Shop Built Saw Vise
By Dominic Greco

This project was inspired by the classes I took with Ron Herman and Mike Wenzloff during the WIA 2009 conference. While Mike's class on saw sharpening made me realize the need for the proper tools, it was really Ron's class that gave me the chance to see how properly tuned saws could work. I decided that it was high time I outfitted myself with the proper tools so I could accomplish that. While at WIA I took a look at that Graymercy Saw Vise and was blown away by it. It was sturdy, easy to use and was packed with features. However, I needed sharpening supplies. So the funds I set aside for the saw vise went to a set of Japanese Super Stones.

The need for the saw sharpening tools remained. Luckily I had a Stanley 42X saw set and I recently purchased a set of the appropriate files from Peter Taran at All that was lacking was a vise. Now I know that there are those among you that come across saw vises in the wild ALL the time. Sadly, that is NOT the case with me. With a (soon to be) 5 year old I find that don't have the time to visit all the local flea markets and yard sales where I MIGHT find these. And on the odd occasion that I do get a chance to sneak out, I never seem to find any that are worthy. And don't get me started on the ones on Ebay. With these reasons in mind I decided that I would build my own saw vise. At the worst I would get some exercise using my hand tools skills as well as get a vise to practice on and use. If I found that the one I made had too many short comings, I could build another or save up for the Graymercy.


I spent some time looking online for examples of shop built saw vises. I found a couple of good examples but two stood out of the crowd. One was made by Daryl Weir and the other by a gent named Jasper. Jasper's plans were located on one of my favorite web sites The Norse Woodsmith. Daryl's design used plywood trimmed with thick hardwood jaws to make a nice stable assembly. Jasper's used solid wood which was joined via dados and half laps.

I liked the simple design of Daryl's but I thought that the plywood "web" would make it difficult to hold a saw prior to tightening the knobs. Jasper's was made from solid wood which made up an opened frame that attached to the jaws. But this design seemed to lack lateral stability (which the author acknowledged). Further, the jaw assemblies on Jasper's used 2 bolts as a pivot. That just seemed kind of clunky to me.


Here's what I originally came up with.
saw vise prototype

I decided that I would take the features I liked from Daryl's and incorporate them into my version of Jasper's vise. I would add stretchers to each "jaw assembly" to increase their stability, and replace that pivot bolts with a piano hinge. Jasper's design called for wing nuts for drawing the jaws together. I decided I wanted a solution that more convenient to use as well as one that gave me a more positive clamping mechanism. I went with a set of cam clamps from Rockler (Lee Valley also sells a version of these). These cam clamps allow you to tighten up just enough so you can get the saw in and out. But when you move the lever into the "locked" position, they exert just the right amount of force to lock the jaws in place.

Some talk with my "design consultants" (Daryl Weir, Joemac, and Timberwolf from WoodNet) also showed me that I needed to increase the angle on the outer portion of the jaws to allow filing below the horizontal plane. With my ideas in my head I set to work on my design and drew up the plans for the improved version using a solid modeling program.

Construction - Stock Prep and Layout

With the design (mostly) on paper, the time came for stock preparation. For this project I chose 8/4 Hickory I had. I spent a couple nights after work planing the stock to the proper thickness and then moved onto cutting the pieces to the correct size.

surfacing stock

I used a tablesaw to rip the stock to the correct width and then cross cut it to the correct length using my backsaw and a shoot board. Once I had the pieces to the correct size, I laid out the major joinery.

laying out joinery

Construction - Cutting the joinery

Each jaw would get (2) dados on their "back" that were sized to receive the half laps on each of the legs. This was one of those projects where I needed to think the order in which I cut the joinery. So before I even started forming the jaw profiles I decided that I would cut the dados in the back of the jaws, then the half laps on the legs. This way I could dry fit them and determine if there were any problems early on in the game. It would also be a lot more difficult to hold he jaws while I worked if I had cut them to their final shape.

