General

New Year’s Day, 2022

Another year has passed. As is my heathen wont, I went to bed early last night, stone sober and well hydrated, and hit the shop early this morning. I like to begin each year on my own terms. And then ride out the downhill trajectory from there.

In advance of my regular January vacation, I’ve been making a “gentleman’s tool chest” for a core set of hand tools. Now I’m no gentleman (or so I’ve been told), but as I understand it, the “gentleman” refers simultaneously to (x) a non-professional woodworker and (y) the smaller set of tools a non-professional joiner or cabinetmaker would have in their chest. So maybe I am a gentleman.

This particular tool chest is a modest 25″ long, 11″ deep and 11″ high and will have 2 sliding tills. The planes and sharpening gear are french fit into the tool well and there won’t be too much lose gear rattling around. It’s also intended to be a general around-the-house toolbox holding my nicest spare tools so it will move around a fair bit.

Still one more sliding till to make.

In any tool storage build, like in life, there are compromises. For example, there is not any room for joinery saws in this chest, but I have modified a 10 tpi rip saw (it crosscuts too) and a 6 tpi rip saw to have shorter plates. I say modified; I cutoff about 5 inches from the toe of each saw with an angle grinder and filed off the burrs. The shorter plates are stiff enough for precise sawing as needed (and everything gets cleaned up with chisel or router plane anyway).

It’s also rabbeted and nailed, not dovetailed. Cauls help keep everything flat when nailing together.

The full kit this holds is as follows:

  • Planes: No. 5 jack plane, No. 3 smoothing plane, Low-angle block plane, small router plane
  • Saws: 10 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate): 6 tpi rip cut panel saw (18″ plate)
  • Chisels: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 inch bench chisels, carver’s mallet
  • Marking and measuring: 12″ combination square, 8″ machinist square, wheel marking gauge, 12 foot tape measure, folding marking knife, mechanical pencils
  • Boring: Two jaw, short sweep brace, plus hex adapter, large diameter adjustable auger bit, drill bit set, hand countersink
  • Sharpening: 120, 220, 1200 grit diamond plates, side clamp honing guide and setup block, plus glass cleaner and jojoba oil
  • Miscellaneous: Warrington-pattern hammer, slotted and phillips screwdrivers, cork sanding block, foam ear plugs (lots of these)

I’m sure there is something I’m forgetting (I can supplement this later), but I find the above set of tools is everything one needs for general woodworking projects that aren’t intended to be the finest furniture. I can take rough lumber to dimension with these tools and do crisp joinery by hand without too much fuss. I will likely make or purchase a medium router plane to fit this chest, as well as a set of wooden winding sticks and a wooden straightedge.

As I write this, the second till is glued and nailed and drying in the shop. So that means only one thing: it’s lid time.

And that’s the point at which every tool chest build starts to get tedious.

Happy New Year, everyone!

JPG

Fixgasm (Part II)

Speaking of fixgasms, I finally got around to installing the Veritas Inset Vise in my Moravian Workbench. It’s not quite a revelation, but I’m glad I did it and it officially completes the workbench.

Works like a charm.

For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a compact, easy to install, and well made tail vise option for benchtops of pretty much any thickness of 1.5″ (38mm or so). It’s really a carriage vise or wagon vise that’s easily retrofittable into any benchtop of sufficient thickness. HNT Gordon makes a similar option, but I’ve never used one of those.

I’ve had this inset vise for a while (which was a Christmas present from my parents few years ago). It used to live in another workbench before I gave that away. Veritas/Lee Valley is not a sponsor btw (no one is, lol). They just make great tools, especially bench appliances.

Maximum capacity of 68.5 inches (1740mm or so). More if I use a clamp on the far end to gain another inch or so.

