Handy Home-Built Holders: The Art Of Vise Building

Handy Home-Built Holders: The Art Of Vise Building

With less than a dozen parts including the jack, this homemade barrel vise is ideal for the hobbyist or the professional gunsmith.

Gunsmiths have lots of expensive, specialized equipment, and much of it would seldom, if ever, be of use to the average hobbyist. But there's one item that--even though you might think it's too specialized--can be very useful in your home shop. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg because you can build it yourself.

I'm talking about a barrel vise.


A barrel vise is a heavy-duty clamping tool used to hold a barrel while the receiver or action is turned on or off the barrel. In gunsmithing, you normally don't hold the receiver or action in a vise while installing or removing a barrel. There are several reasons for this. First, it's generally easier to secure the barrel even though it's often round. Second, by placing the holding pressure on the barrel, there's less likelihood of damaging the action, which can be bent a lot easier than you might think. And, finally, actions or receivers tend to have odder shapes that are less conducive to clamping in a vise.


Especially important for the home gunsmith, a barrel vise gives you the ability to do more work on rifles, shotguns, or handguns. For example, with a barrel vise you can pull the barrel off an old military Mauser and install a new sporter barrel. You can swap barrels on revolvers. You can remove barrels for refinishing, cleaning, lapping, or sight work. Any time you can do a job easier without the action, a barrel vise can be a big help.

There are many vises available from gunsmith supply houses, and all of them work. However, you can easily build your own. By doing so, you will save money, and you'll have the option of modifying the design to fit your needs.


Traditional Barrel Vises
Perhaps the oldest and most traditional barrel vise consists of a large casting with a rectangular or square opening. At the top of the casting is a massive machine screw that extends down into the opening. The barrel is placed inside blocks of wood or metal under this screw. The screw is turned in and compresses the blocks around the barrel, holding it securely. It's a simple and effective vise that I've used many times over the years. The only problem involves the threads for the machine screw. These threads can be stripped out, and when that happens, you have a major problem.


Another popular vise consists of two thick, rectangular strips of steel. The strip on top is normally a bit shorter and will have anywhere from two to four screws passing through it and threading into the lower strip. The barrel, again in a wood or metal block, is positioned between these two strips, and the screws are tightened. The compression exerted can be pretty impressive, and the vise works quite well. But again, there's the potential problem of stripping out the screw threads. You also have to do a lot of work with a wrench if your vise has four clamping screws, and that can get old really quickly if you have to put a barrel on and off an action repeatedly.

My favorite barrel vise is a homemade unit and uses a hydraulic jack. It's fast, easy to use, and can be tightened with just one hand. It can also double as a press if needed. Best of all, it's simple to build and relatively inexpensive. I built my first barrel vise like this almost 30 years ago. I'll admit that one was too big and too heavy, but boy it sure worked.

Inserts made of bedding material are cast around the barrel and then held in aluminum blocks, which are placed in the barrel vise. The inserts are coated with rosin to help secure the barrel.

Years later some friends who had a machine shop built one based on my suggestions. They generously gave me their first prototype, and I've been using it now for about 20 years.

How To Build Your Own
The vise is simplicity itself. It consists of two 1-inch-diameter steel rods approximately 15 inches long. They are threaded into a 3/4-inch-thick steel base that measures 9 inches by 14 inches. The rods are set 4 inches apart. There is a moveable 3/4-inch-thick steel platform 7 inches by 2.5 inches. The two steel rods extend through this platform.

To keep the platform off the base piece, there are heavy coil springs around the bottom of each rod. There is a 3/4-inch by 6.25-inch by 3-inch-thick steel top cap attached to the two rods by large nuts.

The "secret" of this vise, and what makes it so easy and fast to use, is a 4-ton hydraulic jack. It's positioned to sit on the moveable platform between the vertical rods. The top of the jack bears against the top cap of the vise, and by pumping the jack, the moveable plate is forced downward.

When using the barrel vise, the blocks holding the barrel are positioned under the moveable platform. As the platform is forced down by the upward movement of the jack piston, tons of energy are transferred to compress the blocks around the barrel. The amount of force you can obtain with this barrel vise is limited only by the size of your jack. If you want more compressing force, use a bigger jack. Needless to say, you can vary the dimensions of your vise to accommodate virtually any size of hydraulic jack.

A variety of different types of blocks can be used to hold a barrel. The simplest is a block of hardwood, such as oak. The other option is to make up a metal clamping block.

Years ago I took a 3x3.5x2.75-inch piece of aluminum bar stock and bored a 2-inch-diameter hole in it. I then cut the block into two equal halves right through the center of the hole. The blocks are used both as molds to cast inserts of bedding material around the barrel that I intend to remove or install and as holders for these inserts when used in the barrel vise.

Don't be afraid to change the dimensions of your barrel vise or barrel blocks. The important thing is that you have one. It'll be a great addition to your shop.

Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Trending Articles

How can a shorter-barreled revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barreled semiautomatic pistol? Handguns

Revolver vs. Semiautomatic Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity

Allan Jones - May 15, 2019

How can a shorter-barreled revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barreled...

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet. Ammo

Danger Tamed: Hornady DGX Bonded Hunting Ammo

Joseph von Benedikt - May 23, 2019

A half-century in the making, the new DGX Bonded is Hornady's best-ever dangerous-game bullet.

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel Defense Delta 5. Rifles

Daniel Defense Delta 5 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel...

See More Trending Articles

More Gunsmithing



One of the most fascinating things I learned years ago in my gunsmith shop related to broken Gunsmithing

The Best Sources for Gun Parts

Reid Coffield - June 05, 2013

One of the most fascinating things I learned years ago in my gunsmith shop related to broken

In the first two parts of this series, I took a standard-production Ruger 10/22 rifle and began the process of converting it into a close copy of the M1 Garand. Gunsmithing

Build a .22 Rimfire Garand, Part 3

May 20, 2011

In the first two parts of this series, I took a standard-production Ruger 10/22 rifle and...



Some of us are tinkerers at heart and enjoy working on our guns. It's interesting and educational Gunsmithing

Cutting & Crowning a Barrel with Hand Tools

Brad Miller, Ph.D. - June 23, 2016

Some of us are tinkerers at heart and enjoy working on our guns. It's interesting and...



When I look down a barrel, I want to see a smooth, shiny bore. Polished lands and grooves are a Gunsmithing

Does a Rough Bore Mean Poor Accuracy?

Brad Miller, Ph.D. - July 08, 2016

When I look down a barrel, I want to see a smooth, shiny bore. Polished lands and grooves...

See More Gunsmithing

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.