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.
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.