Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

A rolling blog of everyday life on and around the workbench


05/06/2019: I've bought myself a new vice. Well, OK, a new old vice. In fact I've never owned a brand new vice, and this is most likely due to the fact that the price of a decent one will bring tears to your eyes - as well as a general consensus that older vices tend to be built rather better. It also helps that they can be had for beer money on eBay if you're prepared to wait for a bargain.

And I needed a new vice. I'd been using an old Record No.1 for years (at least 30), and while it was a very nice vice it was a touch on the small side with its 3" jaws. It's fine for about 95% of the sort of work I do, but every once in a while I have a need to swing a baritone over a long dent bar...and the poor old Record was finding itself pushed to its very limits. That it did so without complaint for so many years does it great credit - but with that amount of stress on such a small vice, something was bound to give way sooner or later. And so it did, though it wasn't the vice itself but the swivel base on which it was mounted.
There are those who might say that that's what you get with a swivel base - but the old Record has seen many a four foot bar placed in its humble jaws while I've leant my full weight on the other end, so I'm inclined to give credit where it's due. Besides, my preferred workbench setup has always required a swivel we'll hear no more about the pros and cons, thank you very much...

Given that the little Record did so well, the most obvious choice for a replacement was another, larger Record - a No.2 or perhaps a 3. There are plenty of these to be had at sensible prices, even some of the sought-after examples from 50+ years ago. However, finding one with a swivel base is a bit trickier - it was an expensive option and perhaps the part most likely to fail.
I set up a search on eBay and kept an eye on the listings over the next few weeks...and it was this time that I began to notice a few alternatives, the most striking of which was a vice made by York, a Czechoslovakian company.
I daresay you've never heard of the brand, but folks on the other side of the pond would likely as not take one look at the York and say "That's a knock-off Wilton!"
Which is exactly what I thought. The Wilton 'Bullet' is a very well-known bit of kit over in the States, and is easily recognised by its distinct shape and art deco curves. If you've ever spent any time browsing YouTube engineering channels, you'll have seen many a Wilton taking pride of place on a workbench. Indeed, you'll also have seen many a video in which said Wiltons are lovingly restored and painted. They're cherished items among those who know a few things about nuts and bolts....and they ain't cheap.
I'd have loved to have a Wilton, but they're rather rare over here and, consequently, command unfeasibly high prices. Not that they're any better than what's available in the UK - you can pick up a very fine old Record, Paramo or a Woden for less than forty quid, and you'd be sure of owning a piece of kit that you could build ships with. It's just that they don't look quite as groovy as a Wilton.

But I was curious about the York. Even if it was a knock-off it looked sturdy enough, and I might have the opportunity to nab myself a Wilton lookalike on the cheap. So I did a bit of research - at which point I discovered something rather, well, unsavoury.
It appears (and I say 'appears' because this all happened a very long time ago, and I can only go on what I found on various forums) that the York company goes back a very long way. There's talk of a patent that dates back to 1934, which predates Wilton by some seven years. I found some correspondence with the current owner/representative of York (they're still in business) that states that the Wilton company was set up in 1941 by a merchant from Prague who used to trade in York vices and who (very sensibly) legged it off to the States just before the nazis came knocking.
The good folk of Czechoslovakia were kept rather busy for the next few years, in which time various patents were taken out in the States...and the rest, as they say, is history.
By the time the nazis had been given a damn good kicking, it was all a bit too late to argue the toss.

York 100A vice, unrestoredAll of which rather piqued my interest in the York - not only did it look cool, it was practical, well-built and had all the features I needed. And it had a certain underdog street cred about it, which always goes down well over here. Better still, I wouldn't have to shell out a large wadge of cash to pick one up.
I found a number of Yorks going for around £70, but a bit of nosing around in the completed auction section showed that a decent example could be had for as little as £30 - and it wasn't long before one popped up just down the road from me. It wasn't in the best condition, admittedly, but the price was right and it was just a short drive away. I had to have it.

