Long before I made my first woodworking project I learned to weld. I’ve never owned a welder but for the past 14 or so years I’ve always had access to a welder. Before I moved to the city where I live now my uncle was my neighbor and I taught myself how to weld with his ancient Lincoln arc welder. After moving to the city where I currently live my employer had a cheap arc welder I could use whenever I wanted to. And after leaving that job in August of last year I no longer had access to a welder. So…I picked up a MIG welder a few weeks back.
This is the first welder I’ve personally owned. And it’s the first time I’ve used a MIG welder at all. I chose to get a MIG welder as I have always been told that they are really easy to use and while I do agree that they are easier to use than an arc welder I haven’t quite got used to the wire feed aspect of it. I’m confident in the structural integrity of the welds in this bench vise project but I will admit that the welds themselves are pretty ugly. Feel free to make fun of them as much as you want :)
I chose to make a bench vise for my first welding project with the new welder. And for the design I slightly modified John Heisz’s version that he made a few years ago. If you would like to find out about the original version of this vise you can view the build article and recently updated video on John’s website by clicking here. The first step for me was to cut all of my material. I used 1/8” wall 2” x 2” square tubing instead of 2” x 3” that John used. To make all of my cuts I used a thin cut off wheel in my angle grinder.
I find it much easier to cut metal when it is clamped down or at least held securely. To make this easier I used a pair of 90 degree magnet blocks. They did a lot of the material holding in this project.
At this stage I made a slight design modification where the stationary back jaw and rear support block are attached to the bottom plate. I describe the exact changes in detail in the video.
With my pieces all rough cut I used a wire wheel to clean all the pieces in preparation for the actual welding. I’m not using shielding gas with this welder at the moment so instead I’m using flux core wire. It is my understanding that you don’t have to clean up the parts as much when using flux core as opposed to MIG wire with shielding gas but I went ahead and cleaned them anyway.
With everything ready to go I started with the welding. I don’t claim to be a professional welder by any means but if you have never welded before I will say that it is best practice to tack weld your pieces together before you make the actual length welds. This will allow you to position and check your material in a manner that can easily be removed if needed. This was the first side of the stationary back jaw.
And here’s the second side. John used a hacksaw blade to space these parts out slightly so I did the same.
After aligning the stationary jaw with the pieces for the front jaw I could then tack those pieces in place.
Before starting the actual full length welds I worked on the base plate. I wasn’t too sure where I am going to mount the vise so I decided to just mount it to a piece of flat 1/4” plate steel. That way I can move it as needed until I find it’s permanent home. To elevate the lead screw nuts I used another piece of 1/4” steel.
And then tacked the nuts in place. My thinking here was to use multiple nuts to prevent stripping of the threads on the generic threaded rod that I was using. After tacking these I stared with the actual welds. I ended up having to remove the back nut due to misalignment issues.
After that I completed the welds on the front jaw and marked the position for the holes in the front plates. These plates will be welded to the front of the front jaw to cap off the lower square tube and also act as the pressure plate for the handle. Because this will see a lot of pressure I used two plates just as John did in the original version.
I was fortunate enough to have a hole saw the correct size for the threaded rod. John used 1” threaded rod, I used 3/4” threaded rod.
Then the first plate is tacked in place and then fully welded on. This plate was then ground flat along the edges and the second plate stacked on top and welded.
To pull the front jaw out as you back the lead screw out a nut is welded about an inch away from the end of the threaded rod.
Then the front jaw is installed and another nut is put on the threaded rod. This nut can’t be too tight though. Enough slack is left to allow the threaded rod to turn freely in the front jaw hole. And then it’s welded in place. I made sure to really weld this one on as it will see a lot of pressure.
A much larger nut is welded to the end of the threaded rod after the previous weld is flattened with the angle grinder. I’m not even sure what size nut this is actually. I just know it’s sized large enough that a piece of 1/2” plumbing pipe can fit through it.
Speaking of plumbing pipe… I used a 12” section of 1/2” pipe with two caps on the ends for the handle.
Before welding the stationary jaw I cut off the last bit of overhanging metal due to the previous design change.
I really thought I warped the bottom plate when I welded the nuts in place. The bend is clearly present in this shot. But after editing the video I noticed that while I was talking about my design change, which was before any welding happened, the bottom plate had a wobble to it. Anyway, at this point the stationary jaw is welded to the base plate. John bolted his in place but I’m not sure where this vise will end up so whenever I get to that stage I can bolt this bottom plate to whatever surface I am using. You can also see all the crap that flux core leaves behind when welding. It’s the same as an arc welder by the way.
All of the parts get cleaned up with a wire wheel once the vise is completed. I was originally going to paint this vise green but I changed my mind. I like the look of the exposed metal.
To prevent the exposed metal from rusting I sprayed a few coats of lacquer.
If I recall correctly, John crushed a can of tomato paste after completing his vise. I was going to do the same but ended up chickening out and just crushed a cut off piece of the square tubing. I can really wrench down on this vise with all of my weight and the threaded rod seems to be doing just fine.
I also added a bit of grease to the threaded rod to make it advance smoother.
Like I said, the welds aren’t pretty but they will get the job done so feel free to laugh at them. Another thing I should mention is that John used some smaller strips of steel for removable jaw inserts and he also added diagonal bracing inside the jaw tubes. I didn’t do either of those and am not sure if I ever will. We’ll see how this holds up first. I’m really glad I ended up making this project this week and I’m sure I’ll be using this vise for a long time in the future.