For many woodworkers, especially galoots (woodworkers who specialize in hand tool woodworking) the workbench is not complete without a woodworker’s vise. Excellent vises were manufactured in the mid-20th century in the USA by companies like Columbian, Reed, Morgan Peerless, Brodhead Garrett Co., and Wilton, while in England, Record was a major manufacturer of quality. Craftsman rebranded vises from various manufacturers over the years, and if you know the prefix code from the model number, you can decode the OEM. For example, prefix ‘506-‘ corresponds to the Columbian company. (Later copies of Japanese manufacture were built under prefix ‘391-‘, by the way.)
In the 1960s, Columbian was providing Craftsman with 7″ and 10″ woodworker’s vise models. The 10″, model no. 506-51890, which is the one I’ll discuss here, sold for $21.95 in 1960 (2016 price with inflation: $176.58 – still a very competitive price for a USA-made vise; not that one could be had new for that price or quality level today).
The vise is relatively simple in terms of construction. The jaws are cast iron, and heavy (the whole assembly is about 37 lbs. You have a back jaw, which is bolted under a workbench. The front (dynamic) jaw rides on two solid steel rods that engage holes through the back jaw. The main screw passes under the back jaw, where it runs through a cast bronze main nut and nut carrier. The nut and carrier are responsible for the quick release function of the vise: one half turn counter clockwise disengages the screw and nut, allowing the front jaw to be slid freely back and forth; a half turn clockwise re-engages it, and it tightens normally. The end of the screw goes through the drag bar and is captured by a cotter pin. The front jaw houses a steel dog and a standard handle. You can place plywood (or hardwood) jaw liners on the front and rear faces. There was apparently some variation within the model over the years in terms of the main nut and nut carrier construction (several versions exist that I’m aware of).
Incidentally, if you’re considering purchasing one of these vises for shop use, be sure to inspect the main nut to be sure the threads are not broken off or worn out. These may – possibly – be replaced: User The Copilot on Garage Journal found a suitable, similar replacement nut for his Columbian no. 9-R (10″ wide jaws) vise by going to Milwaukee Tool Co and buying a bronze nut for their fast acting vises. Cost was about $20/ea plus freight. The nut was about 1/8″ shorter, but it worked for him. I believe Copilot’s vise uses a different style nut than mine, so you’ll have to do legwork to make sure this will work for you. Still, this may be an option if your vise needs a replacement nut, without which, it will not function correctly.
Here’s what I started with:
Here’s a better look at the nut carrier (top row) and main nut (bottom row).
The original dog was missing, but the previous owner replaced it with a very nice (heavy!) shop-made dog with a larger head. I prefer it to what I’ve seen of the original. It is held against the front jaws using a small leaf spring behind the dog. I wire-wheeled the dog and then treated it with Perma-blue and paste wax to give it some protection from rust.
I let the primer sit for a week or two (mainly because I was busy), thenI painted the jaws and drag bar with Rust-oleum Hammered Light Blue from a spray can. Verde Green would have been pretty too, but it is semi-discontinued and was much too spendy for me. I was very happy with the light blue, however. I think it gives it a nice, vintage mid-20th century appearance.
I hit it with two light coats followed by two heavy coats about 5 minutes apart. The blue is very subtle – my camera kept making it look gray. I got a pretty decent hammered look to the paint on the front jaws. The rear jaw assembly didn’t look quite as hammered – I think it was because I painted the front stock in the cooler garage (so I could lean it off the bench) and the rear stock was hanging in the sun while I sprayed.
One final thing you can do is to cut a piece of leather and attach it to the front jaw pad. Paul Sellers recommends this for increasing the grip in this style of vise. If you’re clever you can make it so that it can be flipped in and out as you desire. I tacked the leather ‘ears’ on, then firmly seated the leather where I wanted it and clamped down the jaws. Then I soaked the top of the leather in rubbing alcohol and clamped a board across the top of the vise to hold the leather flat. A day or two later, I removed the board and the leather was formed to the vise as nicely as I could ask.
I formed the leather over the vise jaw and clamped it in place, then soaked the top in alcohol and clamped a board down over it to form the leather as the alcohol evaporated. It is now quite well formed.