To use a tail vise of any sort, you’ll need a row of bench dog holes in line with the movable jaw on the tail vise (see above). Pinch a board on its face or edge between the dog in the bench and the dog in the tail vise and it stays put. For planing in any direction (especially traversing across the grain or at a diagonal). For mortising or other detail work on the face of the board. If the line of dog holes is close enough to the front edge of the bench, you can use it like a sticking board for use with fenced joinery planes (like a rabbeting or fillister plane).

I like a good tail vise, although series of pegs or a holdfast and doe’s foot are just as good in my book. I wasn’t sure I’d ever install the inset vise into this particular bench, but when laying out the overall size of the undercarriage. I’d gotten by just fine with those other options, but it was time to finish this off.

So now that it’s finished, I would imagine I’ll immediate move on to another workbench.

LOL. Just kidding. Not really. Maybe?

JPG

SOLD. Woodworking Workbench for Sale!

Update: This workbench has found a good home.

I’m out of room in my workshop. Between my Moravian and my Nicholson, my workshop proper is full. And my overflow room (where my thickness planer and hollow chisel mortiser are) is full too (mostly of lumber). So that leaves me with a superfluous workbench which I’d like to find a good home.

Yes, that is the repurposed top from the last time I tried to sell this giant hunk of ash.

The workbench is a modified Roubo style. It’s stretcherless; the way I like it, although you could easily nail on a couple of short stretchers (a la the Vasa workbench) if you wanted to add storage to the bottom.

The front legs have the traditional Roubo joint (tenon with sliding dovetail), but the back legs are angled out around 14 degrees and glued and bolted on kind of like the legs on a Schwarz-style saw bench.

Overall dimensions are as follows (everything is solid ash, except for the vise chop, which is white oak):

Top: 90.5 inches long x 14.875″ deep by 3.75″ thick

Base: 58 inches long x 24″ deep (legs are 6″ x 3″)

Accessories: DIY Leg vise (1.5″ screw, pin board style) and 2x DIY bench dogs (1″ holdfast and dog holes)

With leg vise

$500 firm (just recouping the cost of the slab top material; I enjoyed making it and want someone to enjoy using it). And you’ve got to pick it up in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. No shipments; no exceptions. I will help you load it in the truck, though.

Email: theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com if you’re interested.

More pictures:

Leg detail (three dog/holdfast holes at 1″)
Back leg joint detail. Lots of face grain glue surface here, plus the bolt.
Slab detail. Perfect for adding a tool stray or a wing to extend the benchtop.

Cultural Appreciation (Part III)

When last we left my foray into the Chinese low workbench form, I had made a 48″ sawbench out of 8/4 Clear Vertical Grain (CVG) Douglas Fir. That bench has served me very well and I love look of the wedged rectangular tenons more and more each day. In fact, I love it so much that I recently made a new coffee table using the same joinery in quartersawn red oak.

The warm color of boiled linseed oil on quartersawn red oak.

I have this 72″ x 10.75″ x 1.75″ ash plank that has been sitting around the shop for some time. It started off as a 96″ board, but a chunk of it became the vise backer board on my Moravian Workbench. The rest of the plank might have ended up at the top for the outdoor workbench, but it became clear it was too narrow and too thin for the type of work that bench (at 24″ deep) sees.

So, instead, the remainder of the ash plank will become a foot-of-the-bed bench in my bedroom (is there a technical term for that kind of bench?). I have the luxury of a king sized bed and 72″ is actually a bit undersized. And I keep my bedroom pretty dark (blackout curtains and whatnot), so the two toned color of the heart-size face grain shouldn’t be a problem. At least not for me.

Ash is great in that you can clearly see the shape of the tree in the boards you get from it. Really helps read the grain.

Unlike the sawbench, though, I plan to add a short rail between each pair of legs. I can do this because although the play of the legs is still 10 degrees like the saw bench, the rake is only 2 degrees (as opposed to 10 degrees). This means the legs, being nearly vertical when viewed from the side, will still pretty easily take a tenon with a square cheek and shoulder (just like a pair of legs with no rake). With the 10 degrees of both rake a splay, I’d probably have to do a rabbeted (instead of mortised and tenon) stretcher where the shoulder is an obtuse angle and the cheek of the rabbet slops down to the tip.

