woodworking tools

Front and Center

None of us are as young as they used to be.  I’m in my mid thirties now and I don’t stoop over the work as well as I used to.  As a mostly hand tool woodworker that dovetails more often than not, I’ve gotten accustomed to a clamp-on, twin screw vise (what many call a “Moxon Vise”) that raises the work slightly above the benchtop.  As my original twin screw vise was starting to wear out, I more and more just relied on my sort-of shoulder vise (it’s actually a crochet with a screw).  But that is not a permanent solution, unless I become a sit down woodworker.  And I’m far too fidgety for that.

So a more permanent solution has been born.

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Fine furniture, it ain’t.

My original inspiration was Jeff Miller’s benchtop bench.  At its heart, though, this is a twin screw vise with some extra work surface.  The work surface is 24″ long, 13″ deep (including the inside jaw) and 3″ thick.  Including the feet, it raises the work over 6″ off the benchtop, which equates to about 40″ from the floor.  That height is comfortable for me at 5’10”.

The vise has just over 24″ between the screws, and it opens to over 5″ wide.  More than enough capacity for things like saw vises and tenoning work.

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Very stable.

I like this form because it is so stable.  Many purist twin screw vises are tippy, both while clamping it to the workbench and when working at max extension.  Suffice to say, this one is not.

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Quite a bit of counterbalance to the vise jaws.

The new benchtop bench is admittedly Frankenstein-esque in its composition.  The work surface is four sheets of 3/4″ plywood.  The vise jaws are both 8/4 red oak (bone dry and lined with adhesive backed cork from the home center), as are the feet (with non-skid ladder tread applied to the bottom).  The wooden screws are 1 1/4″ hard maple, threaded with a Beall Tool Company wood threader.  The vise nuts are 5/4 ash.

The inner jaws are tapped to hold the wooden screws; the threads on the wood screws terminate for a tight lock to the jaws.  The outer jaws have 1 1/4″ clearance holes, drilled with a different drill bit that is slightly larger than the one used for tapping (but not so large that there is risk of wracking).  The vise nuts are also tapped with the Beall Tool Company kit.

You may have noticed how chunky the design is.  The source material has a lighter feel, but this is not a magazine piece.  Two recesses on each leg create trestles which are sufficient for clamping.  Any further aesthetics (including shaping the vise nuts) would have added to the build time.

Before the benchtop bench gets put to work, I’ll secure the feet (which are currently just glued on) with lag screws coming down from the top.  I also have not secured the wooden screws to the back jaw yet, as this is technically a prototype.  Securing the screws would take as little as a 1/4″ dowel through the inner jaw and the screw itself.  I may also add dogging capability.

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I also must chamfer the outer jaw all around.

This project was long overdue.  I have a ton of dovetailing coming up, which was a good excuse to finally get this done.  But more on that later.

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This One Goes to Eleven

No, not really.  It actually only goes to 15/16, but that’s okay.  I finished the moving fillister plane.  I’m super proud of the result.

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I have since added a coat of BLO and some furniture wax.

You may have noticed the black racing stripe.  In addition to texture for a better grip, the blank paint hides some nasty tearout from the grip recess.  Dammit, why do I always reveal my secrets?  At least no one will ever mistake my plane for theirs.

I should note that this version is in every way superior to my first attempt, unless you count a slightly too wide throat.  But with the skewed iron and a more refined escapement, it shouldn’t be a big deal.  After quite a few tests, regular shavings eject consistently, whether across- or with- the grain.  Fine, cross-grain shavings bind a little bit, but it’s nothing that can’t be cleared occasionally with a mechanical pencil.

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The angle is right, but it’s a little wide.

Other than the skew iron, there are a few improvements since the first iteration.  The scoring spur extends a bit further this time.  In fact, both the scoring spur and the iron are ever so slightly proud of the body.  This (I learned from Roy Underhill) is the key to a crisp and plumb shoulder on the rabbet.  The screws for the fence are also flush with the fence itself.

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I will eventually reinforce the slots with brass, like the version I copied.

I do not plan to add a depth stop to this plane.  I’ll just mark the depth and clean everything up with a router plane after.  That’s how I’ve been doing it for a while, and I find the traditional depth stop is not that reliable.  And a full-length depth stop may interfere with the escapement.

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So there you have it!

It’s still TBD whether I caught the planemaking bug.  I do have another 6 feet or so of quartersawn hard maple and I just picked up a bench grinder, so who knows what the future holds?

Rabbets.  The future holds rabbets.

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Something More Fancy

Rehabbing a moving fillister plane I recently came into hasn’t gone so well.  About halfway through (i.e., trying to figure out how to get the iron back in alignment with the wear edges), I decided just to make another moving fillister plane.  Seeing as I never got around to the matching right hand version of the DIY rebate plane, this is long overdue.

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Here is where I am so far.

