Making Tools: Workbenches (partial)

Warning!!! Stream of Consciousness ramblings about workbenches and how I use them! Proceed with Caution!

I cannot think of anything to say about workbenches that hasn’t already been said, and said better by other people. Tolpin and Schwarz both wrote books specifically about workbenches, they are good books. you should read them too. and just about every text on woodworking from Moxon to Hasluck and beyond has at least something to say about workbenches.

In my mind there are 2 basic requirement for all benches.

  1. they don’t bounce when you pound on them (mortising)
  2. they don’t “walk” or slide on the floor when you push on them (hand planing)

An ideal bench would be solid live oak, 30″ x 30″ x 120″. it isn’t going move at all.

Being able to hold your work on them is secondary since it can be accomplished with other tools (see: clamps, “Moxon vise” etc)

Some people view the workbench as a big clamp/work holding device, they aren’t wrong. But I mostly think of it as a woodworkers’ anvil, if it moves or bounces around it’s a failure.

nearly 25 years ago I slapped together a fast and sketchy workbench to facilitate building the kitchen in my house. it met the top two requirements, and holding devices have evolved on it… but I made the top out of 3 layers of flooring grade particle board, which are showing signs of getting softer. and the base is 3 x 4 pallet stickers and plywood, it sags in the center now (I put shims under it to keep the top nearly flat.)

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So 25 years ago, I slapped this together promising myself a really nice shaker type bench in 4 or 5 years… yeah, didn’t happen.

Those Shaker benches look really nice, but how I use a bench does not fit with having the space under the bench filled with drawers. Insead of getting more sophisticated over the years I have gotten more and more archaic. Phasing out the power tools and bringing in more hand tools. more and more how it was done 200, 300, 500 years ago… I’m not yet willing to go all the way to Egyptian bronze age tools though… lol

I have been thinking a lot on this lately what with the shop getting rearranged etc., and I realised that there is an obvious reason for why I always seem to have some difficulty working “at home” as opposed to in shops… it’s the set up. at home I have a bench on the wall “in front of” me while I work. In the shops I had a bench like table behind me against the wall, and a bench in front of me that I worked on… that bench was always a KD affair. Something that can easily be gotten out of the way, frequently by getting hung up on the wall… (ask me about trestles and strongbacks)

the point is that the bench behind me was mostly for keeping my tools off the floor. And the other one I did most of my work on. I did have a vise on the one behind me… but it rarely got used.

I’m seeing now that I keep setting up saw horses to work on, while my back is to my “workbench” which is covered with tools and partial projects.

So maybe this old bench “stays” to keep my tools off the floor and I put another bench in the middle of the room. The “room” (cellar) is 15 feet wide. this old bench takes up 2.5′. leaving 12.5 feet… but the new air ducts on the opposite side take up 4′ of head space, leaving 8′ in the middle… so I think maybe a small bench like Curtis Buchanan‘s little 28″ x 30″ chair making bench might right…

Be well

Stay safe

Make a Democratic Chair class with Elia Bizzarri and Curtis Buchanan

Red Oak split out for Democratic Chair class

Oct 10

Last weekend I was antsy about taking this class so I started splitting out some stock early.

Now I’m even worse. They could have told us how to make the templates in the email (I’m going to suggest that). Now my brain is demanding that I have got to get outside and make all of the straight parts!! But it’s time to make supper! 😉

I acquired this wood @ 3 months ago. and you can see by the photos that the sapwood is already too spalted to use, and that except for @ 1/4″ on the exposed faces it’s still sopping wet.

spalted sap wood
dry on the outside

Tomorrow I will turn that stack into chair parts.

Nov 2

This year so far.

I promised myself I’d keep posting at least once a month if not once a week this year… Apparently not happening.

Back in June I finally got a log of white oak (chinkapin oak specifically) for the roof shingle making project. The Ft Mifflin forge’s roof is in bad shape.

And I also acquired a red oak log at the same time.

So I started a pair of JA chairs.

And on Saturday I’m taking an online class taught by Elia Bizzari and Curtis Buchanan. The class is the first in a series for making Curtis’s “Democratic Chair”. Stay tuned for comments on the class…

Due to the covid pandemic, I had cancelled all classes and craft shows/fairs that I was going to do. And the wildlife refuge has shut the visitor’s center.

So I am actually left with too much time and dithering over what to do next.

But first I should finish the JA Chairs

Be well, stay safe

Karl

Experimenting with recording myself

To start with: I should fire the production manager, the cameraman, the sound man, and the lead actor… And all of the post production crew!

