Thursday, September 13, 2012

Otis's Leg Vise

This week I was up in Port Townsend, WA for the Wooden Boat Festival. I took photos, but a spectacle like this calls for photography skills I do not have. A simple search will yield tons of photos if you are interested. Suffice it to say there were scores of wooden boats, and all of them were things of beauty. Lie-Nielsen was there, as was Lee Valley, among several other interesting tool and boatmakers.

While exploring some homes for sale in the area, we happened upon one with a large shop. I was delighted to find this leg vise on one of the benches:

It seemed to have not been touched in decades, and most likely wasn't. The original owner was a cabinetmaker who retired in the 1970s. The parallel guide was held in place using a lag bolt. You may also note that this vise is on the right leg of the bench. Sure enough, just to the right of the vise was a pop-up metal planing stop inset into the bench. Otis was a southpaw. Judging from the height of the bench, he was taller than I am. Looking around at his bench and shop, which is perfectly laid out by scholarly standards, I had a feeling of comfort and familiarity with a man I never knew

There was not much other evidence of his trade left in the empty shop, but I liked knowing of the history of this space. Neighbors who remembered him revealed the locations of some of his work around town, and I look forward to tracking it down.

We liked the shop (and the attached house) enough that we may very well acquire it if all goes well in the next couple months. It will be an honor to continue my work in a space which is already broken-in with a cabinetmaker's passion and energy. I might have to do some surgery to move that vise to the other leg, and it will likely remain an auxillary bench or assembly table because of the height, but I feel very fortunate to have a chance to dust it off and keep Otis's vise going for several more years.

There will surely be updates as this moves forward, and in the meantime I am still working on the bench for my current shop. Of course now I think I should have made the bench 10' long instead of 7'6" since there will be room for it, but perhaps my next bench will be longer...


  1. Rob, I didn't know you would going to be in the area. I was as the Wooden Boat Festival, along with a few other MWA members. Let me know if you end up making the move the PT. I can include you in the Seattle MWA if you like.

    Mike Lingenfelter

  2. Thanks Mike. I will update here as our plans solidify. I am not familiar with MWA yet, but I did meet a member who writes at and my interest is piqued!

  3. Hey Rob, it was great to meet you an your wife! I didn't realize you didn't already know Mike and would have introduced you two. I'm looking forward to speaking with you more if you do move up here.

    As a lefty I'm very interested in the bench you discovered! I am anxious to see it, if it works out.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.