Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cast Iron Cast Your Vote



When we announced the new version of the Benchcrafted Tail Vise (the V.2) we reported some quality issues with some hand wheels we were using. This unfortunately caused some delays, which we are now virtually caught up from.

In the midst of this small fiasco we started considering offering different finishes on the hand wheels, not just chrome. So a production problem ended up blossoming into a brainstorming session. Can't complain about that.



First we tried a textured powder coat, and although we liked the more subdued look, after a few weeks subtle gave way to gaudy and we decided it just didn't work. Chrome might be flashy, but it has a tendency to reflect its surroundings, which can help it to look more subdued that you might think.

We also tried a manganese phosphate coating (it's what they use to blacken the parts of an M-16), but this turned out to be quite delicate. It scuffed and scratched too easily. It was also a little too "stealth fighter" for us. The black "forged iron" look was just not working.

During a recent visit to Czech Edge Hand Tool, we noticed a few vintage machines with unplated cast iron hand wheels. A half-century of handling had given the hand wheels a wonderful warm patina that not only felt great, but also looked wonderful. The texture was silky smooth, and the look was very traditional. We thought we might have discovered the perfect new finish we were dreaming about.

In the meantime we discovered a small midwestern firm that specializes in casting iron handwheels. And the quality is excellent. So we made up a Tail Vise with the wheel to see how it would look. We were quite pleased. Take a look at the first picture above. That's the raw cast iron wheel on the left, with a stock chrome-plated wheel on the right.

So here's the tease. We may or may not offer vises with the raw cast iron wheels. This depends on the feedback we get from you. The downside of the unplated cast iron is obvious. Rust. But with regular use, and maintenance, there should be no problem with rust (we even have a good lead on a finish that should make the raw iron virtually rust free). Most shops are filled with raw cast iron and regular maintenance is common practice. After all, the rest of our vises are untreated steel, and regular maintenance on those parts is a given. So, if you think that the trade-off you get with the more attractive looks of the iron wheel is worth the maintenance-free aspect of the chrome-plated wheel, let us know by commenting below (and feel free to elaborate). Your input is highly valued. So much so that among all those who participate, we'll draw one at random and send them a free Benchcrafted Skraper.



Cast your vote: Raw cast iron, or chrome-plated.

49 comments:

  1. To my mind the raw cast iron is already far more attractive than the chrome. A lifetime of use would just accentuate that, while I feel that a life time of use on the chrome would make the look deteriorate.

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  2. Cast iron. It already looks worn and comfortable. Plus that beefier outside edge looks perfectly proportioned now.

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  3. Although I design & make many things it's primarily jewellery that pays the bills.All the white metal I use in said jewellery will be silver or white gold & to my mind a brushed or matte finish is far more attractive than a high gloss one & the blue grey that is cast iron is just asking to be licked....

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  4. Add another vote for the cast iron.

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  5. And one more vote for the cast iron...
    Definitely.
    I like the look much better.

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  6. I also think the cast iron looks nicer. As far as maintenance, it seems to me that people who buy Benchcrafted stuff appreciate quality, and would not balk at a little minor upkeep.

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  7. I'd vote cast iron for looks, but I wonder how often you grab the wheel vice the handle. Would it be enough to patina it?

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  8. Cast iron looks best (though I do like the chrome ones I own...)

    My only concern is the rust. While I can maintain it like everything else in my shop, do I really want yet another item to maintain?

    Perhaps you can pre-treat them with the "good lead on a finish that should make the raw iron virtually rust free" product so end users can just install and enjoy.

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  9. Something struck me as I read the part in the post that referenced the maker of the cast iron wheels - one small company finds another and a mutually beneficial relationship begins. Cool.

    I, too, vote for cast iron.

    Abi

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  10. I'm in total agreement with wasmithee (above). No, maintaining cast iron is not that big of a deal, and while I'd like to say I'm able to use it regularly, there are the realities of life, so is another maintenance task on the checklist worth it?

    I'm eager to hear more about said "lead" on the anti-corrosive...

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  11. Chrome -- Put me in the "reluctant to add new item to maintain" crowd.

    would a coating like titanium nitride work?

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  12. I would prefer an iron look to a chrome look, personally.

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  13. Cast Iron +++

    I am sure this will save you some expense that you can pass on :-)

    Well, maybe just hold the line on prices. I understand the cost preasure you are under actually using a USA source.

    So thanks. Some day I will own one of these.

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  14. I too would like the cast iron hand wheel. I live in a really dry climate so the rust is almost nonexistent. The anti rust finish would be wonderful for the extra protection.

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  15. I like the look of the cast iron but for me it would end up being one more thing to maintain. Unless there were a functional difference such as the iron having more mass and thus operating better, I'd probably stick with the chrome. The other reason is that after a short time of using it you rarely notice the appearance, just the function. In an ideal world both options would be available to buyers.

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  16. Cast iron. In a couple hundred years that chrome won't look so nice, the iron, like a cast iron pan, will be beyond value.

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  17. I like things simple. A little rust isn't going to bother me, and for something I use a lot, it'll probably never happen. I also like not using any plating process at all, if you can get away with it. Better for the earth, and all that.

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  18. I also vote for the cast iron. Even new, that thing just looks enough that I'd want to turn it and not use the knob. Really, really nice.

