Monday, April 7, 2014

The Temple Of Studley

If woodworking ever rose to the level of religion, there would be mini-versions of the Studley Tool Chest hanging behind the cash register of every ethnic grocery store this side of the Meditteranean.

I don't have a relationship with my tools. But if I did, I would build a temple for them. And that's what Henry Studley did with his tools. He built a sacred space for these objects and enshrined them within, replete with the same sort of embellishments and details that one sees in the great European cathedrals. Gothic arches, turned columns, delicately carved finials, inlays of precious materials, symbolism. An attention to detail that causes one to marvel.

I don't know much about Studley's background, or what type of person he was. But what is obvious from his chest is that he felt a connection with his craft that few, if any of us will ever experience. Is this a good thing? I don't know. For me, I have a different relationship with woodworking and tools. For me they are simply a means to an end. Not an end in and of themselves. At first glance, Studley's chest looks like the latter. But as an object of human skill and creativity, as an expression of his skill as a piano maker, perhaps this does reflect the creative energies of the divine that lurk within all of us. In that light, I have nothing but respect for Studley's creation. If you ever have the opportunity to see the chest, do not miss it.

Last year at Handworks I was invited by Don Williams to aid him in examining the hand wheel-equipped vises of Studley's bench, in hopes of someday producing a small run of these unique, and rare vises. Examining the two vises we discovered a number of new clues as to their history and construction. Incidentally, of the 18 or so extant vises, no two are alike, although several share an overall similarity in design. No patent records have been found, and only one historical photograph of a piano maker's shop featuring the vise has been found.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Leach

The vises themselves are quite interesting. They almost all feature a sliding "drawer and box" construction, either with a tongue and groove keying the box to the drawer, or a sliding dovetail with gibs (like a powered jointer bed.)  In the case of the Studley vises, the machined surfaces of the castings were shaped, not cut with a rotary tool. If you're not familiar with a metal shaper, its not like the woodworking machine of the same name. It's also known as a metal planer. The distinctive marks made by the shaper are easy to identify. They leave straight lines rather than circular.

One of the vises we examined had the number 6 stamped on several parts. Look close.
What did this mean? It could have been a way to identify parts that belong to a particular vise, or perhaps it was a serial number. Studley's vise in the tail vise position is the only one we know of with a metal dog dovetailed into the jaw itself. Because of this I always assumed Studley retrofitted the dog on his particular vise. But if that's the case, why would he bother stamping the "6" into the dog?
The dog fits sweetly into the jaw and receives its tension via a brass slug and spring. It's quite nice.

Once we'd examined the vises in their natural position, we pulled the bench away from the wall and flipped the top over to get a closer look at each vise's undercarriage. We were talking about the solid mahogany top and how heavy it was when we took a closer look into one of the holes that key the top onto the base via a dowel. The top is in fact veneered. We couldn't determine the core species. Don thought perhaps oak. Honestly, it was too difficult to tell.

With the top belly up, I got a closer look at Studley's dogs. I've always been fascinated by these. And now I know exactly how they work. The dogs fit very well in their holes. Not too sloppy, not tight. Just right. The brass spring keeps the dog peeking out of its hole at a given height. The brass tongue screwed to the underside of the top provides a stop against the groove in the base of each dog, preventing them from falling out.

Once the bosses arrived we were forced to wrap up our investigation. One minute I was wearing white gloves and examining an historical artifact with "The Don", to unloading strange pieces of foam rubber from the back of Narayan's turbo encabulator-equipped Volvo man wagon. Paddle shifters are pretty cool, but I didn't know you could get a bluetooth tranny on these. Shifting while texting is so convenient.

The remainder of the day was spent much like a photo shoot here at Benchcrafted. Holding umbrellas in odd positions, bracing the tripod against my body so as not to cause permanent damage, advising the photographers on white balance and proper emulsion techniques, all the while keeping the chimping to a minimum.

