Roubo-Style Panel Clamp Tweaks

After I made my panel clamps, I’ve now used them several times and have been able to work around some of the issues that came up. Here’s a partial shot of the latest project getting its final glue-up (this is big–roughly 7×2 feet (2130x610mm) in area:

I have four clamps–three long ones and a shorter one that I made earlier as sort of a prototype. I used all of them on this project.

Let’s address the the two comments that on speculation of “stuff that might go wrong” that I got last time.

First, Lionel asked if glue squeeze-out is a problem; can you glue the work to the clamps? The answer is yes. I said that if this were a problem, I’d just wax the insides, and that’s exactly what I did. The wax eliminated the problem.

Then, Matt asked if I used a single wedge, would it tend to wear/dent stuff into the pegs? I tried it, and it does indeed mush into the pegs (especially when they are southern yellow pine).

On that note, I wasn’t terribly happy with the way that the single or double wedges were working. In particular, all sorts of things can happen when you try drive them in:

  • The force of the mallet blow can shift and tilt the entire clamp over just a bit.
  • On double wedges, it can be tricky to hit one wedge without loosening and dislodging the other wedge.
  • On double wedges, it’s pretty easy to hit them so that they go askew of each other, and then they can slip out.
  • If the clamps are too close together, it can be difficult to find enough room to get your mallet strike started.
  • Fussing around with the wedges during glue-up (especially when you don’t have anyone to help you) takes precious time. The liquid hide glue that I use gives me a little more time, but still.

One of the speculative ideas that I had last time was I could add a hook to the upper wedge, so that I’d only need to hit one end of it. I did this, with one other change:

I planed a groove into the top and a matching tongue into the bottom with some old wooden match planes I picked up in Alameda many years ago. (Note to self: regrind those plane blades, they’re in awful shape.) This eliminates the slipping askew and generally makes it much easier to get the wedges set up.

With that in place, it was much easier, but I still had some difficulty finding the room to set the wedges at times, and didn’t really have a feel for how much I was tightening the joints. So I came up with this dumb hack to do the final tightening:

Even though using a little F-clamp like this might look like it could back the hook off of the peg, it hasn’t happened to me in practice; it just shoves the lower one into place. In any case, this made the job a lot easier.

In addition, I made new pegs out of ash to discourage dents from forming in them. I suppose that I could do that with the upper wedges as well, but that hasn’t caused any problems (after all, the upper wedges aren’t supposed to slide).

So now what do I think of using them?

Overall, I’m pretty happy. One of the things that I like the most is that you perform glue-up against a wall with the work sitting on its side. This makes it a lot easier to get things in place, and it’s also relatively easy to do a dry run of the glue-up and clamping, or at least get a good idea of what’s going to happen. Once you have everything in place, you can easily check both sides by just tilting it one way or the other. And because it’s already against a wall and not on a bench or anything, you don’t have to move it afterward to reclaim your space.

Building the Staked Sawbench from the ADB

While building whatever it is that I’ve been building up until now, I’ve always had this feeling in the back of my head that I’ve been ignoring a type of construction that might be pretty useful. And this sort of hit home when I read through The Anarchist’s Design Book recently. I have to admit that I’ve always found the idea of round tapered tenons to be a little dodgy-sounding, but I didn’t have much faith in my reasoning. This kind of joinery is the basis for many kinds of chairs that seem to hold up just fine. When a lot of real-world evidence contradicts you, it’s probably not good idea to try to bend your mind to ignore that reality.

In the book, it doesn’t look all that complicated. I got to thinking, “Well, I could do that.” I ordered a tapered tenon cutter, a reamer, and picked up a piece of 8/4 red oak from the lumberyard. It was at least worth trying the first project in the book, the staked sawbench. I’ve been wanting to build a second sawbench for a while now, so what did I have to lose?

