Veritas twin-screw vise install report

Hi everyone,
I just finished installing the Veritas twin-screw vise on my workbench (an exact copy of Sam Allen's joiner's bench from his workbench book) and thought I'd write up my experience.
Things went fairly smoothly, but not without some hiccups.
First, the instructions are quite detailed and as many of you might have heard before, the warning on the front page to not deviate from the instructions are wise and I followed them for the most part. Also, the materials for the vise were MOSTLY of very high quality, especially the screws themselves, which I feel is the most important thing. All the parts were there (which is good, since I bought this about 3 months ago), so I was set to go.
I used hard maple for the jaws, and made them up at 2" thick, 7" tall, and 24" wide (the width of my bench). It was important to figure out the minimum height of the jaws to accomodate the bench thickness and hardware, but the instructions made this clear and not difficult. The next step was to figure out the screw spacing and to adjust the length of the bicycle chain. I used 14 5/8", so I had to remove 6 links from the chain. The instructions say to file the pins down, but I found this to be extremely slow going, so I used my bench grinder, which worked fine. I did have to use a center punch to drive the pins out, which took a little more effort than the instructions made it out to be. Also, the link supplied with the chain to connect the two ends had the spring-clip alread attached. I don't really see why Lee Valley sent it this way, and I would have rather had it separate so as to avoid having to screw with the clip, and possibly bending it (which I did slightly) removing it from the link pins.
Once the chain was set, the next step was laying out and drilling holes through the jaws for the screws and other parts. I took my time here, and was glad because everything went together fine the first try. I won't really get into this except to say that having a good drill press with a large stroke was a big advantage. Also, a few steps here could've contained some more hints regarding placement of clamps, etc. I had to reposition my clamps a few times to get clearance on my drill press. Also, the instructions have you install the screw nuts onto the rear jaws before drilling the bolt mounting holes. This didn't make much sense, because you have to drill counterbores in the inside face of the rear jaw, so you have to take the nuts off to lay the jaw flat on the drill press table.
After the holes were drilled through the faces of the jaws, and the mounting holes for the rear jaw were in place, it was necessary to transfer the holes to the end of the bench in order to drill for the rear jaw mounting bolts. The rear jaw is attached with barrel bolts placed in cross-drilled holes from the bottom of the bench. I found it pretty tricky to get the rear jaw in position, but ended up clamping it across the width of the bench, across the seam where the bench and rear jaw met. The idea was to have a small amount of the rear jaw above the bench surface, so you can plane it down even after you install it. Anyway, it worked out alright. The next step was to drill the crossing holes for the barell bolts. Since my bench was already constructed, I had to lay on the floor to do this, which could've been more comfortable. If you have the opportunity to install this to your benchtop with the top upside down on some supports, I would recommend it, not only for comfort, but for the increased accuracy you're sure to have. I made the jig for locating the crossing holes, but I got one wrong slightly and had to drill an overlapping hole. It didn't seem to affect the mounting of the rear jaw at all. One more caveat here, the instructions say to put some crumpled paper in the hole for the barrel bolts to act as a spring in aligning them with the bolts. Perhaps it was assumed that the benchtop would be upside down, but I found this to be more of a hassle than a benefit.
So, now the rear jaw was installed after quite a bit of effort (at least that's what my back was telling me). Next was the front jaw. In order to install this, I had to drill clearance holes through the upper end cross braces of my bench base. Because I had already mounted the rear jaw, this meant drilling from the inside of the base outward (or removing the rear jaw, which I wasn't going to do). Let's just say that laying contorted on the floor, holding a cordless drill and drilling 1.5" holes through 1.5" wood is not fun. Happily, I got the holes lined up just right the first try.
After that, the screws are installed, with the chain in place, and screwed in by hand until they are holding the front jaw in place against the rear jaw. After aligning the tops and sides of the jaws, the thrust plates are attached with lag bolts and washers. This is where my first real gripe with the vise hardware comes up. The instructions DO say to not overtighten the bolts, so I guess I should've been warned. Even so, I managed to break the head off one of the bolts! I was ticked off, because I had read the instructions and was consciously not using very much force. I was getting a firm fit, to be sure, but "overtight"? I don't think so. So, my question to Lee Valley is, why don't you include better bolts that aren't made of cheap material? In fact, I think you should include the BEST bolts that you can find. I'm not sure how the lack of one of the bolts on the thrust plate will have in the long run, but it seemed to be holding, so I proceeded ahead. If anyone has any insight here, it would be appreciated.
Another gripe I have is that there weren't any instructions on how to get the vise handles to line up parallel to each other. I tried to install the chain so that they would be that way, but by the time I had hand tightened the screws up to the front jaw, and tightened them down in order to install the thrust plates, they had become out of alignment. I couldn't figure out any way to adjust them, so hopefully Robin Lee is reading this and can expla in how this is done. I know I've seen many pictures of the vise on benches with the handles perfectly parallel, so it must be possible. I'm sure everyone that installs the vise would want their handles aligned, so why there isn't instructions regarding this I really don't understand.
Ok, now that the jaws were installed, the cover was ready to go on. The cover consists of two half-round end caps and a center aluminum section. Because I had shorted the chain and had a smaller screw separation, I had to shorten the cover in order for it to fit between the screw mechanisms. The instructions say that a hacksaw can be used, and that's true and what I did. All I can say is, I'm not that proficient at cutting curved pieces of metal in straight lines with the hacksaw. I did have the idea (probably not novel, I'm sure) of making shallow cuts on either side of the cover, and then cutting down to the face on both sides at the same time, so at least I ended up with a fairly straight edge. Overall, however I was pretty frustrated by this. I didn't realize how fragile the finish on the cover was, and the initial hacksawing I did was with it held by hand on the bench top. This resulted in a very scratched finish, which pretty much sucks. I wish the instructions would have warned me about this. Even more, however, I wish Lee Valley would just have a question when you order the vise as to the size of the cover you need and have it precut for you. For the price of the vise, I think this is a reasonable request. At any rate, I got the cover in place, albeit pretty well scratched up.
So, the final chapter (I didn't realize how long winded this was going to be) was installing the handles. I only mention this because I ran into another example of cheap hardware. The screws provided to attach the handle end caps to the handles were square drive #8 1-1/4" (maybe 1-1/2"?) wood screws. I drilled pilot holes were the instructions, and set my drill's adjustable torque to 10 (out of 20), which considering the handles are hardwood, should have been fine. Well, as you might have guessed, I broke the head off one of the screws. Luckily I have a supply of panhead coarse thread pocket hole screws, and one of these worked fine to replace the broken screw. But, it just illustrates the point that some of the hardware was not of the best quality in the kit.
I did put the vise through it's paces briefly after the install was finished and I have to say that the vise is GREAT! I was extremely impressed with how much clamping force I could generate. I tried holding a big panel in place with bench dogs across the full vise width, and it worked wonderfully. I also clamped a 10" wide board vertically in the vise (as if to cut dovetails or something), and it also worked just as I had hoped. I can't wait to actually use it on my upcoming projects.
So, in summary, I will have to give the vise a score of maybe 8.5/10, due to the small issues I have with some of the components. I admit that the problems could have been avoided, but I feel I was using a reasonable amount of caution and just got stuck by having a few bad parts. I just hope the lack of one of the thrust plate bolts doesn't mess me up in the future.
I hope this has been useful for anyone considering this vise. I would definitely buy it again, so that might be the most telling thing of all.
Mike
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On Mon, 17 Nov 2003 04:15:39 GMT, "Mike in Mystic"
How about posting some pics in alt.binaries.pictures.woodworking for us to see. I am especially interested in the twin-screw vise and your workbench. I will be making them in spring.
Thanks