I’m sticking pretty close to the traditional design, even re-purposing the iron from the original.  But there are a few changes in my version, which I’d like to talk about.

Materials

The original is made of beech, a very traditional wood for planemaking.  My version, however, is made from quartersawn hard maple.  Also, instead of starting from a single 10/4 billet, mine is laminated from two 5/4 billets.  I rarely work in anything harder than ash, so hopefully, using hard maple will allow me to skip the boxing on the wear edge.

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Compare the two woods.

I also opted for the “use what’s on hand” approach for the wedge.  In this case, a piece of perfectly quartersawn 0.5″ red oak left over from the original shop-made rebate plane.  I think it came out pretty well.  Red oak has the added benefit being softer than the body of the plane, so the wedge will compress a bit for a perfect fit.

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It helps to have a pattern to work from.

Construction

Even had I started from a single 10/4 quatersawn billet, I don’t own all the planemakers floats I’d need.  For example, refining the wedge mortise without a side float would have been a nightmare.  So to get around this, I cut a shallow wedge mortise in the first billet and then transferred those angles to my miter saw.  When those two trapezoidal pieces were PVA glued onto the first billet, I had a full-depth wedge mortise.

But the wedge mortise on a moving fillister plane is closed, so closing it up meant using a dutchman.  A sliding dovetail shape might have been more structural, but the square shape allows me to remove the dutchman if I ever need to modify the wedge mortise.  I used hide glue for this joint (for reversibility).  Despite the sub-optimal color match, I’m pretty pleased with the fit and the results.

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Grain direction on the dutchman should match the body of the plane to avoid tearout.

The glued-in dutchman closes the wedge mortise and locks everything in place.  I was careful to remove any glue squeeze-out from the wedge mortise, but in the future, if I use this technique again, I will mask everything before gluing.  And I may add two screws to reinforce the patch.

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All closed up.

Most of what remains for the main body of the plane is shaping.  I must square the front of the plane, add the thumb rabbet on the escapement side and roundover or chamfer the rest of the hard corners.  Everything will be sealed with boiled linseed oil.  Also, I am 99% certain I will use a wheel marking gauge cutter as the scoring spur, rather than add a traditional wedged nicker.  That approach has worked well on the first incarnation.

After that, I’ll make the fence and depth stop.  Actually, I haven’t decided whether to include a depth stop.  But in any event, it’s time to buy some brass bar stock.

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A Small Oversight

I’ve been on a shop appliance kick lately, including some necessary upgrades for the workshop itself. In addition to finally hanging some proper lighting, I also added a parallel clamp rack to the side wall. I have two more such racks; I just need some more washers to hang them correctly.

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Much harder to knock down, now.

I also felt it was time for a tool rack on the back side of the workbench, a la Monsieur Roubo. With a scrap of 1/2″ baltic birch and some pine offcuts, I knocked together a rack that gets the spacing right for my chisels and other everyday tools.

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Holes on 1 5/8″ center are just right for Narex chisels (rather than the 1 1/8″ in my tool chest).

I am 100% certain this would have been a 20-minute job if I owned a table saw. Instead, it was about 2 hours of planing, spacing and gluing (not including drying time), but the result was worth it.

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That block plane is a clamp.

There is only one problem: I never squared the back edge of my workbench. Time to debate whether to remove the top from the frame so I can square the back edge, or just attach a wedge to level out the surface.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make a “Basic Project” out of it.

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A Loving Home

A package came in the mail on Saturday.  James over at The Daily Skep was gracious enough to gift to me the box he made for his custom box for a Veritas Large Router Plane.  I am happy to say the box now has a new home in my tool chest.

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Fits very nicely.

For those who haven’t seen it before, it holds the plane itself, the fence and some additional blades, with a sliding lid.  I am particularly fond of the bits of veneer that hold the plane in place in the well.  It feels very Dutch tool chest-like in its own way.

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I seem to have one more extra blade than James.

Thanks very much, James.  By the way, if you’re not a reader of The Daily Skep, you should be.

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Baby Steps

Having acquired a 19th century English joiner’s chest from my godfather, and somehow managing to get it into the back of my car (with my father’s help), I was faced with the great challenge of getting it out of the car and into the workshop (without any help).  After pulling out the tills and most of the tools , it was still too awkward to lug into the house.  Saw benches and rolling dollies to the rescue.

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Ignore the lawn.  My landscaper was scheduled for the next day.

I think it’s worth mentioning that the overall dimensions are 37″ long, by 22″ wide by 19″ high.  Subtract 1.5″ all around to get the true size of the carcase.  That makes it somewhere between the full Anarchist’s Tool Chest and the traveling variety.  That’s a long way of saying it is every bit large enough for my entire set of hand tools.  And that’s a very long way of saying I’ve officially abandoned that large Dutch tool chest I was building.

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I was pretty close too.  And yes, I realize I went overboard with the screws on the bottom lip.

