Until a few years ago I had never heard of nor seen a leg vise. The buzz around leg vises, in particular the Benchcrafted Glide Leg Vise, has been growing over the past few years. This is likely in response to Oprah, errr Schwarz and his penchant for workbenches and accessories. I chose to go with the vise screw from Lee Valley and build the rest of the leg vise parts myself. This do-it-yourself thing is good on some levels (financial for one) but not so great when you get an idea into your head that won’t go away.
Chris Schwarz has been regaling the community with the benefits of a Croix de St Pierre, or St Peter’s Cross and its incorporation into a leg vise. I was intrigued by the mechanics of this and wanted to pursue making one myself just to see what was involved. I experimented. I used steel L bar, which wasn’t at a true right angle and still has the ability flex quite a bit. Into the scrap bin that went. I tried steel box tubing. I actually got quite a bit of success playing with this on some scraps, using the already purchased vise screw. So why does it not appear below in the pictures? I found other points of failure. I used hinges to hold the bars to the chop and leg, only to find that they were neither strong enough to not buckle under the pressure nor was pine a good substrate for the screws that held them in place. The other setback was how the pine (which is what my base is made of) allowed the bars to compress the leg enough to put the whole mechanism out of square. (more…)
The lady asked, “Where’s the beef?” I’ve got your beefy goodness right here under my workbench. The base is built from 6″x6″ pine and it’s every bit as beefy as it looks in the pictures. I knew I wanted to make the base as hefty as possible (going with the Workbench commandments). The best I could find that was both reasonably priced and reasonably dry was some pine timbers from the lumber mill that had been there for “a few years” according to the lumberyard assistant.
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this part, so this is going to be pretty short. In the last post I added the tail vise to the front slab, which more or less finishes it off. The rear slab is a solid chunk of maple, which I had already planed flat. All that really remained for this was to clean up the sides of the slab. I actually thought this was going to be harder than it turned out to be. I did the majority of the work with my jack plane, getting the edges square to the surface of the slab. The rest was just final cleanup with my #6 jointer. In all, both sides took me somewhere on the order of 1/2 hour to clean up.
The front slab is all laminated up and the end caps in place, the next step is to install the tail vise (which I describe building in this blog post). Installing the guide plate onto the slab requires a couple of extra steps. First, there is a bolt head protruding out the back of the plate to hold the nut for the vise screw, so we need to make a recess for this. Second, the rails protrude a little as they wrap themselves around the guide plate, so a channel needs to be cut out to allow them to move freely. Oh…and my bench isn’t thick enough, so I had to glue on another 3/4″ piece to allow me to screw the guide plate onto something.
With the tail vise assembled I can now finalize the endcaps on the front slab and install the half blind dovetailed front strip into the slab. I depart from what most people do for endcaps because I am wanting to build up a few more inched in length. I double up the end caps to achieve this. If I had thought it through a little more up front, I would have shopped around for longer boards to make up the front slab. In the end, this works fine for me and I don’t think there is any significant downside.
Ok, it doesn’t have to be L-shaped, but mine is. The style of vise is similar to the one on Frank Klausz’s bench. I like these vises despite what has been written about them. I know that I risk having my vise sag or lift, we’ll see. I picked up the tail vise hardware from Lee Valley and was surprised to not find instructions. I was not alone, I found quite a few complaints about this. Apparently Lee Valley recommends using Frank’s design in The Workbench book…which I don’t have. No problem, I like a good puzzle. I did find a good detailed article in the March/April 2003 issue of Fine Woodworking. Read that article for some really good details…or read my simplified version.
I’ve been following along watching a few people build their benches as part of The Woodwhisperer Guild Build and decided to take a stab at doing my own detailed SketchUp plan for my bench. I was pleasantly surprised to find the process of building a bench in SketchUp highlighted a lot of errors in my design. I’m quite glad that I avoided finding this during the building process…but these were a rather painful lesson in using SketchUp. C’est la vie…it’s all good, I know more about SketchUp than I did before…just enough to make me dangerous without making
I’m not saying this just for me, look around the blogosphere and you’ll find plenty of buzz about workbenches. Chris Schwarz, ever the woodworking barometer, has moved on past workbenches but has provided a great starting place for those of us currently suffering from workbench envy and repeated cursing at our current workbench that breaks almost every rule in the book…or books as it were. Why is there some much buzz right now? I think it’s because we’re all playing catch up to those who are proudly reaping the benefits of a great bench. I am.
Before I can really get into designing the workbench, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to establish the location first. The reason this makes a big difference is that the workbench will either be integrated into my main outfeed bench (as it currently is) or it will be an independent bench entirely. Ya, ya, I just made life a whole lot more complicated. In fact, this is dangerously close to becoming a discussion about workshop layout in general. I’ll try to rein myself in and not drift too far off topic.
For this post, I want to focus on where the workbench will be and that in turn will help me to determine if I leverage one of the existing lab benches as a base, or build a workbench on its own. Trust me, I’ll show you some drawings and it will all make sense.
This is my workbench as it stands today. I accept that my workbench has no resemblence whatsoever to anything you will find in a book by Chris Schwarz or Scott Landis. This bench has evolved over time and is now approaching the point of needing to evolve again in order to support my ever changing woodworking behaviour. This will be the first in a series of posts about how I plan to evolve my workbench, the actual changes that take place and my experiences with the workbench throughout the process.