Goofs Illustrated: Workbench

When it dawned on me that I needed a workbench, I really didn’t know my requirements. The only thing that I knew for sure is that it had to be really strong, pretty heavy, and be able to resist racking forces. I hadn’t studied workholding all that well, but there is so much conflicting information on this subject that it probably wouldn’t have helped.

Now that I’ve used the bench that I made for about four years (and read about many other kinds of benches), I have a much clearer picture, and, well, it’s time to evaluate how I did. Since this post falls under the “goofs” series, you probably have an idea of how this is going to go.

However, let’s start with something that really worked for me: the base.

It’s a very simple knockdown design secured with bolts and captured nuts out of douglas-fir. In general, bigger is better when building the base. I used lone 2x4s for the legs on my first build, and despite looking a little flimsy in the front-to-back direction, it still worked fine. One of the reasons is that I used big 2x8s as stretchers in the front and back. That created so much surface area that a simple butt joint secured with the bolt meant that it never, ever racked side-to-side.

However, it was still a little on the light side for what I wanted, so when I moved out of the apartment and to my first shop, I replaced the legs with 4x4s and the side stretchers with 2x8s.

That change removed any doubts I had about this design. The Schwarz slightly poo-poos knockdown construction, complaining that you have to tighten up the bolts from time to time. I have not run into this as an actual problem. It’s just not that hard of a thing to do, and it’s not like it happens all of the time, either, especially when your wood is reasonably dry and stable (think douglas-fir), and you have an enormous joint mating area. I may have done it twice during the whole time I’ve used my bench.

With the added mass, I didn’t have a problem with the bench moving around as I used it in the old shop. I do have that problem when using the frame saw in the new shop, however (but not when planing or anything else). It’s primarily because the polished concrete floor is significantly slippery. I need to put down some really grippy rubber feet to fix this (or something of that nature).

I also put an improvised shelf in almost immediately–just a piece of plywood suspended over two boards. I put my larger bench planes there. It’s a great feature to have on a bench.

The top I used was a mixed bag of results. On one hand, it’s thick enough to take a pounding and it’s reasonably heavy. On the other hand, it really didn’t want to stay flat, it still could have been a little thicker, and it’s too deep. Let’s look at these one-by-one.

When I bought the top (an Ikea countertop made from beech), it was quite flat, but it started sagging at some point. I don’t know when that was, but it was pretty severe by the time I decided to flatten it. If I’d been paying attention, I would have flattened it earlier. It seems to be OK now, though. Sure, you have to flatten all workbench tops, but I have a feeling that something a little thicker wouldn’t have moved so much (unless it was a solid hardwood slab).

Yes, thicker would have been better. Being beech, the top was fine for taking a pounding as long as you were working near a leg (and that’s what you’re supposed to do anyway). However, a thickness of not even two inches has two weaknesses. The first is that it’s not as heavy as it could be. That’s not such a big deal, but the second issue is that it was difficult to mount the front vise. The model I have really wants something thick, and if you don’t have that, you have to improvise. I did so in an odd way; I’ll talk about that in a bit. But let’s not forget about the lack of dog holes in the front–I couldn’t put any in at that thickness.

The final problem with the top is that it’s too deep. That wasn’t a problem at my old shop, with the bench flush against the wall, but it’s no longer in that configuration, and I have a lot less room to walk around now. And stuff accumulates at the rear of the bench. Given the shop’s current transitional state of tool storage, there’s not much I can do about that, except that if I didn’t have that space, I’d actually be forced to resolve the tool storage issue and not have this problem in the first place.

Now, let’s talk about the junction between the top and base. Much has been written about the advantages of aligning the top and base along the front of the bench, and they aren’t lies. I should have done this and it’s still an option. Were I to do this, I’d need to bring my front vise chops into alignment as well (see below). One thing I’ll say about the top overhang is that I wonder why I put in an overhang of a half-inch at the rear of the bench.

Yeah, that’s just weird.

The top is attached to the base with flimsy L-bracket-style hardware. Strangely enough, it works. The top is so heavy that even with the most measly of lag screws holding things together, it never moves. It doesn’t vibrate. This still surprises me, given what the benchtop has to endure. Were I doing this over again, I’d probably do mortises just to keep it aligned (it’s a pain to put the top back on when you move from place to place), but I wouldn’t do Schwarz-style through mortises. They just don’t need to be that deep. However, it should be secured in some way just to keep the top from jumping around.

