Big Projects

Who Needs ‘Em?

An integral part of a leg vise is the garter that connects the screw to the vise chop, allowing the chop to move in and out as the screw is turned.  Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.  And when you make your own screws, it’s probably a good idea to be able to plow a 1/4″ trench around the circumference of the screw to capture the garter.  But what to do when one does not own a lathe (powered or otherwise)?  Improvise!

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Hold your applause, please.

I started by sawing down the walls of the trench with my miter box.  The screws are 6/4″ wide so I set the depth stop to about 3/16″ and was careful to keep all the saw kerfs in alignment.  Then I used a 1/4″ chisel to hog out most of the waste, using the saw kerfs as the depth guide.  After that was done, I took a mortise float and spun the saw around while holding the float steady: first in the direction of the cut to get it close, then in the opposite direction to burnish it down to a perfect cylinder.  The inner diameter ended up being a bit over 1″.

The garter plate will be made from a 1/4″ x 4″ square of quarter-sawn hard maple (the same wood as the screw).  If I drill a 1 1/8″ wide hole in the face of the garter plate, the kerf from sawing it in half should result in a perfectly-sized (if minorly-oval) hole when the two parts are joined together again and secured to the vise chop with slotted screws.

I also made an ash hub (from the same board as the leg vise chop) and glued in the screw once the garter trench was plowed.  I’ll shave the hub into a something approximating a cylinder once the glue dies.  I will also drive a dowel through the hub and the screw to further secure the assembly.  I haven’t decided on a wood for the handle yet.  I’m leaning toward rived ash (surprise!).  I have some decent lengths of ash to rive into good handle, which I can shave down to round.

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The screw stock is a snug fit into the hole, so PVA works just as well as epoxy.

I have not yet determined how the parallel guide should work.  The leg vise chop is a 6″ wide, highly figured piece of 12/4″ ash.  And because the the legs are only 4″ wide, I should be able to mortise a 5/8″ parallel guide into the chop and secure a catch to the inside of the leg (think of the catch for the lock battens on a Dutch tool chest).  The parallel guide and the catch will probably also be quarter-sawn hard maple (like the other hard-wearing components).   And, because very little of it is internal to the bench itself, the leg vise should, theoretically, be salvageable when I next lose my mind and make another workbench.

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Heart-side to the bench in case it cups.

Although the parallel guide will not be perfectly centered, I might be able to get away with a pin board set-up.  But I’d rather use a shim system with a few common sizes secured to the bench with twine.  I am sure there is some combination of four shims that have specific dimensions in each orientation that will work for most tasks.

But it’s been a long week and I can’t figure that out right now.

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Sometimes, Things Work Out Just Fine

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not the easiest way to make a hand tool woodworking workbench.  It’s not even fifth easiest.  But I’m the boss, and this time, the Stent Panel is in the hizzy.

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This is just a test fit.

Each of the legs is mortised directly into the main slab.  Because of leg stock length constraints, I was not able to do the traditional Roubo sliding dovetail joint on the front legs.  But some beefy tenons and double drawbore pegs (not shown above) will hopefully keep things together.  I find birch dowels flexible enough to resist cracking when drawboring and the color match should be okay.

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Front legs flush with the benchtop, like a good workbench should be.

The back legs each rake out at a 14° angle, which I calculated based on the stock I had to allow an overall footprint of 21″ and an overall height of 36.5″. Net of the heavy duty anti-fatigue rubber mat, the workbench will be 35.5″ high.  A full 1.5″ taller than my current workbench.

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Heart-side up, just like Andre Roubo said.

Angled internal tenons are not exactly the easiest joint to cut.  But through a combination of boring and careful paring (to match a pre-cut leg) it can be done.  By some miracle, the joints are beyond piston-fit and I could likely get away without anything but hide glue.  I don’t even know how I would drawbore the angled legs (maybe something on the drillpress?).  But I have some lovely black powder-coated square head lag bolts that seem like a good belt-and-suspenders solution for keeping everything together.

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Just insert tenon (bottom) into mortise (middle) at pre-determined angle (top).

The only thing left before gluing in the legs is mortising the benchtop extension posts into the slab.  I found a lovely piece of 8/4 ash at the lumberyard that will extend the benchtop to approximately 22″ (about the same as my current bench and only an inch beyond the rake of the back legs).  Being 8/4, it’s probably at equilibrium, but it still needs to acclimate for a week or so before I feel comfortable flattening it.  The posts will also be drawbored into the benchtop, so I should probably figure out holdfast hole placement before chopping those mortises.

More later in the week on the leg vise, including why I’m adding a single notched stretcher to the left side of the workbench.  I’ve already bored the screw clearance hole and applied the threaded nut.  I could have threaded the leg directly, but something tells me this setup will be longer-lasting.

