End of Life as We Know It (Part 1)

So the country is a c-hair away from mandatory quarantine and my local lumber yard went out of business.  There is no way I’m paying home center or pre-surfaced lumber prices during a global pandemic.  So I guess I’m stuck with what’s on hand.  And what’s on hand is workbench material (among other things, for another post).

IMG_20200301_175110.jpg

Spoiler alert!

I’ve been working off my 6 foot long Nicholson-style workbench since the beginning of the year.  The Nicholson form is growing on me (coming from almost a year with my Vasa-style stretcher-less workbench).  But 6 feet is a bit too short for my taste.  Not because the boards I’m working with are often over 6 feet (they are, but that’s not the point).  But, rather, in my small shop, I rely on the far end of the bench for assembly and tool storage and there just isn’t much real estate down there.

Pictured above is 10/4 hard maple.  98″ x 17.5″ worth, which is a bit over 2.25″ once fully thicknessed.  That feels a bit narrow to me, so some 8/4 hard maple will build out the back edge of the bench (to bring it to 19.5″ of footprint, assuming the legs are flush to the edges).  I also have enough off-cuts of 10/4 for the aforementioned legs (which will be lapped in at angles of about 14 degrees) and one leg vise chop.

IMG_20200318_093248.jpg

Gluing on the 8/4 strips to form the rear edge mortises.

I recognize that 2.25″ is a bit bit thin for a workbench slab, even in hard maple.  However, the balance of the 8/4 hard maple will become an approximately 12″ wide apron for the front.   That front apron will be glued to the edge of the top slab (to further expand the working depth to about 21.5″).  The apron will significantly stiffen the front edge of the slab (i.e., the working area).  I also plan to reinforce the holdfast holes with strips of 4/4 hard maple, so a good portion of the bench will end up over 3.25″ anyway.

On top of all that, there will be cross-stretchers spanning the legs and flush with the underside of the workbench.  So as long as I chop directly over the front left leg (by the leg vise), there will be plenty of stiffness.

That said, I don’t do a ton of heavy mortising these days.  I prefer to bore out the majority of the waste and pare down to the lines.

JPG

Keeping it Together

Fair warning: this post is actually a “how to” on a method for reinforcing a joint where you’re joining two boards at a right angle by screwing through the face grain of one board into the end-grain of the mating board.  If that interests you, please proceed.

I recently built a “The Naked Woodworker” workbench, partly for the intellectual exercise of it and partly because my brother needed a workbench for his recently-expanded garage.  I have mostly good things to say about the design and the ease of construction.  I was able to put the entire bench together in less than 12 hours time of shop time stretched over two days (one long, one short).  Had I let the wood acclimate a bit more before construction, I bet could have done the whole thing in a single day.

IMG_20200209_151433.jpg

This was about 6 total shop hours in.

The bench is mostly glued and screwed together, but there are two joints where boards are joined at right angles with just screws through the face grain of one board into the end grain of the mating board.  One such place is the top rails of the leg assemblies (seen above).  The other is the number of bearers stretched between the aprons to which the top is eventually screwed down.

Screws into end grain, especially late growth softwood, is not the strongest joint.  In an abundance of caution, I sized all the end grain and glued it as best I could.  But it was still a bit shaky in places.  So when using up the last bits of construction lumber to make a shop fixture, there were a couple of places where screws into end-grain just wouldn’t cut it.  Instead, I utilized a 3/4″ oak dowel like a bench bolt to give something for the screw to bite into.

IMG_20200223_125615.jpg

I’ve been using my 18 gauge brad nailer more, these days.

Please note, I cannot take credit for this technique.  I learned it from a Popular Woodworking video on making a quick and dirty first workbench.  It shows up in the first half of the linked video.

First, bore a hole to match the dowel (3/4″ in this case) and glue it in place with the rings perpendicular to the direction the screw will penetrate.  While not critical, this will reduce the likelihood of the dowel splitting and weakening the joint.  Anything over 1″ is probably enough.  I went the full 1.5″ that my drill guide could handle.

