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I Forge Iron

Restoring a 6 1/2 inch leg vice.


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Yesterday I picked up this heavy old leg vise.  £50 on ebay, along with a pillar drill press for another £20.  I’ll do a seperate thread as I resrore that but first to the vise. Generally very good condition, nice straight jaws. A few signs of some odd welding done in the vicinity, but nothing too serious. Probably locked tight shut for 50 years plus, totally seized at the pivot joint. 



It came apart with a bit of patience, a swim overnight in wd40 magic juice, a spanner, a soft hammer, some wooden wedges and the application of some heat. Thomas Powers advised I may find some pitting and corrosion on the pivot joint cheeks, and indeed thats what I found. Strange. Pics below. Seemed to be the cause of the seizure. 

Next step will be wire wheeling the lot.  With the spring being under compression, tight, for decades I was expecting to have lost some of its mojo, but it seems OK, time will tell when I put it all together again. If it needs a bit of a bend to give it its oomph back, I’m hoping I can achieve that then air cool it rather than have to do any complicated heat treatment. No sign of any makers mark yet. 





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I was lucky on ebay. Guy selling it was 25 minutes away. :D  Threads on the screw box look fine at first glance, but I need to clean it out and shine a light in there.  A little surprised no thrust washer, and on the box side there are the remains of a leather washer. We’ll see how it works when cleaned up and then if I need to, I’ll work a thrust washer out. 

A few interesting anomalies.  

1. The spring bracket was encouraged to stay in place at the top of the leg by a strange bead of weld horizontally on both sides of the leg. The weld wasn't to the bracket just a raised lip on the leg, but held it up. Not great welding. Ground it off.

2. In the bottom picture in the post, showing the pitting on the pivot cheek, it looks like a crack running up, almost as if the leg part was welded originally to the cheek... maybe forge welded?  Looks odd and I can’t work it out. Shouldnt be a problem, looks sturdy enough.

3. No makers mark at all...yet. 

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spent the day wire wheeling it. Comes up nice, no makers mark.  Now I have the pivot point cleaned up its apparent the cheeks are in matching halves, forged welded together and the two together then forge welded on the leg. Strange. You can see the join but it looks solid.


It’ll need a new pivot bolt, and I was flat out of 3/4 inch bolts, so ordered some and they are on the way. Smallest component easily the most expensive.  In the meantime, I put the parts together temporarily to test the spring. I was worried that 50 years plus of being clamped tight with the spring under tension would have eased it off.  Amazingly it acts perfectly, no need to re-bend it.  How remarkable is steel eh? All that potential energy locked in for decades and its still there, springing back into place.  Sometimes we forget what remarkable material steel is.

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Rubbed down all parts with a home made mix of beeswax, BLO and turpentine. Fascinating examining the parts and working out how they were made especially the massive drift of both legs where  the screw thread goes. 

Next step is to finish off the surface treatment. I’ll place all the parts around the edge of my coke forge after I next use it. The heat will warm up the metal and its coating, then cool slowly leaving a nice shiny finish.  My hands smell of linseed and beeswax.  No better aroma.



 New pivot bolt should arrive by post tomorrow and then I can put it all together and start thinking about the stand for it. I have a tree trunk in mind. 


Close-up of the thread, which looks immaculate.



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Could be how the spring is mounted. If mounted too low, as it closes it makes the spring flex longer and it could possibly wedge against the lower jaw. Just one possibility. 

Obstruction in the screw box? Wrong size pivot bolt? Could be several things.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So you've loosened the wedge and still wont close. 

Have you thoroughly checked there are no obstructions in the screwbox? Mouse could have hid a wallnut in there before assemby.  :)  And that without the front jaw,that it screws in past where it stops with the front jaw in the assembly? 

Also checked that the new pivot bolt is not possibly too large pinning the bottom to the other pivot block acting as a stop? 

There are only a hand full of things that could cause that issue. 

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If the screw is the issue, you should be able to close the jaws by hand. If you can't. look to the checks at the pivot. A new bolt could have tighten things up to where the cheeks are pinching at the leg. 

Remove the screw and spring and see of the jaws can close completely to confirm.

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Yep the jaws will close completely if I squeeze by hand so it must be the mouse’s walnut in the box... I’ll take a stiff bottle washer to it this afternoon. 

So I gave the screw box a thorough clean out, and regreased it lightly. Refitted, no different, still not quite closing. On a whim I then took it apart again and refitted it with the “key” on the screw box down rather then up...and guess what,  it closes....

I can't think that there is any negative on which way up the screw box is fitted.. the space it slides through between each jaw is slit snd drifted and not precisely machined, and there’s space for the key either way.  I didnt expect that.  I dont recall which way up it was when I first got it,   because I wasnt looking, and I cant make it out on the photos I took. 

Ah well... it works, and for the heck of it, I’ll try a cheap thrust bearing thats on its way. 

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So I think this will work without a thrust bearing or washer if it has to.  But in an idle moment I  measured up the dimensions for a thrust washer. Came to 45mm internal dia and 65mm external dia.(sorry, a Brit here working in metric). I could make a washer up easily enough I guess, but I fed those dimensions into ebay and amazon , just for the xxxx of it, in case I could get a washer cheap through amazon.  Not surprisingly I drew a blank, I had assumed those dimensions for a 100 year old or more object would be esoteric.  But, but...at the bottom of the page was offered a thrust bearing, of exactly those dimensions for the princely price of £4.55  (about $6).  So for that price I ordered it... arrives from China shortly. How weird is that?  Jeez, i would expect to pay twice thst for a simple washer of those dimensions.

If I fit one of these (with a thickness of 14mm) the vice will close with the key up or down... not sure if the thrust bearing will cause the handle to flop about. We’ll see. I’ll  report . 

Edited by Mod34
Edited for inappropriate language
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Didn't realize you were getting an actual  bearing.

The vise needs the friction of solid washers to keep the jaws from loosening under a load. The bearing removes that friction. You may notice the vise won't be able to keep a tight hold, especially while hammering on if you use a bearing.

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