Here's the vice as bought, and as you can see it's showing sign of some (ahem) wear and tear.
Someone's been a bit careless with a hacksaw at some point and managed to slice into the top of the jaw mounts, and the anvil at the rear has taken one hell of a beating - so-much-so that there's even a small chunk knocked out of one side...and some damage to the rear jaw mount where they've missed the anvil altogether.
I had visions of restoring it, rather like the Wiltons I'd seen on various YouTube channels - but then I figured "A vice is a vice is a vice", and it seemed to work well enough as I simply bolted it to the bench without ceremony and got on with the next job.

This lasted for about a day and a half.
It was while I was having a little 'feet up' time with a cuppa inbetween clients that I began to ponder the state of the vice. It could probably do with a strip-down and some fresh grease, at the very least. And maybe just run a wire wheel over the surface know, clean it up a bit? I mean, how long would it take? A couple of minutes?
So I whizzed a wire wheel over it - and sure enough, it made light work of the rust. In fact it made very light work of it. Trouble was, it now made all the nicks and dents stand out all the more...which was a bit annoying.
I picked up a nearby file and casually dusted it over the top of the vice. I didn't really expect it to do anything - after all, the thing was as tough as old boots, surely. But no, it seemed to cut into the metal quite easily. So I picked up a bigger, coarser file and gave it another dusting. Even better, but it was still likely to be slow progress.
York vice crappy swivel mechAnd then I remembered that I'd bought an old toolbox from the local tip a while back which was jam-packed with old but unused files of all shapes and sizes. What a bargain that was! I was able to replace my entire collection of files in one fell swoop - twice over. I now had a set for brass work and another for steel...and still had a drawerful of spares - and all good quality makes from Sheffield. Among the spares were a few very coarse files - far too coarse for my sort of work, but maybe just right for this kind of job? I tried a couple, and sure, they did well enough but weren't exactly eating into the metal. And then I spotted something at the back of the drawer which looked less like a file and more like an industrial cheesegrater - a 'Millenicut' file. I had nothing to lose, so I fished it out and gave it a lick on the vice.

To say that it cut through the metal like butter doesn't really capture how well it worked. Filing hard metal is nearly always a chore - a long and tedious process that drives you deeper into a state of ennui with each stroke of the file - but the way this thing cut into the cast iron was strangely addictive. It didn't grunt and squeal its way through the metal, it sort of hissed - and with each 'ssscchhhhst' of the stroke, a satisfying shower of iron particles rained down onto the bench. And for such a coarse file it left a surprisingly good matt finish. In the fifteen minutes or so before the client turned up I'd smoothed off the top and sides of the jaws and levelled off (mostly) the anvil at the rear. It looked pretty good, but the freshly-filed surfaces now made the rest of the vice look, well, a bit crap really.
But no, I wasn't going to restore it. I'm far too busy, and it's just a vice.

York vice swivel upgradeI lasted another day.
In fairness this was because I'd discovered a bit of a design fault with the York - the swivelling mechanism is rubbish. Sure thing, if you undo the two locking nuts on each side the vice will rotate - but as there's no central pivot on the mechanism the vice moves off centre, as you can see you then have to faff around getting the vice lined up on the swivel base.
There's a nice big hole dead centre of the base but nothing on the bottom of the vice, so I figured that all I'd need to do was stick a suitably-sized disc onto the bottom that would locate in the base and stop the vice from sliding while it was being rotated. Easy-peasy. But where to get a suitable lump of metal from? It would need to be fairly large, and I just don't keep that size of stock around.

I had shufty through my odds-'n-sods bin and found an old 'helping hands' clamp - the sort of thing you use when you need to hold a piece in place while soldering. This old clamp had long since given up the ghost, but as I rarely throw anything away on the basis that it might come in handy one day I was rather pleased to find that this was the day the old clamp was going to come in handy. The base was almost a perfect fit for the hole in the swivel - and better yet it was made from cast iron (same material as the base).

A quick spin on the lathe followed by the drilling and tapping of a couple of bolt holes and here's the centre boss fitted to the underside of the vice. It works an absolute treat and makes a huge difference to the accuracy and ease with which the vice rotates.
York vice with centre bossAnd while I was there I also upgraded the locking bolts by gluing a couple of pieces of synthetic cork (from a bottle of wine) to the underside of the bolts. I did this because each time you undo and remove the nuts to allow the vice to be taken off the swivel base, the bolts drop down...which makes it a proper fiddle to get the lock nuts back on when it comes to refitting the vice to the base. The bits of cork prevent the bolts from dropping down too far. It might seem like overkill given how few time the vice is likely to be taken off its base - but hey, it's just a couple of bits of cork, and it's the sort of tweak that'll be appreciated every once in a blue moon.

