Monthly Archives: January 2012

Road Trip!

My son and I ran over to Southern Lumber in San Jose this morning to pick up some material for the legs and stretchers.  I probably could have gotten this at the lumber yard in town, but they have a nice selection of hardwood and I like to browse.

First things first, we picked out two 8′ 6″ x 6″s to make the legs, and a few shorter pieces of 3″ x 6″ for the stretchers.  All doug fir.  They are green, so I’ll need to rough cut them and let the air dry a bit before I do the joinery.

It won’t take much work with the plane to clean those up!

Kolya and I browsed through the wood for a while.  They had some nice, clear pine in 1″, 5/4 and 8/4, but it seemed pretty expensive.  Perfect for building a toolchest, not so good for my budget.  Southern Lumber is known for the selection, not low prices I guess.  We looked at all sorts of tropical exotics, Kolya was really surprised at the weight of the ebony planks.  I was shocked at the price (about $100/bf).  In the next aisle they had some 4″ x 6″ balsa boards.  I had him try to lift one of those.

I also got some quality time with my saws and have the bench top sized up, I’ll post some pictures tomorrow.

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Workbench Progress

I was pretty busy with family stuff yesterday, but I managed to sneak out to the shop for an hour and make make some good progress on my bench top.

First I did a little more work on the face.  It’s pretty flat, I get full width shavings over most of the top, and it checks out with my giant straightedge.  I haven’t decided if this will be the top or bottom yet, I’ll do that after I get the opposite face to the same state.  I’m thinking about filling the checks with black-tinted epoxy like Christopher Schwarz did on his bench.

Next I need to square up the four edges.  Starting with the one that was the closest to being accurate of course.  I stood the slab on the floor with the best edge edge up, and braced it by clamping it to a giant angle plate.  I checked it with a straight edge along the length and with a framing square against the true face and the edge I’m working.  I used the scrub plane to waste away the material to get it close, then switched to my toothed jack to get it trued up.  Finally I made enough passes with the #8 to get rid of the texture from the jack teeth and to remove any little undulations.  In this picture I’m still working with the jack plane.  I’m not sure what my camera decided to focus on here, but it’s certainly not anything in the picture.

I continue to be stunned about how much more effort it is to wield the #8 jointer over the jack or scrub planes.  I’ve been thinking I should join a gym (usually I sit down and clear my mind until the thought passes), but  if I keep up with this plane I think I’ll have it covered.

Did I mention that I got a Care Package in the mail from Mark at Bad Axe?  It had the resharpened D8 that I restored a few weeks ago.  I’m eager to put it to use.  I hoisted the benchtop back up onto my pseudo bench.  10 years ago I would have done this by myself.  5 years ago I would have thought I could do this by myself.  Yesterday I got someone to help me.

I marked out my first cross cut with the framing square and a red pen.  I picked the spot to eliminate one knot and keep another from showing on the end grain.

Finally I get to try out my D8.  I kerfed along the vertical line first, then started along the top.

This is my first experience hand-sawing like this, and I really had no idea what to expect. The saw cut easily, and I tried to keep my grip loose and push the saw without overpowering it.  That seemed to work pretty well.  It wasn’t that much effort to cross cut this end, waaaay less than running the jointer plane over the face of the bench.

In the end I did a so-so jab sawing.  I ran into some trouble around the mid point, I think I was trying to twist the saw to keep it from biting into my layout line.  I pulled the saw out and started from the opposite end and finished the cut.  The cut is very straight across the top.  It’s square to the top at both ends, but it swells out maybe 1/8″ in the lower middle area.  I’m sure it’s my (lack of) technique.  I’m also sure that a little work with my plane I can fix it, and that my next cut will be loads better.

I’m going to go find some material for the legs this morning, then I’ll get back to finishing off the benchtop.


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I had a few minutes last night to do a little more planing on my bench top.  I traversed the entire top using the scrub plane to take off the rough-sawn exterior.  Big chips, light tool, easy.