Keep in mind that this particular junction matters a lot more if you’ve got a leg vise. With a leg vise, you’re typically applying (very strong) pressure from the legs to the top, so something flimsy like my current setup wouldn’t work. However, if you’re using a front vise, that’s mounted on the top alone, so it doesn’t matter as much. I have my own ideas for the ideal joint in this situation, but they are just ideas at the moment.

So, speaking of workholding, I learned a lot about it from this bench. Before I even installed the front vise, I used a Veritas Wonder Dog, homemade bench dogs, clamps, and a handscrew to get things done. I still haven’t installed a tail vise-like thing (see below). You don’t need too many dog holes, and I prefer the round ones because they’re just more flexible.

You don’t need an end vise, but they are faster to move into position. If you decide not to do an end vise, you should probably put a couple more intermediate dog holes at the end, and bore a second set of aligned holes so that you have two points of pressure for the double-wedge method. You will use this method eventually, even if you have a wonder dog, because the wonder dog is hard to use with thinner boards.

And then there’s the matter of the front vise and the overhang.

My install of the front vise is, to say the least, one of the stranger features of the bench. Due to the way that the Jorgensen front vises are designed, you secure it through the front and underneath (other manufacturers have you do it all from the bottom). And here’s where the thickness of the bench got to be an issue again. The vise wants a certain thickness that I don’t have, so I ended up shimming the bottom and the front of the vise. The result looks strange, and in use, it’s got some “special” working qualities. If I were doing this again, I would glue a thick strip of hardwood or douglas-fir to the front of the bench as an apron-like thing, inset the vise into that, get everything flush to the front of the bench, and be done with it.

The major issue is the overhang. Much has been written about the advantages of having the top flush with the front legs, so I won’t bother with repeating that here. But another disadvantage is that if you have a front vise sticking out with so much overhang like this, if you put something really heavy in there, the bench gets to be a bit front-heavy. It’s not enough to have it tip over, but it is enough to get the rear legs to very slightly lift up when you’re doing a heavy sawcut (not coincidentally, the most likely thing you’re going to do when clamping something very heavy).

Despite the strangeness, the front vise does a pretty good job, about as well as you can expect for a vise of this design. The quick-release design is polarizing. On one hand, it’s very fast. A half-turn back and it releases. On the other hand, you can’t use the vise for spreading operations, as you would be able to on a model with the little release trigger. One common complaint about these types is that the guide bars make it difficult to secure boards vertically (for dovetailing, for example). The good news is that the guide bars of this model are well-made, so the racking is kept to a minimum. I hardly ever need to use spacers to even things out.

An advantage by accident is that having the vise protrude so much allows you to get behind the cut when you’re sawing tenons.

So that’s the bench evaluation–that’s what I’ve learned from this one. There are lots of things I could do to improve this bench, but I won’t. Why?

Because I’ve got the green light to make a new bench. And I’ve already started.

Five Years of Galoototron

It’s been five years since I made my first post on this blog. At that time, it was on Livejournal, and I was doing it just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Apparently, I’m still posting, so because it’s been a nice “even” number of years since I started, I figure I ought to do a review post because I have nothing better to do.

(You won’t see too many of these posts on this blog, so bear with me.)

Before starting, I should mention something about the name of the blog. It doesn’t mean anything. It was just something that rolled off my tongue. It is a dippy name, it’s difficult to remember, and I’ve always been open to changing it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything better at the time, and that condition persists to this day.

The first post is my introduction, but perhaps there’s a little more that I can add to it. At that point, I had never done anything resembling semi-advanced woodworking. In hindsight, this was a natural time for me to start because I’d finally gotten some measure of stability in my life after years of grad school, moving across the country, working in crazy environments, and living in cramped places. I’d moved into that particular San Francisco apartment not too long before. It was nice and roomy, I lived alone, and I finally had some extra time. Sure, I’d like to have started earlier in life. I didn’t, so there’s no point in thinking about that.

Regarding tools: I don’t know what was going on in my mind, but I must have been researching old tools quite a bit. For example, how did I know that I needed to sharpen my own saws at that time? My initial tool list wasn’t too far-off. I still haven’t bought a shoulder plane unless you want to count the mini Veritas version. And although I have a miter box, I haven’t used it (I haven’t even sharpened the saw). But I had one special tool right-on, and that was the Winchester handsaw I’d picked up (but never used) in 2003, three years before starting. It was a long time before I actually sharpened that thing, but ever since, it’s really been one of my favorite tools.