I started by gluing up the top of the sawbench (you’ll see that later), then worked on the legs. I picked the worst part of the board for the legs, saving the nice straight stuff for other projects. It seemed that, once dimensioned square, I’d want a reasonable way to get an octagonal profile, so I first tried to tack a leftover from the sliding deadman track onto an old sticking board to get some sort of channel for the leg to rest in:

This worked:

But it wasn’t great. The leg tended to slip off of the sloped edge. I decided that it was worth making something better than this 5-minute hack.

I came up with a new sticking board-like thing with a proper channel (what are these things called?):

Simply put, this worked far better. The end is held in place with one dog that also serves as a stop for the work:

This is easy to do when you have round dog holes; you just bore a hole in the far end of the board to accept the dog. I clamped the whole thing in place on the other side with the tail vise.

I can use this for holding cylindrical stuff as well, but there’s one more advantage to this. Notice how the side is flush? This means that I can also use it in my bandsaw:

Since we’re hand-tool oriented here, we won’t dive deeper, but it should be clear enough that you can use the bandsaw to quickly rough out the profile, then move the whole mess over to the bench and finish it off with planes.

With the legs profiled, it was time to get them shaped at one end in order to use the tenon cutter. This was new territory; I decided to start with a drawknife that I’ve had for some time but never really had much use for:

The tenon cutter could almost fit at this point, but it still needed some rough shaping and I’m not confident enough with the drawknife to go too crazy. This is the point where I turned to my Shinto saw rasp, which turned out to be just the right thing.

I got the first one made in spite of going at it blind (other than seeing it in the book):

Getting the tenon straight was a little disconcerting (you can test it by putting it in a reamed hole and turning; if it wobbles around, it’s not straight). I eventually found that if you hold the tenon cutter in a vise or clamp or something, you can get pretty good results by holding the leg from the other end and turn, like you would a pencil sharpener. This works because you’re keeping a steady angle. You might find that the leg can want to shift to a different spot as you’re starting out. Let it do so; it’s shifting to the center.

I need to do more experimentation on the best way to keep the tenon cutter fixed and getting a stake to line up more easily at the beginning. I also found that if you rub a little wax on the tenon before you start, it makes for a lot easier job (and a lot less noisy). But the good news is that making the tenons got a lot faster as I got used to it.

Then it was off to reaming the mortises, which I’ve also never done before. I started by clamping the top to my first sawbench with some standoffs, then using a regular auger bit with the “sliding bevel resultant angle” method to bore the initial hole. Then it was off to reaming in much the same way:

This process, like the tenons, takes a little bit getting used to, but gets much faster as you get accustomed to it.

I’m not sure about that reamer. In the preceding photo, I’m using a 12-inch sweep brace, but the shank of the reamer is pretty soft and gets dinged up, and the chuck on this brace doesn’t hold it that well. I switched to a brace with a Millers Falls “Lion” chuck, which is better, but I’m still not thrilled with it. This reamer is really meant for power drills. For hand braces, especially this big one, something with a traditional square-taper shank would put my mind more at ease. I wonder if the power tenon brace adapter that Lee Valley sells is the right size.

In any case, I had the test fit ready in what seemed like no time:

Yes, Roubo would have a fit at the way I put the heart of the tree on the inside for the one edge of the top, but Roubo didn’t have southern yellow pine. This would be a disaster with, say, beech, but SYP is far more stable, and I did it this way to make the grain directions align in a certain way.

At this point, I decided to just jump off the deep end and glue it up right away. I could have planned ahead a bit better there. I decided that I would use a chisel to split the tops of the tenons to accept a wedge, so I didn’t put a kerf in there, but it didn’t dawn on me that I would need to bang the wedges in at the same time that I glued the legs in place… until I reread the book a little more closely. I didn’t even have wedges made, so there was a mad rush to make some wedges and pound them in.

So I don’t have any photos of that process. But I do have a finished sawbench now:

The hardest part, I think, was finding some way to hold the legs while sawing them to final length. I ended up clamping them to the end of my bench, but in retrospect, I might have done better by just clamping them to my original sawbench.

