This post isn’t so much about a vise as a tribute to a prior owner who I, unfortunately, never met. For some reason, tools are something that are often strongly associated with a specific person, place, or time and this is one of those situations. It’s really not about a Wilton 600 vise, but many people have told me that their father’s vise, or grandfather’s vise had a special place in their heart because of the memories associated with it, and this vise reinforced just how strong that connection can be.
Not long ago I was walking over to the shop to start work on a vise I had recently purchased when I heard an e-mail show up on my phone. Often I will ignore them until I want/need to take a break from whatever I’m doing. For some reason, this time I stopped walking, pulled out my phone and checked. It was an alert from Craigslist showing a picture of a large vise that had just been listed, and it was only about 20 minutes away.
I opened the e-mail and went to the CL ad to see a really solid Wilton 600 fixed base model. I sent a text to the seller asking if they still had it, and it turns out I was the first person to contact them (had only been listed less than 30 minutes). They sent me directions to their house, and I headed there immediately.
When I got there it was a nice development and the house was beautiful, which isn’t the norm for picking up used vises! I met the seller, Jim, who turns out to be a retired Ford employee who was helping sell a few things from the estate of his father-in-law. Jim opened up the garage, which was just as neat and orderly as the house. Inside were plenty of tools, auto memorabilia, and an immaculate white Corvette besides the Wilton 600. I’m guessing he didn’t drive the Vette to the office at Ford very often! I say that in jest, but for folks in the Motor City area, the reality is people around here are very aware of what people drive.
I asked Jim where the vise came from, and he told me that it had been in his father-in-law’s barn for decades. We started talking about how old it had to be, so I unscrewed the dynamic jaw to find the manufacturing date, which was in 1973. It turns out his father-in-law, Charles “Charlie” Kuderick and family moved into the house at that location right around that time, so it’s likely he bought the vise new, mounted it on the bench, and it sat there for the next 43 years being used the way most hobbyists use their tools. It was obviously well cared for since it didn’t have anything more than minor use marks, and really only some patina to the paint. When you start looking at large, expensive, vises like this most of them come from commercial operations and they’re pretty well worn after four decades, but not this one.
Jim told me that nobody in the family thought anybody would want this old vise, and he said they were going to be really surprised it sold in an hour! I told him I like to restore old vises, and then write stories about them, and he said that sounded like something the family would be interested in, so if you’re one of Charlie’s relatives and reading this, I hope I did a good job!
I happily paid Jim’s asking price, we loaded it in the truck and shook hands. I thanked Jim again, and he said “you can thank Charlie Kuderick for it” and that hit home. I asked how to spell the last name, wrote it down, and just had a feeling it was going to make for a happy story even though it came after a loved one’s passing.
I got the vise home, took a picture of it on the tailgate (my normal practice), unloaded it from the truck and set it with the other vises I have waiting to be restored. Other than an idea of a story, I didn’t really think much about it until the next day when I got an e-mail from a gentleman in NJ named Paul. Paul was looking for a nice vise, but wanted something not everybody else had. Paul also asked if I happened to have a “big old piece of American iron” available because while he didn’t think he really needed something that big, he just thought it would be fun. Jim also sent me a picture of a vise he found online in an interesting copper/bronze color that he liked.
I told Paul about Charlie’s 600, and sent him a picture of it. I actually had some hammered copper paint on hand, so I sprayed the side of the vise with some of it to give him an idea what it might look like when it was done. That was all it took and he immediately said he wanted it. At that point, I moved Charlie’s 600 to the front of the line and started working on it. Before I started I put it on the scale, and it weighed exactly 120lbs! Everything about these big vises takes more time and effort than “normal” sized vises. Just lifting them onto the bench, and moving them around while you’re stripping the paint can be a challenge. Hint, use good lifting technique and lift with your legs after unscrewing the dynamic jaw from the body to make for two lighter pieces.
The actual work was pretty easy on this vise, aside from it taking a long time. All it really required was a couple of different wire wheels and lots of elbow grease. I smoothed a few casting marks and minor dents/dings with a flap disc, then got the jaw supports and anvil area shiny using a unitized wheel on a grinder. I masked off the anvil and jaw supports, primed it, and then used nearly an entire can of paint to put three coats of hammered copper paint on it over two days. All of the bare metal was cleaned, wire wheeled, and then polished with a unitized disc or a buffing wheel. I let the paint cure for a few days then painted the letters black to get some contrast.
After it was all done I spent several hours building a crate out of plywood and 2x4s so it was ready to ship to Paul. You should have seen the look on the UPS guy’s face when he asked what was in the crate and I told him a bench vise! The crate was 149lbs, and that was only because I had removed the spindle to ship separately. UPS has a 150lb limit for home delivery, and they won’t let you slide. The spindle and handle weighed 10lbs so it was just enough to keep the crate under 150lbs.
With all of that said, thanks again to Charlie Kuderick for buying a great vise back in 1973 and taking good care of it for all those years! I know Paul is going to take just as good care of it for many years to come, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still around long after I’m gone as well! Here are some pictures: