Big Projects

For Those About to Rock

I’ve spoken on the matter before, but a good workshop soundtrack does wonders.  My absolute favorite album to woodwork by is “Day and Age” by The Killers.  I can go an entire day in the shop with that album on repeat.  I’ve gotten really into Florence + The Machine lately as well, and Matt and Kim continue to be a guilty pleasure.  [I know I’m late to the party and I don’t care].

I mention it because on the docket this weekend I begin work on the frame for the RH-inspired bathroom vanity.  First on the list is hand-ripping about 16 feet of quartersawn 8/4 white oak to to rough width.  And I find a good beat (and a very sharp saw) is the key to controlled saw strokes.


All from one tree board for best color match.

The boards are all about 9″ wide, hopefully enough to get four 2″ wide boards from each.  My plan to ensure I do is to make the first rip and leave the 4.5″ wide boards to sit for a couple hours.  If the wood behaves, I may true and joint the 4.5″ wide boards (to at least S3S) before doing the second set of rips.  I have every reason to expect it will behave; it’s air-dried and quartersawn.

I also need to do something about my lumber storage situation.  But that’s a problem for another day, once I clear out some of my pile with a few spring projects.


Almost Too Deep

With the negligible exceptions of squaring the ends and boring a few more holes (for holdfasts or otherwise), my workbench is officially done.


Maybe one more pass with the jointer plane as well.  

After the new benchtop extension, the workbench is officially 22.5″ deep (plus 1/8″ or so in places along the still-rough back edge).  I know I will eat these words sooner rather than later, but 22.5″ almost feels too deep.

My last workbench, the Stent Panel (i.e., stretcherless) knockoff, was only 19″ deep.  Before that, I worked primarily off a 10″ deep clamp-on slab with two planing stops and holdfast.  And before even that, there was my Milkman’s Workbench.  See here for a size comparison of the two.  I got all the way back to the middle of 2014 for when I last had a workbench deeper than 19″ (it was 23.75″).  That’s a long time ago.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it again

I promised everyone pictures of pegs going into holes, so here you go.


This one actually broke off in the hole during the glue up.


Spacers work well after a bit of finessing.  

Are you sick of phallic double entendre yet?  Me neither.


Real Bench Extension

After a couple months of acclimating, I surfaced the 12/4 ash board which will form the rest of the benchtop. It had almost no twist, but even with a bit of cup, I still ended up with over 3″ of total thickness. But as you’ve probably observed, that’s still about 1″ thinner than the main benchtop. 

What’s worse than a tool tray? A really shallow tool tray.

I have a solution, though.  Some Douglas Fir spacers will raise the back board up to the same height as the rest of the benchtop. A little higher, actually, so I can plane everything into flatness. I used DF because while it will ding and mildly conform to any irregularities, it’s still tough and rigid. Eastern White Pine would compress too much over time, methinks. 

I will probably leave the back edge rough, until I don’t. 

I plan to glue the back board to the main benchtop, so here is the question: do I glue the spacers to the back board, or just screw them on (so I can replace them later)?  In any event, I want to add some alignment dowels into the short stretchers that will keep everything in order.

I have a process for that, which I’ll detail in the next post. 


What the Hell am I Doing?

It’s no secret that “Mythbusters” is one of my favorite shows. I’ve probably seen each episode, other than the really gross one with the earwax candle, five times. And I’m very fond of ruining party conversations with “Well, actually, the Mythbusters tested that and…”. Damn me and my science.

One of the recurring themes on the show is the “What the Hell are We Doing?” moment, where one of the hosts realizes how absurd a turn the experiment has taken. I had one of those moments yesterday.  Having just finished the saw till for the new chest, I realized, all at once, that it’s stupid to make this a tool chest.

Seems to work pretty well, though.

It’s not the right size for my tools and I already bought lumber for an anarchist’s tool chest clone. But I glued in the saw till anyway, because I couldn’t help myself.

This is dumb and I’m dumb for doing it.

But I came to my senses after two lower runners and a saw till.  Blanket chest, it is.  At least I can skip the frame and panel lid (or at least the dust seal).

Trust your instincts, folks.


What am I Ashamed of?

I’ve been building another chest and it’s coming along pretty well.  Overall dimensions are 30.25″ long x 20″ wide x 15.25″ high.  The inside dimensions are 28″ long x 18″ wide x 14.5″ deep.  Sound familiar?


This one has rabbets and nails, not dovetails.

Several people have asked me what I’ve been building lately and every time I’ve said “a blanket chest”.  But is it?  It could easily be a tool chest.  I’m not sure it’s not a tool chest.

There are rabbets and nails at the corners, and there would be regardless of what the chest will hold.


Sawn and split by hand, like always.

There are shiplaps for the floorboards, cut with my shop-made fillister plane.


The toothed texture on the edge of the benchstop is very grippy.

And the chest will be painted, whether or not it holds hand planes or doilies.  So what’s the difference?  I think a tool chest has a proper skirt and dust seal, which isn’t necessary on a blanket chest.  The lids may differ a bit as well.

But maybe, just maybe, there isn’t any real difference other than in my mind.  I think I’m just ashamed that rather than build the furniture I need (like some more plant stands or a cat jungle gym for River), I’m building yet another chest.  But I like building chests and I’ve had these boards for over a year.

And who knows, it might really be a blanket chest this time.


Something Old, Something New

The point at which you first install workholding on a workbench is a bit thrilling.  The bench transforms from furniture to functioning tool.  Even if the workholding is just an aluminum planing stop.



Final flattening of the bench only took about 30 minutes.

I have been enamored with these Lee Valley-Veritas planing stops for some time.  I tried a toothed planing stop on my previous workbench, but I never really liked it.  Unless I needed the extra 6 inches or so of benchtop, I always went back to these aluminum stops. They are low profile and easy to install (requiring only two 3/4″ dog holes).  And they can be cut to perfect length.

This time, I even remembered to space the holes so they’d line up with a row of tail vise dog holes, if I ever install a metal front vise as a tail vise.  I mean to, eventually, but I only have 12″ from the end of the benchtop to the top stretchers, so I’d need a pretty compact front vise.  Before I do, though, I’m going to try working with just holdfasts and does’ feet.  I hear it works pretty well.

My first project on the new workbench will be that plant stand I was making last year, which is very similar to a previous prototype.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: working home center spruce is such a joy.


Of Proverbial Lights and Tunnels

On every new project, there is a point at which the project passes from being a pile of boards to an actual thing.  It’s a magic moment that never fails to make me smile.  I hit one of those points over the weekend, while transferring the length measurements for one of the long stretchers on my new workbench.


For the first time, to me anyway, it looks like an actual workbench.

There is one more long stretcher to surface, and four mortises and tenons to cut, but with any luck, the bench will be functional by Sunday.  Then it will just be a question of boring holes in the legs (for Gramercy Holdfasts) and in the benchtop (for bench dogs and my Crucible Tools Holdfast).

I’ve never made my own bench dogs before, so I’ll be excited to try it out.



Silent World

In case you didn’t know, every episode of MacGyver is available on Netflix.  And I’ve been watching the hell out of it.  I recently saw an episode, Season 2; Episode 9, called “Silent World“, where Mac [30-year old spoiler alert!] stops a plot to steal a guided missile with the help of a friend, who is a teacher at a school for the hearing-impaired.

In the episode, the teacher (who is the best-acted character in the episode) has a recurring nightmare that helps identify the perpetrators.  The nightmare seems at first like a prophecy, but is decoded as the episode progresses and in fact turns out to be based on her recent experiences.  It’s amazing how the human brain works, using dreams to process and catalog the myriad sensory information we receive every day.

So what does this have to do with woodworking?  I had been thinking about the design of my new workbench build, which I’d characterize as part Roubo, part Moravian.  A bespoke, if not novel, design to utilize the available materials in the most effective way possible.


The “Slab to Frame” ratio is about 2:3.

It turns out, however, that my design is a complete knockoff, being positively Follansbeean.  I was reading his blog’s archives and came across the post where he set up his bench in his new workshop (under a tarpaulin).  A post published long before I started building my new workbench.

Although my bench won’t have wedged through-tenons on the long stretchers (I’ll drawbore all the stretchers), mine otherwise matches Peter’s pretty closely, right down down to the spacers on which a thinner shelf will sit to extend the benchtop.  My design is born out of only having 15″ x 92″ of 16/4 ash for the main slab top, and I would be willing to bet Peter was solving the same problem.


Two stub tenons on the front legs go into the benchtop and keep the slab in place.

Funny how the brain catalogs these things for later use.  But now at least I can give the design proper attribution.


I Am So Confused (Please help!)

I cut the first leg mortise in the slab for my new ash workbench and I’ve hit a snag.  I can’t figure out what the problem is.

If the reference surface on the leg is flat and true…


Which is it.

And the mortise is cut into the undreside of a benchtop in a plane that is perfectly flat…


Which it is (double checked it with my square).

And my shoulder line for the tenon is perfectly square to the reference face on the leg…


Which it is (sorry for the blurry picture).

Then why is the reference face of the leg not perpendicular to the underside of the benchtop when the shoulder is perfectly seated to the leg?


What am I doing wrong?

My best guess is that there is some optical illusion from the toothed surface and the tenon isn’t actually seated all the way.  I can bend the leg out a bit to make it square, and it’s 12/4 ash, so that’s probably at the joint, not the leg itself, right?  But I fear that adjusting the inside of the mortise might make the tenon loose (it’s friction fit right now).


End Grain Problems

Monday’s post was apparently number 200 here at The Apartment Woodworker.  I feel like 200 posts in a little over two years isn’t so bad.  Here’s to the next 200 or so.  Still with me?  Good.

Call me crazy, but I left the workbench slab in the clamps for almost 48 hours.  There was a tiny bit of twist (maybe 1/64″) in the mating surfaces between the two timbers and I didn’t take any chance the PVA glue (Titebond II) would fail simply for insufficient curing time.  This isn’t 3/4″ pine here.  But I’m starting to think the twist might have had something to do with this nasty check at the end of one board.


Masked for when it gets stabilized.

I’ve talked about it in the past, but I like to stabilize end grain checks with thin viscosity cyanoacrylate glue (i.e., super glue).  It dies hard and clear and penetrates deep into the check.  This particular check goes almost 3/4 of the way through the thickness, but seems to angle upward, so I might not need the whole bottle of CA glue.  But if I do, so be it.


That ridge in the middle of the tape is the gap.

The good news is the check is on the underside of the main slab, and at the back right corner (to hide the bit of wain).  As long as the check gets sealed up, that should be the end of the problem.

Should be.