This hole is 1 5/8″ on center, meaning there is a full 1 1/4″ of material for the dowel to lock against.

IMG_20200223_120830.jpg

The boards cupped a bit after planing.  More stable stock would not have needed this screw.

Next, drill a pilot hole for the screw, all the way through the dowel.  For cleanliness, I first countersank the hole, then finished it off with a long drill bit.  Red oak is tough, even for self-drilling deck screws.  Better not to risk it.  An extra long bit lets you sight to ensure the pilot hole passes through the dowel.

IMG_20200223_121142.jpg

Luckily, this extra long bit (the only one I own) was perfect for the screws in use.

Finally, drive the screw and flush up the dowel.  I use a flush trim saw and either a chisel or a plane, depending on how much material remains after sawing.

IMG_20200223_125615.jpg

Never to be seen again once the top is attached.

If done right, this joint is tremendously strong (at least compared to screwing into end grain alone).  Bench bolts are not terribly expensive, but oak dowel and screws are undoubtedly cheaper.  And, to be fair, this method requires less prep and fuss.

And less prep and fuss is what shop fixtures are all about.

JPG

Test Run

A few years ago, I bought a Veritas Bevel Up Jointer Plane.  I also got the jointing fence, which I have more than once used to make a hand jointer for small parts.  It’s also still very useful for edge-squaring, especially on long, narrow stock.

But ever since I inherited a first gen Stanley Bedrock Jointer Plane, I haven’t had room in the tool chest for it.  It therefore lives in storage and, without it closely at hand, it’s been rather neglected in its use.  So I’ve devised a way to keep it closer at hand: a saw till to hang on the wall.

IMG_20191229_095833.jpg

Ignore the bad paint job on the wall!

I have a fair pile of reclaimed mahogany that one day will become a full wall cabinet (maybe not Studley-level, but something like it).  One part of any good wall cabinet is a plane till.  From what I can tell, there are two basic ways to capture the planes in a plane till.  First, angle the till with a single catch at the bottom so gravity does all the work.  Or have both top and bottom catches so the planes can sit vertical.  I’ve chosen the latter.

There’s three parts to store in the till: (x) the plane itself, (y) the jointing fence, and (z) a toothed blade that’s great for coarse work and also roughing up smooth bench tops.  Let’s start with the box to store the plane.

IMG_20191228_105124.jpg

Because of the ridge to which the fence attaches, it’s unfortunately not possible to shoot with this plane.

The box is pretty simple: just three narrow pieces of cherry, glued together in a long U shape and nailed after-the-fact for extra strength.  The recess should be about 1/8″ wider than the plane sole and at least 4″ longer than the plane sole.  Then friction fit and glue and nail on ends to enclose the box.  Once the glue dries, glue and screw on the first cleat to capture the heel of the plane sole.  The exact thickness of the cleat and the height and depth of the recess will depend on the plane.

IMG_20191228_105306.jpg

Like so.

If this were an angled till, that would be the end of it.  But a vertical till needs another cleat at the top to capture the toe of the plane.  The till works by inserting the plane toe at an angle into the top cleat, then straightening the plane to vertical and dropping the heel into the bottom cleat seen above.  And when it’s dropped into the recess made by the bottom cleat, the toe should still be retained by the top cleat.  Otherwise the plane would crash to the floor.

Unfortunately, locating the top cleat is a bit of trial and error.  It’s L-shaped, much like the cleats that retain the fence as seen below.  You can make this cleat in a single piece (like I did) or laminate it from one narrower piece and one wider piece.  There will be a sweet spot where the depth and height of the rabbet forming the L allows easy access in and out without too much slop.

Once you figure out the spacing, screw the top cleat in place from the back of the till.  No glue with this one, just in case something needs to be adjusted, either because the angle is off or you get a different plane and want to reuse the till.

IMG_20191228_105154.jpg

The nearly-finished till.

A couple of wooden hooks retain the jointing fence and the replacement blade hangs in its plastic case from a cut nail.  I declined to finish the till and just screwed it into a stud on the wall.

