Have you surfaced your workbench today?
Seriously, your need to… Especially if it’s had any significant use over the last year. You won’t be sorry.
Have you surfaced your workbench today?
Seriously, your need to… Especially if it’s had any significant use over the last year. You won’t be sorry.
I swore I’d never do that. Buy this tool, buy that tool, get Veritas, get Lie-Nielsen, get whatever to make your woodworking better.
That just changed. This stuff. BUY THIS STUFF NOW.
SWMBO is a chef (which makes me really, really lucky). She uses these in baking all the time – they’re sheets of baker’s parchment paper. They pop up out of the box like kleenex.
Glue doesn’t stick to them. Glue doesn’t soak through them. Finish (apparently) won’t soak through them. They’re coated in cellulose, not wax. They’re cheap, disposable – like paper towels – and handy for just about everything. I bought a couple of boxes and stuck them on the shelf, and I find myself reaching for them a lot.
Get some, you’ll thank me.
But yes… now I feel like this:
A couple of weeks ago, SWMBO and I were visiting our friend on Lake Chautauqua (Bemus Point, actually – more about that this week). There’s a neat little village nearby called Westfield, once home to several really good antique shops. I wanted to drive up and prowl, because I was looking for a Stanley 45 (or maybe 55) in good shape. Not collectors’ grade, but a solid user. It’s not a critical tool for me, but cutting grooves means setting up the router – finding the right bit, disengaging the router from the table to install it, and so on… I’ll moan about that more in a few minutes.
Pat (our lovely friend) warned me that I’d be disappointed. Since the last time I was there, Westfield has apparently fallen on some harder times. Most of the antique shops have shuttered, and only a few remain. But it’s a nice place to hang out for a few hours anyway.
Yeah, mostly gone. But the third shop I walked into was the Westfield Village Antique Center. It’s a neat little antique mall, probably 60 or so stalls and vendors, lots of long cases full of… well, stuff.
SWMBO said “I think there’s some old tools over there,” and pointed to the corner.
Actually, there were several things: a couple of brass-bound boxwood rulers. One – a Lufkin 372 with calipers, I snatched up so fast I almost broke my hand. Tight, clean, much easier to read than my fancy-schmancy metric-or-english digital calipers whose battery dies every time I pick them up. Perfectly accurate for what I need them for – finding the right router bit, drill bit, gauging board thickness, and so on. I have no earthly idea about its age, but it’ll outlive me, and I have the feeling it’ll be one of those daily-use tools.
Next to the rulers was a Stanley #55. Patrick’s Blood & Gore describes it as “a torture that knew no bounds betwixt Gods and mortals“. That may well be true. They’re finicky as all hell, and can take forever to set up. However – this one had everything. It was completely, gloriously intact, including the boxes, all the cutters, every screw and the original printed instruction manual. I’ve never seen one in such condition. It was somewhere between “lightly used” and “never taken out of the box because I didn’t know what to do with the thing”.
Not what I wanted. Several reasons: they’re overkill for the kind of uses I have, I’m not a collector – I’m a user – and it was priced accordingly for such a beautiful find (i.e. way out of my intended price range).
And next to the #55, there it was.
A Stanley #45. Condition somewhere between “lightly used” and “oh-my-God-this-is-so-cool”. Nickel-plated, probably somewhere between 1910-1919 (based on the cutters, the cam screw, and other minutiae).
The rosewood knob and fence are in very good shape, although the fence had a couple of blobs of orange paint on the ends. The handle is intact, solid, and uncracked, but discolored and blemished. There are spots of rust all over the skates, but no pitting that I could see. There are two missing parts: the cutter bolt clip and screw, and the set screw/brass rod for the cam assembly.
Its former owner had seen fit to stamp his initials (FS) on every single piece, both wooden and metal. Including cutters, depth stops, and thumbscrews. Well, to be fair, he probably either A) worked in a shop with apprentices and guys with similar planes (maybe with sticky fingers), or B) he had a new set of letter stamps and was having fun. Yes – that is going to lower the collector’s value significantly.
I spoke to the nice lady at the Westfield Village Antique Center. I demurred slightly… after all, it had FS’s stupid initials all over it, and it was missing a couple of parts. She immediately brought the price down, we shook on it and I was done. (Never mind how much, it was way less than anything comparable I’ve seen on eBay.)
