Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Heavy-Duty Hideaway Bench

Woot!  I'm famous, or at least my bench is.  I was pleased as punch to be featured over on The Wood Whisperer Guild site.  Marc and the Guild are gearing up to build a Split-Top Roubo workbench, and he is doing some interviews with some Guildees about their current benches.

If you have come looking for more details on the "Heavy-Duty Hideaway Bench" just look for posts tagged "workbench" or click this link.

Thanks for stopping by!  Glad you're here!

If you have any questions about the bench like "What the heck were you thinking?!?! then just post a comment.  I'd be happy to reply.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moxon Vise with Metal Screws

Workbenches and vises have been very popular topics for magazines, bloggers, and manufacturers for the past few years. Thanks to Chris Schwarz and others, we have all been able to dive deeply into workholding theory for the shop. Building a capable workbench is becoming a rite of passage for modern woodworkers.

It doesn't look like this resurgence will slow any time soon. In fact, there are a couple great workbench builds going on right now across the web. For instance, check out Kari Hultman's blog, The Village Carpenter as she begins construction of a Roubo style bench. In addition, Marc Spagnuolo has announced that the winter build for The Wood Whisperer Guild will be a Benchcrafted Split-Top Roubo Workbench.

One design that has gotten a lot of recent attention is the Moxon Vise, which is a handy clamping accessory for working on the ends of boards. It excels at holding boards for dovetailing or tenoning with a hand saw. Based on a 17th century manuscript by Moxon, the common design spreading through the woodworking world comes from a recent article in Popular Woodworking Magazine by Schwarz. That guy is everywhere! The Moxon is a twin-screw vise that clamps on top of your workbench, so it raises the work up to a better height for sawing.

Schwarz's version of the Moxon vise
One downside to the Schwarz design is that it uses shop-made wooden screws, so you will need a threading and tapping kit.  This is about a $50 pain in the butt, and I've heard that the tapping kits are very finicky and tough to get working correctly.  On top of that, wooden screws will expand and contract with seasonal humidity changes so they may not always work smoothly.

After a little googling, I was able to find a cheap source for some 1" metal rod with Acme threads.  Using metal screws avoids the problem of working with a threading kit, and another bonus is that the metal screws are 4 tpi (threads per inch).  The wooden threading kits I found were 6 tpi, so the metal screws should screw in and out 33% faster!

I got the stuff from and the part numbers you need are 1-2983-100-3 for the threaded rod and 1-2984-100N for the nuts. I tried to find some surplus Acme rockets like Wile E. Coyote used, but no luck there.  Total cost for 3ft of threaded rod and four nuts was about $60 plus shipping.  This is enough for two Moxon vises, so the cost is about the same as a threading kit.

This is all the hardware you'll need for a couple Moxon vises

The first task was to cut up the threaded rod into smaller pieces.  I needed 7" lengths of thread for my design, which yields a 2 1/2" capacity in the vise.  If you want to hold thicker boards, you may need longer screws.

I rigged up these little stands to make cutting the threaded rod easier

I wanted to cut 7" sections of the rod for my purposes

You could go crazy with a hacksaw, but I used a sawzall to make the cuts.
Slip the blade into the slot in the stand to keep the cuts as straight as possible.

Flip the stand on its side and use a metal vise to clean up the cut.
Get it close to 90 degrees, and remove all sharp edges that can injure you.

My neighbor is a wood turner and he was kind enough to turn a couple walnut handles for me.  Did I mention how much walnut we have?  The plan was to epoxy the threaded rod into the handles, and it worked like a smelly, sticky charm.

One of the walnut handles my neighbor made, a section
of threaded rod, and 5-minute epoxy.  What could go wrong?

Put the epoxy into the hole, and work the threaded rod down into
the epoxy so that the threads get filled up.

Next, I needed to make the vise body and front chop.  I used a seasoned 2x10 that was laying around the shop (well, my neighbor's shop...but he looked the other way for a couple seconds too long!)   I stayed pretty close to the dimensions from Schwarz's magazine plans.  With luck and planning you will end up with a little more than 24" between the screws.

Front vise chop, rear body, and stabilizing support were cut and milled square.

The screws go through the front chop, and thread into the rear body of the vise.  For the wooden-screw versions, you would need to use a tapping kit to cut some threads in the holes in the main body.  I simply drilled some 1" holes and sunk the nuts into the back of the body so they wouldn't spin.

I used a knife to mark the locations of the nuts on the back of the vise.

