big projects

For Those About to Rock

I’ve spoken on the matter before, but a good workshop soundtrack does wonders.  My absolute favorite album to woodwork by is “Day and Age” by The Killers.  I can go an entire day in the shop with that album on repeat.  I’ve gotten really into Florence + The Machine lately as well, and Matt and Kim continue to be a guilty pleasure.  [I know I’m late to the party and I don’t care].

I mention it because on the docket this weekend I begin work on the frame for the RH-inspired bathroom vanity.  First on the list is hand-ripping about 16 feet of quartersawn 8/4 white oak to to rough width.  And I find a good beat (and a very sharp saw) is the key to controlled saw strokes.

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All from one tree board for best color match.

The boards are all about 9″ wide, hopefully enough to get four 2″ wide boards from each.  My plan to ensure I do is to make the first rip and leave the 4.5″ wide boards to sit for a couple hours.  If the wood behaves, I may true and joint the 4.5″ wide boards (to at least S3S) before doing the second set of rips.  I have every reason to expect it will behave; it’s air-dried and quartersawn.

I also need to do something about my lumber storage situation.  But that’s a problem for another day, once I clear out some of my pile with a few spring projects.

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Almost Too Deep

With the negligible exceptions of squaring the ends and boring a few more holes (for holdfasts or otherwise), my workbench is officially done.

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Maybe one more pass with the jointer plane as well.  

After the new benchtop extension, the workbench is officially 22.5″ deep (plus 1/8″ or so in places along the still-rough back edge).  I know I will eat these words sooner rather than later, but 22.5″ almost feels too deep.

My last workbench, the Stent Panel (i.e., stretcherless) knockoff, was only 19″ deep.  Before that, I worked primarily off a 10″ deep clamp-on slab with two planing stops and holdfast.  And before even that, there was my Milkman’s Workbench.  See here for a size comparison of the two.  I got all the way back to the middle of 2014 for when I last had a workbench deeper than 19″ (it was 23.75″).  That’s a long time ago.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it again

I promised everyone pictures of pegs going into holes, so here you go.

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This one actually broke off in the hole during the glue up.

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Spacers work well after a bit of finessing.  

Are you sick of phallic double entendre yet?  Me neither.

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Real Bench Extension

After a couple months of acclimating, I surfaced the 12/4 ash board which will form the rest of the benchtop. It had almost no twist, but even with a bit of cup, I still ended up with over 3″ of total thickness. But as you’ve probably observed, that’s still about 1″ thinner than the main benchtop. 

What’s worse than a tool tray? A really shallow tool tray.

I have a solution, though.  Some Douglas Fir spacers will raise the back board up to the same height as the rest of the benchtop. A little higher, actually, so I can plane everything into flatness. I used DF because while it will ding and mildly conform to any irregularities, it’s still tough and rigid. Eastern White Pine would compress too much over time, methinks. 

I will probably leave the back edge rough, until I don’t. 

I plan to glue the back board to the main benchtop, so here is the question: do I glue the spacers to the back board, or just screw them on (so I can replace them later)?  In any event, I want to add some alignment dowels into the short stretchers that will keep everything in order.

I have a process for that, which I’ll detail in the next post. 

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What the Hell am I Doing?

It’s no secret that “Mythbusters” is one of my favorite shows. I’ve probably seen each episode, other than the really gross one with the earwax candle, five times. And I’m very fond of ruining party conversations with “Well, actually, the Mythbusters tested that and…”. Damn me and my science.

One of the recurring themes on the show is the “What the Hell are We Doing?” moment, where one of the hosts realizes how absurd a turn the experiment has taken. I had one of those moments yesterday.  Having just finished the saw till for the new chest, I realized, all at once, that it’s stupid to make this a tool chest.

Seems to work pretty well, though.

It’s not the right size for my tools and I already bought lumber for an anarchist’s tool chest clone. But I glued in the saw till anyway, because I couldn’t help myself.