That a very common style of saw is special to me may provide some insight into the type of woodworking that I like to do now. I feel that I went after too many planes in the beginning, and did not realize the amount of work that saws do. In time, I began to appreciate saws more and more, and even made a few of my own.

I thought that I would be very project-oriented when I first started. I had the idea to make bookshelves–perhaps I believed that I’d make them within a year? I was wrong. I still haven’t made a set of bookshelves (I did make a prototype). What I did instead was learn the process of milling wood and basic joints. The first larger thing that I put together was my workbench, followed by tools such as my mallet and scrub plane.

But about a year and a half into the process, I slowly made a dovetailed box, and that got things rolling. Though I didn’t have much time to work on it, that box went together more smoothly than I expected, and I still use it. By this time, things were changing in my life, and soon enough, I moved from the apartment to a house that actually had room for a shop. I spent the first few months trying to get organized there:

Then I started to build projects in earnest. The first big one was the shoe rack, which took some time but ultimately was a success. That was followed by the prototype bookshelf, the stool, and the first nightstand–I did all three of those projects in less than a year. At the same time, I made some shop improvements such as the saw till.

Incidentally, I switched the blog to the galoototron.com domain about a half-year after I moved to this shop. It was September 2009, and this shoe rack post was the first on the new domain. Before the switch, no one other than some family and friends knew about the blog, but then I started to tell a few more people (such as Luke Townsley at unpluggedshop.com) about it. Suddenly a lot more people than I really ever expected were reading this thing. That’s about as far as I ever went to promote it, though, and I don’t have plans to change that. I do appreciate all of the comments that I get from fellow woodworkers.

In retrospect, the two years I had in that shop were pivotal. I went from dorking around with tools and wood on a somewhat irregular basis to building projects. I gained speed and confidence in my joinery. The shop itself had a lot to do with this. No longer did I have to be completely fastidious about cleaning up after each session–I could leave a small amount of shavings or sawdust on the floor and it didn’t matter. Because I had enough room, I could put down my work at any time and pick it up again whenever I had the chance. This helped me establish a work pattern; I’d come home from work and have fun with a project for as little as 10 minutes or as much as an hour and a half before finishing for the day. I could even do a little in the morning before I went to work.

Of the projects I built in that shop, the nightstand seems like an obvious choice for a favorite, and it is. However, the little stool is a co-favorite:

The nightstand was the last project I completed there. Then, in the span of a few months, life got really busy, and after that, I moved again.

The new place also had room for a shop but it was more “raw”–as part of a garage, I really had to work to define the space. The old shop had room for me to put tools on tables all over the place. It was mostly disorganized, but I sort of knew where everything was, so I managed. There was no room for that in the new shop. To make up for it, I was allowed to hang cabinets, racks, and hooks on the walls and ceiling to my heart’s desire.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the new shop organized quickly enough for my taste. Part of this was a chicken-and-egg problem; the tool cabinet is an example of this. My first task in the new shop was to get some of the tools on the walls, and I had to finish the cabinet so that I could put tools in there. Unfortunately, my tools were all packed away in boxes (from the move) that surrounded the workbench. I really had no idea where anything in particular was and I didn’t have places to put them temporarily.

At the same time, I also had more furniture to make. The second nightstand project kicked off this year, and it turned out to be far more complicated and time-consuming than I expected. (And I’m still working on it, but I’m almost done.)

Every now and then, I add to the wall storage in the shop. That situation isn’t fully resolved (see below), but it is much better. Things are getting done, and I have to say that I prefer the new shop to the old one.

Also, I’m making a concerted effort to work out some of the annoying little stumbling blocks that I have to deal with from time to time. The two biggest problems I come across are tool and project storage (both temporary and permanent) and workholding. I have plans to solve those soon.

Going forward with projects, I have a long list in front of me. The most pressing, according to those in the know, is an entertainment center. We’re also looking at the rest of the living room–coffee table, bookshelves, who knows what. With the exception of our couch, the living room furniture is crap and it makes sense to concentrate on that room. Whatever I do, I’ve decided that I’m not going to make anything as brutally complicated as the second nightstand project(s) for a while.

But then again, I may just make more complicated things. Here’s how.

