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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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Fixgasm (noun)

Fixgasm (noun): a small, heavily-procrastinated DIY project that, when completed, has a significant effect on efficiency or enjoyment of the object or space.

Example:

Finally added the spacer between the split top.

Having a split top workbench with a gap between the slabs is quite convenient for weird clamping jobs. But the gap is not so convenient for keeping tools off the floor. With a bit of time today, though, I managed to fit the center spacer to fill the gap. I’d been meaning to do this for a while and, other than the ripping of 12/4 ash to make the strip, it was pretty easy and should have been done a while ago.

Classic fixgasm.

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Workshop Update (Q2 2021)

Those of you who follow me on the twitterbook know that I recently rearranged my workshop. I think it’s really great, especially now that my main workbench is under a window (south facing as it may be). And you may notice something about the main workbench itself: it’s a forest green Moravian knock down! Albeit a split-top variety.

I also upgraded the overhead lighting, as if natural light wasn’t good enough!

With the new workbench rotating in, my eight foot Nicholson shifted against the wall where my tool chest used to live and my clamp racks still do. And my sharpening station is not on the right end of that bench, with the old sharpening station (a 4-foot Paul Seller’s workbench clone) having moved to another home. I still use the leg vise from time to time, because I love the foot-operated cog and screw parallel guide just so much. The Moravian workbench has a pinboard, which is fine but much less convenient (more on that in the future).

I still like this workbench, it’s just very large and was taking up too much room in the middle of the space.

All in all, the new arrangement improves the flow of the workshop and the room actually feels bigger despite having another 4 square feet of overall workbench footprint (it’s a 13.5′ x 12.5′ bedroom, btw).

I need to work with the Moravian workbench for a few more months to get a better sense of how it fits my workflow.

So stay tuned!

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Cultural Appreciation (Pt. II)

Many moons ago, although surprisingly still in pandemic times, I made a small sitting bench out of scrap pine (Eastern White Pine for the top and Red Pine for the legs) that used angled, rectilinear tenons and a cross-rail on each end. After watching Grandpa Amu make a new workbench several times, this was an experiment and study in how these sorts of angled tenons work. The legs splay out at 10 degree (ish) angles, but have no rake. At the time, that seemed to me a good first step and was actually doable without any guides or other jigs. Just a chisel and a bevel gauge and some caution.

This thing, that actually lives at my office now.

Shortly after that, I took a six foot piece of 8″ wide clear vertical grain douglas fir that was languishing in the lumber pile and turned it into slab top and four square legs for the next part of the experiment. Which then sat, leaned up against the wall, for almost a year. But the spirit moved me this weekend and I got back to it. For this piece, the legs would have both splay and rake (both at around 10 degrees). And it’s worked out nicely (and not just because CVG douglas fir is very handtool friendly).

That’s my new Moravian workbench behind, including the finished leg vise, in my rearranged shop.

Shortly after the original experiment, I made a couple of test mortises (also in Eastern White Pine) using the same technique as the first bench (freehand with only a bevel gauge to assist). They didn’t come out great, with the bottom of the mortise (on the underside) being wider than the top. This led to inconsistent leg angles that couldn’t be wholly attributed to the softness of the EWP top.

So what I did instead was cut a few angle guides from squared up 2×4 (more on that in a future post). That way, I could freehand close to the lines and then, in a final paring cut using the guides, get the angles dead on. At least within appropriate tolerances for a piece of furniture. I’m no machinist, after all.

On the right, you can see a couple of low spots where freehand chopping took me a smidge below the final angle.

So was it strictly necessary to go through all this fuss to make the angles perfect? Probably not. I’ve already drilled the peg holes into the top and this will live as a saw bench in my shop (replacing a pair that are about 6 years old and wearing out quickly). It didn’t need to be perfect.

But if I were to use a joint like this in a proper piece of furniture, I think the angle paring guides are the way to go. Could I eventually get good enough freehanding to not need the guides as a crutch. Sure. But that’s a lot of work and, in my view, if a simple jig works, it’s worth using.

And, for now, I’ll gladly use whatever help I can get.

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Headlight Fluid

Working with unprepared stock is usually no fun. I prefer to work from rough lumber purchased from the yard (because it’s both more economical than pre-surfaced stock and there is more variety available). But for things where 3/4″ white pine will suffice, it’s hard to beat the home center common boards. Spend an hour digging through the pile and you’re bound to find clear, straight grain stock. And if you don’t, come back in a week and try again.

But even the clearest, straightest grain stock tends to cup and twist once it’s been in the shop for a week. Re-flattening can take it down to 5/8″ thickness or even less (depending how severe the cupping is), and it adds time and aggravation to the process.