The room the chest resides in is quite non-descript. Yet the space has a certain energy. Perhaps even a metaphysical quality. Studley's shrine of tooldom brings out the most interesting, almost cult-like behavior.

At one point Schwarz appeared before chest bearing a large gold disc in his left hand. He assumed a sort of meditatively empty stare, and while averting his eyes from directly looking at the chest, aimed the gold disc at the shrine.

As the golden light washed over the surface, a genie emerged from the chest and took over the entire operation. For the remainder of the day, I did everything the genie asked, in exchange for one wish at the end of the day.

Shooting the empty chest requires removal of all the tools. I gladly sat by and watched the magic happen.

The first tools to come out were the planes, among which was the transitional Stanley jack plane, with rosewood body. I've never seen or heard of one of these before (I'm no Stanley expert), and Don tells me he's never heard of another. It wasn't a rework by Studley. It's stamped "Stanley..." at the toe.

As tools emerged, I was able to observe some of Studley's trick joinery. Sweet little dovetails. These are tiny.

I had a few moments to get really close to the chest and examine a few of the more well-known elements, like the iconic dividers-and-square. I'd love to post these, but they are not Studley-worthy. Wait until Don's book by LAP comes out, which will be full of the best pictures of every living detail of the chest and its tools. And in case you're wondering, I didn't touch the chest, or any of the tools inside. I had no good reason to, so why risk it?

As Don and Chris removed tools, I realized there was just too much to take in. I wanted to look at every tool, especially Studley's own shop made tools. I just couldn't do it all in the time I had. That's why I'm looking forward to the book. Viewing the chest as a complete piece (tools in place) was awesome. Really. It's like looking into the mechanism of a fine watch.

The empty chest is also something. It gives a chance to really examine the detail that Studley put into the supports, apart from the clever arrangement. I've read about this on Schwarz's blog, many of the ebony supports feature a tiny little cove scratched into the edge of the support, especially the ebony pieces. It gives the entire piece a sparkle as they catch the light. It's beautiful.

One of the highlights of my visit was being able to compare our fully machined handwheels with their inspiration. The Studley handwheels are so sweet. They are more or less perfect. I have no doubt that Studley spent a lot of time working his wheels by hand to achieve such a level of finish. They are beautiful to see and touch. Real works of industrial art.

For a few short moments I felt like I owned this stuff. U can't touch this.

As I said my goodbyes to The Don, shook the hand of the owner, and gave Schwarz a big bear hug, I turned to the genie, reminding him of my hours of unflinching servitude throughout the day, and his promise of granting me one wish. A big grin spread across his face from ear to ear, a twinkle of light sparkled in his eye, and with a deep, satisfying laugh my wish was granted.

Photos of the plaid gorilla by Narayan Nayar. Digital effects by Harry Toopay Studios. All other photos by your's truly.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Classic Leg Vise-Pricing and Availability

First off, an apology.

We've missed our release date on this one by more than a couple months. And we know that's frustrating. We make about 99% of this vise from scratch. The rest we source from folks who know how to make certain things better than us. Like wood screws. We ordered the wrong ones. One tiny part held us up. Next time we'll try to keep quiet until everything is really ready (not so easy when you're making something exciting.)

Good, now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the Classic!

Here are the specs:

• Fully machined from steel components
• 2-3/16” diameter hub with integral spring plunger, Parkerized finish
• 15” handle assembly with central v-groove and leather shock washers, Parkerized finish
• 3-½” diameter flange, Parkerized finish
• Roll-threaded steel acme screw, 1” diameter with 4 tpi pitch, double lead (2 tpi equivalent, or ½” travel per turn) 16” of thread behind the flange
• 9” capacity typical installations
• 2-½” diameter one-piece acme nut
• Suede leather jaw liner included (for 8” wide chops)
• Designed and made entirely in the USA
• Includes everything you need to build the vise, except wood

Double-lead Thread
Most modern vises use a single lead acme thread. Depending on pitch, these can function slowly, but with precision and control, or more quickly. Screw pitch and travel should be matched to the vise’s purpose. Fast isn’t necessarily better. Tapping and threading metal for double-lead screws is risky and costly, as the thread is very aggressive, and massive amounts of material must be removed. Our screw is roll-threaded. That means its basically squished into shape under enormous pressure. The result is a stronger thread with a polished, smooth finish.

