big projects

Rethinking my Life Choices

A funny thing happened on the way to the workshop the other day.  I had four, 8/4 White Oak boards to laminate into a tabletop for the new compact Nicholson Workbench.  At over 20″ wide, the lamination would be far too wide for my lunchbox thickness planer.  And I needed as much thickness as possible for the final lamination so the workbench top would be as stout as possible.  So keeping everything aligned through the various glue-ups was paramount.

So I turned to something that cannot by any stretch be classified as a hand tool.  A self-centering dowel jig.

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I absolutely adore this thing.

Using dowels for alignment actually serves two purposes.  First, it does the aforementioned aligning so any minor bowing along the length of a single board does not otherwise ruin the straightness of the glue-up.  Second, it reinforces the glue joint so if the glue fails, the entire thing doesn’t just fall to pieces.  It’s not as good as dominoes, obviously, but it’s also way cheaper.

Now I like to think that with a jointer plane and some car I can have a joint that will never fail.  And it probably won’t.  But the peace of mind of the reinforcing dowels is nice to have.  It matters more for larger timbers, though.

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And spiral dowels are cheap.

The most important thing, though, is to make sure your dowel holes align.  This is more about keeping track of how you’re flipping the boards than anything.  Otherwise, you’ll use your extra dowels to fill in erroneously-bored holes.  And that’s no fun.

Trust me.

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What I’ve Been Up To

So it’s been about a month since I sliced the tip of my finger off using a marking knife.  In the meantime, it’s gotten colder and I have more time to be in the shop.  As I’ve been healing, I’ve also been getting ready for the holiday season.  So let’s talk about my biggest recent project: a white oak “workbench”.  Buckle up: this is a long one.

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Quartersawn White Oak is splintery, FYI.

So, let me first say that this was never supposed to be a workbench.  It’s actually destined to be a kitchen island.  I will use it as a workbench for a while to distress it a bit.  So it’s constructed as a Paul Sellers-style knock-down piece so I can get it up the stairs.  It’s actually a bit unfortunately, as this is the perfect workbench for a small space woodworker.  But let’s talk about how it’s put together.

 

You’ll notice it’s generally in the style of a Nicholson (or “English Style”) workbench, with wide aprons in lieu of stretchers that give the structure its rigidity.  The aprons are not glued to the leg frames (i.e., the aforementioned knock down), though.  Instead, they are carriage bolted to the leg frame and there are quartersawn white oak wedges keeping everything together and rigid.  I would describe it as a 3 degree angle, if you have to know.  These have dense growth rings, so I would think the wedges as tough (or tougher) than the main parts of the bench.

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Pretty, right?

But it wouldn’t be a The Apartment Woodworker project if there wasn’t a compromise.  First off, the bench is only 72 inches long to accommodate a pile of quartersawn white oak shorts that were on sale at my lumberyard about a year ago.  Second, the back apron (7″) is much narrower than the front apron (13.5″), for the same reason.  This won’t be a problem structurally, but it does make the bench asymmetrical.  Finally, the bearers are Southern Yellow Pine, because I had it handy.  I’m still undecided on the type of vise to add.

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But I have a vise screw handy if I need one, apparently.

All these compromises add up to a bench that is not as heavy (on its own) as it could be.  Yes, it’s made of approximately 2″ white oak all around.  That’s tough and heavy.  But it’s clearly not the 5″ thick red oak all around that’s used in those Roubo’s that are all the rage.  I did the math, and had I laminated everything together to make it Roubo-style, it is barely the same amount of material than my current, stretcher-less workbench, which is a full foot longer overall.

I don’t plan on a shelf or other storage for the under the bench (it tends to clutter).  But for some extra weight, I’ll pile it up with spare lumber to add mass and stability.  So far, I’ve selected a wide (13″) piece of red oak and two chunks of hard maple, all of which I’ve had since before I started this blog. I’ll probably find a few more boards to pile on before the end.  Once the bench is on the anti-skid mats, this should be an immovable object.

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Not a huge fan of the color match on that left front leg, though.

So where am I now?

For one, I need to find a food safe oil finish for the benchtop that will provide enough protection for workshop work and won’t be too slippery.  I’m thinking mineral oil or pure tung oil.  I worry that linseed oil and beeswax will be too slick.

More difficult is where to put the bench dog and holdfast holes in the aprons and benchtop.  I have a pretty good idea where to bore the holdfast holes in the benchtop.  That’s a pretty well-established path and unlikely to make the tabletop too swiss cheese-like for its future life in food service.

Less clear to me is where to locate dog holes on the apron.  I’ve never worked on a Nicholson workbench before.  But I would think that the Naked Woodworker pattern would make sense.  That is, a vertical line of dog holes up each leg, two other vertical lines of dog holes equally spaced on the apron, and stepped dog holes on the aprons connecting them.

I don’t want to bore too many holes, though, because this won’t be a workbench forever.  However, I doubt I’ll be using the apron much for food preparation, so I’ll probably get over it.

We’ll see.

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Onward and Upward

After finishing up the leg vise on the long console table, it took less than a week before I actually got to use the thing.  It may be the first, but here’s hoping it won’t be the last.  I think the linen hub on the blue chop does a great job of hiding all the imperfections.

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More silliness, indeed.

I took some of last week off and used it well.  I’ve wanted a TV easel for years after first seeing the Restoration Hardware version.  It seems like an efficient use of space and maintains full flexibility for furniture layout.

Now, I assume the adjustable version exists because there is more than one size of TV, which makes sense.  But I only have one size of TV, so I figured a fixed model would work just fine. And it started with a single “African Mahogany” 8/4 board and a sketch.

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A sketch to scale on graph paper, but still.

I’ve been cutting many mortise and tenon joints lately, so the entire project took only about 30 shop hours.  Had I not been in practice, I think it would have taken quite a bit longer.  The whole thing begins with a base, from which all the other measurements are derived. All tenons are drawbored and it rolls on metal casters from the home center.  The project is finished in Tung Oil.

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Whatever version of Khaya this is, it’s pretty.

I believe in good posture.  So when sitting upright, the exact center of the TV should be at eye level.  For me and my particular couch, that’s 46″ or so.  So after connecting the very top of the uprights and adding a lower cross rail, it was time to figure out where to add the rails to which the TV itself would be mounted.  This could have also been accomplished with drawbored mortise and tenon joints, but that would have ultimately permanent.  With glued and nailed lap joints, I could, in theory, one day relocate these rails to fit a new TV.

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Still looking pretty.

The M8 mounting bolts for my particular model of TV are located in a square with corners at 400mm on center (or about 15.748″).  I took great care to drill out the top cross rail so the holes perfectly lined up with the threaded inserts in the TV, and lined the holes with copper tubing for reinforcement.  The holes in the bottom rail, however, were also drilled at 1/16″ larger than the diameter of the mounting bolts but no copper tubing was added.  This gave some wiggle room in case something became misaligned as a result of tolerance stack.

But everything worked out in the end, and each of the bolts seated nicely.  I made two shelves also: one fits in the void in the base and the other laps onto the lower rail.  I think it came out pretty great.  But in the process of oiling the assembly, some of the iron from the nails seems to have bled a little bit onto the uprights, which I plan to correct at some point by planing down to fresh wood and re-oiling.

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Both PS4 and XboxOne.  The scandal!

In case anyone was wondering, here is what the back looks like.  I just wish there were M8 bolts available in square head powder black.

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Hopefully no one can read the serial numbers.

So I had much fun with this build.  And it felt good to complete a project during the allotted time.

Just don’t expect me to keep the streak up.