But then what would I do?

I used to think that knowing how to make things was enough.

So now if I want to make videos of my work I need to learn to be a cameraman, soundman, script writer, and actor… wish me luck


Testing one one

Two two testing two

One Two Three ____ *!?”#@

There is a lot to not like about this. My voice, clearing my throat, stage manager not making sure the script, stage, and all of the props are ready before we start (fire him too).

Greg (11 yrs old) was learning Photoshop and PowerPoint in school this year. Maybe I can hire him in a year or so to help with this.

It seems as though spending my life learning about and teaching about woodworking was misspent. I see young persons who barely know woodworking making slick videos about woodworking… I should have learned video editing instead 😉.

So there they are in all their pre-production gory, I mean glory. Incidental noises, nothing really prepped… I hope you find it mildly amusing. If I can get it cleaned up some with an editor and maybe a voice over I’ll put it in a post about making this triangle stool when it’s done.

Be well

 

Making Tools: Straight Edge

I fear that I may open up a kettle of worms with this one. In order to produce a truly perfectly precisely accurate straight edge most machinist manuals will tell you to make 3 straight edges, and there is a process to “prove” them against each other…

I’m not working in metal, I do not need to be accurate to 1/10,000″ over the span of 4 feet.

I need it to be OK over the length of the straight edge.

So I probably should have made this post before making the post about the winding sticks. Because making a straight edge is like making one winding stick. (But one winding stick by itself is useless 😉

I have been using the same straightedges for decades, one @ 2′ long made from a fall off of birds eye maple and one made from plane maple but @ 4′ long.

After planing to thickness use your longest plane to make the edges as straight as you can. Use the trick of sighting down along the edge to “see” if it is straight.

IMG_20200406_200159229

Occasionally the edge gets dinged and I just re-plane it.

Putting a hang hole in one or both ends is a good idea too.

And you could make it a “notchy stick” by making cyma and cyma reversa cuts in the end. (a reference to Christopher Schwarz’ notchy stick)

be well

Karl

Making Tools: Winding Sticks

Winding Sticks can be as simple or as complex as you like. They can have eyes or inlays or color strips or just be plain sticks like mine.

They want to be between 1/4″ and 3/8″ thick, though in a pinch I have used 3/4 plywood boards. Mine are 1/4″ x 1 5/8″ x 12″+-.

So; saw and plane a long piece or two short pieces. Exact length is not important, exact thickness is likewise not important. Exact width is only important in so far as that it is exactly the same end to end.

If you started with a long piece, saw it in half crosswise.

Set them side by side on your flattest surface. Feel along the edges to make sure they seem exactly parallel. Flip one end for end and check again. Plane them together if they are not, then flip one end for end again to check. Use your longest plane for this. You may go back and forth more than once.

IMG_20200405_140813630

A faster simpler way is to go to a hardware store or lumber yard and purchase a yardstick. Get the straightest flattest one. And when you get home saw it in half (crosswise).

It’s a good idea to do something to the winding sticks to make sure they don’t get mistaken for scrap ot trash. Simply boring a hole in one end to hang them up with will do the trick and then you can also hang them up.

Using the winding sticks: set your piece on a stable flattish place, put one across each end and crouch down to sight across the top edge of the near one to spot the edge of the far one.

and (below) I have put a miniscule paper thin chip under the back one here to show how the winding sticks exaggerate any wind so that you can see where to plane it out… the back stick you can see above the front one on the left and it disappears before you get past the bag of candies. (bag of candies not required for use of winding sticks)

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For those who are already using Christopher Schwarz’ notchy stick, make a second notchy stick, make sure the edges of them are parallel, and you are good to go! If you are not, go look them up!

be well, stay well

Karl

Making tools: Compass

 

With all us stuck at home I thought that now would be a good time for me to start a series about making your own tools.

Thus thinking back… When rocks were soft etc. I’m asking myself what was the first tool I made.

It’s a large compass. Everyone in the shop had one. They were all very obviously made by the guys out of wood scraps and a few pieces of hardware.

You can get small compasses at lots of hardware and tool suppliers, and at stationary stores. (“Stationary stores” makes it sound like most stores are mobile???). And you can now get good big ones from some specialty tool suppliers. But back then you couldn’t. And trammel points are great for huge circles, and we can make them too. But not today.

Many that I saw at the time had bigger than 12″ legs. But since then I’ve seen smaller ones.

This build is very simple, it can be done with either hand tools or power tools.

Let’s look at mine to see where we wish to end up.

