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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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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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