Monthly Archives: November 2012

World’s Worst Workbench

If you’ll pardon the bluster, I think I have the world’s worst workbench.  I’m sure that the guys using hollow core doors on cinder blocks will disagree, perhaps rightfully.  But I think my pile would give theirs a run for their money.  I’ve never worked on a hollow core door setup, but I once used a scrap of 3/8″ ply on two stacks of used tires, and that had more to recommend it.  It was easier to clamp things to, this bench has a skirt and braces everywhere that work together to prevent adequate clamping.  But at least it looks like a proper workbench.

Worlds Worst Workbench ™

Lately this bench has gotten worse.  I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either.  The blots and screws that (more or less) hold it together were all loose.  I found myself taking some test passes on the edge of a small piece of Canary Pine (another story) and and bench would lozenge about 6″ and at the end of the stroke it would snap back upright.  I had all four of the legs for my new bench on it, and after three passes with the plane on the scrap pine they got shot off the end on the rebound.  Crimeny.

So, bright and early Saturday I decided to see if I could fix the worst of the problems.  Just make it good enough to help me finish making my new bench (and perhaps plane my scrap of Canary Pine).  I started by tightening all of the bolts and screws.  The ones that held the end vise together had lost their nuts, so I picked up some new barrel nuts that are made for knock down furniture at the hardware store.  I took the end cap off and flattened the mating faces and bolted it back together with a slather of wood glue for good measure.  The alignment between the end cap and the stretcher at the top of the legs was off by 1/8″, so I planed that flat too.  And tightened everything I could.

End Cap Put Back Together

End Vise Back Together and Leveled

The bench uses 4 lag bolts to hold the top to the legs, you won’t be surprised to learn they were loose.  I got some slightly longer/thicker bolts at the hardware store and replaced all four, and added an extra bolt at the far end of the bench where it’s wider for the shoulder vise.  Not surprisingly, this helped stabilize the wracking.

Screw This Bench

I added some L-brackets to the stretchers to help resist wracking too.  The stretchers a a key weak point.  When the stretchers are in the right orientation with the bolt tight they do their best to keep the vise straight.  But it only takes a little bit of use for them to loosen, and of course the stretchers flop over horizontally and are completely useless then.

Hardware Store L-Brackets

Finally, I addressed the cupped and twisted top.  I probably could have skipped this step — not because the bench didn’t need it, but because in my ever-hopeful mind I’m anticipating being finished with the new bench soon.  But I have this bit of Canary Pine that needs flattening…

So, onto flattening.  I used my #5 Stanley (the one I restored for a rusty $14 hunk earlier this year) to traverse the top and take out the cup.

Traversing the Top with a Jack Plane

Once I had the cup flattened, I switched to the #8 (“heart buster”) and started in on my cardio workout.  I had to work in a few localized areas and on the diagonal to get things even, then I started working lengthwise.  Finally, I laid out some pencil lines so I could track my progress and used a light cut and even strokes to erase them.

Penciled Guidelines

Until the lines were gone.  I really have to either join a gym (and go) or spend more time planing.  I still feel like I’m 18 and can do anything, until I sling that jointer plane around for half an hour.

Flat and Straight

After a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil, I’m ready to put it through it’s paces.  This actually surprised me, I thought I would be ready for a nap.

So, what’s the result?  The lozenge problem is cured, thank the gods.  The top is flat.  The end vise still racks, but only about 1/4″ instead of 2″.  The shoulder vise isn’t any better than it was.  It’s still too light, but the 150 pound cast iron angle plate I have clamped to the legs helps with that.  I need to make some handles for the vises.  It had metal handles with pressed-on plastic balls that immediately fell off and bounced away never to be seen again.

One Coat of BLO and it’s a Go!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Gripping Struggle

Something that I’ve been wrestling with for a while is what to do for a tail vise for my workbench.

I really like the idea of a wagon vise, conceptually that is perfect.  The board lays completely on top of the bench, and the dog sticks up out of a slot for clamping.  This particular one was shop-built by Chris Schwarz for one of his workbenches using an off the shelf vise screw and simple wooden guides.  It demonstrates the simplicity nicely, and you can see how the board would be perfectly supported with the vise only clamping and not otherwise interfering.

Chris Schwarz’ Wagon Vise, Circa 2006

There are a couple of things that concern me about the commercial wagon vises I’ve seen.  Don’t get me wrong, they all appear to be wonderful  vises — I’m concerned about the complexity of installing one.  In particular about the amount of surgery I’d have to do on my mostly-finished bench top.  I want to finish this project (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding) so I can get on with making other stuff I have in mind.

