Woodworking Spotlight: Lake Erie ToolworksNovember 9th, 2009 at 7:57
In so many things in life, bigger is better.
If you have a bigger hammer, you can drive large nails faster. If you have a bigger offensive line in football, you can block better and move the defense out of the way to score a touchdown. If you have a bigger truck, you can haul more wood home!
And, when it comes to workbenches, a bigger, more massive model gives you more stability when cutting, planing, routing and doing all manners of other woodworking.
Keeping with this theme, the folks up at Lake Erie Toolworks believe that bigger is better when it comes to vise screws. And, when I mean big, I really mean big!
You see, Lake Erie Toolworks currently makes the largest wooden vise screw in the world. I had a chance to talk with Nick Dombrowski, owner of the company, to talk about his enormous vise screws. But first, Nick started with the basics. “First of all, a solid, well designed workbench make woodworking faster and more enjoyable. You don’t have to waste time and energy trying to work around the shortcomings of a table on sawhorses or even most of the commercially available benches out there. There is plenty that already has been said about solid workbenches, and we are working to make our vises an essential part of any solid workbench.”
Nick’s first experience with massive vise screws was when he worked at an organ building shop. “They all used vises with 2 1/2” maple screws, and they all worked great. Very smooth, quiet and fast acting.”
Nick later went on to build his own workbench with a steel screw vise. While the screw gave the vise plenty of muscle, it didn’t have the same ‘feel’ as the wooden models. That’s when Nick set out to make vise screws as good as – if not better – than the antiques he had already worked on.
Now, it’s important to disclose the kind of vises you can build with these wood screws – twin screw vises, tail vises, face vises and even a cool vise design that had fallen out of favor for decades – the leg vise. It’s a traditional form that today’s woodworkers should look into building on their benches. “Leg vises have a lot more capacity than the fast-acting face vises. This gives you a lot more flexibility without getting your prized lumber close to guide bars.”
Currently, Lake Erie Toolworks is also working out the details for a shoulder vise screw to build the vise commonly seen on European benches. “Shoulder vises, while a little more complex, are totally worth doing if you like to dovetail.”
“Sure, there are no perfect vises out there; that’s why we encourage woodworkers to consider these other designs.”
Nick’s vise screws are made with a combination of CNC equipment, dedicated machines for internal threading purposes, lathe work and hand finishing. Hard Maple is the wood of choice. It has the highest shear strength of typical vise screw woods (beech, ash, etc), lessening the likelihood of having the long-grain fibers shearing off, or chipping, in use.
While you might suspect caring for a wooden screw vise would be challenging, it’s not as difficult as you would expect. “We recommend our customers use a penetrating finish on the screw and furniture wax to make sure things move smoothly. The beauty about this screw is that after a lot of use, you may not need wax anymore, as the action against the retaining nut will smooth the wood out on its own.”
Lake Erie Toolworks sells the screw with everything you will need to install on your bench. “You will have to provide your own ‘chop’ for the vise, but all of the running gear is included and is very easy to install.” Nick likened it to building a simple furniture project. The Lake Erie Toolworks site also offers detailed installation instructions, walking woodworkers step-by-step through the process of installing vise on their benches. And, woodworkers also have an option of how they would like to attach their bench screws. “We offer an external brass garter as well as an internal maple garter to hold the screw to the bench. Customers can make their own garter or even go with no garter at all. It’s all a matter of choice.”
Nick has even gone to the trouble of threading both ends of the vise handle and providing a tapped cap for both ends. “It’s so much more sturdy and durable than trying to friction fit a cap on the end, an if you have to remove the handle, it’s a piece of cake, unlike a glued on cap.”
What does the future hold for Lake Erie Toolworks? “We are very responsive to the needs of our customers. In fact, we have a survey on our web site that lets customers tell us what products that they would want.”
What does Nick like the most about making these massive wood screws? “Tool building really is different than typical woodworking. You get the satisfaction of knowing that someone is using what you’ve made to make other things. Also, I have gotten the opportunity of learning a whole new skill set, that being machining. I’m finding that I like machining about as much as I like woodworking and building tools allows me to exercise both skills on a regular basis.”