Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First Blood and Mistake # 2,456,722 and counting

It's been quite a summer with not much shop time, but I'm hoping that will begin to change. I've been able to get in a couple of weekends in the last month and I've been focusing on the chop for my leg vise.

You say, "But Andrew, that chop shouldn't take that long to make!" You're right. It shouldn't. [pause] Yeah. You're right. [sigh]

Ok, here's another story of why working in very short spurts on an irregular basis is a bad idea.

So, when I ordered the wood for the bench, I figured on some of it for the chop on my leg vise. It was some of the same 7/4 hard maple stuff I was using for the bench top. If you go back to my big burst of activity in March, in the famous Bacon Explosion entry, I talk about gluing up the two pieces I had set aside, not getting the clamping right, and leaving a gap where there was supposed to be spring, etc... I then glued up two other pieces I had lying about that were not as nice as the first two, mainly because I was too tired to rip through the original pair, plane down the original joint, and re-glue. At the time, it seemed good enough.

Well, fast forward to this summer since not much happened between the dates. I began to flatten out the chop on my new bench using my wagon vise (which works wonderfully, by the way). A quick note on what I'm using for bench dogs. I ended up using soft poplar-like dowels I got at the Borg for bench dogs. I love them. What ends up happening is that they slightly deform and become a bit flat on one side. That helps with the holding without me having to figure out just how much flatness should be there and doing it myself. It's a more organic method. (LOL)

It's pretty amazing that I can clamp tight enough to deform the wood, but they don't show any signs of breaking or cracking. The wood is much tougher than I thought it would be. And I've also had them sticking up quite high (four inches or so) and even then they were fine. They're not always quite the right diameter so some are a little smaller than the 3/4" hole. To solve that I put a very small ball catch into the side of the dog which gives just enough pressure to keep the dog from slipping through the hole. It all works great. I'll do a short post on that one of these days.

You can see the slight deformation of the dog in the image below. I'm holding a big board tight enough to do some pretty serious transfers planing without having to use my hold fasts. The wagon vise holds it firmly enough.

Back to the chop. So, I've got this big hunk of hard maple for my chop. I flatten and flatten it. I'm really beginning to hate hard maple.

I'm in a hurry when I finally get it flat and I cut it to the tapered shape and start to smooth out the saw marks from the sides. With the glancing light you can really see the low spots. They're not nearly so obvious without the flash.

You can see on the last one that I had already but a slight bevel around the edge to see how that well that might work, and to reduce the amount of surface area I had to flatten. I'm not sure that's a good idea, because it doesn't reduce it that much, but what it does do is throw off the dimensions of your bevel. But that's not quite the problem here, as the more observant who are familiar with the original plans may be able to tell. The shape is wrong.

What I ended up cutting was an elongated trapezoid with the angled sides extending straight all the way from one corner to another. The original design, and I think for very good reason, has a square section at the top for the actual chop, which then tapers down the leg to the parallel guide at the bottom.

At this point I have to make a decision: mistake or design opportunity? I hold the chop up to the leg and try to envision it being used, how well it would hold, the potential drawbacks and advantages(?) of such a shape. It just doesn't look or feel right. To now cut a square top out of this piece would mean it would end up too narrow, so it looks like I'm starting over. This is always the moment to put everything down, step away from the bench and take a break.

As I'm trying to figure out where to go from here (is now the right time to rip apart that original bad glue job, or do I need to take another trip to the lumber store?) I remember a hunk of wood I've been carting around for quite a while. We all have something like that. A piece of unusual or just interesting wood you keep thinking you'll use for something, but never get around to it. For me, it's a (relatively) big hunk of mahogany I picked out of a scrap bin. It's 40" long, 12" wide and just over 8/4. It has a couple of knots and some chips off the edges. It also is still rough sawn, but it was free, and mahogany. Oh, and did I mention the sap wood, etc...? I picked this up when I really didn't know any better, and it was free.