This seems to have gone OK, especially for the first time through. I really had no idea what I was doing here. The legs really line up well. It looks decent. I was especially happy about how quickly it went together. Really, this was just a few hours in the shop for a couple of days. Best of all, it seems to work, which should be a really big help when cutting down those really long boards.

With this behind me, I feel like perhaps I might be capable of making a chair one day. But there are other things requiring my attention in the immediate future.

Router Plane Box: Finished

I’ve been picking away at pieces of the router plane box and finally glued in the last bracket (the one for the fence) yesterday:

I took off the clamp today and did a test-fit of the tools:

That went surprisingly well. Both planes fit in there with no problems; I have room for a few more blades as well as the small router plane (if I ever get it). I could also fit the miniature router plane inside.

During this project, I also added a wooden lining to the fence. It’s the same privet that I used for the new mallet, which should be fairly hard-wearing.

For whatever reason, I made a lid consisting of a frame and a floating shiplapped panel. After gluing that up, I cut a rabbet along the bottom so that it can fit onto the top of the box:

After trimming the dovetails and such, I had a finished box:

Or rather, I had a complete, unfinished box. I normally leave shop projects unfinished, but for whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to apply tung oil to this thing. That turned out to be a messy affair, because I couldn’t get the cap of the bottle open, pried it off, and ended up splattering some of it around. Oh well, the bench now has a slight oil reapplication.

That takes some time to cure, but at least I don’t have to do anything else. Time to move on to the next thing. And no, it will not be a box for my plow plane, tempting as that may be.

Router Plane Box Preparation

I’m sort of in between projects right now, plotting out my course for the next couple pieces of furniture, so I’m not working on anything particularly big. But something in the background was bugging me.

A few months ago, Lee Valley sent out a promotion for a box for their router plane. There were two sides to this. First, they were offering a pretty good option for someone who wanted a box for their router plane. Second, they were trolling us, because they talked about how it might seem questionable to offer a wooden box to woodworkers, and that, hey, if you want to make your own, maybe this will get things started.

I have to admit that I did like a few things about the design of the box, so I decided that I would make my own and rip off elements of the design. So I started by making a dovetailed box out of eastern white pine (haven’t smoothed off the ends yet):

This is what I was sawing in the latter part of my lame epic video on restoring a saw.

For better or worse, I fitted a shiplapped panel bottom in grooves around the bottom. I can’t seem to resist panels.

Then I had to start working on the blade storage rack. I decided to just cut a bunch of square holes on a shelf with a glued-on bracket:

This will cause the blades to point to the back at a 45-degree angle. I only did it this way because it was easier to cut holes in this orientation. (Doing square holes like this in white pine is relatively easy.) Later, I added holes for the hex wrenches and the sharpening aid bar thing.

Now, I need to:

  1. Make the bracket for the fence.
  2. Make brackets to keep the plane in its spot (and probably the medium router plane, as I just bought one of those).
  3. Deal with the lid.

I’m hoping that I’m not spending too long on this, but on the other hand, ever since I got that router plane, I haven’t had a good place to put it.

Auxiliary Bench: Finished (Mostly)

A few final steps after glue-up remained to move the new bench to this state:

Those steps were:

  • Trimming the ends. I used a long-ish panel saw because it had the finest tooth pitch, in theory. Then I sanded coarse-medium-fine to get a smooth finish on the endgrain.
  • Flattening the top. This was the easiest thing I’ve ever done a flattening job on. Wish it were always like that.
  • Applying a quick finish, a varnish and tung oil blend. Yes, the tung oil is real tung oil, and yes, it takes forever to cure. I didn’t have any boiled linseed oil, and I didn’t care.

The two pieces of soft maple that I chose for the sides of the top are curly. I didn’t anticipate that, but I guess it looks fine. In this case, I only really cared if the grain reversed or not. On the front, it did not. On the rear, it did a little, but it doesn’t seem to be of much consequence.