Select a scrap of nice wood. You can use crap wood but you will be using this for years so I suggest you go with something nice. You can make both legs out of one piece of wood all at once or make them separately… I’m going to use some crap to show you 3 different ways because I don’t need a new one right now.

The scrap needs to be as long as you want the compass legs, and as thick as you want them and twice as wide plus a little for the saw kerf, or not…

EASIEST AND FASTEST WAY!

The quickest way is to draw a centerline down the wide face, make a mark @ 3″ from the end (all the way around) that will be the pivot end.  Drill a hole for a small bolt @ 3/4″ from the same end on the centerline. Saw from the far end to the 3″ mark. Rotate 90 degrees. Draw a centerline on the edge of the pivot end. Saw on this line down to the 3″ mark.

cut on the 3″ line very carefully with a hand saw or a band saw. You need to cut from one edge to the center line and only half way down on both sides to make this work, look at the photos for clarification.

Set the legs in a bench vise so the ends are pointing up. drill a hole that is a tight fit for a pencil in one leg. there are lots of ways to mount the pencil. this is quick and easy. if the hole is a little too tight split the leg with a saw up a little past the bottom of the hole, if it’s too loose wrap it wit a piece of paper.

Pound a small nail half way into the middle of the other leg. cut off the nail so it’s sticking out at least 1/4″ and sharpen it to a point.

Take a pencil stub you have sitting around (we all have pencil stubs right?), sharpen it and push it into the other leg until the tip is even with the nail.

 

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You will need to take the corner off the legs where they collide. 

use a small bolt and a wingnut if you have one, or a regular nut if you don’t, and washers to unite and tighten the pivot point.

You are done.

 

 

 

LESS FAST (NOT MUCH) BUT MORE WOOD WASTE.

This makes a slightly nicer looking joint.

Same criteria for your material width and thickness, but you will need twice the length. So cut two lengths of your material the length you want your legs (pivot to point plus space above the pivot).

on Both parts: Draw a centerline the length of the face, come in from one end @ 3/4″ and drill a hole for the pivot bolt on the centerline. Make a mark on the centerline about 4″ from this end all the way around.

 

 

Set it (them) on edge and mark the centerline of the edge on the pivot end down to the 4″ mark and across the end and down the other side to the 4″ mark. you need another mark @ 2″ down on each end as well… then on both sides of each draw lines from the 2″ mark on the edge to the 4″ mark where it meets the centerline.

Here is a tricky thing now, both these pieces need to be identical (not opposite) when you are done. So you will be flipping one over.

So while you have them looking the same scribble on the waste area (see picture). I don’t care if you pick the left or the right just keep them both the same. it’s scribble down one side of the CL and on one face of the pivot area.

Saw up the waste side of the leg and out the side along the bevel line between the 2″ mark and 4″ mark.

 

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Flip it and put it in a vise or a bench hook to saw the diagonal on the other side. ONLY half way down!!

 

 

stand it up on edge to saw the rest of the waste in the pivot area away.

insert point and pencil as previously described. here this is with my old one opened up.

You can clean this up and pretty it up as much as you like.

FANCY SCHMANCY SLOWEST WAY, AND IF YOU TAKE YOUR TIME, PRETTIEST WAY.

Instead of using saws and chisels to make this joint we are going to use an auger bit of some sort to outline it. You can use a spade bit, a Forstner bit or an auger bit.

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Mark a line up the center face of your stock.

 

 

 

 

 

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Drill half way through with the boring utensil you chose.

 

 

 

 

 

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Very carefully saw from the side to the hole and not into the hole (top), and saw off the opposite leg as waste (bottom)

 

 

 

 

And very carefully whittle away around the hole with a very sharp chisel or knife, very very sharp… (yes I have used “very” too many times here)

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As you can see the pivot will be the center mark from your Auger and this will make a very nice “rule joint” when you have cleaned it all up

clean up and insert points as desired.

 

 

 

Be Well, Stay Well

Karl

Isolation time

You’d think that with all of this “spare” time I’d spend more time writing here.

Judy is home but working full time. Greg is home and not working.

And I’m still trying to straighten out the mess in my workspace. I gave myself till the end of April for that, so I’m still right in track.

Here are some pictures of stuff I’ve been doing to get it out of the way.

New Bodger’s horse

Sorting auger bits for keepers and rehoming.

More on the shaving horses, I’m making 2 right now.

Electrolysis rust removal.

The new bench setup

A shop helper all worn out from checking for crickets and mice.

Thomas Latane planing stop finally installed.