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It’s also hide-glued on.  Two brass screws are clearly not strong enough on their own.

In the meantime, huge shoutout to Brady and Jamie who helped me push the slab through the thickness planer for just 3 more passes.

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It’s That Time, Again

I’m taking another crack at a Stent Panel-style workbench.  In truth, I am basically copying one of the Shaker workbenches from the Pleasant Hill village in Kentucky.  Well, sort of.  I’m skipping the skewed vise-leg and the integrated tail vise.  But it will be stretcher-less, 36″ high, a shade over 7 feet long, and between 20 and 22″ deep.  The front legs will be flush to the benchtop and the back legs kick out at a 13° angle. It’ll have a tripod bench slave to match.

The foundation of the workbench is a 125″ long, 13″ wide piece of 16/4 ash.  From that, I was able to make four legs (approximately 3″ x 4″) and a slab top that is about 88″ long, 12.75″ wide and 3.75″ thick.  I will extend the benchtop by mortising a few supports into the back edge and adding an 8/4 ash shelf.  This will give me solid wood only where I need it and theoretically allow me to switch in a tool well if I ever go to the dark side.

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I left a bit of roughness on the underside to preserve as much thickness as possible.

There will be a proper leg vise (the chop for which is salvaged from another project).  I broke out the wood threader and made a couple of 1.5″ hard maple screws.  I have yet to decide whether to use a proper pin board parallel guide or whether to use some sort of dowel/wedge combination.  I like the idea of the wedge, but I’d rather it not be loose on the floor.  I wonder if a relatively-interference-fit guide rod and one of those plastic shim sets would eliminate the need for a wedge or pin board.

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When setup takes precision, always make a spare.

I also need to shape a hub and figure out a garter situation.  It’s tough without a lathe, but I can probably hand carve something.  Although not strictly necessary (because of my Crucible Tools holdfast and collection of does’ feet), I plan to add my Veritas inset vise to this workbench.  I really like this piece of hardware and think it needs to make a comeback in my life.

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I am skipping the Roubo sliding dovetail joint as well.

By now, you’re probably asking: what is wrong with your current workbench, James?  Nothing, really.  But I’ve never really been happy with it.  The shelf attracts clutter and I foolishly never incorporated a sliding deadman.  It’s also too low for my tastes.  34″ is great for hand planing thick stock, but literally any other operation is torture on my back.  I’m not as young as I used to be, after all.

And it will make me happy. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

In a couple of weeks, my old workbench will go up for sale.  Including the vise, I’ll probably sell it for $900.  I just want to make back the cost of the materials (including the vise).  I’ll even throw in the screw-driven crochet.

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In My Defense

I am commonly asked why I spend so much time on superfluous furniture projects when there is home improvement I should be doing.  Usually, the honest answer is: “home improvement projects generally suck and I’m procrastinating”.  But every now and again, there is another answer: “because I’m practicing for an important home improvement project”.  And this is one of those very rare cases.

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The finished cherry table with the last scrap of the source wood for comparison.

It’s no secret that I don’t chop many mortises.  I much prefer dovetails and housing joints.  But with the double-sink vanity I’m making for the upstairs bathroom, only mortise and tenon joinery will do.  I would not describe the vanity design as “delicate”, the legs and rails will only be about 2″ square so the joints need to be as stout as possible.

The 48x13x36 reclaimed cherry console table (seen above) is done.  It served two purposes (aside from cleaning out some of the wood pile), really.

First, it allowed me to test build a Nicholson workbench if I ever go that route.  I’m impressed with the overall design.  I was able to figure it out without any real plans, so that makes me think it would be good for someone making their first workbench from construction-grade lumber.  It seems stout and scalable and not very dependent on the materials that you’ make it from.  Oak, Douglas Fir, Spruce or even White Pine all seem like they’d work just fine.

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The cross rails add rigidity despite the lack of a slab top.

The second purpose was to practice mortise and tenon joinery.  With such little margin for error on the relatively small dimensions of the vanity components, I’ll rely on stub tenons to hold everything together.  For aesthetic reasons, I don’t plan to drawbore the mortise and tenon joints, so piston fits will be important to lifetime bonds.  And that’s what this project allowed me to practice.  Unless I decide to learn to fox wedged tenon.

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Gratuitous up-frame shot.

At this point in the retrospective, I typically assess what I’d do differently on this build.  In truth, very little.  I absentmindedly broke the arrises on a few boards before the glue-up, so there are a few visible glue lines (the joint line between the apron and the tabletop as seen above comes to mind) that no amount of boiled linseed oil will hide.

But that’s about it.  Once the BLO dries, I’ll move the table into my office.

