hand tool recommendations

Trendy Furniture

I don’t much go in for casework, being sans table saw and largely migrated to digital book collections (outside of woodworking books).  But I have need for more shelf space.  Specifically, to display my vintage Lego collection in my home office.

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I’m about 2/3 done unpacking at this point.

A heavy bookcase seems like a waste of time and materials for such a display.  I could build or buy a lighted curio cabinet, but that’s probably overkill for what I’m trying to do here.

But there is a form of bookcase that would do perfectly: the wall-leaning variety.  They are utterly ubiquitous and just behind live edge epoxy river tables and ahead of standing desks in trendiness.  But, they are also easy to make with hand tools and relatively light on materials.  So I’ll have a go of it with some leftover Eastern White Pine 2×8’s from the standing desk build and some clear-ish home center 1x12s

The design I have in mind will incorporate a dovetailed cabinet for a bottom shelf, which will hold some larger books and heavy items.  That way, there can be dovetails in the project.  Three or four additional shelves (over 80 inches of height) should be plenty to comfortably display all the vintage goodness.

In case you’re wondering, my favorite Lego sets are from 1989’s Space Police I and 1994’s Spyrius, with 1990’s M-Tron being a very close third.  Check out http://www.bricklink.com.

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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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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 3)

From my experience, a large portion of work holding when using a low workbench is sitting on the work.  But any good workbench for hand tool work needs at a minimum a planing stop for hand planing and a bench hook for sawing.  So let’s add both at the same time through a pair of bench dogs at one end of the newly-squared plywood slab.  Fair warning, the list of tools needed is going to increase from this point on.

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This is pretty much all you need for most woodworking.

Let’s begin with locating the dog holes.  In my experience, a single point planing stop will work without re-positioning the wood for boards up to about 5″ wide.  So on this bench, I spaced the dog holes at 5 1/2″ on center, equally spaced from each edge.   4″ from the end seems about right as well, so the dogs can be used as a bench hook in either direction.

I used a brace and bit to bore the holes, but a drill driver works just fine.  Use the bit that is the same size as the dowel you purchased (mine are 3/4″).  Do your best to bore the holes vertically, although if you’re going to err, hopefully err on the side of angled toward you.

 

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Two squares make boring true much easier.

Yes, this is a workbench, but don’t bore all the way through in one shot and break out the underside.  One day, you’ll probably flip the slab over and breakout is unsightly.  Instead, stop when the point of the bit just pokes through, then flip over the slab and finish the hole from the other direction.  That way, you’ll have clean exit holes on each face.  Then, break the edges of the hole with a countersink bit in a drill driver, a chamfer bit or roundover bit in a router, or with some coarse sandpaper.

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I prefer chamfer to roundover for dog holes.

Now, let’s make bench dogs.  You should feel free to purchase commercially made metal bench dogs and be done with it.  I like the brass ones from Lee Valley and use them on my main workbench.  But hand made bench dogs work great too.  Start with lengths of dowel that are 2″ longer than your slab is thick.  In my case, 5″.  Now, jam the dowel into the hole you just bored.  I had to use my main workbench because the dowel I purchased was apparently a bit undersized to the hole I bored.

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Nice, straight grain.

Orientation of the relief on the bench dog is critical to strength and grip.  Align the growth rings left to right, and mark a pencil line top to bottom that is about 1/4″ from the right side (left side, if you are left-handed).  Now, saw down that line, angled in about 2 degrees, to a cut depth of 1″ or so.  Then crosscut the waste away.  I used my leg vise but you can just clamp the dog to the slab or crosscut while the peg is vertical in the hole.  Be sure to ease the hard edges of the dog with some sandpaper of any medium grit.

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That’s literally all there is to it.

If your bench dog is snug in the dog hole but moves with light mallet taps, proceed to the next paragraph.  If the fit is too tight, thin the diameter of the dog a bit with some medium grit sandpaper, checking the fit as you go.  If the dogs fit loosely, like mine were, maybe buy some cheap brass bullet catches for cabinet doors or check out this Paul Sellers how-to on making wire springs for bench dogs (it starts at about the 11 minute mark).  If you use bullet catches, make sure to locate them in a place where they will catch when the dog is both up and down.  You’ll see what I mean.

Add a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil or Tung Oil (whatever you used for the bench top, honestly) and you’re done.

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Bullet catches are useful for a bunch of applications, honestly.

Once the oil finish is dry, pop in the dogs and have at some face and edge planing.

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One advantage to having two bench dogs instead of a single planing stop is you can crosscut boards using both pegs as a bench hook.  Like so:

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Goodbye, knot!

The slab now has all the workholding you’ll need to make two mini saw horses to replace the milk crates or buckets that you’ve been working on to this point.

I just finished up the prototype using just the slab with two bench dogs as my work surface.  I’m pleased enough with the design that I’ll replicate it for the second one.

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Basically 1/2 scale to full size saw horses.

But more on that later.

