Workbench: Day 9

Working from yesterday’s prep for the final four square holes, I finished cutting them today. Recall that I had pared off the outlines of the holes yesterday. The first task for today was to drill some holes through like this:

Despite there being much more tough latewood in these boards than the previous ones, this went much faster today because I shaped and sharpened the auger bit. It’s a remarkable difference.

With the holes in place, I put the coping saw in place. Mine is a little tough to assemble with the blade through a hole; I used a band clamp to hold the frame tight during the process.

I found that it’s easier to remove a big chunk between the holes before cutting the holes flush (that chunk on top is the removed waste):

With that piece out of the way, it’s much easier to move the saw around and get flush to the edges. Then, all you need to do is finish it off with a chisel for the more-or-less final hole:

It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly better than the first few I did (which I’m not even showing because they’re so bad).

Next, I need to drill the holes into the sides to accept the bolts that will hold the frame together. Probably not today, though.

Workbench: Day 8

I prepared the front and rear stretchers in the frame for the square holes. What this means is that I cut the hole outline with a knife into the wood, then pare to that line with a chisel. This process is repeated several times for both sides of each hole, because this wood is more prone to tearout than a typical hardwood.

When ready to start drilling the holes, it looks like this:

The hole is on the right side of the board here. When I’m ready to start again, I drill four holes through to the other side in each corner of the rectangle, then put a coping saw blade through one and saw around. Here’s a close-up of the other end (ignore that circle in the center of the hole; I was playing around with one of my new brad-point bits):

The board is a 2×8. The tree that this board came from is a little different than the one that the 2x4s came from. There is a lot more latewood in this guy, making it quite a bit more difficult to slice through. However, it is also nice and heavy.

That try square is an item that I found in the toolkit at my mom’s place in October. It was made by Stanley, and had a lot more rust on it until Thursday, when I decided that I’d had enough of not being able to see the markings and numbers on there. I just did the usual mineral spirits / sandpaper / wax treatment that you’d do to a handsaw.

I don’t know the origin of the square. It has BPS15 stamped into the handle, which probably means Baltimore Public Schools 15. That wouldn’t be the current BPS15. I asked my mom about that today; she doesn’t recall anything about it, and speculated that it may have belonged to my grandfather (my father’s father, that is).

Also, a much-anticipated package from Lee Valley Tools arrived today with my brad-point bits, my “Wonder Dog,” and perhaps most importantly, my auger bit file (couldn’t find one anywhere around here, of course…). Naturally, I had to see if I could get my 3/8″ auger bit into some sort of more useful shape. That bit is definitely one of those “sheesh, quality control these days” cases, but with a little work, the cutting edges actually look like cutting edges, rather than sofas. I tried it out and it seems to work… but the real test comes when I start to put the fastener holes in the stretchers.

Workbench: Days 6 and 7

Yesterday, I cut another square slot in the side stretchers, and today, I cut two more. Now I’ve done eight out of twelve of these, and the last few have been much faster than before. Also, that wraps up the ones for the side stretchers; the four that remain go in the big front and rear stretchers. These pieces are far more visible.

I’m definitely getting better with the coping saw. Using a technique of cutting a knife line and paring to it before drilling the holes for the saw, I’ve managed to remove most of the waste with the saw in much less time than before, and cleaner, too. This has been especially true on the last three pieces.

Despite its weight, this wood tears out easily, especially between the earlywood and latewood, so there’s a lot of patience involved here.

My try square is irritatingly tarnished. I’m going to try to clean that off tomorrow and wax it.

Workbench: Day 3.5

I wasn’t really planning to do anything today, but when I got home, I decided to tackle the task of drilling the last hole into the endgrain of the lousy stretcher I’d just made. I didn’t think that I’d make much progress given how poorly it went last time, but I figured that any time spent now will reduce time later.

1/3 of the way in, I thought things through. The bits I was using were kind of dull, and that’s bad. My only alternative was a set of really good Bosch titanium-coated twist bits that I’d picked up somewhere. I decided to throw the 3/8″ one at the task to see if it was going to do any better.

Simply putting the bit in a brace was enough to give me a good feeling. This sucker was actually sharp, like something that someone actually intended for real use. It cut through the remaining two thirds of the endgrain like lightning.

The lesson learned today was that it looks like Lee Valley is going to get yet more of my dough, because I need a good set of brad-point bits, and an auger bit file so that I can actually get those things sharp.

Workbench: Day 3

Yesterday I filched some unused hardboard from work in an effort to make some templates for the square holes that I need to put into the stretchers. When clamped to the stretcher, the hardboard does an excellent job at preventing tearout from saws and chisels and things. Unfortunately, I didn’t cut the templates straight, so I got a goofy-shaped hole in the wood. That’s no tragedy, of course; I’ll just use that stretcher as one that’s out of sight, though I can probably fix it.

The bigger problem is that it really does take too long to make those holes. You really appreciate what a power tool can do after this, but I think all I need to do is find a more effective way to remove large amounts of wastewood. It’s hard to use a coping saw to get rid of most of it in wood this thick. So I think I’m going to try to drill more holes in it before trying to remove large pieces. Chisels seem to work fine once it’s a certain size.