The title of this blog is no lie. Everything I do is by hand, and that includes stock preparation. I didn’t go down this road out of principle or some other similarly silly reason. I did it primarily out of interest and necessity–the apartment I once lived in was no place for power tools.

Unfortunately, it turns out that flattening, thicknessing, and resawing by hand is a lot of work. A large majority of my time and effort goes into stock preparation. That’s not even mentioning how much time I spend sharpening plane blades as I go. It’s getting out of hand. I can flatten a board quickly now (and wow am I glad I learned), resawing isn’t so incredibly horrible when you keep your saw blade sharp, but that last step of getting down to final thickness is totally bogus when you have to repeat it dozens of times, even with my scrub plane that can take off 1/16″ at a time.

So I think I’m going to get myself a stupid lunchbox-style thickness planer sometime in the new year. I’ll continue to flatten stuff by hand–it’s a great way to get to know the wood and the board that you’re about to use–but when it comes to getting that other side down to something reasonable, I won’t think twice about feeding it to a machine. I’ve got furniture to build and I do not have the time to lollygag.

However, the blog remains the same. The preceding paragraph (I hope) will be the only mention. I don’t plan to write about it when it happens, and I’ll continue to do all joinery by hand.

At this point, it would be remiss not to mention that I’ve had help. Schwarz says that the modern woodworker works alone and I think he’s wrong. Even if one never meets another woodworker in person, and even if one never takes part on a discussion forum online, the modern woodworker has an incredible resource mass available. It’s sometimes easy to overlook that a person wrote what’s on your screen, and when you learn something from someone, that person is very much with you in spirit as you work.

And wow, have a lot of people been working with me in spirit in my shop. There are just too many to list, but I’d really like to thank anyone who’s written anything that I’ve learned from or even read.

Also, there are the BAGs (Bay Area Galoots). Several of you have really helped me out in more direct ways–lending me tools, giving advice, being generally cool, that sort of thing.

Now, back to the work on the new nightstand projects. Progress has been (inexplicably) made.

Workbench Distraction

I finished the frames for the doors of the tool cabinet project the other day, meaning that the only wooden pieces that I hadn’t made were the panels for the doors and the rear. Panels, of course, mean that I have to use the frame saw, which is never terribly enjoyable, but since this is pine, it at least didn’t take forever to go through the near-11″ wide board that I used (maybe 20 minutes, not sure).

Cleaning up the newly-resawn panels, however, meant that I had to dig up my low-profile bench dogs and try to get things as flat as possible. And that’s how I eventually lost my mind, because panels have still been a bit fiddly for me because my bench is, how shall we say, “not very flat.” The top had been sagging in the center by quite a bit for some time now. Because the panels I needed to plane are very flexible, it was getting hard to position them to get good contact with the plane.

After whacking away at a panel for a while with my deeply-cambered jack plane, I took the panel off, looked at the corner of the bench I was using, looked at the plane again, and started planing again without the panel:

Then I tried planing the panel again:

Ooh–much, much better. The flat bench let the Taiwanese plane really shine when smoothing those panels.

With these panels flattened, I sat back for a while and thought about the bench. I was expecting horrible tearout when I planed the top, because it’s basically a bunch of little blocks finger-jointed together and edged-glued. (I’m sure they don’t take handplanes into consideration when they make these things.) But to my surprise, there was very little, even with that blade taking out thick shavings.

I’d been avoiding flattening the bench because the top isn’t so thick in the first place, anyway. But even though I am considering making a new bench soon, this was just getting ridiculous–the sag was more than 1/8″. I took out the blade of the jack plane, gave it a good fresh sharpening, and set for a really deep cut. Then I cleared all of the crap off the bench and got medieval on the entire benchtop:

When I decided to call it a day, I had a huge pile of shavings, a blade that wasn’t exactly sharp anymore (funny what beech with a lot of glue will do), and a nearly flat workbench. I’d say that it needs a little more work with a fore and/or jointer plane, but after I do that, this should be much less of a headache for the immediate future.

Benchtop Alteration: Cause: Surprise Veritas Quick-Release Tail Vise

Just as I was getting ready to get started on a new project (or tool), something pops up. In this case, it’s the following:

Thanks to Alex, Jasen, Calvin, Rachel, and Paul for giving this to celebrate a, er, “major life change” (sorry for the vagueness, but I prefer not to go into personal stuff much in this blog).

