When Mum and Dad were round over Christmas I proudly showed off my new(ish) bench, expounding its virtues. I enthused about the way I had built the tool tray so that it can be turned upside down and is level with the bench top, so level, I insisted, that I could mark the bottoms of the legs of chairs to trim them. “It’ll take you half an hour to empty it first.” Dad observed.
It can’t be denied that it does fill up in the middle of a project. But half an hour is just hyperbole. It didn’t take a second longer than 28 minutes to clean up the bench and that included rescuing all of the pencils from the pile of shavings. I maintain that it’s worth it. Not one tool fell on floor throughout the last project.
Most tools went back in their respective places but a favoured few were returned to the bench and are now full time tray dwellers.
From left to right: the leftmost dog that interchanges with the Simon James toothed bench stop to its right. Below them a lump hammer for holdfasts and chair legs. Some tenon cheeks from a project long forgotten that serve as clamp/holdfast pads. Leather scraps that do the same. Joiners’ saddles, candle for waxing planes and screws, bench brush.
All pencils were repatriated to the pencil box. They’ll find their way back; it’s an ongoing process. The holdfasts are too big for the tray and hang from a peg next to the bench or one of the stretchers on the leg assembly; always within reach.
Happy New Year.
I’ve been using the end vice on my newish bench for a couple of months. I’m delighted with it but it could have been easier to build.
The construction was ludicrously complicated. I used massive dovetails at the front and back of the bench to hold the end cap on. I don’t think I needed to; three beefy draw bore pegs through a clamped (breadboard) end would have been sufficient and cut the construction time down.
The vice screws were a very good price but I couldn’t get them with square section nuts so there is a bit of dust trap at the end.
I’m working on some drawings; they’re getting complicated.
I just watched a video by Vic Teselin and Fine Woodworking on sharpening a router plane blade. I do it differently and thought I’d stick my oar in.
‘My method’ (I’m sure others do it the same way and have done for longer) reduces the strength of the iron a bit though I’m not sure it matters much. But it’s everso easy and doesn’t require jigs or sanding drums. Vic sharpens the upper part of the iron which is probably the manufacturers’ intention. I don’t. Sorry manufacturers.
Sharpening seems to be very contentious so just for the record: I don’t mind if you don’t do it this way. I don’t want you to change if you like your way. I’m not a terrible person because I do it this way and I’m happy to concede that your way may be just as good if not better. Has that covered everything?
The modular nature of the Moravian workbench was one of the many reasons I built this bench. If I don’t like the tool tray I can replace it with a flat board flush with the bench top. Don’t like the position of the vice screw? It’s not through the leg so I can change the back piece without messing up the rest of the bench. I’ve built two sets of legs so that I can have a taller carving bench and a shorter joinery bench.
It’s given me the opportunity to play with a couple of ideas. Two years ago I saw one of Douglas Coates’ Ad-Vices at Oliver Sparks’ ’shop. Earlier this summer I got to examine it in a bit more detail and take some photographs. It has a clever double screw mechanism. Instead of a parallel guide at the bottom with holes and a pin it uses a threaded rod with a nut between the vice chop and the back piece. This keeps the chop parallel to the front plane of the bench.
Building one into my new bench been a rather lengthy diversion from all of the other projects I’ve got planned and I’m not sure it’s a huge improvement over the traditional guide but it’s an interesting feature. The Ad-Vice has a greater distance between the small, lower screw and the large, upper screw than between the workpiece to be clamped and the upper screw. This gives it a lot of mechanical advantage and means that the smaller threads of the lower screw aren’t under so much pressure. I couldn’t achieve this ratio and it will be interesting to see how long the lower screw lasts. If it breaks I’ll just replace a couple of components – the joys of a modular workbench.
I’ve also built an end vice, but more on that next time.
Production work isn’t my modus operandi. I’m not averse to jigs and stops and repeatability but it’s not usually what I do.
