Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Break From the Bench

Ok I am almost done talking about the bench but I did get to spend some time in the shop today and I feel the need to display what I accomplished

first I got a hold of some 1/2" plywood and built some jigs to attach my band saw and chop saw to. Now when I want to use these pieces I can walk them over to the workbench and clamp them into the leg vice

The biggest kick I get out of the things was my decisions on how I'm gonna store them. The band saw fits fine in the space behind my angle grinder. I'll have to move it if I want to do longer pieces on the router table but oh well.

But the chop saw took a little more thought, but inspiration struck as I was looking at the walls of my basement shop. Around the top perimeter still sticks out the bolts that were used to tie the concrete forms together. They have been broken off over the rest of the wall. like they should be. Well why not use some of them to hang some stuff. a couple measurements and a couple of drill holes and the chop saw is now defying gravity...

The really cool thing though is my new shop sign. about a year ago I went out and found an old antique saw blade, complete with handles, my intention was to turn this into a vanity sign for the workshop. Well I finally got "round to it" Penciled in the lettering two days ago and painted it on tonight. It could use a clear coat of polyurethane, but some of the paint needs to cure first.

Anyhow it has been a good day, and now I say good night to you all


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The hook up

Well it was time... time to begin to put the pieces, the stages, together. Until I began I had no clue how I was gonna manage the angled leg thing and get it spaced right. It seemed to me things would be simpler if I were to attach the legs to the bottom shelf, and then attach that assembly to the bottom of the bench top.
Now all I had to do was come up with the how...

I had some left over chunks of face glued 2x4's from cutting the legs, about 14 inches in length. Well 6 inches of clearance from the floor seemed reasonable, so I cut them into 6 inch long chunks and used them to prop the bottom shelf at that height.

I then straddled the legs over shelf and measured off 6 inches from the edge of the shelf to the outside edge of the legs and clamped them into place. with the clamps tightened I pulled the riser blocks and checked everything for relative level. I made a few gentle adjustments with a mallet until I was happy :) and tightened the clamps again,

I then chucked up a very long 5/16ths" drill bit, drilled the holes for the carriage bolts, tapped the bolts home and tightened them up complete with lock washers to help cut down on the loosen-age that happens over time.

I admit carriage bolts are a bit of a let down for me as I am such a joinery freak, but I had to keep in mind that we live in a rental and someday I may want to move this beast out of the basement, and there is no way it would fit up in one piece, thus no wedged mortise and tenon or anything more fancy, just carriage bolts and lag screw for attaching the legs to the top.

I then lifted down the leg assembly, and flipped the benchtop over bottomside up. Starting to play with things I grabbed my end vise and made a discovery, The top was too thick to allow the flip up bench dog on the vise to be effective. I had to remedy this.

I laid the vice down and measured out the area I would meed to remove and the depth I needed to remove. I then chucked a 1" moticing bit into my router and blew out the area to about an inch depth

This done I positioned and lag screwed the leg assembly to the top. Then it was upstairs to beg and plead with the first lady to com help me flip the whole thing over. I'm lucky she loves me because she came down and helped

I could not wait to test out the height, I desperately wanted the workbench to also act as an out feed table for my table saw, I tried my best to judge and measure, but with the angled legs it would have been easy for someone like me to make a mistake, the disaster would be too high because then I would have to either shorten the workbench, or rethink the shop layout I decided on. I bellied up the saw to the bench and threw a board on it.... lot of suspense and maybe a drum roll. The height on the bench was perfect, dead on perfect, I could not believe it myself.
I made several mistakes on this project and I hope to learn from them for the next time, but to at least get this important detail right felt good.

I threw the boards of the bottom shelf and nailed them into place with 4d finishing nails. And I do believe then I called it a night..

good night all


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Every project needs at least one dovetail

It was a skill I struggled with for a long time when I began woodworking, I was envious of those that could pull it off and thought about it a lot. Dovetailing!

I am sure it is not just me who felt the specter of dovetailing creeping in my consciousness, I believe that there is a good deal of woodworkers out there who feel the same. I judge these thoughts based on the amount of articles I see in magazines concerning dovetails every year, I'll bet that each brand of magazine runs a new article on dovetailing 3 times a year.

Now there are aspects of a dovetail that I have not yet conquered. First of all I hand cut all my dovetails, I have not been able to figure out the router thing when it comes to them. I don't know that I want to bother figuring out the router thing. I am not a high production machinist shop. I am a man with a hobby, and I very much enjoy cutting and fashioning joinery. The success when the pieces fit together the way you planned...almost unbeatable.