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I plan on doing that, I just forgot to bring the camera outside with me. I actually was going to photo-document the whole bench building process, but since I was following the direction of Sam Allen's book pretty much to the letter, it didn't seem necessary to do that. But, I'll take a lot of pictures of the finished product and post them as soon as I can.
Mike
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Mike,
Sure sounds like they changed the installation instructions - significantly. I think your review is longer than the instructions. When I installed mine, it was right about the same time they switched to the new style chain cover plate and although I had all the parts, mine had the old instruction set. The problem was quickly resolved by Lee Valley and the rest of the installation was straight forward.
As I read your trials and tribulations I kept wondering why I don't remember any of those instructions - like putting paper in the holes or filing down pins and there were instructions for aligning the handles. As for the hardware furnished, it was all top-grade that I could see and didn't have any problems like you. Could be they changed or were you having a bad hair day....;-)
As for breaking off a screw in hardwood - if you didn't use the correct size drill for the pilot hole, you can snap a screw in an instant. Just finished refurbing about 40 hard maple door fronts and broke more than one screw before I realized the drill bit I was using was one size smaller than it should have been.
Call Lee Valley and let them know exactly what you feel the problems were. Ask for someone that knows about the vise and most likely you'll get a person that has installed them several times. I'm sure Robin Lee would be grateful for any suggestions or comments that will make the installation easier and/or clarify the instructions.
I've had my twin-screw vise for about 2 years now and its just one of those tools that you never regret buying.
Bob S.
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I'm not sure if they changed anything or not in the instructions from the past. As for me having a bad hair day, it is possible, but my hair is just about a crew cut, so I tend not to have those problems hehe

instructions. The thrust plate bolt breaking off was definitely my fault in that I used a little too much force (obviously). The handle screw I don't feel was my fault because I used a very reasonable torque setting on my drill. My main point is that I think the hardware shouldn't be so prone to breaking. I don't know much about the manufacturing of fasteners, but I would hope that there could be some out there that won't break off as easily as these did.