I’ve learned not to scribe the ends of the tenon so deep, although I kind of like the window casement look.

I like the rectangular tenons because it allows me to fine tune the rake and splay of the legs. When using round tenons, you’re pretty committed to whatever angle(s) result from how well you bore the tenon at the correct angles. With rectangular tenons, you can pare away with chisel (I use a guide block of the correct angle(s) to fine tune it) after chopping or boring out most of the waste. Plus, I don’t own a lathe so my round tenons are never that crisp.

Now I won’t commit to not boring holes for pegs on one end (to form a planing stop). But I will commit to not painting the top surface so that the paint doesn’t transfer to the work.

Ah, crap. I’m just making another Roman workbench, aren’t I?

JPG

The Importance of Instructions

We are fortunate to live in the world we do now, even with all its faults. The entirety of catalogued human knowledge is available at our fingertips and we mostly take it for granted. As I write this, I have the cabinet making and marquetry chapter of Diderot’s Encyclopedia open in one tab (specifically, plate 21-2-9, but more on that another day) and a 2016 Fine Woodworking workbench article with a fantastic tutorial on how to make a tail vise using commercially-available hardware, open in background browser tabs. That second one is pretty important, because I’m making a tail vise to retrofit on a work bench and the hardware I bought from Lee Valley doesn’t come with instructions. Like at all (which is weird, because LV usually goes overboard with the literature included in their products).

So I had to turn to the internet. I first checked the Woodcraft website (they sell a similar product), but the included instructions are rather cryptic). Also, the product picture on the website has the screw backwards, which I found odd. Then I scoured YouTube for an instructional on using this hardware and came up empty. So I searched “tail vise installation guide” and bam: the FW article popped up near the top.

It’s a 10-page article and the author spends 4(!) pages detailing exactly how to build, fit and tune a tail vise. The entire article is fantastic, but I have absolutely no intention of making the workbench in the FW article. However, I give the author much credit for taking the time to explain in great detail the difficult and unintuitive part of the build (the tail vise). There is more useful information in those 4 pages than in the entirety of most other woodworking project articles. And how many woodworking articles yadda yadda the difficult stuff like some sawdust-covered underpants gnome.

This is as far as I can take it until I attach it to the actual bench.

What you see above is the “core” of the tail vise. Essentially, it’s a laminated block of wood with a recess in the middle the vise nut (which is on the inside of the mounting plate) and a rabbet that accepts the top guide plate. There is also a clearance hole drilled on the right side for the vise screw to pass through. The the vise hub screws onto the right hand side, and I may sink some dowels perpendicular to the core to give the vise hub mounting screws more purchase. I learned that trick from a Popular Woodworking video series on a Torsion Box Workbench.

The tail vise assembly is completed by adding a “dog strip” with bench dog holes (the point of a tail vise is to pinch a board between dogs, after all) and a top plate that looks pretty and covers the top guide plate (and brings the top of the tail vise flush with the benchtop to which the vise is mounted). I made the core out of hard maple, but the dog strip and top plate will be whatever wood the benchtop to which it’s mounted is made. In this case, it will be ash. But this tail vise core is evergreen, especially if I attach the dog strip and top plate with hide glue.

I would note that for the LV version, you’ll need to add some washers to the bolts that attach the guide plates. This ensures the bolts (which thread into the top guide plate) sit just below the surface.

Why do I mention all this, you ask? Well, there is a trope about men not reading the instructions. Which I’ve never understood, mostly because of my father. He was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War and a commercial airline pilot until he retired (although a good chunk of his career was as a flight instructor). If there is a man who appreciates good instructions, it’s my father (and he passed that appreciation on to me). In fact, it’s my mother who doesn’t read instructions and it frustrates us both to no end.

