Photo: Glenda Taylor
You only have two hands—which can be a challenge with certain projects, such as when you still need to hold an item and yet require both hands to work on it. Indeed, there may also be times when using your hands to hold a workpiece simply isn’t feasible. The solution to these scenarios might just be a bench vise, a metal clamping device that bolts to a workbench.
Being enthusiastic DIYers, we were excited to test the top bench vises for ourselves—and determine which ones really offered the gripping power we needed. We decided to try them in our own workshop. We selected top-selling bench vises and mounted them to workbenches. We used them to grasp boards, pipes, and other items. We also tried out each of their features to determine how useful they would be for various projects, ranging from woodworking to mechanical uses to gunsmithing.
Ahead in this guide, DIYers looking to increase workshop functionality will learn about the different styles and features of the best bench vises. Plus, you’ll find out how the following models earned a spot in this lineup during our hands-on testing.
- BEST OVERALL: Wilton General Purpose 6-Inch Jaw Bench Vise 11106
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Pony Jorgensen Woodworker’s Vise 27091
- UPGRADE PICK: Wilton WS8 Shop Vise 63304
- BEST FOR WOODWORKING: Yost M9WW 9-Inch Rapid-Action Woodworking Vise
- BEST DIY SHOP VISE: Wen BV456 6-Inch Heavy-Duty Cast Iron Bench Vise
- BEST FOR HOBBYISTS: Real Avid Master Gun Vise With Torq-Lok
Editor’s Note: We’re in the middle of testing even more of the top bench vises on the market right now. Check back for our honest reactions after getting our hands on best picks.
How We Tested the Best Bench Vises
Bench vises are essential workshop helpers, and putting together a list of the best models to test was no small task. First, we drew upon personal experience with woodworking, automotive repair, welding, and plumbing to determine the most important features of a bench vise. Then we selected models for testing from the brands we trust the most in the category. We gave some preference to reputable manufacturers, such as Wen and Wilton, but we also looked at lesser-known brands if they had high customer ratings.
For the actual testing, we mounted each vise to a workbench using our own bolts and nuts, which are typically not included with purchase because workbench thicknesses vary. We used lag bolts and carriage bolts, ranging from 5/16 to ⅜ inch in diameter, but other bolts would also be suitable, depending on where and how the vise is mounted.
Once mounted, we used the vises for gripping several common items, including boards, pipes, and other pieces to see how well they stabilized the items as we worked on them. We loosened stuck-on fittings with the help of wrenches, sharpened chainsaw blades, planed and routed wood, and used a power drill to drill holes in the items.
During the tests, each vise was awarded points based on a rubric. The better the product performed, the higher the points it received. After testing, we added and averaged each vise’s points and used those to help determine the most appropriate use and category.
Our Top Picks
The following bench vises range from woodworking options with quick-release functions to heavy-duty cast-iron mechanic models—and all excelled in our hands-on testing. The models vary in type, size, and primary purpose, but each stands out in its category. We detail the pros and cons of each so our readers can help determine which best suits their project needs before buying a bench vise. Unfortunately, not all the vises we tested earned a spot in this lineup. The one that didn’t meet our high standards can be found below under “Also Tested.”
Coming in as our top pick is the Wilton 6-inch bench vise—a formidable workshop tool. Like most bench vises, it comes fully assembled with a cast iron construction; all we had to do was mount it to the top of our workbench. This entailed marking the location of its four holes, drilling the holes, and then bolting it in place. Bolts were not included, which is standard, because the manufacturer doesn’t know how thick a user’s workbench will be.
We tested the handle-and-screw action of the vise by loosening and opening the jaws and then closing them again. The heavy-duty bench vise jaws moved smoothly and evenly—no sticking or hanging. We then loosened the lever for the swiveling mechanism, allowing us to swivel the vise’s upper portion and retighten the lever to lock it into position. It rotated smoothly to any angle we chose.
The Wilton bench vise has a 6-inch jaw width and strong gripping power—we tightened several items in its jaws, including pipes, iron bars, and wood. We could loosen stuck-on pipe fittings using a wrench without the pipe slipping in the jaws’ grip. We drilled holes in boards, and the Wilton vise held them securely—no slipping. We also used the anvil on the back to flatten a copper pipe with a hammer. The anvil is relatively small—about 4 inches by 4 inches—but it’s suitable for hammering small items.
The downside—and we expected this—was visible imprints in the wood from the corrugated jaws. We could get around this problem by positioning thin pieces of plywood between the board we were working on and the iron jaws on both sides, but woodworking is not the primary purpose for this heavy-duty bench vise. Instead, this is a general-use vise that can be used for multiple shop purposes, such as holding blades for sharpening and pipes to remove fittings. It can even serve to crack the occasional black walnut if desired—we did that, too!