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More Silliness

You may have noticed the tapped screw hole or the parallel guide slot in the front left leg of the new dining room console table.  It’s highly unlikely to ever be used, but one can never have too many available vises, right?  I really should be working on the bottom shelf for the table, but when have my priorities every been straight?  I freely admit all of this is a vanity exercise, as the vise will just live on the shelf of the console table.

Plus, I had the 1 1/2″ hard maple screw handy (the spare for the leg vise on my main workbench, the stretcher-less Stent Panel workbench).  I also had some leftover 1/4″ hard maple to make a garter (more on that below).  And it would be a shame if they went to waste.

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No “Sunk Cost” fallacies to see here.

I’d like this leg vise to be as low profile as possible.  So, instead of a cylindrical vise hub with a through handle, I shaped a wing nut from soft maple to act as the hub.  This not unlike the Holy Roman Hurricane Nut for the crochet on my old work bench.  Some wood glue and a through dowel reinforcement should make a permanent and robust bond between screw and hub.

Before I know where to attach the hub, however, I need to plow the groove for the garter.  The garter affixes the vise screw to the vise chop and allows the chop to move with the screw.  Otherwise, you have to move the chop by hand (which is fine, I guess).

I still don’t have (or want) a lathe, and am certainly capable of cutting the groove completely freehand.  But sticking with what works is no fun at all, so let’s try a different method.  Ingenuity is what small space woodworking is all about.  But “ingenuity” is really just code for “making due with what’s at hand”.

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I didn’t get a before shot.

Conveniently, the vise hub I just made will help hold the screw and my machinist granite slab will act as a convenient stop as I rotate the work with my left hand.  Now all I need is a way to plow the groove with my right hand.  A chisel would certainly work, but one handed chisel work is precarious at best and likely to wander.

How about a router plane registered against the vise hub?  I have a 1/4″ blade for my router plane.  And the vise hub would work really well as both a fence for the protruding blade and a platform for the body of the router plane to stabilize everything.

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Let’s play “Spot the ‘chisel hands’ scars”!

Plowing the garter groove this way takes a while, but probably not any longer than getting the screw centered on a lathe.  And it certainly cramps up the hands.  But taking it slowly yields a fairly clean, fairly uniform groove.  Or at least it did for me.  The bottom of the groove had an overall diameter of just under 1 1/4″ when all was said and done.

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The vise hub keeps the inside of the hole clean, but the outside needs minor cleanup.

When preparing the garter, some CA glue held the two halves of the garter stock to a sacrificial board for drilling the clearance hole with a 1 1/4″ forstner bit on the drill press.  I then attached the garter to the vise chop with some countersunk No. 10 slotted screws to check the fit.  The vise chop is laminated from the same soft maple as the vise hub.  A couple dabs of hide glue will reinforce the bond between the garter and the chop after final assembly.

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“B” stands for “Backup”.

I didn’t get a picture, but I also trimmed the vise screw to length and glued it onto the screw before adding a 3/8″ birch dowel to lock everything in place.  I will paint the vise hub with “Linen” milk paint like the undercarriage of the console table, and the chop will be painted “Coastal Blue” like the table top.

The pinboard for the vise is up next, but that requires a different type of ingenuity.  In that case, “ingenuity” is really just code for “patience”.

You’ll see why, soon enough..

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Better than Ever

Or, at least better than I could have hoped…

I finished the reclaimed wood console table the other day and bought some counter top height stools to match the chairs I have for my dining table.  I think the entire thing came out pretty great.  I’m typing this post while seated at said console table, on perhaps the most beautiful day of the summer.

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Yes, I do worship at the altar of Bezos.  Why do you ask?

The back tray is home center 4/4 Poplar.  Made from a single board that was relatively straight and had no wind to speak of, there is not much to the tray other than glue and nails.  A quick test fit ensured it was ready for finish.  Once it was painted, I nailed it on with two brad nails into the top raids (in keeping with the theme of simplicity).

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Pre-paint color match is pretty spot on, if I do say so myself.

