Parkinson’s Patent Perfect Vise

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Welcome to the first part of this potted history of the quick-release woodworking vice, a history that will culminate with the venerable and arguably never-bettered Record 52 1/2 vice

We have much to thank a chap called Joseph Parkinson for.  Parkinson did for vices what Leonard Bailey did for bench planes: he pioneered a design that become the de-facto standard and dominated the market for well over a century.

Parkinson’s Patent Perfect Vice

David Fell’s father worked at the company founded by Parkinson and has created a web site that provides some background information on the business (J Parkinson and Son, Shipley, Yorks) and about the man himself, who was clearly an impressive chap.

The company survived into the second half of the 20th century and, according to the account in a booklet produced to celebrate the centenary of its founding (summarised in the site above), Parkinson invented his quick release vice in 1884, having come a cropper in his dealings with a customer who had copied the design of his ‘handy’ line of vices and then started up in competition with him.

Having had his fingers burned once before he registered patents for the new invention in multiple countries during the next year or so. Here is the US patent (1886): US361445

…and here is a picture of the workings taken from the Canadian patent (this patent shows a picture of the joiners vice, omitted from the drawings in the US application)

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Canadian Patent

Unfortunately the text of the Canadian patent is hand written and not very well scanned which makes it almost illegible, so we have to go just on the drawing for details.

c.f Fig 6 above for a sketch of the woodworker’s vice: there is a spring loaded flat bar (k) which engages with a groove in the base of a half nut (N). The bar is attached to a lever (L) next to the vice handle and when squeezed the lever causes the flat bar to pivot downwards, taking the nut with it and disengaging it from the screw. In this position the vice moves freely back and forwards.

Although not completely clear in the picture, it is almost certain that the spring that holds the bar/nut in the engaged position for the woodworker’s vice is directly under the half nut, rather than next to the trigger (which is the familiar arrangement today).  C&J Hampton (Record) – who copied Parkinson’s QR mechanism – used the same arrangement up until the early 1930s:

d
old C&J Hampton (aka Record) vice – you can just see the spring through the hole in the under carriage

C&J Hampton eventually found a better solution and moved the spring to the inside face of the vice.  This meant that the half-nut used in the QR mechanism could  be housed in a removable casing so it could be extracted for cleaning without first having to remove the vice from the bench.

In turn Parkinson adopted this improvement in their vices:

Having invented an effective quick-release mechanism Parkinson was able to use a buttress thread for the screw. These threads apply a strong force in one direction at the expense of their effectiveness in the reverse direction (not a problem when the vice can be opened without the screw using the quick-release lever).  See, for example, toothpaste tops for an example of this type of thread:

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Parkinson called the new range of vices the ‘Patent Perfect’ range, and in the terminology of the day it was an ‘instantaneous grip vice’ – the earliest reference to the term we have settled on in recent times ( ‘quick release’) was about 15 years later, in a patent filed by an American.

The vices were clearly successful (and well built), since the frequently turn up for sale on ebay UK in working condition today. An early model is shown above (note that the vice runs on parallel cast ‘sliders’ rather than the round steel guides in later vices from Record et al.  Note also the unconventional (for the UK) spelling of ‘vise’ – no doubt to contrast this range with his older range of vices.

There are a number of references to Parky vices in books aimed at headmasters and teachers, and perhaps their adoption in classrooms helps explain why there are so many still around.  Mind you, they also had a decent production run: the distinctive design shown above, with the unadorned front jaw and cast steel sliders, was made at least until 1930 (more on that later).

Here are some youths enjoying their Parky vices at a school in Ireland (1907) where 10 were installed

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Journal of Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries – 1908

Type study

mark I (1884)

We know the Parkinson perfect instantaneous grip was made from 1884/5 onwards, the earliest picture I can find of the woodworkers’ model is from the Charles Nurse 1891 catalogue1)this catalogue is available – along with other catalogues – from taths.org, and it shows a design I have not seen elsewhere:

Parkinson wood workers’ vice (left)

…  this appears to be  the very first model (1885 onwards).

mark II (~1905)

The ‘mark II’ model has cast iron sliders and a distinctive front face design with “Parkinson’s Patent Perfect Vise” cast in a semicircle around the handle can be seen in this 1905 catalogue by Melhuish:

Thus the best we can say is about Mark II is is it was introduced before 1905.

mark III (~1930)

The catalogue below shows the Mark II being sold alongside the Record pattern  that would eventually displace it (note that by this time Record had adopted steel rods – an improvement over fragile cast iron sliders):

The 1930s catalogue entries below show the mark II Parkinson but (this time with two screw holes rather than three).  It is likely that this is one of the final outings for the old Parky ‘steel slider’ design:

As you can see, Record undercut the price of the older Parkinson mark II vice and, since theirs was an improved design, it is likely that they would have quickly eroded Parky’s sales. Indeed, by 1930 much of UK QR vice production – and there were numerous competing makers – had switched to using a Record-like design.

