Restoring a Torco Vise

Not my vise, but a remarkably similar specimen

Not my vise, but a remarkably similar specimen

Restoring an old tool is a project I find incredibly fun, and this bench vise is no exception. If you are willing to put in a little effort, restoring an old bench vise can be a great project. Older American made vises are prized for their quality and durability. You can often find them at garage sales or thrift stores. There are guys who are willing to pay top dollar for a specific make or model of vise, but in this case we are talking about a small, inexpensive vise that will great for using in the shop, rather than a collectible.

I finished this project three years ago, but it seemed worth sharing! Click on the galleries to advance the images.

Torco History

I got this particular vise from my Dad, who had it just sitting around in his garage. It was almost completely covered in rust, but otherwise in great shape. . To get started, I searched for information on this make and model, the Torco 3 1/2". The Torco vise is a home mechanics vise made by the Wilton Company during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Wilton Catalog

Wilton Catalog


The picture at the top isn't my vise, since I forgot to take a picture before I started, but that is very much what it looked like. The original color was some kind of green. Everything seemed square and true, and the jaw inserts were present. A little further research convinced me that this model would be worth restoring, and adequate for anything I might be doing with it.

The plan was to disassemble the vise, de-rust it, prime it, paint it, and put it back together. Easy, right?


Nitrile gloves
Scouring pad
Dish soap
Painter's tape
Self-etching primer


Taking the Torco apart was pretty easy. I just took out any screws I saw and then turned the vise handle until the movable jaw came out.

Removing Rust

Now that I had everything taken apart, I needed to remove all the rust. Since there was rust everywhere, including inside the casting, I decided that either vinegar or electrolysis were the best methods. Using an aqueous method would allow me to get inside everything, and it sounded like fun. Looking into the electrolysis methods, they all seemed to use car battery chargers and 5-gallon buckets, which didn't seem like a good idea with my two-year-old son running around.

The vinegar method was often compared on the forums to Evaporust, a rust-removal product I've used at various jobs. Since I knew Evaporust worked, that gave me some confidence the vinegar soak would too.

Freshly scrubbed hardware

Freshly scrubbed hardware

It turned out pretty well. I put the vise in a plastic container with the vinegar, and let it sit for a couple of days. After it came out, it was completely black. This was expected, so I scrubbed the parts with water and dish soap. This has a side benefit of neutralizing the acetic acid, which will cause your metal parts to rust again if you don't clean them.

Removing Old Paint

I used a sandblaster with aluminum oxide media to get the old paint off, but plain old sand works too. You could get to the same place with sandpaper, but it would take a lot longer. Getting into the raised letters would be a real challenge.

Sandblasted and ready for priming!

Sandblasted and ready for priming!


After all this everything came out looking pretty good. I used painter's tape to mask anything I didn't want to paint, and I brushed on the can of primer I bought. Then I came out the next day and there were rust spiders all over everything. I looked at the can of primer I had bought, and it turns out the first one was water based.

Rookie mistake

Rookie mistake

I'm sure that primer is a fine product, but it wasn't what I really needed. Everything went back in the sandblaster, and I bought self-etching primer for metal.

I gave the primer a chance to cure, and then I laid two coats of paint on top. I picked red, because it was fun.


I pulled the masking off, and then I tried to put the movable jaw back into the static jaw. It wouldn't fit! I had masked the rectangular slide of the movable jaw, but some over-spray had made the opening in the static jaw just a bit too small. If you look close in the picture you can see some red inside the channel. Fortunately nothing more was required than a little touch-up with sandpaper.


Mounting the Vise

I put some graphite on the base, drilled some holes in my work bench, and bolted it down. The only thing I should have done different is wait a bit longer for the paint to cure, since the bolts marred it a bit.

Not too difficult, and pretty rewarding!

The Long View 2004-05-11: Things You Can't Say

Respectable children's literature circa 1913

Respectable children's literature circa 1913

At the end of this blog post, John reminisces about the "Boy Inventor" literature his father used to enjoy. I happen to have a number of examples lying about my house. They are jam-packed full of useful technical information, and are also completely unacquainted with current standards of safety and propriety. John joking wondered whether there were ever articles like "How to Electrocute Your Own Cat!" I just happen to know this volume contained that article, so I took a picture of it.

Things You Can't Say

I am reluctant to jinx the situation by mentioning this, but has anyone except David Brooks noticed how much the situation on the ground in Iraq has improved since the publication of the Abu Graib pictures? Peace seems to have settled on Falluja, indeed a peace that involves some continuing American presence. Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr's insurrection is starting to look like Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, except that Clark did not actually have Democrats demonstrating against him.

