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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 2)

Where we last left off, we had a slab of laminated plywood that was tried and true on the top face because of some smart lamination techniques.  And, in theory, the slab would work just fine at that point.  But it’s better to have relatively-straight and relatively square edges and ends on a workbench.  So let’s do that.

So what you do really depends on your method of straightening.  Because this is meant to be a beginner woodworker project, I used a time-tested method for getting an edge relatively straight and square.  For this you’ll need a hand plane of some sort and a power router with two bits: a pattern bit (the bearing is near the shank) and a flush trim bit (the bearing is on the end).

My first step is to true up the top 3/8″ or so of the edge adjacent to the reference face with the hand plane.  I used a No. 5 Stanley, but anything will do (even a block plane).  You could in theory use a coarse sanding block or even a power sander, but that sounds like a lot of work.   Just check it with a straightedge as you go.

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Like so.

The angle between the flat top of the slab (against which the base of the router registers) and the straight portion of the edge you just planed (against which the pattern bit bearing will run) becomes the overall reference for the bench.  Go slowly to avoid chatter, especially if you’re taking of a decent bit of material.  It should have brought most of the edge into relatively squareness.  Although the pattern bit is unlikely to make it all the way.

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ice and clean.

Now, flip the slab over and switch in the flush trim bit in the power router.  The bearing on the flush trim bit will run against the surface you just flattened with the pattern bit and trim off the ledge that remains.  What you should be left with is a relatively square, probably straight edge.  It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s more than good enough for what we’re doing here.

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Pattern bit on the left.  Flush trim bit on the right.  Or vice versa.

Then repeat the process for the other side and each end.  Get the entire slab to as uniform of a width as possible and do your best to square the front end of the slab to one of the sides (the back end matters less).

You could definitely do this entirely with a hand plane, but Baltic Birch plywood is tough on O1 steel and you’d need to resharpen often.  In any event, break all the corners of the slab with a hand plane or a sanding block.  Then slap on a couple of coats of Boiled Linseed Oil or Tung Oil onto the top face, sides and ends (but not the underside).  Any penetrating oil will do, but stay away from film finishes like shellac or polyurethane.

Up to this point, I’ve used four tools: a hand plane of some sort, a power router with two bits (pattern and flush trim), a sanding block and a claw hammer (with wire brads).  That, plus some glue, resulted in a pretty straight, pretty flat, pretty square, and pretty clean slab that is 60″ long, 11.75″ wide and 2.825″ thick.  Not including glue drying time, I’m about two workshop hours into this project (plus some driving back and forth from the lumber yard).

Next time, we’ll talk about adding some initial workholding (preview pic below) so we can begin using the bench to make the rest of it.  Warning: you’ll need a saw and a way to bore holes the size of the oak dowel you purchased.

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Homemade bench dogs!

Fits and Starts, Part II

Life can sometimes feel like a series of unfinished woodworking projects.  I start with an idea and the best intentions, and something goes off the rails.  In this case, it’s the under-workbench cabinet from last year.  The case has been sitting around, taking up space in my workshop since before American Thanksgiving.  But, unable to get back to sleep around 330am, I decided to push it forward and nail on the tongue-and-groove case back.

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Is that the end of the tunnel or the train?

This was never meant to be fine furniture.  In fact, it’s sized to fit underneath my Stent Panel workbench.  But I’ve gotten used to keeping my saw benches there, so I’ve finally confirmed its new purpose as furniture.  Some 16″ hairpin legs will raise the deck to 36″.  The perfect height for a dry bar.

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Some detail on the T&G back boards.

The plan was always to dado in some shelves in one cubbyhole and add a door to the other.  I don’t think that’s the best use of the space if it’s not workshop storage.  Instead, I will add a drawer to the top of each cubbyhole and use the space beneath each drawer for book storage.  I probably should have done that stuff before nailing on the backboards, but when has patience ever been my first option?

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Probably overkill for something that won’t be mounted to a wall.

There is something profound about the process of laying out, drilling and driving nails.  I usually listen to music while woodworking, but I always forget to hit play with dividers in hand.  I guess it’s so I can hear the change in tone as the nail clears the pilot hole and bites the wood.

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Cut nails where they won’t be seen.  Die forged where they will.

It’s been a few months since I’ve cut any half blind dovetails.  They go quicker in pine, but tend to be a bit more ragged than in hardwoods.  I have a fine dovetail saw (20 tpi) that works well for those tasks.

It’s around here somewhere, anyway.

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Getting it Together (the Short Version)

I had planned to write this whole post about wood movement and using tabletop anchors in finalizing the bathroom vanity project, but there is nothing I could say that Paul Sellers hasn’t said already (and better).

So, if you don’t know about wooden tabletop connectors, stop what you’re doing and go watch this Paul Sellers video.   After that, if you are so inclined, enjoy this picture of the undercarriage of the vanity.  Tabletop connectors not only hold the top on the vanity, but also anchor the entire assembly to the wall stud.

