Monday, June 23, 2008

Bench Leveler Feet

The floor of my shop (garage) is sloped towards a central drain, which creates some interesting leveling problems. A couple of years ago, I decided that my system of using shims to level my bench just wasn’t cutting it. Too much moving around and re-leveling. What I wanted was some system of leveler feet that would be easy to adjust and have good grip. All the locally available options where doubtful – either way too wimpy or too slippery looking. I decided to try to figure out how to make some.

After digging around online I found this article by Angelo at WoodCentral:

Thanks Angelo! I liked the beefiness factor and it sure seemed like it would grab the floor and not slide around. I decided to make my own, but as always I followed my motto: “Why leave well enough alone, when you can mess with it!” Now, this usually results in my making things way too complicated and much longer to finish – sort of like my infamous driving “shortcuts” (which, bowing to pressure from more time-oriented observers, I have renamed “super secret back ways”). However, in this case, I think I actually improved on the design – at least for me.

The first major divergence from Angelo’s design was not drilling all the way through the puck. In the comment by Bob included at the end of article, he mentions his idea of just drilling a hole deep enough to seat the head of the bolt. I liked how this left more “meat” to support the weight of the bench, and I didn’t mind the puck not being firmly attached to the bolt.

The second change simplified how the bolt attached to the bench. I decided to see how things worked if I just fit the bolt into a snug hole in the bench foot rather than screwing into an inset coupler. Mostly this was because I didn’t feel like flipping the bench over to bore a larger hole and I already had ½” holes in the bottom of the sled feet from the existing wooden shoe.

This necessitated the third change; leveling the bench with jam nuts and a washer rather than with the bolt/coupler. Basically, as seen in the photo, the washer supports the bench and is adjusted by tightening or loosening the nut directly below it. This nut in turn is locked in place by jamming it with the second nut. Very simple. The foot does not need to rotate and remains steady during leveling operations. (Side note: I used standard hex blots rather than carriage bolts – I don’t know if it makes much difference, but I suppose the smooth head of the carriage bolt might just rotate in the puck as you tried to lift the bench by tightening the top bolt…)

I have been using this system on my bench for almost two years now and it has been great! I think I have had to reposition the bench once in all that time – as opposed to daily with the old slippery shim system. And I have never had to adjust the level after the initial setup – jam nuts rule! Eventually, I will be replacing my bench (this is the first one I have made, and despite continually showcasing my lack of skills, it has served admirably) and I will definitely be using this same system – unless I can “improve” it again, because “Why leave well enough alone…”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Saw Bench

Sometimes, when we struggle with learning something new (or in this case, something old), we are missing a key piece of the puzzle – some doors are hard to open, but they are surely easier to open when they are unlocked!

When I was first trying to learn how to use handsaws, I struggled. Even with a properly sharpened saw (and that was really more of a mental block – it’s not that hard to sharpen a passable saw, but you have to be willing to try!) I struggled to cut to a line. It was very frustrating – one quick cut, followed by a lot of fussing with a plane to try to square up the cut. I was missing something – I just didn’t know what.

Off to the books! In Alex Bealer’s Old Ways of Working Wood I found a sketch of a saw bench. It took me a while to find this, as it was in the “bench” chapter and I was of course looking in the “sawing” chapter, as I had no idea that a bench was the key. Slowly it dawned on me, the workbench that I had so painstakingly made, the centerpiece of my shop, was not going to be able to help me saw better. In fact, it was working against me. With a board in the vice, my posture and the angle of the saw to the cut were wrong (at least for a beginner…). I decided to make my own version of the saw bench I had found in Bealer’s book.

The saw bench I made is sized to me – the perfect height for my knee to hold the stock being cut. This brings my whole body into position…

Click. The door was unlocked! The very first time I used it, my results improved a hundred fold. Soon I was cutting to the line – or even splitting the line, with no planing required (unless I wanted smoother end grain). I found this very, very exciting! It wasn’t, and still isn’t, magic. I need to slow down and pay attention to what my brain, my body, and more importantly, the saw are telling me. But, it was the key I needed. I suppose I may have stuck with it; continued struggling and slowly getting better without the saw bench, but I’m not sure I would have, and I’m glad I didn’t need to.

