Athol, Massachusetts. Say that five times fast! When I first started reading about vintage vises I quickly learned that Athol vises are among the most highly regarded and the company actually has a pretty unique story behind it.
In 1868 the Athol Machine Company was founded in order to produce a meat cutting device invented by Laroy Starrett. Within a few years, Laroy had patented a number of other devices, to include a line of bench vises. Before long Laroy and A.M. Co were on poor terms and Laroy was pushed out of the company. This prompted Laroy to start the L.S. Starrett Company, also in Athol, Mass, in 1881. Shortly afterwards a lawsuit and counter-lawsuit over patent rights ensued with Laroy ultimately victorious. A.M. Co. was forced to pay Laroy expenses and damages for years of patent infringement. That gave Laroy the funds to buy the A.M. Co as a subsidiary of his L.S. Starrett Co in 1905. In December of 1920 the name of A.M. Co was changed to Athol Machine and Foundry Company and it stayed that way until they ceased operations in 1963. From reading a number of articles about the event, it seems old Laroy got rid of the folks who forced him out, which is something of poetic justice!
For well over 100 years L.S. Starrett has been associated with extremely high quality machinery and tools, and their vises are no different. Regardless of whether it’s marked A.M. Co, Athol M&F, Athol-Starrett, or just Starrett, they are all the same family of vises, and all are extremely high quality.
With the company history established, it helps us date the vise pictured here. Since it’s marked A.M. Co, it’s pre-1921 and that easily fits with the story I was told by the seller. I saw it listed on Craigslist, but the picture and description was pretty poor, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was. The price was also on the high side considering the lack of detail available, so I didn’t act on it. After a few weeks the price dropped in half (from $200 to $100) and I had to run an errand right near where it was located, so I called the seller and set a time to look at it.
The seller was a gentleman who appeared to be in his 70s who owns a moderate size engineering and construction company. He told me that the vise was on the floor in the back corner of the shop for over 3o years, and it sat in the corner of his father’s garage for at least 30 years before that! It was filthy, but it didn’t have any significant damage/marks anywhere on it, so I paid him for it, and loaded it in the truck.
I got it home and spent hours with a wire brush, utility knife and old screw driver scraping away all the gunk that had accumulated on it over the years. Once I got it down to bare metal I primed it, painted it and put it all back together. I made no attempt to hide any of the marks since I figure it’s earned the right to show it’s battle scars. I should have mentioned it earlier, but the jaws are 5.5″ wide, and it weighs right around 100lbs.
Any time I show someone a picture of this vise, I point out one design element you won’t see on most any other vise made, and that’s the massive support for the dynamic jaw. The dynamic jaw is the part that moves, and it rides through the main body of the vise. On vises made for serious work they put a ledge/shelf at the front of the main body to support the dynamic jaw. On lesser vises you’ll often see cracks or welds where the dynamic support is. That usually happens after someone put something in the vise, and then hit it with a big hammer! With an Athol you’re going to have to work really hard to break the dynamic support because they are absolutely massive.
With all of that said, I think this old warrior is set for another 50+ years of service that would make old Laroy proud.