Learning and Growing: A Day In The Shop

This past weekend I got to spend a good couple hours in the shop. If you spend some of your time in the shop too then you understand that sometimes the plans you have when you head to the shop turn out to be very different from what you actually happens once you get there.

I started the afternoon with a little housekeeping. This gives me something to do while the kerosene heater takes the chill out of the shop and I get a chance to acclimate myself a bit. Someday I will have a shop with some climate controls, both heat for the winter and A/C for the summer, but right now I am just happy to have a shop! You take what you can get out of life sometimes. This included organizing and putting away my sandpaper into my new Storage Box. So far I really like how it works and looks.Then I started to set myself up for the day. Over to the lumber pile for a little fishing.

I plan to build a version of the William and Mary Bookstand featured in Popular Woodworking's November 2010 issue. Infact I plan to build it three to four times over. Once for my happy home and I can think of a couple of friends who would love one. It is a great little piece and my hat is off to Chuck Bender for bringing it to us. Here's the thing, and I don't know if this is something you should openly admit after you talk about a magazine and their projects but I never purchased a copy of the issue in question. I stopped by the newsstand and read through the article and I downloaded a page from the Pop Wood website where they goofed up the plans for the bookstand. (You can get your own copy of the page HERE) All the basic information I need as I can infer the rest from experience. I do like the additional information Mr. Bender placed on his blog in regards to the finishing of the piece, HERE is a link to that info.

With that in mind, I went to the wood pile and dug out some rough sawn white oak I have left over from my big summer build of a Medieval Hutch Chest. I knocked it down to flat with my a wooden Jack plane but I stopped short of getting a perfectly smooth surface. That would be easier to do on the individual parts. I can hear the peanut gallery talk about doing it at once so you make sure to get universal thickness, but my answer is I am not that concerned about being a few thousandths of a thickness off, and from working with this particular batch of stock in the past, I know that it loves tear out and that will be easier to manage on the smaller pieces where I have some better control over choosing the grain.
 I put it down on the saw benches, marked out my cut and went to work ripping a length. Unfortunately this is just about all the progress I made for the day. After the rip cut was done I went to lock the piece into the leg vise on my bench so I could edge plane it down to the perfect width. Just as I was pulling it snug I heard a sound that made me a little sick to my stomach, and I know no woodworker wants to hear. I don't know exactly how to describe it, maybe I could call it a "pop" or a "snap" but most accurately would probably be to call the sound a "crack" and that's just what happened. The leg vise of my Nicholson bench cracked...now my day changed.
I dissembled the vise and inspected the damage, I quickly decided four things:
1) Maybe pine was a economical answer when I was originally building the bench and though the rest of the bench is holding up well I always had my suspicions about the durability of the vise board.
2) I was now going to have to replace the vise board as soon as possible with a hardwood, hopefully a hickory or hard maple.
3) There was no way I could afford to do any replacing right now.
4) I'm going to have to try and make a repair that I can limp through a few months, it probably won't work and I'll have to buck up and buy or think of some other alternative but I have to try.

So here is where the plot thickens . . .  I decide that I have some JB Weld 2 part epoxy with me in the shop and it's the strongest stuff I own, I've used it to repair cracks in car radiators in the past so I know it's good for a lot of pressure. But in order to get it into the crack I have to apply some significant force to get it to open up. I decide to pin the head of the vise board to the bench top with holdfasts and weight the other end with a large toolbox full of my automotive tools, (that sucker is heavy let me tell you). Well I set the board, placed the holdfasts and went to give them a whack with the mallet to set them.
This time there was no sickening sound, the holdfast gave without so much as a whimper, it just died and fell over. Now I know these are cheep cast iron holdfasts, that's the reason I purchased four of them at the time, so I would have a few extra. So I knew this day would come, infact I have been impressed that it hadn't happened yet, but this was too much. To break the vise and a holdfast within 15 minutes of each other. Crazy. I vowed that if one more thing happened I would call that strike three and go home.

I dug out another holdfast and arranged the vise board so I could shove some epoxy into the crack. I took the weight off and placed a clamp until I got some squeeze out. Then I buttressed the crack with some wood screws because...why the hell not?

Here's a pick of the repair set off to one side to dry, the latex glove is in place to keep the epoxy from binding permanently to my clamp.
Then I cleaned up and set my mind to figuring out clamping alternatives. This is the contraption I came up with...I really not that unhappy with the answer. It seemed to work pretty good for edge planing. I have my double screw vise for face clamping... I may get along OK for a while after all
After a few pictures the last set of batteries dies in the camera for the day, I may go through one, maybe two sets a full day in the shop. This set was number four and my last set on hand. I called that "Event Number 3" and called it a day.




  1. I know those days when things just go wrong. One alternative to giving up is to do something that you can not foul up and will be helpful - in my case that is either tidying up (a shop monkey's work is never done!) or sharpening a few planes or chisels or saws. On the latter, I have now got to the stage that if I know that the blade or saw should be sharpened, I put it in a separate spot in the shop, so it reminds me to sharpen it before I use it again.

    All the best


  2. Ahh, you're a smart man Jeremy, and I probably should have done soemthing like that to, the real truth is this particular Saturday I kind of came to the shop with a little of the black cloud, bad mood going on and I brought it with me. Usually a little sweat and work planing and sawing and I seem to work my worry's away, There are times you just have to realize you need to fold your hand and fight another day.

    As you mention it, I do have to do a sharpening day here pretty soon, I'll probably use that as my warm up next time I head out to the shop. Thanks for the reminder!


  3. For edge planing, if you have long enough clamps, you can do what I do:

    Have you tried rechargeable batteries? My camera used to kill batteries in minutes, but I switched to some rechargeable AAs, and now they last for weeks. It's well worth it if you are going through a lot of batteries. I buy a new set every 1-2 years, which costs about $10, and that's usually 95% of the money I spend on batteries that year.

  4. Simon, I love the bench you have featured there, my advice to you, Hold-fasts are a definite YES! You'll love them. You have a nice blog going there as well.

    I do have clamps wide enough to do the same trick you did and I will keep it in mind,

    I now realize that what I said above about the batteries could sound both costly and wasteful, and I've used rechargeables in the past and loved them. In my real life job in an Operating Room we use a disposable device that uses 8 AA batteries to work. When the case is done the battery charge is rarely used up, so we scavenge the batteries from the device, (By policy we are to remove the batteries before disposing of the device anyway to prevent possible fires), I work at a busy hospital and we use from 5 to 15 of these devices a day. So rather than let batteries with most of a charge go to waste, we all take some home when we need them. I recycle those batteries into my camera, remote controls, and whatever else. Usually I keep a couple sets of 8 in my bag that goes to the shop with me. On this particular day, I was a little short of the usual.

    But I do agree without my continual renewing source, I would go back to rechargeables in a heartbeat.


  5. Derek,
    I feel your pain. I have a three mistake shop rule also but with me, I leave the shop and go do something else. I don't think I would have handled your problem with the grace you did. TFFW has some awesome bench hooks. I hope your repair will hold till you can something more permanent.


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