I have a new favorite color in General Finishes milk paint: Coastal Blue.  It’s essentially Navy Blue, but I live by the ocean.  Get it?  The table top of the console table is bare wood finished in Tung Oil.  I think it works well.

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This picture evinced that I needed more paint along the joint.

At my local lumber yard today, 4/4 soft maple shorts were on sale for 2.90/bf, so this table is getting a hardwood shelf (which will also be painted Coastal Blue).  The shelf will likely be piled with books, binders of M:tG cards, and my Milkman’s Workbench.  Which will then add enough weight that if I never needed to, I could use this table for light duty woodworking.

You may be wondering: why paint the front edge of the table top?  To hide the epoxy glue lines of two patches that filled in where there used to be dadoes, of course.  Why else use paint if not to hide unsightly wood situations?

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It’s important to note grain direction and the date of planing.

I bought an extra piece of 4/4 soft maple to laminate into a vise chop for the leg vise that shouldn’t be.  I also have a plan for the type of vise hub to make and am thinking about going garter-less for this.  There is already too much metal in this piece with about 15 brad nails and two slotted screws.

No need to push it.

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The Abyss Stares Back

It’s come to my attention that I’ve been misquoting Nietzsche for some time (even though I can spell his name first try, every time).  From “Beyond Good and Evil”, Aphorism 146 states:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.  

This well-known quote from the oft-misunderstood German philosopher is undoubtedly the genesis of the Harvey Dent quote in “The Dark Knight (2008)”:

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

But, because I, like The Batman, am not a hero, let’s allow the abyss gaze into me for a moment.

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So many mortises, I feel like I haven’t cut a dovetail in forever.

Last week and over the weekend, I did in fact dig deep and bear down.  I chopped four new mortises in the leg frames for the reclaimed console table and planed and joined the two long rails.  After all was said and done, there were 20 drawbores in the undercarriage, plus another 4 in the joints between the front legs and the main slab.  And then I painted the entire undercarriage with “Linen” milk paint.

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Not to be confused with “Antique White” or “Seagull”.

But even the best laid plans don’t work out perfectly, so there was plenty of time for things to go pear shaped.  But I was pleasantly surprised when everything came together pretty much straight and square. 24 drawbores, not a single snapped dowel.  Not even a stripped screw on the tabletop connectors.

The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but the piece feels light and graceful.  And in the mid-afternoon light of a north facing window, it evokes the “Islands of New England” feel I was hoping for.  I’m building a shallow tray out of 3/4″ poplar to fill out the rest of the table top, which will be painted in “Coastal Blue” milk paint and nailed on.  The face edge and ends of the main slab will also be painted that color.  The only bare wood will be the top and back edge of the main slab.

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A shelf, if added, will also be painted “Coastal Blue”.

You may recall that I had a tripartite plan:

  • Drawbored mortise and tenon joints for the long stretchers.  ✔
  • Reinforce main slab with a board glued on below.  X
  • Skip the shelf.  ✔

As someone once said, two out of three ain’t bad.  And that’s one more batch of reclaimed lumber off the pile. We’ll see if I ever get to that leg vise and/or fixed deadman.

Unrelated, I also ended up putting an end cap on the pine bench top extension to the Stent Panel workbench.  I think it looks a ton better, even if it’s not functionally necessary.  It’s not a great color match at this point, but there are worse things in life.

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I can finally sleep at night!

Now, if I could just figure out how to do the same thing on the left side of the bench.

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Staring into the Abyss

There comes a point in every build where I have to ask myself: do I dig deep and bear down, or take the easy way out?  I am ashamed to admit it’s barely better than a 50/50 split over time.

I’ve been working for a while on a rather large “console table” made entirely of reclaimed lumber from past projects.  The undercarriage is hard maple reclaimed from one of my earliest woodworking projects: a platform bed.  Even after planing and sanding, you can still see the remnants of gross home center stain in the pores.

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Looks green, but is actually “mahogany”.

