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.

Millers Falls flange wheel mystique

I’d mentioned earlier in an earlier entry that there has been some hubbub about the design of the Millers Falls #2 drill, namely that some guy named George Langford says that the later dual pinion design is inferior to the flange roller. I eventually snagged a really beat-up #2 for cheap on ebay. It’s hard to date this one precisely, but it’s probably at least 105 years old; it is a type H, I, or J, which includes a chuck patented in 1890. It’s hard to say exactly what type it is because the side handle is missing and the main handle is a replacement:

This is, of course, beside the point. It’s a flange roller model, and the real question I wanted to answer was, “does it really turn that smoothly?” Why I cared, I don’t really know.

Well, “out of the box,” it didn’t. In fact, it was a lot worse than my dual-pinion #2, but I didn’t take much stock of that. I suspected that it needed some cleaning and lube, just as my dual-pinion did (and as one of my #5s did).

As you might be able to tell from yesterday’s entry, that job sucked. Every tooth gap on the main gear and pinion had caked-on grease inside. I picked it out with the closest pick-like thing at hand, which happened to be a putty knife (a real precision instrument). Then I wiped away the residual crap with some WD-40 and a toothbrush, and called it a night.

Then today, upon arriving home from work, I was faced with a pile of drill parts on my dinner table, so my executive decision was that putting it back together was better than eating it. So I cleaned off the flange roller, applied a little bit of oil to the proper places (basically, any metal that rubs against any other metal, except for the gears, because they’ll just collect grease again).

The result?

Okay, that is one smooth drill. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s significantly smoother and easier to turn than anything else I have, and anything else that I’ve ever tried, and that’s saying a lot, because one of my #5s is very, very smooth. Maybe there really is something to this flange wheel mystique after all.

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.

First complete saw

Last week, I finally finished off that Jackson backsaw that I’d been working on since before the dawn of history. Here’s what it looks like when all was said and done:

Skipping back a few entries, this is what it looked like before I did any work:

As you may recall from the last episode, I messed up badly and had to reshape the teeth before I got to the final stage of pointing (sharpening/filing the fleam). But finally I got to print out my tricky-dicky PostScript fleam guide and use it properly. Here’s how it looks in use:

All you do is align the file over each line and take a few strokes. This picture was shot after the first half of the teeth were done, so you can see how every other tooth is a little shorter. It evened out very nicely, just as it was supposed to, and when viewed end-on, the “valley” that you’re supposed to see between a crosscut saw’s teeth was there. Fantastic.

The tip of this saw isn’t in good shape. There’s a kink in it, and the teeth are especially uneven there. Because it’s only about an inch and a half of steel, I’m considering taking the moderately drastic measure of hacking off the tip. I likely already would have, except that I don’t have a machinist’s vise yet.

I didn’t do anything to the handle of this saw, either. Unfortunately, it’s shot; it’s soft almost all the way through, making it hard for the sawnuts to get a grip. The sawnuts are also in bad shape. So I just put it back together so that it wouldn’t be too loose. There’s no point in fussing with it any more; if I want to improve the handle, I’ll need to make a new one. (This is not a bad idea, because I like the shape of the handle and have this fantasy of eventually making my own saws.)

Well, so much for the saw’s looks. A more important question is, “How does it cut?” I’m happy to report that it’s great. Due to its somewhat aggressive rake angle and the relatively low number of teeth per inch, there is moderate tearout, but it saws quickly and with very little effort.

For some reason, I don’t particularly expect to use this saw much. It should be fine for cutting smaller boards down to size in a miter box, and for cutting down the shoulders of tenons, but it’s too small for large boards, and because it’s a crosscut saw, it’s useless for sawing down the cheeks or anything else that’s a rip operation. That’s fine, though. My next two saw projects really ought to be full rip and crosscut handsaws.

I’m a little relieved that my two candidates for those two saws are in much, much better shape than this thing when it started out…

One step forward, one step back

I got all “high-tech” on the problem of pointing the teeth in my Jackson backsaw, thinking that I could maybe do something a little differently because I know the PostScript programming language. So I wrote a program to image a fleam angle guide, and spent last night getting my infuriating printer to work.

I couldn’t resist the urge to tweak the program a little while I was at work, so I was really excited to come home, print out the guide and try it out.

Unfortunately, I was in full bonehead mode. I put the guide on backwards and promptly screwed up the shape of my teeth. So I had to reshape and reset the teeth. Not that this was a bad thing; the teeth near the front of the saw were a little messed up. However, the file I was using is now history; I’ll need to get another one or two tomorrow.

I’d mentioned earlier that setting the sawteeth was a royal pain in the ass. Perhaps this was a “happy accident” today, because setting the teeth went a lot faster today due to this setup:

The first thing that helped here is that I printed out my pointing guide with a fleam angle of zero degrees and taped it to the saw, effectively making it a setting guide. This helped out a lot. No more squinting, trying to figure out if I was on the right tooth; just point at the next line, squeeze, and move on.

The other thing (and this is a big duh for me) is that I put the damn thing in the saw vise this time. Why I didn’t earlier is beyond me.

First sawtooth shaping

I knew that I would need to shape the teeth of some of my saws sooner or later in order to sharpen them properly. I decided to start with the Jackson backsaw that I’d de-rusted earlier, again figuring that I’d only be out $1.99 if I messed it up.

The teeth were at 11 points per inch, but very badly shaped in some parts, especially the tip. So I started with jointing. I don’t have a saw jointer, but you can just use a mill file without a handle. Maybe I ought to buy or make a jointer, though; it’s hard to get a good grip.

I decided to set the rake angle at around 20 degrees, a moderately aggressive cut for a crosscut saw. To make a rake guide, I cut out a chunk of yellow-poplar and drilled a hole in the side (as recommended by most saw-sharpening guides).

It turned out surprisingly well, especially considering that this was my first attempt. The teeth are reasonably uniform, and it certainly looks much better than it used to. It seems that it is important to take only a few strokes at a time with the file, going over the teeth several times until they start to look alike. However, due to the poor initial shape, I did remove a significant amount of steel to get to this stage.

Next up for this saw is setting and creating the fleam angle. Hopefully, I’ll have gotten the handle in decent shape at that point, so I can test it out right away.

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