Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wood Carving Vises - Wood Carving Article

Hold it!

Hold it right there! I bet the every time you hear this statement you think someone is in trouble. You might even be in trouble right now. I’m not there so I don’t know. I can tell you this: if you don’t have a safe way to hold your wood while you carve you will be in trouble very soon.

There are different types of woodcarving projects out there and they come in all different sizes. You need a holder to match what you are doing. I’ve included a few of the basic options.

Wood Carving Gloves

By far the most used holding tool is the hand. It’s very mobile and I usually have two of them with me wherever I go. Hands are very good for holding small projects. The problem with the hand is that it is very susceptible to being cut. The solution to this is the carving glove.

You will find lots of different gloves on the market and I suggest you try a few until you find the kind you like. You want to make sure it is comfortable and that you can grip your project well while carving.

Be careful even with a glove. I have cut myself through them before. They will deflect a glancing cut but do not stop a direct stab. I have stuck the point of my knife or corner of a gouge into my hand through a glove. I didn’t like it and you probably won’t either.

One other accessory you will need with the glove is the thumb guard. The carving glove goes on the hand holding the project. The thumb guard goes on the hand holding the knife. This protects the thumb as you pull the knife towards it. These are usually leather. I have also seen carvers use some type of durable tape wrapped around their thumb. This also makes an acceptable thumb guard.

Wood Carving Vises

Vices…we’re not proud of them but we’ve all got them. Those things we do we wish we didn’t……..Sorry, I’m supposed to be talking about woodcarving vises!

When your projects start getting bigger you’ll want to move up from the hand and get into a vise. As with other aspects of carving tools vices vary greatly. You will find all different types. I will cover some of the basic characteristics to look for.

First of all you want to find a vise that will fasten easily to your preferred carving bench. My favorite vise connects to my bench with C-clamps. This makes for a good connection and also allows the vice to be easily removed so I can use the space for other things. The vise is also portable with this setup.

I like a vise that allows the project to easily rotate 360 degrees. It will be very annoying to have to go through a lot of work just to turn your project around. Our tools should always be an additional help to us and never an extra burden. Vises should also tilt the project. This allows better access to the bottom and sides. Some will tilt a full 180 degrees. This is a very nice feature and comes in very handy depending on what you are carving.

Most vises attach to the project through some type of faceplate using wood screws. I have never had a problem with this type of connection. Just make sure it will work for what you are doing. Vises should feature rugged construction and use heavy duty components.

Be sure to buy a vise that matches the size of project you want to carve. You can’t take a whole tree and screw it into small vise. Likewise, some vises may be overkill if you carve smaller projects. Also, make sure the bench you are fastening your vise to can support the weight of the project and the stress of the constant pounding you will be inflicting upon the project.

Wood Carver’s Screw

When I first saw a carvers screw I had no idea how they worked. They didn’t look like something that would work by themselves but they were never sold with anything else.

The woodcarver’s screw is a very simple solution to holding carvings to the work bench. The long, tapered screw is inserted into the project and then is fitted through a hole in the workbench. A nut is used to tighten the piece from below and, viola, the project is fastened to your bench. By loosening the nut the project can be rotated.

I don’t know of a way to tilt with a standard carver’s screw but it is my understanding that you can carve some pretty large projects with this type of setup depending on the size of the carving screw.

Make your own wood carving vise

For my first real vise I made my own from a design by Lynn Diel. You can find plans for it here (The link stopped working but I left it up in case it starts again.) I did eventually upgrade to a commercial vise but this one was not only useful it was also fun to make my own.

El extremo

So today we learned that cutting yourself is not as much fun as you imagined so don’t do it! Keep yourself safe by using a carving glove or some type of wood carving vise. Buy the size and type that’s right for you.

The 'Getting Started Series' encompasses six articles:

This article originally appeared in Carving Magazine.


  1. I think you want to say "VISE" rather than "vice" which is a lapse in moral character.

    Check your dictionary. and remember, we all make mistakes in proof reading. Continue to have fun,

  2. Thank you Mr. Mertz. I corrected it. I never was too good at that spelling stuff! :)

  3. The link to the vise plan is dead, do you have another one?

  4. Thank you for the update on the link. I made a change in the article to reflect this. I don't have another link at this time but will look.

  5. I enjoyed this one! Its not exactly easy to find good blogs on this topic, I have been looking and only found a few genuine ones so Thanks! I enjoyed your writing style, your humorous style inspires confidence that taking the right precautions can mean you don't have to be afraid of your knife. I would go so far as to say that if you lack that confidence you are more likely to cut or stab yourself, for some reason when we are afraid of something happening it tends to happen!

  6. Hi - I'm searching - searching - for plans for an affordable rotating carvers vise. Any chance someone has a link or copy of the plans above (the link still doesn't work) for this one? Been to lots of websites and most of the links to these plans or info don't work anymore.
    Would appreciate any help. I'm borrowing a vise from a carver as I'm new, but I have to give it back soon! cheers - australia

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