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.

Cultural Appreciation (Pt. IV: the Revenge)

With the first, I ended up with a simple sawbench.

Just when I started to think it was over, I made a less simple sawbench.

Then, furniture’s most misunderstood creature returned, in a minimalist coffee table.

This time, it’s personal.

If you don’t get it, watch the Jaws 3 and Jaws 4 trailers.

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated with the Chinese-style of “staked” furniture construction. Instead of round tenons, they are square or rectangular and therefore able to be made with very simple cutting tools (just a saw and a chisel, essentially). This also means that the angles can be micro-adjusted in a way that outshines even reaming tapered round tenons. So getting the fits and angles perfect is within reach of anyone, especially with some basic angled guide blocks.

If you click the links above, you’ll see I have gradually increased the complexity of the build project by project. And it is now culminating in what will be a sitting bench for the bottom of the bed. No palm or holdfast holes on this beauty. And no softwoods for margin of error.

A mid-build shot.

I was tempted to go stretcherless on this piece. The entire project is 8/4 ash (the legs are actually a bit thicker than the finished top) and there would have been plenty of strength in the beefy, wedged mortises. I even considered lapping the stretchers on with some die forged nails or square head bolts for accent, but it just didn’t match the aesthetic for which I was aiming. After checking all the information available in a single internet image search for “chinese workbench” (which actually turned up two great articles, including one by The Schwarz himself), I decided to mortise in the short stretchers.

Had I done single shouldered tenons like with the original saw bench, I’d be done already. But I had to get all fancy and do double shouldered tenons. Because I’m a masochist.

With this bench, there is 10 degrees of splay but only 2 degrees of rake (remember: splay sideways, rake foRwaRds). So I assumed the tiny bit of rake wouldn’t mess with the geometry of the angled shoulders enough to matter (and that perfectly parallel shoulders would work without fettling). I was wrong and there is one decent gap among the four total shoulders. I keep the shades drawn in the bedroom most of the time, so I doubt the gap will ever be seen, even by me. I did fill it with some matching putty, though.

Close up of the rectangular tenons with hard maple wedge.

I am still tweaking the fit on the second short stretcher and will post some pictures of the finished bench once it’s complete (I also have to level the legs once everything is fitted). But, for now, I will think on whether to paint the base to match the walls in my bedroom or just tung oil and be done with it. Or maybe stain the base in dark mahogany to match the bedroom furniture (which is storebought, btw).

Stay tuned!

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Catching Up

The year has started off somewhat weirdly. I was able to take a bit of time off; I even made a new traveling tool chest for my vacation. Which I am quite pleased with, although I wish it had been about 1″ deeper than it is. The upper tray, even at a full half of the total depth of the chest, is still a bit tight for a 12″ combination square. But I make due.

Everything fits, and that’s what’s most important.

The case itself is pretty utilitarian; as are the tills. But the lid is definitely not. I went full groove-in-groove frame and panel with this one. I had never made a lid like this before. All my panels were in the past raised, and I made the choice to glue one long edge of the panel in place in the frame. I somehow mis-sized the piece and there was a bit too much side-to-side float for my taste.

Flat, square and stable.

When it came to picking tools for the actual vacation, I ended up stuffing it a bit to the gills. Glue, blue tape, a few clamps, an egg beater drill. None of these things fit naturally in the design so just get piled in. It does, however, stabilize the tills so nothing bangs around while driving. The chest itself took some heavy dings when I piled it and the travel workbench into the back of the truck (with the stock for other projects). But it held up well so far.

Does look a bit like a baby coffin.

Speaking of the travel workbench, I need to make a new top for that. The slab cupped again (not sure why; it’s been through two flattenings). The front edge sits about 1/8 off the legs. It doesn’t rock and I may just level where the slab sits on the frame, but it changed the peg hole geometry and it’s tough to get the slab off again once it’s in place. But the bench worked great. Not sure I prefer viseless woodworking, but it can be done.

But I really liked the 32″ height for rough work.

I’ll talk more about the vacation projects in a future post. Monster Hunter: Rise came out while I was gone so I got less done than I wanted, but still more than I expected.

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Most Important Woodworking Website

There is a website I go to (almost) every day when I’m in the shop. A website with the most important and useful woodworking insights. Truly, it is an indispensable resource for my woodworking needs.

That website: http://www.carbidedepot.com/formulas-trigright.asp

A trigonometry calculator.

Angles are everywhere; make sure you know how long to rough cut a board.

This is not a joke. Imagine rough cutting a board too short and only learning it after you’re trying to level the legs.

A travesty, for sure.

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New Year’s Day, 2022

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.

Still one more sliding till to make.

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).

It’s also rabbeted and nailed, not dovetailed. Cauls help keep everything flat when nailing together.

The full kit this holds is as follows:

  • Planes: No. 5 jack plane, No. 3 smoothing plane, Low-angle block plane, small router plane
  • Saws: 10 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate): 6 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate)
  • Chisels: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 inch bench chisels, carver’s mallet
  • Marking and measuring: 12″ combination square, 8″ machinist square, wheel marking gauge, 12 foot tape measure, folding marking knife, mechanical pencils
  • 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.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Fixgasm (Part II)

Speaking of fixgasms, I finally got around to installing the Veritas Inset Vise in my Moravian Workbench. It’s not quite a revelation, but I’m glad I did it and it officially completes the workbench.

Works like a charm.

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.

Maximum capacity of 68.5 inches (1740mm or so). More if I use a clamp on the far end to gain another inch or so.

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.

LOL. Just kidding. Not really. Maybe?

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Woodworking Workbench for Sale!

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.

Yes, that is the repurposed top from the last time I tried to sell this giant hunk of ash.

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)

With leg vise

$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: theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com if you’re interested.

More pictures:

Leg detail (three dog/holdfast holes at 1″)
Back leg joint detail. Lots of face grain glue surface here, plus the bolt.
Slab detail. Perfect for adding a tool stray or a wing to extend the benchtop.

Cultural Appreciation (Part III)

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.

The warm color of boiled linseed oil on 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.

Ash is great in that you can clearly see the shape of the tree in the boards you get from it. Really helps read the grain.

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’ve learned not to scribe the ends of the tenon so deep, although I kind of like the window casement look.

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?

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Something Refreshing

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.

Love that Behr Dark Everglade from the Homeless Despot.

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.

A three way of mismatched wood.

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.

Undercarriage close-up; the tenon cheek waste was glued back on to form the other shoulder.

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.

Or use a wide batten with a holdfast

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.

Using the bench to make the bench(slave).

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.

The holdfast holes are even spaced perfectly for this. It’s like I planned it or something.

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?

But that’s a question for another day.

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The Importance of Instructions

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.

This is as far as I can take it until I attach it to the actual bench.

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.

I would note that for the LV version, you’ll need to add some washers to the bolts that attach the guide plates. This ensures the bolts (which thread into the top guide plate) sit just below the surface.

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.

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Restorative Process

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.

So many memories.

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.

Dry assembly.

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.

I’ve never cut roman numerals with a chisel before.

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.

We’ll see.

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