Canadian Woodworking

Carver’s vise

Author: David Bruce Johnson
Published: April May 2004
carver's vise
carver's vise

In this article, David describes the methods he uses for holding wood while he carves.

In the last article, I showed you a “two-hand” method for carving with gouges. It follows then, that if both your hands are occupied with your gouge, you will need some method of holding the wood while you carve. In this article, I will describe methods I have used for holding wood while I carve.

Carver’s screws hold work piece to workbench

Double-sided turner’s tape attaches to work piece to clamped board

Carver’s screws wit second piece of wood under jaws of a Work-Mate

Wood screw attaches wood to base-plate

Masking tape marks depth of screw

Materials to make a carver’s vise

There are many ways to hold your piece, so be sure to change your method if the wood you are carving comes loose, or if it is not held as firmly as you want it to be. Some of the items I have used (in different combinations) for holding wood: double-faced tape, C-clamps, wood screws (of various lengths), scrap plywood, carver’s screws, bench vise, Work-Mate, and Carver’s Vise (both manufactured and home-made).

Let’s have a look at their use from the simplest to the more complex. If you are going to work on a flat piece of wood, the simplest approach is to clamp it to your workbench. To eliminate the obstruction caused by the clamps, use double-faced tape to attach your wood to a second board and clamp that to the workbench. I use “turner’s tape”, a thick double-faced tape used by wood turners. With larger pieces, you need more robust approaches. Carver’s screws are useful for holding a piece of wood securely to a workbench.

To use these, however, you must be prepared to drill holes through your workbench. The alternative is to use a portable workbench familiarly known as a Work-Mate. Many of these devices have holes in them. Another alternative is to pass the carver’s screws through a second piece of wood under the jaws of the Work-Mate.

For even larger pieces, I use wood screws to attach my wood to a base-plate, which is then clamped to my workbench. Be sure to measure the length of the screws carefully and mark a line to show the depth of screw penetration (or wrap a piece of masking tape around the bottom of the block being carved). That way you have a reference point below which wood MUST NOT be removed.

Each of the methods described above are effective at holding wood securely. But, it doesn’t take long before you need to change the position of your wood to make it accessible for carving “the other side”. A Carver’s Vise is used for that purpose.

A home-made carver’s vise enables you to rotate your carving on two axes. It also allows you to make adjustments in height. To make this, I used a piece of an old shovel handle, a scrap of flat wood (preferably something smooth and hard), a block of wood 3″ square, one wood screw, a bit of wood glue, and one rubber band. Two holes are drilled through the “baseplate” (i.e. scrap of flat wood). Wood screws are used to attach the base-plate to the carving block. A hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the shovel handle was cut in the 3″ block of wood. That block was also cut in half. One of the halves was trimmed smaller to ensure that it would clamp tightly against the handle when secured in a vise. It is more effective if the hole through the 3″ block is rough since that adds more friction for holding the round handle.

When completely assembled, the 3″ block is clamped in a vise so that the two halves can be compressed together. The rubber band is used to hold the two halves in place. To reposition the carving, simply slacken the grip of the vise, adjust the carving’s position, and retighten the vise. Depending on the type of bench vise used, it may be helpful to have a second 3″ block available to help the bench vise clamp evenly onto your carver’s vise.

Try using some of these methods the next time you need to secure your piece. Whether using gouges, knives, or even power tools, having your work held securely will facilitate the carving process.

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