A keyhole saw might be useful for getting at the corners. Not sure.

Workbench: Day 2

On Sunday, I mostly rested, but I decided that I really needed to do something about being able to easily drill straight holes, so I winced as I bought a doweling jig.

Then yesterday, I started again, setting up the jig. I wish the smallest hole in the thing were smaller, but it did the trick. I guess I need to sharpen the auger bit.

Drilling into endgrain sure generates a lot of heat. (I suppose that sharpening the auger bit would also help with that.)

Workbench: Day 1

Yesterday was the first real day of the workbench project. I had a drawing of what I wanted, and I had all the tools I needed, so it was time to buy the materials and get started.

So I loaded up the CRX with three boxes of tools and my Workmate®, then headed down to the gpshead abode:

It was to be a day of driving around with a lot of big heavy stuff piled in old Hondas; for the next stage, we’d be using The Karen’s Civic Wagon (nostalgia for me, since my mom had one just like it.). I had decided that I was going to save a lot of time on the workbench top by purchasing a “Numerär” countertop from Ikea. This thing is basically a 1.5″ thick block top available in solid beech that weighs 70lbs. After my days of living in Europe, I’d never thought that I’d ever buy anything from Ikea again, but my only real regret about this is that Ikea didn’t bestow the countertop with the “Skänka” name, because of the obvious yet still hilarious joke.

This was already a bit of driving. I’d started out from my place in the city and gone to Menlo Park, then we had driven all the way back up to Emeryville because that was the closest Ikea that actually had the top in stock. Now we had to head all the way back down the the south bay again to go to Minton’s to pick up the lumber for the base.

My workbench base is going to be a trestle-style, made out of softwood (because the larger stock is cheaper than hardwood and you can get the good stuff in dimensioned stock).

Minton’s was a great place for this. They’re really good at cutting stuff there, so I was going to have them do that part of the work. Because I already had a drawing and a cutting list, I was able to go right to lumber selection. It didn’t take long to decide that I wanted clear fir boards because that stuff was really good-looking, and wouldn’t require a lot of finishing work. I also decided to splurge on the stretchers and get 2x8s instead of 2x4s or 2x6s (this added a considerable amount to the bill, but it also adds considerable mass, and doesn’t look bad, either). Within about 25 minutes, we had what we needed (including the fastening hardware):

You can see some of the grain on the clear fir boards on the left here (the stuff on the right is just some junk for sawhorses). There’s also a sheet of plywood in here and a spare board in case I mess up.

Then we got lunch, drove back to the ranch in Menlo Park, and unloaded. Then I decided that I was tired from all this driving around and was going to lounge around a while until I felt ready to do a little work.

When I felt a little up to doing a little something, I pulled the Workmate® out of the CRX and set up a few jigs. Then I clamped some boards in the vise and started some drilling on the legs:

This photo shows some more of that really nice grain on the clamped board.

I approached the drilling task by using a drill guide to bore a small pilot hole at the right spot, then drilled the final 3/8″ hole with my brace and an auger bit. The bit followed the pilot hole perfectly. I was a little surprised at how warm the bit got because this was “only” softwood. However, I shouldn’t have been; this is Douglas Fir, one of the heaviest softwoods, and that’s one of the reasons I chose it in the first place.

One other note here is that this is the first time I’d actually ever used a brace and auger bit in any serious manner. My Millers Falls #773 is a very effective tool. Certainly not a quick as a power drill, but great for the muscles.

After I’d drilled a few holes, I decided that it was getting late, and since I was already tired, it was time to pack it in. But first I couldn’t resist showing off my handplanes to gpshead. The #9 needs more tweaking, but the #14 jack plane takes awesome shavings, so I took some off of the sawhorse stock.

Reflecting on how thin the shavings were, gpshead decided to pull out his big fresnel lens and see how quickly they would catch on fire in the California sun. About a half a second, as it turns out…

Now it was time to pack up and go home. I loaded everything into the CRX, including the countertop (yes, it really does fit in that little car!). And then I drove home. And then the really fun part: singlehandedly unload everything, and haul it up two flights of steps to my apartment. Or as some of us would say, “just another day of work at the farm.” Except that you don’t have apartments down at the farm.

I’ll be able to resume work here. However, I’m taking today off.

Workbench anxiety

I have a decent set of usable tools now, which means that it’d probably be a good idea to start using them. Unfortunately, there’s just one little thing missing: something really solid to hold the wood. Most people call this a “workbench.” Unless I do strange acrobatics, my Workmate won’t work so well for handplaning; it’s just not heavy enough. Alas. Woe is me. Okay not really.

So I’ve been looking at the options. Most of you probably know this as “looking at a bunch of stuff on the internet.” I also bought a workbench book. It says that someone in my situation should try to throw a bench together quickly, paying less attention to how it looks and more to how much it costs and how well it works. I like that advice.

I got some ideas. I cleared a lot of space in my dining nook (the only halfway practical spot for a bench in here). This shouldn’t be so bad, I guess.