If the general shape looks familiar, it should.  And I have, to this point, worked hard and done it right.  All the joints are mortise and tenon, drawbored with 7/16 dowels with relatively aggressive offset.  Solid as a rock.  The undercarriage will be painted to cover up the gross discoloration and some tear out of wild grain.

The tabletop, however, will be ash.  Specifically, ash reclaimed from the back wing of my Stent Panel workbench.  Reflattened and otherwise cleaned up a bit, it’s 80″ long, 10″ wide and a hair under 1 7/8″ thick.  That’s more than half of the overall tabletop area and solid enough for whatever light duty it may pull as it sits under a north-facing window in my dining room.

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It’s pretty enough for its intended purpose.

The tenons on the tops of the front legs will be drawbored into mortises in the slab.  Some DIY tabletop connectors should combine to make a stout connection between the frame and the tabletop.  All while allowing for seasonal wood movement.  Some sort of full length tool well will fill out the rest of the table top, but probably won’t be good for much other than collecting junk.

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Tabletop connectors are good enough when there won’t be much wracking force.

At this point, the mortises are cut into the slab and everything fits together nicely.  But, as always happens, I now have a choice. There will definitely be stretchers on this table.  It would otherwise be too wobbly with just a single tenon and tabletop connector on each leg frame.  But how do I connect the stretchers?

Do I meticulously mark and pare shoulder lines for proper mortise and tenon joints (like the leg frames) for maximum strength and consistent aesthetic? Or do I skimp on time and process and lap the stretchers into the front and back legs, which would certainly be strong enough and look just fine?

And once the stretchers are attached, should I add a jack board mortised between the front stretcher and the underside of the tabletop to add a bit more rigidity in the middle and act as a fixed deadman?  Or do I just glue a strip of maple to the underside of the tabletop to reinforce it more discreetly?

What about a shelf?  Do I add one at all?  If so, is it birch plywood banded in maple or solid wood reclaimed from some source?

Each of these choices affects the amount of effort and time required to finish this project.

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Here I am, staring into the abyss.

So here is my hot-take (for now):

  • Drawbored mortise and tenon joints connect the long stretchers to the legs.
  • Tabletop reinforced with additional lamination below.
  • No shelf, for now.  I may also add a loose deadman one day.

Everything is a give and a take in hobby woodworking. Doubly so in small-space hobby woodworking.  But, sometimes, there is a middle ground between “dig deep, bear down” and “easy way out”.

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Back to Back to Back

I’m not quite ready to abandon my upright Stent Panel Workbench for the low, sitting variety.  But I am ready to correct something that’s bugged me ever since I finished the workbench in the first place: the back wing.  It never stayed flat on its own, let alone in plane with the main slab of the bench.  There is clearly some design flaw, even though I allowed for wood movement and ample support with three posts mortised into the slab.  I’ll re-use the wing (which is 86″ x 10″ x 2″ ash) for another project.

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I need more 1″ holdfast holes.

The main slab of the workbench is only 12.5″ wide.  That’s nothing to scoff at, but it’s not nearly enough real estate for tasks like gluing up panels or project assembly.  And there is pretty much no place to set down tools so they are close at hand.  So first up is a tool tray that spans half the area where the wing used to be.  After much deliberation, I’ve approached this a bit like a Dutch tool chest.  Dovetails at the bottom corners for maximum strength, nailed on back.  In 3/4″ poplar, because there was a very nice piece of 1×10 at the home center when I was buying some more 1×12 white pine for general building purposes.

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Reasonably consistent color for poplar, and a decent color match to ash once oiled.

The finished tool tray is just a hair under 37″ wide (the posts themselves are exactly 37″ apart) and 6″ deep.  There is 3.5″ of clearance below the benchtop.  This is plenty for a bench plane on its side and all the other tools I’d like close at hand.  Speaking of which, I decided to attach the tool well to the left side of the bench (the end with the leg vise), which seems like the best place to keep tools at hand.