Funny thing is, since making the till, I still haven’t used the plane.  Perhaps I just don’t need it.

JPG

 

Lay(out) of the Land

I’m pretty excited to be basically done with the core of my new workbench.  I finished boring the holdfast holes in the benchtop and everything seems to be in good order.  I also bought another Veritas planing stop to span the entire 22″ width of the bench, as seen above.  It’s about 8″ from the end of the benchtop.

IMG_20191212_210612.jpg

Not a knot in sight (sorta).

I’ve been using these Veritas planing stops for years and, for most operations, they are fantastic.  They struggle a little bit for particularly bowed or twisted stock, but a proper bench dog makes quick work of that.  For maximum capacity, though, I bored one extra dog hole along the front edge about 4″ in from both the front edge and the end of the top.

I think the eight holdfast holes and three planing stop holes shown above will be more than sufficient for most topside work.  The holdfast holes start at 8 and 16 inches from the tail end of the benchtop and they are spaced 13″ apart along the two rows (the Grammercy holdfasts have a span of 6.5″ from center of shaft to center of pad).  The back row sits about 4″ on center from the back of the workbench.  The front row sits 12.5″ on center from the front edge.  This seems ideal to me.

IMG_20191203_173137.jpg

It pays to have a plan.

I haven’t yet bored the peg holes in the front apron, but I think I know why.  The new leg vise works just so very well.

IMG_20191221_144225.jpg

Glamour shot!

I’ve made several leg vises with pinboards before.  I’m only in my mid-thirties, but bending to adjust the pin when dimensioning stock gets old (and stiff) fast.  So I’ve gone in a different direction with this one.

I took an extra 1 1/4″ wooden screw I had on hand and made a wooden nut that would wedge against the leg.  I made a small nut at first, just as a test.  It worked great, but I still had to bend over every time to adjust it.

IMG_20191219_175722.jpg

If I make another one of these, I’ll use a larger screw.

After passing the proof of concept, I made a second cog.  One that is large enough to protrude beyond the leg vise chop, in fact.   So instead of stooping to adjust the pin location, you just spin the cog with your foot.  It works great.

IMG_20191221_143638.jpg

I think it looks like fine.

I know it’s all the rage to have legs that are flush to the front of the bench top.  But having the apron extend beyond the legs, at least in this case, makes a ton of sense.  That way, I don’t have to mortise the plate into leg.  Which sped up construction quite a bit.

I have some upcoming projects that I need to get back to.  But I hope everyone is having a great 2020 so far.

JPG

Rethinking my Life Choices

A funny thing happened on the way to the workshop the other day.  I had four, 8/4 White Oak boards to laminate into a tabletop for the new compact Nicholson Workbench.  At over 20″ wide, the lamination would be far too wide for my lunchbox thickness planer.  And I needed as much thickness as possible for the final lamination so the workbench top would be as stout as possible.  So keeping everything aligned through the various glue-ups was paramount.

So I turned to something that cannot by any stretch be classified as a hand tool.  A self-centering dowel jig.

IMG_20191126_081545.jpg

I absolutely adore this thing.

Using dowels for alignment actually serves two purposes.  First, it does the aforementioned aligning so any minor bowing along the length of a single board does not otherwise ruin the straightness of the glue-up.  Second, it reinforces the glue joint so if the glue fails, the entire thing doesn’t just fall to pieces.  It’s not as good as dominoes, obviously, but it’s also way cheaper.

Now I like to think that with a jointer plane and some car I can have a joint that will never fail.  And it probably won’t.  But the peace of mind of the reinforcing dowels is nice to have.  It matters more for larger timbers, though.

IMG_20191126_081607-1.jpg

And spiral dowels are cheap.

The most important thing, though, is to make sure your dowel holes align.  This is more about keeping track of how you’re flipping the boards than anything.  Otherwise, you’ll use your extra dowels to fill in erroneously-bored holes.  And that’s no fun.

Trust me.

