Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like a bench

I've been doing the fettling and other stuff readying the bench to be a bench.

In my haste to get the top onto the legs, I noticed that I had neglected a few small gaps that could have been better in the fit of the legs to the top. So, I flipped the bench back onto my old bench and began the fiddling. (or fettling, but there's a fine line between fettling and messing things up, so I prefer to fiddle around and do a little too little than go over the line and do too much.)

I was mainly worrying about trying to get the top to sit more closely to the shoulders of the tenons on the ends of the legs. It's not perfect, but it is better than it was, and the outside lines are better.

While I had the bench turned upside down, I took the base off again and did some final smoothing of the legs that had either been neglected, or at least short changed in my excitement to get it together. I think this is part of the phenomenon of having only a few hours each week in the shop. I am so anxious for it to look like something that I often cut some essential corners to get to a more tangible stage. Well, that was part of what last weekend was all about. I popped out the brass pins, and all but one came out quite easily and smoothly. I then smoothed down the legs and stretchers to make everything as co-planer as possible.

It worked pretty good. I was a little surprised by one piece of wood on one of the short stretchers. It was significantly different than the others. It was more splintery, was less prone to a smooth finish and overall behaved much less well than the rest of the maple. It looks like maple, and may well be maple, but it's from a cursed tree. I'm glad it's only a short stretcher.

While I had the bench top on my old bench, I thought I'd try and do some more smoothing of the top. I got out my big 'ol Knight razee joiner and went to work coming down the top with the grain to take out the scallops from transversing the top.

You can see the scallops along the top of the bench, with the smooth side closest to the photographer. This plane works quite well, and I was both pushing and pulling as I worked across the bench top. I can only imagine what it must be like to do this with an 8-foot bench.

This weekend I started to put holes into my beautiful bench top. I wanted a template of some kind, and decided to use my oh-so-awfully-used bench hook. I made myself a nice maple one from scraps and then took my old pine one and drilled the holes to match the spacing for my bench.

I tried experiments with my jennings #12 and my two Irwin #12's. One of the Irwin bits cut a much smoother hole (I'll have to check the cutters on the others later) and so I used that one. I first positioned the first hole in the chop of my wagon vise and put a brass dog in it since that hole is a little larger than 3/4". (see my earlier posting about making it with a #13). I clamped a piece of scrap under the bench to help avoid tearout. I know it won't be shown, but I've seen some amazingly spectacular tearout before and I didn't want that, even on the bottom of my bench. It worked as well.

The 10" sweep of my brace was absolutely necessary and I made sure my bit was sharp and waxed. Even so, this was hard work.

I bored out the first hole, and as I was getting to the bottom I realized that it was going to come out right into the leg. Not good. I had placed the holes in my old bench hook so that I was not able to get a hole past the leg with my current configuration. Look at the picture above and see that the left-most hole is still not completely past the leg.

I solved this by boring another hole in the bench hook. You can see it to the far right in the picture below. I then put a dog in there and through the wagon vise chop, adjusted the vise to put the hole as close to the leg as I was comfortable, and then bored away.

For each hole I would use two squares to line up the brace and bit as perpendicular as possible. After each hole I would hold up an old candle to the screw, cutters and flutes. The heat of the bit would melt a nice trail of wax down the bit. I would also usually get a nice plug of wood down by the end of the bit every time. You can see this in the picture below along with the rather course screw pitch of the bit. Despite this being so corse, it worked better in this hard maple than the fine pitched Irwin I tried. You can't always take what the old guys say for granted. Sometimes you've got to just try it and see.

I eventually worked my way down my bench. I wondered where to end the holes, and after looking at some pictures, and thinking about it a bit during a rest break, I decided to end them just shy of where my leg vise will come. If I need some holding point after this point along my bench top, I can clamp a planing stop in my leg vise. You can see some drops of sweat on the bench top. That's some honest work there. A lucky 13 3/4" holes through 4 inches of hard maple.

You can see two braces on the bench top. The other one is a smaller, 8" sweep Fray-made Spofford brace that I used a couple of times to come at the hole from the bottom when I stopped too soon, or the bit wouldn't bite anymore once it broke through. I couldn't fit the 10" sweep brace between the bottom and the front stretcher, it was too long. The 8" Fray is my favorite all-around brace anyway. I rarely need ratcheting, and it's as stable as it gets. The sweep was just too small for this big job.

You can see the Spofford chuck in the picture below. I had originally drilled the holes in my bench hook with this brace, I said it was my standard brace, but then I realized that the picture seemed to indicate that was to be boring the holes in the bench with this brace, and I switched the bit to the real brace.

For full tool disclosure I went and checked to make sure of what I used.
Big brace. No markings other than "No. 120". Wooden handle with pewter rings, two-jaw chuck.
Small brace. Marked "Fray No. 110" Don't know if this means a 10" brace. I may be underestimating my brace sizes. It is definitely smaller than the other one.
Bit is a Greenlee, Irwin-style, #12 bit.
Oh, and one square was a cheapy engineers square, the other is a great little 4" Union Tool sliding square I just bought from Bob Rozaieski over at Logan Cabinet Shoppe. It's in perfect condition and well compliments my 12" Union Tool carpenter square, but much cuter.

I've now ordered my holdfasts from Tools for Working Wood and will figure out my hold-fast holes based on the hold fasts. I tried out my cheapy cast holdfast I was using in my thinner bench. It just won't work at all in my new one. Darned, I need new holdfasts. What a tragedy.

Next time I am going to use my wagon vise and dog holes to start to make my leg vise. Once I get that done, then all I have left is to make the plane stop, put a basic oil finish on it, and I'll have a brand new bench!

It's beginning to look a lot like a bench!