On Being Vise-less, Paring Chisels and Carving Guitar Necks

Straight end chisels must be "squared up" on the grinder and shaped to the correct bevel.

Lester Griswold, Handicraft, 1951

I've noticed lately that there are several wood workers in the world of Internet wood work blogging that are bragging about being "vise-less".

Good for you!

I've used hold fasts almost exclusively on my bench for that last twenty years or so, hold fasts are cheap compared to a metal vise and I never got along well with leg vises. I don't make boxes or cut dovetails anymore, I make classical guitars which need much different clamping devices than say, oh, a Federal highboy.

Don't get me wrong, I do need to use a vise for some tasks.

One thing I enjoy about using holdfasts is how quickly you can hold a piece of wood and you don't have to use a pretty piece of wood as a clamping caul.

Hold fasts are efficient for most tasks, they are great for holding guitar necks!

Smoothing the slots in the head stock

I do own and use a Shop Fox brand vise that I bought from Grizzly some ten-eleven years because it was cheap and I needed a better way of holding certain objects.

One inch wide chisel on the left with a 30 degree bevel, 7/8 inch chisel on right with 20 degree bevel

While carving the heel of a guitar neck the other day, I notice how the steep bevel of my one inch chisel kept bumping the chisel out of the cut. I was using the chisel with its belly down.


Most of my chisels are ground to a 30 degree bevel, this is left over from the days when I did chop dovetails and mortises, so I thought I would take one chisel and experiment with a 20 degree bevel.

I took my 7/8 inch Stanley No.720 chisel to the grinder and then locked it in my old Eclipse 36 Made in England honing guide.

A close copy of a Santos Hernandez guitar heel

The 20 degree bevel worked like a charm, now I want to experiment with a 15 degree bevel, but, again, the amount of time I have in the shop grows short.

I have two orders for custom classical guitars, a router table is waiting to be built so I can make muntin, rail and stile stock for eight sashes for the new porch enclosure which that also needs to be finish before winter really sets in.

Did I mention that our water heater developed a good leak the other day?

It's going to be a busy winter!

Another YouTube of Isabella Selder, enjoy!


  1. I just got done cleaning up a 1.5" Greenlee socket chisel I picked up at a garage sale for a dollar or two. It needed a ton of work - new handle, grinding mushroomed steel out of the socket, derusting, and the edge was 1/8" out of square to the sides.

    But I don't like a hollow grind on my paring chisel (for whatever reason), so I reshaped it by hand. Oof. very quickly moved down to 80 grit paper with my granite plate and even then it took a long while.

    Finished product is beautiful, though. I can't for the life of me find my "before" pictures, but maybe I'll squeak a small blog post out of it, anyway. If so, you can see it there.

    1. I still have chisels that need a proper keening, it's hard to make the time to do that and actually work on something!

  2. I don't think bragging is quite fair. I wrote that it was a great learning experience to go without a vice for a year but that I now have one. I'm an OK guy was making a worthwhile observation from his own experience. Mike Siemsen is performing a wonderful service by showing how a new woodworker can have a serviceable bench at minimum cost.

    As for what you have been doing for much longer, very interesting. Thanks for posting.

    1. If you are vise-less, you have the right to brag! I'm not pooh-poohing anyone who is! Remember hand tools - and hold fasts- rule the school!

  3. It's good to know that some one is reading my blog...

    To all that are following your woodworking bliss, do what you need to do to get where you need to be!


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