2016 May 11    Tech   Metal & Shop

Introduction


A bench vise is one of the most important workshop tools. 

Today we're going to look at the Tekton #54004 Swivel Bench Vise.  At less than sixty dollars, could it possibly be any good?

Let's find out.





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In This Article

Some Specs

The Unboxing

Cast Iron

The Anvil

Basic Tests

Conclusion




Some Specs


Enclosed Lead Screw?  YES
Jaw Width:  4 inches
Jaws Open To:  3 inches
Made In:  China
Made Of:  Gray Cast Iron
Mounting Hole Size:  3/8" but read article
Pipe Jaws?  No
Swivel?  Yes (120 degrees)
Throat Depth:  2.5 inches, enough to work with two-by-four lumber
Weight:  15 lbs.


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The Unboxing


The box arrived in bad shape, as you can see.  I guess it wasn't too bad, though, as long as the vise was not damaged. 

The vise included a nice template for drilling the bolt-holes through a workbench top.

I used the template, drilled the holes... and found that they didn't line up with the mounting holes in the vise.  Had I noticed this, I would simply have marked the spots using the actual vise. 

The misalignment was fairly significant.  It wasn't bad enough to require all new holes to be drilled in the workbench, but I did have to egg out the existing ones with a bit of ill-advised drilling technique.

Tekton is doing a good job with customer service, and they're trying to offer some decent, affordable tools.  Let's acknowledge that, at least.  With that said, misaligned bolt holes shouldn't really be happening.  The good news is that it's not insurmountable.  Next time, I'd just use the vise itself to mark out the bolt-holes on the workbench.  (Actually, don't throw the template away.  Use it to show you, roughly, where and how to mount the vise; just don't use the drill-hole templates on it, because they won't match up.)

There was one other problem.  You're supposed to use 3/8" bolts to anchor this vise, but the mounting holes are too small.  I had to drill them out!!  Drilling cast iron is something that Average Joe Consumer may not want to do.  Some people might have returned the vise at this point, but I had a review to write. 

You can always use bolts smaller than 3/8", but if the packaging said 3/8", I was going to use 3/8".

I didn't notice any sharp edges from the casting, but some people have had this issue.  This would require some filing before using the vise.


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This was before I decided to seal the particle board with polyurethane. 
I liked the vise well enough to go to the trouble of a halfway-decent wood finish.
It's not a super-strong workbench top, but for the kinds of tasks you'd be doing with this vise, it ought to be OK.
There's actually a layer of MDF underneath there.





Cast Iron


Thirty-thousand psi.  That's not sixty-thousand psi, but it still sounds rather impressive.  When are you going to need 30,000 psi just clamping down on a little ol' PVC pipe fitting?

This vise looks very similar to some other vises, which have blue paint and break easily.  You might have seen them at that big-name tool discounter that specializes in imported stuff.  Those vises often don't live up to the theoretical 30,000 psi.

I wouldn't doubt some of those other vises failed at a couple thousand psi.  Gray cast iron is an easy technology to get into, and a difficult technology to master. 

This vise looks better-made;  it could be made at a factory that has better QC.  Tekton backs the product, and there are a lot of satisfied users.

Probably the biggest reason for vise failure is "cheater bars".  Some people use a length of pipe to try getting more leverage.  If the vise jaws won't close tightly enough on something, don't force it;  you could break the vise, or possibly strip out the thread that opens and closes the jaws.  If you need to exert that kind of force, get a bigger vise made of steel, which would be more expensive.




If you put too much leverage on this vise, a likely failure point would be the swivel base.  See the curved slots in the cast iron?  That would probably break first.  Trying to bend heavy bar stock in the vise would be a good example of what not to do.  Here again:  with light-duty work, it will probably be fine.


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The Anvil



After making a somewhat nice top for the worktable, and after taking the time to mount the vise on that table, I decided not to do any serious impact tests.  Why break the vise?  I wasn't planning to use it for impact-type work anyhow. 

We know this vise is made of cast iron.  We know that cast iron has poor impact strength. 

As long as you're "tapping" and not "pounding", though, it probably won't break.  Use a hammer of no more than eight ounces.  Don't try to straighten anything much thicker than a ten-penny nail.  Get yourself one of these multi-face hammers, one of these eight-ouncers, and perhaps the four-ounce version.  Then you'll be all set for that kind of work.  Every toolbox needs those anyway;  it's easy to find other uses for them as well.

It may not sound that handy to have an anvil that can't take four-pound hammer impacts.  Actually it's still useful.  Here's an example.  I acquired a cheap little knick-knack shelf with brass hangers, and somehow they had gotten bent.  They had sort of crystallized into that shape.  Fixing it was still better than taking the time to build a whole new shelf. 

The brass hangers were probably two millimeters thick.  This vise's anvil works fine for flattening stuff like that.  (Anneal first to make the brass malleable again.)  Again, use light taps, not pounding. 

If you'll have to pound on stuff with more force, give this article a read.  Or, at the moment this seller has some small steel anvils that should work great on a benchtop.  Use the vise for gripping and very light bending work;  use an anvil for hammering.


Buy This Vise

Table of Contents



Basic Tests



The Tekton is really meant for clamping stuff while you saw it or file it.  Those are two of the most common shop tasks anyway.

It doesn't take special alloys to clamp a piece of wood, but it does take a reasonable amount of gripping power.  The Tekton vise accomplishes it easily.  As with most vises, the jaws will leave an imprint in the wood;  if that's a problem, use a piece of leather or a couple of thin hardwood blocks between the jaws and the workpiece.

The vise jaws also hold PVC pipe very well.  You can cut Schedule 40 to the desired lengths;  the vise can grip firmly enough that it will not rotate or slip.  Perfect!




Buy This Vise

Table of Contents



Conclusion


Though it's not a vintage USA vise, the Tekton is not bad for the money.  Right out of the box, the vise may have a few rough casting edges that have to be filed down.  You may also find the bolt holes are the wrong size.  Aside from that, it's very functional and has good grip. 

I also like that it has two swivel locks, one on each side;  this makes it more usable than certain vintage bench vises.

If you think you'll only ever buy one vise, though I'd actually get this forged steel vise by Yost, or this Made-In-USA one, which is ductile iron.  Both of these cost more, but they're both more capable vises and will last longer. 

For fifty or sixty dollars brand-new, though, the Tekton is a good value.  If that's the price point that your budget allows, then at least you can know you'll get a useful vise.  It's also better to buy the Tekton than some no-name vise for $10 cheaper, because Tekton backs their product.

Finally, the lead screw is enclosed, which is really great to have when you're filing metal in the vise.  Low-priced US-made vises often didn't or don't have this feature;  the Tekton is better for filing metal, which is a huge reason to have a vise in the first place.


    


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