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One Board Projects

In keeping with the single board project motif, I slapped together a shooting board from a large mahogany off cut that was basically twist free.  Utilizing a wedged fence, the board is about 12 inches long and 9 inches wide.  This version is based very heavily on the plans in The Minimalist Woodworker by Vic Tesolin, just without the cleats.  It’s meant for use on the low occasional workbench so it just buts up against the planing stops.

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How do you make a shooting board if you don’t have a shooting board to make it with?

A shooting board, you may remember, is a jig with a fence at some fixed angle to a reference edge that helps a handtool woodworker true up a sawn edge to that fixed angle.  90 degrees is very common for general, rectilinear work, but a 45 degree fence comes in very handy for precision miter joints.

I find the hardest part about making shooting boards is getting a consistent glue surface between the base and the deck.  My “Biggest Rock is Best Rock” approach to clamping largely grew out of this frustration.  But when your biggest rock isn’t quick big enough, improvise!

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Even with all this weight, I still ended up screwing the boards together from the underside.

The end result is quite nice.  Heavy, flat and (I assume) stable.  And the wedge is dead-square to the deck.  We’ll see if mahogany is tough enough to stand up over time.  I don’t plan on using it for bench-hook purposes (it’s too pretty for that).

Now for that palm!

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Upon Further Reflection

It’s easy to take for granted certain luxuries.  Electricity, clean water, indoor plumbing, HVAC, etc.  But there are certain modern amenities that you don’t realize you miss until they’re gone.  Like a bathroom mirror.

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The frame matches the vanity!

I’ve never made a picture frame before.  And I’m 100% certain this is not the way to frame a picture.  That’s what miters are for.  But mirrors are heavier than pictures and the frame needed to be stronger than a simple miter.  I guess I could have splined the mitres, but that is power tool claptrap.  So I went with lap joints, reinforced with pegs to match the vanity drawbores.

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New phone, new camera.

White Oak is difficult enough to work with hand tools when it’s kiln dried.  But imagine cutting 8 linear feet of rabbets with a moving fillister plane and a mild hangover.  It’s a freaking nightmare.  But with perseverance, you can turn this:

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Mildly case-hardened, but all in all not too bad.

Into this:

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Simple enough glue-up.

Attaching the mirror was a bit of a head-scratcher.  My solution was to use caulk that dries clear and just schmoo the thing in place.  Clear-drying caulk is a veritable miracle, btw.  But it requires a small bit of faith because it goes on white.

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Cork pads are probably in the wrong place, but they cover the pegs on the back side.

That’s just one of two mirrors needed.  So, learning from the process, I’ll cut the corner joinery first and the rabbet second.  I think.

Or maybe I’ll just buy a table saw with a dado stack.

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A Valiant Effort

I too read that recent Popular Woodworking online article about Taytools hand planes. I’m not much of a tool collector (I have a spare Stanley No. 5 for my out and about toolbox and a cadaver of an extra Stanley No. 4 to scavenge parts if necessary), but I couldn’t help myself at the Amazon price for a No. 4.  I’ve wasted far more money on other tools, after all.

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The No. 5 was sold out and, besides, I have a No. 5 I love already.

Let me start by saying that, for the price, this seems like a pretty good tool.  I paid US$65 and got something that felt solid in my hand.  Would I recommend it for a new woodworker with limited space to work in?  Very probably.  I think it’s a valiant effort, all told.  But let’s explore a bit further.

I’ve restored between 5-10 antique Stanley planes and setting this thing up for relatively refined work took about an hour.  The most work went into the cap iron (about 20 minutes), which started out a bit rustic.  I also had to grind a bevel onto it, which went slowly and carefully to avoid removing too much material.  The cutting iron was ground hollow and only took about 10 minutes to flatten and another 5 or so to sharpen and introduce the back bevel with the ruler trick.

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I’ve seen worse.  Much worse.

The plane’s sole was also ground pretty hollow, which is fine.  I haven’t fully dressed the sole for smoothing yet, which I plan to do to 220 grit.  The manufacturer seems to have erred on the side of hollow grinding where possible.  For the record, I am 100% okay with this approach.

Three things about the Taytools plane stand out to me, though.

First, the mouth of the plane is cavernous.  On my Type 11 Stanley, the mouth is a smidge under 3/16, and closes up nice and tight with minimal frog advancement.

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The pitting doesn’t affect performance.  Stop complaining.

Compare that to the Taytools version.  The mouth is over 1/4 wide.  Now, 1/6 may not sound like a lot, but it’s noticeable (and a 33% increase!).  If I wanted this plane for general work, it’d do fine.  But as I’ve noted before, smoothing takes a tight mouth.  I had to move the frog significantly forward to close up the mouth.  Will this result in chatter?  Who knows?

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Notice the scratch pattern around the edges from testing the flatness.

Second, the frog adjustment mechanism is just garbage.  Novel, but garbage.  The yoke is cast into the frog itself and the tapped hole for the adjustment screw was not parallel to the bed.  This meant the frog kept binding as I turned the screw.  I eventually gave up and removed the frog adjustment screw entirely.

Finally, the plane is longer than a vintage No. 4.  Not by much, but I could see it making an incremental difference over the life of the tool.