This is dumb and I’m dumb for doing it.

But I came to my senses after two lower runners and a saw till.  Blanket chest, it is.  At least I can skip the frame and panel lid (or at least the dust seal).

Trust your instincts, folks.

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What am I Ashamed of?

I’ve been building another chest and it’s coming along pretty well.  Overall dimensions are 30.25″ long x 20″ wide x 15.25″ high.  The inside dimensions are 28″ long x 18″ wide x 14.5″ deep.  Sound familiar?

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This one has rabbets and nails, not dovetails.

Several people have asked me what I’ve been building lately and every time I’ve said “a blanket chest”.  But is it?  It could easily be a tool chest.  I’m not sure it’s not a tool chest.

There are rabbets and nails at the corners, and there would be regardless of what the chest will hold.

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Sawn and split by hand, like always.

There are shiplaps for the floorboards, cut with my shop-made fillister plane.

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The toothed texture on the edge of the benchstop is very grippy.

And the chest will be painted, whether or not it holds hand planes or doilies.  So what’s the difference?  I think a tool chest has a proper skirt and dust seal, which isn’t necessary on a blanket chest.  The lids may differ a bit as well.

But maybe, just maybe, there isn’t any real difference other than in my mind.  I think I’m just ashamed that rather than build the furniture I need (like some more plant stands or a cat jungle gym for River), I’m building yet another chest.  But I like building chests and I’ve had these boards for over a year.

And who knows, it might really be a blanket chest this time.

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That was Easy!

So it only took about an hour to knock together the bulk of the new crochet.

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Still haven’t made that screw hub.

Before I bolt it to the benchtop, however, I’d like to test a theory.  Crochets without screws work via a wedging action.  Even though mine has a screw, I’d still like to test out a wedge.  So I’m making a softwood insert.

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This is not the actual insert, but you get the idea.

I’ll likely just nail the wedge in place.  If it works, great.  If not, I’ll pry it out.  And when it wears out, I’ll pry it out and replace it.  And wear out, it will, because it’s Eastern White Pine, a species I picked over Douglas Fir because it won’t mar the work.

Does any of this sound crazy?  It’s starting to feel crazy.

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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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Something Old, Something New

The point at which you first install workholding on a workbench is a bit thrilling.  The bench transforms from furniture to functioning tool.  Even if the workholding is just an aluminum planing stop.

 

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Final flattening of the bench only took about 30 minutes.

I have been enamored with these Lee Valley-Veritas planing stops for some time.  I tried a toothed planing stop on my previous workbench, but I never really liked it.  Unless I needed the extra 6 inches or so of benchtop, I always went back to these aluminum stops. They are low profile and easy to install (requiring only two 3/4″ dog holes).  And they can be cut to perfect length.

This time, I even remembered to space the holes so they’d line up with a row of tail vise dog holes, if I ever install a metal front vise as a tail vise.  I mean to, eventually, but I only have 12″ from the end of the benchtop to the top stretchers, so I’d need a pretty compact front vise.  Before I do, though, I’m going to try working with just holdfasts and does’ feet.  I hear it works pretty well.

My first project on the new workbench will be that plant stand I was making last year, which is very similar to a previous prototype.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: working home center spruce is such a joy.

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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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Of Proverbial Lights and Tunnels

On every new project, there is a point at which the project passes from being a pile of boards to an actual thing.  It’s a magic moment that never fails to make me smile.  I hit one of those points over the weekend, while transferring the length measurements for one of the long stretchers on my new workbench.

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For the first time, to me anyway, it looks like an actual workbench.

There is one more long stretcher to surface, and four mortises and tenons to cut, but with any luck, the bench will be functional by Sunday.  Then it will just be a question of boring holes in the legs (for Gramercy Holdfasts) and in the benchtop (for bench dogs and my Crucible Tools Holdfast).

I’ve never made my own bench dogs before, so I’ll be excited to try it out.

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