I cut through dovetails, I have done both straight and dovetails at a 5 degree angle. I will put up a couple pics of one of my renditions on the Mastermyr Chest. I am sure if this blog continues on you will hear more from me on the Mastermyr Chest, a piece I have recreated a half a dozen times and will continue to work on until I hit perfection. I may be difficult to tell from the photos but the trick to the chest it the sloping, triangular shape of the piece, the front, back, and sides of the chest all slope inwards by 5 degrees. I know I burned up several brain cells figuring out if the joinery would work, much less how to accomplish it. I built the piece for a competition, I got no response after sending in the photos, but the pieces that won were very modern looking, Nothing ventured - nothing gained, I am proud of the piece at any rate

Anyway my love for dovetails made me want to find a place to include them in my bench. The first, most obvious place was the 1x wrap that encircles the bench top. And at the point that I was making the shelf I had every intention of doing that as well, in the end I didn't and I guess as the years go by that may be one of several regrets with this version, but it will not be a big one.

I chopped one simple dovetail for each corner of the shelf. I have never dovetailed 2x material before, it was a little interesting. First I cut the 2x stock to size, Then I cut rabbits in the pieces that would make up the sides. Then I set out to cut the dovetails. Cutting the tail portion comes first, I measure this out with a ruler, a marking gauge, and an angle gauge set at 9 degrees of slope. When I am cutting 1x material for drawers and cabinet sides, I use a shop made cutting guide that gets clamped on to the piece and keeps me honest, I did not want to go through the trouble of makeing a guide that would fit 2x lumber. So I marker it out and cut them free hand. Things turned out pretty well, they were a touch sloppier that I have gotten used to. but moving on.

After I cut the first tail I matched up the end grain of one of the shelf ends and outlined the tail with a pencil. The process I follow to cut the receivers for the tails works like this. 1) I as accurately mark out where I need to cut and make those cuts with a backsaw/dovetailing saw. 2) I then walk the piece over to my drill press and select the forstner bit that will pass through the narrowest point of the receiver slot. 3) I drill a hole with the edges of that hole touching the line demarcating the maximum depth of the receiver. 4) I then go back to the work bench, and use my dovetailing saw and cut to open up the hole for access for a coping saw. 5) I inset the coping saw and cut along the depth line, finishing off the cut, first to one side and the to the other.

After testing the fit on this first joint and seeing if I need to make adjustments to any of the gauges, I used the cut dovetail to transfer the information to the other three corners. I cut all the tails. then lined up to cut the receiver slots to match each corner individually

With all the dovetails cut I assembled and cut some support cleats for in the middle. These were attached via wood glue and 4" screws. In the last picture you can see the shelf sitting upright against the basement wall with the two cut shelf boards leaning next to it.

Next time...assembly!

Good Night All


Sunday, June 21, 2009

A leg (or two) to stand on

I spent most of yesterday cleaning up in the workshop. After I finish the construction on a project and before I jump in and start another I usually spend a day or two cleaning up the shop. Again I own no dust collection system so the floor usually is covered with a 1/4 inch in the areas I work most. And with all the sawing and jointing this work bench took, I was closer to 1/2 inch, not quite deep enough to lose small children and pets, but respectfully getting there.

I enjoy the time cleaning up and reorganizing the shop almost as much as I enjoy doing joinery. I will tweak things a bit, maybe move some tools from one spot to another more convenient area, maybe it is just shifting the drill press 5 degrees more to the left.

This time, because I was setting up shop, the clean up was much more extensive and satisfying. I created a place to hang my clamps right near the workbench, a most elegant solution courtesy of my wonderful wife. I will have to make a point of sharing a picture of it in the future. I also hung a small cabinet I keep my drill press accessories in, and generally began the process of creating a flow for work to pass through the shop.

At any rate. I had finished the top of the bench. And boy oh boy was it a big baby maker. I am no small man, infact I am usually stronger than I realize, and I had to really pay attention to what I was doing when I was moving this thing around. That makes it well in excess of 100 lbs. probably pushing 150. I had to create an equally stout base to support this beast.

The easy thing to do would have been to create straight legs, and the next time I build myself a bench that is exactly what I will do. But the angled legs of the Nicholson workbench are the look that initially drew me in like a sailor to the sirens. The problem was that I had modified things from the original, and was going to continue to do so. I decided while I was constructing the legs that I would do away with the broad board that made up the face of the bench. There were two realizations that made this decision. 1) I wanted to use the under-shelf of the bench for tool box storage. I have several tool boxes for several occasions (one to grab for plumbing, one for electrical, one for automotive, one that has forge and blacksmithing tools. . . you get the idea) and these things always have lived under my bench, adding their weight to its mass. I had no intentions of changing that and I felt that the wide board would get in the way, At first I fancied leaving the face board and just leaving the access from behind for the tool boxes but then as I worked I realized reason #2. I have always used my 7" pony clamps to hold some pieces down to the bench. I found my self doing it while I was cutting the joinery for the legs, and I realized that if I were to place that face board on, then I would be killing my ability and freedom to do that anywhere on the bench. Going once...going twice...sold!! There would be no wide face board on my bench. The choices I made in constructing the top removed the structural necessity and made the board nothing but a glorified deadman anyway, if I decided I wanted a deadman in the future then I would retrofit one.

