I stopped by an estate sale late on a Friday on my way home after work, and found this little gem of a Wilton 935 still bolted to a workbench where it had obviously been for decades. Usually you have to get to an estate sale very early if there are any good vises available, and this estate sale had been advertised pretty well in advance, so I had little hope of finding anything, but it was right along my way so I figured it was worth a shot. This estate sale had a LOT of tools and the barn out back was packed even at the end of the first day. There were three or four old vises originally, and someone had purchased a very large Parker 976 before I got there, but this was the vise I was hoping to buy, so it all worked out.
The estate sale was being run by family members who were surprised I was buying the little Wilton 935 and didn’t even try to negotiate. I told them I like to restore vises and then they started asking me questions about it. I showed them pictures of my prior work that I have saved on my phone and they were really interested, to the point of quietly asking me about pricing on the Parker 976 they sold as well as the other vises they had for sale. This Wilton had been bolted down so long it didn’t want to come off the bench and we actually had to take a chunk out of the bench to get the last bolt free!
A few details about this little guy that are interesting. Wilton started making vises in Chicago in 1941. They stayed there until moving outside of the city, to Schiller Park, Illinois in around 1957 (sources say it was a gradual move). The vises made in Chicago are getting harder to find in good condition, and other than cosmetics, this one was actually quite nice. Another tidbit about Wilton vises is that if you unscrew the dynamic jaw (the one that moves) all the way, and flip it upside down, you’ll normally find a date stamp on the flat key that runs along the bottom. This vise was marked 7-51, which means July of 1951, but that isn’t the actual production date, that is the released for sale date. That means the vise was final assembled and ready to ship when they stamped the date. The main parts could have been cast weeks, months, or even years prior. Regardless of when the parts were cast, it was sold around the middle of 1951 and I found it in the summer of 2016, so it had been in service for roughly 65 years and still worked like it was supposed to. That’s pretty impressive for any tool!
I stripped it down to bare metal, primed it, painted it, replaced the acorn nuts with stainless steel versions, replaced the jaw screws with stainless hex drive bolts and smoothed the top of the 3.5″ wide jaws with a flap disc to get rid of some welding spatter and file marks. About the only thing I didn’t do was try to get rid of the pitting on the handle and spindle. I could have replaced the handle, but in this case I thought it better to keep it since it was original and wasn’t bent. Sometimes looking pretty isn’t as important as originality and I try to balance the two whenever I’m working on the older vises. As I described it to someone else, this old girl girl just needed a new dress and someone to take her to the dance. I think there’s a good chance this vise will be around for another 70 years!.