Raised the indoor hacking stock on rocket fin legs.

somewhat improved my spokeshave rack.

Be well, stay safe.

Shaving Horse Design, a unitized approach.

First off: making a shaving horse is easy peasy. Don’t over think it or over engineer it. Exact measurements are not as important as making it work for you. and if you make one and it doesn’t work right, change it, rip it apart, rebuild it, burn it at a weekend bonfire and start over… but don’t sweat it.

I have been collecting pictures of shaving horses and drawing them (in SketchUP) for more than a decade. And I am noticing that there are several basic units used, mixed, or remixed to make all of them.

First; what is a “shaving horse?” Well, it’s the original speed clamp! Push with your foot to clamp, let up to release and turn the work around.

It’s an ancient speed clamp. The first illustration of one is in “De Re Metallica” (the whole art of mining). why in a mining manual?… most of mining is wood work, props beams to make sure the roof doesn’t fall in, buckets, barrows, cranes, water pumps, all made out of wood.

oldest shaving horse

Let’s start with the base, the whole reason they are called “horse” or “mule” in their various iterations.

There are base structures, that I am going to call “Slab” and “Beam”. (Or bowl but I’ll get to that later).

A Slab is a 1.5″ to 2″+ thick slice of wood 5″ wide (at least) and at a minimum usually 4′ long. Legs on a slab are usually made to go into a drilled socket and may be removable. The socket may be tapered also.

shave horse bodger's

A beam seems to be a somewhat more recent innovation that allows one to utilize “standard” construction lumber to build one’s horse. These horses tend to look more modern yet are every bit as useful and versatile as more traditional horses.

shaving horse folding

So these bases are pretty much interchangeable design wise. But if you are starting with logs to make your shaving horses, the slab type is easiest or least work, if you are starting with dimensioned lumber the beam type is easiest.

The working or clamping head has several variations depending upon region of origin or work being held.

There is the Bodger’s type, with 2 vertical members and a foot cross piece, a pivot pin and the clamping cross piece. see previous 2  illustrations.

And a center post type favored by Northern Europeans like the German dumbhead or dumbkopf. Which can be carved out of one log or made up from several parts.

shaving horse mine

The bodger’s type can’t hold anything wider than the table, but also holds long things really well. The center post type holds wide short things well and can hold longer things along the sides of the post.

The clamping part on the bodger’s is usually made so that it rotates and has 4 gripping faces to choose from. This allows the maker to have cut outs or different face materials on each face.

The clamping head on a dumbhead only has the one clamping face which is more like an edge and may leave dents/clamp marks in the work.

The work table is where the work is clamped down on. The bodger’s style has less range (open to close) than the dumbhead style so it is usually made with a table that can be raised up and down by the simple expediency of a pivot at the far end and a wedge under the work that slides or rotates to raise and lower the near end. Both types are frequently made with 2 pivot points in the uprights for more extreme openings. The dumbhead usually has a fixed table since the clamping range made available by having the clamping face stick out from the upright is greater.

While designing your shaving horse make sure that the table of either type keeps the work and the drawknife up above your knees, if you should happen to work with only one foot on the pedal and your knee is up too high (in relation) then it is in danger. I like 21 or 22″ for the height of the sitting surface.

Other heads that can be made to swap out or be on their own bases are things like the spoon mule, a saddlers cramp, a bowl clamp. Etc. use your imagination! That is what it’s  for!

I have been using a northern German type for most of 30 years now. The construction is simple.

Get a slab or 2 x 6 at least 48″ long. Shorter than that doesn’t seem to work well. I have seen these made up to 9′ (108″) long in order to get the table angle right.

Bore 2 holes for legs at the end you will sit on. 20 degrees back and 20 out for stability.

The other end can have one or two legs (if one, angle it just 20 degrees forwards).

@ 6″ closer to you (where you sit) bore a 2″ diameter hole, and another one 12″ closer than that. Remove the material between these holes.

The work table can be 18 to 22″ long, make a corresponding slot in it.

On my actual horse the near part of the table is propped up  about 7″. and the far end is propped up@ 3″ (a 2 x 4). and I sit on a piece of 2 x 12 that rides on the bench.

The workpiece is aimed upwards at a nice angle toward my sternum. The pivot point is in the table far enough back to give @ 2″ of table in front of the clamp. And it is in the pivot bar closer to you than center so that “at rest” the clamp head opens on it’s own.