But what if cupping and twist didn’t matter? If you’re just gluing and nailing something together, couldn’t you instead flatten the boards with some clamping cauls and go to town? The answer is, of course, “yes”. And that’s the approach I took when knocking together a quick Japanese-style toolbox for a recent trip out of town (don’t worry; I quarantined both before and after).

Like so?

We modern woodworkers get hung up on perfection, sometimes. To us, everything needs to be piston fit and machinist flat, even when it really doesn’t matter. But, in reality, only some surfaces need to be perfect. Our forebears knew this (just look at the hidden surfaces in any period masterwork). If the wood is going to restrained, it doesn’t really need to be perfect in the first place.

And so, once glued and nailed, and then reinforced with floorboards and gussets, also nailed on (and maybe even glued), any wayboard boards on this toolbox will be restrained from future movement. Might it blow apart in the future from some unforeseen stress? Maybe. But probably not.

Thing thing is solid as a rock.

And, in any event, if it does, it’s just some home center common grade white pine 1×12’s joined with glue and nails. I can always knock it apart and add some dados to keep things more in alignment.

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Just Right

Things are weird right now. Well, now and for like the last couple of fiscal quarters. But one of my happy places is casual dovetailing with whatever scraps I have hanging around. Often, that casual dovetailing ends up in a toolbox which gets gifted to a friend or loved one. This one, though, I’m keeping for myself.

Why does everything look like a casket?

This particular tool chest is for outside woodworking, so one of the important things is making sure the rot strips hold up. So I went to the MAX with some sort of plastic that is used in boat building. They’re pretty slick when sitting on engineered surfaces, but they work great on grass and concrete. Plus they (and the stainless screws) will never rot away.

That’s a lot of nails!

The inside of the chest is pretty utilitarian; essentially, it’s a gentleman’s chest. The well is big enough for both a No. 7 and a No. 4 or No. 5 bench plane, and the saw till holds one back saw (a carcass saw) and one hand saw (a modified Simmonds that I cut 4″ off the toe and re-toothed at 11tpi rip cut). I also added a sliding till for holding chisels and marking tools, although a combination square sits on top of the saw till at the back of the well.

I actually use my Narex spare chisels and my Veritax spare carcass saw.

All in all, I think I’ve hit the right balance with this tool box. Some prior versions didn’t quite work out, for various reasons. But this one is easy to carry, holds the right amount of tools, and best of all, it used up the last of my Driftwood paint from General Finishes and cleaned out some of the scrap pile. I didn’t get a good shot at it, but I also got to use a few pieces of scrap cherry as battens along the edges of the lid to keep it flat.

The lid is the nicest piece of pine in the entire build.

So if you’re wondering why it’s been so long since I last posted, it’s because I’m rather displeased with the new wordpress blocks system. They’ve removed some basic functionalities that I’ve relied on since the beginning and it’s so dumbed-down it’s clearly meant for non-facile folks. It takes far longer to do basic posts and I’m really sick of it. They even got rid of the click only autofill on tags. It’s fucking bullshit.

If anyone has a recommendation for another platform, let me know.

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Starting Out Fresh

Having laminated seven Douglas Fir 2×4’s into a roughly 72″ x 10″ x 3.5″ slab off screen, it was time to set some ground rules.  Going forward, I would only use basic hand tools to make a workbench worthy for an apartment woodworker.  Or, at least that was the goal.  Let’s see how it went.

Using just my No. 5 jack plane, I proceeded to flatten the underside and square both edges to the underside.  I tried supporting it with the buckets I was using as saw benches, but that didn’t work too well.   The buckets were just too slick and the slab rocked too much.  So I reverted to just working on the floor on a non-skid mat.  It was slower going than I wanted, and my back and knees are killing me (heyo!), but it got done.

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The sawbucks are just for staging the picture.

It took less time to dress the top, but in doing so, I realized my basic tool kit was missing something: a marking gauge.  So I’ve added a wheel marking gauge to the basic tool kit.  Eventually, the slab was S4S enough for joinery.  But before cutting any joints, a coat of “Tung Oil” to protect against any glue squeeze out when the legs eventually get glued on.

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And also some home center saw horses to raise the work.

Nine inches from the end seemed about right for the legs.  When making a saw bench in the Schwarz pattern, the legs are recessed into the sides of the benchtop via square dadoes.  Then, angled lap joints on the legs cause them to poke out at the right angle.

All dadoes start the same way: mark it, saw it, chop out the waste with a chisel.  Typically, I finish off each dado with a light pass from the router plane to ensure uniform depth and a shoulder plane to square the walls of the extants.  But router planes and shoulder planes are luxuries outside the scope of the basic tool kit.  It has been a while since I did this by chisel alone, but I got it done, even if the dado bottom isn’t pretty.  But that might be because Douglas Fir is real splintery.  The extants are square at least.