Face vises are generally used for a relatively narrow range of thicknesses, but when used in wider positions, the convenience of opening the jaws quickly and efficiently is a plus. Ergonomics can accomplish this, as with the massive handwheel of our Glide Leg Vise, or speed, as in the case of the Classic, which uses a double-lead acme screw. The Classic moves as fast as typical wooden vise screws, ½” of travel per turn.

Radiused Hub and Flange
The mating surfaces of the flange and hub are machined to a 5” radius. This allows the parts to nest together and distribute clamping pressure over a wider area, especially when holding slightly non-parallel work.

Balanced Handle
The sliding handle is machined with a v-groove detent centered along its length. This detent engages with a stainless steel spring plunger in the center of the hub, allowing one to quickly center the handle and thus balance it to spin rapidly for quick, gross adjustments. In most cases, one can leave the handle centered after holding your workpiece. The spring plunger tension is adjustable. A tighter setting makes it easier and quicker to center up the handle, but may inhibit the handle from sliding as freely. There is a sweet spot that allows quick engaging with the spring plunger, and free sliding simultaneously. The plunger can be completely disengaged if desired. The spring plunger also allows repositioning of the handle so it’s not interfering with your work or your body. Leather shock washers further refine the handle’s function.

Parkerized Finish
The Classic is made from machined steel, but we wanted it to have the look of darkly patinated forged hardware. To get close to this (and not break the bank) we Parkerized the handle, hub and flange. Commonly used on high quality hunting rifles, Parkerizing (or Manganese Phosphate) is a process which darkens the raw steel, which is first sandblasted, while also providing wear resistance and lubricity. The process is more expensive than black oxide, yielding a more durable surface with an attractive dull black-gray look. A rub down with fine steel wood and a coat of light oil helps give the parts a vintage look, further lubricate, and provide excellent corrosion protection. See our installation instructions for further details.

The Crisscross
The Classic is designed to be used with the Benchcrafted Crisscross for best function. The Crisscross completely supports the weight of the Classic hardware and a wooden chop while completely eliminating the need to adjust a pin (parallel guide). With proper installation, the Classic with Crisscross operates with virtually zero friction. 


Classic Crisscross Solo $294
Best choice if you’re building a new bench, or building a stand-alone high vise for use as a bench appliance. Includes the Classic Leg Vise hardware and a Crisscross Solo.

Classic Crisscross Retro $334
Choose this if you’re retrofitting the Classic (w/ Crisscross) to an existing bench, or if you’d rather install the Retro’s mounting brackets instead of drilling deep holes for Solo mounting pins (see installation instructions for more differences between the Retro and Solo installs.)

Includes the Classic Leg Vise hardware and a Crisscross Retro.

Classic Solo Benchmaker's Package: $704
Our usual Benchmaker's Package, only with a Classic Crisscross Solo instead of a Glide Crisscross Solo.

Classic Retro Benchmaker's Package: $744 
Our usual Benchmaker's Package, only with a Classic Crisscross Retro instead of a Glide Crisscross Retro.
Classic Leg Vise Hardware Only (no Crisscross) $195
Choose this if you’re building a leg vise with a traditional parallel guide. Examples include: extremely low benches (that can’t accommodate a Crisscross), angled leg vises and face vises as found on English-style benches, twin-screw vises, traditional all-wood tail vises (Continental benches) or vises of your own design. 