A little drilling and chiseling created a recess for the nut to sit in.

The nuts are just friction fit, though a little epoxy would work fine also.

Here is the completed Moxon vise, shown from the back.  You can see why the nuts are countersunk, so they won't rotate when you tighten the screws.

All the edges are chamfered, and a little danish oil makes a good finish

The Moxon vise sits on top of your regular workbench, and you can just clamp it down to the bench top.  This provides a rock-solid way to clamp a board for working on the end.  It's great for hand sawing, and also raises the workpiece up to a much more comfortable height.

With 24" between the screws, you could dovetail the side of a cabinet in this vise.

I can see why this vise has become so popular among woodworkers.  It's an easy build, and really is specialized for working the ends of boards.  Combine this with other vises on your bench, and you will be all set for any hand tool woodworking.

Here is a picture of my wacky English woodturning neighbor giving the vise a test drive.  I think he likes it!

He's having a little too much fun!
Have you built a Moxon vise?  Let's hear about it in the comments! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Apologies to Benny Hill

My last post was about a cart I built for my short drill press, and the possibly dangerous creative use of a couple rachet straps to hoist it onto the cart.  It had been sitting on the floor for years, and I finally managed to raise it up to a better working height.  Of course, I didn't plan ahead so I had to order the wheels.

The wheels came in, and hilarity ensued.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Not the Brightest Idea I Ever Had

I did something yesterday that worked just fine, but was a little risky.  I got scolded when my wife found out about it, and that says "blog post" to me.

For almost two years, my drill press has been sitting on the ground.  It's a full size drill press with a short column, that's meant to be mounted on a stand.  It's way too heavy to be considered a bench-top tool, since there's no way anybody could move this thing alone.

Floor level is not ergonomically correct
I have a bunch of drill press tasks coming up, and I'm getting tired of crouching down to use the drill press anyway.  I've also had an extra sheet of nice Baltic Birch plywood kicking around the shop for a while, earmarked for a drill press stand.

To those who know me as an uber-geek, here is proof that I don't model everything in SketchUp:  my rough sketch for the drill press stand.  I suppose I lose some points for blogging about it, but surely I am still ahead in the accounting.
Very technical plans
After a very quick session with the table saw, I glued and screwed the cabinet together.  Here is a shot just before I added a 1/2" plywood back.  It's upside down, and those  of you with eagle eyes will notice that I reinforced the top to prevent sagging from the heavy drill press.

Drill press stand - almost complete
Now, here is the not bright part.  I wanted to put the drill press on the new stand, but I couldn't lift it alone.  It would have been tough even with two people honestly.  So I went out to my truck and got a couple ratcheting tie-down straps.  A few minutes later and I had the drill press positioned under a convenient 2x4 in the ceiling, ready to hoist.

Hoping my wife doesn't see this
It was slow going because the straps would only tighten about 8 inches at a time.  I would raise the drill press with the first one, then switch to the second strap and then back again.  It was a little nerve-wracking. After a couple of minutes of clicky-clicky ratcheting, I had the drill press high enough off the floor to slide the new stand underneath.  After I started breathing again, I remembered to take a picture.

Whew!  Made it!
All's well that ends well, or at least that's what I told my wife.  I will be adding some casters eventually, and likely some drawers inside the cabinet.  For now, I am just happy to be up off the floor.

Have you ever pushed the limits of foolishness?  Tell us about it!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May Activities

A lot has happened in the last month, though you wouldn't know it from my lack of posts.  This post will be a bit of a brain dump, just to get the blogging area of my head aired out a bit.

For much of the past month, I was working on preparations for the newest Guild Build over at The Wood Whisperer Guild.  It's a Greene & Greene inspired Adirondack chair, and Marc and I held a lot of design sessions to get the plans finished.  With these Guild Builds, I started simply helping out with the SketchUp work but it has evolved over time to really be a collaborative design effort between the two of us.  I will finally be building one of these projects, and brought home a few cypress boards the other day to begin construction.  This one will be fun, so stay tuned.

Greene & Greene inspired Adirondack Chair

I also started work on a walnut desk for my wife.  It will be a modular design, and the top is already completed.  I bought a metric butt load of walnut recently and this is the first of many walnut projects to come.

