I had heard of the Emmert Patternmaker’s Vise for many years. People talked about it in awed whispers with their hands cupped next to their mouth and you just knew it was something special. I never got to play with one, so the other day when Chris and I were examining the Emmert patternmaker’s vise clone that they sell at Highland Woodworking, I got interested.
First, you may not know what a patternmaker is. A patternmaker is about the penultimate woodworker, called upon to make the pattern for a metal casting out of wood (or these days, plastics or other modern materials). In days past, patterns were more likely made out of wood than anything else. Since (most) metal shrinks as it cools, the pattern has to be made slightly larger than the finished product. Try to picture making a wooden precursor to all the cast metal parts in a Model T Ford, making sure they are 1.5% bigger than the finished product.
Being able to hold the wood securely while the pattern is being sawn, carved, drilled, filed, sanded or however else formed is the whole purpose of the patternmaker’s vise. You can clamp almost any shape, then twist the vise in almost any direction without taking the piece out of the vise. Does your vise allow you to twist your work up and make it parallel to the top of the work bench — without taking it out of the vise? Mr. Emmert figured it out back in the 1880s and his company continued making them up through the 1970s.
I checked on eBay and you may be able to find an original for sale today at anywhere from $500 to $900 depending on its condition. There are several Web sites dedicated solely to the Emmert, and the one which appears most often is called “The Iron Hand“. I kept trying to figure out why they called the site “The Iron Hand” until I finally had this image of a guy sitting under the bench with his iron hand holding the piece and turning the work in whatever direction you needed it to go, including laying it down flat on top of the bench. I guess if they were still making them, you would probably be able to give it voice commands by now. Anyway, go look and see what this thing will do.
When you get through looking at what it will do and you get through lusting for an Emmert, go ahead and search eBay and check deep within your soul to see if you really want to pay that much to have a secondhand original. (Its shipping weight is about 90 pounds by the way.)
After you get the answer, come on over and buy the clone at Highland. Our imported Patternmaker’s Vise (manufactured nicely in Taiwan) is $399.99, and is based on the original design. It will do virtually anything any normal less-than-a-patternmaker woodworker is EVER likely to do. (Do study the installation instructions since it usually involves a fair amount of modification to whatever workbench you attach it to.)
If you could just figure out a way to use your new vise to hold the bench while you install the vise — well, you get the idea.