Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finished installation, and Final thoughts on mounting an Emmert

Edit: 12/19/2011: I have written up a more concise and better illustrated narrative on how to install the Emmert Pattern Maker's vise here

As a result of some of the comments I got from the last post, I wanted to show how the final product turned out, and write up a more cohesive and useful narrative for anyone who's planning on installing one of these, or building a bench around one. 

With the vise re-installed, I have a gap of about an inch and a half between the right side of the vise, and the front surface of the bench top. But also notice that the bench top appears to come down a bit at that point. This isn't an illusion, the bench has a skirt under the top that's about 1" thick. The center of the bench is still 3" thick, so it's not as vile a deception as you might think. I think it's mainly so they can flat-pack the bench with the vises installed. The skirt ended here already, to allow clearance for the face vise that came on the bench. I chose to make the cut so far to the right, because it lined up with the cut in the skirt. I think it just looks cleaner. It's a 1 1/2" gap, which is more than necessary, but it's not really a deal-breaker, either.

If I were building a new bench, the top would be full thickness all the way across. I'd laminate all but the last 2", mount the vise, and then get ready to laminate one more piece of wood. I'd also spin the jaws on the installed vise to measure how much clearance I actually needed for the vise to rotate, and cut the last lamination accordingly. On a scratch-built bench, the clearance would probably be under an inch. and then thickness the last piece to be parallel to, and about 1/8" behind the extended plane of the rear jaw of the vise. I know this seems weird. It was in the original instructions for the vise, and it took me a while to figure out why. The jaws rotate. And there's a lot of mass that will be rotating. If you're off a bit, and you go to rotate your work, there's a chance you'll crunch your work into the top edge of your bench. Not cool. If you really need to clamp to the front of the bench, it's very easy to make an L-shaped shim to hang over the front edge, so you can clamp the work to the front of the bench. where the long arm of the L-shape rests on the top surface of the bench.

Another judgment call was the placement of the vise with regard to the left edge of the bench. In this case, I placed the vise to align with the dog holes that I have on the bench as it came from the factory. There's just over 2" of bench sticking out past the left-most edge of the vise. I don't think it's really going to get in the way of my ability to work, but on a new bench, I'd mount the vise all the way at the end, and drill my dog holes to line up with the vise once everything is in.

Notes on installing an Emmert or Emmert clone: 

(edited on 1/27/11 to be more readable)

I assume that anyone who's trying to mount one of these beauties has done at least a little bit of homework first. There's a lot going on here. I also assume you've read enough to know to take most of the vise apart, and work on the install with the least amount of weight possible.

The most visually obvious thing that needs to be laid out is the recess for the plate, and the holes for the three screws. You do NOT want to lay out those screws until the absolute end of the install. There are two more hidden screws that will hold the vise up while you trim and shim to get it aligned and perfect. Once you get it in the way you want it, then you'll know where you need the holes to be, and you can lay out and drill.

I was really, and justifiably, concerned with getting the mount laid out and drilled just right. The placement of those three holes determines the alignment of the vise with regards to the bench, and if they're even a little bit off, everything will be thrown off, even if it's only a little bit. Given the amount of wood that has to come out just to mount the rear jaw, the thought of getting it wrong only after you've done irreparable damage to the bench top is pretty high on the list of things that can persuade someone to steer clear of the greatest vise ever made.

I think it's conceivable to measure and lay everything out so that it will be perfectly installed with no errors. I also believe that weird things happen, iron castings are reliably not 100% square or straight, and that the human mind and hand are both fallible. A bench top is a huge, expensive, ponderous expanse that will display every evidence of your failures if you aren't able to grapple a little bit with the process of mounting your bench vise. No pressure. : ) 

This is usually where I cringe, because as sure as the day is long, I'm gonna slip up somewhere, and I do NOT want to be the yuppie bastard Emmert owner who owns an Emmert vise, but botched the installation, thus proving that I'm unworthy. In the process of hanging this 90 pound monster, I learned the following: Have faith. There's a lot more wiggle room than you think.

In addition to those 3 big mounting screws, which render every error permanent, there are also 2 more mounting screws behind the rear jaw, in a horizontal orientation, which will give you the time to figure things out a bit. Those 2 hidden screws will give you the wiggle room you need to get the install done as accurately as you are hoping to. Do all of the underside excavation first, and rout out the recess for the mounting plate. You may also have to do some hand work to get the fit right... my mounting plate was tapered in thickness from back to front. Once the plate will fit into the recess, mount only the rear jaw, using only those two horizontal screws, and trim and shim until you're happy with the alignment of the rear jaw. You can keep removing the vise while you make adjustments to the notch, until everything is just right. There's room for trial and error. Once you have the rear jaw alignment dialed in, with those two back screws nice and tight, then you can mark out the three holes for the top screws in the mounting plate. Those three screws are just the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence... the finalizing step in the long process of getting it just right. They are not the leap of faith that I was terrified they would be.

I have to point out that accuracy in drilling is important here, because the nature of countersunk screws is to completely mis-align everything if you don't drill the holes just right. But if you've made it this far, you should be just fine...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Emmert revisited, and a summation of the process to date.