So, for your own sake, read the god damned instructions. Especially if you can actually find them.

JPG

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.

JPG

I’ve Figured it Out!

I call myself “The Apartment Woodworker”.  But, really, nowadays, I’m the “small space woodworker”.  Which doesn’t sound as cool, but it still pretty accurate (my workshop where my workbench and tool chest reside is a 12×13 bedroom).   But after all these years of woodworking (8ish?), I’ve finally figured it out: the setup for woodworking in an apartment or other small space like a proper woodworker.

IMG_20200725_111635.jpg

This is literally the apex of everything I’ve worked towards.

Without hyperbole, I feel like I’ve reached the apex of the intellectual exercise of small space woodworking.  It starts with the Apartment Workbench, which is constructed entirely from 10 or less home center 2×4’s and built basically like a heavy-duty sawbench.  Although the saw-bench construction might make the bench a bit tippy if the legs are too far in from the ends, the vertical legs might have a benefit: the design makes it easy to clamp onto the gussets.

When you add a couple of shop made sawhorses in the Japanese style, some F-style clamps, and maybe a strip of 3/4 plywood for a tool tray, you’ve apparently got an actual workbench.  The gusset on the legs clamps to the cross beam of the sawhorse (both front and back) and that’s your workbench.  Some lumber stored across the lower stretchers would add to the mass of the bench, but it’s not strictly necessary.  And I’d probably add some non-skin disks to the sawhorses to make sure you’re not sliding around on a slick, laminate apartment floor.

IMG_20200725_111645.jpg

The legs barely extend past the sawhorse.

But, all in all, it works as well as I could hope.  It’s not perfect, as the combined height of a typical sawhorse (29″) and a 2×4 slab (3.25″ or so) is uncomfortable for much besides hand planing.  But one can always clamp on whatever workholding you need beyond the palm, such as a moxon vise.  I prefer a bench around 34.75″ high for most work (I’m exactly 5’10”), btw.

But, as far as I can tell, this is absolutely serviceable for a small space woodworking bench.  It’s basically a Japanese planing bench, with some Western brute force adjustments.

Although I would recommend chopping mortises at the back end over the back sawhorse.  For whatever reason, it jumps less when you chop on the back than the front.

Maybe it was just the grass.

JPG

Apartment Workbench Update

After several months of working on the low, Apartment Workbench, I’ve learned a few things.  First, 90 degrees is not the right angle for a palm-style planing stop.  It doesn’t hold thinner stock on edge very well, and often the mouth is too wide to grip boards on their face.  60 degrees seems much better.

Compare the old palm arrangement:

IMG_20200514_101714.jpg

In fairness, it’s more like 92 degrees.

To the new arrangement:

IMG_20200704_131520.jpg

3/8″ still seems about the right height for these, though.

In addition, 9 inches of benchtop overhang beyond the vertical legs is not great.  It’s fine in the front, where the palm interferes with things that might accidentally tip the bench forward.  But on the back, in practice, it prevents one from sitting all the way back on the bench, effectively shortening the working area of the bench when planing.  Even crosscutting on that end is precarious because of tipping.

The solution is either to move the legs further back (maybe 3 inches from the end of the bench would work) so the leverage is less OR, if you’re so adventurous, cant the legs forward so they sit at compound angles to the benchtop.

Speaking of which, that’s harder than it looks:

IMG_20200628_141121.jpg

This reminds of a deer, for some reason.

It’s not so much the cutting of the compound angle on the leg that’s difficult.  That’s pretty much just extending the usual saw bench birds-mouth joint with an extra angle on the shoulder.  And then some fiddling after to make sure everything is crisp.

IMG_20200628_073927.jpg

There is more to it, but this isn’t a how-to.