- Type: Benchtop
- Size: 6 inches (jaw width and jaw opening)
- Jaw material: Cast iron
- Heavy-duty bench vise made from cast-iron bolts to a workbench for stability
- The flat anvil on the back is useful for hammering out small items
- Strong jaws keep steel pipes and other items from slipping
- Swivel bench vice capability for added versatility and user-friendliness
- The corrugated faces on the jaws leave impressions in wood
Get the Wilton 11106 bench vise at Amazon, Lowe’s, or Toolup.com.
Workshop warriors need not spend a fortune to get a reliable vise for woodworking projects. We mounted and tested the Pony Jorgenson woodworker’s vise and found it strong, durable, and versatile. This heavy-duty vise is designed to hold wood, as its smooth inner jaws are less likely to mar boards when gripping them tightly. Screw holes on the inner sides of the jaws are suitable for attaching wood jaw liners, which is something many woodworkers do for extra insurance against marring when working with delicate wood species, such as cedar or poplar. The Pony vise mounts to both the front and the underside of a workbench—which is typical for face-type vises used in woodworking.
The vise comes with a dog: a bar that can be extended upward on the front of the vise to stabilize larger boards. Dogs are relatively common on wood vises, and we really liked how smoothly this one pushed up and down and how well it held our boards. A dog is used in combination with a bench stop on the top of a workbench.
To create a stop, we attached a wood block to the top of the workbench about 12 inches from the vise. We opened the vise, raised the dog, and positioned a 14-inch-wide board between the dog and the bench stop. We tightened the vise’s handle screw until the board was snugly wedged between the bench stop and the dog. We could then sand and rout the board’s edges while the dog held the board firmly in place.
A slight downside to the Pony Jorgenson vise is the lack of a quick-release or quick-adjustment lever: We had to open and close the vise jaws using only the handle screw. Still, at this price, that’s not a deal breaker. This is a medium-duty vise, meaning it will handle most wood-gripping needs, but it’s made from steel rather than cast iron, so it isn’t designed to withstand heavy use, such as holding heavy timbers for notching.
- Type: Face-mount
- Size: 8 inches (jaw opening); 7 inches wide
- Jaw material: Steel
- Affordable steel vise with smooth jaws designed to protect wood from marring
- Adjustable dog for use with a bench stop to support wider boards
- Holes on inside jaw plates designed for attaching wood jaw liners (not included)
- Smooth jaws make this vise unsuitable for gripping pipes.
- No quick-release lever—user must manually open and close the handle screw
Get the Pony Jorgensen bench vise at Amazon, Shop Abunda, or Sears.
Here come the big boys! The first thing we noticed was how heavy the Wilton heavy-duty bench vise is: an impressive 65.3 pounds, making it the beefiest vise we tested. Be sure to mount it on a sturdy workbench—over a bench leg, if possible, which will help bear its weight.
This shop-type vise is well suited for those who do plumbing or metal fabrication and need a strong vise for holding steel or iron items with it’s 8-inch jaw width and cast iron construction. We mounted the vise to the top of our workbench and tested its gripping power. We used it to secure pipes while we removed stuck-on fittings with a wrench, and the pipes didn’t slip even though we applied a lot of twisting pressure. This large cast-iron vise also firmly held iron rebar as we filed it. We loosened the swivel lever and turned the upper part of the vise in various directions, a handy feature that allowed us to work comfortably—no need to lean or strain.
We also hammered the end of a copper pipe flat on the anvil on the back of the vise. The serrated jaws are replaceable, but throughout our testing, which included cranking down tightly on multiple iron and steel items, they survived with only a couple of surface scratches, so we think they will last a long time before needing to be replaced.
This isn’t a vise for woodworking, however. Its serrated jaws are too rough to hold wood without leaving imprints, as we discovered when we used the vise to grip a board as we routed the edge. This vise is best suited to holding steel and iron items, which it does very well.
- Type: Benchtop
- Size: 8 inches (jaw width and jaw opening)
- Jaw material: Cast iron
- Heavy-duty design makes for a beefy vise with a lot of gripping power
- The 8-inch jaw opening can handle larger items than many competitors
- Swivel bench vise capability; base allows users to turn the vise in any direction while working
- Vise must be mounted on a very sturdy workbench due to weight (65.3 pounds)
Get the Wilton WS8 bench vise at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Fastenal.