Walnut Desk - Top is completed
There have also been some upgrades to the shop, as always.  After using my "Swiss cheese" workbench for a few months, I have decided to enhance my work-holding by building a Moxon-Schwarz saw vise.  The design was featured in Popular Woodworking Magazine last year, but I made a few modifications.  The biggest change I made was to use metal screws instead of shop-made wooden threaded screws.  I found a great cheap source for some 1" diameter, 4 threads-per-inch metal screws and matching hex nuts.  You'll probably be seeing more about this later, but here is a quick teaser shot.

Moxon-Schwarz Saw Vise
Metal Vise Screws?  Crazy!
Summer is fully here in Georgia, and it is getting hot.  In the coming months I'll be working on the Adirondack and the Walnut Desk, with a couple detours into other fun little projects. 

Thanks for checking in!  As always, questions and comments are very welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2011

English Layout Square - Finished!

I'm still here, and actually getting a lot done in the shop.  In the past few weeks I've stashed away a small mountain of walnut, started on a new desk project, and been working on upgrades to my workbench. On top of that, I'm working with Marc Spagnuolo to design the next project for The Wood Whisperer Guild, a Greene and Greene style Adirondack Chair.  I've got a ton of pictures, and I'll attempt to catch up on my posting.

To show you that things are getting done and I'm not sitting around eating hot pockets and playing with SketchUp - well not JUST doing that anyway - below are some pictures of my completed English layout Square.

If you read back to my previous post about the class I took with Schwarz, you will see that I still had some work to do after the class.  Here is where I stopped:

Almost ready to attach the cross brace, and lots of curves need to be smoothed out.
After I got back to my shop, I was able to cut the half-laps for the cross brace and get it glued into place.  The joints came out nice and tight, and a little smoothing plane action had everything nice and flush.  This was my first time working with walnut, but it certainly won't be the last since I recently bought a pile of walnut.

Here is another shot showing the progress I made on getting the curved details completed.  I don't have a large selection of rasps, so I had to make do with some small chisels and a dowel with some sandpaper rolled around it.  The end result turned out pretty good, I think.

Working on the curvy bits
After that it was time to get the square adjusted so the corner is exactly 90 degrees.  There is a video on the Pop Woodworking site that shows how to do this.  I ended up clamping the square onto my bench on its side and just shooting along the edge with my smoothing plane. 

First one edge, then the other.  It's easy to adjust one edge at a time and get very accurate results.
After I tested and adjusted it a couple times, this simple wooden square is now more accurate than my metal framing square.  I've already used it a couple times, and it's nice to know I can easily correct things if it ever goes out of square.

Here is the final product after a couple coats of danish oil.  I've got it hanging up on one of my cabinets, and I kind of like that it looks like a big "A" for Aaron.

"A" is for Aaron, Aardvark, and Apple Pie.
It's been a while since an update, and things are getting hot in Georgia!  Is this your busy woodworking season or do you play outside in the summer and come back into the cave in the fall?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lumber Gloat

Woodworking can be an expensive hobby.  Tools, classes, and raw materials all cost money.  Anybody who thinks they are going to build furniture cheaper than Ikea is kidding themselves.  As hobbyist woodworker, the only place I can compete is on quality.  My furniture will be nicer, stronger, survive longer, and the design will be customized to my needs.

Even though woodworking can be expensive, every once in a while you get a good deal.  This is when it's time for a gloat post - like this one!

I saw an ad on Craigslist last week for some kiln-dried lumber.  A few phone calls and a two hour drive later, and I was looking at tens of thousands of board feet of lumber being sold off by a now-closed flooring mill.  Here is a picture from my cell phone of the mountains of lumber.

Need 10,000 BF of Eastern White Pine?  Here it is.
Most of the available stock was Eastern White Pine, since this mill was in the far western part of North Carolina.  Lots of pine forests up that way.  There were other species available though including Ash, Red and White Oak, Maple, and even a few exotics like Ipe and Purple Heart.

My choice was Walnut, though.  I have been designing some desks for our home office, and they will look great made of a nice Walnut.  The seller had some 4/4 walnut that was graded #1 Common, which means there are more defects allowed than the nicer FAS grade.  For my purposes, this stuff will be just fine.

Street price in the Atlanta area for 4/4 FAS Walnut is around $7 per BF for hobbyist quantities.  Even though the Craigslist lumber was a lower grade than FAS, the price was much lower also.  At $2 per Board foot, I took all that my truck could carry.  This is what 500 Board Feet of walnut look like.

There was a mix of 8ft and 6ft boards.
My shop project this weekend was to clean off my lumber rack and reload it with the walnut.  Over the years I have hoarded a mixed collection of MDF, plywood, and pine scraps.  Most of the stuff on the rack was left over from house projects, so there were 2 ft sections of crown molding and other things I would never really need.