The Classic Leg Vise will be available for purchase on our store page beginning on Monday, April 28, and will ship at the same time. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Drawsharp FAQ

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we changed the way we package Drawsharps. It seems some folks are having a bit of difficulty using the double stick tape to adhere their diamond pads. So we've added some content to the FAQ to address this issue. We apologize if you've ruined your tape, but the fix is really quick and easy, and in fact is the same method you'll be instructed to use if you've purchased a Rehab Kit. We're posting the FAQ below.

∙ I ruined the double stick tape as I was attaching the diamond pads, what do I do?
Glue the diamond pads directly onto the sleeves using gel CA (Super) glue, or contact cement. A couple dots per pad is sufficient. The super glue can be a tad messy if you over apply it. Contact cement is a more relaxed approach. You don't need to specifically use double-stick tape, we simply package it with the Drawsharp for the customer's convenience. If you have a Rehab kit, we instruct customers to install the four diamond pads the same way.

To see a video on how to properly apply the diamond pads with double stick tape, see here

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Benchcrafted In Europe

We had no idea that Germans could be so fun.

But before you accuse us of uncharitable characterizations, know that we're half German. Our maternal side of the family hails from Bremen and Nienburg, where our ancestors did two things. Two things most necessary for human happiness. Brewing and Butchery. Our great-grandfather Rudolph Beckmann emigrated to Iowa in the early part of the 20th c. and brought his trade with him. That's him pictured below (upper left) among his fellow brethren at the meeting of the Nienburg Brotherhood of Butchers, ca. 1907. Just an apprentice at the time, I bet he looked forward to the day he got to pose with a sixty liter glass of Schwarzbier (get a load of that!) Our brewing ancestors stayed in Germany, perhaps because they knew Americans only drank pale lager at the time, and shortly thereafter, saw fit to make beer illegal altogether. 

So its with no small sense of satisfaction that Benchcrafted is now available in Germany through Dieter Schmid's Fine Tools.

Fine Tools carries our full line of vises and will ship throughout Europe.

For those looking to build our Split Top Roubo in Europe or wherever the metric system is used, Fine Tools now offers a free set of metric plans (in German, and soon in English) along with building techniques and instructions. German woodworker Guido Henn has produced a set of videos for Fine Tools showing installation details for the Glide Crisscross and Tail Vise, as well as an overview of the bench. Nice work, Guido.

Our current 20x30 prints of the Split Top Roubo are also available from Fine Tools for those building with the imperial system.

Further details on Benchcrafted's products at Fine Tools can be found here. 

High Vise For Sale

We have altogether too many vises lying around. Until we get a showroom, we'd feel better if these devices were making furniture in someone's shop.

This high vise features suede-lined hard maple jaws, a Crisscross Retro (raw iron), and a 2tpi Big Wood Vise (now defunct) ash bench screw with ebony garter. All wood parts finished with a couple coats of oil. High vises are simply awesome for doing chest-height detail work.

$340 plus actual shipping. Update: SOLD

To order, email with your full contact info.

You can see this vise in action below. Its at the 1:34 mark.

The Benchcrafted Glide and Crisscross from Benchcrafted on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Classic Leg Vise Research

We spent hundreds of hours developing our Classic Leg Vise, which includes lots of time researching historic forms.

Most of our research takes the form of hunting down early photographs, which appear in everything from vintage tool catalogs to postcards. We also keep our eye out for ancient workbenches in modern contexts, like Ebay, auction catalogs, and lifestyle magazines. The latter is our favorite source, purely for the entertainment factor. Our image collection of bastardized benches is enough to make any woodworker cringe.

But now and then we stumble on a real gem, like the picture above from a school for disabled  veterans.

One thing we found interesting. It seems shortly after Roubo's time, and the advance of the industrial revolution, that at least in France (and its colonies in North Africa like Algeria and Tunisia) the vast majority of extant benches featured metal vise screws, not wood. Why fewer wood screws? I think in a school or commercial setting, the metal screws were probably viewed as more durable, and with mass production coming into play, they could be made quickly and cheaply.

