small projects

Efficient Fettling

Before the new year, I essentially finished the carcass on a new, streamlined traveling tool chest. I had made a low profile Dutch Tool Chest fairly recently that, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out for its intended purpose. Long story short, I miscalculated the size of the lower compartment and nothing quite fits without effort. Another inch or so and it would be fine. It’s also a bit wider than it needs to be.

So that means it’s time to make another one!

Lee Valley strap hinges are great quality but they are never quite straight.

This isn’t a post about the new chest itself, but here are some quick details: 9/16″ Eastern White Pine carcass; 3/4″ EWP tongue and groove back boards; Southern Yellow Pine lock, battens and catches; Tremont Nail cut nails throughout. Overall size 24″ x 23″ x 12″. Lower compartment is 9″ high.

As I was making the lid (always the worst part of any tool chest build), I decided to start painting the case. Then, after three coats of paint, I dry fit the lid and discovered the top of the well is rather twisted. The front right corner was about 3/32″ higher than it should have been, so the lid rocked pretty badly. If you’ve never had to level the top of a Dutch Tool Chest after assembly, know that you can’t just continuously plane the top edge like you would with a traditional square box where it’s all edge grain. If you’re not careful, you’ll ram into the end grain of the side board and risk spelching the case side. And it’s awkward.

Instead, whenever I need to level a cross grain corner joint, I start with a chisel. Mark the depth with a gauge and chop, bevel down, until you scallop out enough of the end grain where the two boards meet to give clearance to your plane bed. You can now plane down the the long grain of the front board to depth without slamming into the end grain of the side board. Then, just take down the hump in the end grain of side board until it’s straight and flush with the new corner height. Once everything is about there, one long continuous pass starting from the far front corner and ending at the near back corner finishes it off.

I took a tiny bit off the far back corner as well.

Moral of the story: check for twist before you apply three coats of paint. Or, better yet, before you attach the front board at all.

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A Love Letter to Impact Drivers

I made a comment on a recent post about how I ever managed to live without an impact driver for almost a decade of woodworking. I’d like to expound on that a bit more.

As folks may know, I build a lot of workbenches. I haven’t actually built one for myself in a while. I’ll find a design that seems intellectual stimulating, build it, and then gift it to a friend or family member. So whenever I’m at the lumber yard, if there is a particularly wide and clear slab of 12/4 or 16/4 lumber (typically ash, poplar, douglas fir, or red oak), I can’t usually help myself. The pile of slabs was becoming a problem, so I made a full size lumber rack. Not one of those wall hangers (Bora, you’re great, but I am constantly worried my entire wall is going to tumble down). A proper, free standing, rolling cart.

Do you like my “The English Woodworker” style saw horses in front?

There are probably 250 star drive construction screws of either 2 1/2″ (65 mm) or 3 1/2″ (90mm) screws in the entire assembly. As much as I’d love to say I drove each with a brace and bit, I in fact used an impact driver. It’s just so useful and effective (if a bit loud; I wear foam earplugs for work like this). To put it in perspective, I wore out not one but two (!) of the included star drive bits in the boxes of screws. I know these aren’t of the highest quality, but still.

I used a lot of what I learned from the television easel project in making this project. That is, the lumber rack is a series of posts set into a foot that is offset from center based on the calculated center of gravity when loaded with lumber. With a 24 inch foot and 13″ or so of shelf, I calculated that the post should be centered at roughly 8″ from the back of the foot.

So each post of the lumber rack was comprised of the following, all 2×4 framing lumber, glued and screwed together (a la Naked Woodworker workbench) after drilling clearance holes for the screws.

  • One vertical beam at 72″ high (part of this is a tenon that laps into a dado in the foot)
  • Four shelf spacers of 15″ high (although the top one is cut to length)
  • Three shelf bars at 16″ long
  • One foot beam at 24″ long
  • Two foot spacers, on at 6″ long (back) and one at 14.5″ long (front) [these create the dado around the vertical beam tenon)
I made four posts, but one of them was like 1/2″ off every single shelf height so I scrapped it.

With the posts made, it was time for the base. I started by joining the two end posts with an 84″ long beam, and added a 27″ long end cap on both (creating an enclosed mortise for the tenon on the vertical beam, rather than just a lap joint). Then I added spacers between the ends and the middle post (to form dadoes) and tied everything together with an 87″ long cap beam on top. The back cap beam also created a convenient catch for storing a few things vertically, leaning against the posts.

First cap beam installed as shown above.

After adding a long rail to plumb up and tie together the tops of the posts (with spacers to make more dadoes), it was time to add some bearers beneath the post feet. These, made of 2×6 (instead of 2×4), would both (a) further support and secure the posts and (b) give a wide surface (away from the joinery screws) to attach some heavy duty casters.

Nice detail of the end assemblies here.

The last step (aside from knocking down the rough corners with an orbital sander) was to add a diagonal brace to each post, reinforcing the base of each post. I’m not 100% sure these were needed, as the posts were each secure and restrained by (w) a tenon that lapped into each foot assembly, (x) cap beams front and back on top of the foot, (y) a bearer below where the casters attach, and (z) a shitload of glue and screws on the general base assembly. But they make me feel better and this thing will have about half a ton of lumber at the outset. It was either this or add some rachet straps, which looked ugly(ier) to me.

Diagonal braces seen here.

I am sure (because I checked) there are plans out there for prettier lumber racks. And I absolutely could have spent 10x the time and 2x the money mortising 4×4 posts and drawboring everything. I wish I could say otherwise, but other than a combination square and a marking knife for some more precise cuts, I did not use a single traditional hand tool on this entire project.

But when you need a giant lumber rack, and you’ve got handy a chop saw, an impact driver, some 2×4’s, and a giant box of screws, you do what you have to. I even think I learned a thing or two in the making.

And, most importantly, I can at least walk around in my basement again.

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New Year 2023 – Remake a Hand Saw

Another year on the Gregorian calendar has passed and I’m back in the workshop. As I always say, “ABCD – Always be Carpen them Diems!” And today, like every other New Year’s Day, is no different.

My first project of the year is making a panel saw from “scratch”. Those quotes are doing some pretty heavy lifting, as the plate is taken from a 26″ vintage Simonds 10 TPI crosscut hand saw. I’m not in the mood to cut new teeth today. The plate is in very good shape but the handle was a mess. Clearly an aftermarket job, the slot for the saw plate was at like 10 degrees to the handle and it made for terrible hang.

So first I made a new tote. There are a ton of good tutorials on the yutubs about this, so I’m not going to offer any real pointers here. However, a small oscillating spindle sander (I have the handheld one from Wen, which seems to be a knockoff of the Triton model) makes the job a lot quicker. I don’t have a band saw, so bringing the outline of the tote into flat on the OSS (instead of by hand with rasps and files) is a godsend. Especially on quartersawn hard maple.

Once the outside was shaped, I took my cues from the BTC Hardware Store Saw and busted out the trim router with a chamfer bit. Once the hard arrises are sanded down, it’s just as comfortable as full rounds. Plus, the intersection of the chamfers made a cool lamb’s tongue-like feature at the bottom of the tote, without having to do an actual lamb’s tongue.

I used the Blackburn Tools handle pattern and stayed pretty true to the overall shape.

When I make the next hand saw tote, if I use this pattern again, I will lighten the chamfer along the front (seen left, where it meets the saw plate). That heavy chamfer, as cool as it looks, nearly overlapped with the top saw nut and left a fragile edge that will probably break off soon.

Next I had to modify the plate to fit the tote. That vertical dotted line on the pattern to the right of the saw nuts shows where the plate seats into the tote. Problem is, the sourced plate did not have a straight line at the heel. That means it’s angle grinder time. I just use a scrap of plywood as a fence (learned that one from Pask Makes) and go to town. I also nibbed off the corner at the heel.

I am aware the guard is off. This operation doesn’t work with the guard on.

The angle grinder leaves the plate rather work hardened at this point. Files still work, but you really have to draw file to get down to fresh steel. I pop it in the saw vise and use the same jig for jointing the teeth. It’s important this be straight and true so it seats nicely in the tote.

You can see the reshaped heel, before a bit of rounding.

I didn’t get pictures of it, but I next cut the slot in the tote for the plate. You can freehand this (like the guy who last owned the saw did), but three is a better way. Just clamp to a flat surface (like a benchtop) another panel saw with a thinner plate and a fine set to the bench with a spacer underneath that centers the cut. Then draw the tote, flat against the bench and cut the slot as deep as you can. You can then finish the cut by hand in the vise, as the portion of the slot you already cut will guide the saw the rest of the way. Lee Valley has an excellent guide on this. If the slot is slightly off center (mine was by about 1/32″), just plane down the thicker side.

Now it’s time for drilling holes.

Now came the part I was dreading. When re-handling panel saws in the past, I used the existing handle as a pattern and located the saw nuts exact where they had been on the previous tote. For this, I was starting fresh and that meant drilling new holes in the plate. The spring steel plate. With a cheap benchtop drill press.

I had previously drilled 1/16″ pilot holes through the tote and bored the initial recesses for the saw nuts. So I started by clamping assembled saw onto the drill press table and locating the 1/16″ holes, which I then drilled through the plate. I then set the handle aside, recentered the drill press on each pilot hole in the plate, and clamped down the plate to the drill press table. You do not want a spinning hand saw plane. Then I just worked my way up from 1/16″ to 7/32″ incrementally until there were three 7/32″ holes in the plate. In truth, I cooked about four 7/32″ drill bits. It’s just too much for my little drill press to handle. But they were cheap drill bits (scavenged from various box store sets).

All that was left to finish the tote was drilling out the saw nut holes (9/32″ for the slotted nuts and 1/4″ for the medallion and bolts) and tweaking the depth of the recesses. I think I set the recesses in a little deep, but it works. Some boiled linseed oil really makes the quartersawn holographics of the hard maple pop.

Medallion side.
Nut side.

I still need to hack off some of the toe to get the plate itself down to about 19″ of tooth line. That, in my experience, makes the plate stiff enough to not need a half back or magnetic guide for basic joinery. Plus it gets rid of that kink that always develops about 5-6″ from the toe of every 26″ hand saw. And, of course, that will allow it to fit in the toolbox.

The hang of the saw is a bit toe heavy, which makes me think it should be a medium rip (8-10 TPI). I find that useful for crosscutting wider, thicker stock on the saw bench and still able to rip efficiently at the vise. A saw like that is a workhorse for my travel toolbox. Once the BLO dries, it’s time to carpe some more diems and reshape the teeth.

But, for now, Happy New Year and I hope you find some time in the shop soon. Thanks for being a reader and stay tuned for some new and exciting things this year.

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Intellectual Stretching

In my day to day life, I am attorney. My practice focuses on Mergers and Acquisitions and Complex Corporate Governance (with a fair bit of Commercial Contracting and Emerging Companies and Venture Capital matters). While I love what I do, not everything in my day job is intellectually stimulating. It’s true, there are sometimes novel (to me) issues that need sorting. But the typical deal is, well, pretty typical (at least after about 15 years). So woodworking often fills the void of intellectual expansion for me.

A silly little thing.

A person I care very much about asked for a lap desk to make her home office (read: couch) more comfortable. While I myself am a work from work person, I appreciate a good thought experiment that I can sort out with my hands. So I made a lap desk with non-right angle corners.