So at the end of the week, I flew home to Gawd’s Country. Yes, the TSA searched my bag. I don’t blame them in the slightest; there’s no way on earth they could have known what it is. Two people during the week asked if it’s a medieval torture device.
Disassembly was easy. I broke it down and soaked everything in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water overnight. In the morning, I rinsed everything, dried it off, and applied some elbow grease via a green scouring pad and some camellia oil. I hit the wooden parts with some sandpaper and polished them on the (still fantastic) Beall Wood Buffer.
The rosewood just glows. The rust spots fell away. I sharpened two of the cutters. 15 minutes on eBay had the two missing parts ordered for about $10. (FYI: The function of the cutter bolt clip and screw is to make it easier to swap bits by holding the cutter bolt in position so the bit breaks loose when you turn the wingnut. Otherwise, you may have to tap it loose when you change bits.)
So two versions of today, as a test of both grooving and beading:
Story #1: I moved my Kreg router table to the benchtop. Removed the router motor , got the two wrenches, selected a 1/4″ bit and installed it. Reinserted the router (no, I don’t have a lift, which would have made things faster). Grabbed the setup bars, and set the bit height. Shifted the setup bar against the fence, rotated the bit to square, and set the distance from the fence. I connected the dust connector nozzle and turned it on. I did two cuts for the groove: one at half-depth, one at full-depth, to avoid tearout. Then I pulled the router out, got the wrenches, changed to the beading bit I wanted, got the setup bars, adjusted the height, and set it up against the fence to do a face cut for beading. I turned the dust collector back on, and ran two cuts again, one at half-depth, one at full-depth. Pulled the board out and put everything away.
Story #2: I got the setup bar I needed, picked up the #45, and set the fence width. Installed the cutter and adjusted the cutting depth. Clamped the board down to the workbench. Eight passes and I was done with the groove. Swapped out the beading cutter for the straight cutter, got the setup bar, and readjusted the fence depth. Clamped the board down again, eight or nine passes, and done.
Guess which one I like better? I’m not running a production shop. If I were, I’d want the dedicated router table and make machined grooves and beads repeatedly all day long. But this is my shop where I build custom furniture and get rid of my stress. No dust collector, no shlepping the router table around, no knuckle-banging bit changes. It’s going to take me some time to really learn how to use it well… but it ain’t rocket surgery, and it’s fun.
Next step: build a box. I’m out of space in the tool cabinet for another plane. <sigh> I’ll probably replace the three missing cutters, just to have them.
This is not a tool-collector’s saga. This is a solid, flexible user plane that I’ll use to cut a lot of drawer grooves and beading. And it has a story. Gotta love that. And next year when I visit, I’m going back to Westfield.
30 minutes? Dress the top of your workbench.
You know you need to. It gets banged up, linseed oil slops on it, something slips and cuts it. Over time, it shifts slightly and you need to make certain it’s flat. You spilled coffee on it back in 2016.
Waaaaay back in 2011, I built the Roubo du Garage. It’s served well, and there are actually very, very few things I’d change if I were to do it over. But the top is looking its age. Well, it ain’t the dining room table… but it does take maintenance I was putting off.
Unscrew the (sometimes loved, sometimes hated) tool tray. Grab a plane and go to work. Starting (for me) with a
Stanley Wood River #5. One or two strokes and I realized I had to touch the blade up. Back at work in under five minutes. Diagonal passes all down the length, reverse the angle, do it again. Remember that this is not fine work, and 2 3/8″ fine shavings aren’t the goal. Hog that stuff off.
Switch to a finer plane (Stanley #4, maybe… or in this case, my wooden smoothing plane) and start long passes straight down the top. The shavings will actually start to get progressively finer as it evens out. But still, it’s not a coffee table. Keep it moving.
Grab those ugly aluminum angles you use for winding sticks, and check occasionally to make sure you’re staying level.
Since you’re done for the day – especially since your arms are tired – give it a thick coat of boiled linseed oil and a wipe down before you shut the lights off. You’ll be glad when it’s over, but you’ll be really glad you did it when tomorrow comes.
Back when I built it, Chris Schwarz insisted on his blog and in the greatest of all workbench books that Southern Yellow Pine was stable, reasonably priced, and really, really tough.
I didn’t believe it. I though workbenches should be beech. Maybe rock maple. It was just a cost-driven decision for me.