The scrub plane and the knots aren’t on speaking terms, so I switched over to my Lie-Nielsen Low Angle Jack Plane with a toothed blade.  I’m loving that tool.  All the knots were sticking up above the surface at this point, so I worked each knot down individually.  Then I started planing at about a 45 degree angle to the length of the top, still using the toothed jack.  I worked the top surface in 1/3s, here I’ve made an initial pass over the nearest 1/3 of the top.  At this point I’m still cutting off the top of the grooves left by Mr. Scrub.  There are still a lot of low spots (darker areas).

The toothed jack is officially now my Weapon of Choice(tm) for attacking knots.  Here is a close up of one of the knots that has been worked.  I’m taking a really heavy cut, and the plane glides right across with just a little resistance.  Slightly larger, heavier tool, slightly harder to push, slightly lighter cut, slightly not easy.

After perhaps three rounds of angled planing, checking with a large straightedge and then a lengthwise pass I have tho top fairly flat.  Next step is to chase out a few small, localized lumps (that’s why the framing square is there, my straightedge weighs 10 pounds), then switch to the #8 to to flatten it further and remove the toothing.  Hefting that plane is a total cardio workout.  Really big tool, shavings not chips, seriously not easy.

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And So, It Begins

I suspect that the sweaty hours I spent getting the edges trued up in order to glue up my workbench top are going to be something I look back fondly on as simple and relaxing.

I pulled the clamps off the bench top and laid it on my wobbly pseudo-bench.  And I started in with a scrub plane to level the top.  Well, probably the bottom of the top in point of fact.

I checked it with a straightedge, and it’s reasonably coplanar.  For weathered, rough sawn, glue-splattered wood that is.  A few knots were sticking up, so I knocked them down with the toothed blade in my Lie-Nielsen low angle jack.  Then I started traversing with my scrub plane.  As long as I don’t run into a knot with it, this goes really fast.

And I have to say, I don’t think chunky shavings get enough love.

I expect I’ll be at this for a while.  Still, I need to start looking for some 6″ x 6″ stock for the legs.


– Joe

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Don’t be a square…

Christopher Schwarz posted a couple of pictures of a rare (as in “the only one known”) Harvey Peace square hole saw in a recent blog.  The saw really caught my attention as I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s not that I have a tool problem or anything.  Really.  And no, I don’t think the fact that Mark at Bad Axe Tool Works is on my speed dial list means anything.

But check this saw out.  It’s so wrong that it’s right.  Look at the tooth pattern on the front of the saw compared to the sideways portion.

I googled for information about it, and ended up emailing Joshua Clark at Hyperkitten about it as he collects Harvey Peace saws.  Turns out HE owns this saw now.  Small world.  Here is what he said about it:

The square hole saw that Chris featured on his page was made by Harvey Peace though Disston did have a similar design. It must have been an old idea since neither seemed to patent it. The saw was designed to cut square holes in walls, etc without having to drill holes at the corners as you might with a compass saw. Here is a picture of the Peace saw from an old catalog I have:

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Dado Experiment

I recently picked up an old Stanley 71 router plane on eBay, and it arrived today.  After work I cleaned up the adjuster and oiled it, and sharpened the cutter, and tried it out on a piece of scrap cedar left over from the boy’s birdhouse project.  Wow, I really like how this cuts.  Of course “with the grain” is something of an ideal situation, but just hogging out this area in a few passes was very controlable.

So I decided to try something I’ve seen in books but never actually done (with just hand tools): Make a stopped dado.  I smoothed out a piece of dime store pine – this stuff is unbelievably soft.  I knifed in a stopped dado 1″ wide part way across the board.  Practice pieces make good kindling.

Then I sawed out the two sides.  I used a Lie Nielsen 12ppt back saw that I got for christmas — first cut with this.  I was a little surprised at the width of the kerf, but this is some really soft wood.  I’ll have to repeat this experiment on a piece of hardwood.  It actually was pretty controllable, and I think with a little practice I’ll be able to do a nice job of this.

I started my cut at the edge of the board, and walked the teeth down the scribe line.  Then I raised the back of the saw to cut the rear to depth, then leveled it out to finish the cut.