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A Rebirth (of Sorts)

A great joy of life is reclaiming wood.  Both economically- and environmentally-efficient (most of the time), recycling my or someone else’s prior project into something equally (or more) beautiful and functional is about the only resurrection I still believe in.

A while back, a coworker gifted to me a solid cherry table that had been neglected.  Across a 3 foot width, the table top had cupped almost a full inch.  There was no flattening this through ordinary means.  It had to be ripped down and re-laminated if it could be saved.  But that seemed like a lot of work and I already have a dining room table.  So, instead, I took careful stock of how board feet there were and set to work re-purposing the table.

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The first of many glue-ups.

I’ve been fascinated by the Nicholson Workbench form for a long time, but never actually built one.  And in need of a grinding station for my new bench grinder, I set out to turn that cherry monstrosity into a light duty workbench.  It would be 48″ long, 13″ deep and about 36″ high.  Small enough to move around but big enough to stay put when pushed up against a wall.

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Light duty because of the depth of dadoes in order to make the aprons flush to the legs.

I drew on a number of influences, including Paul Sellers’ ubiquitous workbench and Mike Siemsen’s Naked Woodworker bench.  And then pretty much winged it.  And as the piece took shape, it became clear that this was not destined to be shop furniture.  The wood is too beautiful and the effort too great.  This one would live in the civilized world.

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I’ll scrape away the little bit of french polish left in spots where flatness is not critical.  

It’s no secret that I don’t chop a ton of mortises.  Most of my woodworking involves dovetails and dadoes.  So when I need to cut eight blind mortises for the leg assembles, I fall back on the most boring method of all.

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See what I did there?

I find that when chopping mortises by drill bit and paring chisel, the most important thing is to cut the mortise first.  And it begins at establishing a reference wall (see the check mark above) that is consistent across the piece.  If all of the reference walls correspond to the outside face of the assembly, and the corresponding tenon cheek on each rail is perfectly in line, then it doesn’t really matter what the opposite wall and opposite tenon cheek are.  They can be adjusted to fit the individual mortise (which I do with a router plane on smaller work).

The end result is a consistent reveal on the show side of the assembly (and, by extension, an assembly that has no twist or wind).

And a base that is square and true will be the first step toward a table that is square and true.

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Just Look at That

The process of leveling the feet on the staked low workbench was not as straightforward as I hoped.  Marking each out with a pencil on a block of wood and sawing to the line was not the problem.  Cleaning up the cuts, however, was an exercise in managing flex of the legs as they are planed and beveled.  I ended up using a block of wood in a holdfast on the face of one workbench leg as a backstop.

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The rake and splay is a little catywampus, but could be worse.

Like most of my workbenches, the very first workholding added is an aluminum planing stop that is secured with 3/4″ pegs in dog holes.  This one is left over from my old clamp on workbench.  I plan to make a palm planing stop to fit the same dog holes, but this will do for now.

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No other dog holes yet.

I figured that a lap joint would be a good start to woodworking while sitting.  A dear friend needed a replacement support for his bed frame out of some straight-grained douglas fir.  The face grain stock preparation was pretty easy (plane a section, scoot back, plane another section) but edge planing could have used some lateral support from pegs.

Cutting the dado in the long piece was quite easy, as was crosscutting the shoulder on the mating piece.  But the cheek cut was anything but. I don’t think low benches with no workholding at all are conducive to splitting or paring (my preferred method for bone dry douglas fir).  I should hog out a sawing notch and make some softwood wedges (softer than poplar, at any rate).

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A close up of the joint.

My next trick will be adding a series of pegs and notches, but only after the bench pulls duty as seating for a get together.

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Something Original

I haven’t had much of an intellectual boner for woodworking, lately.  For whatever reason (probably Monster Hunter: World), it’s been tough to get down into the shop.  But I seem to be coming out of the malaise and first thing on my list is finishing the low, staked workbench.

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The one on the right is still a bit ragged.

The slab has been S4S for some time.  The mortises for the legs were already bored.  But not owning a lathe put a damper on my momentum all those months ago.  But no longer.  This thing is getting built.

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Ever good cylinder starts with an octagon.

Making round tenons without a lathe or a tenon cutter is very much a trial and error process, consisting of three basic steps.  Step one: crosscut the shoulders and then saw the tenon to a rough octagonal shape.  Step 2: split down the length of the tenon with a chisel to get it as close to the reference circle as possible.  Step 3: Rasp the tenon until it fits in the mortise all the while maintaining square down the length.

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Admittedly, that step 3 is a bit more involved than the first two.

The first leg I made went straight to step 2, and some wily grain gave me a slightly conical tenon on one side.  It should be okay (the defect is not load bearing), but I will for the rest of my life worry that the leg will fall out of the mortise. At which point I will make another one.

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With my new octagonizing jig!

