A bench vise in the garage is like a stove in the kitchen. Initially, you may think that you can live without it, but once you have made your first purchase and used it for the very first time, you then realize the massive difference it makes when doing your everyday projects. Whether you are sawing wooden panels for garden fencing or reshaping heating pipes, a bench vise will help you single handedly tackle a wide range of tasks. On such budget example is the California based Olympia Tools 38-604 4-Inch bench vise. Olympia has built a good reputation for manufacturing budget tools since 2005. We believe that the 38-604 vise serves as a great example for why they are so popular, and as such we thought it worthy of review.
The hardened steel jaws of the Olympia 38-604 open a respectable 4 inches. The jaws are also removable, allowing them to be easily replaced for grippier or in the case of wear. They are extremely durable, so the time to replace them may never come. The throat depth is about 2 inches, which is ideal for the majority of building work done at home.
The handle can be maneuvered to give you better leverage when tightening or loosening the jaws of the vise. If you haven’t been eating your spinach, it can also be operated with both hands to give you that added nudge. It is usually safer to operate the handle with one hand, leaving your other hand free to handle the parts that require positioning within the mouth of the jaws.
There is a decent sized anvil on the back of the vise which you can use for manipulating your parts. It can withstand a great deal of abuse, so you can use it confidently to hammer metal parts into shape without incident.
The base of the Olympia 38-604 is heavily reinforced with 4 lugs, allowing you to firmly attach it to the edge of your workbench. However, this will not restrict your movements when working with the vise, because the base also comes with the ability to swivel 270 degrees. As you are often unlikely to be operating the vise from the opposite end of your workbench, lack of the full 360 degrees is unlikely to bother you.
Finally, this vise features an uncovered lead screw. While our general preference is a covered lead screw, we find this acceptable for a vise at this price point. It is going to require an occasional lube and cleaning and you’ll have to do this more often than you would for a vise with a covered screw.
The Olympia 38- 604, weighing in at just under 12 pounds, is built with 20,000 psi of malleable steel casting. It would require a decent amount of force to cause it to break although it won’t stand up to the same abuse that a 30000 psi grey iron or a ductile iron vise would. Nonetheless, this vise does just fine, especially at the budget price point. The handle and spindles are manufactured with a black oxide finish which basically means that they are less likely to corrode and generally gives it a more stylish look. The mechanism of the jaws can be a little tight to open and close at first, but that can be fixed with a bit of lubricant. Overall fit and finish is passable overall, but if you consider the cheap price, the fit and finish is pretty darn good.
If you are on a tight budget and can’t afford to shell out big dough for a bench vise, the Olympia 38-604 is the tool for you. It’s a little more expensive from most brick and mortar stores, but if you shop around you can usually find a better deal online. Places like Amazon often have highly competitive pricing, which is usually hard to top. As for value, there are many more vises out there twice or three times more expensive than the Olympia 38-604 that do the same job. So if you need to get a decent vise on the cheap, the Olympia 38-604 4 Inch will do the job.