Installing a commercial wagon vise typically involves not only milling a slot in the top (that’s a given), but adding an end cap and carving away a lot of the underside of the bench for clearance.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why those things bother me so much, maybe by the end of this post I’ll have a better handle on it.

So, with an eye toward simpler approaches that get me to a functioning bench, let’s look at the alternatives.

Common Face Vise Mounted on the Bench End

I’ve seen lots of people do this, including my spiritual woodworking leader (you caught me, I’m a Schwarz fanboi) on his Cherry-slabbed Roubo bench.  On that particular bench Chris used an antique vise and added an asymmetric chop to move the bench dog closer to the front.  I’d probably choose this Jorgenson face vise for that role.

Jorgensen 41012, $143 from 

Face VIse as Tail Vise, Beautiful

The pros are pretty obvious – very simple to install, no end cap or heavy surgery on my bench.  My only concern is that the tail end of the board might not be well-supported, but looking at the substantial chop on Chris’ setup I think that’s unlikely.  I may have just talked myself into this approach.

Lee Valley Tail VIse

Lee Valley has an interesting approach, and it looks to be pretty simple to install.  It looks like it should provide plenty of support, but requires cutting a notch in the corner of the bench, and the moving part has to hang about 3.5″ below the bottom of the bench to attach to the mechanism.  Anyone have firsthand experience with this vise?

Veritas Quick-RElease Sliding Tail Vias, $279


I’m going to gloss over the Lee Valley/Veritas twin screw vise, but I suppose it’s another alternative.  It it would have the advantage of clamping wide boards between the screws for dovetailing case pieces.  But looking at the installation instructions leads me to believe it ‘s not designed with thick bench tops in mind.

On to Wagon Vises…

Benchcrafted Tail Vise

The Benchcrafted tail vise seems to be what most folks hold up as the gold standard for building wagon vises.  My ONLY problem with this is the need to carve out so much of the underside of the bench.  It’s a bit spendy, but quality costs money and I don’t have a problem paying for a solid vise setup.  Maybe I’m making too big a deal out if it?  It also looks like it would be a pain to do without a beefy router, especially since my benchtop is already glued up and pretty close to square/true already.

Benchcrafted Tail Vise, $369

Bench Top Butchery – Making Room for the Hardware

Hovarter Wagon Vise

This is a really slick setup, and I’m tempted.  Mounting it requires a slot for the do (no getting away from that with a wagon vise after all) and an end cap to support the drive rod.  The mechanism is pretty slick too.  I had to go find the patent application to figure it out out.  In short, turning the handle operates a wedge that tips a clutch ring so it locks onto the round shaft, then continues to push it forward to tighten the dog against the workpiece.  A quarter turn in the other direction and it unlocks, and you can slide it back.  I like this one a lot.  I’d really like to try it out in person, I have a small concern that the clutch ring won’t hold up or could slip.

Hovarter Custom Vise, $240

Home Made Setup

Perhaps not surprising, I’m also thinking about making my own setup.  I’m pretty confident I could make something that would mount simply and work well.  But on the other hand, I don’t need another project – I need to finish my bench so I can get on with other woodworking projects.  Of course, on the other other hand, another project never hurt anyone…did it?

I’ll close with a picture of someone else’s home-brew wagon vise.  It’s simple in the extreme, but it looks like it would probably work reasonably well.


Categories: Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Sharpening Station

Just because I have so much free time in the shop I thought I needed another project.

Actually, I have like 6 different things I want to make right now.  At least six.  I made a list earlier:

  1. Workbench
  2. Sharpening Station
  3. Tool Chest (full size like the ATC)
  4. Small tool chest, like the one in the new “Grandpa’s Workshop” book – for my nephew
  5. Pepper mill (generally I’m not a huge fan of this kind of project – buy our existing pepper grinder stinks)
  6. Pair of saw benches
  7. Winding sticks
  8. Krenov-ish hanging cabinet in Claro Walnut

The workbench is the main thing, and I expect to make some decent progress on it over the next week as I have a few days off work.  But I need a place to set up my new waterstones, and maybe my bench grinder too.  Here is a first draft in Sketchup.  I think it needs to be a git longer if the bench grinder is going to share the space, and it needs a few accoutrement.  A small tool rack to hold a file, screwdrivers, sharpening figs and so forth.  A paper towel dispenser would be nice too.  I think I’ll have to mockup all of my sharpening paraphernalia to get a better handle on the size.

