The Tool: Machinist Vise
Why You Want One: A vise is handy for all manner of repairs and projects. Mounted on your workbench, it holds metal firmly in position while you cut it, grind it, file it, or cut threads in it or on it.
Why Buy a Rescue: Old American-made vises and other tools are astonishingly high quality. Workmanship and materials that are considered extraordinary today were standard from the 1930s all the way through the '70s. Then the cost-cutting wrecking ball swung through this society and we’ve been the worse for it ever since. And there’s DIY satisfaction in finding an abused, abandoned piece of iron and saving it.
How to Find a Used One: First, don’t overpay. You can get a perfectly good vise for anywhere from $10 to $50 at flea markets and on , depending on size and age. The vise should always have a swiveling base, its handle should be reasonably straight, and it should be plainly visible that it hasn’t been abused.
A chipped anvil, vise jaws that are misaligned, bent handles and a thick coating of rust are all indicators that this is a product you should pass over. On the other hand, there’s lots of good iron out there, as multiple eBay posts attest.
I came upon the Columbian vise here late one afternoon at a flea market in New Jersey. It was sitting on a pile of rusty junk that the owner was about to load back in his van. He wanted $10. I gave him $5. It looks to me to be a late 1950s or early '60s model at the oldest. It swivels nicely and has a grip like a Gila monster.
What You'll Need: Some standard hand tools and materials are all that you need to restore an old vise. In terms of time, total cleanup, disassembly, painting, and reassembly took about an hour and a half. If I wanted it to be pristine, I would have spent twice that amount of time.
Step 1: Put the vise on a work surface and wipe off, brush off, and vacuum it so that it’s relatively clean. That gives you the starting point.
Step 2: Disassemble the vise from its base and its jaws from one another. Use a wire brush and a sanding sponge to remove flaking paint, rust, and caked-on dirt. Vacuum off debris created by wire brushing. The last step is to soak a shop cloth with denatured alcohol and wipe everything clean. The cleaned parts are ready for masking tape.
Step 3: Apply masking tape to all parts that you don’t want primed.
Step 4: A good choice to coat both the bare metal surfaces and those with residual paint is an automotive product, self-etching primer; we used (part 249322). Put the vise parts down on a sheet of cardboard or a drop cloth and make long sweeping passes. Apply two coats. When the part is done, it should look like this. Note that undercut areas are also evenly coated. Rust-Oleum’s paint allows you to spray even with the can held upside down, which aids in painting undercut areas.
Step 5: When the primer is dry (which depends on temperature and humidity) make two to three applications of the top-coat enamel.
Note: It’s extremely important when selecting the primer and top-coat paints that they work together as a system. In almost all cases you want both to be from the same manufacturer and of the same or compatible chemistry. In this case both the self-etching primer and the enamel top coat are modified alkyds. These are paints in which the resins (the glue that holds the pigment particles together and also holds it to the surface) are a form of polyester plastic made from alcohol and acids. Alkyd paints (both spray and brush-applied) are tough and chemically resistant. They are easy for professionals and non-painters to apply.
Lubricate the vise screw and all threaded parts with a mid-weight machine oil or light grease. Reassemble the parts. When you’re done, the vise should look like this:
Bolt it to a workbench, and you're good to go.