Peace Box

peace box01When I received a graduation announcement from the daughter of two very good friends, (I had a hand in introducing them years ago) I wanted to do something unique. Their family traveled to San Francisco not too long ago, and I heard how they had done the whole Haight-Ashbury — Magic Bus — Sixties vacation there.

peace box02So, With some recently acquired Black Walnut and a bit of European Beech, I built a Peace Box. The peace sign was cut out on a scroll saw, and the top of the box was cut to fit the emblem. The Beech peace sign stands proud of the box surface by about 3/32 of an inch. I think it kind of evokes the Sixties. The inside trays are made of maple and lined with bright blue flocking. I thought about trying a tie-dyed pattern, but decided against it. The box is simply mitered at the corners with the top and bottom dadoed in to the sides. The box was constructed then the lid was detached with a quick cut on the bandsaw.

The box can be used for jewelry or trinkets or anything, for that matter. I hope it finds a nice home at college this coming semester.

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A Home for Hand Tools

After becoming the proud owner of a 26″ long wooden plane, I quickly realized that I had no place to store it. In truth, a lot of my hand tools have been stored in drawers underneath my workbench. This works fine for the most part, but only a few tools actually had individual locations that were specifically made for them. The rest had their general spots in a drawer. The idea of building a hanging tool cabinet has been in the back of my mind for quite sometime. The old plane provided the impetus to get busy building something.

I have constructed the cabinet from birch plywood. I am thinking of this as a working prototype which will be modified over time until it feels right. I have already moved some things around to make them more accessible. There are also multiple ways of holding/securing a tool, and I am trying different solutions.

The overall cabinet measures about 30″ tall by 26″ wide by about 14″ deep. i did begin by creating a space for the jointer plane, and then moved on to many other tools. Here is a look at what I have right now. There is still some room for other items, and I am working to prioritize them.

Tool Cabinet

Tool Cabinet

I have tried to organize different types of tools in some sensible system, but the organizational aspect has to be weighed against the space available.

Once the doors are opened, there is a panel on the right which both pulls out on drawer slides and pivots on a piano hinge, which reveals another panel before reaching the back wall of the cabinet.

With panel pulled out and pivoted

With panel pulled out and pivoted

As I said, this will be a prototype, which allows me to tweak things and make some improvements. At least I have a significant number of hand tools which now have a specific place to reside.

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Newest Tool is Very Old

My Newest Oldest Tool

My Newest Oldest Tool

Roy Underhill, the traditional woodworker with the long-running PBS show, “The Woodwright’s Shop,” has a storefront school in downtown Pittsboro, NC. If you visit the town, you will often find students building projects with hand tools — no power tools here! On the second floor of the school is a store with a huge inventory of hand tools. Hundreds of hand planes, chisels, saws, folding rules, braces and bits, and dozens of specialty tools used back in the day. It is a great place to go and look at examples of how things used to be done. You can actually hold history in your hand.

As I try to improve my hand tool skills, I often go over to that tool store and occasionally pick up something for my shop. Recently, I came home with perhaps the oldest “new” tool I have ever acquired – a wooden jointer plane. As I looked at some of the store’s inventory, Ed, the proprietor, showed me the jointer planes. We tried out a couple of different ones on a piece of lumber he had on his bench, and they had a nice feel, even with very dull blades. I grabbed one more from up on top of the cabinet, and examined it. Ed looked at it and noticed that it had a “Butcher” blade in it.

“W Butcher Warranted Cast Steel

It was 26 inches long, and had a metal owner’s mark tacked on to the end. He estimated this plane was from the early 1800’s, and it was obvious that it had been used a lot in its lifetime. I tried it out and the blade was very rusty and dull, but a little time with the sharpening stones can fix that. The area right behind the mouth had been worn down over the years and was just slightly hollow. Ed commented that if I didn’t buy this plane for the $20 shown on the price tag, it was going back on the shelf with a new, higher price, now that he had looked at it more closely.

So, I bought it and brought it home. I spent a couple hours on the blade, getting it razor sharp. The iron is made of two different metals bonded together – a softer one for the main body, and a harder one for the cutting edge. I had no idea that this was being done that long ago.

I know some will find this blasphemous, but after some thought and deliberation, I put the hollowed sole of the plane on my 8 inch, 220 volt modern power jointer. Taking only a few thousands off at a time, I got the hollow out and the sole flattened. I then bathed the plane in linseed oil, and later applied some paste wax.

