Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

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.

AC528B6F-B022-4241-8C88-478F88AD01F2It’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.

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Think like a machine

Think like a machine

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.

Bench dogs - 1

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.

Bench dogs - 2

 

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.

Bench dogs - 6I 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.

 

Flattening

Flattening

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.

Checking for flat
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.

 

Winding?

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.

 

 

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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.

 

Planing
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.

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Caveat: the blue gets stuck in the tearout. But this is workbench, not a piano.

The Workbench

The Workbench

“After a while you can get used to anything.” Albert Camus, The Stranger

I’m thinking of rickety workbenches, not being incarcerated in an Algerian prison for murder, but you take the point: I have a high tolerance for ropey workbenches.
But I’ve finally been jolted into building a better bench. I’d like to extend the Camus analogy by making a parallel between my passive acceptance of the wobblyness of my bench and Meursault’s sleep-walk towards his own execution but that would require me to draw a link between him waking from his ennui by shouting at a priest delivering his last rights and my own renaissance. My shame was far more twenty-first century: flamed on YouTube for a shaky bench. Twice. It’s amazing what people can get cross about.
So before I launch into this timber framing project let’s take a look at what led up to it. It started here:

84401189-47B8-47C4-85AE-74685844301B

Dad likes Workmates so much that he owns two. And modifies them. He had a blue one when we were kids. I wonder what happened to it. We did a lot of work on that bench.

Picnic bench

This isn’t the one we used. It didn’t survive the abuse.

Despite the Workmate a lot of my early woodworking was done on a picnic table. They make surprisingly good workbenches. The seats are at the perfect height for breaking down stock with a hand saw and the table-top has gaps between every slat. On some tables these are big enough for clamp. If you’re careful you can line the gaps up with the circular saw kerf. If you’re not you learn how to repair picnic tables.

Short of a decent vice what’s not to like? Some are a bit wobbly and perhaps that’s where my existential malaise started.
At school, like every child of my generation, I used the standard British joiners’ bench. One vice, a tool well and a brush. Sweeping up was as much a part of woodwork classes as learning to saw straight. It was here that I learnt to love tool wells. And sweeping.

Sawhorse workbench

Camus notwithstanding I never got used to the Japanese saw (it doesn’t help that it doesn’t match the bench hook) and my tolerance for these two terrible squares didn’t last longer than this project.

As an adult with limited storage space I went back to the Workmate but as projects got bigger space remained tight and I built a sawhorse workbench: two strips of plywood bolted to sawhorses with insert nuts in the tops. This was surprisingly robust; it barely moved. I put this down to the number of legs. But it still didn’t have a vice or any decent workholding other than clamps. So I built a ‘lightweight’ folding bench. Originally it had a crochet and no vice. (There are proponents of viceless woodworking out there: people who encourage beginners to take up a craft with one hand tied behind their backs. I have bad words for them.) So after a few years I installed a massive Record 53 on the front of my lightweight bench. This led to the hole in the workshop floor and the floorboard repair I did last year.

 

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Matriphagy is not uncommon with workbenches.

During my last project I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I used the bench and what I wanted to keep and change.

 

Staying

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Tool tray

I like my tools on the bench, not the floor. Wells and trays fill up with shavings, reduce the usable space on your bench and allow bad habits to form but I don’t care. I like them and I’m sticking with them.

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 Holdfasts and holes

All holes will be round, or more accurately, cylindrical. With astonishing timing Simon James decided to start making 1″ holdfasts at a sensible price when I bought the timber for the bench. I’ve been using the late Richard Tomes’ 3/4″ holdfasts for several years and if Simon James’ version are as good I’ll be delighted. They are absolutely massive and won’t need much of a tap to set them solidly.

 

Tail vice

I use a Veritas inset vice and bench dogs. It’s slow but excellent value and with a clever two position dog. I’m sure a batten and toothed stop work but one can grow used to luxury as well as privation and my next end vice will bigger and better.

Portable

More on this later.

Going

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Never been used

Apron

I only use one of the holes on the apron a lot and it will be in the leg of my next bench. The others are largely redundant. I used them more before I installed the vice.

 

 

 

 

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The old bench is starting to feel a bit emasculated

Lightweight

Colin Chapman said “Simplify, then add lightness.” But he was building things to move – quickly. Two inches of ash aren’t enough to stop a bench roaming around the workshop. The legs will be four times the cross sectional area and the top twice as thick.

Folding

I’ve been procrastinating about this for years. I wanted something very heavy but portable. Hard to achieve.

I do occasional demonstrations but most of my itinerant woodwork has been done at the boatyard. For several years I thought I’d build a massive French bench with wheels and floor locks. Then I realised that although I could get it out of the workshop, across the garden and through the kitchen it would never turn the corner in the hallway of our Victorian terrace (row house).
Then Will Myers published a terrific account of building his Moravian workbench. It’s been on my list for a while and I’ve finally got a gap between projects. It has everything I want: weight, portability, a tool tray and great workholding.
Will built his from white pine. I’m making my life more difficult (and expensive) by using oak. But it adds weight and weight is good.
I have an idea for a pair of wheels that fit on an axle that passes through a dog hole. This should make the four inch laminated top a bit more mobile.

I’ve glued up one set of legs. Eventually it will have two sets: high and low, carving and joinery. Don’t hold your breath; it’s a big project. But waiting is something you can get used to.

 

 

Medieval woodworking part 2

If I’m to demonstrate C13th woodwork I’ll need a bench. There’s no evidence, as far as I’m aware, that the waist-high joiners’ benches we know today existed in those time. Staked benches, both low and high, certainly did.

Once again Chris Schwarz’s Roman Workbenches and Vires’ Woodworking in Estonia provided some inspiration, measurements and guidance.

I’m not making any great claims to historical accuracy with this. It’s a fairly pragmatic step. People almost certainly sat on low benches and removed small bits of wood from bigger bits of wood. They still do. We’ll get to the interesting stuff (chests and chairs) soon but in the meantime here’s what I built: