Sometimes you just get lucky! Ask anybody who’s tried finding a quality used bench vise on auction sites or Craigslist, and they’re almost certainly going to tell you it’s not all that easy. Finding Wilton machinist vises, often called “bullets” because of the shape, is even harder. Finding a large Wilton bullet, like this 500S, is harder yet. Finding a cheap Wilton 500S is almost impossible, but it can happen.
I don’t think anybody really knows why Wilton bullets are in such demand, but there are at least a few factors that probably aren’t in question. One, they’re very well made and last a lifetime if they aren’t abused. Two, they look cool, and we all know looks count. Lastly, they’re still in business so the name is still out there and synonymous with quality.
I should point out that the laws of supply and demand in regard to vises varies significantly with location. In some places you can search for months, and find nothing. Others, if you wait a few weeks you can usually find something decent. Around here we have a pretty good supply, and the prices are reasonable. I think mostly this is the legacy of so many businesses closing following the downturn in the automotive industry. It also seems that many people who retired from manufacturing jobs are now at the age where they pass on, or move to warmer climates.
A while back I was having my morning coffee and decided to see if anything new was on Craigslist. Sure enough, there was a Wilton bullet, but the picture was poor, and the ad had been up since the night before. The price was listed at $50 so I was sure it was long gone, but picked up the phone and called anyway. Amazingly, the seller said he still had it, and that he was heading out, but I could stop by later that day to look at it, and said he would call me when he got home. It turns out he had an error in his original listing, with a typo in his phone number that he fixed minutes before I called, so it really was just luck on my part.
Later on he called me and said he was home, so I headed over there immediately. Luckily he was literally minutes away, so it was easy. He had the vise on his porch and it was bigger than I expected. From the pictures I thought it was a 450 (4.5″ jaw) but it was actually a 500 that has a similar shape, but is significantly bigger and heavier. I asked where he got it, and it turns out that years prior he and his brother were unloading scrap at the local yard when his brother saw two vises on the ground. They each grabbed one, and paid pennies on the pound for them. He said his brother mounted his on a bench and uses it regularly, but all his ever did was get in the way. So, I handed him $50, we shook hands and I loaded it in the truck. He also asked for a picture of it completed, which is pretty common.
Aside from tired paint and some surface rust, this vise was in really good condition. It had only the minor marks on it anywhere, and the jaws were almost like new. This model is available with, or without a swivel base, but I immediately decided to order a swivel base for it and figured it would be darned near like new when I was done. Later that week the swivel base assembly arrived, so I disassembled the vise, stripped the paint, got everything down to bare metal, then primed and painted it. I also painted the swivel base at the same time because it came in primer. A little wire wheel and buffing action on the spindle/handle and retaining collar and it was ready to go back together.
After the paint cured I got it reassembled and was really happy with the results and I knew it would be hard to let go! I sent a picture to the original owner, and he was really happy with the outcome.
Eventually I decided I could sell it because I already had a 6″ bullet, so this one wouldn’t get used. I put it on Craigslist and before long a nice guy with a small trucking company called me about it. He was looking for a large vise and found that new prices on this sort of vise were out of his price range. Since I got such a good deal on it in the first place I passed that along to the buyer, and he got one heck of a deal on it. I know it went to a good home, and it’s going to get used for a long time, just the way it should.
For such humble beginnings, I think this vise turned out pretty special. It’s clearly been used, but not abused, and that’s hard to find when you look at big vises!