Owner's mark on the end of the plane

Owner’s mark on the end of the plane

The plane iron had an interesting mark on it: “W. Butcher Warranted Cast Steel.” A little internet research revealed that Mr. Butcher was known back in the 1800’s for producing some of the finest steel for tools and razors in the world from his foundry in Sheffield, England. This hand plane very well could have been produced in the early 1800’s and this would have been the original iron.

The best part is . . . this plane works amazingly well! I took a rough piece of ash and had it completely flat and ready to work in short order. Notice the shavings in the photo above. Ah, but where does one store something like this?? It won’t fit in a drawer, or even on any of my shelves. Time for more tool storage! I had been thinking of building a hanging tool cabinet, and this new plane provided the push to get started.

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New Project: A Mitered Box

 

Box and Interior Compartments


This box was built based on a design in Fine Woodworking magazine. The basic box is constructed of quarter-sawn white oak sides, a walnut top and spruce bottom. The oak was re sawn and the cuts were made to have the grain run continuously around the perimeter. The spruce came from a reclaimed piano. The interior compartments are maple. The handle is a special piece of teak, which was reclaimed from the original deck of the World War II battleship, U.S.S. North Carolina.  

The top and bottom ride in very narrow dados. The box is assembled and then the top is cut off on the bandsaw.

 

Oak, Walnut, Teak and Spruce Box


I used Brusso solid brass hinges, which allow the top to open approximately 90 degrees. The piece is finished with a Danish Oil mixture. The trays inside may end up with flocking, but I am still evaluating whether to go with that. 

I really like the way this box came together. It has good proportions and the grain in the oak takes advantage of the mitered corners. I may try this design again with different woods, just to see how it might look with less contrast between the top and sides.

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Reclaimed Chestnut Quilt Rack

First Quilt Rack

First Quilt Rack

I built a quilt rack for my sister-in-law not too long ago. I designed it to be built from reclaimed wormy chestnut which I had gotten in Southwest Virginia. The design incorporated an inlay piece featuring a quilt square of maple and padouk woods. The overall look was a nod to the Arts and Crafts style. I was happy with that original piece, and have just put the finishing touches on a second quilt rack, which carries forward most of the design elements. This piece, too, is made from reclaimed wormy chestnut from the same supplier.

Second Quilt Rack

Second Quilt Rack

The primary difference between the two is the treatment of the end panels. The most recent piece has side panels that mimic the “cloud-lift” curves at the top. The top and bottom rails now feature a through-mortise, and have a bit of texture on the horizontal pieces holding the panels. I again used the quilt square inlay, and octagonal top cross pieces through-mortised and rotated 45 degrees.

I am not sure which one I like better. They are both lightweight and sturdy, characteristics of the chestnut. I used a coat of garnet shellac on the first one, and the second one has a bit of color from an initial coat of Danish Oil. Final finish coats on both are General Finishes Oil and Urethane.

Working with chestnut lumber is a real joy. I did have to get a little device to detect any nails and other metal in the wood. But once it is clean, it is a very easy wood to work with hand tools. It isn’t something I can find locally, but I think it is worth the time and effort to find a source.

(click on the images to get a more detailed view.)

 

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New Project: Kitchen Cabinets

I had been thinking that kitchen cabinets would be a good project to tackle when I retire in a few years. The cabinets in our kitchen are the original ones, and are terrible, as in (cheap) particle board and staples. The fronts were finished poorly, they used cheap hardware, and there is a significant amount of unused space that could have been  claimed by constructing custom cabinets.

The refrigerator was also original, and nearly 30 years old, so we decided to replace it when the local Sears store was closing. None of the models that would fit in our original opening were very well made. Drawers did not slide easily, lighting was poor, and it was easy to see that these refrigerators were built to be inexpensive. So, we decided to to upgrade a bit to a model that had much better hardware, LED lighting, and well-designed interior spaces. Only problem, it was about 2 inches too tall for the existing space.

First cabinets in place

First cabinets in place

Prior to taking delivery, I removed the cabinets above the refrigerator, and used this as a good excuse to begin building new ones. We immediately gained a significant amount of storage space by making the new cabinets taller, and by taking advantage of some previously wasted space where the walls meet at a 45 degree angle.