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Deep sinks are a PITA but worth it in the end.

Don’t forget to use brass fasteners in white oak.  Steel and white oak do not play nicely together.

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Parallelogram

It occurs to, that even if the case isn’t square, as long as it’s out of square all around, it’s still a parallelogram.  And that means that a tray will still run okay.

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It’s very pretty.

I need to add a skirt and some wheels, but this thing just might work.

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Small Space Woodworking

When I started TheApartmentWoodworker.com over two years ago, I had one goal in mind: chronicle my foray into handtool woodworking in a confined space with a limited set of tools.  For almost two years, that confined space was my high rise apartment in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut.  There were ups and downs to woodworking in that apartment: the ups being mostly proximity-related, and the downs being primarily noise-related.  I’d like to think I was successful in that respect.

I don’t talk about it much, but I no longer live in a high rise apartment.  But I do still woodwork in a confined space.  Instead of a dining nook facing an inside wall, however, my shop is now a 12′ x 13′ ground floor bedroom with a south facing window.  Once you factor in wood storage, the usable space is more like 12′ x 9′.  Quite comparable to the overall space I had in my old apartment.

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Seen here, with the aforementioned blanket chest.

I would go so far as to say the only real difference from my old setup (aside from all the natural light) is having a full size workbench, rather than a series of clamp-on workholding solutions.  And that is something I was working on anyway when I still had my apartment.  I will also note that instead of driving 45 minutes each way to my parents’ house to use my miter saw or my thickness planer, they’re tucked away nearby.

So, all in all, I’m keeping the name of the website.  I hope you will stay with me on this adventure and all the (hopefully) great things to come.

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New Face Vise

The one thing I’ve been without since I switched away from my Milkman’s Workbench is a true face vise.  A Moxon Vise is great for dovetailing and tenons, but it’s no good for everyday edge planing.  And while I prefer the tactile feedback of edge planing against a planing stop, it’s not feasible all the time.  I had planned on a simple crochet for my new workbench, but I remembered my threading kit and I figured I’d go for something a bit more elaborate.  Even if it is just a glorified crochet.

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Not yet completed, but you get the idea.

My face vise consists of four main parts: (i) an 8/4 maple nut, bored with one threaded hole and one clean hole; (ii) a 14″ long wooden screw, threaded from a 1.25″ hard maple dowel with a Beall Tool Company threading kit, which grabs the threaded hole; (iii) an 12″ long, 1.25″ hard maple dowel (unthreaded), which acts as a parallel guide in the clean hole in the nut; and (iv) an 8/4 ash jaw, bored with two clean holes, at 18.25″ overall.  The vise works on the same principle as a shoulder vise: the clean dowel, which is glued into the jaw, keeps the jaw from spinning freely while the screw clamps down.

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One, two, three, four.

Or, rather, it will work once I add the hub to the screw.  I don’t have a lathe, so I’m not sure yet what the hub will look like yet.  Part of me wants to make a simple octagonal hub (not unlike a Lake Erie Tool Works Moxon Vise).  Another part of me wants to go whole hog and make a circular hub with a garter and a handle passing through it (like a proper twin screw face vise).  You guys know me pretty well and can probably guess which way I’ll go.

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I’ve been saving this piece of ash for a proverbial rainy day.

Aside from the hub, the other process I haven’t worked out yet is how to attach it to the bench.  My strong inclination is to hide glue the nut to the underside (flush to the edge of the benchtop) and reinforce it with some angle iron.  I may one day replace this with a proper twin screw face vise, and I like the idea of being able to remove the nut without damaging it.  And there is still some assembly to do (I don’t have any epoxy, right now).

All of that will have to wait, though.  There is an American Football game to watch.

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Putting On a Brave Face

It only took me a week to ruin my new workbench.  I’m trying to put on a brave face, but it’s no use.   I can’t even look myself in the mirror, I’m so ashamed.  I drilled the first holdfast hole in the bench, and it’s not plumb.  And it’s the hole farthest to the left.  The one for mortising over the leg.  I’ve got woe.

It’s entirely my fault, too.  Instead of reading the directions for my Crucible Holdfast, I chucked the recommended 1″ WoodOwl augur bit in a modern, three-jawed hand brace.  I was blown away by how easily the WoodOwl powered through the wood.  So much that I lost focus and canted the hole back to front.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t over 2° off plumb back to front (although negligibly canted left to right).

The directions recommend a corded drill and jig to keep the bit plumb.  Corded (I think) because (in my experience) the wobble of a brace and bit always results in an overlarge hole as it reams itself with every sweep of the brace.  Jig because it’s difficult to keep a bit that large from going out of plumb, no matter how little wobble you impart.  I utilized neither.

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I took a vanity picture during the process and can see the cant in the shot.

The result: the holdfast only holds in a 60° sweep pointed at the front edge of the bench.  It won’t grab at all when oriented lengthwise, either left or right.  It could be worse, but it still makes me sad.

I’m debating plugging the hole with epoxy and a 1″ oak dowel (plus an ash dutchman on the show face).  But that feels like a temper tantrum.  I should probably sleep on it another day.

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Ain’t She a Beaute?

So I have a new workbench. It’s really pretty, if I do say so myself.  With any luck, it will be the last workbench I ever make.

Soft focus like a Barbara Walters interview.

Made of air-dried ash, it’s a monster, even without the shelf and the benchtop extension (both to come soon). The slab is 92″ x 15″ x 4″, the legs and top stretchers are 3″ x 4″, and the lower stretchers are 1.5″ x 4″. Why only 1.5″ thick?  Because the lower shelf will be supported by some 1″ x full-length brackets glued and screwed to the inside faces of the stretchers. And it’s all I had leftover on the pile.

It’s important to me to show how the slab and the frame are held together. There are two blind mortises on the underside of the slab, to match two stub tenons on the front legs.  The top stretchers form the inside shoulder of the tenon and support the slab (which, when put into place, went “thunk” and has stayed put). Much like the subconscious inspiration.

I did use a door shim to wedge the right-hand tenon.

I would be remiss not to note that the tenons for the long stretchers are only about 1.5″ long, but they are both glued and drawbored. I feel confident that is sufficient for the heaviest planing strain.

The last tenon, cut at my Stent Panel Workbench.

I’m very pleased with how the bench came out, but I will admit one complaint: how the long stretcher shoulders look. I rounded over the corners of the legs, and the long stretchers are in plane with that. You can see the problem. I will probably get over it. Probably.

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There are a few crimes to hide, but this isn’t supposed to be fine furniture.

I haven’t decided on what type of planing stop to use, but I’m leaning toward a Veritas aluminum stop like I use on my current bench. It will span the entire width of the slab and doesn’t mar the work like a toothed stop would. But it uses a different-sized hole than my Crucible holdfast.

More in a few days when I square the ends of the benchtop and attach the bottom shelf.

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Crippling Self-doubt

Woodworking has been a struggle, lately.  I’m at a point where I need my thickness planer to progress any further into several projects, and it’s just so far away.  The dovetailed carcase for the new traveling tool chest is filled to the brim with S2S versions of its remaining pieces (among other boards).   I just need to pass them through the magic lunchbox and get on with it.  That’s on the agenda for the holiday weekend, also.

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It’s slightly morbid, when you really think about it.

But I still wonder if I’m going about this all wrong.  The size of the new tool chest seems right, but do I really need a full dust seal around the lid?  Won’t oak battens work just fine?  But that would waste a couple board feet of quarter-sawn white pine.  I guess I can use it for french fitting dividers.

It goes on and on.  These types of questions gnaw at me constantly.  I’ve only been woodworking for about 4 years, less than three with hand tools.  What the hell do I know?

Then, every now and again, I get some reaffirmation.  On my new workbench, I organically came to the same conclusion as a previous craftsman, making the front left leg larger than the other three, allowing for a larger tenon at the joint that incurs the most stress.  And speaking of tool chests, a woodworker with credentials beyond my own seems to work out of a chest that looks an awful lot like my first attempt at a traveling tool chest.

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A size comparison.  Please ignore the soft backlight from the patio door.

I don’t crave the approval of others.  But I, like everyone else, need some confirmation once in a while that I’m not totally off base.  And that confirmation keeps the crippling self-doubt at bay for another week or two.

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Out of Retirement

As I begin the new workbench build this weekend, I won’t be in my apartment woodworking shop.  For starters, there is just not enough room.  And the entire operation relies on proximity to my thickness planer.  So I am pulling my old workbench out of retirement.

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My, how far I’ve come.

 

At 84″ long and 24″ deep, my old workbench (which has been collecting dust in storage my parents’ house) is the perfect work surface for laminating the new benchtop.  The old workbench needs to be moved inside, though, and will reside in their basement for the foreseeable future.

I’m also pulling a few power tools into the mix for this build in particular.  The top will be laminated from 72″ lengths of Douglas Fir 2×10’s ripped down the middle and a circular saw will rip much squarer (and quicker) than I can by hand.  The end result should be a thicker overall bench top.  In fact, I am hopeful the slab will be over 4″ thick after flattening, so my 12-inch double bevel sliding compound miter saw will be indispensable as well.

I’m doing 72″ for two reasons.  One, it should still be transportable (in pieces).  Two, the use of a quick-release tail vise will add extra length as required (and I can always make an insert).

More details to come, but suffice to say, I’m heavily influenced by Roubo’s Plate 11 in this build.  There will be a crochet, but I do plan to skip the sliding dovetails.

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