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Because if it can’t fit a hand plane clear of the workbench top, it’s not a good tool tray.

There are a few ways I could have hung the tool tray to the bench.  But the simplest and easiest was to add some runners to the ends so it just hangs on the posts.  The posts are not perfectly in wind, so I clamped the tool tray to the bench and nailed the runners in the right position, rather than squaring them initially and planing them down to fit.  Some small blocks, nailed onto the posts, keep the tray from sliding away from the slab.

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Don’t tell anyone, but I used the 18 gauge brad nailer to attach the runners and blocks.

The ends of the tool tray are in plane with the workbench slab.  This was intentional, as originally I intended entirely replace the back wing with two tool trays.  But after working on the bench with the tool tray for a few days, it became very apparent that I needed at least part of the bench to be solid for the full 20″ of depth.

From 9 months or so of working on this bench, it’s become clear that the wing doesn’t need to be terribly stout.  It certainly doesn’t need to be 2″ ash reinforced with 2″ angle iron.  So instead I grabbed an otherwise somewhat useless 2″ pine off cut that’s lapped onto the posts.  There are a few wire brad nails acting like dowels to support the seam with the main slab and a couple more wire brads through the board into the posts to keep everything in place.  Net it, this board can move much more freely with seasonal expansion and contraction than the old wing could.  But it will be easily replaceable if I get neurotic and replace it with ash again (which, let’s face it, I definitely will).

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And the color match isn’t terrible, either.

For optics, but not functionality, I will probably nail a board to the end of the extension to bring it flush with the right end of the bench (and provide a bit more resistance to cupping, like a breadboard end).  Absolutely nothing ever happens all the way at that back corner.  It’s just to make it prettier.  I could do the same thing at the back right corner, but the end of the tray (which is flush with the bench top) is already in line with the last bench dog hole, so it’s not strictly necessary either.

I unfortunately can’t tell if the color match is getting better or worse with a second coat of Tung Oil.  Maybe I just have to open the blinds and let the sun shine in for a couple weeks.

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Or paint the whole thing black!

This is a good time to mention that 36.25″ is a bit too high for comfortable hand planing at my height (I’m 5’10”).  Even if it is better for sawing and chopping.  So I’ll eventually trim about 1″ off the ends of the legs.  Which is easier said than done, as the back legs are angled.

But I’ll give it a try and report back.

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Budget Twin Screw (Moxon) Vise

A good twin screw vise can do many tasks.  When clamped to the edge of a bench top, it can be used as a proper face vise for dovetailing or other joinery.  Sitting free on a bench top, it can restrain an assembly for driving wedges or be a third hand for safely splitting tenons.  In a pinch, it can even take the place of a machinist vise for basic metalworking (although I would recommend vacuuming it off when you’re done, as metal shavings are anathema to woodworking tools).

But a good twin screw vise doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  I mean, it can, if that’s what you’re into (with wooden screws or prefab hardware and whatnot).  But it doesn’t have to.  In fact, all it really takes is about US$13 worth of home center hardware and some off cuts.

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That is some straight grain, eh?

There are two typical ways to make a vise screw work without a garter that attaches the movable jaw directly to the screw.  You can affix the screw to the back jaw, and turn a nut to sock down on the moving jaw.  Like the Benchcrafted Moxon Vise.  Or you can affix the nut to the back jaw and use the screw hub to sock down on the moving jaw.  Like the Lake Erie Moxon Vise.  For this, let’s do the latter.  There is a third way, which I’ll cover briefly below.

Start with the front jaw.  Now I am sure there are people who can use a brace and bit and drill a perfectly perpendicular hole.  But I can’t, so I used the drill press.  The screw should be relatively snug in the hole (phrasing?).  This threaded rod is about 3/4″ and a 3/4″ forstner bit was just tight enough.  Inset the holes at least 1 1/2″ from the ends of the front jaw for strength.  Some people elongate their holes to permit clamping irregular work.  I don’t.