That's a good idea, I think I'll do that.

I agree completely. All in all, the gripes I have are very minor, just a little annoying. In total, the vise install went according to plan and the vise is working great. I'm sure that this will be an extremely useful investment for years to come.
Mike
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Mike -
No need to call - saw your post, have forwarded it around for comments, am drafting a reply, and will post here later!
Cheers -
Rob Lee

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damn......wonder what took Robin so long to reply? Must be cause it's Monday...;-)
Bob S.
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Sounds good, Robin. I knew you'd read the post, so I figured I'd see a response pretty soon.
I want to clarify to the group-at-large that I didn't mean to sound overly negative about the vise. I mainly highlighted the few very small issues I had. It is by far a wonderful product and well-designed. I am extremely happy with it overall, so don't take my comments in too harsh a context.
Mike

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Mike,
I installed that vise last winter while building the "Shop Notes" bench. I don't remember having that much trouble, although Murphy is usually right there when I do something like that.
I did have a small problem with one of the parts of the vise itself, it was incorrectly machined. Veritas (Lee Valley) quickly and politely exchanged it for me.
I did not have to cut the cover, and I built mine out of oak. I like the speed knob on one side. I like the vice, and in fact, I used it last night.
Bill

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Mike:
I bet it took just as long if not longer to write that report. Glad to see you cranking on the projects.

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Well, not exactly. I type 95 words/minute, so it didn't take me very long to write that. Even so, I didn't mean to ramble quite that much, but sometimes that's how it works out. I guess I overdid the "small details".
It's tough getting time to work on things with a 3 month old son, but I am slowly getting the hang of it and lowering my expectations. There's been several occasions when it was my "turn" for free time and I chose to just stay with Charlie, rather than go out to the shop. I am all set now that the bench is done to get going on the dresser for the nursery. Will probably end up only about 4.5 months behind schedule hehe.
Mike
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I'm impressed.. 95 words a minute.

I know exactly what you mean with balancing time with having a 3 month old child. Working on projects is rewarding but not nearly as rewarding as spending time with the kids and watching them grow up. Enjoy it because they grow up real fast.
I have two girls who both play travel soccer and every weekend spring and fall I have been on the road. I enjoy the time very much. That does not leave much time for yourself. I have done a couple small projects of building a small picket fence and some planters. Not much to write home to momma about.
I waiting till after the Holidays to get the rest of my toys, I mean equipment. SWMBO wants some storage cabinets and such. I looking forward to these projects once I finish the shop. Had a small plumbing nightmare with the Hot water heater that set me back. More of a worrisome headache than anything.
Be Good !!

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Hi -
Answers to your comments are interspersed below! (cut and pasted from the comments I received from our R&D group- note that there's always a bit of a "defensive" slant to a designer's response :) Many of your comments and suggestions may help others in the future!
Cheers -
Rob Lee

They are packaged this way to help prevent loss - since they are very small on their own.

Throughout the intructions, hints are given in most cases where they apply to all or most users - but there are so many different ways to clamp and drill, it would be a bit like chasing one's tail to try and anticipate all possible scenarios and provide hints for them. Every woodworker knows their own shop and equipment best.

It's quite true that the process would be a bit simpler in this customer's case to install the nuts after the rear jaw in is place. But since there are three different methods to attach the rear jaw outlined, the instructions would be considerably more complicated to achieve the same end result. Ordering the instructions in this way would only mean the user could avoid using a couple of spacer blocks under the jaw when drilling the bolt holes.

There is a very simple method that could be used to clamp the rear jaw in position - as used by our own bench assemblers. The instructions could be changed to add this tip. (RL note - will see that this gets added...)

The instructions don't tell the customer not to flip the benchtop uspide down but don't suggest it either. This could be another tip to add so long as we also provide a caution about getting help and not wrecking one's back.

This tip works in both orientations. The hole for the dowel nut will almost always be deeper than it really needs to be. If the top is upseide down, then the nuts can be pushed against the paper until they are lined up and then they sit there until the bolt coes through to engage them. If right side up, the user nees to hold the nuts in place with a nail or a dowel or something. The paper then gives something to push against intead of essentially having to hold the nut in exactly the right position in mid-air; which I can say from experience is not easy. I didn't come up with this tip but I have installed these nuts both ways and found the tip to be quite useful.