I had to make some decisions on my own as far as the angle to cut the legs at and accurately calculate the length to make the work bench my target height. I took some math and some guess work and some "hmmm that looks about right" In the end the length was one of the things I got right dead on. but it would have been significantly more straight forward with straight legs.

I face glued two more pairs of 2x4's together, but this time I did not run them through the saw, infact I hardly cleaned up the squeeze out. From this I would make the legs of the bench.
I chose 22.5 degrees (half of 45) the same degree of angle that you find in an octagon. and I cut the legs with a combination of my pitifully small miter saw and a hand saw to finish the cut.

After I cut one to my satisfaction I used it as a template to match the length on the other three legs. I then had to decide how I was going to joint the boards at the top and attach them to the bench, a cross cleat that mortised into both legs seemed to make sense to me. This worked well and it didn't. Planning the mortises on the legs was troublesome, I had to pencil up and erase three layouts before I decided that I was OK with what I had. But when the legs were joined to the bench top the did not settle in smoothly. A combination of both choosing not to flatten the underside of the bench and not getting the cleats seated perfectly square into their mortises. something that can be probably forgiven and worked around with straight legs, but an issue that had to be shimmed for a solution with the angled legs.

I marked out the mortises, not traditional closed on four sides mortises, but ones where the tenon settles in to an open top. I'm sure there is a name for this style of joint, infact I may know it.. but it does not come to me right now.
I removed the mojority of the material on the drill press with a forstner bit, and chopped out the rest with a 1" chisel. I have to say that it was really the most fun I have ever had working with the chisel, In the past it has been a lot of hammering and work to accomplish anything with a chisel, I assumed it was my technique and more likely my ability to competently sharpen them, I tried and thought I was doing everything right, but I was never happy with how they worked, but man did that change as I worked on the new bench top. The chisels accomplised what I wanted them to do just the way I always imagined they should. I never realized how much of my energy was being absorbed and wasted by the springiness of the old plywood workbench. I have to admit, it was very gratifying.

After dry fitting the pieces I noticed that part of the cleat was extending past the leg. Not something readily visible, but I would have known it was there. So I marked off the overhang with a pencil and cleaned down the edge to where I wanted with a draw knife and smoothed with a card scraper.

Next I needed to remember, (and I am glad I did) to cut the mortise that the alignment bar / cross bar of the leg vice would slide through. I would have also drilled for the screw of the vice, but I did not know for sure where I was going to locate it, so I chose to leave it and suffer later, turns out it wasn't too bad at all.

I cut some scrap boards the same length as the inside between the legs and used them too keep the aparatus square while I glued it up. O also then drove some screws down through the tenons and into the legs, I'm not sure if this choice accomplished anything, I love the thought of all straight up glue and wood joinery, I'm just never sure if I trust myself enough to not add a little finish nail in that dovetail, or pin the mortise and tennon with a dowel at least. What I probably need to do is trust myself a bit more than I do. well if hat isn't one hell of a metaphor for life, bla bla bla huh? On that note I guess I should sign off for the night, coming up next... the bottom shelf.

Good night all

Friday, June 19, 2009

Taking the next step

I love to work with pine. Yes it is a very soft wood and this can make it unforgiving a lot of the time. but it is also economical, and easy on the pocket book. When I have created projects in Oak or Maple, I have been thankful of my experiences with pine. I would definitely say that Maple especially, is easier to work than pine. Thus a good result is relatively easy to achieve.

I also buy and use a lot of dimensional lumber. I understand that I could cut down on some of my costs if I were to purchase a jointer and a planer and size my own stock out of some good 8/4 boards. and perhaps I will get there someday. This hobby is something I consider to be a life long learning experience, and I may come back to deciding to buy, and learn to use those machines eventually, but for right now I have become more focused on learning to use my hand tools effectively. I have to say that it may be a while before I purchase another new power tool (other than a lathe, I had to leave that behind in WI as well and I miss it). I may have to replace or upgrade some of the ones I have. But hand tools are where I have been focusing for a while. Thus the need for a good workbench!!!

