As you can see, this old guy came to me in a pretty sorry state. It’s a Wilton 9400 which means it’s a machinist vise with 4″ wide jaws. The handle had a huge, ugly ball welded to it, the swivel locks were missing the handles, the jaws were worn and the owner had stripped all the paint off, and left it that way. It wasn’t much to look at, but I could see through all of that and imagine it all fixed up, so I bought it it and haven’t regretted it for a second.
For those who don’t already know, the slide key on most Wilton vises has a date stamped on the underside to indicate the date the vise was ready for release (sale), but it isn’t exactly that simple. First off, the date stamp isn’t necessarily a manufacturing date because castings sometimes sat unused for months or years, so a vise could have been date stamped long after it was cast. In addition, Wilton history isn’t exactly crystal clear, so there is some debate about the details.
Most people seem to agree Wilton started making vises in 1941 and several sources indicate they were dedicated to government contracts, or companies with government contracts, until around the end of World War II. What seems to be certain is that from 1941 to early 1945 the vises didn’t have a date stamp on the slide key. Starting in 1945 the slide key would have a release date stamped into the key that generally coincides with when it was sold. A few years later, Wilton changed the date stamp, as well as how they advertised their product guarantee. Current data suggests that starting in late 1954 Wilton decided to stamp the date when the 5-year guarantee would expire, rather than when the vise was released for sale. They added “GUAR EXP” to the month and year date stamp on the slide key to indicate the change. This created some confusion, and enforcing/honoring the guarantee would have been challenging, since it added a qualifier that the vise wasn’t subjected to abuse, so Wilton ended the practice in 1960. In short, it now appears that the date stamp on Wilton vises is the release date unless the slide also has “GUAR EXP” on it. What is fairly certain is that if it has “GUAR EXP” the actual date of manufacture was five years prior to the date stamped on the slide key.
Back to this 9400, I was lucky because I didn’t have to do much stripping to get it down to bare metal. I got it all apart, did the last bit of cleaning/stripping, primed it, then painted it a hammered light blue which isn’t historically correct, but isn’t too different from original, and looks really nice. I added new OEM swivel locks from Wilton, a new set of amazing jaws and handle from Kevin at Wiltonviseparts.net and the final result is dead sexy! A while after I took these photos I decided I wanted to replace the modern swivel locks with historically correct locks that have a hexagonal lower section, so I ordered a set from Wiltonviseparts.net as well, and it was a nice finishing touch.
If you look closely at the pictures showing the jaws, you’ll see a rainbow of colors showing through. That’s the result of nitrogen introduced during the heat treating process the jaws go though after they are made. If you want jaws that will last for ages, get in touch with Kevin. Similarly, the handle material Kevin uses is far superior to what Wilton did, and you would really have to work to bend or break one of his handles.
In many ways this is one of my favorite projects because it’s so dramatically different from how it started out.