Sometimes a tool is such an integral part of your daily routine, you don't think of it as a tool but as part of your shop or truck. A mechanic's vise is such a tool.
In my plumbing work, I need to break apart fittings or hold a tubing assembly in place to solder it up, so my vise sees constant use. Vise design doesn't move as fast or get as much attention as, say, lithium-ion-fueled cordless tools, but there is a new time-saving detail on the new 4-1/2-inch Ridgid XF45 vise that is definitely worth mentioning.
I tested this tool mainly for its quick-adjusting feature, but its basics are reason enough to like it. The machining and finish look great, and this attention to detail speaks well for the overall quality of this type of tool. It has a full 360-degree swivel base with dual lock-down levers; a stout, hardened anvil section; and a patented alignment system that keeps the jaws parallel. Unlike most vises on the market, the Ridgid is of forged and welded construction. I have owned cheaper cast iron vises that have chipped, but this should never be a problem with the Ridgid. Forged steel is nearly indestructible in this application.
The quick-adjusting action is fairly common on woodworking vises with longer travel, but, according to Ridgid, having it on this tool makes it the only quick-adjusting mechanic's vise in the U.S. market. The quick-adjusting action really is a time saver on the job. To open or close the jaws, you simply flip a lever below the moving jaw to disengage the threaded drive. After sliding the jaws into position, you flip the lever back down and crank the vise tight.
On the job, time is money, so I liked the idea of saving a little. I installed the Ridgid vise on our repair service truck; our trucks have a special receiver setup of my own design that accommodates a vise mount that my guys can adjust to perfect working height. A mounting arm slides out from a receiver in the side of the rear bumper and allows access to the vise from all sides, ensuring a good working position with plenty of clearance for the longest pipes or bulkiest assemblies. Usually this rig holds a chain vise for pipe, but I made a mounting plate for the Ridgid's vise, too.
The first thing I noticed when using the vise is the generous capacity of the jaws, despite their moderate 4-3/4-inch width. It can clamp up to 4-7/8 inches between its jaws or handle a piece of 4-inch pipe in its integral pipe jaws. During our testing, this vise held everything we clamped in it without slipping.
The most outstanding feature of the Ridgid XF45 is of course its quick-release function. When working with a vise, we often clamp a small piece, such a bolt head, then need to clamp a large assembly. This used to require the jaws to be laboriously cranked in and out, but with the Ridgid vise, sliding the jaw into position with one hand couldn't be easier. And I found that the square drive threads tightened seamlessly without any sudden loosening when jumping back into gear, an annoying quirk of quick-release woodworking vises with angled drive teeth. This feature saves a lot of time when working with multiple sizes of materials, freeing you from the endless handle cranking.
One problem with this vise is that when it is rotated, the quick-release lever can hit the base. This keeps the vise from rotating very far when it is holding something 11/16 inches or smaller in its jaws. If this is a common occurrence in your work, you could saw the steel lever down at the expense of a bit of leverage.
Ridgid offers three accessory jaw pads for this vise in rubber, aluminum, or fiber-reinforced plastic. These pads attach easily with magnetic backs and provide protection for your most delicate materials. I found the rubber pads quite useful for holding chromed pieces firmly without damaging the finish. Ridgid also has a larger version of this vise, the 5-inch XF50, for $100 more.
I've always carried a chain vise on our service truck; we work mostly with pipe, so it seemed like the most useful tool. But after using the Ridgid XF45 vise for a while, its quick-adjustment feature, compact size, heavy-duty capabilities, and increased versatility had me shelving the chain vise. We now have new repair service favorite.
John Myrtle owns JM Plumbing and Heating in Hotchkiss, Colo.
Xf45 quick acting vise