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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Our New Knobs




As of this posting, all our Glide and Tail Vises, both M and C series are now shipping with our new, aluminum knobs. Vises are no longer supplied with Dymondwood (M series) or infused beech (C series) The knobs are coated with a vintage-style finish seen on camera bodies, drafting equipment, electronics, and classic tools. The satin, black-wrinkle coating gives a great tactile feel that is superior in use to our previous knobs, which had a slick finish. A different aesthetic for sure, but one that fits with our ethos and product line. In the event a customer has damaged or misplaced a knob, please contact us directly for replacement options.

To read a more in-depth post about this, click here.






Tuesday, January 22, 2019

About Our Pricing in 2019, and our Vise Knobs


Pricing for 2019

If you've followed our work for any amount of time you've known that we don't like to sit still. Although there's something to be said for keeping things static, the "traditional workholding" philosophy, we are also of the mindset that improvements should always be sought after, unless they veer too far from the path of tradition.

Or, and let's be honest here, get too expensive.

From the very outset we designed our vises not to a price point, but to a standard of design and function first, then we looked hard at how to make these things relatively affordable. There was a whiff of this in the air when we debuted our M series handwheels, and when we went to double lead screws and added two knobs to the Glide Leg Vise. We kept things under control by offering our C series vises, with simpler materials and finish, but equal function. Due to a number of circumstances beyond our control, we've come to another crossroads and decisions must be made.

Metal prices have gone up. Labor prices have gone up. And being Iowa boys, down to earth midwest types, we've held off on raising our prices for (yes, we had to look it up) 7 years. Every few months our costs go up. The price of materials changes. Labor prices increase. What do we do? We eat it, and have been for 7 years. We try to make small, innocent changes that don't affect our product in order to keep from jacking the price up.

In hindsight, what was done with a pure intent turns out to be a pretty bad way of doing business. Hopefully we can learn our lesson and gradually increase prices, when necessary, instead of making big increases less frequently. Over the course of 2019, you will see some of our prices go up. Some might not. We don't sit at desks like bean counters and carry our costs to the third decimal point. Believe it or not, we start with "what's a fair price" before we even look at our costs. It's how we'd treat a family friend, and it's how we view every customer.

Vise Knobs

Somewhat related to the topic of pricing is the material we make our vise knobs from. That's about to change. In fact, if you've placed an order recently, you will likely be getting vises with our new knobs. Because we can't just make changes without a rational explanation (more "Iowa boys" coming through) here goes.

In the beginning we turned our own knobs in house (the person writing this is the "we") from cocobolo. I could only keep up for so long, and the cocobolo started irritating my body. We hired a professional turner to take over the work. Then cocobolo got really expensive and the government started controlling it, which made it even more expensive. So we moved to Dymondwood. Good stuff, looks like rosewood. Then the Dymondwood factory burned to the ground and they never rebuilt. We've been using NOS Dymondwood ever since. We've now run out, and for a brief period we used some knock-off Dymondwood from China. It was decent, but we had no idea what it was made from, and what kind of dust we were breathing when making them. Then we added infused beech. Also, good stuff, but sourcing wood, drying it, milling it, infusing it, then turning it ended up being another inventory headache. Then some uncontrollable parameters changed and the price of the knobs doubled. We had absorbed the increases for years, but this was one we couldn't. The cost on a Glide, with three knobs, would have increased more than anyone, especially us, would stomach.

So here's where we're going. From here on out all our Glide M and Glide C knobs will be made from aluminum. Yeah, sounds pretty awful right? We thought so too. Until we started really thinking about it. Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the world. We have no problem sourcing it. It's ready to use. Those are all compelling manufacturing reasons. But how will it feel in the hand? That's what really matters, right? Anodizing? Makes for pretty colors, and is durable, but its fairly cold and harsh. Powdercoat? Perhaps too plastic-y to the touch. On the only contact point between the vise and the human body, we wanted better.

Then it hit us as we were handling our cameras. Satin black wrinkle coating. Bingo. For decades this finish has been used on everything from the cameras that went to the moon, classic sports car interiors, tool handles, stereos and electronics. It has a tactile feel, its warm, and it looks great with our handwheels. Plus, its an economical choice that will allow us to keep our prices from getting out of hand. If you're into classic industrial design as we are, we think you'll love our new knobs. Are they a departure from the classic wood we've always used? Obviously, but we don't think they are any less, just different. And lets' face it, there's a lot of opportunity for exhibiting some exotic wood on a bench build. This way our vises will match any choice of wood you like for the rest of your bench.

Watch for our new knobs in the next few weeks.








Friday, December 28, 2018

10th Anniversary Vises--Ready!


2008 marked the year of our first vise product, the Benchcrafted Tail Vise. To commemorate the event we designed a special pair of handwheels based on our Glide M and Tail Vise M series and are now offering them as a limited edition of just a few sets of benchmaker packages.

We won't make these again like this. 

The changes are 99% aesthetic, the vises function as you would expect any Benchcrafted product to, smoothly and effortlessly. 

The details:

- "X" spoke design to denote the Roman numeral ten, for 10 years of vise production. 
- Glide handwheel fitted with four knobs instead of the usual three
- Knobs turned from infused holly wood to suggest the look of real elephant ivory
- Knob washers and shoulder bolts turned in brass
- Available only as a Benchmaker's package (individual Glides or Tail Vises not available)
- You can choose which Crisscross mounting you'd like (Solo or Retro)
- Limited edition--will not be produced like this again

All other specs are identical to our M series Glide and Tail Vises. 

TO PURCHASE:

Ordering for the 10th Anniversary Benchmaker's Package will open on January 2, 2019 at 1pm, central standard time. 

To order your package, head over to the Glide or Tail Vise page on the Benchcrafted website (you can buy the Anniversary package from either page) then click the "BUY" link in the navigation bar (Specs F.A.Q. Buy) to be taken to the bottom of the page. Click here for a direct link to the section on the Glide page. The package comes stock with a Crisscross Solo. If you'd like a Crisscross Retro instead, you can add that to your order once the Anniversary package is in your cart.

You can follow the link above to see the Anniversary section. Note that the "Add to cart" isn't active. On Jan. 2 at 1pm CST it will become active, at which time you can place your order. You'll want to refresh your browser at that time to have the best chance of getting a package.

Please don't contact us asking to pre-order the package. We only have a limited number of these, and want to give everyone a fair chance. Thus the several day heads up. 

We only kept 1 set for ourselves, and that's the honest truth. If you end up getting a package, we welcome pictures of your finished bench.

Happy New Year! 











Monday, October 29, 2018

Our shopping cart software broke!


We apologize for any inconvenience, but we just realized our shopping cart software was down over the weekend. So if you couldn't order, please drop us an email and we'll get your order in manually.

We're working on fixing the problem and hope to be back up asap. Thanks for your patience!

Update: We're back! Everything is fixed and ready for your orders. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fall Updates - New Stuff!


Classic Workbenches in stock soon

We've got another batch of Classic Workbenches in the works. But they are selling fast. We will have a couple in stock in the next week or two. If you'd like to reserve one (or two!), drop us a line at info@benchcrafted.com

These benches are made to exacting standards by our collaborators at Amana Furniture. They are built to the highest standards possible. We also offer white glove delivery, so the first time you touch your bench will be to use it in your shop.

Sketch of new, shorter Classic workbench


New Bench for small spaces

We are also working on a new bench design, basically a shorter version of the Classic at 60" long, intended for smaller spaces like apartments or urban dwellings where space is at a premium and where you may need to share space with less practical things, like a bed or desk. Heck, this could double as a desk by adding a Swing Away Seat! The bench won't cost much less than our Classic, fair warning, since there isn't any less joinery and the man hours needed to produce the bench are pretty much the same as our 84" Classic. Price will reflect the reduced amount of material. This isn't a bench designed for smaller budgets, just smaller spaces. Please don't write us asking for more details. Everything we know right now is written right here.



Classic Tail Vise

We've married up our Tail Vise with the Classic Leg Vise and produced offspring we're calling (big surprise) the Classic Tail Vise. The two tail vises will share all their internal components, the only difference will be the type of handle that operates the vise. The Classic will use an all-new hub in the same style as the Classic, with spring plunger and v-groove handle for balancing and quick adjustment. The handle portion will be much shorter than the Classic Leg Vise however, since the Tail Vise is not a high-torque device, and the shorter handle is more ergonomic in this capacity. For the first time you'll be able to build a bench with traditional-style leg and tail vise, with their black parkerized finish and vintage look, but with Benchcrafted precision and sweet sweet function. What's not to love? We're pushing hard to have the first run of these ready to ship in time for Christmas, but no promises. If we miss that, keep an eye out for these shortly after the first of the year. