Monday, July 20, 2015

Limited Edition: Classic Leg Vise Unfinished

When we first released our Classic Leg Vise we promised a few that we'd eventually offer it without the black Parkerized finish. Here's your chance to pick one up.

We only have a limited number of these, since this isn't a stock item. First come, first served.

The vise will arrive unfinished, sporting the freshly-machined steel surfaces right off our mills and lathes. The parts will have a light coating of oil. We recommend that you treat these like raw steel (since they are) and either keep them lightly oiled, or give them a good coat of paste wax to keep the rust at bay. You could also just let them get a nice old bronzey patina, if you have a few years worth of patience. A rub down with steel wool, followed by cold bluing would give them a steel-blue sort of look. Baked flax is also an option.

The handle is the only part that doesn't get fully machined. Since we start with cold rolled steel, the main shaft of the handle shows the mill finish, with only the threaded ends, and the V-groove midway being machined. This makes the main shaft look less shiny than the rest of the vise. The solution to unify the look of the handle (if you care) is to polish it with a maroon or gray Scotch-Brite pad, followed by fine steel wool (which is what we did to the assembled handle in the background.) You can do this to the rest of the vise as well, if you like the brushed, satiny-look.

If you're building a complete bench, this would pair nicely with a Tail Vise M, with its fully-machined handwheel.

The price of the unfinished Classic is the same as the standard Classic. See our store page for more info and options. If you would like a Benchmaker's Package with a Tail Vise M, make sure you request this specifically when ordering.

To order: Send an email to us, let us know exactly what you want, and include your full name and shipping address. We'll send you an invoice with the total, including shipping.

These are only available by sending us an email, they are NOT available through the website. 

We're packaging the vises up this week, and they should ship within 2-3 weeks.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Galbert's Sightlines In Sketchup

For the past couple weeks we've been building a small staked desk, much like the one Schwarz built recently.

We like this style of furniture since it shares much of the DNA of chairmaking, and we also like it because its fast to make, completely functional, and supremely durable.

I usually do my rake and splay on paper with a quick sketch, then use Galbert's sightline square to find the numbers. But I thought I'd try and work everything out in Sketchup so I could spin the piece around in perspective view and taste the final look.

I'm no Sketchup expert, but here's how I did it anyway. Its fun and easy. My explanation will assume you have some experience drawing in Sketchup.

First, make sure you're working in parallel projection.  Draw a vertical plumb line at each leg location using the tape measure tool.

Now draw the legs as simple lines. They are full length and start at the top face of the table's top surface.

Now switch to front view so everything looks like a vector drawing. Select two legs from the left or right end (you'll need to orbit a bit to select them both) then rotate 10 degrees (or whatever) for the splay. I'm not rotating at the top of the table, but my pivot point is where the leg meets the underside of the batten. This keeps the legs centered on the batten.

Here's what it looks like when you orbit. Legs are splayed only.

Now switch to left or right view and rake the legs to 13 degrees the same way.

You can make copies of the table and play around with different leg positions, rake and splay until you like what you see.

When happy, draw a line from the end of the leg over to the vertical guideline. Don't worry about the angle of this line, it doesn't matter as long as you connect it with the plumb line.

Now draw a line straight up the guideline and stop it past the top. The triangle will close and create a face. This is your sightline.

I learned from Pete Galbert that the sightline is visible when you walk around a chair (or table) and the leg in question appears to be dead plumb, that is, you can't see any rake or splay.

Orbit the table ("walk around it"), and you'll see your angled leg line up perfectly with the vertical plumb line once you're viewing directly along the sightline. Like this:

The sightline is the plane in which you tilt your drill at a certain angle to create rake and splay. In other words, keep your drill dead plumb in one plane (along the sightline) then tilt it to the correct angle (the resultant) and your rake and splay will happen automatically. It's super simple once you've tried it.

Here's how to find the resultant angle.

Select the triangle, copy and move away from the table so its easier to measure.

Use the protractor tool to measure the angle. That's it. That's the angle you tilt your drill to get 10 degree splay and 13 degree rake.

Finally, I select a leg, and move it up just enough (it should only take a smidge) that the end of the leg is visible at the top, then use the dimension tool to find the drilling location from the ends of the top. Notice that it's not at the same location as the plumb line. That's because the leg is centered on the batten below, not at the top. This only applies when drilling through the top and batten at the same time. If you're drilling through the batten only at an angle, then I would just drill through the bottom on the center of the batten.

