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a Roman woodworking vise

I remember reading about this vise in an article from a magazine… it was about the city of Pompeii, down on the shore there was a shed, open on the side facing the sea. Inside the shed was set up to build or repair small boats, and chained to the workbench was a man… on the workbench were 3 blocks of wood, 2 of which were riveted in place…

I was in need of a vise, and was saving up for one when I read this nearly 35 years ago. I immediately went out to the barn and came up with three 8/4 pieces of hard maple. @ 2.25″ wide, and 10″ or 11″ long.

I have drawn a sketch of the vise that I have been using ever since. I never did buy the nice iron woodworking vise I was saving up for.

The 2 stationary pieces are set: one on the front edge of the bench and the other set angled 1:10 about 2″ back from it. Securely screwed. the 3rd one cut at an angle that is the same with a little toe left on it.

In use you set the board down on the bench, slide it toward the vise so that it catches the toe and slam it into the wedge and it locks in place nicely. to open it, tap the toe end of the wedge with your mallet. I’ve been using the same maple blocks for all of those years now…

sometimes thinner stock needs a filler block placed behind the wedge

be well

PS: about the man… the article was mostly about him, speculation about his life and status. The chain was brass and thin enough that a child could have broken it. It was long enough that he could get at least 25 yards into the water. He was found under the bench where he had his bed. The writer felt that he was a highly valued and respected slave.

And please keep in mind that slavery during the Roman empire was different than slavery of our more recent past. Slaves earned money for their work, they got 1 day off a week and 14 holidays off, (3 meals a day, a place to sleep and clothes without holes or tears [patches were OK]). A person down on his luck could sell themselves into slavery (to pay off debts etc), and reasonably expect to buy himself out in 5 to 7 years. Since being a citizen was hard and expensive, some people who could have bought their freedom chose to remain slaves because then there was some rich person taking care of all their expenses. (beating slaves and house servants was Illegal and could lose you your citizenship status)

There were Other slaves that were prisoners of war or criminals, who’s debts were considered to large to be paid with anything short of a life sentence. They got sold to mines, quarries, gravel pits, rowing galleons, and to the Circus. These slaves were treated as cruelly as any ever were.

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