After a purge of useless scraps, I made sure that the rack was level and ready for the Walnut.  You can see in the picture below that my longer boards are stored over the top of my plywood cart.  Details on the plywood cart are available at this post on the blog.

Lumber storage area of the shop.  Who needs a window anyway?
I stored as much as I could on the rack.  The walnut is literally stacked to the rafters.  Even so, I could only fit about 120 Board Feet on the rack.  The rest of the walnut is in my neighbor's garage.  He's a woodworker also, and we're splitting the load.

Stacked as high as it would go, I could store only 120 Board Feet
After this adventure, it looks like anything I build from now on will be made of Walnut!

Ever get a good deal?  Want to gloat about it?  Let's hear about it in the comments.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sales Counter - Final Pics

Our friend's store opened Saturday, and this was the first opportunity I had to snap some pictures of the sales counter in all its glory.

The front of the sales counter highlights salvaged doors and windows.

The rear of the counter is more functional open shelving.

The jewelry cases at each end have glass top inserts for visibility.

Despite the challenges of building this long cabinet in my small shop, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  It was fun to figure out the best way to re-use salvaged materials, and our friend loves the finished design.

Even the counter top came out fine in the end, though I had to rework it to deal with an error in measurement.  The photo below shows the seam in the middle of the long top, where the two separate slabs are joined with pocket screws from the underside.

Close-up of the seam in the counter top
Thanks to all of you who have followed this build on the blog, and given suggestions for fixing the counter top.  That's a wrap on this project!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sales Counter - Top Version 2

How do you make a woodworker cry?  Tell him he has to cut up a recently finished project with a circular saw.

Boo hoo hoo.

I recently made a sales counter for a friend's new store, and it turned out great.  Unfortunately it was too long.  The first time, I created a ship-lap joint to join the two long counter slabs.  This was the source of my error in measurement.

Version 1 of the joint was a strong ship-lap.  This joint was also the source of my error in length.
This was very strong, but I wasn't able to get the joint as tight as I would like so I had to fill the small gap with tinted epoxy.

Version 1 of the joint had a visible gap.

I used tinted epoxy to fill the gap in the original piece.

The epoxy fix turned out pretty well, but it was one of those things that drives us woodworkers crazy while nobody else really notices.  The error in length of the counter top gave me the opportunity to rethink the joint and improve the seam.

Due to the design, the only option was to cut the counter top apart and take the extra material out of the middle.  This went pretty quickly with a circular saw and straightedge.  It was very satisfying to deposit the extra chunk of material in the garbage bin, after a few choice words were exchanged.

For Version 2 of the joint, I kept things a little simpler.  First I cut the two halves to exact length to get the joint centered correctly.  Then I focused on getting the joint as tight as possible.  I ended up "shooting" the ends of both halves with my smoothing plane to get them as nice and straight as possible.

A small spacer under the slab raises it up so I can shoot the end with my planes.
This approach worked very well and I was able to get the joint super tight.  In fact, I got so excited I stopped taking pictures.  Whoops!

I decided not to so another ship-lap joint at this point.  With a tight fitting seam and no extra length remaining, I was afraid anything else I did would mess it up somehow.  Instead, I used my pocket screw jig to put in a slot every couple inches along the bottom of the slabs.  I figured I could use pocket screws to pull the two halves together during installation.

I brought the tops back over to the store, and it was much easier to transport two seven foot slabs than one 14 footer in my truck.  Installation went smoothly the second time, and the pocket screws worked great to hold the two slabs tightly together along the seam.  Luckily the cabinet design allowed me to access most of the underside easily.  I just worked slowly from one side to the other, making sure the two slabs were tight and flush before screwing them together.  The seam is much less visible than the first time, and so flush that you can barely feel it.  Even better, I didn't have to strip any finish or sand to get the joint smoothed out.

I'll have pictures of the final sales counter soon - the grand opening of the store is this weekend.  Until then, I am running laps around my tiny shop.  It feels twice as big now that the counter tops are gone!

Do you ever find yourself fixing mistakes?  I sure do!  Comments are open, operators standing by!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Mr. Schwarz? My brain is full.

Chris Schwarz came to Atlanta this past weekend.  He is the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, a workbench guru, a hand plane aficionado, and a leading voice in the use of hand tools for woodworking.  On Friday night he gave a talk about router planes and then gave the first-ever public talk about his upcoming book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest.  The talk was very compelling and I am sure the book will be very well received.

