small space woodworking

Fits and Starts

When the spirit moves me, my woodworking progresses quickly.  In the space of a day or so, I went from dimensional 1×12 pine to a dovetailed, rabbeted, glued and nailed carcass for what was supposed to be an under-workbench cabinet.

Biggest rock is best rock.

The whole point of this cabinet was to add some heft to the new workbench without compromising the spirit of “no stretchers”.  The new workbench had a tendency to scoot around while under heavy planing use.  But, it turns out, all I needed to do was add some treads to the bench and it stays perfectly still.

In situ.

They may not be good for the knees, but the cheapo home center anti-fatigue mats are quite effective non-skid surfaces for workbenches.  I should have known.  Back in my old apartment, my dining table workbench sat on top of one of these mats.  And it never moved an inch, whether or not the bottom shelf was loaded up.

So my new plan is to re-purpose this cabinet as a media console.   I will either buy some metal hairpin legs or make a staked-leg base to sit it on top.  

JPG

Branching Out

I’ve been woodworking for about six years total.  Four or so have been hand tool-focused.  It’s hard to admit, but I never really went hand tool only, as I rely pretty heavily on my thickness planer.  I also use a drill press from time to time, because I have one.  And it came in handy recently, as I forayed into some more basic metalworking.

IMG_20181103_120735.jpg

For me, this is complicated metalwork.

After working at the new workbench for a couple of months, it became rather clear that the connection between the main slab and the extension needed shoring up.  Three posts and some 4″ lengths of angle iron at random intervals weren’t doing the trick.  It needed something more substantial.

I found myself at the home center at 601am on a Saturday (I was actually there for cleaning products), and it seemed they had freshly restocked the angle iron.  I had cobalt bits and a new countersink, so I figured, “why not?”.

IMG_20181103_133941.jpg

Not even I worried about clocking these screws.

Drilling through 1/8″ mild steel is not too bad (although the squiggly shavings can be sharp!).  And countersinking is messy and loud, if satisfying.  The only hard part about the entire endeavor was lining up the holes in the angle iron to not interfere with the planing stop or holdfast holes.

Now two lengths of 24″ angle iron, with screws at 1.5″ and 8″ from each end, reinforce the joint between the slab and the extension.  They also added a couple of lbs. to the workbench, which can’t be overstated.  Although I’m keeping the workbench shelf-less, I am in fact going to add a back stretcher between the angled back legs to increase the heft overall.

Speaking of which, I added some extensions to the back of the angled legs.  Now the footprint of the legs nearly matches the depth of the bench top, which makes the bench more stable when traversing or using a shooting board.  The extensions also, conveniently, create a ledge for the back stretcher to ride on (meaning I can get away with not gluing the lap-jointed stretcher in place).

IMG_20181108_152929.jpg

Hide glue and 3/8 lag bolts ensure it won’t ever move.

My next project is a cabinet for under the bench, which will store clamps, fasteners and other odds and ends that I use enough to keep them close at hand, but not so often that they should be in my tool chest.  I’m purposely building it in a way that can be converted to a wall cabinet if the mood ever seizes me.

Stay tuned.

JPG

Keeping it Clean

Let me start by saying that my old workbench is still for sale.  Anyway…

To varying degrees of success, I try to live by the Shaker adage: “A place for everything and everything in its place”.  In the last six years or so of woodworking, I’ve learned at least one important lesson: the place for sharpening is not on your main workbench.

Sharpening is a messy endeavor. Metal filings, steel slurry, honing fluid and tool oils can impregnate the benchtop and wreak havoc on your tools.  So I tried to keep my sharpening implements on the far right side of the bench (away from main work area).  But that just robbed me of the rightmost two feet of work area.  So I decided to do something about it.

IMG_20181017_205251.jpg

I told you I was practicing!

Largely relying on the Paul Sellers blueprints, I turned about fifteen home center whitewood 2×4 studs into a dedicated sharpening station.  The Nicholson-style design was important.  I needed an apron so I could mount a Grammercy Tools saw vise, which was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law.  The overall dimensions are 47.75″ x 20″ x 36″.

It has enough space for the saw vise, my sharpening stones (or bench grinder)…

IMG_20181017_205312.jpg

These Ikea goose neck task lights are pretty nice.