Edit: 12/19/2011: I have written up a more concise and better illustrated narrative on how to install the Emmert Pattern Maker's vise here

Edit: 11/1/10: The bench is back together, and I've since posted some tips for anyone who wants to install one of these monstrous miracles.

So, I've been playing with... er... USING... the Emmert for a few weeks now, and I've run into a problem. Setting the vise into the front edge of the bench top was simply not a good idea. At least, not the way I was trying to do it. I read Roger Van Maren's account of how to do a flush mount, and it looked nice enough to me. And the lasting impression was that it would be a good idea.

Originally, I had a mental image of a big vise, traced out and neatly inset into the front of the bench. I thought that a reasonable clearance around the vise would be enough to let it rotate freely. It sounded neat, and clean. The reality is that the Emmert Universal vise is Big, Versatile, and it Needs Room to move around. My own mental image of an inset vise has proven to be possible, but impractical, as it restricts the most useful features of the vise.

I struggled with the issues of laying out and mounting the vise, and this is a brief run-down of my experiences in mounting an Emmert U-6 Universal. I'm not saying that this is the way to do it,  I'm simply putting down what I went through to learn what I know now.

The U-6 is huge. The main jaws are 18" wide, and 6" high. This is without the small machining jaws that are on the bottom, which have already proven their worth. The whole thing weighs something in the neighborhood of 90 pounds. This is not like other vises I've installed. Most others I could mount by lying on the floor, holding up with one hand, and drilling and installing mounting bolts with the other. Installing an Emmert is a not so easy.


I knew I wanted the rear jaw to be flush with the bench. But the fact still remained that I needed to figure out a practical way to do an accurate layout, so that I could mount 90 pounds of cast iron with half a hope of getting it where I wanted it.

Eventually I conceived of clamping a board to the front edge of the bench, and wrapping the vise around that. The back face of the board would align the vise with the front face of the bench. Brilliant! After this, I took the vise off, laid down a piece of plywood to trace out my pattern, and put the vise back in place. I used the old pencil and washer trick to trace around the vise, and made a pattern that I could use to cut out my inset. And it worked.

I think that laminating another piece to the front of the bench to be in line with the vise is a better idea than flush mounting. But for those of you who want to keep the front of the bench the way it is, and are cutting into an existing bench top, I think a square cut corner notch is the way to go. But you still need to lay out and align everything before you cut the notch out. And the method I just described proved to be a viable way to do that before you cut into anything.

-Side note on the mounting plate. I mounted the plate to be just below the bench surface, which makes sense to me. But it wasn't a simple routing job. The mounting plate is actually tapered in thickness, and is thicker down where the holes are for the screws. So I had to use a chisel to make the recess deeper at the other end. I had read somewhere that the vise requires #18 wood screws. So, that's what I bought. And when it came time to do the mounting, they turned out to be too big. I drilled out the holes and countersunk further. So, my vise uses #18, but my suspicion is that other vises may call for something smaller. 

-Cutting everything out. Using the pattern I got from tracing out the upside-down vise, I used a router with bearing bits to cut into the bench top. But then I realized that I couldn't rotate the vise within the cutout. So, I broke out the carving tools and went to work. It was a pain in the ass.

AND I had to hog out a trench for the beam that houses the threaded rod. I've seen pictures of the chunk of wood that has to come out to clear the vise hub, but I hadn't really thought about beam clearance. Without the trench, the beam hit the underside of the bench, and the vise wouldn't sit square. Clearly, my bench top is thicker than the ones I've seen other pattern vises mounted to. Or, maybe I am. Or both.

-Recently, I noticed that when the vise is tilted, and I rotated the vise, the top flange of the rear jaw bangs into the top, front edge of the inset. I'd carved out a curved recess to allow the vise to rotate in a vertical direction, but it was looking like I'd have to carve more to allow it to rotate around the top edge of the inset. I decided that I'm not going to keep carving forever to make more and more clearances around the vise. It probably would have been an easy fix, but the process so far has just made things uglier and uglier.

-Flash forward to the other night. I had wrapped up work on another project, and the bench was cleaned off. I took advantage of the opportunity, and took the vise off. I took the bench top to the band saw, and ripped a notch where the vise is to be mounted. I made the crosscut to take the last piece out with a Festool track saw. If there's an irony here, it's that it was easier to move the whole 8' bench top to the band saw to do the ripping, but it was easier to do the crosscutting part with a handheld power tool.

As I said before, if I were going to build a bench to hold an Emmert, I'd laminate most of the top, mount the vise, and then laminate one more board to the front to get the front edge to be flush with the rear jaw. This whole learning process has done nothing but reinforce that opinion.

On the one hand, I hope it'll be the last time I have to deal with any of this, and I can now get back to work. On the other hand, knowing what I know now, it would also be fun, for the sake of the blog, and the people who read it, to do a new install, and document the process a little better. I'm on the fence about writing up my own version of a comprehensive set of mounting instructions; there are a lot of good resources out there already, and between this entry, and the second one, I think I've put up all the information that I would have found to be useful. But if I get enough requests for a step-by-step, comprehensive instruction set, I'll do it.