JPG

What I’ve Been Up To

So it’s been about a month since I sliced the tip of my finger off using a marking knife.  In the meantime, it’s gotten colder and I have more time to be in the shop.  As I’ve been healing, I’ve also been getting ready for the holiday season.  So let’s talk about my biggest recent project: a white oak “workbench”.  Buckle up: this is a long one.

IMG_20191201_154208.jpg

Quartersawn White Oak is splintery, FYI.

So, let me first say that this was never supposed to be a workbench.  It’s actually destined to be a kitchen island.  I will use it as a workbench for a while to distress it a bit.  So it’s constructed as a Paul Sellers-style knock-down piece so I can get it up the stairs.  It’s actually a bit unfortunately, as this is the perfect workbench for a small space woodworker.  But let’s talk about how it’s put together.

 

You’ll notice it’s generally in the style of a Nicholson (or “English Style”) workbench, with wide aprons in lieu of stretchers that give the structure its rigidity.  The aprons are not glued to the leg frames (i.e., the aforementioned knock down), though.  Instead, they are carriage bolted to the leg frame and there are quartersawn white oak wedges keeping everything together and rigid.  I would describe it as a 3 degree angle, if you have to know.  These have dense growth rings, so I would think the wedges as tough (or tougher) than the main parts of the bench.

IMG_20191128_091807.jpg

Pretty, right?

But it wouldn’t be a The Apartment Woodworker project if there wasn’t a compromise.  First off, the bench is only 72 inches long to accommodate a pile of quartersawn white oak shorts that were on sale at my lumberyard about a year ago.  Second, the back apron (7″) is much narrower than the front apron (13.5″), for the same reason.  This won’t be a problem structurally, but it does make the bench asymmetrical.  Finally, the bearers are Southern Yellow Pine, because I had it handy.  I’m still undecided on the type of vise to add.

IMG_20191129_114119.jpg

But I have a vise screw handy if I need one, apparently.

All these compromises add up to a bench that is not as heavy (on its own) as it could be.  Yes, it’s made of approximately 2″ white oak all around.  That’s tough and heavy.  But it’s clearly not the 5″ thick red oak all around that’s used in those Roubo’s that are all the rage.  I did the math, and had I laminated everything together to make it Roubo-style, it is barely the same amount of material than my current, stretcher-less workbench, which is a full foot longer overall.

I don’t plan on a shelf or other storage for the under the bench (it tends to clutter).  But for some extra weight, I’ll pile it up with spare lumber to add mass and stability.  So far, I’ve selected a wide (13″) piece of red oak and two chunks of hard maple, all of which I’ve had since before I started this blog. I’ll probably find a few more boards to pile on before the end.  Once the bench is on the anti-skid mats, this should be an immovable object.

IMG_20191201_142820.jpg

Not a huge fan of the color match on that left front leg, though.

So where am I now?

For one, I need to find a food safe oil finish for the benchtop that will provide enough protection for workshop work and won’t be too slippery.  I’m thinking mineral oil or pure tung oil.  I worry that linseed oil and beeswax will be too slick.

More difficult is where to put the bench dog and holdfast holes in the aprons and benchtop.  I have a pretty good idea where to bore the holdfast holes in the benchtop.  That’s a pretty well-established path and unlikely to make the tabletop too swiss cheese-like for its future life in food service.

Less clear to me is where to locate dog holes on the apron.  I’ve never worked on a Nicholson workbench before.  But I would think that the Naked Woodworker pattern would make sense.  That is, a vertical line of dog holes up each leg, two other vertical lines of dog holes equally spaced on the apron, and stepped dog holes on the aprons connecting them.

I don’t want to bore too many holes, though, because this won’t be a workbench forever.  However, I doubt I’ll be using the apron much for food preparation, so I’ll probably get over it.

We’ll see.

JPG

 

I’ve Done it Again

About five years ago, I sliced off the meaty tip of my middle finger on my left hand with a marking knife while using a combination square.  Well I’ve done it again.  The exact same wound.   I don’t have any pictures from the hospital this time.  But I did manage to locate some of the dried blood after I got back home.

IMG_20191020_132344.jpg

Maybe it will pit the holdfasts for better grip.