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Also chamfer the holes.

It’s super important when making a twin screw vise that the holes line up.  So clamp the front jaw to the back jaw and use the same drill bit to transfer the center of the hole into the back jaw.  I should mention that the back jaw is about 4″ longer than the front jaw for some clearance each end when clamping to the bench.  Otherwise, the clamps get in the way of the work.

After you’ve bored the hole in the back jaw, put both jaws back together, insert the threaded rod, tighten up a nut on both sides of the jaws and trace around the nut on the back jaw with a marking knife.  Then chop down to the lines about three fourths of the height of the nut.  Repeat for the other nut and use a small bit of epoxy to affix the nuts to the back jaw.

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I do not know if the orientation matters for strength, but the epoxy will help.

Balance is an important part of any twin screw vise.  Even with the narrower front jaw, it’s likely the vise won’t balance itself with the front jaw hanging completely off the bench.  So I typically add an extension to the back jaw flush to the work surface.  It adds weight and stability and is a convenient place to put down your pencil or marking knife when cutting joints.  Glue should be all you need, but maybe add a screw or two through the inner jaw to make sure everything stays put long term.

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Some not-as-straight grain.

When the glue dries, you’ll have a functional vise.  There is something called a “rod coupling nut” which is really just an elongated nut.  You could use a couple of these as floating hubs and the vise would work just fine.  It wouldn’t be super comfortable (you’d have to turn the threaded rod by hand) and the nuts would wear into the front jaw over time, but it will hold.  Want proof?

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Proof.

You could also affix one of those rod coupling nuts to the end of each threaded rod and also be done.  But I like wooden screw hubs, so let’s do that.  Start with square stock and drill into the end of the hub.  I used the drill press, but you could do this by hand.  Just clamp the work across all faces to prevent splitting.

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Drill press vise for safety.

I think it took more time wedging underneath the benchtop to get it perfectly level in all directions than it took for the epoxy to set.  Be careful not to make too much of a mess, but excess epoxy can be used to reinforce the end grain of the hub (that wears against the face grain of the outer jaw).  When the epoxy was set, I drilled through the hub across the grain and pinned through the threaded rod with a 1/8″ steel rod (fixed with superglue).  Probably not necessary, but who knows what that zinc coating will do long term?

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If these were raw steel, the epoxy would be more than enough.

Then shape the hubs as you see fit.  I put a small chamfer on each corner of the hub for starts.  I have a feeling it’ll get down to roughly octagonal by the time it’s done.  I don’t like round hubs.

And that’s it.  Clamp it to your workbench and have at some joinery.  Maybe add a coat of penetrating oil finish to all surfaces other than the inside faces of the jaws.  I may glue some leather to the outer jaw to increase grip, but it’s not strictly necessary.

 

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That’s the steel pin through the handle.

If you’ve never made a vise before, this is a good way to figure it out.

I am, at this point, nearing US$100 into the low plywood workbench project, but it feel like it’s pretty much done.  I need to bore a few more holes in the bench top (and make a few more dogs) but that’s more planning than labor.

After undertaking this experiment, I have some thoughts.  But first, now that the vise is done, it’s time to make a little tool chest on this workbench!

Or, whatever.

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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 4)

Only by working on a low bench, like the plywood roman workbench, can you truly understand what they’re all about.  And after a week or so, I can definitely say there is something to finding the correct height for your body.  I’m just a shade over 5′ 10″ tall and I find 19 1/4″ to be the right height for saw benches.  And of the two low workbenches I’ve built in the past, one was 19 1/4″ and the other was 19 1/2″.  Both are very comfortable heights for me.  I build sitting benches within this range as well.  It’s the height from the ground to the bottom of my kneecap.

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Like this one.

But I’ve been working with the plywood Roman workbench propped up on my existing saw benches, which are already 19 1/4″ high.  That means the working height of the plywood Roman workbench is currently over 22″ high.  WAY too high for me to work comfortably.  I’m on my tiptoes most of the time, which is at least a good calf workout.  So let’s make some mini sawhorses out of construction grade 2×4’s to bring the slab to the correct working height.

