Author: The Apartment Woodworker

The Apartment Woodworker is a weekly blog with insights, projects and tips for making the most of woodworking with hand tools in confined spaces.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Onward and Upward

After finishing up the leg vise on the long console table, it took less than a week before I actually got to use the thing.  It may be the first, but here’s hoping it won’t be the last.  I think the linen hub on the blue chop does a great job of hiding all the imperfections.

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More silliness, indeed.

I took some of last week off and used it well.  I’ve wanted a TV easel for years after first seeing the Restoration Hardware version.  It seems like an efficient use of space and maintains full flexibility for furniture layout.

Now, I assume the adjustable version exists because there is more than one size of TV, which makes sense.  But I only have one size of TV, so I figured a fixed model would work just fine. And it started with a single “African Mahogany” 8/4 board and a sketch.

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A sketch to scale on graph paper, but still.

I’ve been cutting many mortise and tenon joints lately, so the entire project took only about 30 shop hours.  Had I not been in practice, I think it would have taken quite a bit longer.  The whole thing begins with a base, from which all the other measurements are derived. All tenons are drawbored and it rolls on metal casters from the home center.  The project is finished in Tung Oil.

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Whatever version of Khaya this is, it’s pretty.

I believe in good posture.  So when sitting upright, the exact center of the TV should be at eye level.  For me and my particular couch, that’s 46″ or so.  So after connecting the very top of the uprights and adding a lower cross rail, it was time to figure out where to add the rails to which the TV itself would be mounted.  This could have also been accomplished with drawbored mortise and tenon joints, but that would have ultimately permanent.  With glued and nailed lap joints, I could, in theory, one day relocate these rails to fit a new TV.

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Still looking pretty.

The M8 mounting bolts for my particular model of TV are located in a square with corners at 400mm on center (or about 15.748″).  I took great care to drill out the top cross rail so the holes perfectly lined up with the threaded inserts in the TV, and lined the holes with copper tubing for reinforcement.  The holes in the bottom rail, however, were also drilled at 1/16″ larger than the diameter of the mounting bolts but no copper tubing was added.  This gave some wiggle room in case something became misaligned as a result of tolerance stack.

But everything worked out in the end, and each of the bolts seated nicely.  I made two shelves also: one fits in the void in the base and the other laps onto the lower rail.  I think it came out pretty great.  But in the process of oiling the assembly, some of the iron from the nails seems to have bled a little bit onto the uprights, which I plan to correct at some point by planing down to fresh wood and re-oiling.

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Both PS4 and XboxOne.  The scandal!

In case anyone was wondering, here is what the back looks like.  I just wish there were M8 bolts available in square head powder black.

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Hopefully no one can read the serial numbers.

So I had much fun with this build.  And it felt good to complete a project during the allotted time.

Just don’t expect me to keep the streak up.

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More Silliness

You may have noticed the tapped screw hole or the parallel guide slot in the front left leg of the new dining room console table.  It’s highly unlikely to ever be used, but one can never have too many available vises, right?  I really should be working on the bottom shelf for the table, but when have my priorities every been straight?  I freely admit all of this is a vanity exercise, as the vise will just live on the shelf of the console table.

Plus, I had the 1 1/2″ hard maple screw handy (the spare for the leg vise on my main workbench, the stretcher-less Stent Panel workbench).  I also had some leftover 1/4″ hard maple to make a garter (more on that below).  And it would be a shame if they went to waste.

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No “Sunk Cost” fallacies to see here.

I’d like this leg vise to be as low profile as possible.  So, instead of a cylindrical vise hub with a through handle, I shaped a wing nut from soft maple to act as the hub.  This not unlike the Holy Roman Hurricane Nut for the crochet on my old work bench.  Some wood glue and a through dowel reinforcement should make a permanent and robust bond between screw and hub.

Before I know where to attach the hub, however, I need to plow the groove for the garter.  The garter affixes the vise screw to the vise chop and allows the chop to move with the screw.  Otherwise, you have to move the chop by hand (which is fine, I guess).

I still don’t have (or want) a lathe, and am certainly capable of cutting the groove completely freehand.  But sticking with what works is no fun at all, so let’s try a different method.  Ingenuity is what small space woodworking is all about.  But “ingenuity” is really just code for “making due with what’s at hand”.

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I didn’t get a before shot.

Conveniently, the vise hub I just made will help hold the screw and my machinist granite slab will act as a convenient stop as I rotate the work with my left hand.  Now all I need is a way to plow the groove with my right hand.  A chisel would certainly work, but one handed chisel work is precarious at best and likely to wander.

How about a router plane registered against the vise hub?  I have a 1/4″ blade for my router plane.  And the vise hub would work really well as both a fence for the protruding blade and a platform for the body of the router plane to stabilize everything.

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Let’s play “Spot the ‘chisel hands’ scars”!

Plowing the garter groove this way takes a while, but probably not any longer than getting the screw centered on a lathe.  And it certainly cramps up the hands.  But taking it slowly yields a fairly clean, fairly uniform groove.  Or at least it did for me.  The bottom of the groove had an overall diameter of just under 1 1/4″ when all was said and done.