I had a chance to dig it out and look at it today, and you can see that I’ve got to make some decisions on how I want to install this:

The stock instructions from Lee Valley show mounting the vise jaw as an extension to a bench apron. Of course, I don’t have one of those, nor is my benchtop very thick, and furthermore, my benchtop does not have much overhang.

This overhang is the major issue. It seems that you need a little more than 16″ of overhang on the end of your bench to mount this sucker, or otherwise, it’s going to get in the way of your legs. My bench doesn’t have anywhere near that–it’s more like 6.5″ on each side, so I can’t even just shove the top over.

So if I want to use this vise sometime in the near future, I have to make some sort of serious or semi-serious modification. There are these options:

  • Make a new top. I have enough beech to do this, and I could also look for some reclaimed stuff.
  • Extend the top by replacing the front.
  • Make an entirely new bench. [Ed: This is what I eventually did.]
  • Attempt to make it into a wagon vise.
  • Attempt to make an L-shaped jaw. Unlike the traditional tail vise jaw, this would be rotated 90 degrees. This is kind of a crazy idea but it might just work and it might be the easiest of the options, because the vise only travels 7″ or so.

In any case, there’s some thinking to do, especially because I had wanted to think about what to do about the front overhang. The Gospel of Schwarz says that the front should line up flush with the legs and I agree. I’ve been itching to make this change to my bench but it does require some work. Perhaps making a new bench would be easier, but do I need another bench? It’s tempting to use the current bench as an auxiliary, especially because I like to clamp stuff to its top, and the edge is great for the bench hook.

Oh well. Lots of thinking to do.

[Ed.: Phil Lang provided this link for what Konrad Sauer did.]

Making Low-Profile Bench Dogs

One problem I’ve had with several projects in the past is that my bench dogs protrude from the bench just enough to get in the way when planing thinner panels (such as 1/4″ ones). I’ve gotten around this in the past with a number of kludges, but this time, I decided that I would do something about it before milling the nightstand panels. It seemed that it was possible to create a low-profile dog that would really grip well–one particular problem with planing panels is that they can slip off of dogs, so I wanted to avoid that.

I started by cutting off a length of 3/4″ hard maple dowel. For this kind of dog, a tough, hard wood is best. This particular stock was slightly more than 3/4″, so I had to thin it up a little with a spokeshave before anything else (the first use of my Taiwanese wooden spokeshave, yay!).

Next, I drilled a radial hole straight through the center with my trusty Millers Falls #2, then pounded a short length of 1/8″ dowel into that hole:

The 1/8″ dowel here is yellow-poplar, but it could be anything. It won’t be subject to very much force.

Then I did the following:

  1. Sliced off a piece at the top so that there would be a flat face for the work to abut against.
  2. Drilled a smaller radial hole perpendicular and intersecting the first hole (with my trusty Millers Falls #5, sigh, too many eggbeaters).
  3. Drove a brad through this hole from the back of the dog, just enough to jut out the front at the flat face just created.
  4. Hacksawed off the brad at the back of the dog, filed that smooth, then drove it into the back a little more with a nail punch.
  5. Sawed off the top of the dog to bring the top just above the smaller dowel.

That’s a mouthful, but this picture of the finished product should explain it all fairly well:

You can see that the idea is to push the panel being milled into the brad so that it won’t ride up.

I made two of these, and two without the flat face and brad. This latter type is mostly for auxiliary support when planing across the grain. Then I had to see if all of this effort was actually going to amount to something.

They work well. Here’s how they would look in use when planing straight along the grain (no vise required):

They really do keep the board in place, and you can see that they don’t obstruct anything–they’re just a little more than 1/8″ off the top of the bench when in a hole. A planing stop (with the same sort of brads, of course) could be useful for keeping the work from “jackknifing” when planing along the edge, but I found that repositioning is fast enough. A wagon vise would also be a great help here, but still unnecessary.

Armed with these new little doodads, I had just enough time today to make one nightstand panel from the board shown in the preceding image:

Sometimes, you just need to make a lot of shavings.

Nightstand: Legs Milled, Bench Scraped, Etc.

Today, I thought I would have the opportunity to get a lot of stuff done on the nightstand. It turns out that I didn’t get quite so much accomplished, at least in terms of the project. The legs are now milled to profile, which is great, because they’re the longest pieces in the project:

Further evidence that I should really make a saw bench sometime is that I managed to scrape up part of the bench while ripping the board:

Yeah, oops. It’s cosmetic, of course, but it begs the question of how I managed to do that in the first place. Well, I had the board held down over the edge of the bench while I started the cut. On cuts like this, I tend to do the first 1/3 of the cut over on the left side of the vise, and then move the board over to the right of the vise when finishing the cut.

