Rebuilding an 80 year old Parker 974 vise

I’ve been fighting COVID-19 lock down boredom by keeping busy with a constant diet of projecs in my garage and around the house. It’s been six years since I created an article here, but boredom is the enemy so here goes . . .

A lot has changed since my last transmission:

  • I moved away from Philadelphia with my family to take a job in California.
  • I moth-balled my workshop (the one you see in all previous articles here) and took what could be shipped with me when I moved. The heavy machinery still lives in Philadelphia.
  • As my sons grow and learn (they are 6 and 9 currently) I try to teach them the project mindset with everything we do. Guess this is NOT a change since last time ;-0
  • All projects are now down in my small-by-comparison two car garage. I’ve gotten back to basics and am enjoying it. I’m also employing some of my old methods of getting things done without all the fancy machining tools although I do still have a lathe.

The house I was renting when we first moved here had an old garage with a hand-built workbench and a nice old vise. I used it for three years and became attached to using it. I asked the landlord if they’d sell it when we moved (after buying a house two doors away) but they told me it was their grandfather’s and had sentimental value. I can certainly appreciate that. So I have been looking out for listings off and on for the last few years for a Parker 974 just like that one.

Two weeks ago I found one at a decent price with reasonable shipping charges, free in this case. Weighing around 80lbs, shipping cost is a big consideration. This one comes from Connecticut and has definitely seen some hard use but nothing is broken. My intent is to actually use it (more hard use!) so this suits me fine.

When it got here I was impressed by the care the shipper took in crating it. That’s always a good sign. I was going to just bolt it down and use it but then spontaneously disassembled it and starting cleaning it up and looking for any needed repairs. The rest of this article tells the tale.

Nice to be back.

Jason (May 2020)

(click on pics to see full size)

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This is how the vise arrived. Well made crate with the vise secured inside. I half expected it to arrive packed loosely in a huge wood box . . . and bent or broken.
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Within an hour of having received it, I had it complete disassembled. I used a wire wheel to strip three layers of paint away. Was originally black, then someone painted it mint green, then someone painted it machine grey.
Main vise body/receiver after stripping and inspection. No cracks. All good. This is a stout casting.
The slide jaw retainer (connects the main screw to the sliding jaw for opening the vise) had a large gap where it meets the jaw. Didn’t matter for 80 years but I ground it down for a better fit anyway. I’ve got the time.
Sliding jaw retainer after stripping and repair for better fit.

The hardened steel replaceable jaw was loose when I got it. They are pretty tough to find once broken so I decided to fix it. The holes are for press-fit steel pins used to secure the jaw to the casting. I removed them with a drift pin and took a pic of the part numbers for future reference.
Making new slightly oversize pins to secure the jaws. The ones I removed were around .008″. I did not inspect the holes so I just made the new ones at .010″ to force them in place for a secure fit. Lathe is a 1944 South Bend 10L I recently put back into service.
Jaw reinstalled with the new oversize retainer pins. Pins were a nice tight fit requiring some force to install but not enough to risk cracking anything.
New jaw retainer pins cut off near flush for finishing.
Retainer pins ground flush with a flap wheel.
After carefully masking off the machined and sliding surfaces I took outside to paint. I used whatever hammered finish paint they had at the hardware store. I think the color was called “carbon”. Had the usual annoyances with the shitty can and nozzle design blowing spatters everywhere.
I cleaned up the sliding surfaces with a hand file and a whetstone. Didn’t go nuts on it, just made sure it was clean with no burrs.
I cleaned up the sliding surface of the moving jaw with a hand file and whetstone too.
Finished jaw repair after painting and removing masking tape.
You guessed it . . . more hand filing and whetstone. This time the sliding surface where main body/receiver rotates on the base casting. This vise has a cool lock design that allows it to rotate and lock in an infinite number of positions. The two things that look like old drum brake shows? They pretty much are. The set screw from the top pulls up the expander wedge locking the vise securely in place. The main body/receiver is also drilled symmetrically so you can mount the set screw on the right or left side. My bench as a side rail on the right so I mounted the set screw on the left. The old vise was really difficult to lock and unlock in cramped quarters.
When rebuilding the vise I found that the main retainer screw could not be fully tightened without binding, preventing the vise from rotating on the base. It’s a shouldered screw so I removed some material from under the head so it could be bottomed without binding. Think I took off around .006″. Now it can be tightened fully. Yes, I know I could have bought some shims but I’m a man with a hammer (lathe) and this looked like a simple nail.
Completed vise. Looks great! Even has the original captured vise wrench.
Finished vise from the side. Ready for the next 100 years of service. Maybe my boys will have this one in their workshop after the worms have eaten me.