This is the first somewhat large thing that I’ve made with southern yellow pine. I might post my thoughts on that later.

The size is a departure for me. I knew that it wasn’t going to be very long, but I also made it 33″ tall, which is a bit tall for someone my size. Well, at least for planing, but I don’t plan to plane much on this thing (I think it would work fine for small pieces, though).

Another note on the frame is that I made the side stretchers offset from the long ones on the front and rear. This allowed me to use longer tenons because they don’t meet in the middle of a leg, which I like. Wearing illustrates this in “The Solution At Hand,” though he uses through tenons.

I slapped on a temporary shelf and immediately loaded it up:

I hated this situation under my main bench, because the shavings and sawdust were always getting into the nooks and crannies of the planes. I’ll have less of that going on over here, so it should be a little better. I don’t expect the shelf to be there forever, though. I’d like to put a box of drawers in there, albeit one that doesn’t go anywhere near all the way to the top.

But I still don’t like it. I’m doing it now because these things were getting in the freakin’ way all of the time, but my thoughts are turning to the tool chest idea. It seems there’s a lot of merit in that, but I don’t have the time right now.

I probably won’t be working on much of anything wood-related for at least a week or so. There are some other things to take care of, but after that, I do have some plans to use this bench on a few diverse tasks.

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.

It Stirs

It took longer than I expected, but I have a shop again now.

This is a much larger space than I had anticipated. It’s also fairly rough at the moment, as nothing much is in place. I need to work on that, but there are many other things in this house to deal with as well. On the positive side, I can get to nearly all of my tools now, and the bench has already proved incredibly useful in just the month that it’s been there.

I need to find wood sources around here. Shouldn’t be too hard, since it kind of grows on trees around here. I know of one place in Frederick that seems popular. I do not know if all of the pieces to my car’s roof rack made it in the move.

The unfinished project on top of the bench continues to lurk. I really need to do something about that.

Switching Coasts

It sure hasn’t been a very productive three years since my last post, at least in the shop. I’ve done a couple of things, but haven’t finished anything of any note. I’m close on a few things and it’s really dumb that they’re not done.

Two years ago, I moved (again) and the shop never quite recovered. I didn’t have enough space, I had a lot of trouble finding any tools, and time passed. The only thing that really improved on that move was my wood storage; I got a lot better at that.

Now I’m on the move again, this time back to my native east coast! This should really make things interesting. I won’t be able to set up a new shop right away, but the plan is to get started on that in about 6 months or so.

So here’s my shop, ready to be packed up and hauled three time zones east. (Note the unfinished project that really should be finished at the far end of the bench.)

Workbench v2: Finished

The vise installations meant that the bench was nearly complete. I did some other minor preparation, such as plowing the grooves for the (as of yet nonexistant) sliding deadman and sawing the legs to length, and then I was ready to assemble. I’d never actually assembled the bench, and for a while, I wasn’t really sure how I’d do it. Thinking about it made my arms hurt.

Thankfully, I came to my senses at some point, and when I was ready, I set out two 2x4s to support the benchtop. With the help of SWMBO, I put the top upside-down on these boards:

Then I was able to put all of the legs and stretchers in for the first time. Everything fit perfectly:

Getting the bench right-side-up simply involved turning the bench on its side (there’s another board underneath the leg here to protect the roller bracket):

And one final lift to get it on its legs for the first time.

Next, I installed and fine-tuned the chops of the leg and tail vises. The description of that is in those preceding posts (meaning that, yes, I was done with this business before I posted those). It was fun to use the new bench for finishing itself! However, there was one little minor vise item that I hadn’t done, and that was to make a handle for the parallel guide pin. I’d considered making this completely spartan (basically, just a block of wood with the pin in it), but then I noticed that I had just enough wood in what remained of the piece of cherry that I’d used for the roller brackets, and made a really quick-and-dirty handle with my saw rasp:

Finally, I sawed off the uneven ends of the bench and it was done:

The front view, somewhat encumbered by the lack of space in the shop:

There are a few minor things left to do, such as the sliding deadman, the shelf, and maybe a tool rack. I can do those at my leisure.