With smooth inner jaws and a 10.25-inch jaw width, the Yost woodworking vise securely holds large wood projects without marring the workpiece. We mounted this face-mount vise to the front of our workbench, where most woodworking vises are made to install.
The vise has holes on the inner jaws designed to attach custom wood jaw liners, so we fabricated two wood liners to fit the jaws. That involved routing out sections on two boards to match the size of the jaw plates and then attaching the boards to the inner jaws via screws. This gave us a larger gripping area for holding boards without the risk of marring the wood. Most professional woodworkers will fabricate their own liners for this reason, but the jaws themselves are smooth enough to support many wood projects without damage.
The Yost also comes with an adjustable dog on the front jaw plate that we used in conjunction with a bench stop for holding wider boards securely as we sanded, planed, and routed. We didn’t experience any slipping.
One of the nicest things about the Yost vise is its quick-adjust lever that allowed us to move the outer jaw in or out quickly. This was a big time saver, as we could move the jaw to fit the board size and then use the handle to increase the gripping pressure.
Read our full review: Yost Bench Vise
- Type: Face mount
- Size: 9 inches (jaw plate width); 10.25 inches (jaw opening)
- Jaw material: Cast iron
- Wider-than-average jaw opening (10.25 inches) allows for use with large boards
- Adjustable dog for use with a bench stop (not included) increases the size of the boards the vise will hold
- Quick-adjustment lever allows the user to move the plate into position and then tweak the grip with the handle
- Holes provided for attaching fabricated wood jaw liners
- Smooth jaws not designed for holding pipes, steel, or iron items
Get the Yost bench vise at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Eastwood.
We found the Wen 6-inch top-mounted vise to be just the right size for a mechanic’s garage workshop or other DIY users. It’s not as big as the oversize Wilton model we tested, but it’s large enough to tackle most pipe- and steel-gripping needs. We mounted the Wen vise to the top of our workbench and tested its gripping strength. It held bars firmly while we twisted off stuck-on fittings and gripped steel railings as we filed and cut through them. We even used it to hold a chainsaw while sharpening its blade. The swivel base made it easy to turn the vise to the most convenient angle while we worked.
The Wen vise has serrated jaws that securely grip steel and iron without slipping, but it isn’t suitable for holding wood. The boards we tightened in the jaws of the Wen came away with distinct imprints in the wood.
The jaws are 6 inches wide and it has a 6⅜-inch jaw opening, which is suitable for holding most pipes, bars, and other items for welding, sharpening or fabricating. The anvil on the back is handy—we used it to flatten the end of a copper pipe with a hammer. While it’s not a woodworking vise, it will handle virtually any other medium-duty shop project.
- Type: Benchtop
- Size: 6 inches (jaw width); 6⅜ inches (jaw opening)
- Jaw material: Cast iron
- Heavy-duty cast-iron construction for durability and gripping power
- Swivel bench vise capability; swivel base is suitable for turning it in the most advantageous direction
- Strong serrated jaws hold items snugly without slipping for most shop tasks
- Not suitable for holding wood projects as the jaws leave imprints in wood
Get the Wen bench vise at Amazon, Lowe’s, or The Home Depot.
The other bench vises we tested can be categorized as either woodworking or shop-type vises, but the Real Avid vise isn’t designed to hold wood or pipes. Rather, it’s a tool better suited to light-duty precision use, such as holding a firearm while attaching a scope or securing a knife for sharpening.
We did not test the Real Avid vise for holding iron pipes or wood because it’s not made for those purposes. We mounted it to the top of our workbench at the front edge—it serves as both a face-mount and a top-mount vise.
The Real Avid vise comes with several features standard vises don’t have, including a ball-and-socket joint that allowed us to swivel the vise and move it forward, backward, and sideways. We found this extremely handy for fine-tuning the angle and position of the item we were working on. It comes with removable padded jaw protectors for safely gripping delicate items without leaving so much as a smudge.
While the Real Avid is made with gunsmithing in mind, we feel it could easily cross over for other hobbies that require gentle but secure gripping power, such as working on fishing reels or sharpening knives.
- Type: Benchtop/face-mount combo
- Size: 5 inches (jaw width); 3.5 inches (jaw opening)
- Jaw material: Steel
- Vise adjusts to multiple positions and angles for precision working
- Comes with removable padded jaw protectors to hold delicate items without scratching
- Mounts easily to the top of workbench at the front for maneuverability
- Not designed for shop-type uses or woodworking—it’s a light-duty vise
Get the Real Avid bench vise at Amazon or Real Avid.
