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.


  1. Congratulations! As for the parallel guide, I think I'm going to try a St. Peter's Cross just for fun.

    I'm looking forward to getting started on my Roubo, but it will be a few months yet!

  2. We need some full bench pictures to drool over! Where did you get your wagon vise?

  3. Your blog is godsent. I'm designing a workbench and have settled on a Roubo type bench with a leg vise and wagon vise. Your posts have convinced me that this is the way to go. The difference that I'm contemplating is a longer screw for the wagon vise - Jorgensen makes an 18" long one. That will give me a longer opening - long enough that I can put boards parallel to the front of the bench against the side of the opening and hold them for sawing. What do you think of this approach?

    Thanks again for your great blog.


  4. I think that if your bench is long enough, then a long screw will work fine. I don't think it's really necessary if you have enough dog holes. You may end up with a wider slot for your wagon vise, depending on the width of the screw. Plan accordingly.

    I don't think it will cause problems, but may be over-building. But then you're building a Roubo, so that goes without saying. :-)

    Good luck, thanks for the kind words, and I'd love to see the results.


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