I first saw one of these at a big box hardware store about 5 years ago and immediately wanted one. I think they were about $250 then – more than I could afford – but they looked like an ideal solution to my lack of a workbench or vise or space to store either one. When I embarked on a backyard fencing/arbor project, I couldn’t resist any longer, especially given the significant drop in price.

Put simply, it’s a portable work bench whose entire top forms a sort of vise to securely hold whatever I’m working on. The clamping mechanism is controlled by a foot pedal, so I can position my materials with both hands and then securely clamp it shut using my foot. It works so well I still get a little frisson of glee whenever I engage it!

The mechanism allows one to apply as much clamping force as necessary, and easily as much as I’ll ever need (the documentation claims it offers “one ton of clamping force”). The sliding arm provides for materials up to about 16″ wide but can be flipped out and reseated to provide clearance up to 37″. Available accessories can extend that to 48″ for working with sheets of plywood – I can’t speak to how well that works.

At 43 lbs it’s not easy to lug around, but on the other hand it’s heavy enough to feel rock solid. It sits on three wide-spaced legs and would take some serious misjudgment to tip over. It folds easily to the size of a medium duffel bag and sets up quickly.

There are a number of nice design features – there’s a roller that would allow one to roll it across a smooth floor when folded. The third (and smaller) leg makes for a convenient handle for carrying. I really like that the two legs nearest the clamping mechanism meet the ground in a sort of stirrup that allows me to step into it with my workboot. When working with a handsaw this provides a bombproof worktable that won’t shudder or slide.

It’s not perfect. A few times the mechanism that draws the jaws shut with the foot pedal hasn’t engaged. I’m sure I’ll eventually figure out how to ensure this doesn’t happen, but so far I’ve just re-seated the clamping arm and pushed it back and forth till it operates correctly. The rubber pads on the jaws look and feel a little cheap, tho they do successfully avoid scratching the material I’ve been working with (mostly soft cedar).

When I worked briefly as a trim carpenter’s helper 30 years ago, I spent a fair amount of time helping my boss steady or hold the cabinets, doors, or etc. that he was working on. This device would make a helper far less necessary. And what’s more, I realized while using it last week that I no longer need the pair of sawhorses that have been taking up room in my garage, so the Jawhorse will actually allow me to reduce the precious space my tools take up.

Submitted to Cool Tools by Carter Kemp