Chris Schwarz at work

On Sunday, I had the good fortune to take a day-long class with him at the Atlanta Woodcraft store.  The goal was to build a traditional English layout square, copied from an antique tool and published recently in Popular Woodworking Magazine.  Think of a wooden framing square and you'll have the right idea.

Here is how the class felt for me:

This was an 8 hour brain dump on all sorts of topics.  We talked about lots of tools and practiced a bunch of techniques.  Sharpening plane irons, planing stock square, sawing tenon cheeks, using shoulder planes, laughing at router plane "depth suggesters", fairing curves with rasps, cutting tenon shoulders cleanly, paring with a chisel, and even simple things like gluing end grain.  This class was full of great content, and well worth the time and cost to spend the day soaking it up.

After 4 hours of work, here is what was on my bench.  Three sticks of walnut that really don't look much different than when I first picked them up hours earlier.  All I can tell you is that this stock was as flat and square as I could make it, which is a critical first step toward making tight joints.

Halfway done, but not looking like much!

For the rest of the class, we rallied and worked toward cutting a bunch of half lap joints, roughing out curves on the detail areas, and making tight joints.  I don't think anybody finished the square, but some folks got pretty close.  Here is a picture of my project as I was marking the joints in the stretcher.

My progress toward the end of the day
There were only 7 students in the class, so there was plenty of personal attention. This did not always work to my advantage.  Quote of the day from Chris was "Uhh, Aaron?  Maybe you cut to the wrong side of the line." Ouch.

Thanks to Chris for making the trip, and to Steve Quehl for bringing him to our local WoodCraft.

It is always humbling for me to interact with very experienced woodworkers, but I learn so much more than I can by just reading about it or going solo.  How do you connect with the woodworking community?  Do you take classes, or just try to figure things out for yourself?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Arrrrrrgh! Sales Counter Top Update

No, I'm not a pirate.  That's "Arrrrrrgh" as in "I am really upset and frustrated!"  Ever have one of those days?  Me too.

As a reminder, I recently built a sales counter for a friend that is roughly 14 feet long.  It has been installed, and the last thing left to do was join two store-bought butcher block counter tops together into a single long slab for the top.

Easy, right?  Well, kind of.  I'm going to get a lot of practice.  I made it too long the first time, so I get to try again.

Here's how I did it the first time.  With a series of too-complicated router setups, I created a half-lap joint between the two top slabs.  This turned out to be ultra-strong, but was the source of my error.  Somehow I messed up and the length of the overlap was added to the total counter.  The half-lap is about 3 inches wide.

Half lap joint is very strong, but I didn't measure correctly for overall length.
If I had caught the problem at this point, fixing it would have been easy.  I could have just trimmed the ends of the counter to the correct overall length.  Instead I just plowed ahead with all the remaining steps. I sanded, stained, varnished, and delivered the top.  I plopped it down on top of the sales counter and finally discovered the length was wrong.


This sales counter has a jewelry case at each end, so part of the design called for a glass insert in each end of the top.  You can see one of the cutouts in the picture below, and there is one on the other end too.

After adding cutouts for glass inserts, the only option is to cut it back apart to fix the length.
The problem now is that the cutouts for the glass inserts prevent me from simply trimming the ends off.  I will be forced to cut the two slabs apart again and redo the center joint.


The other challenge is that the top has been stained and I have several coats of durable poly applied as a finish.  I really don't want to repeat the half lap process, because I don't want to have to sand or plane the joint to get it flush.  I haven't had good luck touching up a stain/poly finish and I don't want to strip the entire top.

I'll keep you posted.  Back to the shop.

Ever have one of those days?  Got any ideas?  How would you recover from this blunder?  I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sales Counter Installation

This past weekend I delivered and installed most of the sales counter project I have been making for a friend.  It was good to see this come together, and I have a lot more space in my shop now that it is gone.

Here is a quick video of the beginning of the installation.  I had hoped to capture it all but technology issues (ID 10 T errors probably) prevented me from getting the rest of the shot. 

You can see how the two end cabinets are the foundation for the piece, and then all the middle stuff gets added on site.  Here is the rest of the unit, all assembled and ready for the top to be installed at a later date.

All that remains is to join two large butcherblock slabs into a 14 foot long top, and to put some salvaged baseboard around the whole thing.  Stay tuned!

Ever used reclaimed materials for a project?  How did it come out?  Tell us about it in the comments!