A while back I started planning work benches for the pole barn/shop I was building. As part of that, I started researching bench vises. I knew I was going to want more than one kind, and I planned on having several benches, so I did my usual and researched the topic to death. While doing that, I stumbled onto a forum that has several monster threads on vises. Some folks just share pictures of their vises, or recent purchases, but a number of folks focus on restoring mostly vintage vises. Some of the restorations require repairing damage, some are purely cosmetic, and a few even make slight improvements during the process. While reading about all of this, I learned that you can often buy a vintage vise and restore it to a very high standard for a fraction of the price of a new U.S. made vise, and that got me really interested.
I kept my eye on Craigslist and one day this Wilton 600 Machinist vise, often called a “bullet” because of the shape, showed up just around dinner time. The ad didn’t have a phone number, so I replied via e-mail, said I was interested, and left my phone number. A short while later the phone rang, and it was the seller. We chatted for a few minutes, and agreed to meet at a Home Depot about 20 minutes from my house, and about equal distance from his. In person it was exactly as the pictures suggested it would be, with one indicator of some internal damage I was pretty sure I could fix. We made the deal and we lugged all 140 pounds of it into the back of my truck.
So there I was, with my first vise restoration project in front of me, and it was on a vise that retails for about $1,200! No reason not to go big from the start, right?
After I got it all apart I found the internal damage. In the original pictures you can see there’s a gap at the back of the vise, where the tail cap meets the main body of the vise. In another picture you can see where the holes that the retaining pins go through the tail cap housing were cracked. What happens with these big, heavy Wiltons is that they sometimes get dropped….go figure! All that weight is on the spindle, which pushes backwards against the retaining pins, and the pins are stronger than the tail cap housing is at that point, so the housing cracks. The vise will still work to clamp things, because the normal load is in the other direction, and there’s a lot of metal supporting it, but they sometimes won’t open properly because the pins can’t push on anything to resist the spindle unwinding. I had an idea in mind for a fix, and it worked out nicely.
I set up an electrolysis bath for the big parts of the vise, and set to working on the rest. I cleaned up the tail cap housing and brazed the pin holes closed. At that point I took a large washer and opened up the inner diameter with a torch so it was slightly smaller than the tail cap housing. I brazed the washer to the tail cap housing, mounted it in the body of the vise, re-drilled the holes, and reinstalled it with new retaining pins. It’s not the prettiest fix, but it’s very strong, and it only has to withstand a very slight load when you unscrew the vise handle.
With the tail cap housing fixed, I got the whole vise together, primed it, painted it Rust-Oleum Hammered Verde Green, and polished all the shiny metal parts before reassembling the whole thing. I got lucky because the original Wilton label was in good condition and I was able to carefully remove it with a razor blade, scrape off the old double-sided tape, and reinstall at the end. For a first effort I was pretty happy with it, and after many more vises under my belt I still think it turned out well. You get to be the judge!