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The vise hub keeps the inside of the hole clean, but the outside needs minor cleanup.

When preparing the garter, some CA glue held the two halves of the garter stock to a sacrificial board for drilling the clearance hole with a 1 1/4″ forstner bit on the drill press.  I then attached the garter to the vise chop with some countersunk No. 10 slotted screws to check the fit.  The vise chop is laminated from the same soft maple as the vise hub.  A couple dabs of hide glue will reinforce the bond between the garter and the chop after final assembly.

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“B” stands for “Backup”.

I didn’t get a picture, but I also trimmed the vise screw to length and glued it onto the screw before adding a 3/8″ birch dowel to lock everything in place.  I will paint the vise hub with “Linen” milk paint like the undercarriage of the console table, and the chop will be painted “Coastal Blue” like the table top.

The pinboard for the vise is up next, but that requires a different type of ingenuity.  In that case, “ingenuity” is really just code for “patience”.

You’ll see why, soon enough..

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Better than Ever

Or, at least better than I could have hoped…

I finished the reclaimed wood console table the other day and bought some counter top height stools to match the chairs I have for my dining table.  I think the entire thing came out pretty great.  I’m typing this post while seated at said console table, on perhaps the most beautiful day of the summer.

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Yes, I do worship at the altar of Bezos.  Why do you ask?

The back tray is home center 4/4 Poplar.  Made from a single board that was relatively straight and had no wind to speak of, there is not much to the tray other than glue and nails.  A quick test fit ensured it was ready for finish.  Once it was painted, I nailed it on with two brad nails into the top raids (in keeping with the theme of simplicity).

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Pre-paint color match is pretty spot on, if I do say so myself.

I have a new favorite color in General Finishes milk paint: Coastal Blue.  It’s essentially Navy Blue, but I live by the ocean.  Get it?  The table top of the console table is bare wood finished in Tung Oil.  I think it works well.

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This picture evinced that I needed more paint along the joint.

At my local lumber yard today, 4/4 soft maple shorts were on sale for 2.90/bf, so this table is getting a hardwood shelf (which will also be painted Coastal Blue).  The shelf will likely be piled with books, binders of M:tG cards, and my Milkman’s Workbench.  Which will then add enough weight that if I never needed to, I could use this table for light duty woodworking.

You may be wondering: why paint the front edge of the table top?  To hide the epoxy glue lines of two patches that filled in where there used to be dadoes, of course.  Why else use paint if not to hide unsightly wood situations?

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It’s important to note grain direction and the date of planing.

I bought an extra piece of 4/4 soft maple to laminate into a vise chop for the leg vise that shouldn’t be.  I also have a plan for the type of vise hub to make and am thinking about going garter-less for this.  There is already too much metal in this piece with about 15 brad nails and two slotted screws.

No need to push it.

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The Abyss Stares Back

It’s come to my attention that I’ve been misquoting Nietzsche for some time (even though I can spell his name first try, every time).  From “Beyond Good and Evil”, Aphorism 146 states:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.  

This well-known quote from the oft-misunderstood German philosopher is undoubtedly the genesis of the Harvey Dent quote in “The Dark Knight (2008)”:

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

But, because I, like The Batman, am not a hero, let’s allow the abyss gaze into me for a moment.

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So many mortises, I feel like I haven’t cut a dovetail in forever.

Last week and over the weekend, I did in fact dig deep and bear down.  I chopped four new mortises in the leg frames for the reclaimed console table and planed and joined the two long rails.  After all was said and done, there were 20 drawbores in the undercarriage, plus another 4 in the joints between the front legs and the main slab.  And then I painted the entire undercarriage with “Linen” milk paint.

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Not to be confused with “Antique White” or “Seagull”.

But even the best laid plans don’t work out perfectly, so there was plenty of time for things to go pear shaped.  But I was pleasantly surprised when everything came together pretty much straight and square. 24 drawbores, not a single snapped dowel.  Not even a stripped screw on the tabletop connectors.

The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but the piece feels light and graceful.  And in the mid-afternoon light of a north facing window, it evokes the “Islands of New England” feel I was hoping for.  I’m building a shallow tray out of 3/4″ poplar to fill out the rest of the table top, which will be painted in “Coastal Blue” milk paint and nailed on.  The face edge and ends of the main slab will also be painted that color.  The only bare wood will be the top and back edge of the main slab.

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A shelf, if added, will also be painted “Coastal Blue”.

You may recall that I had a tripartite plan:

  • Drawbored mortise and tenon joints for the long stretchers.  ✔
  • Reinforce main slab with a board glued on below.  X
  • Skip the shelf.  ✔

As someone once said, two out of three ain’t bad.  And that’s one more batch of reclaimed lumber off the pile. We’ll see if I ever get to that leg vise and/or fixed deadman.

Unrelated, I also ended up putting an end cap on the pine bench top extension to the Stent Panel workbench.  I think it looks a ton better, even if it’s not functionally necessary.  It’s not a great color match at this point, but there are worse things in life.

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I can finally sleep at night!

Now, if I could just figure out how to do the same thing on the left side of the bench.

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