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what kind of steel for a small vise?

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  • what kind of steel for a small vise?

    So, I'm sort of new to this whole machining work. I've made a few things out of 6061, 1018, and brass. But now I plan to make a small little toolmakers vise. It will be about 1.25" high and 1" wide - about 4" long. After I mill it, I thought I might get it heat treated and grind the surfaces square, flat, parallel.

    Somebody told me I should make it out of A-2 because it was reasonably machinable and wouldn't change shape much after getting it heat treated. But, I was looking for a piece of A-2 online and the prices nearly caused cardiac arrest. Anyhow, I found and found some smaller pieces and different allows that are affordable, if not inexpensive. But I don't know what kind of steel to choose. Here's the leading options:

    4140 Heat treated - 1.25X1.5X12 - $22.15

    1045 cold finish - 1.5" square X 12" - $18.18

    A-2 - 1.5" square X 12" - $47.29

    What would you choose and why?

    I'm leaing toward the 4140 heat treated. According to the website, this steel is reasonably machinable, 27-32 Rockwell, and won't need to be heat treated after milling. Sound reasonable?

  • #2
    Check LMS, you can almost buy one for materials cost. I don't know that a vise that small needs to be hardened, but you might want hardened jaws. Or soft jaws for that matter. In either case, I would think replaceable jaws would make the vise material less critical.


    • #3
      Normally toolmakers vices are hardened and ground after heat treatment.
      A2 is probably a good choice for the tool, as the deformation during heat treatment will be minimal, merchantability is pretty good, the steel is relatively stable, and it has good characteristics after heat treatment.
      The cost of using this steel should include heat treating costs.


      • #4
        Well I'm a big fan of Lasalles 1144 StressProof steel. It would work very well for a tool makers vise in a home shop. No need to heat treat it for a home shop environment IMO. It does not distort from machining and is usually used "as is" with no further heat treatments.
        I have made model engine crankshafts using Stressproof 1144 which required a great deal of material removal, and never found any distortion during and after final machining is completed.
        Plenty of info in this link-

        I always keep it on hand. It is a fantastic steel to work with IMHO.
        But I do think it's only available in rounds.



        • #5
          A2, O1, D2, are all reasonable choices for the project you have in mind. D2 is the hardest to machine, A2 or O1 are fine choices and not too bad machining.

          You can also buy by the inch with them, so at $4.62 per inch you could just do your project in A2 quite cheaply.

          SJH mentioned 1144, and while it is an outstanding metal to work with and is readily heat treated I believe it's only available in rounds. The nicety in 1144 is that it is stress relieved right out of the factory, no built up internal stresses there to mess with your day. It really does machine like a dream.

          If you just want/need a vise, buy it. If your looking at it from the point of doing a project, then do it right and work with the appropriate material, in this case tool steel. have it hardened and then grind and fit things properly. You'll learn a lot doing it, you'll have fun, and you'll have a top quality tool that will last the rest of your life and probably the life if the person who gets it after you.

          PS: remember to initial your work