It’s been a while since my last post. Most of you who have followed this blog from the beginning will recall that I’ve said that I don’t like to work around spinning blades when I’m not in the right frame of mind for it. This has been a bumpy year – my wife and I both got laid off, then rehired, then I moved to a much better position elsewhere… I’ve been in CCNA class two nights a week since June… one of our dogs was seriously ill… and so on. That kind of uncertainty doesn’t add up to being properly cautious, no matter how therapeutic the work itself may be. But life is good; everything has settled down again. I returned to the shop a few weeks ago, then got interrupted again, and today I’m back at it with a vengeance. I came out of the shop intending to sit down and read the exciting chapter on EIGRP ‘K’ value routing metrics again. But Angus says I’ve studied enough, and need to update my blog… so he’s staked out my backpack and my books.
Fortunately, my woodwork isn’t a vocation. It’s a hobby (or an avocation, if you’re feeling charitable). I can work at my own schedule, and come and go from it as I see fit.
This charming philosophy came back and bit me from behind, as you’ll see here.
First, a slight change of direction. I’ve talked about tool sharpening as something you might as well learn to enjoy, since you’ll have to do a lot of it. I’ve sharpened with water stones for several years now, with decent results. But I’ve never gotten around the fact that there’s a good bit of hassle involved if you’re short on space. I’ve had to fight for every square foot of space, and setting up a permanent sharpening station has never really been an option. I have to haul out my stones, carefully stored in slightly chlorinated water so I don’t have to wait for them to soak. Then spread newspaper out, set the blade or chisel in the jig, and work through the stones in progression. I’ve also sharpened freehand – took an excellent class on the subject – but my results have always been a little inconsistent. And the mess of slurry created by the stones is terrible; it gets into everything, and water seems to go everywhere no matter what I do. And on my first day back in the shop after the infamous mesquite Stickley table, I dropped my 6000 grit stone and it shattered.
Instead of a new stone, I splurged on a Work Sharp 3000. If you read any commercial woodworking magazines, you’ve probably seen the ads. It’s a sandpaper sharpening system, using interchangeable flat glass wheels with adhesive-backed sandpaper. And guess what? It works as advertised. It’s fast, lightweight, apparently accurate, easy to maintain, quiet, and doesn’t make a huge mess of slurry. My only complaint is that I did have to buy a third glass wheel so I can accommodate the six grits of sandpaper I need to use – from 120 to 6000 grits. I’ve used it for several weeks now, and I don’t think I’ll be going back to my water stones very often.
One tip, if you decide to use one of these: some of the grits are the same color, and it can be difficult to tell the finer ones apart – especially the 3600 and 6000 grits. So I started labeling the edge of the disks with a Sharpie and an arrow indicating which grit is on which side. End of confusion. I’m sold on this thing. I got into woodworking because I wanted to build things, and I love good tools. Not so much because I wanted to spend my days sharpening them.
A Reason to Hate the French
When I decided on the Roubo workbench, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I love the design, and having looked at a couple, I knew it was what I wanted. But it’s a monster of a build. The lumber (southern yellow pine) was easy to come by at the local Borg Cube, and not terribly expensive. It sat stacked on one side of the garage for almost a month while the moisture in the wood equalized.
The top of the bench is a 4 1/2″ thick slab of laminated boards. The bench design depends heavily on sheer weight (sorry, accidental pun) for its stability. Before ripping the boards to width, I cut them to rough length on the miter saw. Every inch I can save off the overbalancing length of the lumber makes the long rips easier to manage. Part of this project is about learning the mechanics of handling huge pieces by yourself safely.
That means proper support at all stages of every operation. Infeed support, outfeed support. My shop stool with its support riser makes great infeed support, and my recently built roller stand is the outfeed support. It made the cuts accurate, free of binding, and much safer. Then the individual boards were planed and jointed square, and set aside.
The benchtop is made from three sections, rather than trying to glue up the whole thing at once. That would be nearly unmanageable, because spreading the glue takes some time – and even slow-setting glue would be getting pretty tacky by the time it was done. Also, the bigger the glue-up, the more stuff can go wrong, and then you have a real mess on your hands. Applying the glue is the point of no return for most projects.