After successfully testing two shop-type Wilton vises, we were excited to try out the new Wilton Woodworking Vise, especially because it came with pivoting jaw liners designed to grip off-size boards snugly. The first disappointment was finding the steel handle broken in half. We examined the box it came in for damage, but we didn’t find any. We didn’t give up on testing the vise yet, however.
We decided to use a 10-inch section of steel rebar in place of the handle so that we could still tighten and loosen the jaw plates. We felt we could probably order a replacement handle or simply continue to use our homemade handle.
Unfortunately, the vise had more problems than just a broken handle. When we tightened the plates, we found they were out of alignment by more than ¼ inch. We could have also overlooked that had it been the only problem, but to make matters worse, we couldn’t raise the dog—it was stuck firmly in the vise jaw. We even used pliers to try and raise the dog, but it wouldn’t budge.
At that point, we had to eliminate the vise from testing, but given Wilton’s top performance with other vises, we couldn’t help but feel our vise was somehow damaged before shipping—or we just got a lemon. It happens. We’re open to testing an upgraded version of this vise in the future because Wilton makes some very nice shop-type vises, and we feel a pivot-jaw model has a lot of potential for woodworking.
What to Consider When Choosing a Bench Vise
Each type of bench vise has specific features, such as jaw width, quick-release ability, and swivel, that can significantly affect how well the vise will function in a shop. Becoming familiar with the following aspects will help when choosing the best bench vise.
Types of Bench Vises
A staple in metalworking, automotive work, woodworking, and hobbyist shops, a bench vise is a metal clamping device that bolts to a workbench’s top, side, or underside. It has a handle-screw mechanism that turns to open and close its jaws to hold a board, pipe, or other items firmly in place, allowing DIYers to perform tasks like loosening a stuck nut or a bolt or cutting accurate woodworking joints. A bench vise may also come with anvil surfaces (a surface to hammer against), making it useful for small metal-shaping tasks, such as straightening out a bent nail.
There are three main types of bench vises: benchtop, front (or face) vises, and end vises, which relate to how the vises attach to a workbench. Bench vises of all types are designed to be permanently mounted to keep them from slipping when the user tightens an item in the vise’s jaws, which may require quite a bit of twisting pressure. Each type has its merits, though the project at hand will determine which type will work best for a particular task.
As the term suggests, benchtop vises (also known as machinists’ vises) mount to the top of a workbench. Most bolt directly through the workbench with bolts that are secured to the underside of the bench with nuts for the strongest possible attachment.
The benchtop vise is more of a “do-all” device. It has strong jaws, and users can exert a lot of clamping pressure. It also holds the workpiece above the table’s surface—which is very helpful for welding or wrenching. Though great for mechanics and metalworkers, its use for woodworking is somewhat limited because its rugged iron jaws can leave marks when used to clamp boards.
Front vises mount to the face of a workbench and bolt to the underside for added stability. They’re popular among woodworkers because their position allows for handy planing, routing, or dovetailing without straining to reach the workpiece. Some of the best front vises feature rapid action, also known as a quick release, which allows for quickly adjusting the vise to size on a workpiece before snugging it in place with a quick turn of the handle.
Many styles of front vises allow the user to attach wood jaws inside the vise’s steel jaws. This offers added protection when working with wood to ensure the vise doesn’t leave dents or impressions. In addition, a few front vises come with removable padded plates that serve the same purpose as installing protective wood jaws.
End vises, which mount to the end of a workbench, look and work very similarly to front vises, but they are usually larger—spanning the entire end of a workbench. They’re designed to hold long boards that might otherwise tip or tilt in the jaws of a smaller vise. Some come built-in on workbenches or can be purchased separately as an add-on item.
End vises are almost always used for woodworking, and they may come with wood jaws or jaw liners that let the user avoid marring boards while clamping. Depending on the size and style, they may have one tightening screw or multiple tightening screws for securing the workpiece.
The most common material found in bench vises is cast iron. It’s incredibly tough and dense, allowing users to exert a great deal of clamping pressure—necessary for mechanical tasks like removing stubborn fittings or pressing bushings into automotive parts.
Steel vises are also popular since they’re strong. However, they can deform under extreme pressure, so they tend to be less expensive. Woodworking vises don’t require much pressure to secure boards and workpieces in place, so steel is more than adequate for a front vise or an end vise than for a shop-type mechanic vise.
Manufacturers of may list psi (pounds per square inch) as an indicator of the strength of their bench vises. Cast-iron bench vises can have a tensile gripping strength of over 60,000 psi, making them incredibly strong. Not all vise manufacturers list a vise’s gripping force, however.
