Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Dedicated Sharpening Bench- part 2

Assembling the Cut List...

Working off of my sketches and existing examples of trusted, work bench construction methods, I come up with a plan and begin adding up the numbers. This is generally how I approach a new design, from the sketch I mock up some shapes and sizes using off cuts and batons around my shop to see if in the 'real world' things still look like they do on paper. I settle on the overall size and start down my cut list taking into account the joinery.

The top work surface is where I begin and the two panels of 1" thick, quarter-sawn white Oak are cross cut to length leaving about 1/4" extra for love. The oak used is offcuts from a past project and has been in my shop for over 7 months now, so I know it's extremely stable and will make a great work surface and apron. When I originally purchased the wood it was dimensioned before it left the mill so I can surface it all pretty quickly. From jointing plane to smoother I'll get the top glued up before I even begin thinking about the apron.
This being a work shop project I'm really trying to keep the budget at a minimum so the bench top and apron are made from off cuts as mentioned with the lower frame made from Ipe. It's an extremely dense exotic I noticed at my local hardware store. They sell it these days as a high-end decking material. This particular stock was already finished at 1 1/2" square and came in 12' lengths. At $15.00 a length I couldn't go wrong. It does come with its edges all beveled but this being a work bench I can live with it. I'd prefer to have square stock to begin but I can deal with the 'off the shelf' lumber for the sake of the budget. Now 1 1/2" stock may sound a little undersized for a workbench frame but keep in mind the scale of the piece and the fact that this Ipe is like iron!

Jointing the Edge

With the oak cross cut to length I'll go ahead and joint it. To begin, I clearly mark the planks for grain direction and lay them on my bench top, reference faces up. I decide what two edges I'll be jointing together. I mark the orientation of them with a builders triangle on the face surface and 'fold' them back together keeping the inside edges up. This book matched pair will be clamped together in my face vise and jointed simultaneously. I use a bevel-up jointing plane with a nice wide iron at 2 1/4" and work the edges together. I'll take a series of through shavings checking for square as I go. I finish off the process with a couple of stop shavings to insure no bumps along the edges. Again I check my work with a reliable straight edge and finally, a light pass again planing through, end to end. The nice thing about edge jointing two boards together like this is if you're edges are slightly out of square it really doesn't matter; because of the book matching we did when we clamped them, once unfolded any inconsistencies will cancel each other out. That said, while you're planing, try your best to keep things square! (maybe this is one of those rare occasions you can get in some practice time while actually working on a project and not just something from the scrap wood pile?)

The Glue Dance

With the edges jointed I'll glue up the panels and set them aside for the night. Here's my method for gluing two panels together.
To begin, I set my clamp opening to an 1" wider than the actual piece and lay them down across my bench top. These pieces are just under 3' long so I'll be using 5 clamps, three will go on the bottom and two more across the top.Lay the two planks across the three bottom clamps and a quick dry run will show how things should hopefully go. These two are sitting really nicely together and the joint almost closes itself! It's a good day when that happens...
Because of the stopped shavings I took earlier, when gentle pressure is applied using only the middle clamp, I'm confident the outside edges of the joint will be tight.
So a generous amount of glue is spread and I begin again at the middle clamp bringing the pieces together. I use down ward thumb pressure across the joint to keep the seam flat and won't over tighten this first clamp yet- I'll come back to it in a minute. With the middle of the stock held firmly together, I'll use a couple of 'F' style clamps placed on the outside edges and draw the seam down flush along its length. Then working out from the center again I start tightening things up. I stagger the pressure as I go, from left to right and then left outside and finally the right outside clamp. With the five clamps secure I'll move back across and re tighten them all down to finish. Take a step back and have a look- double check your grain is running in the proper direction and your building triangle is mated happily back together. This will be your last chance to change anything!
Go make a coffee and check your email, come back in an hour and begin cleaning up the glue. I'll work between the clamps and remove any squeeze out after it has started to cure but before it's too hard to easily scrap away. This is also when I'll usually remove the two outside 'F' clamps; if I leave them on overnight I'll have some deep bruises to deal with tomorrow.

"Top of the morning to ya!" The glue set up overnight so I remove the clamps and get ready to work. A card scraper down the seam removes any final bits of glue- I'm careful not to tear away any wood with it. I'm happy with the results- this oak is stable and sits well on my bench top-another good sign! I'll double check with my winding sticks and a metal straight edge taking note of any high spots or twist across the surface.

A few light passes with the jointer followed with a smoothing plane and I'll double check one edge for square. I now have a reference face and edge and can continue on with dimensioning the panel. I'll use my panel gauge and scribe the finished width around the perimeter; because this was pre-dimensioned wood and I took my time with the glue-up, I'm happy to say the piece is almost square with just a few light passes along one end. With that, I now have a panel with two long edges, completely parallel and square with one finished face.

I'll check the thickness throughout the panel to see if it needs any dressing and working from the bottom, I'll plane the stock to final thickness. Not much to remove so this process is pretty straight forward. Four sided stock with two ends that still need to be addressed- that's where I'll go from here.