As I'm flattening it, I can definitely tell this is NOT hard maple. It takes some work, as the board is also twisted and cupped. (I'm starting to really understand why it was in the cut-off bin even though it was so large) It's got a big ol' knot in the middle of one side but even that planes pretty easily. Did I mention it was free?

I get it pretty much flattened up, very carefully mark it up and then cut out the basic outlines. I leave a fair amount at the edges because at this point I'm being overly cautious and insecure.

I plane down the excess I left on the board using the cutoff as a wedge underneath the side of the board. This is where I use the wooden dogs set pretty high up the sides.

I tried a few of my planes including a circa 1940's Miller Falls(?), #6C-type, Craftsman plane, and finally ended up with my trusty newer Stanley #6 with a Hock blade. You can see the nice shavings I was eventually getting in the picture above. I have a special fondness for the #6 as they are generally depricated by followers of Mr. Leach since he equated them with the Prince of Darkness and declared them useless. This makes them cheap, but they're still big hunks of iron and do a good job of being a big jack plane for flattening large surfaces like my bench top, and can do duty as a short joiner on smaller edges like my vise chop. And once I put the Hock blade in my crappy Stanley it works beautifully.

Craftsman plane. Notice original sticker on handle.

Stanley with Hock blade.

Once I got the sides down to dimensions, I started putting the bevel on the edges and do a final smoothing of the faces. For the smoothing I pulled out a great old Type 11 Stanley #5 Jack plane with its sweetheart iron. I tried my Miller Falls smoother, but it just didn't do as nearly a nice a job as my jack plane, so that's what I stuck with. As Kent Beck would say, "Do more of works and less of what doesn't."

And here it is propped up where it will eventually go. I've left a little extra at the bottom so when I chop out the mortise for the parallel guide I have some extra heft and hopefully avoid blowing out the bottom.

And speaking of the parallel guide, I needed to make one of those as well. I just used a piece of straight-grained, 1x4, southern yellow pine that's been in my workshop for quite a while. I marked around it to the dimensions that I wanted which I determined by what would fit into the slot I already cut in the bottom of the leg. I planed it down with my Stanley #6 with the Hock iron, this time set a bit more aggressively.

When I attacked the edge, from which I needed to take a good 1/2", I thought I'd try out my German scrub plane on the job for which it was supposedly designed. I'm not so sure I buy that theory. It was really difficult to keep the scrub on the narrow edge. It resulted in me cutting a nice, shallow gouge out of my finger as I slipped off the edge of the board. I ended up going back to the big Stanley with great success. I did notice, though, the bench's first blood.

It's not much, but I hope it's enough to appease the bench gods who always demand a sacrifice for the new bench, just as my kitchen knife gods demand a blood sacrifice for every new knife I get. I tend to only need to give one sacrifice per knife, so hopefully this will mean I will not need to bleed on my bench again.

One more new thing I was able to do with my bench which was use my wagon vise to hold the parallel guide for planing off the end grain markings. The vise holds things really well in this position. I think I'll have to use this for small drawer and box sides. Another plus for the wagon vise.

Next time, whenever that will be, I will start the harrowing process of cutting the mortise for the parallel guide and pinning it in place. And, of course, boring the holes and cutting it to size, first. This time I will take my time and make sure I don't have to do it all over again. A lesson I seem to need to learn several times each project.

But it's getting closer. Once I have the leg vise in place and working, I will finally dismantle my old bench and have a lot more room in my tiny workshop. Then I can make the sliding deadman and the planing stop. (which I should probably make next, but so far I've not missed it with my great wagon vise)

I might get some shop time this coming weekend, but then not for a while. It will be time for fall gardening and we have a bunch of trees and shrubs to move, and we have a two-week vacation in there somewhere to Flagstaff, Arizona, so there may not be much activity for a while. But then once all that is over with, I suspect I'll get a bit more regular shop time as gardening shuts down for the winter.