This would be a lot easier on a sawbench, especially without a stupid vise in the way. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that I just don’t feel that I have the time for at the moment because I have to concentrate on the current project. On the list of other things that I should do sometime is really redo my bench top–move it flush to the legs according to the Gospel of Schwarz, get the rear vise jaw flush with the front, and maybe thicken up the top. Maybe I’ll have time for the sawbench at least when I’m finished with the nightstand.

But after the legs were milled, it occurred to me that there was one little thing that I really did need to address at the moment, and that was my jointer plane. The one I’ve been working with up until now is a frankenplane of sorts–an unknown early-type Stanley with a type 6-8 frog, a kidney-holed lever cap, and a Hock blade. Well, that’s all fine and good, except that the tote is broken and the lateral adjuster is kind of woogie. It works, but it’s annoying and sometimes makes the hand ache.

So I could have made a new tote (I had previously glued it back together but that didn’t last) and tried to bang out the kinks in the lateral adjuster, but it turns out that I had a Millers Falls #22 (type 2, postwar) right next to it that I had wanted to use at some point. In fact, back when I had my handle-varnishing jamboree about a year ago, the tote and knob from this plane were happy to attend. But mostly, it’s been sitting in pieces at the bottom of the bench, looking kind of stupid.

I pulled it out and spent an hour or so scraping and sanding off the rust, got most of the surfaces clean (primarily by wiping it with camellia oil), oiled the threads, and put everything back together. Then, for the final touch, I stole the Hock blade from my old jointer and put it in. Bingo, a “brand new” jointer:

Nope, no sole-flattening or anything. Mostly, it was all about cleaning out the dead spiders from the inside of the frog and making sure that it works. Really, that’s all I seem to care about in these metal planes now, quite a difference from when I first started out.

New Dog Holes, More Milled Wood

I’ve been doing a lot of milling and resawing lately. My prototype bookshelf will use the following pieces of yellow-poplar that I dimensioned:

Yeah, I know, it’s not too exciting, it’s just some wood.

This stuff was quite cupped when I started out, so I had to do a lot of work with the scrub plane to get it flat. To do so, I decided to put a second row of dog holes in the workbench so that it would be easier to plane across the grain:

To use them, just add some dogs in the appropriate holes, as shown here by this evil piece of beech:

It’s been working well so far. I’m considering adding one more at the corner so that it really doesn’t have any room to move around, but it’s not important right now.

Why, you ask, is that board evil? Well, it’s from a piece of 8/4 stock, about 11″ wide. To get to the point of resawing it, I had to flatten one face. No problem, except when you don’t hammer in the scrub plane wedge enough. When that happens, the blade can pop out when you’re doing hard work. The overall consequence, then, is minor carnage. Ouch. I lost a few days of shop time from that.

In any case, this board is for another project that I haven’t talked about yet. I’ll post more details on it later.

Frame Saw: Resawing panels, repairs

One of the projects I’m starting now is a small bookshelf prototype that I’ll use to guide my way through building later versions. I’m in the process of milling the wood, and to make efficient use of the wood, I decided to resaw 4/4 boards so that I can use one slice for the sides and shelves, and the other slice for a panel in the rear of the bookshelf.

So it’s the first real-life use of my frame saw. It does fairly well; here’s a roughly 1/4″ slice that came off one board (this is Yellow-poplar/Liriodendron tulipifera):

The upper left looks slightly ugly in this shot, but it’s actually just two passes of a plane from totally flush. The result is actually quite good–very flat, no wandering of the saw. I seem to run into difficulty at the end of of the board, and I’m still trying to figure out ways to make that easier. Unfortunately, what didn’t help was the tension on my frame saw being too great for the hardware that I made to hold the blade in place, causing it to tear apart on one side:

Yikes. Well, okay, so I just chopped it off and remade the piece. I think this part is a little weak because of the recesses I filed for the itty bitty screws that I no longer use. I’m still not entirely happy with the arrangement, but if it holds, I’ll change my attitude.

