A Twist of Fate

The Bizarre Tale of Two Freebies

This amazing tale starts several decades ago. My friend Tom (and fellow woodworker) lived in NY State, but his recently divorced wife and daughter had moved to Seattle.  So, in order to exercise his joint custody agreement, Tom would take up residence in Seattle for several weeks of the year.

While here (in Seattle), Tom needed work.  Work, and in this case, woodworking, has certain prerequisites.

 One such prerequisite being a place to perform said work. This is where I enter the picture. I rented a corner of my shop (then in the Fremont District) to Tom. He moved in with some of his own hand tools, including a bench sporting a rather interesting orange pattern maker’s vise. The vise was rather odd in that it was certainly of high quality, but boasted no identifying marks.

Fast forward a decade or so. Tom’s daughter has long since graduated from college and now has a job in Seattle. He visits Seattle, but not nearly as much and his stays are much shorter. He is no longer renting space from me – but has left me with the use of his bench (including the unusual orange  vise).

A few years ago Tom was in town for a short visit and stopped by my shop. Tom had forgotten about some boxes of stuff he had stored under my stairs  years ago.  As he was going through things and boxing them up for shipment he said, “You can have the bench and vise.”

This was fantastic!  I had become particularly fond of the vise and had always assumed it would be on its way back to New York one day.  As you have likely guessed – Tom’s vise is the first of the Freebies alluded to in the title.

Let’s move on now – we will get back to Tom’s orange vise later.

Not too many years back, I was teaching a class in my shop. One of my students, Michael, was a local guy whom I had known for a few years. One morning Michael brings in this huge rusted hulk of a vise.  He had found it under the crawlspace of his house. It had been painted a hideous blue and was pitted and frozen from rust.  “It’s your’s!” he says.  I could see it was a serious vise and  with its 18” jaws it was absolutely huge and could have doubled for a boat anchor!

A little google work yielded a ton of info. It was an Emmert Patternmaker’s vise and had been out of production for many, many years. The demand for this particular vise has been high though. It has not only been reproduced at a smaller scale, but parts are being recast and offered for sale as well.

A LOT OF WORK and a couple of hundred dollars later, the Emmert is now a more pleasing flat black and functional at a basic level. Since I already had a patternmaker’s vise I opted not to purchase the parts needed to restore the tilt-out feature. I added leather to the jaws (as my other vise had) and enjoyed that huge 18” capacity!

Another fast forward – to a week or two ago.  Marc Spagnuolo is in my shop filming a project and notices my huge Emmert vise.  Marc starts a discussion on social media concerning said vises.

This started me thinking – maybe someone in social media land could identify my Orange vise. So I posted an image of it.  It appears Lee Valley used to make a very similar vise although there were a few minor difference. Someone even speculated this might have been the prototype for the LV vise.

So, maybe it’s time to send Tom an email (remember Tom? – he gave me the vise) asking if he has any info about it.

A little backstory here:  Tom used to live in Ogdensburg NY and had a 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse right on the St Lawrence river. Tom used to tell me he could throw a stone to Canada from his shop. When Lee Valley first entered the US Market, they rented space in his shop. Tom knew everybody that was anybody at Lee Valley, including Leonard Lee. Tom was the one who connected me to the people at LV to produce my square punch (of which I am still receiving royalties – thank you Tom!)

I should have asked Tom years ago, because his reply was the missing link in this bizarre tale…  The story goes that Tom and Leonard Lee had an ongoing conversation concerning  Emmert Patternmaker’s vises – of which Tom had two.  Veritas eventually borrowed one of Tom’s vises and sort of reverse engineered it to come up with a version of their own.  The vise I have is one of the prototypes along the way, which Leonard gave to Tom.

I never knew my two freebie vises had a related past. They have been cohabiting all this time – forebear and descendand together in my shop!