… and a dedicated metalworker’s vise.  It also has a tool well for random implements.

IMG_20181017_205322.jpg

Which I still need to finish by adding a skirt around it.

There is no mortise and tenon or dovetail joinery in this build.  Only lap joints and housing joints, glue, nails and screws.  Without exaggeration, I used a tiny subset of my entire tool kit to make this sharpening station (on purpose), which are tools a beginner woodworker is likely to have:

  • No. 5 bench plane (all dimensioning tasks)
  • No. 4 bench plane (final smoothing only)
  • Block Plane (a shoulder plan would have worked better)
  • 3/4″ bevel edge chisel (with mallet)
  • Eggbeater drill
  • Hammer and die-forged nails
  • Screwdriver and slotted wood screws
  • Various clamps and hide glue

IMG_20181017_205749.jpg

Never likely to see any hand planing, so I re-purposed the back apron as the bottom shelf.

I took this minimalist approach because I wanted to know whether or not a beginner, with a core set of hand tools, could actually build something like this.  The answer is a resounding: probably.  I’m no beginner anymore, but some of the joints require pretty tight tolerances (like the housing joints where the aprons connect to the legs).  I guess if I went slowly and took great care, I could have pulled this off all those years ago.  But it might have ended up slightly wobbly.

But I’m glad to have undertaken the exercise, as it’s a piece of shop equipment I’ve been missing for a long time.

Long live clean workbenches.

JPG

Setting the Record Straight

So I am substantially finished with my new work bench, which is a sort of reproduction of the weird, stretcherless Shaker, Stent Panel-esque workbench from Pleasant Hill.

IMG_20180916_153031.jpg

Sorry for the shadows.  I couldn’t find my front lighting bar.

Made entirely from Ash (other than the hard-wearing vise parts, which are Hard Maple), the main bench consists of a slab that is 86″ long, 12.5″ deep and a hair under 4″ thick.  The legs, which are cut from the same piece of timber as the slab, are mortised into the slab.  The front legs are flush with the front of the slab and double drawbored in place.  The back legs, which are also mortised into the slab, splay outward at about a 14 degree angle and are further secured with two square head lag bolts each.  The slab itself is oriented with the heart side up, with grain running left to right.

IMG_20180908_131839.jpg

Yes, there is a leg vise.

The leg vise is based around a 1.5″ Hard Maple screw turned using a Beall Tool Company Big Threader.  The vise chop is a single piece of 12/4 Ash with a bunch of runout (and so has a particularly nice figure on the face) that is about 6″ wide (compared to 4″ on the leg itself).  The vise hub is Ash, made roughly round by hand with a spokeshave, some rasps, and much patience.  A temporary handle of 3/4 walnut dowel pierces the hub.

The vise jaw is joined to the vise screw with a Hard Maple garter that is screwed to the face of the vise jaw.  The leg vise has a depth of about 8.5″ and an overall capacity of about 5″, but I haven’t tested its limits.  The vise works through a Hard Maple pin board, that accepts a 3/8″ mild steel rod that is epoxied into a Hard Maple Shaker-style drawer pull.  The holes need to wear in a bit, but it works quite well from the outset.  Other than the garter screws, the screws that hold on the vise nut to the back of the leg (which is also hard maple), the screws that hold on the parallel guide at the bottom of the leg, and the pin itself, there is no metal in the leg vise assembly.

The leg vise is accompanied by a Veritas inset vise with a row of holes for round 3/4″ bench dogs which are 2″ on center from the front edge of the benchtop.  I will bore a few 1″ holes in the slab for my Crucible Tool holdfast, as well as some holes in the front right leg for some Grammercy Tools holdfasts, once I figure the layout.  Please ignore the patch in the front light leg seen in the picture above, which covers a plugged and epoxied hole from an aborted bore.  I was having a bad day.

IMG_20180908_131818.jpg

Prior to cleaning up the drawbores and actually securing the parallel guide.

The benchtop is extended by another 10″ or so through a length of 8/4 Ash, supported by three 1.5″ square posts which are mortised directly into the slab.  The 8/4 extension is lightly glued along the edge joint and on the first 2 inches or so of each post.  Angle iron lines the underside of the seam to prevent any sagging between the posts.  Like the mains lab, the extension is oriented heart side up, with a grain direction that runs left to right.