Then I chopped out the waste with a 1″ chisel.  I tried paring the edges as I’ve seen in some books but the pine was just crumbling so I made a series of stab/chops down the length of the dado, then broke the waste out.

Then I set the router plane to the lowest depth I could find in the chiseled dado and leveled the bottom.  I set it down a hare further and took a cleanup cut.  It was very controllable and didn’t take much force at all.

In the end I had a workable-if-not-beautiful dado.  It took all of perhaps 5 minutes to do, including taking a few snapshots.  And it didn’t require drawing blood.  More practice with the saw will be improve matters.

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Planing Knots

I worked on my Roubo bench some more.

After some consideration I decided that the 17.5″ width I had from gluing up just two of the beams wasn’t enough.  It may have actually been fine (the bench I’m using is even narrower), but I decided to try to stick to the rules outlined by Christopher Schwarz in his workbench books.  He recommends 20″ to 24″ in width, with 18″ being marginal and a little “tippy”.  So I jointed one edge of the previous glue-up and one edge of the remaining beam.

Jointing the previously-glued-up assembly went very quickly.  I used the scrub plane to remove the rough exterior and get rid of the major lumps.  Then I went to a Stanley #5 jack plane and worked out the lumps from the scrub plane and improved the “trueness”, checking it with my giant straightedge (a 5′ bar of 1/4″ thick by 4″ wide steel that I had laying around).  Then I switched to the Stanley #8 and flattened it, checked it for twist and set it aside.

This is a terrible picture, sorry.

Things were a little more interesting with the other piece of wood.  It had a big knot, which was also a major high spot on the face.  The knot and the scrub plane don’t get along. I leveled everything else with the scrub plane, then I fit a toothed blade in my Lie-Nielsen low angle jack plane and tried it on the knot.  It shaved it down without complaining!  Here I’m about half way there, you can see there is still a big gap under the edge of the plane.  I worked it from both sides; my goal was to bring the knot below the surface of the surrounding wood.

If you haven’t used a toothed plane before they make little tiny curly shavings.  One of the guys at the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event in Oakland recommended this blade for roughing, and it worked out really well on this knot.

More planing, and eventually I got the knot and the last of the rough surface leveled.  I was really worrying about the knots in the wood, but I think it’s going to work out OK.

As I worked the surface down toward flat I used a red pen to mark the high spots I’d find with the straightedge or winding sticks.  I’d work those down and check again.  Once it got close I started making full length straight passes with the #8.  OMG, that thing is a workout.  But heart racing, sweat dripping, gasping for breath, I got it trued up.

I had my 11 year old son help me lift it into place to check the fit and fine tune things.  Then we glued it in place.  I used “too much” glue – I’m not at all concerned about the squeeze out because it’s all still rough and unsurfaced.  I’ll leave it in the clamps all week because I probably won’t have time to do anything until next weekend anyway,  I’ve got about 26″ of width now, so I’ll have to rip 2″ or so off to end up at my target 24″.  That should be interesting.

Once I get it ripped and cross-cut to size I’ll start flattening the exterior.  I plan to use 6 x 6 fir for the legs, and maybe 4 x 6 or 4 x 8 for the stretchers.  Cutting the joinery for the legs  will be another learning process.

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Repetition, Relaxation and Learning

Pleasure and action make the hours seem short, William Shakespeare

I’ve found a certain relaxation in repetition.  I think I first experienced this while block-sanding the primer coat on my 1973 Firebird (in 1980) while I was getting it ready for a coat of eye-searing red paint.  Some music on the stereo, the essential tools for the job at hand, and letting myself go with the rhythm of the job.

I’ve had the same experience many time since while working in the shop.  Perhaps 8 years ago I started a hobby business to manufacture some motorcycle-related items.  I found that there is a certain pleasure in working at a steady pace on a repetitive job.  I’ve also found that there is a limit to the number of times I can repeat something in one sitting before it becomes a grind.  It’s important to know the difference.

