Self Centering Vise (Pen Drilling Vise)

Photo: Self Centering Vise 1
I decided to turn some Pens and Bottle Stoppers. I need some cheaper items to draw people in at Craft Shows, etc.

I then decided it’s time to invest in one of those Pen Drilling Vises for my drill press. I need a vise that will allow me to drill center holes in pen and bottler stopper blanks, etc without a lot of dorking around centering each blank.

Pen Drilling Vises

I looked at the commercially available “Pen Drilling Vises” and decided they were all to light weight, wimpy and to expensive for what you get. See photos below. $50 for Aluminum and little wimpy screw threads? Do they really center things up? Are they rock solid?

Some of the “Pen Drilling Vises” out there only move only one jaw when you tighten them. The “other” is fixed. Or one jaw moves and the other is spring loaded? No good!

A REAL self centering vise should move BOTH jaws inward when you tighten it. Both jaws should be driven by a ACME thread crank screw. The vise should be rock solid, made of steel or cast iron.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 2

Self Centering Vise

Photo: Self Centering Vise 3 I decided that a Metal Working Self Centering Vise was a better deal. See photo below. They cost 3 times as much at $150. But you can do a lot more with them. They are built like a tank.

I looked for a self centering vise with “V” grooves in the jaws. The “V” allows you to easily center a blank in the jaws. I could not find a vise in my price range. So, I decided to just make my own replacement jaws out of wood.

I decided the Model D4064 Self Centering Vise made by Shop Fox (aka Woodstock International) was the cheapest one that looked good. I got my from for $149 with free Amazon Prime shipping.

A mental midget at Amazon shipped the 1st one to me in a box with no packing around the heavy vise. It arrived at my house with a broken handle. I complained and returned it. Amazon paid for returned shipping. They shipped me a replacement. Again in a box with no packing around it. Fortunately, it survived the 2nd time.

Installing the Vise

Below the photo shows my new self centering vise installed on my drill press.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 4

Below the left photo shows the self centering vise being used to drill a pen blank.

The right photo shows the vise being used to drill a LARGER bottle stopper blank. The masking tape on the drill is a depth stop.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 5

The photos below show the steel jaws that come with the vise.

I replaced the steel jaws with wooden ones that have a “V” in the center. The jaws are tall enough to completely support most pen blanks. The “V” self centers blanks in the jaws.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 6

The photos below shows my wooden jaws. They are 1″ thick by 2″ tall by 4″ wide. I made them out of hard maple. The “V” in the jaws is 3/16″ deep.

I used a table saw, tiled to 45 degrees to cut the “V”. Then I used a band saw to cut a 1/8″ wide notch (see blue arrow in left photo) in the bottom of the “V”. If I had to do this again, I would cut the “V” on the band saw. It would be easier and safer.

The notch allows better centering of blanks that are not perfectly square. The vise centers on the sides of the blank rather than on the corners. The corners float in the notch.

I used one of the steel jaws “C” clamped to one of the wooden jaws to locate the mounting holes for the jaws. I drilled thru one wooden jaw. Removed the steel jaw. Then “C” clamped the two wooden jaws together with the “V” lined up. Then I drilled thru 2nd wood jaw.

The red arrow on the right photo points to a chunk of 1/4″ plywood. When I am installing a blank the plywood holds it up. Then it prevents the bottom of the hole from blowing out when drilling. The plywood just floats under the jaws.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 7

Below the photo shows how I center the vise under the drill:
  1. Start by loosening up the table clamps.
  2. Lower the drill into the vise.
  3. Tighten the vise on the drill. This centers the vise on the drill.
  4. Tighten the table clamps.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 8

Below the left photo shows what the bottom of the plywood under the centering vise looks like. The right photo shows what the table on my drill press looks like.

I always mount all of my vises on my drill press via a chunk of plywood with cleats. The cleats just drop down over the drill press table and hold the vise in place. The vise is attached to the plywood by #14 SHEET METAL screws (not wood screws). This method allows me to quickly install or remove the vise without dorking around with bolts and clamps.

After I mount it the first time the vise is ALWAYS located in the correct place on the plywood. I just have to loosen the table clamp on the main post and swing the table left or right to align the vise under the drill chuck.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 9

The next photo shows that I had to mount the Self Centering Vise off center on the plywood so the handle can be rotated.

I also had to add some “C” clamps to clamp the plywood to drill press table to make everything rock solid. Because, my cleats are a little loose.
Photo: Self Centering Vise 10