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One of four.

The only hard part about this joint is laying out the leg.  However, if you cut the top of each leg to a consistent angle (10 degrees works great), you’re almost all the way there. But that requires a bevel gauge.  Which has also been added to the core tool kit.  I won’t go through the whole process, nor could I better than Mr. Schwarz does himself here.  But suffice to say, if your shoulders line up, then you can pre-cut each leg to the exact same length and you won’t need to worry too much about leveling the feet.

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More paring just via chisel.  I would typically use a carriage maker’s plane for this job.

Part of what makes this joint strong is the large glue surface between the slab and the legs.  Use the offcuts from the angled lap joints to assist in clamping, then drive in a couple screws through each leg (parallel to the bench top, not the legs).  Be sure to countersink them a bit so the screw heads are well below the face of the legs.  Don’t worry; we’ll flush the tops of the legs later.

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I was uncomfortable with No. 10 screws and later upped to No. 12.

But the joint doesn’t just rely on glue and screws.  A couple of gussets, glued and screwed onto the legs.  When making gussets, perfectly quartersawn softwood stock will allow you to glue and screw along the entire width with minimal risk of splitting over time.  I also squared up the ends of the slab off camera, but in fairness, that’s not necessary.

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I’ve already done an ode to gussets.

And that’s it for the main bench.  Next time, we’ll reassess the full basic tool kit and begin adding work-holding.

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An Apartment Workbench

So I’ve hit the reset button.  Armed with only the tools listed below, I’m going to start again in my woodworking life.  First step is to knock together a decent workbench, then follow it up with a tool storage unit.

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Deja Vu all over again!

Let’s talk about the tools, first:

  • Handsaw.  For this, I’m using the excellent Brooklyn Tool & Craft Hardware Store saw.  I love this thing, but any impulse hardened contractor saw from the home center will do.  I especially like the Craftsman 20″ saw from the home center, if you’re going that route.
  • No. 5 Jack Plane.  The body is a Type 11 or 12 Stanley; the rest of it is very much a harlequin baby of scavenged parts from a number of different planes, plus a new Honduran Rosewood knob and tote.  I could easily have gone with a No. 4 smoothing plane, such as the very decent Taytools version.  I just like the slightly longer sole for quasi-jointing.  I’m using two different irons: one for scrubbing and one for smoothing.
  • Speed Square.  Nothing fancy here; just a plastic Stanley speed square from the home center.  I agonized about whether to use my Starrett Combination Square.  But, amazingly, this speed square (which I’ve had for a billion years) is pretty square.  This will, in fairness, be the first thing I swap out for a high end tool.
  • 1/2″ Chisel.  If I had to choose just one size chisel to use forever, it would be a 1/2″.  And the Lie-Nielsen socket chisels are second to none.  Period, full stop.  Narex are pretty good too.  Buy buy the ones from Lee Valley; the Amazon ones seem to be poorer quality, for whatever reason.  That’s a Thorex hammer, which I bought on recommendation from Paul Sellers (and I can’t live without it now).
  • Folding Utility Knife.  As noted above, I fully consider myself a disciple of Paul Sellers, and this knife is absolutely all the marking knife you need.  Cheap and effective: the apartment woodworker’s dream.
  • Tape measure, mechanical pencil, wood glue.  Stanley, PenTech, Titebond 1.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Cordless drill driver.  Whatever you’ve got.  Mine is a DeWalt 20V.  A two or three jaw brace would work just as well.
  • Sharpening Stones (not pictured).  I use Atoma diamond plates.  You could honestly get away with just the 1200 grit version, which after a little use breaks in nicely.  But having the 400 grit version makes flattening and regrinding easier.  I’m not bold enough to freehand sharpen, so I’m keeping my Lie-Nielsen sharpening jig (but a cheapo Eclipse knockoff will work fine too).

The plan is to make a low workbench.  Not a staked version.  That would require auger bits for a brace and a spokeshave to make round tenons, not to mention a bevel gauge or comparable jig.  This low bench will be patterned roughly off a Schwarz-pattern saw bench.  I prepared the slab off camera.

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Yes, I have lots of parallel jaw clamps.  That doesn’t count.

Douglas Fir 2×4’s at my local home center are about 102″ long.  That’s eight and a half feet, in the vernacular.  Which means the off-cuts from a 72″ workbench are long enough for legs and gussets on a low workbench.  That said, there are not four clear off-cuts from the seven boards I had.  And I would never lie to my readers.  I’ll use some 2×8 offcuts I have left over from a Naked Woodworker workbench I made for my brother for the legs.  Or just buy a couple more 2×4’s from the home center.