Speaking of attitude, mine towards my front vise has been one of complete irritation for the past several months. I’ve had the endcaps held on at the very tip with screw inserts in the center with a machine screw to hold the whole thing in. Unfortunately, the insert kept coming out (because inserts don’t work well when inserted parallel to the grain, duh), the cap would come loose, and the handle would fall out of the vise. Of course, it would always fall out at an appropriately inconvenient time.

This was happening on only one side of the vise, and I finally fixed it for good today by relocating the insert to the side of the handle instead of the tip (you can see the hole in the tip at the right where the screw used to be):

I suppose that it’s fixed “for good” until this happens to the other end of the handle and I have to do the same thing there. Sigh. Why it took me so long to fix this is beyond me.

Silly Honing Guide Tricks

After finishing off those last two projects, I had some time to clean and rearrange stuff in the shop, and as I was doing so, I couldn’t help myself from sharpening up a nice old W. Butcher chisel I got off of eBay a while back. I decided that I needed to reshape the bevel, so I put some Norton 3X on the surface plate and set up my Lee Valley/Veritas Mk. 2 honing guide. (I sharpen freehand for the most part now, but for shaping, I use the guide.)

As I was going to work, the blade did something that it sometimes does in the guide–it slipped and rotated out of square. This has been my only major gripe with the guide, and it’s going to happen with any top-clamping guide, especially with the narrower blades.

Then I thought of a way to make it stop, maybe. I took a small piece of very fine grit sandpaper (1500 in this case), folded it, and put it between the blade and the guide on the bevel side, where it wouldn’t affect the bevel angle:

And it no longer slipped around. Someone else has probably thought of this fix, too, they’ve had to.

(For the record, my only other gripe with the guide, a minor one, is that the knurled knobs are sometimes difficult to loosen. I’d kind of prefer something more like a wingnut.)

Saw Till: Finished

After the glue-up, I planed the sides of till flat. The dovetails looked fine, and the through tenons turned out a lot better than I thought they would:

The front stretcher is slightly proud of the edge, but I decided not to bother planing it flush. I had the last significant step ahead of me, one that wasn’t illustrated in the plan.

The saws have to rest in some sort of slots in the back of the till. I didn’t know how I was going to make these, but I knew that I wanted this part to be replaceable. There’s too much potential to want changes in the future, and what if I screwed up on my first shot anyway?

I don’t have any photos of this (and I’m not going to take it apart to take them), but the next step was to put some screw nut inserts into the upper two stretchers so that I could fasten saw rests.

Then I took a couple strips of the worst part of my cheap mystery softwood, screwed them together, and set out cutting the slots where the saws would rest. I clamped the two rests together so that I could saw the slots as a gang. My first attempt was just a simple kerf with my biggest saw. Here it is, on the left:

After a lot of frustration (and work with my keyhole saw), it was finally big enough, but I decided that I would need to do it differently. On the next one (at the right in the preceding image), I laid out an 1/8″ slot that I would take with two separate cuts. Despite the sloppiest sawing I’ve done in a while, this worked really well:

The slots are 1.5″ apart, and 1/8″ wide. The depth depends on the saw (the bigger saws get deeper slots).

Notice that the structure here isn’t very strong because we’re cutting across the fibers. I figured that this was okay, because the rests weren’t supporting anything. Then I saw how Derek Cohen used certain space in his saw till, hanging backsaws instead of propping them up. We’ll get back to that in a bit.

After cutting the second slot, I did a test-fit:

So far, so good. You can see how the rests are attached to the rear stretchers with machine screws.

I cut the rest of the slots, with some extra attention at the right side for backsaws, and prepared for installation. Most people would just screw something into the wall in their shops, but since we rent this place, I was looking for a way that wouldn’t require me to spackle and paint later. Luckily, I had this to work with at the left of my workbench (where my lumberyard is):

My plan was to be daring and hang the saw till from these rods. I bored a couple of holes into the sides of the till at the top, then strung up some twine from the rods, inserting it into the holes. Getting everything level was certainly a bit of a challenge, because the back does not rest on the wall. However, the total weight is an advantage; it doesn’t swing around much when you grab something.

Does the twine make the end result look more rustic? At this point, I’m just happy that it’s done:

I wish I had known about that hang-the-backsaws trick just a little earlier, because I probably would have planned to hang all of my small backsaws. This isn’t bad, though, because I was not originally planning to put any of those little saws in the till. Now they all fit in there, and I can always reconfigure it if I want to.