I have absolutely no idea if I kerfed the tenons far enough down for permanent wedging.  By going 3/4 of the way, though, the end of the fully seated wedge is still fully inside the thickness of slab. But judging by how the wedges on the first two legs each drove in and seated just fine, I think it will be okay.

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Cards on the table: I still have two legs to go.  It takes about an hour and a half per leg from ripping to thickness to final wedging.  I’ll try and get it done this week, but no promises.  In any event, it has to be done in the next two weeks, because I’m having company and need the extra seating.

I stand by my statement that a workbench like this would have been great for when I first started apartment woodworking.  So much so that I’m going to make a second (smaller) version in a few weeks and give it a try.  Maybe with one of those side twin screw vises that Christopher Schwarz put on his eight-legged bench.

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Moving On

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must let go.  Circumstances change and priorities shift.  And so, it is with great regret, that I am relinquishing my old workbench to my parents.  It will live a new life as a kitchen island.

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All cleaned up, as much as it can be.

The bench is, after all, home center douglas fir.  A toothed planing stop and holdfast holes are no good for a kitchen surface, so I plugged them up with what I had on hand.  Red Oak dutchmen and dowel rods.  I did my best to select clear wood when laminating the top, but douglas fir isn’t the most uniform of woods. So all in all, for the sake of cleanliness, it should get a coat of paint on the top.  

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Knots, dutchmen, dowels, CA glue and wood putty.  Not really that food safe at the moment.

I did leave the two post holes for an aluminum planing stop, though.  If I ever need to do woodworking at my parents’ house, it would be great to have a functioning workbench.  And a planing stop goes a long way toward a functioning workbench.  I still think this would have been a fantastic work bench to have in my old apartment.

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The paint will cover up some minor defects in the wood as well.  

This workbench has been largely redunant for a long time.  So I’m glad it will find a good home and free up some room outside my workshop.

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A Tour of the New Tool Chest

My English floor chest is, for all practical purposes, complete.  I must still attach the lifts, paint the lid and add some ring pulls to the sliding trays, but it is now at max tool holding capacity.  I’ve organized the trays and am calling this one good enough.

The bottom tray is sharpening and boring tools, plus a tool roll of gouges and specialty chisels.  In the middle are my every day hammers and tools that do not see every day use (e.g., rasps and planemaker’s floats), as well as my largest chisels.  Up top are every day marking tools, plus a block plane and extra bench dogs.

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I never thought I’d see the day.

Down below, the well is separated into three main areas.  At the front of the chest, a saw till at the front that holds both back saws and hand saws, and a tool rack that holds chisels and other important pointy tools that lend themselves to 1/2″ holes bored on 1 1/2″ center.

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I now have room for the router plane container that Jim gave me.  

In the center, general storage for my bench planes (Nos. 3, 4, 5 1/2 and 7), plus my spokeshave and scrub, chisel, small router and shoulder planes, as well as a panel gauge.  The No. 3 is very much a specialty plane in my tool chest, used solely for delicate smoothing tasks.

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I still think the saw till eats up too room and should be broken up into two different tills.

In the back, a typical moulding plane till for my modest set of hollows and rounds (2-8), two tongue and groove plans, my shop-made fillister plane and some other bits and bobs.  I plan to expand my moulding plane collection through a combination of rehabbing existing planes and making new hollows and rounds (hence the new set of planemaker’s floats).

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I’m probably going to move the calipers up to the trays.

In addition to new moulding planes, one thing my tool chest is definitely missing is a drawknife.  I have vintage versions of both a small and a large drawknife, but I don’t dream of using them until I get a way to sharpen them safely.  In my case, a Benchcrafted Drawsharp.

In the meantime, though, a spokeshave will have to do for rounding parts.

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Start to Finish

There is nothing like a good deadline to get the creative juices flowing.  The adrenaline rush of getting it done, right at the wire, is divine.  And deadlines have a way of helping me see through the fluff and get to the heart of things.  In this case, I had to advance my floor chest enough to move everything out of my Dutch tool chest (so that I could gift it to a friend who was coming into town).

Tool chests are all about keeping dust off the tools, so it starts with a lid:

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3/4″ birch plywood, because I had some on hand.

And then a seal around the lid to lock out the dust:

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The nails at the corners are to reinforce the actual dovetail joints

Next stop is reinforcing the lid with another 1/2″ of plywood:

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Easiest raised panel, ever.

And finally, adding a second sliding tray so pretty much eveything fits comfortably in the chest.

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Still cluttered, but less so.

Even without the third sliding tray, this chest is in good working order.  A few tools (like my rasps) are still in a safe place outside the chest, because I don’t want them grinding against each other while it’s still more piling than organization.

I’ll build the last tray, paint the lid and attach the lifts this week.  Then I will have no excuses not to begin working on the upstairs bathroom vanity.

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