I checked Sam Allen's book and it is shown in a diagram (p. 32) to drill the upper cross brace for screw clearance with the Veritas twin screw vise. In my view, this should not be recommended. It is, as the customer found, difficult to do and it would probably significantly weaken the structural member in question. Perhaps we should include a caution in the catalogue copy and the instructions that the vise should be installed only a bench with adequate overhang or otherwise with clearance for the screws where it needs to be.

RL - we'll test a bunch of bolts - but this could be an isolated problem...though I've snapped the heads off lag bolts (used in cedar!) before...

The designer assures me that this will not be a problem....

The alignment of the handles to each other is a function of the orientation of each "Tee" in relation to the screw it's connected to and cannot be changed. The product has always had this constraint. It may or may not be made to be aligned but this would certainly add cost and complexity. (RL - while aesthetically pleasing to some, I'd actually prefer them to be at 90 degrees to each other....)

RL - Mike - We'd be glad to cut and send you another one (it'll bug you forever)...but, in all fairness, that's your goof !! Just email me your address, and the length.... we'll add a note to the instructions too, but it's overkill.....

RL - the other choice would be to say the vise is 24" wide - change it your own risk...:) Again - I understand what you're saying, but it would be costly, and impractical to do. Significant numers of these vises are sold in retail locations. The design of the endcaps does provide for some amount of overlap to cover an irregular cut...

Again - we'll have a look...

Thanks too, for the comments....every time we get suggestions, it's an opportunity to improve...
Cheers -
Rob Lee

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Rob,
Thanks very much for the detailed response. As always, the level of interaction you have with your customers is exceptional.
A few notes regarding the comments you provided:
1) Regarding the installation of the barrel nuts in for the rear jaw mounting bolts. I found it quite easy to simply use a screw driver in the slot on the bottom of the nut and hold in lower than the bolt position. I had a small flashlight on the ground illuminating the area, so I could see the protruding bolt end, and then by pushing the bolt against the nut, I could simply slowly raise the nut and feel the bolt slide into the tapered recess. It actually wasn't that hard, other than having to lay on the floor hehe. When I had the paper in the hole, I found that the spring back effect actually made it harder to make small changes in height to the nut position.
2) Regarding the alignment of the two screw handles. In your website picture you show the handles perfectly aligned and parallel. Is this only achieved because you may have used the maximum spacing? I knew enough not to assume that they would automatcially come out that way, but I didn't see any mention of the alignment being a contraint of the system. I can think of at least one situation where having the handles aligned would be necessary - if you have a bank of drawers or a cabinet door opening at the end of the bench. Having both handles horizontal would be needed to open these. I admit I haven't seen this too much, but it's a thought. I guess I will have to live with the handles as they came out.
3). Regarding the chain cover. I agree with you that the scratching of the finish was my goof. I won't ask for a replacement. If it bothers me too much in the future I'll just buy one of your cover kits. Thanks for the offer, though. As for being overkill to warn against scratching the cover, I don't think that's the case. You already warn against deforming it in the hacksawing process, so adding a line "deforming and/or marring the finish" doesn't seem too big a deal. Since this is the part of the vise that bears your logo and is the most visible part of the vise (other than the handles, I suppose), it would be good to have customers avoid the bonehead result that I managed to do to my vise.
4) My wife says I've spent so much money at your website that I should own stock in the company. Any plans to go public?? :)
I really do appreciate the responsiveness you gave me and the obvious attention to even the smallest customer concerns that you have. I already placed another order at your website yesterday, so obviously you aren't going to lose my patronage.
Best regards,
Mike Logman
--
There are no stupid questions.
There are a LOT of inquisitive idiots.
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Mike -
I'll take a bow on behalf of the designer who sent back a detailed response almost as long as your original post - few of the comments (in this case) were mine .... :)
As for the aligned handles on the website - that's probably Murphy's work... if a "random" event could take place which would suggest a design feature - it'll happen in photography. We'll make a note of it.... Then too, it's possible that the nut on one screw was fixed after handle alignment, or shimmed out of a recess... rotating the nut should provide 90 degrees of adjustment, with finer adjustment (less than 90) coming from shims....
Chain cover - offer stands.... the kit includes end caps (which you don't need)...the cut extrusion won't cost us too much - and we'll put it in with your next order....I can try and do it today- but your order's probably packed and in the truck by now....
The shares'll have to wait for at least one more generation - not happening this one!
Cheers -
Rob Lee
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Please, do not go public. As soon as you do that, you pander to the stock holders who don't give a rat's ass about the quality of your products and the lively hood of your employees. You'll start to run the company in ways that the "Stock Anylists" like in order to influence the stock price.
Just say No!
Dan
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