Woodworking in the great white north.

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Workshop update


One factor in moving was having space for my workshop.  I had hoped for a two car garage but this wasn’t in the cards.  Instead I settled for a single car garage 10′ by 20′.  I knew I would do everything I could to make this a dedicated space, and for the most part that has been the result.  I have very high ceilings, so I’m able to take advantage of storage space up above that doesn’t interfere with the flow of the workshop.  Before I could really think about shop setup or layout I had to deal with the floor.  The floor was gravel so the first order of business was getting a slab poured.


Getting back in the shop.

While I haven’t entirely been gone from the shop for the past 3 or 4 years, life has gotten in the way of quite a few things, shop time not being the least of them.  Without going into all the details, the last three years included getting divorced, changing jobs, selling and packing up a house, buying and setting up a new house, aging and ailing parents and getting a dog.  I highly recommend getting a dog…the rest, not so much.  Such is life, not to be pitied, rued or regretted, rather to learn from and grow.

In spite of the chaos I’ve still managed to build a few things that might be blog worthy, so the first order of business is to get caught up.  What’s in store?  My workshop has been downsized, presenting several challenges and moving me closer to being an unplugged woodworker.  Closer, but not unplugged entirely.  Tools, including new ones from kits for the shop and the kitchen.  Gifts, many of them turned.  Furniture, just the tip of the iceberg so far but much more to come as I start building more for the home.  Handtool cabinets to help my journey into handtool Zen paradise.  Lastly I have many home renovation projects to do, but most of these will not involve woodworking beyond basic carpentry and will only likely get passing mention.

I’m eager to get back at it and hope that some of it will help inspire you to get out into the shop as well.


Roubo Frame Saw from the Hand Tool School

Years ago my world of woodworking opened up significantly when I began using lumber that came from a mill.  What was the big difference?  I could mill the wood!  I had bought a planer and jointer and could now clean up all that beautiful rough sawn lumber in seemingly endless varieties and dimensions.  I believe this type of milestone has happened once again.  This time, it also has to do with milling lumber, but in this instance it has to do with resawing.  I have struggled with resawing lumber into thinner panels and veneers for most of my woodworking journey.  I have tried aggressive rip saws, table saws and yes, my puny little bandsaw that just isn’t quite strong enough for the task on anything but pine and basswood….on a good day. (more…)

Marking tools from kits

Czeck Edge tools (see the link to the right) has a number of kits for making some basic essential marking tools.  I picked up kits for the scratch awl, large marking knife and medium marking knife.  A while ago I posted about the design that I would use for the handles, as essentially these kits are each turning projects to make a handle and glue in the pieces.

The process for each is more or less the same.  Get an appropriately sized blank, drill a hole for the blade to be glued into, turn a shoulder for the ferrule the sit on and then shape handle itself.  Once you’re done turning, you just epoxy the blade and ferrule in place.  Easy peasey. (more…)

Workbench finishing

SavedPicture-2013718201634.jpgWith all the components completed and assembled, I used the bench for a little while to see what I might have missed or if there was anything else I needed to do before applying a finish.  The only thing I noticed was that some of the tool marks from the router flattening of the top had been a bit more obvious than I had thought.  A bit of light sanding took care of that and I was on to ‘finishing’. (more…)

Sliding deadman

Ever since I heard and read Chris Schwarz talking about how a workbench should hold just about anything that you are going to build and do so in a way that lets you work on all sides of the piece, I was sold on the sliding deadman.  Sounds grim, but it’s way cooler than saying that you installed a board jack.

I’ve gone a little off the deep end here by making two sliding deadmen and putting one on each side of the bench.  I doubt I’ll need to have two at once, but given that I might have someone else working at the same time, or possibly working on multiple parts at one time, I thought it best to go for it. (more…)

Trays and lower shelf

SavedPicture-201372182030.jpgSome people will tell you that they hate tool trays.  They call them mean things like Hamster traps and blame them for hiding tools from them and causing them to throw out tools along with wood shavings that accumulate in the tray.  Pshaw!  They’re also the same kind of people who will claim that a shelf under the workbench will just accumulate junk and become a dumping ground for lazy woodworkers.  In my mind they have just admitted that they are lazy and have no self control.  Just sayin’. (more…)

Flattening the bench top

I took some pictures of this step, but they mysteriously got removed from the computer.  Sad day since I wanted to share the masses of sawdust that were created during this process, but alas it was not to be.

I was extremely careful to keep all of the lumber stickered and weighted down, even the slabs after I had milled them to final size.  So, it was rather annoying to say the least when I found out that my front slab had a little bit of a twist in it after being assembled onto the base.  I thought my ‘flattening’ step was going to be a non-issue.  Not so! (more…)

Slabs installed on the base

imageThe joinery here is pretty simple, a couple of tenons and some big lag screws.  Because the top is split into two slabs and has a gap between them to hold the tool trays there is a need to really make sure that the slabs won’t move once they are attached to the base.  If the slabs move at all it will throw off the vises and make the gap inconsistent, which will either cause the tool trays to get pinched and stuck, or fall through the gap.


Front vise installation

Because I sometimes have a friend, or my daughter, in the workshop working on something or helping me with something, I have installed a vise on the back slab of the workbench as well.  Both sides of the bench will be accessible to work from and for some of those larger projects I may end up going from one side to the next while working on different steps of a project.  I decided to install a large face vise for this purpose as I’ve already got a leg vise and a tail vise.  Time will tell if this is the right decision.

Leg vise design and experimentation

imageUntil 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…)

Workbench base


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.


Bench slabs done!


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.


Installing the tail vise


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.


Workbench Endcaps

image 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.

The cheapest outfeed roller EVER!


While working on my workbench, I was at the point where I needed to plane the surfaces of the two slabs.  These are roughly 11 1/2″x4″ slabs.  One is 6′ long, the other 7′ long.  Which is to say, they’re crazy heavy and awkward and cumbersome and pure madness to handle on one’s own.  So, naturally, I decided to try it!  My biggest challenge was going to be handling the boards on the outfeed side.  Before I go there, you’ll need to understand how my planing system is set up.


How to build an L-shaped tail vise using Lee Valley hardware

imageOk, 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.


The workbench build begins

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
me competent.


So you want to be a woodworker?

Interested in woodworking?  It’s “Get Woodworking Week!”  Thinking you should take the leap and start collecting…err..buying the tools you need?  Here’s a little primer on getting started in woodworking and what you REALLY need to know to fit in to the woodworking world.  (more…)

The Petite 21st Century Split-Top Roubo Plus

The bench I’m planning to build is the offspring of a number of benches.  I’ve read everything I could get my hands on, sometimes over and over and over…just call me slow on the uptake.  This all started with WIA 2010 where I saw the different benches used in the demonstrations during lectures as well as the benches in the marketplace.  I realized that I was not going to transition to a hybrid or hand tool woodworker with the bench I currently had.  Since that time, I’ve seen many more benches (click here for slideshow of the benches at NEWWS last year), scoured blogs for details of workbench builds and drawn several different bench styles.


2012 is the year of the workbench

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.


A trip to a sustainable forest…

If you happen to find yourself driving around in central Ontario, in the area just south of Algonquin Park, you absolutely must make the trek to the Haliburton Forest.  I’m fortunate enough that this is about 1/2 hour drive from my parents’ cottage, so we visit from time to time.

So, what’s so great about this place?  This is a privately owned, actively logged, multi-use forest.  As a woodworker it’s pretty easy to limit my interest in the wood that I use at the point of purchase.  I can go a step further and consider whether or not the wood is local or imported, FSC certified, reclaimed and so on but it still leaves a lot out of the picture. (more…)

I really hate to throw stuff out…

…especially when I can turn it into a woodworking project.  This has oft been my downfall as my cramped garage will attest to.  My wife, Gwen, is an enabler when it comes to this, she has a knack for “finding” things that are just useful enough that it’s kind of hard to dismiss and discard them (me for instance).  The fact that I have a dominant gene inherited from both of my Scottish parents that demands frugality is possibly part of the problem as well.  (more…)

The Northeastern Woodworkers Show 2011

A few months ago Dyami Plotke of The Penultimate Woodshop blog mentioned to me that the Northeastern Woodworkers Association Show was being held in Saratoga Springs, NY on the last weekend of March.  This is one of the great benefits of meeting up with other bloggers at WIA, you find out about stuff like this.  But wait, there’s more!  Not only was the show on, but Dyami’s Dad (Doug) was hosting a dinner in his newly built workshop a short drive away in Greenwich (pronounced Green-witch…not Gren-itch).

Fast forward to a March 25th and Mike Lehikoinen (of the Novice Wood Ramblings  and Antero’s Urban Wood Designs) and I were on the road to Saratoga Springs.  The drive from Toronto ended up being 7-8 hours (with stops to alleviate this crazy back pain I’ve got from a herniated disc…thank you Canadian winter!)  I won’t go on too much about the pitfalls of trusting a GPS device, but sufficed to say that the Appalachians are beautiful, the deer and wind farms are plentiful and people are not!  We got there with only one close call with a daring deer.