For further info, see Chairmaker's Notebook, Appendix A: Creating and Using Sightlines.

Also, Pete's video.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Right Amount Of Precision

We often field questions about the accuracy required to install our vises, or the precision required when building a bench. More often than not the assumption is that you need to get your wood perfect down to the last thousandth of an inch. Or something aligned dead on. But the one that makes us smile the most is the one where folks think that vise jaws need to close like two components of the international space station mating up together for the first time in zero gravity.

The truth is, precision can screw things up. When speaking of how vises hold wood, we like accuracy. And what I mean by that is that the vise grabs and holds the wood perfectly every time. What we aren't looking for here is precision. In other words, the jaws of a vise should have some amount of free rotational movement. This accomplishes two thing. It keeps the mechanism moving freely, and it allows the jaw or chop to conform to the shape of the workpiece.

To achieve this, we machine our vises accurately (they all perform consistently), but only build precision where needed. Some of our customers complain that their chop rotates horizontally after installing their vise. They assume the chop is supposed to close perfectly parallel with the front edge of the bench and not rotate, but be stiff, like a Record-style vise. But that precision is a handicap. It restricts movement, and all but guarantees that the vise will work stiffly. Yes, we work mostly with parallel-faced stock, but occasionally we need to hold other shapes too. But if the chop is left free to rotate a bit, it will naturally seat against flat stock and hold it fast, and also hold tapered work.

To illustrate, this week we're building some staked furniture and working some tapered octagonal legs for a small reading desk. The Glide, with its intentional imprecision has been perfect for this. These legs taper from 2-5/8" to 1-5/8" over 28".

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paring Skraper now on Store page

Our new Paring Skraper which we introduced at Handworks and blogged about here is now available on our store page here.

Get em' while you can!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Miter Jack Kits: Metal Bits Now Available

We've sold out of the La Forge Royale Miter Jack kits, but there's a silver lining. We made a double run of the metal bits which we're offering for sale. All you'll have to make is the wooden screw, and tap the nut block. The inexpensive wood threading kits will work (if you have a lot of patience) but we like the Beall products. The 1-1/4" is the one to get. If you don't want to bother with the threading, we recommend you contact Nick at Lake Erie Toolworks, who makes the best quality wood threads in the world.

The contents of the Miter Jack Kit Metal Bits are pictured above (minus the wood screw and nut block of course.) All the metal bit are manufactured in the USA by us. You'll also get a pouch with all the various screws needed to assemble the jack.

Price: $38 plus shipping.

You can order them directly on our Store page.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

For Sale: Wysong & Miles 284 Mortiser

I have a strange relationship with mortising machines. My first one was a benchtop model that was good for little 1/4" square holes and not much else. I flipped workpieces to get a 1/2" mortise. It was slow and tedious. But like many sub-par tools, I got by, thinking I didn't need anything better.

My second machine was much larger, capable of easily handling 3/4" bits. That machine I was babysitting for a friend and it eventually went to another home.

While I had that machine I also had a dinosaur beast in the corner of my garage. A Greenlee 228. That's it below. Yeah, isn't it a beauty? I wanted to restore it in the worst way, but ran out of steam (and room) and let it go for less than scrap price. It was my first machine with an auto-feed head, so that feature was particularly painful to wave goodbye to.

Greenlee was the big daddy of mortising machine manufacturers back in the heyday of old iron. Based out of Rockford, IL, Greenlee made a dizzying array of machines, some with multiple heads, that were used from everything from small furniture to early rail cars. The latter required huge timbers and gigantic mortises. So Greenlee made a machine specifically for this purpose. It was called a car mortiser.

The mortiser could take up to 3" chisels (!), and plunge them easily into timbers as large as 18"x20". You know that hole in that great big Sequoia out in California that people drive through? That was made in one plunge by a Greenlee car mortiser.

I have never seen a No. 238 in the flesh, but what a sight it would be.

In case you're wondering, Greenlee is still around. They don't make mortisers though. These days its tools for the electrical trade. But the logo is still the same. The end view of a hollow chisel bit surrounding the letter G. I wonder how many people at Greenlee are unaware of this fact?