I was very, very wrong. Damn, that stuff gets tougher over time. Do this with properly sharpened tools, or you’re in for a world of hurt.
My tool cabinet needs a little reorg. It’s not in disarray, but my hand tools have grown in number and I need to rotate a few things out that I don’t use very often.
One I find myself using frequently is a drawknife. It’s an old Fulton #8 I scavenged at a garage sale. I restored the handles a few years ago (not to beauty, but to function), sharpened it, and I use it all the time. It lives in the middle of the tool cabinet, which means I have to move it to reach my bowsaws and cabinet scraper. Not ideal, but you get the picture.
The problem is that it’s viciously sharp. That thing could decapitate Godzilla. A month or so back, I reached in to get something and knocked it loose. It fell across the index finger of my right hand – a huge drop of (maybe) three-quarters of an inch, at best. And it almost laid my finger open to the bone. It’s really sharp. So no more edged tools in the cabinet without guards.
Today’s 30-minute exercise: Make a guard for the spokeshave that might save me a trip to Primacare. I scrounged an old leather belt, cut it to length, folded it in the middle, and punched holes around the long edge and up the side. I took a piece of black leather lacing, and sewed it together, sealing the ends of the running stitch with some hide glue. I glued a small neodymium magnet to the inside of the back, and when the epoxy set, put it on the blade with the magnet holding it in place.
From now on, I don’t have to juggle a humongous straight razor when I’m reaching into the cabinet. That’s in the good column.
Take that last 5 minutes to empty the trash and sweep under the workbench.
30 minutes? Clean your table saw blades. Remove that resin and gunk. They’ll cut better and burn less.
Put them in a plastic tub. Spray them with Simple Green. Wait 5 minutes, scrub them with a brass brush. Repeat if necessary. Dry carefully. Wipe lightly with a non-staining oil.
You still have 15 minutes. Do another one.
It’s time to start a series I’ve been considering for a while. I always alternate large projects with small ones – it gives me breathing room, and lets me get things out of the way that otherwise fall behind. Cleaning, storage, and so on. Sometimes I look around and realize I feel like doing something small… But what? The projects I outline here will be the small in-between tasks that keep the shop running.
My planing stop is the knock-through variety common to modern Roubo-style benches. Mine was a minor triumph: big honking mortise, made of mesquite (like most of my other bench furnishings – and I nailed the fit. It taps out with a hammer, and never slips.
I’ve considered an integral flush planing stop like the one discussed on Paul Sellers’ blog for a long time. But I won’t make permanent alterations to my bench without a lot of consideration. Especially anything that breaks up the simplicity of it. I realize that’s silly, but still. The Holy Grail of the lowly planing stop is the blacksmith-forged one Christopher Schwarz writes about.
But I wanted to play with one and see if I like it. I saw one built into a rectangular bench dog, and I wanted to try one attached to a round dog on my bench.
So in my allotted half hour, I hacked out a piece of soft steel from an electrical junction box, ground the edges, and beveled the front edge. I clamped it in a vise and filed teeth on it. I sawed off the flattened top of an existing oak dowel bench dog, and put about a 2 degree angle on it so the front of the stop lifts off the bench slightly. Drilled a hole in the bench dog, drilled a hole in the stop, took a pass with a countersink, screwed it on, and done.
Place the end of the board you’re planing against the teeth. The thickness of the plate is perfect to give you safety space so you don’t run your plane into it, but grabs the workpiece perfectly.
Grab a plane and go to work. It may be necessary to set a secondary stop to the side of the board if it decides to swing around the post. The jury isn’t in yet.
Sawplate sharp and set
Teeth cut swiftly through the wood
Damn! Now it’s too short!
Overheard at Rockler, 2019
— Ross Henton
“In fact it might be said that one cannot do good woodwork and think about the war at the same time. Most readers, of course, have found this out for themselves. When war first came our postbag brought us countless stories from readers, telling us of the wonderful relief they had found in just getting on with their jobs. And in the present violent phase of the struggle calmness comes to those who carry on quietly with their hobbies.”
— The Woodworker, July 1940
“And it was after long searching that I found out the carpenter’s chest, which was, indeed, a very useful prize to me, and much more valuable than a shipload of gold would have been at that time. I got it down to my raft, whole as it was, without losing time to look into it, for I knew in general what it contained.”
— Daniel Defoe, from “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”