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Today we are doing a small restoration and review of a used Dawn 5SP 125mm cast engineer's vice - a decades old, Australian made hunk of metal! You can find them amongst the Dawn vices on eBay AU. Here it is as we found it:
The other side:
It's a very solid vice - weighing in at approx. 24kg. The "SP" part in the name shows that it's a Standard Pattern (as opposed to light or heavy, or offset etc.). The nut is well protected and is replaceable:
As far as the colour goes... from what I can tell of Dawn vices pre-metrication the semi-steel and plate steel fabricated vices were painted red, and the cast steel vices were painted blue. This one has red paint underneath the blue in places. As the rear of the dynamic jaw is open, we can disassemble the main part of the vice fully simply by unwinding it the whole way:
There's a washer on the outside, a washer on the inside, the spring, another washer and a split pin. This takes up any slop.
Remove the split pin and the washer/spring slide off the screw:
The nut simply lifts out.
One nut, bead blasted:
The jaws remove with 7/32" Allen keys:
The jaws cleaned up with nothing more than a wire brush. With everything fully disassembled and all paint removed, the parts were primed then painted - see this page for the colour choice. Reinstalled the jaws on a repainted surface:
Cleaned out all the old grease and lubricated everything anew. Used two bits of 25mmx3mm flat bar cable tied to the screw on either side along with a sash clamp (eBay US, eBay UK or eBay AU) to press in the spring and allow for easy insertion of the split pin.
Reassembled, now red - it's not Dawn red but it's closer than the blue:
The jaws are 125mm in width, or 5"
Max opening with full contact of threads in the nut is 165mm:
The screw (here about to be lubricated) is Acme threaded, which is good for smoothness and strength.
The screw is also well hidden inside the vice - it's unlikely that swarf or chips will fall onto it in regular use. Still worth keeping an eye on it and cleaning it from time to time to make sure. Overall it's a good design to my mind and the Dawn vices I have had with the same design have stood up to hard use well.
After a clean, degrease and an application of fresh lubrication the vice moves smoothly and evenly with minimal slop. Considering that Dawn's vices appear to have converted to metric some time in the 1970s - a 1978 catalogue shows this - this vice is at least 41 years old at the time of writing but other than the weathering and repainting it doesn't show in use after a clean.
So how does buying a 4-decade old vice compare to buying new? Used these vices seem to go for anywhere between $20 and $125 AUD, with seller opinion seeming to matter more than the actual condition of the vice. Assuming that you're comparing a non-damaged Dawn 5SP with a modern 125mm vice from Bunnings... you can get an Irwin Record 125mm non-swivel-base vice for $195 on any day of the week, which is likely to be a quality unit made in I suspect China. A used (not abused) Dawn ought to be cheaper and every bit as good... with the added benefit of being made in Australia!
I have been happily using used Dawn vices for years and have yet to break one. Having said that, I do own a hydraulic press and so I only ever used the vices for holding things, not ever as a makeshift press.
A quality unit, and well worth considering if you are in need of a vice and don't mind buying used. Search for one near you one eBay AU!
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