The new cabinets are made with quarter sawn oak face frames and doors on birch plywood cases. The face frames are dadoed and rabbeted to accept the cases, and pocket screws are used in blind locations to hold it together. I am using a simple Shaker rail and style bit set for the doors, which operate with Euro-style hinges. The knobs and handles are from Lee Valley’s cast bronze Arts and Crafts style suite.

So far, there are two cabinets hanging above and beside the refrigerator, with some matching shelves above the sink. Two more top cabinets are in the works, and will be done in due time. (Of course, if I were retired now, this work would go much faster!!)

Cabinet in Construction

Cabinet in Construction

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Merry Christmas!

It’s time to take a holiday break from the Workshop, and what better place to do that than at the beach. Happy holidays, and all the best for 2015.

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Cutting Board Fun

Cutting Boards Nearing Completion

Cutting Boards Nearing Completion

There have been a few projects taking shape in the workshop lately, including the start of a new mandolin, a couple of cabinets for the kitchen, (with several more to follow) and a mountain dulcimer.

But the fun project lately has been constructing some cutting boards. Since seeing these designs on YouTube, I have been wanting to try my hand at the “Chaotic Pattern” and “3-D” cutting boards. With some maple, walnut and cherry in hand, I began by working on a “Chaotic Pattern” board. Primarily, this design involves cutting the board apart several times at a slight angle, flipping and rearranging the pieces a little bit, and gluing the pieces back together. It quickly gets very chaotic looking. This design takes a LOT of glue. I use a plastic spreader into which I cut very small notches to spread the glue evenly and quickly on the pieces. After trimming to size and sanding very smooth, the cutting boards get flooded with food grade mineral oil as the initial finish. This is followed by a combination of mineral oil and wax (both also food grade.)

Chaotic Pattern Cutting Board

Chaotic Pattern Cutting Board

The fellow who has made the videos of building these boards has several designs that are gorgeous. My favorite, though, is the “3-D” Cutting Board. The cuts on this board are very precise, and there is a significant amount of waste generated on the way to completion. The combination of woods creates the illusion of a three dimensional surface.

Will any of these become Christmas presents? Possibly, but I wasn’t making them for anyone specific. I would almost hate to cut on these boards for fear of marring them!

"3-D" Cutting Board

“3-D” Cutting Board

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A New Steamer Trunk

Steamer Trunk

Steamer Trunk

I really like the look of a steamer trunk — or sometimes I have heard it called a camel back trunk because of the rounded top. I built one for a friend’s beach house, and have just completed this second one. The dimensions of this new trunk are slightly smaller than the first one I built, and I think I like this size better. Overall, the piece is 30 in. x 17 in. x 16 in. tall. It is built of quartersawn white oak, with bright brass plated hardware. The dark wood accents are walnut.

Open View

Open View

The trunk is finished inside with shellac. On the outside, I started with a coat of Danish Oil, followed with several coats of an oil and urethane mixture.

Recently, I purchased some reclaimed wormy chestnut taken from an old barn. I am thinking of duplicating this piece from some of that chestnut, perhaps with antique brass hardware.

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Woodworking in America – Postscript

Attending Woodworking in America September 12 – 14 was a superb way to spend a few days. I went for the full weekend, which entitled me to spend Sunday in Old Salem enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour of several buildings and exhibits. In many cases, the “Do Not Touch” rules were suspended for the day, allowing us to look at furniture construction by opening doors and drawers. There was a collection of workbenches, some of which dated back to the early 1800’s. In addition, there were tours of the joinery shop, the gunsmith’s shop, lots of time at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and Salem Tavern Museum.

The event began with a breakfast and opening remarks by the folks from Old Salem and Popular Woodworking magazine. Weekend attendees then were allowed early entry into the Marketplace area, where vendors sold everything from antique infill planes to CNC machines. Among my favorite vendors: Lie Nielsen (from whom I bought a bronze apron plane,) Hock Tools, Lee Valley/Veritas (from whom I bought several items, including a low angle jack plane,) The Superior Works, who had hundreds of antique tools, and Blue Spruce Tools. The Marketplace held an amazing variety of power and hand tools of nearly every size and description. And, the NC Woodworkers had a great booth with projects designed for kids.

Most of my time was spent in classes on Friday and Saturday. I had a class on combination planes with Roy Underhill, of the Woodwright’s Shop TV show on PBS, a session on cutting dovetails by hand with Frank Klaus (who also gave me a personal critique and lesson at the Lie Nielsen booth after class,) and workshops on hand tool jigs, restoration projects at Old Salem, table saw joinery, and a class on Japanese hand tools.

Here are some pictures from the weekend.

Frank Klaus in the Lie Nielsen Booth

Frank Klaus in the Lie Nielsen Booth

The Superior Works Booth

The Superior Works Booth

Old Salem Joinery Shop

Old Salem Joinery Shop

Roy Underhill

Roy Underhill

Vintage Old Salem Workbench

Vintage Old Salem Workbench

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Woodworking in America

“Woodworking in America” will be held just up the road in Winston-Salem this year, and I plan to attend. The event is a national gathering of woodworkers from across the country who will be participating in  workshops over the course of two days. Several nationally known instructors will be conducting workshops on a variety of topics. In addition, there will be a marketplace with vendors from across the country. And, on Sunday, participants who have opted to purchase the three-day pass will be touring several Old Salem facilities, including the Single Brothers House, The Frank Horton Museum, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA.) One of the exhibits on Sunday will feature workbenches used in Old Salem over the years. 

For those not familiar with Old Salem, the town was founded by Moravians in the 1760’s who had originally come to the New World and settled in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania area. Eventually, the towns of Salem and Winston merged. The restoration of Old Salem began in the 1950’s, and features both restored and recreated structures. Exhibits and re-enactments showcase the way of life the town’s residents would have experienced in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Salem College, a four-year liberal arts college for women founded in 1772, is the 13th oldest college in the US, and the oldest women’s college.

Since I grew up in Winston-Salem, I am excited to have the chance to attend such an event as Woodworking in America in my old hometown. It should be a weekend filled with instruction, history, old friends, and perhaps the purchase of a new tool or two. 

For more information on the conference, here’s a link to the website: woodworkinginamerica.com

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Left Handed Mandolin is a Winner!

My Show Entries

My Show Entries

 

 

 

I have never entered any of my work in a competitive show before. But the NC Woodworkers were encouraging members to submit pieces for the North Carolina Woodworking Showcase in Raleigh last weekend. So, I took my latest two mandolins and entered them in the musical instrument category. The left handed one got the blue ribbon for musical instruments, and also won best in show for non-professional entries. 

I had no idea that my work would win anything — but it was a great feeling to see a blue ribbon awarded to “Lefty.”

I think the stand I built at the last minute may have helped with the overall entry.

Now I need to learn to play it!

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Left-Handed Mandolin

Left Handed Mandolin

Left Handed Mandolin

As I have noted before, I can’t play the mandolins I have built because I am left-handed, and they are made for the right-handed player. So, I have now built a left-handed mandolin. I am going to try to learn a little bit about playing, but I suspect that as a musician, I will be a much better woodworker. 

I tried to make this mandolin a mirror image of my second one. I used all the same woods, though I think I improved on some of my techniques. The finish is very similar to #2. It took some conscious thought to reverse some pieces, most notably the “compensated” bridge, which allows for a slightly different string length for each pair of strings.

Although building a mandolin takes a lot of time, it is quite fulfilling to string it up and get it set up upon completion. 

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Mandolin Makes Music!

I have built a couple of mandolins now, but have had no idea about how they actually play or sound. I don’t play. In fact, I am left handed, and can’t even hold a right-handed mandolin correctly. (Building a mandolin started as a dare from my brother, but that’s another story.) (There is a left handed version that I will soon write about.)

Here’s my second mandolin:

My Second Mandolin

My Second Mandolin

My wife and I planned a trip to Cambridge, MA to see several of our favorite singer/songwriters play together under the band name “Redbird” at a little club there. They were playing three nights, and we were going to two of the shows. Just on a whim, I emailed one of the folks that would be playing and asked if they would be interested in having a mandolin available to play, explaining that I had built it. I got a message back from one of the guys in the band saying that he hadn’t played mandolin very much recently, but encouraged me to bring it along and come see him before the show. So, I did.

The musician’s name is David “Goody” Goodrich, and he primarily plays guitar, but is really a multi-instrumentalist. I found him before the show, and he was encouraging about my mandolin. He liked the feel and the sound, and started playing little riffs. It was nice to finally hear real music coming from that little box! He played the mandolin on several songs that first night, and asked me to bring it back the second night as well. During that next night’s show, he played it during about half the band’s songs. I have to think that he must have really liked it to keep playing it.

Here is a little video I shot of my mandolin getting played by Goody Goodrich with the band Redbird at Club Passim in Cambridge MA on Friday night, August 22. The other band members are Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst and Jeffery Foucault. The shows by Redbird have the feel of sitting around someone’s living room as each player in turn comes up with a song, with the others joining in. The video is a cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s song, “Wave.”

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Reproduction Stool

Old Salem Stool Reproduction

Old Salem Stool Reproduction

Having grown up in Winston-Salem, the restored Moravian village of Old Salem was a always a part of my life. When I saw an article in a recent woodworking magazine on a small stool frequently seen in Old Salem, I thought it made sense to try my hand at building one. Apparently, this style of stool was quite common in Old Salem, and has it roots in Europe, where similar stools can be seen as well. I built this reproduction from reclaimed chestnut lumber, which works well to keep the stool very light. The key to its strength is the sliding dovetail piece that has its grain running perpendicular to the top. The legs are tapered octagons, with a  round through tenon going through both the top and the perpendicular pieces, holding the whole thing together.While the perpendicular pieces give great strength, the article’s author noted that many of the stools he had seen had a split in the top from wood movement. Even with the splits, the stool keeps its strength, and holds together. It is a very handy piece, which can be used to sit on, stand on, or even work on. 

 

Thankfully, my recent carpal tunnel surgery has healed sufficiently to allow me to do some work, so this stool was a fairly easy way to get back into the shop.

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Carpal Tunnel

The Burton Workshop will be a bit quieter and less dusty for a few weeks as I recover from surgery to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome, and to repair some nerve damage in my left elbow. The surgery will be July 16.

For several years, I have had increasing pain and numbness in both hands, but more intensely in my dominant left hand. My work with AT&T involves a lot of hand work with tools, as well as climbing, digging, etc. And most every aspect of woodworking involves using my hands. I have experienced an increasing problem with my hands becoming numb at night, often waking me up multiple times.

As I learned more about my condition, I found that leaving carpal tunnel syndrome untreated can result in permanent nerve damage. I can deal with the pain, but do not want to end up unable to use my hands. So, surgery was the only viable decision.

My main woodworking project at the moment is construction of a left handed mandolin. I will resume that build after my recovery period.

Here’s a photo showing current progress. I have roughed out all of the major components except the fretboard.

 

Lefty Mandolin Progress

Lefty Mandolin Progress

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A Few Odds and Ends

Completed Second Mandolin

Completed Second Mandolin

 

 

July 1st already! Hard to believe we are halfway through 2014. And, for July, my “Big Ash Workbench” is featured as the Workbench of the Month at the Lake Erie Toolworks website. Lake Erie Toolworks was my source for the large wooden screw (2 and a half inch diameter large!) which powers the bench’s leg vise. Very nice folks there at Lake Erie Toolworks, and I would recommend their stuff to anyone building a workbench.

 

 

To celebrate mid-year, I FINALLY finished my second mandolin. It was mostly finished months ago, but has been sitting on the sidelines, just waiting patiently to be completed. It still needed me to make the pickguard, then to get the finish rubbed out, put on some wax, get the bridge and nut adjustments made, and put some strings on it. The photo to the right shows the finished product.

 

Since I am left-handed I can’t really do anything with the mandolins I have made. I can’t play any other instruments, so there is no reason to think I would be able to play a mandolin either. But, the only way to know for sure is to make a left-handed mandolin. With a mandolin, most everything must be switched from one side to the other to go from right handed to left handed. I have begun that process, and we’ll see how this attempt goes.

So far, I have rough carved the back and the soundboard, roughed out the neck and bent the wood for the rim, which was being glued up in the photo showing my progress.

Beginning a left-handed Mandolin

Beginning a left-handed Mandolin

Making a mandolin is a slow process, with lots of intricate detailed work, so I have no time frame in mind for this project. If something else interesting comes up, this mandolin may take a back seat. We’ll see. Perhaps you will see me (struggling to) play a lefty mandolin before too long.

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Quilt Stand

I recently traveled to Galax, VA to visit with some old friends. While there, I had the chance to go by a little place that takes old barns, etc. that are about to be torn down and salvages the wood. They had the reclaimed wood sorted by species, and had pine, walnut, oak, cedar and chestnut. Most everyone has heard about “wormy chestnut” wood – they make flooring and paneling that has the look of wormy chestnut. The chestnut at this little place was the real deal. Very wormy. Very distressed. And it had a ton of character.

Reclaimed Chestnut Lumber

Reclaimed Chestnut Lumber

Chestnut is essentially no longer available, since almost no trees have survived the blight. It is hard to tell how the wood will come out when it is as rough as this lumber was. But I had a project in mind, and was thinking that this reclaimed chestnut might be the perfect material.

I didn’t have a lot of room to transport lumber, so I only bought about 20 board feet, some about 1 inch thick, and a couple of short sections of 2 x 6. Most of the nails had been removed, though I found a few more when I got it home. My planer blades also found one that I hadn’t, but those blades were due for replacement anyway. The photo to the left shows one board planed down, with the rest of the stock as it was. (Click the photo to see a larger image.)

My sister-in-law is a quilt maker, and she has talked about making us a quilt. She does beautiful work, and we spent some time on a recent visit with her looking at fabrics and patterns. She had mentioned wanting a quilt stand, so this seemed like the stock which would make a nice, rustic one.

Quilt Stand Design

Quilt Stand Design

I really like the Mission/Arts and Crafts/ Greene and Greene styles of furniture, and draw from some of their elements in my work. So, with that as a starting point, I evaluated the wood I had bought once it was planed and trimmed of unusable sections. My design had to be constructed from the wood available. I put pencil to paper early one morning and came up with a concept — even in the age of Sketch-up, I still like the feel of a pencil on a piece of graph paper. I can use Sketch-up, but it seems that I take more time on the technicalities of the program than I do on the design. With a pencil, an eraser, and a sheet of graph paper, my thoughts stay on the design, not how to portray it on a screen. After I have a concept on paper, I can refine it in Sketch-up and put together some more readable detail drawings.

I wanted to incorporate some of the “cloud” curves of Greene and Greene, and also the simple straight lines of Stickley, into a simple, straight-forward design. I also had one idea for making a “quilt square” from wood as a decorative element. I used only reclaimed wood with the exception of the quilt square. In addition to the chestnut, the little wedges in the ends of the through tenons are made from black walnut salvaged from an old piano.

When the sawdust had cleared, here’s what was on the workbench:

Quilt Stand

Quilt Stand

 

Chestnut is a very easy wood to work. It is very light, cuts and planes easily, and takes a nice finish. I used a garnet shellac for the first coat, and will continue the finish process with an oil finish.

I normally use Titebond III glue for most everything I build. This piece is held together with Hide Glue, the kind that can be bought already as a liquid in a bottle. It has a much longer open time, and with all the little tenons to be glued, that was important. With the intense heat only serving to shorten the drying time of Titebond III, I was afraid that the glue would be dry before I could get it all assembled and clamped.

The worm holes, nail holes and other distressed features give the piece a rustic look. The overall dimensions turned out to be about 35″ tall, 34″ wide, and 13″ deep.

Detail

Detail

To make the wooden quilt square, I cut and glued up maple and padouk woods into a block, and then sliced it into thin sheets on the band saw. This was my first attempt at creating an inlay like this, and I am happy with the results. The design itself is a traditional quilt pattern called a diamond star.

 

The through tenons ended up rotated 45 degrees, and the wedge was placed vertically to mimic the triangles in the quilt design. The cross pieces were trimmed to a hexagonal shape, with the last inch or so remaining square where the tenon formed.

A couple of years ago I built a steamer trunk from quartersawn white oak. (Click HERE to see the trunk) I may try to build a similar truck from reclaimed chestnut as a future project.

 

 

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Finished Workbench!

I have basically completed my new workbench, save for a few cosmetic details. Since it seems that someone somewhere is almost always building a workbench, I thought I would review some of the design and construction options and decisions I went through in building my “Big Ash Workbench.” This will probably be the proverbial “too much information” for many folks, but perhaps someone will get something out of it.
In planning my bench, I read a number of writings by Christopher Schwartz, looked at lots of other people’s benches on line, and got a copy of Lon Schleining’s book, “The Workbench, A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench.” I also looked at the information that Benchcrafted has on their website.

bench 06

The Big Ash Workbench

 

Some of the basic dimensions:
Overall: 95” long x 29” wide x 34 5/8” tall. (the height makes the bench just a hair lower than my table saw, allowing oversize lumber to the left of the blade to rest on the workbench.)
Top is 2 pieces 13 ¼” wide each, with a 2 ½” gap between. (a “gap stop” fills the space.)
The legs are about 4 ¾” x 4 ½”. The top rests on 3 ½” x 3 ¾” cross pieces mortised into the legs.

The bench must weigh something in the neighborhood of 500 pounds. I began with about 165 board feet of rough ash lumber, and about 15 board feet of walnut. Wood for the leg vise and the twin screw end vise are walnut and red oak, respectively.

 

roubo drawing

Roubo’s Workbench Drawing

There are some amazing workbenches out there. Every time I saw a great looking bench I would want to pattern mine after it. I finally made the decision to build kind of a hybrid split-top Roubo style bench.

After checking out every type of vise available, I ended up with a Veritas twin screw end vise, which is the full width of the bench, and a leg vise with a Lake Erie Toolworks wooden screw. The leg vise was one element that took a bit of rethinking in construction – more on that later. I still have an Acme screw which was supposed to have been for a shoulder vise. That was another changed decision during construction.

One of the intriguing details about Roubo’s bench is the double through-tenon attaching the leg to the top. One tenon appears to be rectangular, and the other is dovetailed.

 

 

I liked the dovetail tenon as a decorative detail, and designed my bench with the legs made up of 4 boards, each an inch and an eighth thick. The corresponding part of the top is also made up of inch and an eighth stock. So, the outermost board in the leg and the top are made with the dovetail. The next course has the top sitting on top of the leg. The next course would have been where Roubo had a through dovetail, and one final course of inch and an eighth stock again has the top sitting directly on the leg.

Leg Tenon Construction

Leg Tenon Construction

 

 

Instead of a regular through tenon, I wanted to do something different. So, messing with a little model I mocked up, I came up with something I am calling a “double-splined dovetail through tenon.” The narrow bottom of the “Vee” in the top is the same width as the wide part of the “Vee” on the leg’s tenon. The leg has a ¼” tall portion of the tenon which allows the pieces to register properly. The two splines are driven down into the openings, and the top is not coming off anymore. It locks the pieces together very tightly. I am sure this joint has a name and has been used before, but I haven’t seen it anywhere. This is the mock-up I was playing with when I came up with this design.

"Double Splined Through Dovetail Tenon"

“Double Splined Dovetail ThroughTenon”

 

 

 

 

 

With the different tenons and mortises, there were a lot of interesting cuts.

Legs and Undercarriage Components

Legs and Undercarriage Components

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leg Through Tenon Detail

Leg Through Tenon Detail

 

The rest of the top was made of 8/4 stock. I basically built the undercarriage first, then constructed the top in place, a piece or two at a time. In addition to the through tenons, I put 4 bolts up from the cross-pieces into the top. These go through oversize holes, allowing the top to expand and contract. The entire top began as plane sawn stock which has been cut to the width of the top’s thickness, and placed on edge, resulting in most of the lumber being rift or quarter-sawn, in effect.

 

The bench was built around the little cabinet underneath, a piece that I had used under my previous bench. It provides very handy storage.

 

 

 

Twin screw Vise by Veritas

Twin screw Vise by Veritas

Installing the twin screw tail vise was pretty straight-forward. I used 8/4 red oak and constructed the jaws to be 29” x 9”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fitting the Leg Vise Screw and Wooden Nut

Fitting the Leg Vise Screw and Wooden Nut

The leg vise was a bit more eventful. First, the Lake Erie Toolworks screw is a work of art. It is 2 ½” in diameter, and the entire piece is about 24 inches long, including the hub. It is BIG! The wooden nut is also impressive, and getting the nut attached the leg was made easier by my laminated legs. I was able to “mortise” the nut into the legs by cutting the laminated pieces before gluing them up. I also was able to insert “Tee nuts” between the laminations, so the nut is held on with screws, and can be removed should it ever need to be.

 

 

 

Steel Rod and Linear Bearing

Steel Rod and Linear Bearing

 

 

My original intention was to use a 35mm steel rod with a linear bearing at the bottom of the leg vise. I had read about a fellow who had used a linear bearing at the bottom with an Acme screw at the top. He had advised installing the rod and bearing at about a 1 degree angle. Trouble is, the wooden screw has very little play in it, and even a 1 degree angle on the steel rod caused the wooden screw to bind. I did not find that the linear bearing helped much in keeping the vise chop parallel with the leg. The bottom of the chop still came in too far, and required blocking to get good clamp pressure.