I personally think dovetails are best. But I also like finger joints. Not the cross cut sled on the table saw version, but the hand cut, assembled-like-dovetails variety. Contrary to popular belief, it is much harder to saw square in two directions than it is to saw angles. Or at least it is to me. And, when cut right, finfer joints can look wonderful and only need a couple of nails to be as permanent as well-fitting dovetails.

I really like this little Moxon vise made only with home center oak and threaded rod.

Making these angled finger joints was an exercise in working things out. Sure, I could have just searched YouTube for a tutorial (James Wright has an excellent how-to on angled dovetails, btw). But I chose to work it out myself. And, dagnammit, it worked pretty well.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, this is one place where it pays to have deeper baselines (and protruding pins/tails to pare down) really pays off. I tend to scribe base lines exactly to part thickness for regular dovetails, but that doesn’t seem ideal for non-square corners.

Like so.

In any event, after sawing the pins, my process for angled corners is to chop down, on the bench, from the higher side perpendicular to the baseline. This high side is the inside corner all around. Then, I discovered, it’s better to pare in the vise, in small bites, instead of trying to get the angle correct with chisel and mallet on the bench. It takes a bit longer, true. But the fit is far better when you sneak up on it in small bites.

Look at that continuous grain!

And, so, I had an intellectually stimulating time at the bench making a thing for a person, using a technique I had not done before. It only took an hour or so (after stock prep). And now I know how to do it, for all time.

I just need to chop off 5″ from each foot because apparently a 15″ high lap desk doesn’t really work for non-giants.

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Hither and Thither

Earlier this year, I made a little traveling tool chest to go with my traveling workbench. It works great, and it holds all of the hand tools I need for working away from the shop. But it’s not perfect. I didn’t really think through the bits and bobs I’d need to actually do woodworking. Things like a roll of blue tape, a powered drill driver (and charger), a hammer, and auger bits. Pretty much everything that isn’t french fit into the well or a till just gets piled in and must be unpacked and piled elsewhere to access to the main set of tools.

It’s a well known fact that Dutch-style tool chests are bigger on the inside (having lots of places to stash tools around the inside of the main compartment). And with some wall cabinet projects coming up, I needed some dovetailing practice. I’d been cutting mostly mortise and tenon joints as of late. Even though I consider myself to pretty good at dovetailing, it had been a while. So let’s make a Dutch tool chest.

No half tails this time. But I still got it!

Now a full size Dutch tool chest (single lower compartment) is portable enough in its own right. But I like the form factor of my current traveling tool chest and have found a full size DTC to be a little unwieldy to load and and out of the truck. So this chest, although 27″ wide, is only 18″ high. That means a full size main compartment but only a 3.75″ lower compartment. Big enough to cram in a drill driver and charger, a roll of auger bits and a brace and bit and some other bulky odds and ends, but not so big that I’m tempted to overpack. I’ve found that as far as traveling tool chests go, the more extra space you have, the more extra tools you’ll cram in. And that defeats the purpose.

It looks narrower than it actually is.

One of the beautiful design features of a DTC is the angled top. Not only does it keep you from piling things onto the chest (thereby preventing you from getting at your tools), it also means that you can put a full size tool rack on the back wall of the main compartment. You just can’t do that with a square chest. I prefer a tool rack that is 1.25″ x 1.25″, with 1/2″ holes drilled on 1.5″ centers. A good number of my tools actually require elongated holes (not just the bigger chisels), but a 1/2″ hole on 1.5″ center is good for a great many tools.

Yes: in a traveling tool chest, I still need 3 screw drivers. That’s a bevel gauge between the awl and the marking gauge, btw.

Another great part of the DTC form (piggybacking off the angled top) is the plane till. Not only can you fit a plane till into the main compartment of the chest (in this case, one that holds not only my two shortened panel saws, but also a small 12tpi rip tenon saw), but because of the extra headroom in the main compartment, the space underneath the saws on both sides of the till are usable space. In a stationary, shop-based DTC, you can just pile things in there. For this traveling chest, I’ll need to make some little trays (like the plane till, more on that below) to keep things from bouncing around. And the saw till also keeps the tool rack from sagging in the middle.