Fifteen bench dogs made it worthwhile. I’m not channelling Jarrod Dahl’s Mastery through Production Work. Rather than improving skills I think I’m probably avoiding the need for them. But it’s all worth it.
I usually mark every cut and then cut it. Today I made many cuts using a stop on the edge of the bench and the saw in line with the bench hook and no marks. Setup time: a couple of minutes. Time saved: not as much as writing a blog post about it.
With the dogs cut to length I set a shim in the bottom of the vice, a joiner’s saddle to hold the dog and another shim to mark a consistent height for the flat at the top of the dog.
To quickly put a chamfer on the top I set a low angle plane with a very fine mouth upside down in the vice and ran the dogs over the blade. Very effective. I’ll use this again for other work.
I had a bright idea about gluing the suede to the faces by ganging them in the vice but it was a false start. The tiny inconsistencies in my cutting and the vice jaws meant that some were tight and others loose. But it makes for a better photograph than all of them clamped individually!
Working out a consistent, quick system for counterboring and drilling the holes for the bullet catches took a bit of time and was worthwhile for the repeatebility rather than the time saving. I wanted to get the bullet catches at a slightly different angle on each dog so that once they’ve worn away a groove in the dog hole I can swap them over and they won’t run in the same track. Gang marking the holes achieved this.
Having a selection of braces meant that I didn’t need to change bits and got all of the holes bored very swiftly.
Notes to self about ‘production’ work:
- Break the work down into small, discrete operations.
- Do one operation to all work pieces before moving on.
- Keep only the tools needed for that operation on the bench.
- Test all jigs, stops and techniques on scrap before applying them to the workpieces
- Having a cup of tea between each operation negates all of the time saved.
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m building a Moravian workbench. I’m not writing about it here because it’s been so well covered by Will Myers in his step-by-step guide on wkfinetools.com and his video with Joshua Farnsworth.
I will be writing about the end vice I’m building which might be useful to those who haven’t yet fitted a vicious toothed planing stop and doe’s foot to their bench.
- Planes come with a built-in reference edge
Yesterday I was at Richard Arnold’s open day and listened to Oli Sparks talking about flattening the ways on his milling machine. He does this by hand marking the high spots using machinist’s dye and a very flat reference plate.
I have been struggling to find a way to measure the flatness of my workbench top end to end. Checking for wind and flatness side to side is easy.
That’s straight enough for a six foot bench!
But other than squinting I have no way to check flat along the length of the bench. On the drive home yesterday inspiration struck. A piece of string, pulled taught will let me see hollow and humps. When I was fishing out a crayon to mark the spots shown by the string I found my chalk line. Even better. Pulled taught and dragged across the bench this showed up the humps very quickly.
From both sides
..and both ends
With the humps nicely coloured in I could flatten them out. I was a bit worried that I was making a rod for my own back. How flat does a workbench need to be? (That’s a rhetorical question – I’m happy with my own answer!) The chalk line quickly revealed that the ends were high. With a bit of planing I started to see the humps in the middle.
- Plane until the blue has gone
I often find myself chasing my tail when flattening long wide pieces. I go too far on one section and then have to level the rest to it. With this method I did a lot less planing and a lot more checking (which is considerably less tiring!).
Once the big humps had disappeared and the chalk line was just colouring the whole bench blue I switched from the scrub to the jointer plane and made a couple more passes until the blue had disappeared. You’ve got to be sure that you’ve got the thickness to carry on planing once the humps have gone because that chalk gets everywhere and you’re going to need a final pass to get rid of it. On a 4 inch workbench top that’s not really a problem.
Caveat: the blue gets stuck in the tearout. But this is workbench, not a piano.
I’ve finally cleaned up and uploaded the plans for the clamp front chest. I’m sure they wouldn’t conform to any model of good draughtsmanship but they’re probably intelligible. If you build a box using this method I’d love to hear about it.
click here to download plans