I had to TIG weld a batch of parts tonight, 40 to 50 is a good amount for one sitting for me.  Any more and I get uncomfortable.  Too few and I’m  not able to get into the rhythm.  Sometimes I put some music on and enjoy the process, tonight I had a quiet shop and counted off a cadence in my head and worked on making sure I kept a steady pace.  In the groove it’s about 45 seconds for each one of these little brackets.

I’ve also learned that this is the best possible sort of practice.  What I mean is that practicing an operation on a part that matters teaches skill faster and better – for me at least – than just doing practice parts.  When I was learning how to weld I bought an oxy-acetylene rig at the local store, a pre-bent roll cage “kit” and after making a few practice joints I lept into cutting, fitting and welding the tubing into my 1973 Firebird.  Any bad joints I ground out and re-welded – but that was a rare occurrence.  My focus was better and I developed the basic welding skills I needed on the go.

I’m writing primarily about learning hand tool woodworking these days.  The basics begin with dimensioning and truing rough lumber using hand planes, and learning basic joinery.  I’m building my bench, beginning with rough doug fir timbers, and the experience getting a 6 inch by 6 foot face flat and true was invaluable.  I’ve made a half dozen practice dovetail joints. They still look bad, but I think I’m going to need to work them into a project soon.

I think this boils down to “perfect practice makes perfect”, and discovering how to make sure you have your focus  (and not your blood) on the job at hand.

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First Experiences: Glen-Drake Tite-Mark Gauge

Early on I blogged about my less than satisfactory experience with the Shop Fox marking gauge.  It was only $14 or so, but even after lapping the dull cutter it still didn’t make a satisfactory line.

So I decided to reward myself recently with a Tite-Mark.  I’m not sure what I was rewarding myself for.  Certainly not for being a good boy.  Maybe for putting up with the Shop Fox gauge?

Unpacking the gauge I was surprised to find a DVD packaged with my order.  The DVD is a video catalog of sorts, and is a nice touch.  It also explains how to use the gauge and what the optional accessories offer.

The gauge is every bit as nice as I expected.  It’s beautifully made.  The micro-adjuster is very handy.  It’s made by real people, in this country, which I really appreciate.  But here is the money shot: it makes crisp lines on wood.  I mean, that’s what a marking gauge is supposed to do, and it’s what kills the Shop Fox gauge at the starting gate.  Notice how, even after I sharpened the Shop Fox cutter to a razor edge it makes a very wide mark and even rides up over the growth rings.  Every stroke with the Shop Fox makes the line wider in addition to deeper.  Not Good.

The Glen-Drake makes a clean cut through the fibers.  Subsequent cuts just deepen the mark, then don’t make it any wider.

Yes the Glen-Drake marking gauge is 4 or 5 times the cost of the Shop Fox, but that’s the wrong way of looking at it in my opinion.  How much is the wood going to cost for you next furniture project?  Think about the waste from a few sloppy tenons or dovetails.  Think too about people in this country creating something with their hands instead of shipping the work offshore so they could maximize their profits.

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Making a Marking Gauge

Or more accurately, making part of a marking gauge.

After my false start on making a marking gauge I cleaned up, cleared my head and started again.

First I made the beam out of a piece of figured maple.  And I gave it a few coats of oil.  I’m not planning on bleeding on this piece, but it can’t hurt to take some precautions.

I also planed up a piece of Walnut scrap I had for the sliding stop.  That went really well, what a great confidence builder.  Then I laid out the mortise for the Maple beam to fit.  While I was planing the Walnut my new Glen-Drake Tite-Mark arrived, so I put it right to use.  The cutter on it is great, it makes nice, crisp lines.  I’ll have to post a review once I get some more seat time with it, but I can tell I’m going to love it.

I bored a hole using a 5/8″ auger bit in my brace (the beam is 3/4″ thick) and carefully chopped out the waste.  I don’t have a mortice chisel (yet) so I took little bites and snuck up on the scribe lines.  Success!  It’s not perfect, but it’s snug and doesn’t wiggle.

I’m still thinking about how I want to make the cutter, I’ll finish this off when I get some more shop time.

(note that not only are there no unsightly gaps, there aren’t any embarrassing drops of blood either)

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