About Brian Ward

I have no idea what I'm doing.

Sliding Deadman

When I built my workbench, I did not include a sliding deadman because I was tired, lazy, etc. I said to myself that I’d add one when I needed it (or I actually felt like doing it), and just put some grooves inside the front frame of the bench.

I’d been tempted to make it several times over the past few months, but last week, as I was working on the stretchers for the new auxiliary bench, I found myself trying to square off the top of some medium-sized stretchers and not having a very good time of it. I thought to myself that I’d try the old “prop up the other end of the work with something” trick, and that was not at all pleasant.

So it was time. As I mentioned, I’d been thinking about this and had read the description in the Chris Schwarz book, and that had me worried. See, I had only plowed a measly little 1/4″ groove on both the stretcher and the underside of the workbench:

But the benches described everywhere have a triangular-profile rail (or “track”) on the bottom, and Schwarz says to plow a big, deep 1/2″ or so groove in the underside of the top so that you can clear that thing. He also integrates the track into the stretcher at times. I was worried, because I thought that maybe this was going to be a lot of work, or I otherwise screwed up in some massive way–it wouldn’t be the first time. The triangular-profile rail is a really good idea because it keeps shavings, dust, and small children out of a groove.

So in a fit of nervous twitching, I looked for a way around this. I made a rail in a triangular profile, and put a tongue on the bottom so that it would fit into the groove on the stretcher. Here’s a photo of how that looks (along with the deadman, showing the mating profile on the underside of that):

The theory here is that when you install the deadman, you do it in a unit with the rail. This way, only the tongue on the bottom of the rail needs to clear the stretcher when installing. Because this is significantly shallower than the really deep thing on the deadman, it would require far less of a groove in underside of the top.

Much to my surprise, this actually worked. Cutting that tongue on the bottom of the rail was a pain that I’d rather not recount (note to self: just tack the offcuts from the other side to my sticking board next time.).

I should mention that though I made the tongue with hand tools, I cheerfully turned to my bandsaw to do the profile on the top of the rail, as well as the channel on the bottom of the deadman. I guess I did all of the holes with a brace and auger bit (despite actually owning a drill press now):

With all of this done, it was time to see if it actually works in practice, and in that respect, it’s certainly an improvement:

There is a lingering question I have, though. In the first Schwarz book, when describing the deadman of the French bench, he says to cut a curve on each side so that you can get a hand between the deadman and a leg when up against a leg. I don’t get this; why would you need to put your hand there? It’s not to facilitate moving the deadman; you can just grab it from the other side and pull it over with zero effort.

In later work (the LVL bench), Schwarz says that a straight board will work but that a straight board is boring. I will admit that the curve makes it look cooler. But I’ve never been very cool. So I’ll leave it as-is until I have a real reason to change it.

Auxiliary Bench: Top Halves Glued

It’s been nothing but milling and glue-ups here. I’ve got the front and rear stretchers laminated, waiting for final dimensions, and the side stretchers are also nearly complete. I tackled the big task of jointing the two halves of the top and gluing them up today:

Huh, this is not looking too much different than my past post.

As was the case with my main workbench, this was a bit more painstaking than gluing up a bunch of narrow pieces because you can’t really count on any flex from the two halves. So there was a bit of back-and-forth of checking to see if the surfaces were mating, plus the annoyance of the jointer plane’s blade being not quite wide enough to swipe the whole edge at once. Oh yeah, and I don’t think my “straightedge” is as straight as it once was. Maybe I ought to do something about that.

I still have to slap on two pieces of maple on either side. I’ll probably leave this top in its current place while I do that. That should be a lot easier, as the maple is a lot thinner and more flexible.

In any case, we’re almost ready to do some legs and essentially get this project done. How long can 12 little ol’ mortise-and-tenon joints take, anyway?

Wait… don’t answer that.

