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Learn Mechanical Engineering at Home Series – The Engineer’s Vice

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 11/18/2008

Have you ever wondered what mechanical engineering is all about? I cannot make you a certified mechanical engineer but certainly you can learn a lot about mechanical engineering by reading this Learn from Home series on mechanical engineering.

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    Virtue and the Vice

    Becoming an engineer might be considered to be a great virtue by most people but there are always two sides to the coin. If there is virtue associated with the engineering profession certainly the vice cannot be ignored. Infact the engineer’s vice is one of the most important tools in the profession, speaking technically and not in the psychological sense of the word.

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    The Engineer's Vice

    I think I have puzzled you enough with the vice issue so let me clarify that I am not referring to the vice (opposite of virtue) but to a tool which is used to hold a workpiece firmly in position when some work is being performed on it such as filing and so forth. Just take a look at the picture below and you will get a fairly clear idea about the construction. Parallel Jaw Vice 

    The vice consists of two jaws which press tightly on the workpiece so that it does not move. One of the jaws is stationery while the other is movable and is used to adjust the force on the workpiece depending on the type of work to be performed on it. The movement of this jaw is done with the help of a rotating handle which rotates a screwed spindle upon which the movable jaw slides.

    Traditionally the leg type vice was mostly used which has the lower jaw pivoted at one end and this means that if the object to be held in between them is sufficiently large, the jaw would move back in a circular fashion and not parallel to the other jaw. Hence this would not give a proper grip as now the relative position of the jaws would give them a wedge shape as compared to the parallel sliding jaws which are mostly used in modern days.

    Leg Type Vice 

    Many modern vices also have a quick release mechanism which is used to instantly release the workpiece instead of having to unscrew the spindle using the handle. Also since the jaws of a vice are made out of steel it might damage some softer workpiece if held tightly within them. In order to avoid such a situation clamps normally made out of lead are used to soften the grip while retaining sufficient force to prevent the workpiece from moving when worked upon.

    The body of the vice is strongly secured to the workbench and the bolts are checked frequently to check for any loose nuts. The vice is classified as per its size of the jaw and normally used vices could vary between say 3 to 9 inches of jaw width. There are pneumatic vices as well which saves the operator from applying force to tighten the jaws by using air pressure instead. As far as the maintenance of a vice is concerned simply keeping it well oiled should be sufficient unless some other damage occurs.