At 100 years of age, it’s time to freshen up.


Hello All,

Ask a dozen or so woodworkers what they feel is the most important tool or piece of woodworking equipment in their shop and generally you’ll get a variety of answers. However, somewhere in all those answers you’ll find the workbench mentioned as an important woodworking tool or piece of equipment. When the topic turns to the woodworking bench as a workshop tool, the topic invariably diverts quickly to the woodworking vise.

I’ve been very fortunate to stand in front of many workbenches with a variety of vises and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade my 100 year old Emmert Turtleback Patternmaker’s  vise for anything on the market today.

Affectionately known as the “Iron Hand”, Emmert vises were first patened  by Joseph F. Emmert in 1891.

If you’re interested in reading the history and understanding the value of these vises, I encourage you to follow this link to the most detailed website I know of, regarding these wonderful vises. Carl Matthews has done a fabulous job of putting together all things Emmert and his website is well worth the visit.

The other day while looking down the bench at my Turtleback, I couldn’t help but notice that it needed to be freshened up a bit, it was looking rather tired. My original intention was to dismantle it and send it off to a media blaster’s shop and have it properly stripped but unfortunately I’ve yet to find someone in my area that I would trust with my vise. It’s not just the fact that this vise is 100 years old (give or take) but I’ve owned it for the last 20 years and it’s seen a lot of work and many fond memories in that time.I guess you could say that I’m a little sentimental about the old Turtleback.

This vise has been around for a century and it’ll be around long after I’m gone, so I guess you could say I’m doing my part to preserve a part of history. So until I can find a reliable media blaster, I’ll give it a good cleaning and a quick coat of paint……………….and get rid of that awful looking metal pipe handle.

Click on photos to enlarge.

At 86 pounds, this Turtleback is full of cast iron, steel, bronze and a lot of fond memories of work gone by.


That 1/2″ pipe being used for a handle has to go.


The hardware that makes a Turtleback unique.


Dismantled and placed on the bench, you can see that it’s time for a good cleaning.



Cleaned and painted, I fabricated a beech handle and re-assembled the Turtleback.



This is one vise that is very versitile.




Four on board vise dogs.


This vise is massive, it’s 18″ wide, 7″ deep and has a huge 12 1/2″ opening.


The ability to skew for odd shaped items.


Rotate the vise 180 degrees and you have a mechanic’s vise.


So now when I look down my bench I no longer see a tired old Turtleback, I see an old friend with a new face.


All the best…….Gord