The two primary duties of the saw bench: ripping and crosscutting.

Ripping: The length to be ripped off hangs over the right side of the bench as I am right handed. If it is a short rip, I stand at the end of the bench with my right leg on the floor and my left knee bearing on the board. If it is a longer rip, I either stand with my left foot on the floor to the left of the bench and rest my right knee on the board, or I climb up on the bench and kneel on the board with both knees. On occasion, I use the long ripping slot down the center of the bench – usually when the stock is very thin and needs more support.

Crosscutting: I stand beside the bench at the right end, and the board to be crosscut projects beyond the end of the bench by the amount that needs cutting. I line up the far edge of the board with the long edge of the bench which gives me a stronger visual sense of squareness.

Once I had the bench, many other uses became apparent. Chief among these is the bench is where I do the majority of my boring work. Working with the brace lower allows me to get over the work and increases efficiency and efficacy. And again, my knee becomes the clamp, unless I choose to straddle the work, in which case my rear becomes the clamp. It also works with its larger cousin to support panels or other larger pieces when I need to plane their edges. Additionally, the saw bench gets pressed into service for assembly purposes – at which time the added convenience of the saw bench having the same height as the seat of my shavehorse really pays off.

What other keys await?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Updated Library Link

I've updated the library link (click on the "View My List-O-Books" link in the left-hand nav bar - or just click here). I had a few new books to add, a few to remove (lingering powertool content) and I decided to indicate favorites.

The books with titles in bold are my favorites - based on various criteria. Some are favorites based on - well, being my favorites! I go back to these books again and again and just reread for pleasure as well as learning. Others I don't read much anymore, but they played a pivotal role in my development as a human-powered woodworker (aka: Neanderthal) and thus hold a special place in my heart.

Anyway, I am planning future posts on specific books, but who knows when that will happen. In the meantime, if anyone wants more information, review or opinion on any book in the list, just let me know - I am always happy to talk about books, especially woodworking books!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bucksaw Rebuild

Yet another tool rehab (or rebuild in this case) entry. It's almost as if I spend most of my time working ON the shop rather than IN the shop. Hmm. We might be on to something here...

Anyway, a while back I wanted a bucksaw. Why? Well, the wooden bucksaw would be for bucking wood on a sawbuck. You just gotta love English! The only problem was that the vintage ones I could locate all had similar problems that made their further use unlikely - but as I was told on at least three different occasions "That would look great handing on the living room wall!" (Blasphemy! Tools are for using, not decorating!) But really, bucksaws are very cool. They are wonderful contraptions of wood and metal, and loose mortice and tenon joints, that balance the physics of leverage, compression and tension.

I finally realized that I was going to have to make my own - but in order to keep things simple, I decided to salvage the blade and hardware from an existing saw and just rebuild the wooden frame, using the original parts as models - a direct, and therefore simple, fast process. Yeah right. Like I could ever do that.

Here's the donor buck saw:

As I disassembled the saw, I took a good look at the problem areas. First, the grain on the short arm did not run parallel to the length of the arm. So, as the turnbuckle was tightened to tension the blade, the stress of the load ran across the arm at an angle rather than down the arm. This weakness developed into a crack that threatened to completely sheer off the arm along the grain run-out. In the photo, the blade is only slightly tensioned:

Second, the two part stretcher was held together in the center by a pin. The hole for this pin created another area of weakness and it too cracked:

So, as was inevitable, I decided to "improve" on the design. The first problem was easy to fix. I just selected my stock (local birch) to allow for layout with the grain running the full length of the arms. The second problem I solved by replacing the two-part stretcher with a solid one piece design. No hole; no weak point. As a bonus, I only had to chop two mortices instead of four.

Here's what my version of the saw looks like on the bench:

And with some of its buddies:

Side note: The small spray bottle is full of bleach water - as the chopping block (aka: birch stump) sat on the concrete floor it would mold on the bottom. A quick spray from time to time took care of things until the stump finished drying out.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tried & True

I've mentioned my love of Tried & True Danish Oil in an earlier post. Now I'd like to explain why I love it so much.

First, it's traditional.