Auxiliary Bench: Lamination Station

Though I’ve done a couple of shop-oriented things, most of the work I’ve been doing in the last couple of weeks has been milling and laminating stock for the new bench/table/thing/whatever it’s supposed to be. I’ve only done a little bit at a time, but at this point, I have all four legs milled to size, and the top mostly together. The top is currently in two halves, and I glued up the second half today:

The clamp situation still stinks, but I think I’ll be able to manage getting the two halves together with what I’ve got by using single clamps midway through the thickness rather than the doubling up that I’ve been doing up until now.

There’s still a bit more to go on all of this laminating, though–I haven’t started on the stretchers yet. I’ve also nearly emptied another bottle of glue, but that comes with the territory.

Coffee Table: Finished

This project is finally done and in its intended location:

Here’s the obligatory drawer-open, from-the-side photo:

For those who haven’t been following this project, the dark wood is black walnut, the lighter wood is ash. Drawer bottoms are western redcedar, and a few other parts here and there that you can’t see are tuliptree (“yellow-poplar”). Finish is the usual varnish, and this time, I waxed the top, anticipating heavier wear than usual.

The photos here show how the panels and drawers are arranged so that each side looks like it has a continuous piece of ash, framed in. This wasn’t too bad to execute, even though the drawer fronts are a lot thicker than the panels on the sides. You just have to mark stuff out and remember where everything is. It also helps to remember what your plans were in the first place, which can admittedly be a problem when a project takes as long as this one.

Quickie: Napkin Holder

I’ve had a crazy, yet admittedly modest dream for many years: That we would start using napkins instead of paper towels (as napkins, that is), and that I would make a napkin holder for the napkins. Last week, SHMBO made the decree that napkins would now be used in our household.

I was excited. See, I had grand plans for the napkin holder, involving delicate mortise-and-tenon joints and all sorts of other nonsense. These dreams pretty much evaporated the moment I took the 1/8″ mortise chisel into the ash and realized that for what I wanted to do, it would tend to split badly.

So I sat on the sawbench for about 20 minutes and fooled around with the wood that I had milled to size, and realized that I could probably make something halfway decent relatively quickly if I just sandwiched stuff together. I ended up with this:

I was careful to make the protruding napkin width equal on the two sides and the top, for whatever that’s worth. But the thing that I’m most happy about with this project is that it happened very quickly. That’s a true rarity in these parts.

Here it is without the napkins:

Auxiliary Bench: Legs Glued, Top Pieces Ripped

So it’s come to this:

I’ve got the legs glued up (laminated) and close to final dimension, and started ripping boards for the top today. And I almost apologize for the horrible lighting in the front. One of these days, I’ll get an additional light or two for this side of the bench.

I have decided to aim for a thickness of 2.5″ (65mm or so) on the top. I do this with some trepidation; I’d prefer a little thicker, but I just don’t have the wood on hand. My main Roubo-style bench (also shown above) is about 3.5″ thick. But I figure this will be OK, because I don’t actually plan to do much handwork on this thing. I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t use my main bench for planing, and on the off-chance that I decide to mortise or something on the new bench, I’d do it over a leg anyway.

I have not decided on the width. I was considering around 20″ (510mm or so), but I could go wider, again because this is not my main bench and the problems with wide benches will not matter on this new one.

Another note is that I will likely use a strip or two of hardwood for the front part of the bench, as I did with beech on my main bench. I have some soft maple on hand that should fit the bill.

I’m almost out of glue. I ordered more liquid hide glue, but I do not know when it will arrive, given current circumstances. If that does not ship soon, I do have a backup: hot hide glue. For now, though, I’m going to let those pieces for the top destress a little before I flatten and prepare them for face-jointing.

Auxiliary Workbench: Getting Started

With the coffee table in the finishing stage, it’s time to move on to the next thing. I haven’t quite figured out what the next furniture project will be, but I do have a fairly immediate need in the shop for something to help out with a number of tasks, including assembly, storage, and miscellaneous kinds of work.