 

 

criss cross 01

Lake Erie Toolworks Screw and Benchcrafted Criss-Cross

 

So, after looking at several alternatives, I removed the linear bearing and installed Benchcrafted’s “Criss-Cross” Retro. It is a very heavy cast iron cross,which pivots in the middle. At the top of of each of the metal cross arms are brackets which attach the cross to the leg and the chop, (or jaw.) The bottom of each cross arm rides in a mortised channel in the leg and chop respectively, and keeps the bottom and the top of the chop aligned at the same distance from the leg. This ingenious device works absolutely perfectly. The cross actually supports the chop throughout its entire range of motion, keeping the wooden threads aligned perfectly. The bottom of the vise has just a hint of “toe-out,” which keeps the jaw surface dead flat when tightened.

 

 

 

 

 

Cutting the Bench Dog Holes

Cutting the Bench Dog Holes

 

After some debate with myself, I decided to use square dog holes instead of round ones, building them into the top as it was being built. There are two rows of holes, each with a resident dog. The holes are set at a 2 degree angle toward the end vise on both sides of the bench, in about 2 ½” in from the edge. I felt the advantage of the square holes was being able to construct it without there being any holes, since the dogs fill the holes and have a positive stop, which keeps them from going below the surface. Each dog has a thin angled “spring” that holds it in place when deployed. Here is a photo of cutting the dog holes:

 

And here is one of the dogs:bench dog 01

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the more unconventional decisions I made was to locate both the end vise and the leg vise on the same end of the bench. That is based on the way I have used my previous bench, and my shop layout. I am not sure I would recommend that to anyone else, but it works for me.
I built a little sliding deadman to go with the leg vise, but I am not sure how often I will use it. When I put in the long stretcher piece on the front side, I built an angled top into the piece, so the deadman could slide along easily.
Flattening the top took a bit of work. I had a couple of aluminum extrusions that are very accurate, and I used them to help find the high and low spots. I then worked it with a jack plane. And when it was pretty close, I broke out the belt sander. The final surface was achieved with a card scraper. (Actually, several scrapers. Those things get very hot working that much surface, and I would let one cool and move to another.)

Bench Top with Gap Stop

Bench Top with Gap Stop

The gap-stop is a removable piece that fits in the slot between the top pieces. It can either be level with the top surface, or can be turned over to extend about half an inch above the work surface, to act as a stop with short pieces of stock. The gap-stop can also be removed completely to allow a clamp to be secured in the center of the top.
I put a coat of boiled linseed oil on everything. I wasn’t going to put it on the top, but it looked so good everywhere else, that I couldn’t help myself. I am sure it will get worn off the top before long.
So far, I am very happy with the bench. My main complaint with my old bench was that it would move and “walk” during some operations. This bench doesn’t move, its rock solid.
The next question I will ponder is, what would I do different next time? There isn’t anything I would change at this point. I am happy with the material, the size, the hardware, and even how it looks. I hope to get a lot of years of use out of it.

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Wooden Hand Plane

Several woodworking schools have classes on building a wooden plane. I have considered signing up for a course, but haven’t been able to make the class schedule work with mine. Recently, I found some plans on line at the Popular Mechanics website:  http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to-plans/woodworking/1273456  The plans are designed to use Hock  plane irons. http://www.hocktools.com/PI.htm I thought I would try building one on my own.

Yellowheart Wooden Plane

Yellowheart Wooden Plane

I placed an order with Hock Tools and after a quick trip to the lumberyard, I had a few pieces that had potential as plane bodies: some cherry, walnut, hard maple, etc. I ended up using a piece of Yellowheart for the main body, with the sole made of Jatoba. I followed the Popular Mechanics plans for a 17″ long plane. It was actually a fairly easy project. The Hock plane iron is very heavy and thick, much thicker than a traditional plane blade. I flattened the back of the blade with a course diamond stone, and polished it with Japanese waterstones, finishing up on an 8000 grit. The blade is made with a 30 degree angle, and I polished the angle face to a mirror shine on the waterstones as well.

Construction of the plane only took a couple of days. I finished it with boiled linseed oil, and a couple coats of wax.  It turned out looking pretty nice, and it works well, too.

 

Here’s a video of the plane making shavings.

 

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