I formed the sides of the dados using my small tenon saw and then removed the waste with a chisel and followed up with a shoulder plane. Then I used a router plane to refine the depth. This was really the first time I cut dados using this method. I was pretty pleased with the speed and accuracy (not to mention the lack of a screaming electric router). After cutting the dados, I moved to the tablesaw and cut the 45 deg bevel on the face of each jaw.

cutting the dados

Around the same time I started working on the half laps on the legs. I used my router and shoulder plane to ensure that the half laps face was parallel to the outer surface of the leg. I wanted to make sure that I had a good fit and that the legs were perpendicular to the jaws before I laid out the mortises for the stretcher panels.

cutting the half

After I performed a dry fit I found that the dados on the jaws were a bit too shallow. I decided to deepen them by a 1/4". I used my dozuki to extend the cut for the sides and then deepened the cut using a router plane.When I deepened the dados I found I also found that the chamfer at the top of the legs was proud of the surface of the jaws. But a couple passes with a low angle block plane solved that problem.

fixing the dados

Once I got the dados formed to the new depth and I was satisfied with the fit I moved onto the stretcher panels.

dry fit

The stretcher panels were made from pieces of 3/4" oak plywood (scrap from my tool cabinet project) trimmed with cherry. Why trim the plywood? Well, I guess I just can't stand the sight of the naked end grain on plywood!

cutting the half

Using the dry fit legs and jaws as a template, I final cut the stretcher panels to size and then cut the tenons.
stretcher panel

Then the mortises were laid out on the legs and cut. I drilled out the waste using a Forster bit and then cleaned it up with a chisel, and then a router plane.

mortices on legs

Each jaw has a relief cut that "should" allow you to clamp a saw in place without removing the handle (more on this later). I cut these out using a bandsaw and then tried out the fit.

final dry fit

Once the dry fit verified that I hadn't screwed up (too badly) I glued and fastened the pieces together using wood screws in counter bored holes. These holes were later filled with hickory plugs.

At this point I sized the spacer. This spacer keeps the jaws evenly apart as well as giving me a place to fasten my piano hinge. In order for the hinge to sit flush with the base of the short legs I needed to cut a small 1/8" x 3/16" rabbet along one edge of it and the short leg assembly. I took great pains to have the jaw assemblies secured while I was installing the hinge. If I installed the hinge incorrectly, the jaws wouldn't mate well enough (without extensive modification).

fitting the

With the hinge in place I turned to installing the cam clamps mechanism. I drilled the 5/16" clearance holes for the 1/4"-20 x 4 1/2" lg carriage bolts and installed them and the cam clamps.

hinge installation

Now I'm betting that you think I'm done. Well, you'd be wrong.

During my final assembly I noticed that the contact area on the jaws did not allow me to hold smaller saws like my Graymercy Dovetail saw. I disassembled the vise and used my shoulder plane to form a rabbet (with a wooden batten as a fence) along the lower edge of the jaw's face. This rabbet now allows the spine of a dovetail saw to be held in the vise so that the blade will project sufficiently for jointing and then sharpening.

saw vise after relief cut

Still think I'm done? Wrong again! There was this cut out on Daryl's saw vise that allowed him to hold a saw without resorting to removing the handle. After some thought on the matter I decided that I wanted to be able to duplicate that feature. Using the saws I had on hand, I laid out the cut and then used my bandsaw to increase the relief on the right hand side of the jaws. I did this on the right since I am right handed and will most likely always install saws with the handle to my right.

saw vise with relief cut out

I used a rasp to smooth out the curve and then some scrapers to clean it up further. Once completed, I sanded the vise to 220 grit and applied a coat of sealer(dewaxed shellac) and then several coats of clear shellac.

So what good is all this work on a saw vise if it won't hold a saw? After the finish had sufficiently dried, I installed the saw vise in the front vise of my workbench and then got my saws out. I tried them one after another and was pretty darned pleased with the results. The vise held them in a rock solid grip.

saw vise with 14" long miter saw

saw vise with D-4 backsaw

saw vise with D-23 saw

One final touch remains. A quick signature at the base and a coat of wax and I'm done

completed saw vise

So, there you go. A shop built vise that is a synthesis of two previous designs, but that also incorporates some features of my own. Looking back it was a somewhat easy project to undertake. I'd estimate it took me about a week of evenings after work to complete. Now that this is done I need to turn some handles for my files and take this vise for a REAL test drive. I'll report back with any relevant findings.

See ya around,