There are a few partial solutions to this problem, including framing up a wall to add some shelves for storage, but due to current events, I don’t think I’ll be getting the help I’d prefer with the framing down there.

So I think I’m going to make another workbench, meant as an auxiliary to the Screwbo. The reasoning is that it will solve the immediate organizational problems, and then when I get around to framing the wall or something, I can move the new bench to another part of the shop, where I already know it will be useful.

To that end, I picked through my hoard today to get some wood to get the frame started:

This is southern yellow pine. I don’t have a good source of it here (apparently the closest big-box source is in FredericksburgRichmond), but the borg nearby has “project wood” that happens to be SYP. The catch is that, due to bad planning, it’s cut into three-and-four-foot lengths.

The length should be OK, because I’m imagining something perhaps around three and a half feet (1060mm or so) long. I haven’t decided on the benchtop thickness yet.

This will be the first “big” thing that I’ve done in SYP. I made a stand with it about a year ago and was happy the way that turned out (even if it was sort of a quickie).

In any case, it’s a fair amount of wood to mill. Time to get rolling.

Coffee Table: Drawers Trimmed and Completed

After gluing up almost any dovetails, you normally trim away the excess on the ends to make everything nice and flush. I make my half-blind dovetails especially proud so that I can get a really good kerf started next to my line. In the past, the main tool I used for trimming this stuff was my block plane. However, I picked up an inexpensive flush-cut saw at a home center in (hmm, I guess it was) Koto a year ago, and decided to try it out here:

This worked pretty well. If you’re not familiar with this kind of saw, it’s got no set (some have set on the top end only); the one I have is a little strange because it has teeth on both edges. I liked the way that this worked enough to go look for a better one the next time I’m in Japan. In any case, when you’re done, you can be left with some pretty amusing cutoffs if you’re doing half-blind dovetails:

(The photo above shows my original clamping method before I switched to clamp it down to the corner of the bench.)

After sawing, you still need to give the ends a final planing, but it’s trivial at this point.

So the drawers are ready for finishing now:

In theory, the project is nearly done. The top has all of its coats of varnish and just needs to be rubbed out. The base needs a few more, and of course, these drawers need the most.

Coffee Table: Drawer Glue-Up

Having applied the glue, I just put the second drawer for the coffee table in the clamps:

I did the first one yesterday. As I expected (because I haven’t glued up any kind of carcase construction in quite some time), that one took some wrangling, but it got there. This second one went smoothly.

Part of the trouble yesterday was in clamping. Most of my stronger clamps are also quite long and heavy, making it difficult to clamp smaller gaps at the top of a piece without tipping over or at least having difficulty manipulating them. To help matters a little, I bought a pair of shorter pipes for my pipe clamps today, which I put to use here.

But as it happens, I do find myself somewhat clamp-challenged at the moment. Back in California, I was fortunate to have been able to borrow a number of pipe clamps from a friend when I needed them. The two that I have now came from a yard sale about a year ago. I’d like to pick up a few more this year. I guess the PATINA Damascus sale is in two weeks, though I’m a little skeptical about finding clamps there. I’ve had the best luck with clamps at yard sales; I just haven’t gone to many lately.

Coffee Table: Gluing Up Drawer Bottoms in a Less Idiotic Way

Yesterday’s oafishness had a predictable result: One of the panel pieces rode up ever so slightly in the rear, so I’ll need to plane that down a little more than desired. For the second drawer bottom, I came to my senses and did it this way:

This looks somewhat complicated, but it’s not. Instead of the twine that I was originally going to use, I used the ratcheting tie-down straps that I also use for securing lumber to my roof rack. The ratcheting mechanisms are underneath the bench, upside-down. It’s also a decent excuse for keeping weird little cut-offs around.

This method takes a little longer to set up, but is more effective, and is easier to manipulate.