So back to it. After gluing and flattening the boards in pairs, I made holes to help drive a threaded rod through. My new workbench has three threaded rods traveling through holes I drilled through all the boards. I guess now that I think about it I am not entirely certain why I followed this other than it was something I had seen done in one of my magazines, and my uneducated mind draws a conclusion that this person, obviously much more intelligent than me by merit of their work in a magazine, must have several good reasons, even though I don't understand all of them, I believe I will follow his example... well I can think of several reasons, I just cannot point to one and say "There...That is the GOOD ONE!"

The holes did help me easily line up the boards while gluing up continually wider slabs. I would run the threaded rod down each end to align things before I put the clamps on. The rods with the nuts on them also continually offer compressive support to the top. I can believe that maybe this will help as the wood moves with the changes in season and humidity. Like the ends of a breadboard help hold it together against woods natural drive to shape shift.

Anyhow, to locate all the holes for all the boards in the exact same place for alignment I made a simple jig by measuring and drilling three "guide holes" in a spare 2x4

I then clamped this 2x4 to the top of my glue ups and drilled through them all using a long 12" 5/16ths inch drill bit.

Having done that I continued to add sandwiches to sandwiches, until I had one hell of a Dagwood!!!

With all the boards glued up...I used a 1" forstner bit to drill some 1/2" deep depressions over the drilled hold for the threaded rod, I pounded the rod through, placed a washer and a nut on both sides, and tightened them down until I was worried I might strip the rod, I cut off the excess bolt with an angle grinder and TA DAH !!!! I had a bench top.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Decisions and Methods of Work

As I stated before, I have wanted to build a good woodworkers bench for a long time. I bought magazines and read their ideas, I liked the thought of the 175 dollar workbench. It appealed to me not only from a cost point of view, but also as a point to how I tend to work.

Having no formal training what so ever. I have learned all I know by reading, watching television shows, or by the seat of my pants. To that matter when I buy an expensive tool, my typical MO is to buy cheep and learn all I can about what I like and don't like. Then, when I am ready, I trade in the cheaper tool for a quality one, well researched and with all the features I like. This is the story with my table saw. I started with the 130$ Delta bench top version, with two side table extensions to expand the cut capacity. I beat the ever loving hell out of that saw. But I leaned to do a lot of great things on something that was not top quality. When it came time to retire it, (not because it died, in fact it runs to this day in the small work shop of my best friend) and I was ready to move on I chose a contractor style saw from Rigid. Man do I love that workhorse! and the best little boost to the pride. A month after I bought the saw, one of my woodworking magazines selected it as their top choice in that category of saw.

These thought work the same for me when I want to use a tool like a workbench. My first was an old kitchen table that did not last long, then I worked with the super cheep, plywood and metal legs. Now I wanted to work with something that was meant to be a real bench. I have never really liked the French style cabinet makers benches. whether they had the worthless tool trough or not. I was not sure exactly what it was I wanted to build and then I finally saw a bench that's design spoke to me. The Nicholson Workbench in a book by Christopher Schwarz. It was unlike any bench I had ever seen, I knew I liked a leg vice and an end vice and bench dogs. It was perfect. with a little modification.

I wanted to maintain the inexpensive lessons I learned reading about the 175$ workbench. What if I took the design and created a stacked and side glued, thick top to the Nicholson. The only drawback I read about on the net was the thinner top made some bench dogs and accessories not work so well. Well I could fix that modification.

One more thing that I feel I have to explain. I utilized construction grade pine purchased at Lowes for everything here. It was important to me that I be as frugal as possible.

I purchased 30 2x4x8's a 2x10x8 and 1 2x6x8 construction grade boards and 5 1x12x8 shelf grade pine boards. My loving wife (who has ever been tortured after suggesting his hobby, though she does appreciate the benefits of a new and unique piece of furniture from time to time) and I spent the better part of two hours shuffling through two bundles of 2x4's to find the straightest and more importantly, ones without cracks, splits, chewed up edges, or giant knots.

I also purchased three bottles of the polyurethane glue, to face join the boards for the top.

I began by using 4 2x4's and the 2x6 to throw together a couple saw horses, (remember I just moved and did not truly have a shop set up at all) I then started by laying out and gluing together two boards at a time

After the glue had cured, I went to work diligently cleaning up the squeeze out with a chisel.

Once that was finished I was able to run the boards through the table saw and flatten one side by shaving off 3/8ths inch (you'll notice the sophisticated dust mask!! Again I repeat, I really was just setting up shop...This project was great in that it caused me to have to unpack and find a home for a lot of my tools along with forcing me to set up some of the more complicated ones like the band saw)

You will see that the boards on the left have been surfaced flat and the ones on the right have not been run through yet.

Well I believe that will be all for tonight, more very soon
Goodnight all