No, Toledo isn’t hosting a 500 mile car race sponsored by Wilton, but they have had an auto factory there for many decades and at least one race track. I’m actually talking about a Wilton 500 that came from a worker at the Toledo, Ohio Jeep factory.
This project turned out amazing, but it has a good lesson or two for the aspiring vise restorers out there (assuming other folks are crazy enough to be interested in it). In all fairness, it was one hole, and one chunk, so I’m not sure it was really “holy” but you get the idea.
In other posts I’ve mentioned that the larger vises, are harder to come by. Generally those are models with 4.5″ wide jaws or larger, but it can vary a little bit. There are probably several reasons why, but I suspect that less of them get sold in the first place, because they cost more, and many times they’re purchased by businesses, or very serious hobbyists who aren’t likely to get rid of them.
So, when I saw an ad on Craigslist for a Wilton 500 mounted on a heavy stand I sent the seller a note. I wasn’t interested in the stand, but he was willing to sell the vise alone. A few e-mails later and we set up a time to meet near the Jeep factory in Toledo where he works. The vise was in generally good condition, but had two problems. The swivel base had a chunk missing out of it, and the dust cover, or tail cap, was missing so it had an open hole in the back.
The seller pointed out the chunk missing from the base, and the missing tail cap was obvious, so I knew what I was getting into. This is where you need to be careful, and know what replacement parts cost, and which aren’t readily available. The outer ring of a Wilton swivel base only costs about $50 or so, and you can usually find them new on eBay. The factory style tail cap isn’t available new, and you don’t see many being sold used. Some people find a matching diameter freeze plug at an auto parts store, but they don’t really look the same. The other alternative is to order a tail cap machined from billet steel from Kevin at http://www.wiltonviseparts.net. They run about $45 for a 5″ vise, so they aren’t cheap but you can’t dent them, which is a plus!
I decided that the vise was still worth the asking price so I bought it, ordered a swivel base outer ring from Autopts on eBay, and planned to use a spare tail cap I had on hand. If I hadn’t had the spare tail cap I would have dropped $100 on parts before even getting started. I could have kept the base with the chunk missing, because it still worked, but it wasn’t right, and that’s just not what I do.
The jaws were in good condition, but had some welding spatter and light grinder marks on the tops, so I used a grinder with varying levels of flap disc and polishing wheels to smooth the jaws and make them look nice again. After that I disassembled everything, stripped it down to bare metal, primed it, painted it, wire brush and buffed all the shiny parts, and waited on the base. A few days later the base showed up, and to my surprise, it was in factory paint, so I didn’t even have to paint it.
I assembled the vise and set it aside. This was the second Wilton 500 in a row that turned out really nice, and I just like this model for some reason. It’s big, but not too big, and has a slightly different shape than all of the the other models. I’m not sure why, but they kind of remind me of a submarine when I look at one from the side. Regardless, I was thinking this one might just stay with me, but that plan didn’t hold up.
Not long after I got the vise finished, I got a call from someone looking at my WTB ad on Craigslist. The caller was a younger guy who was looking for a larger vise for his home shop and wondered if I had anything. He works at a company that does engineering and machining, so he’s used commercial stuff, and a vise from a big box store wasn’t going to cut it. He also said he’s very particular about his tools and he pays for quality once, rather than junk many times.
I told him I had a couple of vises that might work, and promised to text him a few pictures after we hung up. At that point I was stuck in a dilemma. I knew I had the right vise, but also knew I would be sad to see it go. Ultimately I realized I’ll find another Wilton 500 and this nice young guy needed to put this one to work. I sent him a couple of pictures and his immediate response was “that’s the one I want!” so we set up a time to meet a few days later. He showed up, took one look, reached into his pocket and handed me a wad of bills. We chatted for a few minutes and then with a big smile on his face he lifted it up and said “whoa, that’s heavier than it looks” before putting it in the back of his truck.
I was sad to see it go, but as predicted, a short time later I found two Wilton 500 in one place, but that’s another story for another day. I’m just glad the holy Toledo 500S has a good home!