What presented more difficult was leveling the feet.  After the initial cuts marked out with the 4×4 of justice, tweaking the legs to be perfectly flat alluded me.  Perhaps it’s because it was saw horse height, and I couldn’t track the jointer plane off the other leg.  Or perhaps because of tolerance stack the compound angles resulted in something that didn’t quite match the reference angle.

But it was good practice.  And the net net on these compound angled legs is that I’m ready to move onto a proper Chinese-style low bench with compound leg angles.  I plan to take significant advantage of rasps and floats the first run at it, as the legs will be mortised in (not affixed to the outside)  And I have just the slab for it, too.

IMG_20200624_155336.jpg

Reclaimed from the back wing of the old ash workbench.

But more on that soon.

JPG

Thought Experiment, Part Deux

In my ongoing efforts to replenish my intellectual excitement for woodworking, I have undergone a periodic downsizing of my tool kit.  Using a full sized, English-style floor chest is great.  But it gave me the space for extraneous tools to creep in.  And, when something can happen, it does happen.  So the best solution to reducing a tool kit is to reduce the available tool storage.

IMG_20200605_134104.jpg

Another Dutch Tool Chest for the archives.

This particular Dutch Tool Chest has no dovetails.  For good reason: the entire thing was built on the low, apartment woodworking bench.  Which has no vices.  And I’m a tails-first kind of person.  The bottom corners are rabbeted and nailed, which is more than solid enough, even if it was actually more work to assemble than dovetails would have been.  Well, more clamps and cauls, at least.  I have a feeling it would have been easier if the apartment woodworking bench was more than 9.75″ inches wide.

IMG_20200517_063926.jpg

Wooden hand screws are well worth the investment, if you’ve never used them.

I also, for the first time, just bought shiplapped pine siding from the home center instead of bothering to do my own rabbets or tongue and grooving.  It saved quite a bit of time and effort and, if you pick through the pile, you can find knot-free wood. A sixteen foot board was like $8.  I have no idea why I ever bothered doing this myself.  Just put the course side facing into the chest.

IMG_20200524_133753.jpg

Sure, the chamfers are a bit wide, but it’s the back of the case.  

As I’ve done additional woodworking, I’ve slowly moved tools over to the new tool chest.  A few things that haven’t made the cut yet:

  • 1 1/2″ chisel (my 1 1/4″ is just fine)
  • Scrub plane (my No. 5 is just fine)
  • No. 3 smoothing plane (my No. 4 is just fine)
  • Low angle block plane (I’ve migrated to a rabbet block plane over time)
  • Roll of firmer gouges
  • Quarter set of Hollows and Rounds (Nos. 2, 4, 6, and 8)
  • Yankee Push Screwdriver
  • Large (18″ max) dividers

Although, it’s fair to say, I don’t think there is room for any of that stuff in the new tool chest anyway.

JPG

Cultural Appreciation

Let me be the first to say: I have no non-American cultural identity.  It’s just the way I was raised: my family doesn’t associate with any other country other than America.  We’re just American, with no hyphens.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Chinese workbenches.  To learn about working on a low workbench, I’ve done quite a bit of internet researching the forms and methods of low workbenches (as compared to high workbenches with vises).  And part of that research involved Chinese woodworking.

From what I’ve seen, traditional Chinese woodworking involves bowsaws (or framesaws) on the push and they also push planes (but there is a cross-bar that’s held like you’re giving someone the guns).  The Chinese workbench form seems pretty similar to other low workbench forms in that it has splayed (and sometimes raked) legs that are mortised into a slab benchtop.  However, it seems unique in that it typically has a stretcher between each pair of legs (i.e., perpendicular to the length of the slab).  It also has rectangular tenons instead of round tenons.

IMG_20200531_074642.jpg

Like so.

I’ve made a number of low, Roman-style workbenches with slab tops pierced by round tenons (i.e., “staked” legs, per the current parlance).  There is amazing recent scholarship out there by Lost Art Press on this form.  But there isn’t a ton of information out there on Chinese woodworking (although, I haven’t moved to print yet).