IMG_20180908_160638.jpg

Cutting these dadoes was the most enjoyable part of the entire build.

So let’s talk about this style of workbench, which has been an exhilarating intellectual exercise that I do not regret.  That being said:

This is NOT the easiest way to build a workbench.  Angled back legs, as pretty as they are, are not to be undertaken lightly.  Going stretcher-less provides a bit of leeway on the exact angles, but I spent way too much time with a flashlight and a bevel gauge checking the angles on the mortises.  Furthermore, angled mortises mean angled shoulders on the tenons, which must be closely matched to get a well-seated joint.  In retrospect, I’d have been better off doing 2″ round tenons for the back legs, which would have saved me about 10 hours of fiddling.

In any event, adding the posts to support the benchtop extension was by far the most difficult and tedious part of the build (even more so than the angled mortises for the back legs).  Getting the post to stick out from the back slab at exactly 90 degrees was no trivial task, either.  It took several hours with a shoulder plane and winding sticks to get all three posts perfectly aligned.  But all the work paid off and once the extension was in place it took only a few passes with a jointer plane to level the extension with the main slab.

So why would someone build a workbench this way?  There can be literally only one answer: efficient use of the available materials.  If the only thick timber I had at my disposal was a single, narrow-ish slab, this is exactly how I’d build a workbench.  The bench is stout where it needs to be and good enough everywhere else.  But because it is not thick timber all around, it suffers a bit in overall weight.  With tools and work piled on the bench, it’s fine.  But on its own, it scoots a tiny bit under heavy planing load.

One second thought, there may be another reason to build a bench this way: atonement for one’s sins.  Because at times this build felt positively Sisyphusian.

Now to make the bench slave, after which I can officially get rid of my old workbench.

JPG

So Close!

My new workbench is just about done.  The only thing left to do is finish fitting the bench top extension to the posts that are now mortised into the back edge of the main slab.

IMG_20180908_160638.jpg

My silly little workbench experiment.

When I say “fitting to the posts” what I really mean is jointing the edge of the extension to match the edge of the slab.  I marked the dadoes in the extension against the posts themselves, so it’s really just an incremental trial-and-error process to get a good seam between the two benchtop pieces.

IMG_20180909_085759.jpg

This is what it looks like when all pulled together.

There are a few things to address which have come to light as I use the bench to finish up the bench, most of which relate to its tendency to scoot a little bit under heavy hand-planing.

First, without stretchers or a shelf full of detritus, the bench is a smidge on the light side.  To address this, I plan to do two things to add some mass: (i) add some mild steel bar stock (or maybe just laminate on some additional wood) to back face of the the angled rear legs, and (ii) add some steel angle iron to the underside of the seam between the main slab and the extension.  The angle iron has the added benefit of shoring up the area between the posts, which can sag a little bit under heavy weight (I should have used four posts, honestly).

Second, the bench is a little bit taller overall than I’m used to (around 36.5″).  As a result, and because of the limitations of the available stock, the back legs don’t have full contact on the ground.  I’ll work with the bench a bit before I decide if I need to lower it, but doing so will have the added benefit of increasing surface contact under the back legs.    If the height ends up working out, I may instead just fit and glue some overlong wedges onto the ends of the back legs (which will slightly extend the footprint).  Either way, I plan to add some non-skid stair tape (i.e., adhesive backed, coarse grit sand paper) to everything to increase traction.

Finally, there will probably be at least one stretcher on the bench in order to reinforce the leg vise assembly.  The front leg is mortised into the benchtop and the pin board is mortised into the vise chop (and both are drawbored and glued in place).  But I still fear the pressure from the leg vise levering against the bottom of the leg will over-stress those joints.  A single stretcher to complete the triangle should be enough to enforce the mechanics while still maintaining the integrity of the stretcher-less design for the workbench.

IMG_20180908_131818.jpg

Probably to be added just above the level of the pin board.

All in all, this bench has turned out better than I could have hoped.  There are some holes to bore and some surfaces to level, but I am genuinely pleased with how everything came together.