I modeled this using 4 x 4 dimensional lumber from the home center for the base, and come joined 2-by dimensional lumber for the top.

EDIT: if you want the Sketchup file you can download it from here: Sketchup Model

Sharpening Station Mock-Up (“Wow I made that really fast!”)

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

All Four Legs Even

I just finished cutting all four legs even to lengths. My sawing is getting better, but I still had to work the ends with a plane to get them square. Regardless, they are right on the money now and I’m ready to lay out the tenons to fit into the top.


A couple of interesting bits.

First, I hate the “Craftsman” bench I’m using. It’s totally lame. The tiny little bolts that (more or less) hold it together keep loosening up and falling out. It was wobbling so much that I dropped a plane and a saw on the ground. It made me swear link a sailor.

Second, I’m not happy with my diamond sharpening system. I have the 8000 grit “stone”, but it doesn’t seem to polish the micro bevel at all. I even tried the back on the off chance I was using the wrong side. Fail. I went back to sandpaper for the micro bevel and have sharp blades again. I ordered some Shapton glass stones, hopefully that will work better for me.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 6 Comments

More Leg Work

So, I slid the lathe aside, swept up and decided it was time to buckle down and work on my Roubo bench project.

Last February (yikes, has it been that long?) I rough cut the 6″ x 6″ doug fir legs to length and left them to dry.  They were pretty soggy.  Last weekend I squared up the four faces, now I need to get them all to the same length.

When I rough cut them I left them all long.  Three of them 2″ long and one of the 1″ long because I apparently can’t measure.  Since then I’ve been concerned that the bench would be too short, so I decided to use the length of the shortest leg and my height.  I started by planing the factory-cut end flat and true.

Then at the other end I knifed in a cut line, square to my two reference faces.

Cut knifed in

I used a chisel to pare to the knife cut to make a shoulder, for what Robert Wearing calls a “first class saw cut”.  I call it a “first class saw cut attempt”.  The idea is that the saw has a kerf to start in, and the surface fibers are knife-cut and therefore very smooth.

Pare from the waste side up to the knife cut

Then I sawed the end off.  I started at the far end of the layout, and slowly lowered the saw making sure I was right on the mark.  I sawed maybe 1/8″ deep, then rotated it and did the next face the same way.  Once all four faces were kerfed in, I started with the saw horizontal in the cut and concentrated in walking down the kerf on the face towards me.  Rotate and repeat.

Almost square, right from the saw

The cut was very close to square, and I was able to use what remained of the knife marks as a guide to plane it perfectly square.

A tiny bit of plane work, and it’s good

Now I just have to do the other three today, than I can start marking out the joinery to attach the legs to the bench.  I’d better go back an re-read how others have approached this.  I’m thinking:

  • cut tenons on the ends of the legs
  • mortise the top for the legs
  • with the legs fit into the top, layout out the stretchers
  • remove legs, chop mortises for the stretchers
  • fit face vise hardware to the left/front leg
  • final assemble

That skips over a bottom shelf, the sliding deadman and tail vise — but one thing at a time.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 1 Comment

Lathe Fun

So, I “should” be working on my workbench, but I had to turn one more candle holder. This one in Redwood lace.


Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The $75 Lathe

I’ve been wanting a wood turning lathe for a while.  I thought about adapting my South Bend metal lathe to do wood turning, and even picked up a spur center (and morse taper adapter at the South Bend has a #5 MT in the headstock) and some inexpensive used turning chisels.  But when I thought more seriously about doing this I decided it wasn’t a great idea.  I’m not thrilled about wood and grit on a precision lathe, but also the bulky carriage would be in the way.

So I set that aside, and have been keeping my eyes open for a ready-to-go wood lathe.  Last weekend a lathe turned up on Craigslist in my area and I snapped it up.  Kolya and I tried it out last night and it works great.  Neither of us has ever done this before, but we both made a small candle holder.  I used some figured maple, with just a quick slather of an oil/wax mix.

First Attempt

Kolya dived right in like a pro, wailing away at a block of figured myrtle.  We’re both making it up as we go.

Kolya Turning

Here are our finished candlesticks.  Kolya decided to do a nifty grooved pattern on his.  I was concerned about his base being too small, but aesthetically is works for me – and it’s plenty stable in fact.

I picked up an armload of turning blanks from Global Wood Source the other day on my way home from work, including a couple of small Walnut bowl blanks – so more to come.  I hope to do more on my workbench Saturday while Kolya sprays chips everywhere.

Our first two projects

Categories: Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Blog at