So, back to my current mortiser. It's a Wysong & Miles 284, arguably one of the best auto feed mortisers ever made. This particular example was rebuilt by Central Machinery Co. in Lexington NC. A former employee of Wysong bought out the rights to Wysong mortisers back in the 70's and opened Central Machinery to service and support the machines. The rebuild is about 12 years old now, and the machine has seen maybe 5 hours of use since then. It's in great shape and works well. I did some routine maintenance to the machine about a year ago, including new gear oil (just because I had to remove it to work on the clutch) and tuning the clutch. Geez, it sounds like you could drive this thing.

The spindle is 5hp 3600rpm 3 phase and the feed motor is 1.5 hp 1200 rpm 3 phase. It's equipped with a stop rod and 6 adjustable stops, Jacobs chuck, chisel holder and bushing, magnetic starters with overload, 110V transformer, disconnect switch, compound tilting table, and an assortment of bits. Currently wired for 440V, 3 phase.

If you're attracted to this machine because its old arn, be aware of what you're getting into. This is a serious machine capable of running all day and cranking out thousands of mortises, but its also not a machine you walk up to to punch out a couple mortises after dinner. It is a true production machine. But it also takes some getting used to when setting it up. Once you start the cycle, you must finish it, and any wood under the bit will be mortised whether you're in the right position or not. It took me a few mortises to get the feel for it. But now its second nature. If you have lots of mortises to cut, especially production work, this is one sweet machine.

Why am I selling it if I like it so much? Because I'm odd I guess. The other thing is space. I simply don't have space in my personal shop that I'm willing to allocate for a machine that doesn't get used that frequently. I love the machine, but I will likely do my machine mortising from here on out with some sort of rotary setup (Domino, router, slot mortiser). I've cut mortises with pretty much every setup out there, so it won't be hard for me to settle on my next ex-mortiser. I will enjoy the added space however.

Price is $2800. If you don't have 440V power, I do have a 440V to 220V transformer that will allow you to use the machine with 3ph 220V power that I'd be happy to sell along with the mortiser. Price is $500. I can also point you in the right direction for getting 3 phase power in your shop if you need it.

If you're interested, send me an email through the Benchcrafted website.

Here's a video of the mortiser in action.

Frank Does It Again

Watch Frank Strazza's tour of his Split Top Roubo bench we posted about a few weeks ago. Nice work Frank! And wow, what a beautiful little corner to work in. We love it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

All Better Now

This is for the profusely apologetic and honorable gentleman at Handworks 2015 who proved that my chest lid stay was indeed poorly designed. I never moved the stay hole so the lid gets propped slightly closed instead of slightly open. The stay got knocked out, the lid swung back, the hinges ripped out taking a strip of spruce along with it.

The fix was easy. We ripped off the busted wood (it was too shredded to glue back in place) glued on a new strip and touched up the paint. About 30 minutes of work, total. And we didn't loose a single autograph. EA's chest is as good as new.

So, thoughtful gentleman, wherever you are, special thanks to you for fessing up, and more for reassuring us that woodworkers are far and away very honorable folks.

And yes, we did move the stay hole, so now the chest lid will slam shut if it gets knocked.

Monday, June 8, 2015

And then there were 6 and er.....4 also

Down to our last six La Forge Royale Miter Jack kits.  We very likely will not do another run of these so this is your last chance as they are.  These can be ordered directly from our Store page. SOLD OUT

We are also down to our last four holdfasts.  We will do more of these, but never sure when that will be.  To order, send an email to and include your shipping address. We'll send you an invoice to pay. Simple as that. For more info on our holdfasts, see this.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Limited Run Mag-Bloks

Back when cocobolo wasn't on the CITES list, a couple times a year we'd do a batch of One-of-a-Kind Mag-Bloks, in various sizes.  We'd also do any other exotics we could get our hands on that we're interesting.

We've not done that for some time, we simply don't have the time.  What we do have the time for though are slightly less exotic woods, in standard sizes in limited runs.

What we have now are, as pictured top to bottom, Wenge, Quartered Oak, Bocote & Padauk.

Unlike in the past when we've posted individual photos of each blok, mostly for character and grain reference, these species are all fairly consistent in variation so we're not going to do that.

Prices are, plus shipping:

12":  $41.00
18":  $54.00

Quartered Oak
12":  $35.00
18":  $48.00

12":  $48.00
18":  $60.00

12":  $38.00
18":  $51.00

We have a handful of each of these.  To order, send an email to and include your shipping address. We'll send you an invoice to pay. Simple as that.  ALL SOLD OUT.