Friday, October 30, 2009

This is a test, this is only a test.

I'm trying out how well this works by coming directly from Picasa. I'm more interested in how I might be able to get larger pictures into my blog. Can I get more than 400 pixels wide?

This is just a test, it is only a test. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blank space.


Update: I have discovered that it will link back to the full-sized photo. So I will leave this up for now in case you want to see the bench somewhat up close.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wagon Vise

A commenter asked about the wagon vise. Since I think it's a great addition to my bench, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it.

The general concept is an old one, and I first encountered it from first Chris Schwarz's blog over at Woodworking Magazine (see blog roll on left), and then again in his workbench book. (which you should buy, right now. Go ahead, I'll wait......Back again? good)

The details of execution I came up with myself. I didn't want to do a bench bottom installation, and I thought, since I was designing this from scratch, and could incorporate it any way I wanted, I'd design it to be built-in to the bench itself. This allowed me to keep the design very simple, which is a benefit for an amateur like me.

The essential design is a block of wood (the chop) attached to the end of a small bench screw. The screw is fixed at the end of the bench, and the chop slides along a pair of grooves cut into the faces of the adjoining boards.

My top is made up of a series of 7/8 thick boards glued together. Board 1 is at the front of the bench where I stand, and board 14 is at the back. Board 1 is full length. Board 2 and 3 are short, thus creating the gap for the wagon vise. Board 4 is full length. There is a groove cut into the inside faces of boards 1 and 4 down which the chop moves. At the end of boards 2 and 3 is a block through which the screw passes and into which I inset the nut of the screw. This block is just glued face-t0-face with boards 1 and 4.

Here's a bad copy of the Visio drawing I made of it.

Update: I realized the I forgot to point out that my original drawing had the vise only one board wide, but when I got past measurements, and got to the real objects, I realized that I needed to make it two-boards wide. You must always be ready to change design in the face of reality. At least those of us as bad at design as I am.

Here's a photo of it installed. You can see the groove and the tabs on the chop that slide in the groove. You'll notice that I made the chop so the grain went the opposite direction of the bench top. I did this because I had to laminate the chop together to encase the pad of the bench screw.

Perhaps this is a good time to revisit how I built it. (you can read my account at the time in an earlier post)

First the chop. I had to make this several times as I kept learning and screwing up the layout dimensions. I also started to go down the path of a half-dovetail design for the tabs and groove, but realized what a total pain that was going to be to cut in the hard maple. So I went with square, which works just fine.

First I cut out the three pieces and then ganged them together to cut the tabs.

Now, this is what the screw looks like.

It's a press screw for book presses or cider presses. The pad on the end has no built-in means of affixing it to a chop. I decided I didn't want to drill holes in it since I wasn't sure how all of this would work, and if I'd need to change the screw, and if the holes would weaken the already small pad. So I designed a means to encase the pad in the chop in such a way that i could take it out if necessary.

Here's the back-most layer of the chop. The keyhole shape is to allow the collar of the pad to stick through, and the slot in the bottom allows access to the bolt that holds the pad to the screw.

The middle layer of the chop I cut out a recess to accommodate the pad.

It was at about this point that I decided not to make the pad removable. I still needed access to the bolt to affix the pad to the screw, but I left the recess for the pad in the second layer just big enough for the pad. I then glued it all up.

Here it is all glued up and ready for mounting.

Here it is with the screw installed. The piece of scrap you see shows my initial thoughts on a half-dovetail design for the tabs.

The dog hole in the chop goes towards the end.

After that, it was time for the grooves.

After careful layout, and a lot of trying out prototypes (both of the design, and the technique to make such big stopped grooves), I cut the grooves. The grooves are about 1" wide and about 1/2" deep. All I had was a 1/2" pigsticker mortise chisel, a great big mallet and ear protection.

Here you can see how the chop slides in the grooves.

Making the block at the end that holds the nut for the screw was also a bit of a challenge, mainly because drilling out a large enough hole through end grain of hard maple is not a fun thing. I tried a bunch of different ways with what tools I had and ended up doing the e pluribus unum technique, "out of many holes, one" approach.

You'll notice the final hole is not exactly round, but not as distorted as it appears in the last picture. But it was good enough.

I tested it for length. (I learned, the hard way, to leave the boards all a little too long on one end and cut them off at the end rather than try and cut them all to perfect dimensions. There are no perfect dimensions)

And in the end, after gluing up, screwing up the glue-up and having to reglue (read back a bit in the blog for all the fun), I ended up with a great little wagon vise. It seems small, but it really holds quite well. I could pick up my bench, if I was strong enough, by a handle squeezed in my wagon vise. And I ended up using mainly wooden bench dogs made out of lengths of dowel with a little ball catch inset into the side to make sure the ill-fitting, cheap dowels don't end up on the floor too easily. I was afraid these wooden dogs wouldn't work, wouldn't hold, but even the soft, poplar-like ones from China just end up distorting a little bit to make a flat side, and hold like the dickens.

Even when I stick the dogs up high, it holds like a champ.

And for narrow stock, less than 3 1/4", I can clamp it directly and then nothing is moving when I do that.

I find that sometimes putting a wide piece of scrap in between the dog and the piece I'm working on helps to distribute the load and makes it clamp more securely.

Overall, I really like my wagon vise. It took a lot of fiddling to get it right, mainly because of my lack of skill or design sense, but once I figured out what I wanted to do, and how to do it, it was fairly straight forward. If I had a larger bench, I'd love to use one of the shorter shoulder vise screws used in European workbenches. It would be totally overkill, and would take up a fair amount of your bench, hence you'd need a big top for it to work, but it would be really cool.

And one more comment. When Chris Schwarz talked about his original wagon vise, he mentioned that he was concerned about all that force on just a small block at the end, so he put an end cap on his bench top. I decided to risk it, and I know it's still quite new, but so far it seems like it's doing just fine. It is about 12 square inches of face-to-face glue surface on each side, so that should be pretty strong. And it seems to be working.

Give it a shot on your own bench. Once you get the concept, it's not that difficult.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Lessons learned thus far

Some random thoughts and lessons I've learned at this significant milestone in my bench building.

The first thing I've become convinced of is that the chop of the leg vise is most likely a cherry wood of some sort. I was told in an off-hand manner by the guy at the lumber yard that the off-cut I was getting for free was mahogany. Of course, he was not really paying attention, and the wood was very roughly sawn and pretty dark, so I, of course, took it as gospel. I now have a better idea of what cherry looks like and that cherry can be lighter in weight than I thought.

I have to say that I love my wagon vise. I'm so glad I went that direction. It works really well, and makes things so much easier. The leg vise, though I've not gotten a chance to really use it yet, does seem to clamp things so much tighter than my old metal face vise. It's pretty amazing.

Even though I think I've learned some lessons as I go along, sometimes it takes a while for me to REALLY learn the lesson. Here are some I think I've REALLY learned.

1. I'm never using hard maple again. At least until the next time. (it's evil for hand tools)
2. Sharp is really important (see #1)
3. Take your time with layout. Even if you only get, maybe, two hours of shop time a week, take that full two hours, if you need to, to make sure you've got the layout done right. Hot dogging it on a key component doesn't work.
4. Know when good enough, is good enough. (and when it isn't.)
5. Use plenty of glue. This isn't a contest to see how little glue you can use.
6. Titebond yellow glue WILL glue to itself. (the company told me so, and they were right!)
7. My narrow, German, scrub plane is NOT for use on the edges of narrow boards. It really is for the face of a board. (I don't care what the Schwarz says) Maybe it's the extreme camber on the blade, or wooden sole is too slippery, but when I try to use it on a narrow edge, I just end up with bloody fingers.
8. Transverse planing before lengthwise planing really does a great job for flattening large surfaces.
9. It was so very much worth the time I had to take to make sure all the boards in my bench top were facing the same way so that when I plane in one direction down the boards, they all work with no tear-out
10. The longer you can make your bench, the better. Mine is relatively mini because of limitations I thought I had in my workshop. Now that I have it all by itself, I see I probably could have made it a foot longer, and that would make a significant difference. Always make your bench longer than you think you can accommodate. You can make it work, and it's worth it.

And for acknowledgements, I'd like to thank those who helped me with the ball catches, advise and encouragement through this process. And a big thank you to Chris Schwarz for his Workbench book, without which this would be a much different, and inferior, bench.

I still am going to make a sliding deadman, and a planing stop, so I can still claim that I'm working on my bench, but for me, it's now a fully-functioning bench.

Lessons I'm still planning on learning:
1. Do I really want a shelf on the bottom? I've never had one and it's quite convenient to be able to sweep under my bench. I'm afraid, with my habits, it will become just a place to store tools that I really should return to their places.
2. Leather on the vise chop. I got some cheap "chamois" leather pieces last year thinking I'd line the chop with these. I'm still very seriously thinking of doing it. I need to lay it out and thing hard about how much of the surface I want to line with it. I have to think about repair to the leather should it get damaged, and how I'd do that.
3. Do I still want to keep using the hook bolt for my parallel guide? Time will tell.
4. How to clamp up long, narrow boards? My last bench had a skirt along the front so I could clamp the board at the bottom to the bottom of my skirt. But if the board is narrower than the thickness of my bench top, on what do I rest the board as it extends along the bench if it's too narrow to reach my deadman? Hmm.

Overall, there has been so much that I've learned in building this bench. It has been a great experience and has definitely made me a better woodworker for it. And now I have a solid, massive (even in its mini form) bench with which I can work. I'm really excited.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leg Vise Finished!

So, I've gotten a couple of weekends of work in and today I was able to finish the leg vise!

Last time I left off with preparing the vise chop. The next step was to cut the mortise for the parallel guide, drill the holes and pin it to the chop.

So, I drilled the holes for the parallel guide, which is made of Southern Yellow Pine. I got some tearout on the back of the holes, but I figure it's just a parallel guide, so who cares? Right?

I decided to pin the parallel guide in with the brass hinge pins I had used before. They seem to work well for a removable pin.

The next step is to layout the hole for the vise screw and mount it. Simple. Uh, huh.

First I had to clean off the screw and get rid of the tons of gooey, orange packing grease that it came with. I'm still not sure the best lubricant, but I ended up coating it with Boeshield T-9 or whatever it's called. It's a little sticky, so I may end up taking it off in the end and using something a little less high-tech. For now, I'm counting on regular wear and tear to get things moving smoothly.

Then it was time for layout. Having had to learn the lesson of what happens when you rush layout many times in the past, hopefully I've actually internalized it, because this time I took it slowly.

I spent a fair amount of time carefully laying out where the hole should go. I wanted it high enough for strength, but far enough down to be able able to hold some deeper boards in the vise. I eventually placed it so that with the vise screw running through the hole, I have 9" of depth for the board.

I had thought about how to drill the 1 1/4" hole through the chop and the leg. I even went so far as to purchase a drill bit for my (please excuse the language) power drill. Now, I only have a hand-held, cordless drill, but it is a good one, but it was not capable of drilling such a big hole in any test wood.

So, came back to what I should have done to begin with. I sharpened up my #20 bit for my brace, and chucked it up.

To drill the hole I put the chop up on blocks on either end so that it was not resting directly on the bench top. This way when the lead screw of the bit started to poke through, I could feel for it, and it didn't go through my bench. I then held it in my wagon vise.

Test out the hole with the vise screw, and mark the holes for the screw's front mounting plate.

When boring through the chop, I very carefully got the lead screw to come through the back, then flipped it over and finished the hole. When I did this, I worked hard to make sure the plug stayed intact. When you bore with a brace and bit and come in from both ends, if you can work to get it thin enough, the side spurs will cut through before the lip and you'll end up with a plug.

If you can keep this, it's a great little helper for figuring out the center of the big hole. I just put the plug back in when I clamped it to my bench leg and it allowed me to find the center of the hole on the chop. Stick my awl in the hole, give it a light tap with my mallet and you've got a great place to start boring.

Put the parallel guide back in, line up the chop on the leg so that it's flush with the top, and the parallel guide works smoothly. It was not that easy, but it can be done. It would be easier with two people.

I used the plug to mark the spot and then very carefully, checking for square every few strokes for the first 1/2 inch, I began to bore through the leg.

Even with a rather long bit, that is still a lot of leg to get through.

So, I get through to the point where the lead screw is just poking out the inside of the leg. Normally, you flip the piece around and begin boring again from the inside to avoid tearing out chunks as the bit comes through. But I have a problem. The brace and bit are too big to fit in between the legs.

If I had one of those fancy 90-degree big conversion things, I could do it, but I don't. So I had to figure out some way of getting at least past the surface so as to avoid tear-out.

I ended up resorting to the only power tool to be used on my bench. I got that bit I had bought for my cordless drill and the drill and started to work on the inside.

What I had to do was to strip out the center hole so that the lead screw on the bit wouldn't bite. Whenever it did, it would pull the bit right into the wood and it would freeze up.

Eventually, by running the bit in reverse and pushing it in and out, I stripped out the center hole enough that it didn't bite anymore. Later I figured I could have also drilled it out, but whatever works at the moment. Once it was no longer biting, I could very slowly and gradually work the bit into the wood so that it wasn't freezing up by biting too deeply, but was eventually able to break the surface enough that I could come in from the original side and not get tear-out.

After that it was a matter of mounting the vise hardware, and putting it all together.

And it clamps! Really tightly!

As you can see in that last picture, my parallel guide is being held with a rather unorthodox pin. I'm using a hook bolt. I like that it has a little hook which I can just grab and pull out. It's what I'm using right now. We'll see if I keep using it.

The final dimensions that I can clamp are 9 1/2" depth of clamping, and 9" tall.

The next step will be to dismantle my old bench and free up room to finally work with my new bench only. After that I'll make the deadman and the planing stop. But I needed the leg vise to make the deadman.

Finally, it really is not just looking more like a bench, it now actually functions like one.

Wooo Hoooo!