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Weird, right?

I would be remiss if I didn’t weigh them both.  I prefer the lighter Stanley No. 4 Bailey pattern plane to the modern Bedrock copies for smoothing tasks.  My current smoother clocks in at a manageable 1615 grams.

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That’s 57 oz or 3 lbs 9 oz for the imperial types.

Surprisingly, the Taytools No. 4 is only 1890 grams (aka, 67 oz or 4 lbs 3 oz).  A bit over half a pound heavier than my Type 11 No. 4.  Not bad – and a far cry from the advertised 5 lbs. of some modern Bedrock copy No. 4’s.

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It lost a couple of grams when I ground the cap iron, in fairness.

So, again, is this I tool I would gift to a beginner woodworker interested in apartment woodworking on a budget?  Yes.  But that “yes” assumes the beginner has basic knowledge of how to prepare and sharpen a plane iron.  I don’t think the rustic cap iron would be much more of a nuisance when shavings got clogged.  And everything else seemed in relatively-good working order (apprentice marks and all).

And setting this tool up would be a hell of a lot less effort than fully restoring a swap meet piece.

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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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Extreme Vanity

If a coherent philosophy exists in my woodworking, it’s this: “Why build when you can overbuild?”.  Or, perhaps, it’s “Could we? (not should we)?”.  Either way, it’s resulted in the most hilariously stout bathroom vanity of all time.

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Glamour shot just before the sinks go in.

The entire thing is quartersawn white oak.  The leg frames are entirely 8/4″ stock (final thickness of about 1 15/16″) and the top is 6/4″ stock (final thickness of just over 1 1/4″).  Everything is stub tenoned and drawbored with 3/8″ birch dowels and Titebond 1.  The long rails are even double drawbored front and back.

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It’s not a workbench, but it might as well be.

I chose to drawbore the mortise and tenon joints for two reasons.  First, there are no lengthwise lower stretchers, so it needed the extra rigidity.  Any lower shelf I make will just sit on top of the short rails of the leg frames.  But, more importantly, I don’t own any 60″ clamps so clamping this thing together would have been awkward and unreliable.

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Pre-assembly, pre-finish.

Drawboring also makes assembly less stressful.  You can move the constituent pieces individually and then assemble in situ at a leisurely pace. Sure: the assembled frame probably would have made it through the door from the hallway anyway.  But who knows (and why risk it)?

The net result is a piece of furniture with a frame that will never come apart.  Even if I want it to.

How the tabletop connects to the frame is a different story altogether, though.  More on that later.

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Harlequin Baby

Warning: DO NOT image search the namesake of this blog post.

For a while now, I’ve been rehabilitating a Type 15 Stanley No. 5 smooth bottom bench plane. After a couple of hours of work, it’s as pretty as I’m going to make it.

Other than my Veritas scrub plane, there are officially no modern bench planes in my tool chest anymore.  I really like the lighter weight of the antique planes (as compared to their modern counterparts).  If one of the modern makers made new versions of these lighter planes to the precision specs they do for their Bedrock copies, I would be all over it.

Even after scrubbing, there is some of the patina on the sides.

This No. 5 is intended to be a worker and, suffice to say, it’s a bit of a harlequin. The sole and frog are original. As is the cap iron. The blade, however, is salvaged from my Type 17 Stanley No. 4 smoothing plane (which now has a Veritas replacement blade and is my main smoothing plane).

It’s not a pretty grind, but the frog is perfectly flat.  And it’s a bedrock frog!

The lever cap (seen above) is scrounged from another Stanley No. 4 (a Type 10, I think). The lever cap that goes with this Type 15 exists, I just haven’t cleaned it up yet.  It has a chip at one corner so I’m in no rush to expend that much elbow grease.

The knob and tote are replacements as well. I source wooden replacement parts for planes from Greg Droz.  He does a great job and his prices are very reasonable. They both fit first try without any fettling.

Honduran rosewood, which is beautiful enough for a worker.

The sole of the plane is in very good shape and didn’t take long to de-rust or flatten. This is a jack plane so I didn’t obsessed too much. In fact, I only took it to 80 grit (which, admittedly, had worn to probably 120 grit by the end) on the granite slab.  There is a very slight hollow around the mouth that can be seen below. If the spirit ever moves me, I may dress the sole a bit more. Maybe to 220 grit and perfectly square on the shooting side.

I’m pretty sure this plane was well-used before it came to me

But I now have no place in my tool chest for my well-loved WoodRiver bench planes (No. 4No. 4 1/2 and No. 5 1/2).  They have served me well but I’d be happy to part with the No. 4 for $100 and the No. 4 1/2 and No. 5 1/2 for $125 each.  UPDATE:  ALL THREE PLANES SOLD.

If interested, shoot me an email at theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com and I can send pictures.  They are all in used but otherwise perfect condition.

This is the first of a few sets of extra tools that I plan to sell off.  I am not a tool collector, per se.  But I do have some extra tools, which are pretty much only good for cluttering the shop and procrastinating when it’s time to sharpen.

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