French leg vise screws invariably feature a metal hub and handle. English and American versions almost always use a cast "T" with sliding wood handle. We chose the French version to allow our handle to center up repeatably and reliably (this is nearly impossible with wood) and also because the cast "T" version is already available from other tool makers such as Lie-Nielsen.

We've uploaded some of our research images here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Excuses and Opportunities

First, the excuses. We had hoped to release the Classic Leg Vise last week. Obviously that didn't happen. We were in the middle of machining a large run of Crisscross arms when we discovered a problem. This run of Crisscross arms was destined for Classics, but a small error in our molds meant that hundreds of arms had to be melted down and repoured. The cope and drag were shifted just enough to make the machining impossible. So back into the pot they went. We hope to have Classics ready for sale by the end of this month. For those who are chomping at the bit, trust me, it will be worth it. I've been using one in my own shop for that past couple weeks in a high vise. I'm hooked.

And now the opportunity. Since day one we've always used Cocobolo rosewood for all our vise knobs. Recently the wood was placed on the CITES Appendix II list. Supply is already getting short, and the price has doubled as well. We didn't want to raise prices for the sake of the knob, but we also didn't want to eliminate the look and cache that the rosewood provides.

But before I go further, let me mention a couple downsides to using Cocobolo.

Moisture content. It can be all over the map. Waiting for rosewood to dry is sort of like waiting for a drought in the Louisiana bayou. Wet wood shrinks, and when you're trying to put a metal screw into a piece of shrinking wood, things get tight. We usually have to ream some of our knobs so they spin freely on the screw. We also know that some of our customers have to do that as well. Hey, its wood after all, but we want to do better.

We tried a few options. Indian rosewood (same problems as cocobolo), Impregnated maple (too light colored), even transparent aluminum (too expensive). In the end we settled on a material that was at the absolute bottom of our list: DymondWood.

Yes, that ghastly multi-colored birch plywood-based, resin-impregnated, clown-barf abomination that we've all seen on too many amateur knife-maker's blades.

But we discovered that it doesn't all look like that. DymondWood "Rosewood Burgundy" is remarkably close to cocobolo. And it offers a big advantage over rosewood (aside from being made from a super abundant wood-birch), and that is stability. With its resin-impregnated, multi-ply structure, it basically functions like plastic. It won't shrink on the knob, and won't crack either (not that we've ever had a knob crack, to our knowledge). It also feels exactly like a cocobolo knob in your hand.

So in the next week or so, we'll start shipping vises with our new DymondWood knob. I doubt anyone will even notice. In fact, we passed around two knobs this week here, and only one person picked out the DymondWood instantly. Everyone else had to look close.

One of the knobs below is cocobolo, one is DymondWood.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Case For The Sliding Leg Vise

We've written before about our general disdain for the sliding leg vise. In short, they offer very little added functionality, besides just plain getting in the way.

But last week customer Julio Alonso sent us pics of his short bench equipped with a sliding leg vise, and we're changing our tune.

Juilo's shop is tiny, and his bench is necessarily short. So it often has to serve double duty. In this case we think a sliding, and more specifically, a removable leg vise makes lots of sense. Need to mount a Moxon vise for dovetailing? No problem. Lift the leg vise off and swap it out with a Moxon.

Here's a short video of Julio's vise.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Drawsharps In Stock

After a short period of being a tad low on stock, we've got a new batch of Drawsharps finished, packaged, and nearly ready to ship.

We've made a couple small changes to the way customers receive their Drawsharp. First, instead of gluing the diamond abrasive pads directly to the sleeves, we're now including two pieces of 3m brand double faced adhesive strips for that purpose. This isn't hardware-store variety tape. It's industrial stuff that we chose from a long list of specific parameters that would suit the Drawsharp. And it wasn't cheap. But it offers the distinct advantage of allowing us to get Drawsharps packaged and shipped quicker than before. The other change is to the stud at the bottom of each post. Customers will now assemble this part. We shot this little video to show the process.

Drawsharps are $84 and available on our store page as well as through several of our dealers.