Vises and virtues


Wouldn’t you think that by the age of 60 I’d be over performance anxiety?  Apparently not.

We had a working bee this week down at the Men’s Shed.  We are building a quiet room for those blokes who want to come and hang out at the Shed but not play with tools in the workshop.  So we were clearing out the space for the new room and moving the tools and equipment.   This included getting rid of one surplus-to-requirements workbench – on this bench was a large metalwork vise that would have to be repositioned on another bench.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the job of refixing the vise was allotted to me.  Now it’s a job I’ve done in my own sheds maybe 3 or 4 times over the years, and it’s straightforward enough.  This time, however, I would be undertaking the job under the gaze of a retired industrial arts teacher, a mechanical engineer, and one of those archetypical fix-anything DIYers who are drawn to the Shed.  So if this vise wasn’t installed straight, level and steady then my reputation as a real Shed guy was under threat, or so I surmised.

We had the inevitable blokey pre-job chat, about where on the new bench to put it, whether to use bolts or coach screws, what bracing underneath might be necessary.  Then I was left to it while they went off to do other tasks.

I don’t think I have ever measured, re-measured and then measured again for one job.  I did have a sneaking moment of smugness when the DIYer came up and looked at the two bits of wood I had tightened up in the vise, and said: “What are they for?”   I explained that they were to make sure there would be enough clearance past the edge of the bench if you were putting a long piece of material in the vise.  “Makes sense,” he said and went back to his own job.  I gave a secret internal fist pump and returned to checking my alignment.

I finally committed, and drilled the holes.

Coincidentally, the bench where I was working was right next to the one where the blokes from the mental health unit of the local nursing home were doing their weekly manual therapy jobs at the Shed.

I thought it might be nice to engage them with my process, seeing if the vise was straight and the drill for the coach bolt holes was the right size.  They, on the other hand, seemed to think it would be more helpful if they gave me encouragement like “Give it a good screw,” as I tightened up the coach bolts with a socket.

They found their interventions very amusing.  Come on boys, I said, I’ll be in strife if I don’t do this properly.  But they kept it up as I lay underneath the bench straining to tension the nut on the final bolt, with gems like “”Giving it a good pull down there?”

With or despite their questionable cheerleading, I finished the job, and stood back to give a final check on everything being square and level, ready for the judgement of my peers.

And then, after all the anguish and performance anxiety, I’ll be buggered if the experts didn’t even look at it, let alone inspect it for quality of installation.  All I got was, “If you’re done there, come and help us lift this lathe.  It’s bloody heavy and it’ll take 5 blokes to move it.”

Oh well, perhaps every vise has its virtue.