We’ll call the mark III version of Parky’s range the ‘Record Pattern’ – as we can see from the B&H catalogue above, this version was introduced alongside the traditional Mark II cast steel slider version.

This version has a newly designed front face, as is shown in their 1937 catalogue 3)The catalogue was actually published in 1940, but a cover note explains it is a reprint of their 1937 edition but with updated prices.  Note that the tables have truly turned and at this stage Parkinson are making an exact copy of their competitor’s model, going as far as licensing the ‘screw and nut cover’ idea from Record:

By 1935, at least according to the Buck & Hickman’s catalogue below, the Mark II pattern was no longer available.

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B&H 1935

So in summary, the timeline seems to be roughly:

  • mark I: 1884/5 initial quick-release model introduced – see Charles Nurse catalogue above
  • mark II (introduced between 1891-1905) new design of front jaw (see photo of vice painted in red above).
  • mark III (~1930) – Record Pattern introduced (steel sliders and newly designed front jaw – see advert immediately above).  This was initially sold alongside the mark II until the earlier model was discontinued in the second half of the 1930s)

Before Joseph Parkinson’s quick-release mechanism could conquer the world of woodworker’s vices he had to overcome the competition.  There are two notable examples: The ‘Syers’ standard instantaneous grip vice and the ‘Riley’ instantaneous grip vice.  Before we get to those we will take a brief detour into US made vices in the next post4)incidentally much of the information in these vice-related posts is summarised from information that was first published (by me!) on www.UKworkshop.co.uk – a tremendous forum if you are interested in woodwork

References

References
1 this catalogue is available – along with other catalogues – from taths.org
2 archive.org has this catalogue dated as 1910, but there is no date on the catalogue and I do not think it can really have been produced before 1927, which is when Miller Falls introduced their electric drills (see p. 80 where they are listed
3 The catalogue was actually published in 1940, but a cover note explains it is a reprint of their 1937 edition but with updated prices
4 incidentally much of the information in these vice-related posts is summarised from information that was first published (by me!) on www.UKworkshop.co.uk – a tremendous forum if you are interested in woodwork

35 thoughts on “Parkinson’s Patent Perfect Vise”

  1. Very interesting post. The owner of our last house left a brute of a heavy vise when they sold their house about 12 years back. I’ve kept the vise and just made a workbench. On cleaning the vise I’ve discovered the lettering only last week. it’s a parkinson perfect 16 and works beautifully. From your description it appears to be the mark 3 version. Looking forward to the next post.

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  2. Hello, thank you for this. I purchased a Parkinson’s Perfect Vise second hand some years ago and it has served me very well. Recently the vice wouldn’t wind out and the quick release mechanism would just click. I took it apart to see if anything was broken but all looks well. If anyone has any ideas of how to fix this problem it would be appreciated. The exact position of the spring would be helpful too.
    Kind Regards

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    • Hi David Neil,

      I have discovered the same problem on my Parkinson vice as you have got, how did you fix it could you let me know would appreciate your advice.

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      • Hi Keith,

        I have the same problem as the two above…the vise/vice (a Parkinson Perfect 16) was working well on a previous bench but on moving I had to leave the bench behind but kept the vice. I’ve just fitted it to a new bench and it’s stopped working, jaws and closed tight and when trying to open the lever just clicks? Any ideas? Help would be appreciated.
        Thanks.
        David.

        Reply
        • the most commonly reported issues with this type of vice occur when they have been incorrectly reassembled so that there is not enough tension put on the flat bar that keeps the half nut against the screw, or when oil and sawdust has accumulated in the half nut. In both cases the thread in the half nut and screw do not mesh properly causing the vice to “jump” the threads as it is opened and closed.

