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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 there 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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Words to Cut Joints By

Admittedly, my previous post was a bit harsh.  Without any remorse and sans even one iota of apology to the douchenozzles in question, I concede that things got a little out of hand on Friday.

I like to keep it pretty highbrow around here, so let’s talk about one of my favorite joints: the cross-lap joint.

 

The cross-lap joint is all about precision.  In its simplest form, two pieces are joined to form an overlapping “T” through two dadoes.  Each dado must be precisely sized to snugly fit the mating piece and (usually) the combined depth of both dadoes is equal to the thickness of one of the pieces.  This precision is achieved, first and foremost, through careful layout.

For me, the most accurate way to mark each dado is to scribe an initial line with a marking knife and, leaving the square in place, use the mating piece to transfer the dado width.  I tend to mark my dadoes about 1/64″ narrower than the mating piece when working in softer woods.  In harder woods, it might be only a few thousands of an inch.  I then transfer the width lines to the sides and scribe my depth line normally.

Unless the boards are wide (6″ or more), I will use a tenon saw to establish the outside walls and then chisel out the waste to just above my depth line with stabbing motions.  On twider boards (or in the case of stopped dadoes), I may only establish the show faces of the walls with a saw and the do the rest by chisel.

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I always wear safety glasses when paring in this orientation.  

After test fitting for snugness (and paring down the walls to the scribe lines, as necessary), I then fine-tune the dado depth with a router plane, taking very shallow passes until I hit my scribed depth line.  Rinse and repeat for the other dado, fine tuning dado depth to ensure the pieces are joined flush.

When done right, and used in the correct orientation, a cross-lap joint can have mechanical strength and may require little reinforcement.

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The first dado in process.

The cross-lapped pieces above are the base of a small plant stand.  Assuming I accurately locate the through-mortises on each of the legs to evenly distribute the vertical load, the cross-lap joint won’t require any reinforcement.  Assuming.

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The Plank in My Own Eye

I don’t much go in for 2,000 year old metaphors, but there is one passage in the Christian Scriptures that always made sense to me.  Matthew 7:5 makes a pretty poignant point about judging others.  We’re all flawed, some of us more than others, so fix yourself before you criticize your fellow man.  Nowhere do I wish people lived by this concept more than in woodworking forums.

A gentleman I follow on twitter named Christopher Bowen (@abysmaljoiner) is making a beautiful side table, with a striped inlay and a curly something or other drawer front.  He recently posted a picture of his burnisher laying on top of the table, with ostensibly burnished corners (something I had never thought of, as I tend to just break them with a smoothing plane).  Hoping to learn more about the practice, I went to teh interwebs. The very first search result was to the forums of a major woodworking magazine.  And the very first response to a question about burnishing miters was by some intractable dickbag who, instead of answering the quite-reasonable question, admonished the person to just cut better fitting joints.

Sadly, this dickholery is the norm through most of the woodworking forums out there.  For every one stronghold of enlightenment, knowledge and community out there, you’ll find ten wastelands where you’re pretty much guaranteed nothing but rants from sad old men comparing dick sizes fresh off their chop saws.

The internet can be such a force for good, where knowledge, experience and advice is freely exchanged by people who care about the topic, and we’re all made better for it.  But I’m sick of having to slog through pages and pages of ePeen just get a comprehensible answer.

Besides, if they were really that good, they ought to care more about helping the rest of us get to that point than about bragging and putting other people down on the internet.  No one’s impressed, you incorrigible fucktards.

Happy Black Friday.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from TheApartmentWoodworker.com.  As the holiday season ramps up, I am (as always) grateful for my readers and followers and, most of all, the support of my family and friends who humor my woodworking hobby (obsession?).

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday. Travel safe and, if you can, get some time in the workshop!  Even if it’s just to flatten your saw bench.

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Sometimes, even shop furniture needs some maintenance.

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I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

Or, rather, a lack of plan.  Over the weekend I finished the bulk of a console table which will support two medium-sized plants.

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Out of River’s reach!

It’s a super simple build and I never even made a drawing.  Three pine boards, joined at the corners by dovetails.  I added a single rail that is [haunched] stub-tenoned to the sides.  After gluing, I plan to pin the stub tenons with some cut nails, which should be a sufficient substitute for drawbores.

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It’s like adding an apron to a workbench.

I think with thicker material I could have done without the rail.  But the boards are less than 3/4″ all around and wracking under the load of two heavy plants is a big concern.  Also, the rail will serve as a drawer stop (more on that below).  I’ve only done a dry fit so far, and the thing is solid as a rock under load, thanks to the tightly-fit dovetails.

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Way more tails/pins than I’m used to, but I think it’s my finest work so far.

Perusing ideas for attaching the drawer, I came across a Lost Art Press CAD drawing for a staked table with drawer.  From the illustration, it looks like the wide and shallow drawer rides on two L-shaped runners that I assume are dadoed into the underside of the tabletop.   This should work well for my similarly wide and shallow drawer.

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I’m not inclined to over-complicate things.

I haven’t made the drawer yet, but I’d rather hang the runners first and then worry about drawer size.  In fact, I will cut the dadoes, assemble the carcass, then attach the runners, then worry about the drawer.  I think that’s the right order.

And the drawer, for variety, will be rabbeted and nailed, rather than dovetailed.  With a wider drawer front to cover the runners.

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