So now I had the swivel base sorted and I'd tidied up the saw/hammer marks on the body, but I still wasn't going to restore the vice. It was in good working order, it needed nothing more.
But it did look rather nice - I mean, the shape of it and all. Vices - let's be honest - tend not to be what you'd call elegant at the best of times, but the old York has a certain vintage caché about it. And it's likely to be sitting at the end of my workbench until the end of days (or at least the end of my days) - so would it really hurt to give it a lick of paint? Well, I have a few old tins of paint knocking around - perhaps a quick splash of burgundy gloss would do the job. No need to go overboard, just slap it on and the job's a good un.
Pearl Ruby Red swatchBut then if I'm going to paint the thing I suppose I might as well do it properly. Get some decent paint in, something that's better suited to the job than an old tin of a Dulux gloss.

I did a spot of browsing and ended up buying a pot of Paragon enamel paint. Not cheap, but then decent paint never is...and it's one of those things you seldom ever regret buying. Unless you end up with the wrong colour.
I thought I'd chosen a rich, deep burgundy - at least that's what the online colour swatch led me to believe. It's called Pearl Ruby Red, and as you can see it's most definitely a sort of burgundy.
However, the finished vice is a completely different shade. I was a bit miffed at first but it would have been a lot of extra hassle to send the paint back, and once the vice was painted up with a couple of coats I found that the colour was rather growing on me. The photo doesn't quite capture the 'pearliness' of the paint, it's got that sort of 1950s creaminess to it which kinda suits the curves of the vice.
And while I was at it I degreased everything, cleaned up the rest of the bare metal, ground the top and sides of the jaws (slightly overdid it an ended up with a mirror finish) and put fresh grease/oil on...and I might have made some bronze bushings for the swivel bolts, just to keep the rotation nice and smooth.

The finished vice.I'm very pleased with how it turned out. It's a nice bit of kit and a big improvement over the old Record vice it replaced - and it looks nice. I even like the little chip out of the anvil. I gave it a lick with the file to smooth it out and decided to leave it at that. I doubt I'll use the anvil anyway - most of the things I need to bash with a hammer are made from spring steel, which would make mincemeat of a cast iron anvil in no time at all.
Mechanically it's quite sound. There's a bit of wear in the leadscrew (which runs inside the central tube) which means there's a bit of backlash on the handle - but it's nothing that's worth fixing...unless I fancy a spot of acme threading on the lathe. Alternatively, I'll keep my eye open for old G clamps down at the tip as these often have acme screws on them - and if I can find one of the right size it really wouldn't be a great deal of work to transplant one onto the York.

I made just one other modification to the vice. The pipe grip's smallest diameter was about 5mm too large for my smallest dent bar, so I simply stuck a slab of steel on the flat section of the dynamic jaw with a couple of blobs of adhesive tack. Perfect.
At a later date I might knock up a pair of 'tommy nuts' (M10 x 1.5, incidentally) for the swivel locks just to save fiddling about with a spanner.

And strictly for the vice geeks...this is the York 100A as opposed to the more common York 100 (100 refers to the width of the jaws in millimetres). As far as I can tell the difference lies in the pipe grip feature below the main jaws. The 100 has a tube grip cut into both jaws, but the 100A has only has a single grip cut into the static jaw...the dynamic jaw has a flat face.
This allows the 100A to grip smaller tubes/bars (which suits me), and I wonder if perhaps there was a problem with the dynamic jaw cracking on the 100?

Since installing the vice it's performed superbly on a number of heavy jobs, but better still I've had a few clients comment on it - which is nice. And I know someone's bound to ask "What's that odd-looking thing in the background?". It's an embosser. It's a sort of mini-press that would have been fitted with a trademark or brand stamp. You'd stick a piece of paper in, wind the handle down and it would embosss your mark into the paper. I picked it up at the tip for a couple of quid and converted it into a small punch press for cutting central holes in pads.

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