Speaking of not lying to you guys, I’d like to be clear about something.  I surfaced two of the seven boards for the glue up using buckets as saw benches, to prove I still can.  But for the sake of my lower back and sanity I did the rest on my 60″ roman workbench.  I’m not a masochist, after all.  At least not in my woodworking.

I’m going to leave it there for now.  Next post, I’ll work on the legs and change up the rules a little bit.

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Back to My Roots

So it’s still a global pandemic, and I’m running out of lumber for projects.  I used up the last of my 1×12 eastern white pine for a sweet wall-leaning bookcase, which is really just for displaying my vintage Lego sets.  This was only supposed to be the prototype, but it came out so nice, I’m leaving it at that.  More on that soon.

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Space 1989-1995 FTW!

I also finished my new workbench, which is roughly in the Nicholson style.  Made of hard maple (other than  little bit of soft maple blocking under the holdfast holes), it’s 98″ long, 22″ deep and 34.75″ high.  It’s the longest workbench I’ve ever worked on, and, to be fair, it’s probably bigger than I need it to be.  Honestly, it’s probably too big for the 12.5′ x 13.5″ bedroom that I use as my shop.  I’m not banging the walls with a jointer plane or anything, but it’s definitely tight clearance on the ends.

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It has no rear apron, like a true Nicholson.

I’ve also been practicing staked furniture (mostly low benches).  I think I’ve found a layout that I like, both structurally and aesthetically.  65 degree sight line and 10 degree resultant angle.  It keeps the round mortises near the outside of the top but is still fairly stable.  There is always one wonky leg, but what can you do?

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At least, this time, it’s too little splay and not too much.

So all this is a way of saying I’ve been keeping busy as best I can.  But I need a challenge.  And I need to get back to my apartment woodworker roots.  I’ve gotten too cozy with my proper workbench and full tool chest.

So I’m hitting the reset button.  I’ve got seven Douglas Fir 2×4’s and only these tools:

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Although, in fairness, I might use my No. 4 smoothing plane.

Let’s see what we can make!

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Version 2.0

Once upon a time, I made a leg vise with a cog on a wooden screw instead of a pin board.  I worked with it for about four months and can definitively say that I prefer it to a pin board.  But 1.25″ for the wooden screw is a bit thin, in my opinion.  So when it came to install a leg vise on the new workbench, I took the chance to perfect the form and use a full 1.5″ screw and a beefier cog.

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Still need to shape the vise chop a bit.

The main screw for this leg vise is scavenged from the prior leg vise.  It’s just one of those European screws marketed as a “tail vise” screw.  I had intended to make a new wooden screw with my JJ Beall Big Threader, but none of my 1.5″ dowel stock is straight enough along.  So I scavenged the screw from the leg vise on the reclaimed maple console table, which has over 12″ of thread.

The cog is 8/4 quartersawn white oak.  It’s dense and stable and was honestly the only 8″+ wide stock I had already milled.  What matters is it’s large enough that the teeth of the cog will protrude beyond the edges of the chop, so it is easily worked with your feet.

The cog is pretty easy to make, if you take it in steps.  I began my marking and drilling out on the drill press the 1 3/8″ center hole for tapping, and eight 1.5″ holes to form the teeth.  Eight teeth is plenty.  Everything gets a light chamfer with a trim router.

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I find it’s easier to do the boring when it’s part of the larger board.

It’s then trimmed to final size, first cut to square, then the corners taken off at 45 degrees.  I ended up taking another 1/8″ or so off each side, so the teeth of the cog weren’t quite as sharp.   Everything gets one more set of chamfers and hand sanding to break any more sharp edges.

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The flat face points inward, where it contacts the leg.

All that’s left is to bore the hole in the chop for the cog screw.  Don’t bore it too deep.  You need at least 1/2″ of wood for the screw to press again.  Otherwise, it might blow out if you’re really cranking down.  I just use wood glue (although epoxy would work too) and I make sure the screw is perfectly perpendicular to the vise chop.  You could angle it slightly upward (to create natural toe-in alignment), but I don’t think it’s necessary if your main screw is otherwise perpendicular.

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Keep track of your reference surfaces and alignment is a breeze.

This cog has some real heft to it.  A decent spin with the foot and the cog spins under its own momentum.  A real improvement over the 1′ hard maple cog on the last workbench.  I will say the angled chop makes it a slightly harder to get at on the right side (the tightening side).  But it’s not too much effort.

Is this method more economical than a criss-cross or a pin board?  Not really.  But it works great and I highly recommend it.  Just remember to ream the hole in the leg vertically.  Otherwise, the cog screw will bind if it’s not perfectly in alignment with the main screw.

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