Okay, I need to make a confession that most of my friends, family and coworkers already know; regrettably, I’m not much of a morning person. With that said, I can make the effort when there’s a good reason to get out of bed while it’s still dark. This Saturday morning special Wilton 400 turned out to be one of those reasons, but it sure didn’t start out looking so special!
There’s a local auction company that holds auctions on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturday of the month, year round. I’d never been to one before, but I had been to estate sales they run in the local area, so I have always kept loose tabs on their upcoming auctions. Due to the nature of the scheduled auctions they don’t usually have pictures up until a day or two ahead of time since most of the items don’t arrive until a few days before the auction. By coincidence I checked their website on Thursday night, saw there were a bunch of pictures listed, and one of them was a rusty, but solid looking Wilton 400. Technically, it started out as a Wilton 400N, with the N denoting a fixed base, but I planned to add a swivel base if I got it.
Saturday morning came, and luckily I didn’t hit the snooze button on the alarm! I went through my morning routine, got some coffee in me, and headed to the auction.
Something not everybody knows about auctions like this is that there can be more than one ring going at any given time. Each ring has it’s own auctioneer, and it can get loud and confusing pretty quickly if they’re too close to one another. With all of this in mind you really have to know where the item(s) you’re interested in are located, and plan accordingly to make sure you’re nearby when they get to them. My method is to register and then make a fast pass to find what I’m really interested in, then use any remaining time to look for other things that weren’t listed, or didn’t have great pictures. After that I’ll set up nearby and wait for the auctioneer to get to the things I’m interested in.
At a live auction, I like to position myself where I know the auctioneer will be able to see me. In the past I’ve had to yell a couple of times and practically jump up and down to get the auctioneers attention when I let a couple of other bidders get things going. I guess it would help if I was taller! Sometimes it’s good to let a couple of bidders lock into bidding against one another, then jump in with bigger increment higher to throw them off. For example, say they’re doing increments of $10 and have gotten up to $100 on an item you’ll pay $250 f0r. At that point I will sometimes jump in and bid $200 to see what they do. Often they’ll simply stop bidding because they think you’re clearly more interested, or have deeper pockets than they do. If nothing else, it saves time avoiding ten more bids of $10 and that makes the auctioneer happy.
Back to this particular auction, I noticed a couple of guys that I frequently see at similar auctions, and recognized them as people who normally bid on vises. I honestly don’t think they’ve managed to get one from me that I really wanted, but I knew they were going to be in the game. It went sort of how I expected at the start, with the first bid at a really low price. I waited until there were a few bids, and jumped in at $100 and thought I was going to get it at the price until the last second and a bunch more bids rolled in. I wound up paying about $25 more than I wanted to, but figured I was there, the vise looked good, so I might as well get it and make a fun project out of it.
I headed home with my prize, quickly disassembled it and sent a note to my buddy who sells Wilton parts to order a swivel base assembly for it. I took a lunch break then got it stripped down to bare metal, primed and painted before the afternoon was done. I got all the shiny metal polished and put it all back together the next day. A few days later the swivel base showed up already in primer, so I painted it, waited a day and mounted the vise on the swivel….all done!
It was one of those vises that looked a little rough when I started, but really was in pretty good condition. It really only had surface rust and light use marks on the metal. Even the jaws were in pretty decent condition so I suspect it got used for a while and than sat idle for years. The funny thing was that the handle didn’t want to move through the spindle because of all the surface rust. I put a little penetrating oil in there, tapped it with a hammer and it moved. After cleaning it with a wire wheel it’s a tight fit and moves back and forth easily, which is a bonus for a used vise.
Regardless of how it started out, it’s set to go back to work and should serve someone for many decades of use. I think a Wilton 400 is pretty close to the perfect homeowner vise for folks who want to tackle normal projects, work on their cars, etc. It’s big enough to be useful, but not so big it’s bulky. Here are some pictures: