Another year has passed. As is my heathen wont, I went to bed early last night, stone sober and well hydrated, and hit the shop early this morning. I like to begin each year on my own terms. And then ride out the downhill trajectory from there.
In advance of my regular January vacation, I’ve been making a “gentleman’s tool chest” for a core set of hand tools. Now I’m no gentleman (or so I’ve been told), but as I understand it, the “gentleman” refers simultaneously to (x) a non-professional woodworker and (y) the smaller set of tools a non-professional joiner or cabinetmaker would have in their chest. So maybe I am a gentleman.
This particular tool chest is a modest 25″ long, 11″ deep and 11″ high and will have 2 sliding tills. The planes and sharpening gear are french fit into the tool well and there won’t be too much lose gear rattling around. It’s also intended to be a general around-the-house toolbox holding my nicest spare tools so it will move around a fair bit.
In any tool storage build, like in life, there are compromises. For example, there is not any room for joinery saws in this chest, but I have modified a 10 tpi rip saw (it crosscuts too) and a 6 tpi rip saw to have shorter plates. I say modified; I cutoff about 5 inches from the toe of each saw with an angle grinder and filed off the burrs. The shorter plates are stiff enough for precise sawing as needed (and everything gets cleaned up with chisel or router plane anyway).
The full kit this holds is as follows:
Planes: No. 5 jack plane, No. 3 smoothing plane, Low-angle block plane, small router plane
Boring: Two jaw, short sweep brace, plus hex adapter, large diameter adjustable auger bit, drill bit set, hand countersink
Sharpening: 120, 220, 1200 grit diamond plates, side clamp honing guide and setup block, plus glass cleaner and jojoba oil
Miscellaneous: Warrington-pattern hammer, slotted and phillips screwdrivers, cork sanding block, foam ear plugs (lots of these)
I’m sure there is something I’m forgetting (I can supplement this later), but I find the above set of tools is everything one needs for general woodworking projects that aren’t intended to be the finest furniture. I can take rough lumber to dimension with these tools and do crisp joinery by hand without too much fuss. I will likely make or purchase a medium router plane to fit this chest, as well as a set of wooden winding sticks and a wooden straightedge.
As I write this, the second till is glued and nailed and drying in the shop. So that means only one thing: it’s lid time.
And that’s the point at which every tool chest build starts to get tedious.
For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a compact, easy to install, and well made tail vise option for benchtops of pretty much any thickness of 1.5″ (38mm or so). It’s really a carriage vise or wagon vise that’s easily retrofittable into any benchtop of sufficient thickness. HNT Gordon makes a similar option, but I’ve never used one of those.
I’ve had this inset vise for a while (which was a Christmas present from my parents few years ago). It used to live in another workbench before I gave that away. Veritas/Lee Valley is not a sponsor btw (no one is, lol). They just make great tools, especially bench appliances.
To use a tail vise of any sort, you’ll need a row of bench dog holes in line with the movable jaw on the tail vise (see above). Pinch a board on its face or edge between the dog in the bench and the dog in the tail vise and it stays put. For planing in any direction (especially traversing across the grain or at a diagonal). For mortising or other detail work on the face of the board. If the line of dog holes is close enough to the front edge of the bench, you can use it like a sticking board for use with fenced joinery planes (like a rabbeting or fillister plane).
I like a good tail vise, although series of pegs or a holdfast and doe’s foot are just as good in my book. I wasn’t sure I’d ever install the inset vise into this particular bench, but when laying out the overall size of the undercarriage. I’d gotten by just fine with those other options, but it was time to finish this off.
So now that it’s finished, I would imagine I’ll immediate move on to another workbench.
I’m out of room in my workshop. Between my Moravian and my Nicholson, my workshop proper is full. And my overflow room (where my thickness planer and hollow chisel mortiser are) is full too (mostly of lumber). So that leaves me with a superfluous workbench which I’d like to find a good home.
The workbench is a modified Roubo style. It’s stretcherless; the way I like it, although you could easily nail on a couple of short stretchers (a la the Vasa workbench) if you wanted to add storage to the bottom.
The front legs have the traditional Roubo joint (tenon with sliding dovetail), but the back legs are angled out around 14 degrees and glued and bolted on kind of like the legs on a Schwarz-style saw bench.
Overall dimensions are as follows (everything is solid ash, except for the vise chop, which is white oak):
Top: 90.5 inches long x 14.875″ deep by 3.75″ thick
Base: 58 inches long x 24″ deep (legs are 6″ x 3″)
Accessories: DIY Leg vise (1.5″ screw, pin board style) and 2x DIY bench dogs (1″ holdfast and dog holes)
$500 firm (just recouping the cost of the slab top material; I enjoyed making it and want someone to enjoy using it). And you’ve got to pick it up in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. No shipments; no exceptions. I will help you load it in the truck, though.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
When last we left my foray into the Chinese low workbench form, I had made a 48″ sawbench out of 8/4 Clear Vertical Grain (CVG) Douglas Fir. That bench has served me very well and I love look of the wedged rectangular tenons more and more each day. In fact, I love it so much that I recently made a new coffee table using the same joinery in quartersawn red oak.
I have this 72″ x 10.75″ x 1.75″ ash plank that has been sitting around the shop for some time. It started off as a 96″ board, but a chunk of it became the vise backer board on my Moravian Workbench. The rest of the plank might have ended up at the top for the outdoor workbench, but it became clear it was too narrow and too thin for the type of work that bench (at 24″ deep) sees.
So, instead, the remainder of the ash plank will become a foot-of-the-bed bench in my bedroom (is there a technical term for that kind of bench?). I have the luxury of a king sized bed and 72″ is actually a bit undersized. And I keep my bedroom pretty dark (blackout curtains and whatnot), so the two toned color of the heart-size face grain shouldn’t be a problem. At least not for me.
Unlike the sawbench, though, I plan to add a short rail between each pair of legs. I can do this because although the play of the legs is still 10 degrees like the saw bench, the rake is only 2 degrees (as opposed to 10 degrees). This means the legs, being nearly vertical when viewed from the side, will still pretty easily take a tenon with a square cheek and shoulder (just like a pair of legs with no rake). With the 10 degrees of both rake a splay, I’d probably have to do a rabbeted (instead of mortised and tenon) stretcher where the shoulder is an obtuse angle and the cheek of the rabbet slops down to the tip.
I like the rectangular tenons because it allows me to fine tune the rake and splay of the legs. When using round tenons, you’re pretty committed to whatever angle(s) result from how well you bore the tenon at the correct angles. With rectangular tenons, you can pare away with chisel (I use a guide block of the correct angle(s) to fine tune it) after chopping or boring out most of the waste. Plus, I don’t own a lathe so my round tenons are never that crisp.
Now I won’t commit to not boring holes for pegs on one end (to form a planing stop). But I will commit to not painting the top surface so that the paint doesn’t transfer to the work.
Ah, crap. I’m just making another Roman workbench, aren’t I?
In this modern world, we all spend too much time inside. Especially me. Between working in an office, woodworking in my small shop and gaming on console and PC, it’s rare that I spend a whole day outside. Which is a shame, because woodworking outside is so pleasant; it just takes forever for me to set up. But not anymore. I made a fully knock-down outside workbench.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’re probably saying, “Seriously? Another freaking workbench, James?”. But this one is made from just wood I had on hand. The legs are some fast growth, kiln dried ash that was not even furniture grade (hence the paint). The stretchers are reclaimed red oak from my old desk. The top is mostly a home center Douglas Fir 2×12 left over from when I made my brother a Naked Woodworker-style Nicholson Workbench (the boards were too cupped to be either aprons or benchtop without flattening, which would have made them too thin for their intended purpose). Even the wedges (Black Locust) came from the scrap bin.
To be clear, this is essentially a Moravian Workbench with straight legs instead of angled. But instead of a proper vise, this bench relies on a Whipple Hook (look it up!) and holdfasts, both in the legs and the fixed deadman that gives a bit more rigidity to the top. 2.75 inches of Douglas Fir is good but not great,and benefits from the extra support.
Whipple Hooks are and interesting bit of tech. They truly turn any board into a workbench, but they have their limitations. The planing stop part of the hook is right at the workbench edge, so a doe’s foot or row of dogs really helps stabilize the work.
And the crochet part of the Whipple Hook can only handle 5/8″ or less stock so a holdfast in the fixed deadman and one of the legs leg is an absolute necessity for all but the thinnest stop. Pegs alone just don’t cut it if the board doesn’t fit inside the crochet. But with a holdfast in the leg, it’s as good as a face vise for cutting tenon cheeks.
All in all, I think I still prefer a properly mortised toothed planing stop and a leg vise, but for outside woodworking (which, let’s face it, is usually rougher work), this setup is plenty serviceable. Plus, when I feel like dovetailing outside, I have a DIY twin-screw vise available.
It’s worth discussing the height of the bench. I like a bench that is 34.75″ high in the workshop. For me (at 5’10” exactly), that height is workable for hand planing (a smidge too high, so more of an arm workout than a core exercise), but perfect for dovetailing once a Moxon vise is added (getting the work to 39″ or so).
But this outdoor bench is 32″ high. And that’s on purpose. Outside woodworking for me is usually donkey work on home center stock, which is often twisted and warped. Jackplaning and then chopping mortised and dadoes, really. I’m over the work constantly, rather than beside it (like I would be for dovetailing). I can really tell the difference T this height, as my back doesn’t bark like it does at my inside benches. Perhaps this is a sign and I should make a taller Moxon vise to go with a shorter bench?
We are fortunate to live in the world we do now, even with all its faults. The entirety of catalogued human knowledge is available at our fingertips and we mostly take it for granted. As I write this, I have the cabinet making and marquetry chapter of Diderot’s Encyclopedia open in one tab (specifically, plate 21-2-9, but more on that another day) and a 2016 Fine Woodworking workbench article with a fantastic tutorial on how to make a tail vise using commercially-available hardware, open in background browser tabs. That second one is pretty important, because I’m making a tail vise to retrofit on a work bench and the hardware I bought from Lee Valley doesn’t come with instructions. Like at all (which is weird, because LV usually goes overboard with the literature included in their products).
So I had to turn to the internet. I first checked the Woodcraft website (they sell a similar product), but the included instructions are rather cryptic). Also, the product picture on the website has the screw backwards, which I found odd. Then I scoured YouTube for an instructional on using this hardware and came up empty. So I searched “tail vise installation guide” and bam: the FW article popped up near the top.
It’s a 10-page article and the author spends 4(!) pages detailing exactly how to build, fit and tune a tail vise. The entire article is fantastic, but I have absolutely no intention of making the workbench in the FW article. However, I give the author much credit for taking the time to explain in great detail the difficult and unintuitive part of the build (the tail vise). There is more useful information in those 4 pages than in the entirety of most other woodworking project articles. And how many woodworking articles yadda yadda the difficult stuff like some sawdust-covered underpants gnome.
What you see above is the “core” of the tail vise. Essentially, it’s a laminated block of wood with a recess in the middle the vise nut (which is on the inside of the mounting plate) and a rabbet that accepts the top guide plate. There is also a clearance hole drilled on the right side for the vise screw to pass through. The the vise hub screws onto the right hand side, and I may sink some dowels perpendicular to the core to give the vise hub mounting screws more purchase. I learned that trick from a Popular Woodworking video series on a Torsion Box Workbench.
The tail vise assembly is completed by adding a “dog strip” with bench dog holes (the point of a tail vise is to pinch a board between dogs, after all) and a top plate that looks pretty and covers the top guide plate (and brings the top of the tail vise flush with the benchtop to which the vise is mounted). I made the core out of hard maple, but the dog strip and top plate will be whatever wood the benchtop to which it’s mounted is made. In this case, it will be ash. But this tail vise core is evergreen, especially if I attach the dog strip and top plate with hide glue.
Why do I mention all this, you ask? Well, there is a trope about men not reading the instructions. Which I’ve never understood, mostly because of my father. He was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War and a commercial airline pilot until he retired (although a good chunk of his career was as a flight instructor). If there is a man who appreciates good instructions, it’s my father (and he passed that appreciation on to me). In fact, it’s my mother who doesn’t read instructions and it frustrates us both to no end.
So, for your own sake, read the god damned instructions. Especially if you can actually find them.
One of the first proper pieces of furniture I made when I switched to primarily handtool woodworking was a dining table. Or, at least, that’s what it was supposed to look like, because it really was more of a workbench. Made of solid ash, it had roughly 3″ square legs, 8/4 rails and a 5/4 top. Everything was drawbored together with 1/2 pegs.
For several years, I clamped my Milkman’s Workbench to it and that was my primary work area. In fact, you can see it in the banner of the website and I detailed the construction in my second ever post.
But many years have passed since then and my shop is now a 12×13 bedroom (instead of a dining nook). My mother claimed the old dining table for her house and my dining room has been empty (other than a console table that functions as a bar) for some time. But that’s about to change.
I’ve had a stack of paint grade soft maple for a while. Mostly 4/4 boards, but a little bit of 8/4 stock too (enough for some leg frames, at least). So I’m making a new dining table out of it, although much more delicate than the last. The legs are 1.75″ square and the top rails are barely 1′ x 3″ (and the bottom rails under 1″ x 2″). It will be solid, but far too spindly for woodworking on. There’s a number of mortises in this piece, so in addition to the usual cabinetmaker’s triangles, I’m also employing a timber framer’s marking system as backup.
As always, I tend to latch onto specific design elements that I find online (don’t @ me). For this, I’m going with the same stopped chamfers shown in this Restoration Hardware piece.
I don’t plan to permanently affix the top (not even a line of glue along one edge). Instead, the entire top will be affixed with wooden turnbuttons. Further contributing to the future of this piece merely as a dining table.
I mentioned this is paint grade soft maple and I mean it. It’s blotchy, streaked and, although curly in a few places, generally the grain is unruly throughout. I expect to paint the entire piece (probably in the same linen/coastal blue two tone as the console table bar). But as an initial matter, a couple coats of boiled linseed oil to see how the grain looks unpainted will do the trick.
Fixgasm (noun): a small, heavily-procrastinated DIY project that, when completed, has a significant effect on efficiency or enjoyment of the object or space.
Having a split top workbench with a gap between the slabs is quite convenient for weird clamping jobs. But the gap is not so convenient for keeping tools off the floor. With a bit of time today, though, I managed to fit the center spacer to fill the gap. I’d been meaning to do this for a while and, other than the ripping of 12/4 ash to make the strip, it was pretty easy and should have been done a while ago.
Those of you who follow me on the twitterbook know that I recently rearranged my workshop. I think it’s really great, especially now that my main workbench is under a window (south facing as it may be). And you may notice something about the main workbench itself: it’s a forest green Moravian knock down! Albeit a split-top variety.
With the new workbench rotating in, my eight foot Nicholson shifted against the wall where my tool chest used to live and my clamp racks still do. And my sharpening station is not on the right end of that bench, with the old sharpening station (a 4-foot Paul Seller’s workbench clone) having moved to another home. I still use the leg vise from time to time, because I love the foot-operated cog and screw parallel guide just so much. The Moravian workbench has a pinboard, which is fine but much less convenient (more on that in the future).
All in all, the new arrangement improves the flow of the workshop and the room actually feels bigger despite having another 4 square feet of overall workbench footprint (it’s a 13.5′ x 12.5′ bedroom, btw).
I need to work with the Moravian workbench for a few more months to get a better sense of how it fits my workflow.