But this was simple construction: boards glued up into slabs, then three slabs glued together. What could possibly happen?
How Stuff Goes Wrnog
No matter how well the moisture in boards is equalized, the act of resurfacing them allows the moisture level to change. That can cause twist and warp. Christopher Schwarz recommends in Workbenches, from Design and Theory to Construction and Use surfacing only the wood you need for that day – and once it’s glued into the big slab of the top, it’s pretty stable. The design of the bench is such that any racking will only make the legs tighter.
But leaving the three glued-up sections sitting around for a month while I was out of the shop wasn’t part of the plan. And it was a bad, bad idea.
Everything was absolutely fine until I tried to mate the three sections. They were true and square a month ago. But I discovered this week that each of the three 7″ thick sections had warped independently, and wouldn’t mate anymore. They’re too thick and heavy to force them into true with clamps, but the moisture of the glue and the fact that I allowed them to sit for a month was enough to let them warp.
My first though was to see if I could run the sections through the planer again to try and true them up, but it won’t work for two reasons. First, a planer will only get faces into parallel; it won’t remove twist and warp well unless you run the sections through on a flat sled, and these are far too big for that without spending a lot of time building one. And it would have to be really big. And second, even if that were feasible, they’re about an inch too wide to fit into the planer. I could do it on a jointer, but my jointer isn’t big enough to handle these.
How Stuff Gits Fixed
So the answer was to go back to the old, best method and bring them back into true with a hand plane. It was feasible, but a lot of planing – less than I’m going to have to do to flatten the top when it’s finished, but more than I expected to have to do this morning. Also, it wasn’t just a matter of flattening the sections. In this case, what I wanted was to get them to fit together to be glued well, so I was less concerned about a perfectly flat surface than I was in making them fit. It was a great exercise; I had to mark the areas that needed to be planed down, then work those areas, then try the fit again, and so on. The problem is that these assemblies are heavy – and that meant lifting them on and off each other and flipping them constantly to work the edge. “It’s not impossible… it’s just hard work.”
But the first two sections fit well and are glued up. And my planing skills are a notch better than they were this morning. When it came time to touch up one of the plane blades, it only took a few seconds on the Work Sharp. It left quite a mess behind, but no sawdust… just nice, clean shavings.
A note here: I recently picked up a Wood River #4 plane off eBay. I’d read some really mixed reviews of it, including one that said that the one the reviewer examined in the store had its bed out of flat by almost .002″, so he didn’t buy it. (How he managed to measure .002″ deviation down the length of the sole while standing in the aisle in Woodcraft escapes me.) These planes have taken quite a beating in the reviews, mostly on the grounds that they’re A) not any good because they’re made in China, B) not as good as the Lie-Nielsen planes, and C) not as good as the old Stanley Bedrock planes.
Yes, the Bronze LN #4 is better, but it’s also $350. Yes, the old Stanley Bedrock was a wonderful, well-made design. And if I’m buying them sight-unseen off eBay, they may have mechanical problems I can’t foresee. I’ve used vintage Stanley planes that were junk, and some that were great after a considerable amount of time and restoration work. And yes, the Wood River is made in China, and I prefer to buy American when possible.
This Wood River #4 was $30, new in the box ($119 retail). What you may have heard about the lateral adjuster being flimsy is true; it’s not great. But the plane is accurate, feels right, cuts well, and I’m extremely pleased with it so far. Made in Cincinnati, China, or on the Moon, it’s a well-made tool at a very reasonable price point. I have some LN tools, and I dearly love them. But this was a $30 investment that’s going to pay off very well. So don’t believe everything you read. Try one out before walking away.
And there’s been a payoff to the delays. Since I decided to build the bench, two new vise designs have come on the market that I’m probably going to incorporate. When I started, one wasn’t available, and I’d never heard of the other.
I’m tired and a little sore. Next section will be more difficult, because it’s going to be even harder to lift on and off repeatedly while fixing the problem. That’s okay. It’s a hobby, after all.
Oh, before I forget. Today’s shop music was Stan Rogers: Live in Halifax, Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G Minor, Gin Blossoms: Greatest Hits, and the Bach Cello Suites (Rostropovich).