When you're working with hand tools, holding the workpiece securely is a must – and a solid bench vise is like an extra set of very strong hands. It can hold stock in a variety of positions, enabling you to make smoother saw cuts and more steady plane strokes.
We carry several types and sizes of vises, including models that permanently attach to your bench and others that can be clamped on and then removed between uses. Here's a little information to help you pick the vise that makes the most sense for your shop.
There are two basic types of bench vise: the front vise and the end vise. The front vise, most often installed at the left corner of the long edge of the workbench, is great for holding a drawer side upright while you cut the tails of a dovetail joint or holding a board edge-up horizontally for hand planing. The end vise, so named because it is installed at one end of the bench, is designed to hold material flat on the surface of the bench, secured between one or more "dogs" sticking up from the top of the vise's jaw and corresponding dogs fitted into holes in the bench surface. (Many front vises also have a pop-up dog on the outer jaw to you hold stock flat on the table.)
A common type of front vise has cast-iron jaws and a steel screw that tightens and loosens the jaws. Most also have steel rods to keep the jaws aligned and prevent flexing, and some have a quick-release mechanism that makes adjustment easy.
Usually, the width of the jaws is used to describe the vise – Rockler's 7" Quick Release Vise has 7" wide jaws, for example. Be sure to look for a vise that opens wide enough to accommodate the thickest piece of stock you can imagine yourself working on, and remember that you'll need to subtract the thickness of the of the wooden pads that you'll be installing on the cast-iron jaw faces.
Good end vises also employ the screw-and-rod design, and they usually are sold with just the screw and guide-rod mechanism. You add the wooden jaw.