I’m told this too will grow back eventually.  But I’m in pain and limited in what I can do both in the shop and at the office for a week.

Moral of the story: be careful out there folks.

JPG

An Iterative Process

Not everything goes to plan the first attempt.  Any decent woodworker has internalized that fact.  Take, for example, a jointing sled I recently made for my thickness planer.  It’s a jig consisting of a tried and trued 2x4x96 with four boards glued and screwed at 90 degrees to the jointed edge.  And it worked okay, I guess, on the first try.

IMG_20191004_070557.jpg

Iteration 1.

See, here’s the thing: I consider myself to be a hand tool woodworker.  But after truing one face and squaring one edge of a board, bringing the other face and edge into parallel by hand starts to feel an awful lot like actual work.  That’s where a thickness planer comes in.

But for a very twisted board, even squaring that one edge to a trued face can be more of effort than I’m willing to expend.  And that’s where this jointing sled comes in.  I can clamp the trued face to the uprights with F-Clamps and send it through the thickness planer to square the edge.  A quick hand planing will address any errors and then back to the thickness planer for S4S.  Just as if I had done the donkey work of hand squaring that first edge.

IMG_20191004_070729.jpg

The clamps go the other way around.

But my prototype sled didn’t work perfectly.  Just clamping to the 90 degree uprights didn’t support the board enough.  Compression from the planer’s rollers bowed the wood and planed a big hump along the length.  I tried using brass bar stock to support the beam but they kept falling out or shifting because of vibration.

IMG_20191004_070601.jpg

And I didn’t have enough for the entire length.

In the end, I added adhesive-backed sandpaper to the uprights and used hot glue to shim under the length of the beam.  Just like a normal planing sled.  This made the whole thing quite a bit more rigid and minimized the hump, even if it did add a bit of prep time.

But it was still less pretp time than hand-planing that edge square.

JPG

 

Trendy Furniture Follow-up

I did something yesterday that I don’t do all that often.  I bought a piece of wooden furniture, rather than make it myself.

Now hold on there: it’s true that I bought the chairs and stools for my dining table and bar.  But those are metal and fit a specific aesthetic with the rest of the room.  And I bought them a quite a few years ago (at least the chairs), when I was still relatively new to hand-tool focused work.

The piece of furniture in question is a bookcase.  Specifically, a simple pine bookcase to display my vintage Lego collection.  It’s from a bare wood market called WoodMarket in Monroe, CT.  And it’s perfect for what it needs to be.

IMG_20191002_214702.jpg

Vintage Magic: the Gathering card binders on the bottom for stability.

Will I still build that leaning bookcase?  Probably.  But now I can put it on the back burner and get back to a couple of projects I’ve been halfway through for a while.  Discretion is the better part of valor, as it were.

And, most importantly, I was able to support a local artisan in the process.

JPG

Trendy Furniture

I don’t much go in for casework, being sans table saw and largely migrated to digital book collections (outside of woodworking books).  But I have need for more shelf space.  Specifically, to display my vintage Lego collection in my home office.

IMG_20190922_200901.jpg

I’m about 2/3 done unpacking at this point.

A heavy bookcase seems like a waste of time and materials for such a display.  I could build or buy a lighted curio cabinet, but that’s probably overkill for what I’m trying to do here.

But there is a form of bookcase that would do perfectly: the wall-leaning variety.  They are utterly ubiquitous and just behind live edge epoxy river tables and ahead of standing desks in trendiness.  But, they are also easy to make with hand tools and relatively light on materials.  So I’ll have a go of it with some leftover Eastern White Pine 2×8’s from the standing desk build and some clear-ish home center 1x12s

The design I have in mind will incorporate a dovetailed cabinet for a bottom shelf, which will hold some larger books and heavy items.  That way, there can be dovetails in the project.  Three or four additional shelves (over 80 inches of height) should be plenty to comfortably display all the vintage goodness.

In case you’re wondering, my favorite Lego sets are from 1989’s Space Police I and 1994’s Spyrius, with 1990’s M-Tron being a very close third.  Check out http://www.bricklink.com.

JPG