Planing End Grain

I get asked alot how I deal with the long end grain on panels. I think some woodworkers are intimidated when it comes to this area so I'll show you the steps I use.
So first things first I'll scribe a deep, crisp line around the perimeter with a knife working off a reliable framing square. The amount of wood I'm removing is very minimal, no more than 1/8". Again, the time I took to carefully glue up the panel makes these later steps so much easier.

With my line scribed I'll place the panel vertically in my face vise and block up the bottom off of the shop floor. From there I'll clamp the left side of the panel in the vise and hold the right side with a surface clamp installed in one of the 3/4" holes I have across my work bench apron. My bench didn't come like this but it's a feature I could never live without. Before I fully tighten the vise and clamp I like to place a small level across the top of the piece.

Also, because we're dealing with end grain and I don't want to blow out the face grain on the far edge of the panel,(spelching) I'll clamp a piece of scrap wood, thicknessed the same as the work piece and tighten everything down to get started.

I'm using my bevel-up jointer again, set to take a fine shaving and carefully work my way down. I'm taking light passes, always watching for those first shiny edges starting to appear. It's hard to put into words but you'll know it when you get there. Being careful not to over-shoot, I work my way down so I can see my scribe line still wrapping the entire perimeter. With that tiny strip left glistening, I know the edge is square. (but I'll still double check it!) Now I can safetly measure up off of this edge and follow the same procedure for the sixth and final side.

So there you have it- a work bench surface, square on all six sides. It may seem like a lot of steps but the above process probably didn't take much longer than it just took me to write this post. I'm ready to begin the bread board ends and assemble my pieces for the apron. That will be next time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Dedicated Sharpening Bench- part 1

An Introduction...

"The best hand tools in the world are worthless in the hands of the woodworker who cannot sharpen them."

After reading and experimenting with, practicing and then studying the different techniques of sharpening I've come to settle on a system that is working for me in my current shop space and that's good! A freshly sharpened hand tool can turn the most challenging joinery tasks into wonderful and relaxed procedures. Your work will be cleaner with tighter fitting joinery and your tools will perform as they were intended to the day they were made. The joys of working wood will be that much the greater.
In my own basement work space here in Toronto, I've followed the line and I'm happy with my results; but something I'm not happy with and have been promising myself for months to address is my sharpening location and current set-up.
One day last year, I noticed a neighbour throwing out a small wooden table. I snatched it up, rescuing it from the eternal wasteland of the land fill site and have been using it as my sharpening table ever since. Prior to the table I was using a sharpening hook system I designed awhile ago. It was basically an over-sized bench hook with some cleats to hold water stones and a side area for stone storage. The sharpening hook worked when my bench top wasn't cluttered, (which if you know me you know that it hasn't happened much this past year!) so the routine of moving my work project or tools to make room for the sharpening hook soon became tiresome. The small 'throw away' tables footprint has also become reminiscent of a drunken sailor on shore leave so I've finally decided, with a little help from Fine, to build a new bench dedicated to sharpening.
A small scale workbench with large scale workbench strength. The frame has mortise and tenon joinery with a solid 1" thick work surface that has bread board ends fitted into a heavy, through dovetailed apron.
It has a tool tray featuring a unique and convenient way of actually 'holding tools' ! (not just for the hamsters anymore) and I've added some 'off the shelf' items that will also add to the -dare I say- pleasure of sharpening?

Do you currently have a dedicated sharpening area? Is it a re-used piece of furniture or maybe a purpose made table or bench? I'd love to hear about it- be part of the discussion and share some thoughts.

In the next post I'll assemble my cut list and get right into the project with some stock preparation and I'll glue-up the top panels...stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Review

Hey everyone- sorry the posts have been a little slack lately but I've been over the top busy with the book shipping and all of the other outside activities a time and space explorer must deal with through the day to day. I'm working on a new series of posts that'll walk through the building of a dedicated sharpening bench so watch for it later this week.

Here's a review (the first I believe) of Made by Hand by Jim Voos of San Carlos, California. Jim is a former College of the Redwoods student and these are his thoughts-

Tom Fidgen's Made by Hand is a great book to add to your shop. It is useful to both the beginning hand tool woodworker and the experienced furniture maker as well. Let me explain.

For beginners, Tom takes you through the practical reasons for setting up a hand tool shop, the basic set of hand tools you will need to be productive, as well as some of the techniques that you will need to use these new tools.

For the experienced woodworker, it presents the evolution that many of us go thru in our discovery of the craft, from using power tools in a cramped space, to the use of hand tools to add a new dimension to our work. I found many parallels between Tom's experience and my own, although I don't think it has taken Tom the 30 years it's taken me to get there.

The other thing that I found terrific was the photography of the workshop, tools & techniques that one uses in building great furniture. This is coffee table quality photography in a book that you will want to keep with you on your bench.

The best part is saved for last, and that's the projects. These are beautiful examples of projects that you will be excited to build. I was particularly taken by the Cabinetmakers' Tool Chest. This is a nice piece which can hold your "travelin" hand tools, and incorporates some nice ideas to make it even more useful. I won't give away some of the tricks added to this piece, you will have to discover it for yourself.

I don't know if this is Tom's first effort or not, but I hope he continues writing, and gives us a good book we could use to build our own boat using hand tools. This would be another reference I would love to add to my library.

Highly recommended.

Jim Voos

Jim and Jim at the College of the Redwoods