Thanks again to Bill K. (who supplied the douglas-fir) and everyone else who helped me with this. Now it’s time to get back to making furniture.

Executive summary:

  • Dimensions: 72″ long, 18″ deep, 30″ high.
  • Profiles: Top: 3.5″ thick. Legs: 3.5″x5″. Stretchers: 3.5″x6″ (approx).
  • Wood: Old-growth douglas-fir (frame, most of top), beech (front of top, leg vise), yellow birch (parallel guide), cherry (roller brackets, parallel guide pin handle).
  • Vises: Benchcrafted Glide leg vise, Lee Valley/Veritas quick-release tail vise.
  • Knockdown construction: Captured-nut joints for legs/stretchers, angled (unglued) mortise-and-tenon joints for legs-to-top.
  • Built entirely by hand except for some lameness mentioned in the leg vise post.
  • Weight: A lot.

Workbench v2: Tail Vise

Right on the heels of the leg vise installation, I did the tail vise. I’ve never had a tail vise, but I’ve always wanted one. As it turns out, AJCP&R got me the Veritas quick-release version about two years ago (thanks again!), but it had to sit in its box for all of this time, waiting for this new bench to be made. That day finally arrived.

There’s been a bit written about the Veritas vise, but what I don’t see much out there about how versatile it is if you’re willing to play around with the shape of the chop. For example, although it’s designed to be used in conjunction with a wide front apron, that’s not necessary. In addition, you don’t need a whole 17″ of free space for overhang on the end. I broke both of these rules in my installation and I got away with it.

For those who have never seen the vise hardware, it consists of a the vise itself and a mounting plate that you attach to the bottom of your bench. The mounting plate provides the accuracy you need to keep the vise chop just far enough away from the edge of your bench to slide freely. You’re supposed to place the plate 1/4″ from the chop edge, all the way at the end of the bench. I didn’t do that. I discovered that you can get away with moving it about two inches away from the end of the bench, as long as you don’t obstruct the holes for mounting the chop (and you could even do that a little, if you’re willing to give up a bit of the vise’s travel):

The 1/4″ on the front side, however, is a (mostly) hard and fast rule. Here’s how the vise looks aligned on the mounting plate:

Notice that some of the vise hardware slips underneath the end of the bench. Also, some of the hardware on the other side (near where the leg will go, on the right side of this photo) protrudes in that area. I was able to do this because I decided to make the chop deep enough so that this little bit of hardware could slip behind the leg. You could do even more by widening the chop a bit more, but I personally wouldn’t recommend more than four inches because otherwise, you might put the hardware in the way of holdfast holes or something. As long as you don’t have anything silly up there such as a top stretcher between your bench legs, you should be fine.

OK, so the hardware fits. The next rule to break was the wide front apron. Because I designed this for a deep chop, I was able to make the inside of the chop wide (for the mounting screws), but the outside (the part that goes along the front of the bench) would be just the same 3.5″ beech that I used on the rest of the bench. Here’s a view of the chop upside down:

Oopsie on the blowout for the washer holes at the edges, but it hardly matters. At this point in the bench build, I was starting to starve for wood–I had very little douglas-fir of substantial size left. So for the backing piece, I milled and glued up two smaller pieces, and then glued those to the beech.

When it was upright and finished, it looked like this:

I had sort of a hard time trying to decide where to put the dog holes. In the end, I actually followed Lee Valley’s instructions and put the centers 1″ from the front of the bench. I could put in another row if necessary, but somehow I doubt it will be.

This vise really was a snap to install. You have to be quite careful when installing the mounting plate, but it took me longer to the make the chop with all of the milling and glue.