Finding Efficiency with the Right Vise

Home > Articles > Finding Efficiency with the Right Vise
By James “Jim” O. Young Jr., CP, LP, FAAOP

Have you ever tried to spin a spinal orthosis or transfemoral socket model with one hand while holding it in position and trying to tighten the pipe vise with the other hand only to have it slip out of position? The typical solution is to hit the lever arm with a hammer. However, just seconds later the process has to be repeated to reposition the model into a more optimal alignment for rectification. This scenario has frustrated me for years, but since an expensive automated carver is not in the budget for my rurally located, sole-practitioner practice, I wanted a pneumatic vise with a foot switch to simplify the task. I wanted to be able to put both hands on an oddly shaped piece of plaster with uneven weight distribution, position it where I needed it, and step on a switch to grab the mandrel securely.

modified vise in action

The modified vise in action.

Luckily, my Master Technician Chason Stavely, CPA, CTPO, who was fed up with my constant moaning, found a device he thought would suit the practice's needs. He expanded his vision to look outside the box of O&P-specific fabrication tools and turned to an industrial vise and tool manufacturer to find the Heinrich Company Model #33 pneumatic vise with foot switch. To make the vise work for us, Stavely built a custom vertical mounting stand and rotated the jaw inserts so that the lips were in the proper configuration. The original out-of-the-box application was designed for a horizontal bench mount, which made it more difficult to slide the mandrel into easily. So Stavely took one-quarter-inch steel flat stock, and a piece of two-inch square steel tubing and cut them into the desired subcomponent configuration using an oxygen-acetylene torch. Then he welded the pieces together. After that, he prepped the surfaces and applied one coat of primer followed by two coats of black enamel paint. He then bolted the vertical base to the bench surface, rotated the vise 90 degrees, and secured the vise to the new vertical mounted stand with bolts, washers, and nylon-lined nuts. This particular vise can be adjusted to accept various sizes of pipes and mandrels by means of a small ratcheting lever that allows us to change the size of the opening quickly and without the need for a separate adaptor.

The new vice and setup eliminate my frustration with this particular issue, efficiency in the lab was increased, and a process was simplified. But in finding one solution, we created another problem. Originally, the foot switch was placed on the floor, but because plaster fragments would flake off and pile up, the operation of the footplate was impeded. We found that relocating it six inches off the floor and orienting it to work as a kick plate resolved the issue and simplified cleanup. Now, all it takes is a blast from the air hose, and cleanup is done.

While Stavely was running the initial air lines from the compressor to set up the vise, he also modified the air hose connector to a T-configuration to accommodate two additional hoses—one branching out from each side. With the ability to hook up three air hoses simultaneously, it is not necessary to switch pneumatic tools and components off one hose constantly. Now the cast saw and plain air hose, which we use the most, are always hooked up and ready for use—another time-saving feature. These lines also have quick-disconnect capabilities just in case we need to trade them out for another air tool component. In addition, the configuration of the hoses improves organization by preventing them from tangling up.

Why does all this matter? Efficiency. Repeating nonproductive tasks day in and day out, even if they require just a few minutes, disrupts workflow and robs us of time that can be spent elsewhere, like growing the business, spending time with family, or pursuing a hobby. A lot of what we do in the lab is figure out how to solve challenges we have not come across before in O&P fabrication or find ways to accomplish our work more efficiently.

In the spirit of collective problem solving, I am asking for readers' help to devise a device that I can mount to my sandbox that will vibrate the air bubbles out of plaster while the mold is setting up. I am tired of tapping on the cast or pipe until the plaster reaches peak exothermic reaction indicating a phase change from liquid to solid to avoid the Swiss cheese effect that happens if the air bubbles are trapped. Our latest attempt was to mount a rock tumbler to the bottom of the sandbox where we pour our negative models. It seems to be mildly effective, and is definitely better than standing around tapping, but to quote Tim Allen from his role on the television show, Home Improvement, "This thing needs more power!"

We have a few ideas, but if any readers have a better solution, please e-mail me at

Jim Young Jr., CP, LP, FAAOP, is the owner of Amputee Prosthetic Clinic, headquartered in Macon, Georgia. Young also has a transfemoral amputation and provides peer counseling to other amputees.