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  3. I’m still using the same Parkinsons Perfect woodworking vice that my Great-Grandfather, my Grandfather and my Father all used in the same worshop and attached to the same bench. Still works perfectly and will no doubt be around for as long as someone wants to keep using it.

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  4. A really interesting article, thank you. From this I’ve identified that I have the Mark II model 651 (9″ x 12″) as per the John Hall catalogue ~1927, with 3 front screw holes. It’s a brilliant vice and extra special as I inherited it from my grand father in 1990. It moved with me through 3 houses until I finally got a place where I had the space to build a decent work bench in which it now resides. My father who’s 92 years old also has the same model of vice in his work bench. I’ve just finished making some new wooden vice jaws which aligns brilliantly with my bench dog holes. Finally releasing its full potential.

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  5. Thank you for this lovely article, it’s been a pleasure reading the history of something that on the surface appears mundane, but is actually pretty fascinating.
    I’ve just picked up a lovely 1930 two hole Parky for a bargain £15!
    It was seized solid and had been painted grey at some point. I’m stripping it down, de-rusting It and removing the grey paint so I can paint it back to its original burgundy.
    It’s interesting as it’s had a good repair done where the cast iron sliders have snapped, but I think this gives it more character.

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  6. Roger has completely re-vamped his Parkinson and is enjoying greasing it up and will repaint it when all the bits are clean and in good order. It is a hobby to fill this lockdown period. (Covid-19)

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  7. I’ve really enjoyed reading all of this history of the Parkinson’s Perfect Vise. I picked one up several years ago at a market and it has move house with me twice. I have recently retired and want to do more woodwork so decided that the time had come to restore the rusty old lump of metal lying on the floor of the garage. I have really enjoyed watching it clean up beautifully and begin to look useable again. However, it would be good to know if there is anywhere that can still supply spare parts. In particular mine is a 2 front holes No 14 and those particular screws were missing when I bought it. I’m guessing that they will be Whitworth or BSP thread rather than the ubiquitous Metric of today so, much more difficult to source. Does any one have a work-around solution or source of spare parts?
    Roderick

    Reply
    • from memory the old Record vices used 5/16” BSW in the holes used to fix a jaw cheek, so that might be worth a try on your Parkinson. Assuming you do not want to re-tap the holes to metric you could also just use a smaller coach screw and ignore the treads in the jaw altogether.

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  8. By
    Stan
    Can anyone tell me what year a Parkinson’s perfection 15 release vice was made,also does the compression spring on the end of the screwed shaft assist in stopping the unwinding movement from clicking when being released.

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  9. I have just acquired a Parkinsons vise. I can’t see any Model number on it, but it has the number 8 on most of the parts.
    Are replacement jaws available; probably expensive to get a machine shop to make a pair.
    What was the original color?
    We’re the raised letters ( Made in England and the name logo) a different color?

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  10. I just posted regarding a vise with the number 8 on several parts, just noticed it says Type F, so I guess it’s a Model F, size 8
    What year would it have been made?

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  11. I’ve got a Parkinsons Perfect 16 that is complete -However it is missing the Half Nut. Does anybody know where I can get one in the UK?
    the vice is even painted the original burgundy colour and is in great condition. I just want to get it working as it has sentimental value to me. It came from a very good old friend, now sadly departed. I will build it into my new workshop bench.
    OR – anyone know if a modern “Record” or an “Irwin” half nut can be modified ? if so which model number ? – they all have round shanks but the Parky one was oblong. I’ve thought about getting the cheapest one and giving it go with a grinder, but I don’t know if the Buttress thread is the same or if the notch is cut in the right place….

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    • Hi Peter, I am not sure if the Record half nut will fit but the Perfect 16 is basically a copy of the Record 53, so it might be worth a try. Assuming the screw thread is the same I would guess that a Record housing/guide and half nut could be made to work, perhaps with a bit of fettling required..

      The half nuts are still available new from Knighton tools, if you are in the UK, and also show up second hand occasionally. The 7”, 9” and 10 1/2” Record vices used the same half nut.

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      • Many thanks Nick, Got a Half nut – It need a tickle with a grinder but thread profile looks good. just wondering if it need an extra spring on the bottom of the half nut. I will soon find out when I get the nut to fit, I’m hoping the notch is cut in the correct height to make it work…. Here goes i.m off to get my grinder….