In the next installment, I’ll walk through the specifics of the leg vise, which is completely DIY (including a screw I turned myself on a Beall wood threader), as well as address the disparity between the depth of the benchtop and the overall footprint of the skewed back legs.

JPG

 

Who Needs ‘Em?

An integral part of a leg vise is the garter that connects the screw to the vise chop, allowing the chop to move in and out as the screw is turned.  Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.  And when you make your own screws, it’s probably a good idea to be able to plow a 1/4″ trench around the circumference of the screw to capture the garter.  But what to do when one does not own a lathe (powered or otherwise)?  Improvise!

IMG_20180812_150552.jpg

Hold your applause, please.

I started by sawing down the walls of the trench with my miter box.  The screws are 6/4″ wide so I set the depth stop to about 3/16″ and was careful to keep all the saw kerfs in alignment.  Then I used a 1/4″ chisel to hog out most of the waste, using the saw kerfs as the depth guide.  After that was done, I took a mortise float and spun the saw around while holding the float steady: first in the direction of the cut to get it close, then in the opposite direction to burnish it down to a perfect cylinder.  The inner diameter ended up being a bit over 1″.

The garter plate will be made from a 1/4″ x 4″ square of quarter-sawn hard maple (the same wood as the screw).  If I drill a 1 1/8″ wide hole in the face of the garter plate, the kerf from sawing it in half should result in a perfectly-sized (if minorly-oval) hole when the two parts are joined together again and secured to the vise chop with slotted screws.

I also made an ash hub (from the same board as the leg vise chop) and glued in the screw once the garter trench was plowed.  I’ll shave the hub into a something approximating a cylinder once the glue dies.  I will also drive a dowel through the hub and the screw to further secure the assembly.  I haven’t decided on a wood for the handle yet.  I’m leaning toward rived ash (surprise!).  I have some decent lengths of ash to rive into good handle, which I can shave down to round.

IMG_20180812_154823.jpg

The screw stock is a snug fit into the hole, so PVA works just as well as epoxy.

I have not yet determined how the parallel guide should work.  The leg vise chop is a 6″ wide, highly figured piece of 12/4″ ash.  And because the the legs are only 4″ wide, I should be able to mortise a 5/8″ parallel guide into the chop and secure a catch to the inside of the leg (think of the catch for the lock battens on a Dutch tool chest).  The parallel guide and the catch will probably also be quarter-sawn hard maple (like the other hard-wearing components).   And, because very little of it is internal to the bench itself, the leg vise should, theoretically, be salvageable when I next lose my mind and make another workbench.

IMG_20180812_140012.jpg

Heart-side to the bench in case it cups.

Although the parallel guide will not be perfectly centered, I might be able to get away with a pin board set-up.  But I’d rather use a shim system with a few common sizes secured to the bench with twine.  I am sure there is some combination of four shims that have specific dimensions in each orientation that will work for most tasks.

But it’s been a long week and I can’t figure that out right now.

JPG

Sometimes, Things Work Out Just Fine

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not the easiest way to make a hand tool woodworking workbench.  It’s not even fifth easiest.  But I’m the boss, and this time, the Stent Panel is in the hizzy.

IMG_20180803_231833.jpg

This is just a test fit.

Each of the legs is mortised directly into the main slab.  Because of leg stock length constraints, I was not able to do the traditional Roubo sliding dovetail joint on the front legs.  But some beefy tenons and double drawbore pegs (not shown above) will hopefully keep things together.  I find birch dowels flexible enough to resist cracking when drawboring and the color match should be okay.

IMG_20180803_225555.jpg

Front legs flush with the benchtop, like a good workbench should be.

The back legs each rake out at a 14° angle, which I calculated based on the stock I had to allow an overall footprint of 21″ and an overall height of 36.5″. Net of the heavy duty anti-fatigue rubber mat, the workbench will be 35.5″ high.  A full 1.5″ taller than my current workbench.

IMG_20180803_225910.jpg

Heart-side up, just like Andre Roubo said.