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  19. I love the cast iron! It has a subdued beauty that goes nicely with the wood that surrounds it without taking any attention away. Additionally, I think the cast iron looks more refined and expensive - or as my dad would say, "It looks dough."

    A slow patina over the years will be a wonderful bonus. The wheel's look will continue to improve, and it will age with the bench itself.

    On the rust issue, I wonder if a 'seasoning' approach would work. The method to which I am referring is the act of prepping a new piece of cast iron cookware. Traditionally, the pan is coated in olive oil (or another veg oil) and baked. The oil seeps into the pan - protecting it from the elements without making it greasy to the touch. Would the same treatment work in this situation with a lighter oil like camellia or even grapeseed oil?

    In short - 1.5 votes for cast iron (I am a big guy!).

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  20. I like the cast iron as well...just looks more comfy somehow. I do think that some sort of rust-resistance would be nice though--I wonder if Boeshield would work since it doesn't have to be slick?

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  21. All though they are both beautiful, put me down for cast iron... chrome plating is really hard on the earth.

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  22. My vote will be for the cast iron. I like the look, but for me, the feel is where it's at. Chrome feels plastic to me. Even the real authentic chrome on a classic 1950's motorbike looks great on the bike, but it feels plastic to me. But run a hand over that cast engine block... that's where the power is, not in the chrome, in the cast. The texture, the grip, yeah. And add to that that it will gain a patina... dang... I'm drooling.

    I'd also be game to try the seasoning approach to keep rust at bay, and add some nice patina at the same time.

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  23. Definitely cast iron. Unfortunately, my kit arrives tomorrow.

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  24. love the cast. always have.

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  25. Jameel-
    Toss my vote into the cast iron. Not only does the initial look work, but I also like the change in the angles of the webbing as well as the outer dome working more towards the center. Glad you decided to give it a try. I think you found a winner.
    Best,
    Lee Laird

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  26. Cast Iron. I like the look of the wheel. Maintenance should not be a problem. I just got my new BC vises (chrome) recently and I'm a bit envious that this could be an option.

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  27. Jameel,

    Another vote for the cast iron. Would you be willing to reveal your supplier? I have another application in mind.

    KJA

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  28. My vote is for cast iron, ideally with the rust-inhibiting finish included (but I can live without if it ends up not being done that way). I also like the idea of supporting another small company offering quality materials.

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  29. Thanks for all the feedback and ideas. We haven't ruled out offering both options, but given the response so far, the unplated iron is clearly in the lead. We'll let this continue for the rest of the week, then draw for the winner of the Skraper. Please feel free to add your comments further.

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  30. Definitely the cast iron - it has more of a shop look to it instead of a bright flashy chrome motorcycle or car trim. Considering it will end up used on high end benches that should last a number of generations it will get better with age and get a nice well used look to it. With chrome though, I think it will end up looking scratched, dinged and less shiny with age and just end up looking tired and in need of replacement - it just isn't able to retain bright, shiny forever and that's really the only way chrome looks good.

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  31. Chrome all the way! If you could throw in some diamond and ruby studs, all the better!
    "Mr. Bling"

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  32. Another vote for cast iron. Sure looks sweet!

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  33. The matte finish matches the bench and looks like they go together. The matte finish is the key and the cast iron delivers.

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  34. Cast Iron. Received my BC tail vise yesterday. If a look at the vise isn't enough, the handwheel issue is additional verification of your attention to detail and quality control - rare today. Given the choice I would have chosen the cast iron finish, especially if I could order the Glide with the cast wheel as well. Any chance you would offer the cast iron as a retrofit? Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in.

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  35. Cast is sweet. I'm a commercial photographer in San Francisco. Just yesterday I was up in the wine country shooting a job and waiting for the afternoon light. Was studying my tripod, one I bought when I went to Brooks (a photography school) in 1979 and thinking how nice all the metal parts are looking after 31 years of handling them. The knurling is softening, the edges of things are becoming more softened. It's so much more satisfying working with a tool like that.

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  36. Cast iron. I don't think that rust would be that big an issue. It's not as though the handles on my cast irons pans in the kitchen have problems with rust. It becomes an issue when you wash/scrub the pan and don't re-season. I don't imagine most people will be washing their hand wheels too often.

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  37. I vote for raw cast iron. You're right about maintaining raw iron in the shop. This will add just one more small piece to maintain and maybe you can find a durable finish you can use to make it maintenance free.

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  38. Raw cast iron. Looks awesome, and I think the rust wouldn't be an issue for most folks.

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  39. I like the less glare of the cast iron. I'll live with the little extra maintenance.

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  40. Absolutely cast iron. I used to import Japanese track bicycles - they were all chromed underneath the paint, and they all had rust and pitting issues UNDER the chrome!

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  41. Cast iron, clearly.

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  42. Cast iron with rust-free coating if I can exchange my chrome vises. Otherwise, chrome because I rather not know other have better looking vises.

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  43. Cast Iron for a classy, timeless industrial look. You can claim to be green - most plating operations are pretty harsh.

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  44. So, who won the scraper?
    I'm was one of the anonymous replies.

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  45. Cast Iron, in it's beaty and simplisity.

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