It’s also important to note that some of the best bench vises have replaceable jaw plates. This is a good feature because the jaws’ grippy surfaces can wear down over time, affecting their ability to grab hold of a workpiece. Replacing the jaw plates can extend the life of a vise.
Jaw width refers to the length of the vise’s clamping surface. Small vises can have jaw widths as small as 3 inches, a distance suitable for light-duty projects and repairs. Large vises can have jaw widths as wide as 10 inches, which provide a lot of surface area for clamping large heavy-duty projects in place. In general, the available jaw width is between 4 and 8 inches.
Woodworking vises tend to have wider jaws to allow as much clamping surface as possible. These broad surfaces help avoid placing too much pressure on a small area, which could crush or mar the wood’s surface.
Jaw opening—the distance between the jaws when the vise is fully opened—is an important consideration since it determines how wide an item a user can clamp in a vise. On cast-iron shop-type vises, most jaw openings match jaw widths, so a 6-inch vise will often have a 6-inch jaw opening and jaw width, though this isn’t always the case.
Woodworking vises like front- and end-mounted vises usually have larger jaw openings for clamping wide boards. But, it’s unusual to find a woodworking vise with a jaw opening of more than 10 inches.
Throat depth in both bench vises and woodworking vises refers to the distance from the top of the jaw to the top of the screw mechanism that tightens the vise. Essentially, it quantifies how deeply a user can clamp a workpiece down inside of a vise.
Throat depth is important, particularly when edge-planing wide boards or welding wide pieces of steel. The larger the throat depth, the easier it is to clamp these wide materials toward their centers, providing more stability and holding strength while allowing users to apply more leverage or weight. Generally speaking, the larger the vise, the deeper the throat depth.
The ability to swivel is possibly the most important feature of a good benchtop vise. For instance, swiveling the jaws out of the way might allow a DIYer to get a better angle on the anvil surface, which can make a big difference when trying to strike or bend something to shape.
Swiveling also allows users to clamp a piece in place and then spin it to adjust the vise’s angle instead of having to hunch over to work on the backside of the workpiece. It’s much more convenient and allows for better ergonomics, allowing the user to avoid straining to see what they’re doing.
Benchtop vises mount directly to a benchtop surface. They usually mount with four bolts that sandwich the vise’s base against the benchtop. It’s a common practice to mount a benchtop vise directly over a table leg. The leg will create a solid surface to hammer over, while the unsupported center of a bench may be overly bouncy and absorb a lot of striking power.
Woodworking vises like front and end models mount in a few different ways. Commonly, they screw into the edge of a workbench with long wood screws or lag bolts. They can also mount from underneath with shorter screws—just be sure not to penetrate the work surface, or there is the risk of chipping a plane’s edge while flattening a board.
Most benchtop vises have a flat surface on top, directly in the center, to function as an anvil. DIYers can use this surface to hammer pins and rivets as well as flatten or shape metal stock.
While not technically a blacksmith’s anvil, this surface does create a solid place to strike against. It can be helpful when trying to knock a drift pin loose or flatten a bent lawn-mower blade.
Woodworking vises don’t come with anvil surfaces, so woodworkers might want to install a benchtop vise on a shop surface for straightening antique nails and reclaimed hardware.
Screwing a vise in and out for workpieces that vary in width can become a time killer. It might take 30 turns to open a vise’s jaws enough for a wide piece. Rather than waste time twisting the vise jaws in and out of position, consider a model with a quick release or rapid-action capability. These features allow users to slide the vise quickly open or shut and then require only a twist of the handle to snug the workpiece—a real time saver.
Quick-release levers are often found in woodworking vises but they’re uncommon in mechanics’ vises. The ability to pull and push the jaws eliminates the need for repetitive turning of the handle screw.
Keep reading for answers to commonly asked questions about these useful workshop apparatuses.
Q. How does a bench vise work?
Bench vises mount to a workbench, either on top, on the front, or below. They use a handle and screw function to open and close a set of jaws that clamp a workpiece in place.
Q. How do you install a bench vise?
Install a benchtop vise over the top of a workbench’s legs to distribute force directly into the ground instead of absorbing it. Right-handed woodworkers typically like their front-mount vises on the left side of their workbench and their end vises on the right end, while lefties prefer the opposite.
Q. How do you maintain a bench vise?
Cast iron is very durable, but rubbing it down with a water-displacing product like WD-40 will help keep a vise in great shape; spray the threads on the jaw screw as well. When a vise’s jaws become worn—they’ll be noticeably smoother than when new—contact the manufacturer for a set of replacements
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