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This is where we are going.

I always start with the math:

First, stand straight up with your feet flat on the floor and measure from the floor to the bottom of your kneecap with a tape measure. That is your overall target height (in my case, 19.25″).  Second, subtract the thickness of the plywood slab (2.875″ for me).  So I need to raise the slab 16.375″ (or 16 3/8″) off the ground.  Let’s round up to 16 1/2″ to make the math easy.

In the United States, construction lumber may be called “two by’s”, but it is really 1 1/2″ thick.  I dug through the stacks at the local Death Star and found two, 10 foot long 2×4’s in Douglas Fir that were relatively straight, relatively clear and relatively dry.  You could, in theory, get everything you need from a couple of eight footers, but why risk it?

Each mini sawhorse consists of six boards, all cut from 2×4’s:

  • Two foot boards (20″ long or so)
  • One top crossbeam (16″ long or so) – the freer of knots, the better
  • One lower stretcher (cut to fit, but around 14″ long)
  • Two vertical posts (total height of the sawhorse, minus 1″ [or 15.5″ in my case]) – these should come from the clearest sections of the lumber.  No knots at all, if possible.

Start by preparing the boards.  If your stock is straight and square and out of twist already, give it a quick smoothing pass and proceed to step two.  If not, and you’re feeling like a machinist, plane a reference face and square up a reference edge, then bring the opposite face and opposite edge into parallel.  I only had to take off about 1/16″ of total thickness on each board, so I’m sticking to the round numbers for purposes of this guide.

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Face mark, square mark, grain direction.  Every time.

Each post connects to the foot with a 1/2″ through tenon.  For the mortise, bore with a 1/2″ bit and pare to the lines, or chop with a chisel, up to you.  I chopped with a 1/2″ chisel to keep my skills up.  I also prefer to split my tenons, rather than saw down the cheeks.  But it is precarious work to split tenons without a vise.  After everything is fit, shorten each tenon to about 1/8″ less than the thickness of the foot board to give some clearance when it sits flat.

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One of two.

With one of the posts firmly seated into its foot, measure up to the total height of the finished sawhorse, minus 1″.  Cut off the post at this line and mark and use it to transfer the mark the other post (while in its mortise) .  This should ensure the two leg assembles are close to or exactly the same height.  Now, assemble each leg assembly with glue.  I drawbored these mortises and tenons too, but it’s not necessary.  Nails or even screws would be just fine to reinforce the joint.

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I think this shot was pre-drawboring.

The top beam attaches to the posts with dadoes that are inset from each end of the beam by the same distance the post is inset from the outside of the foot (in my case, 1″).  Determine the depth of the dadoes by subtracting from the overall thickness of the beam the height you need the beam to rise above the leg assemblies to get your final height (in my case, about 1/2″ dado depth).  Do your best to get tight dadoes, but they will be reinforced with dowels after the glue dries.  Err on the side of too narrow, as the construction lumber will compress.

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With dadoes seated.

The stretcher connects to the legs with lap joints.  You can use the finished top beam to transfer the distance between the shoulders of the lap joints.  I trimmed the lap joints to be flush with the outside of the posts, but that’s not strictly necessary.  I didn’t get a good picture of the lap joint process, but take a look here.

Glue the top beam onto the posts and seat the stretcher in place while the glue dries.  This will help keep everything square during glue up.  Then glue the stretcher to both the legs and the feet.  After the glue dried, I drove a pair of dowels through the top beam into the posts and couple of nails through the lap joint on the stretcher into the legs.  This should help with any wracking (front to back and side to side).

And then do it all over again.

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One is somewhat heavier than the other because they’re made from different 2×4’s.

I’ll be taking a slight detour in the next post to make some more workholding for future projects.

For now, Happy Birthday, America!

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