Monday, November 19, 2012

Athol vise cleanup

Many of my planned (and ongoing) projects necessitate a big machinist's vise. When you really need to clamp something securely, only a big honkin' chunk of iron will do. Sadly, the vast majority of the vises sold today are either cheap Chinese crap, or are made in the US or western Europe and are horrendously expensive. We're talking an order of magnitude difference in cost, at least. Yes, you get what you pay for, and quality costs, and it's in increasingly short supply and so it costs even more. There's an opportunity here for the Asian manufacturers - but somehow, the quality of the iron castings coming from China just aren't up to the task. Fortunately, if you can't quite stomach paying $600 or more for what is essentially a big C-clamp, there's always the used market.

I started perusing E-Bay and Craigslist and other sources, but typically found Chinese junk (being sold for prices surprisingly close to retail, oddly) or, if an actual quality vise, the sellers knew something of its worth, and it wasn't that much of a deal.

The going rate for a good old US-made vise is considered to be about $1/lb, if the condition is good. I suspect that rate really pertains to vises found at garage sales and the like, though, because I never saw one online for that low a price. Once someone has taken the trouble to advertise it online, they probably are seeking to make more from the sale than if they just sold it on the street...

Having poor luck in the online quest, I put the word out to my in-laws in rural Washington, who are not  unlikely to come across something like this. I soon received word that a likely-seeming object was found lurking under a workbench in their garage. As soon as a more complete description was sent, I started to get my hopes up - as the name on the side of the grungy old vise was "Athol" and that was music to my ears!

Athol's vises are considered some of the highest quality ever made. Athol made vises in Athol, Massachusetts - under their own name until 1905, and under Starrett for a long time thereafter. Thus, if the vise is labeled Athol and not Starrett, it pre-dates the 1905 merger. This would be one such.

When the heavy chunk of iron arrived in my garage, it was pretty grimy - but in remarkably good condition, for something so old and well-used. The jaws have a few grooves and nicks, but are straight; there's no rust; the handle is straight. With some disassembly, cleanup, and lubrication, it looks pretty good and works very smoothly. It has at least another 100 years in it.

In case anyone else is looking for information on this particular vise (an Athol 613-1/2, fixed-base, 3-1/2 inch jaws, about which I've found very little on the internet) following are some of the details.

The handle and screw come out with the removal of a cotter pin, accessed from below. There's a bushing on the handle end, followed by a spring, another bushing, then the pin (1/8 in x 1 in).

The thread in my vise was in great condition!

The plating on the handle is mostly gone, there's a little pitting but otherwise good. The handle is completely straight, unusual on a vise... and a good sign it hasn't been abused. There's some remaining grime shown here that I subsequently cleaned up.

A little cleanup with degreaser and some wire-brushing brought the finish back.

The machined surfaces were all in great condition. The vise thus has very little slop.

 This is the underside of the sliding jaw - the bushings, spring, and cotter pin are accessed through the upper hole in the photo.

Installed in my garage, ready for use!

Big thanks to Jack and Eileen for finding, and then going to the trouble of boxing and shipping, this beautiful old vise! It will get lots of use here, and I love having a piece of American history in my shop.


Fidel said...

I bougth for only 7 dlls an old and very husky Athol #7 vise. Can someone tell me wich how much worth this piece? Its very heavy. The person who sold to me the vise get it when he was hired to desasemble a old factory here at San Diego...

BikeBoy said...

Hi Fidel,
The rule of thumb for old vises seems to be $1-2 per pound - unless they are especially old, and in especially good condition. So unless your Athol is really broken (bent, chunks missing) it's definitely worth more than you paid for it!