Angled internal tenons are not exactly the easiest joint to cut.  But through a combination of boring and careful paring (to match a pre-cut leg) it can be done.  By some miracle, the joints are beyond piston-fit and I could likely get away without anything but hide glue.  I don’t even know how I would drawbore the angled legs (maybe something on the drillpress?).  But I have some lovely black powder-coated square head lag bolts that seem like a good belt-and-suspenders solution for keeping everything together.

IMG_20180804_121007.jpg

Just insert tenon (bottom) into mortise (middle) at pre-determined angle (top).

The only thing left before gluing in the legs is mortising the benchtop extension posts into the slab.  I found a lovely piece of 8/4 ash at the lumberyard that will extend the benchtop to approximately 22″ (about the same as my current bench and only an inch beyond the rake of the back legs).  Being 8/4, it’s probably at equilibrium, but it still needs to acclimate for a week or so before I feel comfortable flattening it.  The posts will also be drawbored into the benchtop, so I should probably figure out holdfast hole placement before chopping those mortises.

More later in the week on the leg vise, including why I’m adding a single notched stretcher to the left side of the workbench.  I’ve already bored the screw clearance hole and applied the threaded nut.  I could have threaded the leg directly, but something tells me this setup will be longer-lasting.

IMG_20180805_175734.jpg

It’s also hide-glued on.  Two brass screws are clearly not strong enough on their own.

In the meantime, huge shoutout to Brady and Jamie who helped me push the slab through the thickness planer for just 3 more passes.

JPG

 

It’s That Time, Again

I’m taking another crack at a Stent Panel-style workbench.  In truth, I am basically copying one of the Shaker workbenches from the Pleasant Hill village in Kentucky.  Well, sort of.  I’m skipping the skewed vise-leg and the integrated tail vise.  But it will be stretcher-less, 36″ high, a shade over 7 feet long, and between 20 and 22″ deep.  The front legs will be flush to the benchtop and the back legs kick out at a 13° angle. It’ll have a tripod bench slave to match.

The foundation of the workbench is a 125″ long, 13″ wide piece of 16/4 ash.  From that, I was able to make four legs (approximately 3″ x 4″) and a slab top that is about 88″ long, 12.75″ wide and 3.75″ thick.  I will extend the benchtop by mortising a few supports into the back edge and adding an 8/4 ash shelf.  This will give me solid wood only where I need it and theoretically allow me to switch in a tool well if I ever go to the dark side.

IMG_20180721_155137.jpg

I left a bit of roughness on the underside to preserve as much thickness as possible.

There will be a proper leg vise (the chop for which is salvaged from another project).  I broke out the wood threader and made a couple of 1.5″ hard maple screws.  I have yet to decide whether to use a proper pin board parallel guide or whether to use some sort of dowel/wedge combination.  I like the idea of the wedge, but I’d rather it not be loose on the floor.  I wonder if a relatively-interference-fit guide rod and one of those plastic shim sets would eliminate the need for a wedge or pin board.

IMG_20180728_114522.jpg

When setup takes precision, always make a spare.

I also need to shape a hub and figure out a garter situation.  It’s tough without a lathe, but I can probably hand carve something.  Although not strictly necessary (because of my Crucible Tools holdfast and collection of does’ feet), I plan to add my Veritas inset vise to this workbench.  I really like this piece of hardware and think it needs to make a comeback in my life.

IMG_20180721_155330.jpg

I am skipping the Roubo sliding dovetail joint as well.

By now, you’re probably asking: what is wrong with your current workbench, James?  Nothing, really.  But I’ve never really been happy with it.  The shelf attracts clutter and I foolishly never incorporated a sliding deadman.  It’s also too low for my tastes.  34″ is great for hand planing thick stock, but literally any other operation is torture on my back.  I’m not as young as I used to be, after all.

And it will make me happy. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

In a couple of weeks, my old workbench will go up for sale.  Including the vise, I’ll probably sell it for $900.  I just want to make back the cost of the materials (including the vise).  I’ll even throw in the screw-driven crochet.

JPG

In My Defense

I am commonly asked why I spend so much time on superfluous furniture projects when there is home improvement I should be doing.  Usually, the honest answer is: “home improvement projects generally suck and I’m procrastinating”.  But every now and again, there is another answer: “because I’m practicing for an important home improvement project”.  And this is one of those very rare cases.