For the bodgers type clamp mechanism; You can split a branch for the two uprights or use 2 pieces of 2 x 4, shave dowels for the foot and pivot, and carve the clamp head or turn it on a lathe. The pivot pin wants to be loose (1″ hole and @ 7/8″ dowel). And the clamping head needs to be able to rotate.

you will notice the pivot point of the Bodgers bench is down in the slab or beam. And you should notice that the table of it is hinged at its far end and uses a block of wood that slides under it to adjust its height and angle.

so it’s sort of: pick a base and pick a clamping mechanism and put them together!

here are some sketches of other types of shaving horses that I have encountered:

shaving horses

 

shaving horse different

 

work benches

relax, throw one together, re work the parts you don’t like.

be well

PS addit: you can see in that last illustration that there are many variations. a couple worth noting are the bowl horse, a recent innovation by the bowl carver David Fisher.

bowl horse

and the spoon mule, another of recent origin but I do not know who came up with this one. this is operated by pressing the long sticks outwards with your feet/legs and they clamp on a spoon where they stick out above the table (sort of like a giant pair of pliers mounted in a table).

spoon mule

What is “Craft” vs “Art”

(I have ruminated upon this before and probably will again…)

Ars longa, Vita brevis

This saying was ancient when St Francis of Assisi wrote it down.

Ὁ βίος βραχύς,ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Was written by Hippocrates,

it starts:

life is short and art takes time, this was translated to latin as:

Vīta brevis,ars longa,occāsiō praeceps,experīmentum perīculōsum,iūdicium difficile.

and in English:

Life is short, and art long, opportunity fleeting, experimentations perilous, and judgment difficult.

and Chaucer used it as:

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne

which Gustav Stickley used as his motto in all of his advertising.

Ars or art until Chaucer changes it to craft…

Before these words were divided, they meant the same thing. Craft or art was the knowing of how to do things.

Some time between 1066 and now:

Art became painting, sculpture, and Grand Architecture.

Craft became knitting, weaving, house building, furniture making, boatbuilding, basket weaving, rope making and making things from rope, farming, fishing, and essentially everything else that people did and made.

I blame it on the Norman invasion.

but whatever the cause of the rift in definitions,

Art is display of wealth and power,

Craft is display of skill in making ordinary things.

And then our language (or society) inserts or reinserts ambiguity, by calling the most excellent craftsmen: “artists”, and sometimes even calling an artist, a craftsman.

my mind, my core, my soul if you will, wants a disambiguation of this. and yet it doesn’t.

There are craftsmen who look down on artists because they do not do the same thing twice, are not able to do a thing twice. they think the artist is all imagination and no skill.

There are artists who look down on craftsmen because the craftsmen keep making the same thing over and over and over… they think a craftsman is all skill and no imagination.

A few artists hit on something that grabs all of their focus, so they try it again, and again, each time reaching for something they haven’t quite achieved yet… and they slowly become craftsmen.

Some craftsmen after years of doing a thing start to see other possibilities in their forms and start modifying what they do to make them better to reach towards what their imaginations sees, improved lines and flow of spaces… and they slowly become artists.

____________________________

questions like “was Michelangelo an artist or a craftsman” do not arise. Artists of that era spent years practising by copying the same figure over and over (think of the market for concrete figures today, and the sales of pictures in frames at Walmart) for sale to the public. Thus he was trained like a craftsman, but, by his use of shading, composition, and superposition surpassed most of his contemporaries and landed him contracts that allowed him to show those skills at their best.. so he was an artist… and a craftsman.

Painting and sculpture and all of the “arts” used to be taught more like crafts are taught today. Guilds controlled training that would take years (decades) of learning techniques and copying things to be sold for public consumption. Some of the famous Painters had studios with dozens of apprentices doing the same painting over and over. Those were sold cheap to keep the doors open. Some of those apprentices became famous painters themselves, and some did not.

Today you don’t need a degree or training to call yourself a Painter or a Sculptor. It might help you learn a few techniques and make contacts to go to school or to apprentice. Nor is any training required to call yourself a Craftsman.

Yet even today crafts are not taught as they were, craft schools are few and far between. you get a smattering of introductions to several crafts. And a pat on the head. And the privilege of saying you went to this or that craft school. Then you are out on your own to do the 10 to 15 years of repetition it takes to really “Become”.

Apprenticeships are nearly nonexistent and most trade schools focus on plumbing and electrical work. I’m not saying a trade isn’t a craft, it is a craft. But not all of us are cracked up for working as tradesmen.

Carpentry is also craft (no one is teaching it), as is Pottery. Pottery is/(might also be) an art… every college that has an art dept. has pottery classes.

be well

 

(Wikipedia was used as a reference for this post)