Usable space under there.

This is a traveling chest, so I don’t need to fit a full set of bench planes. Instead, I just keep a No. 5 (with both straight and cambered irons) and a No. 3, plus a low angle block plane. Taking into account the saw till, I’ve got 6.125″ of depth for two rows of plane till/general storage. That is enough (with some creative orientation) to fit everything I need, including my sharpening gear. That’s what I currently have in the square traveling tool chest well, at least.

I don’t own a table saw, and making long thin stock is tough by hand (at least without using rolls of double sided tape). So I tend to build up my tills for French fitting with 1/4″ nominal hobby boards from home center. The poplar is best; one can usually find it nicely quartersawn in 48″ lengths. Its true thickness is around 7/16. But when French fitting by hand, it’s just shooting board practice.

Still needs some internal dividers.

I think that’s it for this one. I have a new to-do’s for the rest of the weekend that will take me out of the shop.

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Fixgasm (Part III?)

I’m unsure if this counts as a proper fixgasm, but I finally got around to framing out and paneling a closet that for a long time was hidden behind the old wall panels. But let’s assume for a moment the closet was already framed out and paneled. Then putting some shelving in definitely counts as a fixgasm.

Yes, I have mostly black and yellow branded tools. No, they aren’t a sponsor.

This closet was, up until this very day, a receptacle for the detritus of the workshop. Clamps, offcuts and various oddments were piled up, leaning against the wall. So with floor to ceiling storage (these metal rack units work great for closet shelving), I have now emptied two (!) different smaller storage units that take up floor space in the overflow room. Getting rid of those smaller storage units will allow me to move things around a bit, which will free up more room.

And then it cascades until I might finally create a direct path from the handtool shop to the thickness planer in the overflow room.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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One for Me

I wonder sometimes if others have similar woodworking experiences to me. Namely, that just after finishing a piece for myself, a friend or relative will ask for it instead.

Now I try to live my life as Tolkien describes Aule, the Smith (“the delight and pride of AulĂ« is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.”). And I like to think that quote describes me pretty well. So many pieces end up in others’ hands, even those pieces purpose built for me, if the giftee seems particularly keen on it.

For that reason, I have been sans dining table for some time. Every time I finish one, it seems it’s claimed within a few weeks. But not this time. At least not yet.

This one is about as utilitarian as I can imagine.

The style itself feels a bit tacky to me. It’s a home center butcher block tabletop (birch) and the legs are poplar. Nice, clear, straight grained poplar (left over from the base of my Moravian Workbench), but still. The table is an inch too low (at 27.75″) because I was just using what’s on hand. The legs themselves are round tenoned and wedged into thick blocks. Essentially making leg brackets. Which are just screwed into the underside with torx deck screws.

Utilitarian, indeed.

I’ve been joking on social media that it’s a lazy table (third laziest, in fact). But I don’t think that’s quite right. The legs themselves are tapered octagons. And the mortises are bored at 12.5 degrees and when attached have about a 30 degree sight line. I didn’t make a full base or dovetail the legs into the tabletop or something like that. But it still took some thought and problem solving.

I really like the way the table sits with this rake and splay. No newborn deer look from any angle.

But that’s not really the point. Calling it lazy seems to me a bit like gatekeeping. And that’s not something I support in any field, especially hobby woodworking. All that should matter is that a person made a thing and had fun doing it (or at least is pleased with the result). I personally don’t use a table saw or a router table, but I also personally don’t give a fuck if someone else does.

Although I sometimes wish that I had a lathe.

There are enough litmus tests in this life. My only one is “do you have a thing that you love to do?” And as long as that thing is not hunting endangered animals for sport, you do you, bud.

And if you do hunt endangered animals for sport, you can fuck all the way off and unfollow me.

Please and thank you.

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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!

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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?

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