, but nobody has ever reported on how well they’ve held up. I know for certain that it will work, my concern is how well it will wear. I don’t want to have to rebuild it every few years if i can’t help it. Thanks

  2. Steve D says:

    Hi Bill,

    I would patch the top of the chop. You could put a cutlet on the chop that reaches up to the top of the bench. 3 options would be an additional part on the face, letting the new piece into the chop so it maintains a single surface on the grip side, or some type of finger joint with a full thickness piece. You may be able to make something that screws in like the wood face on an iron vise, enabling easy replacement.

    I think if you wore out an oak chop, douglas fir will not perform as well.

    You could always plane down the top 1″

    Good luck

    • billlattpa says:

      The chop has actually held up nicely. There were two problems. The first was a piece of rigid conduit accidentally fell off the rack in my ceiling and dented it, and then last year when I changed the benchtop and added a tool tray to the bench I made the top thicker. The thicker top coupled with the damaged portion I had to saw from the chop left it more than an inch lower than the bench top. I prefer it to be nearly flush to the top. In general it works, but when I want to plane or saw a smaller board it makes it more difficult to work. I think the fir will work, and it just dawned on me last night that I have a piece of spare Walnut that will work as well.

  3. theindigowoodworker says:

    If you go with construction lumber I highly recommend that you line it with hardwood.

  4. jkvernier says:

    My bench is very different from yours- an English apron-type bench with a Record vise. But my bench is southern yellow pine and so is the wooden chop on my face vise. The chop has a thin leather lining for grip strength, which was worth the minor trouble. After 4 years everything is holding up well – better than I expected, and it’s seen plenty of use. I could replace the chop in 10 minutes if I ever thought it was looking too ratty, but it’s just fine. I think Douglass Fir would serve just as well.

    • billlattpa says:

      The chop on my bench is in good shape other than the fact that it is too short due to an accident which damaged the top of it. Another factor was when I made a new top for my bench I made it thicker than the original but never changed the leg vice, so it now sits too low on the bench for my taste. That is what I hopefully will change.

  5. dzj9 says:

    You could do a few things:
    Drill a hole for the screw an inch or so lower and shift the parallel guide downward some and use the chop you already have.

    Make a small vise for holding thin stock that would go in your current vise.
    Something akin to a saw vise and keep chop as is.

    Use the Douglass Fir. Why would it not work?

    I think, traditionally, woodworkers in the past didn’t adhere to any strict canon regarding design. Rather they cobbled their bench from whatever was at hand.

    • billlattpa says:

      I actually did make a “secondary vice” that works, but I would like to make it more permanent. The fix is easy, which is to make a new chop, I am just being cheap and don’t want to spend the bucks on a nice piece of wood if I can’t help it. I mean, it is a workbench and not a piece of furniture. I can get a solid piece of construction fir for $10. I know it will work, my concern is more with the fact that fir tends to splinter and chip. I think a few coats of linseed oil and wax will help strengthen it and if I am diligent about maintaining the protective finish it will hold up. But those are just guesses. I’m hoping that they are “educated guesses” At the same time, I did find a 1 inch thick piece of Walnut that I have which is long enough to cut in half and laminate together. I’m not sure if Walnut is good leg vice material, but it is an option.

  6. My leg vise chop is made of 8/4 poplar. Haven’t had no concerns with it at all.

    • billlattpa says:

      Poplar sounds like a good choice, and it’s fairly inexpensive. The only problem I would have with it is that I’m pretty sure that none of the local dealers sell it in 8/4. The nearest place I know of that would have a good selection( and deals with the general public) is more than an hour’s drive. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going there, but I’m not driving all the way there and back just for one board. Of course it would be a good excuse to pick up more material, but on this little project I’m trying to save some money, not spend it.

  7. Alex A. says:

    I bet if you find the right piece of SVG Douglas fir with thin early wood rings it would hold up pretty well. Its Janka hardness is officially rated at 660 (which is half that of oak) but I think that is misleading as the hardness of Douglas fir varies dramatically depending on the Early/Late wood ratio and where the wood grew.

    I found this post that went into it in some detail:

    • billlattpa says:

      I think it will work just fine as well. I plan on coating it with linseed oil and wax. And I will glue leather to the inside of the chop as I do with all of my vices. I’m not overly concerned with the vice looking like a show piece, I just want to be sure that it will hold up over the long haul, which common sense tells me it will. But it never hurts to get a few opinions.

      • Alex A. says:

        Personally I love the look of SVG Douglas fir heartwood from the Pacific Northwest. It has this nice pink tone and it planes wonderfully. It’s what the back panels of my saw till are made from.

      • Alex A. says:

        Also, those panels came from a 1×12 piece of construction lumber from the local builder supply store. It was soaking wet when I bought it and I let it air dry after rough curting

  8. I have fir on my vise. It has held everything I asked it to. I built my bench using the components I saw on yours and it is holding up extremely well after almost 3 years. Your walnut would look awesome in the leg, but it might be worth keeping that for a project.

    • billlattpa says:

      I think the Walnut would be a waste as well, in particular when I can get a 2×10 for under $15. It would be no trouble to find a clear piece, coat it with some linseed oil and wax, and put it to work. I felt it would be helpful to get a few different opinions on the topic, and it really was.

  9. While I’ve not used it for the vice jaw, my entire bench frame is made of Douglas Fir and it’s held up just fine to any strain I’ve put it under for around 3 years and if the cost is that different to oak it could be worth doing if even if you have to replace it again in a few years.

    • billlattpa says:

      I also used fir for the workbench frame and it seems to be holding up just fine. I’m pretty much set on using it for the leg vice. It definitely has enough spring to function as a vice that uses a fulcrum for clamping, and like you said, if it wears out it is inexpensive to replace. I think if I coat it with two coats of linseed oil, wax, and add a leather pad (like I did with my current vice) it will hold up just fine.

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