It really IS boilded linseed oil. The boiling polymerizes the oil (at least partially) and decreases drying time. Apparently, this technique eventually became synonomous with "fast" drying lindseed oil. Today's shelves are full of "boiled" linseed oil, but they are really lindseed oil with metalic driers added to make them dry really fast. Which is great, if speed is all important. But I kinda of like my health, you know? And these metalic driers are bad. And so are the mineral spirits that are also in these "boiled lindseed oils".

Second, and I already started talking about this, Tried & True is safer. Way safer. Take a look at the front label:

Sounds good, right? But to truly appreciate the difference let's take a closer look at the back labels of Tried & True and that other famous Danish Oil.

First, the industry leader (highlighting is mine):

Hmm, not that I was ever planning on taking a swig, but I think it gets the point across.

Now, let's check out the Tried & True warning:

Just in case you can't read that, it says: "Ingestions of large quantities may cause nausea."

Yeah, I'd say that is just a tad safer.

So, Tried & True is traditional, I like the way it looks, feels and smells. It is clearly safer for me and for whomever receives my creations - I believe it is food safe in both wet and dry states. Tried & True does dry slower, but if you actually READ the instructions (most complaints I've seen make it obvious that they did NOT follow the instructions - you apply this stuff thin, not "flood and soak") it is not too bad. Besides, if I thought speed was what it was all about, I'd still be running wood through my old Delta table saw and Dewalt planer instead of using vintage Disston handsaws and Stanley planes.

If you care about your health, and the health of the environment, like traditional approaches to woodworking, and don't mind rubbing on a few additional thin coats and waiting a while for it to fully cure - then I highly recommend Tried & True Danish Oil (and their Original Wood Finish and Varnish Oil too).

You can check out their site here (no affiliation blah, blah, blah):

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Back from the Brink

Now, you might think I am crazy after this. I am not sure I can really explain, but I will give it a shot.

For me there is something very powerful and enjoyable about bringing old tools back to a usable state. The interesting part is, that to a large extent the joy is based on the change in status of the tool itself, not in my possession of it. I know it is a little strange (okay, a lot strange!) but I feel like the tool is "happier" somehow. Yup, I knew this was going to be hard to explain, and before you get too worried about my mental state I'll try to clarify. Maybe "happier" isn't the right word - maybe "at peace" is closer to what I mean. Yup. Now that's better isn't it? See, I'm not mental.

Okay, one more try and then I'll let it go for another time. I guess I get satisfaction out of returning some kind of order to chaos. The tool was originally just raw materials, that someone imposed an order into and created a higher ordered state - a usable tool (which, interestingly enough, was used to impose further order on further raw materials...). Over time, and with lack of care, poor environment etc. the order was lost and the tool begins to become unusable. If allowed to continue it would return to raw materials (in this case rust and rotten wood, which I suppose ultimately would just become dirt...). But, if I intervene - with a little elbow grease, mineral oil and beeswax a surprising amount of order is reestablished and the tool lives again!

Here's an example: nosing plane (traditionally used to put a rounded front edge on stair treads) as found with dirt galore and not one but two colors of paint dripped and/or spread on it. Note the incorrect placement of the wedge and iron on the near side. Did someone use it that way?

After a gentle cleaning with rubbing alcohol (not what you will usually see talked about, most people seem to use mineral spirits/paint thinner, but I prefer the less toxic stuff whenever possible, and it seems to work - I use the 99% stuff from Safeway) a good dose of mineral oil and a final application of my own beeswax paste (beeswax melted into mineral oil) the life returns into this old tool.

Foolishly, I didn't take a before and after photo of the other side of the plane, where the transformation was striking. You'll just have to trust me that before the cleaning, the plane looked almost identical to the other old plane in the following picture. None of the beech rays were visible in the uncleaned state - but boy did they jump out after!

I haven't really returned this plane to a fully usable state - the irons are waiting for their turn over at the Scary Sharp bench. I don't really consider the order restored until the first shavings are leaping out. At which time, I always stop and ask, just how long has it been? And what have you been doing all that time? Are you glad to be back?

They haven't answered outloud yet - so I guess I am okay after all.