The chest clearly needs some cleanup work, but I have no reason to believe I’m not up to the task.  But before I get too far along that route, I think an inventory is in order.

More on that next time.

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To Cherish, Always

Last week, I learned that my godfather is very ill.  While we are not particularly close, we’ve always gotten along, and I recently learned he is a woodworker.  I went to visit last weekend.  Just to see how he was doing, and maybe check out his workshop that I’d heard a little about.  What transpired since has literally changed my life.

When I went downstairs into his basement workshop, the first thing I saw was a beautiful metalworker’s vise on a sturdy tinker’s bench.  I admired it and took a picture. Next to that, in the corner, was a joiner’s chest, buried beneath a pile of expired (and ostensibly leaking) West Systems epoxy containers and 30 years of dust.

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I’ve seen worse.

It was immediately apparent that the raised panel on the lid was not attached properly, having split long ago in many places.  In striking contrast, the miters on the lower skirt, nailed at the corners, remained perfect. And both the dust seal and the upper skirt had well fitted metal banding, creating a double rabbet on the dust seal.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I opened it.  Turns out, this is no ordinary tool chest.

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Never judge a tool chest by its split raised panel.

My godfather was willing to part with it, and I have since brought the chest home with me.  What will follow is my journey through restoring the chest and the tools inside, and making it and them my own.  And hopefully learning more about the chest, its maker and my godfather.

More to come.

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DIY Bench Dogs

The dog holes on my workbench are 1″, to accommodate my Crucible Tool Holdfast, which I love more and more each day.  Well, except the legs, which use 3/4″ dog holes to accommodate my Gramercy Tools Holdfasts.  I love these holdfasts as well, but they have been relegated to deadman duty.  So when it came to time to get 1″ bench dogs, I had two choices: (i) drop $100+ on four metal dogs or (ii) spend $6 on an oak dowel and follow the instructions.  My woodworking budget for the week was already spent on quartersawn 8/4 white oak, so DIY bench dogs won out.  Three only took about half an hour to make, and most of that was sanding to fit.  I’ll add the bullet catches when they arrive this week.

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I used a bevel gauge to ensure the angle is exactly 2 degrees (not really).

Like any good project, I bloodied myself a bit making these.  60 grit sandpaper is basically sharp pebbles glued to a piece of paper, and my left thumb now looks like a miniature Freddy Krueger came after me.

Like I always say, if you don’t bleed for (on?) the project, it’s not real woodworking.

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Glamour Shots

Does anyone remember glamour shots?  Those airbrushed-to-all-hell personal photos that could make anyone look good?  They were like the Barbara Walters interview of photos.  I’m sure they still exist, because human vanity still exists.

I ask for a very specific reason (and the title of this post is not arbitrary).  I finished the front vise on my new workbench.  And it’s beautiful.

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Soft focus and natural light only.

Aesthetically, it’s everything it’s supposed to be.  The lines are clean, the color match on the jaw and hub are fantastic, and the walnut handle offers a nice contrast.  And look how perfectly it cinches down to the benchtop!

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There is even a bit of wain to give it a rustic look.

But looks aren’t everything.  Truth is: the vise doesn’t work very well.  There is too much play in the maple guide peg, so the vice wracks in all directions.  It works okay with wide stock that can sit on the screw and the peg while I work an edge, but it’s useless for cinching narrow pieces at the top of the jaw.  It also works okay as a crochet for very wide stock that extends below the bottom of the law, but the maple peg wedges itself in the guide hole (like a holdfast) and it’s a pain to free up.

Could I find a metal collar to tighten the guide hole, or otherwise fiddle with it some more, and make the vise work better?  Probably.  Will I?  No.  It’s a sunk cost at this point.  I can re-purpose the jaw for something else and there is nothing wrong with the screw (although I would bet the hub gets trimmed down before it sees use again).  There’s a reason the vise nut is attached to the bench with only hide glue.

One of the hardest things in woodworking, and in life generally, is admitting failure and moving on.  My attempt at a completely wooden front vise has failed.

My heat gun and I are moving on.

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After Further Review

A funny thing happened today when I woke up and went into the shop. Calipers in hand, ready to measure for the plug I was going to make, I decided to give it one more shot. I positioned the holdfast to the left over a scrap of wood, and whacked it with a sledge. Nothing.

Undeterred, I gave it another whack, this time holding the shaft steady as I drove it in. It felt like it seated a bit. After a third whack, it felt like it was grabbing. The fourth whack, it set tightly. Hmm.

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It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

And it works pointed right as well.

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This is not a political metaphor (yet).

I guess the trick is to hold the shaft steady as you drive it in. So, much less sad than yesterday, I bought a corded drill and made a plumb jig to bore the remaining holes (seen above).

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Much like ‘Murica itself, this drill was assembled here with foreign components.

It’s always good to sleep on it.

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