Brooks suggests that the prospect that the US might actually lose has concentrated the minds of responsible Iraqis wonderfully; they are now keen to get a working political system up and running while there are still Coalition forces on the ground. Even the insurgents at Falluja, or some of them at least, seem to have decided that honor has been satisfied. Hostility to the US will hereafter be expressed chiefly by political parties, rather than by militias.

In short, the Jihadis' Spring Offensive has failed. Did the Abu Graib pictures actually facilitate this?

* * *

On Sunday, the Boston Globe had an article entitled Chaos Theory. The subtitle explains:

A terrorist attack on presidential candidates could throw the US into unprecedented political turmoil. So why do so few people want to talk about it?

Actually, I myself broached some questions along these lines on New Year's Day, in the same blog entry in which I so presciently forecast the success of the Dean campaign. I do worry about this, often, but I am reluctant to discuss it, particularly online. Snoopy machines might detect my speculations. This could lead to awkward interviews with the Secret Service, particularly if one of my speculations turned out to be correct. You know what happens when American intelligence catches you.

In any case, the The Globe pointed out the procedural problems that would develop if both candidates were assassinated just before or just after the election. I was relieved to read this:

Both Republican and Democratic party bylaws allow their national committee members to fill vacant nominations for president and vice president. But if there is not time enough for party leaders to pick a replacement before the election, they would have to ask supporters to vote for the dead men and trust them later to pick an acceptable replacement.

This would lead us once again into the mysteries of that 18th-century cuckoo clock, the Electoral College. Some delegates are bound by the law of their states to vote for the party of the candidate they were nominally chosen to represent. Those who are not so bound, however, might not feel obligated to do so if that candidate could not serve. Some of the issues The Globe raises are not actually different from the confusion the Electoral College could occasion even with both candidates in perfect health. This system needs an upgrade.

* * *

I am reading a book about engineering and popular culture, entitled Inventing Modern: Growing up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins. It's by John Lienhard, a noted professor of fluid mechanics. He introduces yet another perfectly defensible definition of "Modern," this time as the spirit of the first half of the 20th century, when art nouveau turned into art deco, and technological progress meant "higher and faster."

There are all kinds of interesting things in the book, which is packed with cool illustrations from the period. What caught my attention, however, was his discussion of the old "Boy Inventor" literature. My father used to read this kind of stuff; some faded books and manuals were still around the house when I was growing up.

The wonderful thing about this material is that it antedates the age of small-minded tort litigation. Respectable youth publications told their readers how to build substantial rockets, even how to build gliders: readers were encouraged to jump off a cliff.

How far did the editors go, I wonder? Were there ever articles like: "Boys! Build Your Own Gallows!"; or "How to Electrocute Your Cat!" There is, of course, an old Ray Bradbury story called "Boys! Grow Mushrooms in Your Basement," in which the mushrooms were probably evil aliens, but I'm pretty sure he made that up.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Halo goes Old School

Halo 2600

The game started as a simple pet project to learn the system: Fries programmed a Master Chief sprite, had him move and shoot. But instead of calling it a day, he pressed on to make it a full-fledged game using the same limitations of most Atari 2600 games: create it using just 4 kilobytes of data. The game was to have a level that featured a driveable Warthog, but not only did it push the size of the game over the 4K limit, according to Fries it also wasn't that much fun to play. So he scrapped it.

Halo 2600 has a very "Adventure" feel to it: players control Master Chief in a non-scrolling exploration design. There are 64 "rooms" to explore with a variety of enemies to shoot, including a final boss – but first you have to find your gun. Energy barriers can impede your progress, but once you track down a key or take down enemies the wall will disappear and you can move on.

 Play Halo 2600 online

50 dangerous things you should let your kids do

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do

Book website

The Magistra sent me a video by the author of this book a year ago. You should watch it. Now, go out and buy his extended book length treatment of the same subject. I'm planning on using a gift card I got for my birthday from the Family Social Scientist for this book.

h/t Tom

Magnetic Spice Rack

Magnetic Spice Rack

A fun project for the Magistra Scientia. We are chronically short of space in our apartment, so we decided to transfer the spices to these magnetic spice tins from World Market. We just needed somewhere to put them, because the kitchen is far too small to put them on the fridge.

So, with a piece of sheet metal, some molding, and the hooks from an over-the-door closet mirror, a magnetic spice rack was born.