IMG_20180716_082753.jpg

The finished cherry table with the last scrap of the source wood for comparison.

It’s no secret that I don’t chop many mortises.  I much prefer dovetails and housing joints.  But with the double-sink vanity I’m making for the upstairs bathroom, only mortise and tenon joinery will do.  I would not describe the vanity design as “delicate”, the legs and rails will only be about 2″ square so the joints need to be as stout as possible.

The 48x13x36 reclaimed cherry console table (seen above) is done.  It served two purposes (aside from cleaning out some of the wood pile), really.

First, it allowed me to test build a Nicholson workbench if I ever go that route.  I’m impressed with the overall design.  I was able to figure it out without any real plans, so that makes me think it would be good for someone making their first workbench from construction-grade lumber.  It seems stout and scalable and not very dependent on the materials that you’ make it from.  Oak, Douglas Fir, Spruce or even White Pine all seem like they’d work just fine.

IMG_20180714_101426.jpg

The cross rails add rigidity despite the lack of a slab top.

The second purpose was to practice mortise and tenon joinery.  With such little margin for error on the relatively small dimensions of the vanity components, I’ll rely on stub tenons to hold everything together.  For aesthetic reasons, I don’t plan to drawbore the mortise and tenon joints, so piston fits will be important to lifetime bonds.  And that’s what this project allowed me to practice.  Unless I decide to learn to fox wedged tenon.

IMG_20180715_191914.jpg

Gratuitous up-frame shot.

At this point in the retrospective, I typically assess what I’d do differently on this build.  In truth, very little.  I absentmindedly broke the arrises on a few boards before the glue-up, so there are a few visible glue lines (the joint line between the apron and the tabletop as seen above comes to mind) that no amount of boiled linseed oil will hide.

But that’s about it.  Once the BLO dries, I’ll move the table into my office.

JPG

A Rebirth (of Sorts)

A great joy of life is reclaiming wood.  Both economically- and environmentally-efficient (most of the time), recycling my or someone else’s prior project into something equally (or more) beautiful and functional is about the only resurrection I still believe in.

A while back, a coworker gifted to me a solid cherry table that had been neglected.  Across a 3 foot width, the table top had cupped almost a full inch.  There was no flattening this through ordinary means.  It had to be ripped down and re-laminated if it could be saved.  But that seemed like a lot of work and I already have a dining room table.  So, instead, I took careful stock of how board feet there were and set to work re-purposing the table.

IMG_20180630_131348.jpg

The first of many glue-ups.

I’ve been fascinated by the Nicholson Workbench form for a long time, but never actually built one.  And in need of a grinding station for my new bench grinder, I set out to turn that cherry monstrosity into a light duty workbench.  It would be 48″ long, 13″ deep and about 36″ high.  Small enough to move around but big enough to stay put when pushed up against a wall.

IMG_20180704_123028.jpg

Light duty because of the depth of dadoes in order to make the aprons flush to the legs.

I drew on a number of influences, including Paul Sellers’ ubiquitous workbench and Mike Siemsen’s Naked Woodworker bench.  And then pretty much winged it.  And as the piece took shape, it became clear that this was not destined to be shop furniture.  The wood is too beautiful and the effort too great.  This one would live in the civilized world.

IMG_20180709_161136.jpg

I’ll scrape away the little bit of french polish left in spots where flatness is not critical.  

It’s no secret that I don’t chop a ton of mortises.  Most of my woodworking involves dovetails and dadoes.  So when I need to cut eight blind mortises for the leg assembles, I fall back on the most boring method of all.

IMG_20180709_200927.jpg

See what I did there?

I find that when chopping mortises by drill bit and paring chisel, the most important thing is to cut the mortise first.  And it begins at establishing a reference wall (see the check mark above) that is consistent across the piece.  If all of the reference walls correspond to the outside face of the assembly, and the corresponding tenon cheek on each rail is perfectly in line, then it doesn’t really matter what the opposite wall and opposite tenon cheek are.  They can be adjusted to fit the individual mortise (which I do with a router plane on smaller work).

The end result is a consistent reveal on the show side of the assembly (and, by extension, an assembly that has no twist or wind).

And a base that is square and true will be the first step toward a table that is square and true.

JPG