So with little more than a few pictures, I set out to give the Chinese form a try.  For ease, I only angled the legs outward at 10 degrees, same as on my sawbenches and my low workbench.  I did not try for compound angled rectangular mortises on my first try.

As always, I do my protyping in Eastern White Pine, an easy to work and abundant material that lends itself to trial and error.  The benchtop is 8/4 stock about 8 inches wide and 31 inches long.  The legs are 1.75 inches x 1.5 inches and either red pine or heart pine (they’re reclaimed from an old shack) and are much harder and than the fluffy top.  All parts are bone dry.

Although not strictly necessary, I started by boring the mortises with a brace and bit to clear most of the waste.  I chose a 5/8″ bit for 3/4″-ish tenons, which were scribed with a mortise gauge.   A 1/2″ would have worked as well, and folks are likely to have a 1/2″ bit handy in a drill driver.  It’s a lot easier to bore a hole when you’re not aiming for perfection like with round tenon joinery.  Even a wonky hole (as long as it doesn’t cross the scribe lines) is just fine.

To be clear, you do not need a brace a bit.  These are easily chopped out.  Just use a narrower chisel and leave some room to pare down to the lines.

IMG_20200530_060626.jpg

Just make sure to use a backer board to prevent blowout in the softwood.

After the bulk of the waste is removed, it’s just paring with a chisel down to the gauge line.  Work slowly and use the same bevel gauge to help spot the angles.  When working in fluffy pine (“bullshit pine”, as I like to call it), a flat mill file is just as good as a mortise float.  Eventually, you’ll have an angled mortise.  DO NOT reset your bevel gauge.  You’ll need it for the stretchers.

IMG_20200530_063134.jpg

OSHA-approved workshop footwear.

Each of the legs takes an angled shoulder at the same angle as the mortise.  Make sure the tenon will clear the mortise, mark the tenon itself with a marking gauge set a bit fat to the mortise (so you have room to pare down or crush the fibers).  Then mark the shoulder with the same bevel gauge.  Angled shoulders, especially wide ones, are pretty easy to get right if you cut away from the line and pare down with a chisel.  Undercutting is fine.

I apparently got no pictures of cutting of the angled mortises in the legs for the cross strechers.  I used the same mortise gauge setting to mark the mortises and the tenons and set to chopping by hand.  There was no way I was chopping a 3/4″ mortise with a 3/4″ chisel, even in pine, so I used my 1/2″ chisel and pared down to the lines.  The same bevel gauge sets the shoulders of the stretcher, and eventually you have everything fitting nicely.  I actually drawbored the stretchers into the legs and wedged the tenons in the top.

IMG_20200531_191238.jpg

Leave some room to trim down the legs.

Leveling legs can be done a couple of ways.  I prefer to use the 4×4 of truth.  Which is just a length of 4×4 the height I want (minus the height of the benchtop) with a pencil resting on it to scribe around the legs.  You could also use the level surface method, but level surfaces are hard to come by and in any event that sounds like overhandling to me.

IMG_20200531_205215.jpg

These angles are perfect and it still looks wonky from several angles.

All in all, I get it.  This entire bench could have been (and pretty much was) built with just three main tools: (x) a bench plane for preparing the stock, (y) a chisel for chopping the mortises, and (z) a saw for sawing the tenons.  I guess you also need a mallet, a square, a bevel gauge and a marking knife, but that’s semantics.  No lathe.  No drill press.  Just time and care and the most basic of tool kits within the reach of any hand tool woodworker in an apartment.  I’m not even sure you’d need a proper workbench (even a low one).

Even with the vertical legs and no long stretcher connecting the leg assemblies, it’s very stable.  And compound-angled legs would add additional more stability.  In fact, that’s my next attempt: compound leg angles.  But I wonder if that would require compound angled shoulders for the cross-stretcher as well.

Thoughts for another day.

JPG