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      • I had to slightly shorten the overall length of the replacement half nut to fit it into the cast guide. Also cut a new notch for the quick release bar closer to the half nut. I just guessed the new position by reassembling the nut and release bar on the Vice and marked it with a pencil. I then shortened the round cast piece by cutting off the old notch excess length. It all now works a treat. All work done with a small hand grinder, Thanks for your help, Much appreciated.

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  12. I have a mechanic’s PARKINSON’S PATENT TRADEPERFECT VICE MARK but it does not have any other markings to tell what model or year it was made. Everything moves on it but when I clamp it up tightly it jumps and I have to rejudge the pressure I can use. I would appreciate any information on possible remedies and how to ascertain the year and/or model.

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    • a common problem with this type of mechanism is simply that sawdust and oil accumulate on the screw or in the half nut and this causes the vice to ‘jump’ the threads when it is tightened. A good clean may well fix it.

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  13. Just found this lovely article – what a history. You have helped me identify two Parkinsons on my bench. One is the Model II with 3 holes, I bought it off my Latin teacher in 1975 for £15 which was all I could afford and I could tell he was in two minds about selling it, he had traded down in house and was giving up on woodwork. He is now 90 years old, when I next see him i’ll ask him for its history, I think it came from his father.
    The second one is a big old No16 left behind in our cellar by a previous owner, its missing the bar and lever mechanism, the half is nut jammed in place with a bit of wood. It has restored nicely and is still mainly Burgundy in colour. Works well but without QR, so I’m in the process of reinstalling the QR, having bought a 1 inch bar, a ratchet lever (shaped into a curve to fit with a hammer and anvil!)and a coil spring (spare for a pillar drill), so all set to assemble except.

    A QUESTION: What is the saw toothed nut inside the spring for? I presume it has two functions, to reinforce the slot attaching the bar (prevent splitting of the 1/2inch handle thread), and to lock the spring in place. I thought I’d file a nut to shape, but thought I’d ask your advice first. I could take the Modle II apart, but reluctant as the spring is probably 100 years old and it works well so want to leave it alone! Does anyone have pictures of this assembly, to see how the toothed nut works?

    Reply
    • thanks Tom, the nut is just to locate the flat bar , it is castellated so you can adjust the amount of tension the spring applies to the bar.

      It should be possible to file another nut to shape if you can find a donor part that is the right size

      castellated nut

      Reply
      • Brilliant advice. And perfect photos, and very timely. (I did photo my Parkin II. but could not get the resolution and as I said, dare not fittle with it). I was about to cut up a 12mm nut, but after this I’ve filed an old spark plug type socket on a barrel thingy (the long tube with a hex end) that was 1/2 inch diameter and its fits well, a bit crude teeth, filed with the saw file, and cut the slot in the handle thread, just awaiting amazon to deliver the spring, but its all seems to work. The makeshift handle is a bit oversize, I’ll keep a lookout for something more elegant, but for about £22 I’ve got a 13 inch deep vice going again. (£6 handle, £6 spring, £6 rod, £2 new split pins, £2 washer and un-needed nuts).
        If anyone is interested I can post photos of the re-vamp. Thanks again for your help, I feel the cost and work is worth it given the heritage of the original QC vise, not vice!.

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  14. G’day from Down Under. I’ve had a thumping great bench vice for decades- it’s been bolted to a stump beside my forge for the last ten years or so- anyhoo, tonight I took to it with degreaser and wire brush in an attempt to find a name- a previous owner seems to have used it as an anvil and it has many battle scars. Turns out to be a Parkinsons J model number 39 (pretty sure it says 39) on the side, and Samsonia on the top. Could someone take a stab at a year of manufacture please?
    I also have three different blacksmith leg vises, none of which have any identifying marks at all- was that common? Thanks.

    Reply
    • I believe “Samsonia” was the brand they reserved for their steel vices Jay, but I don’t know much about them. Nor about the leg vices either I’m afraid.

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  15. I’ve saved a 1930s’ model. 7inches wide. 6 inches opening. It’s the same as the red one in the excellent article. In perfect working order Could just do with the combination of grease and sawdust washing out of the nut !
    It belonged to my 94 year old neighbour, originally form Bradford. He died, and the vise was going into a skip.
    I can’t make use of it. I have a big old Record that gets used a lot on classic car work.
    Happy to sell it to an enthusiast. I like saving old things. ( Like myself ! ). Location – Stroud Gloucestershire. Could post it.

    Reply

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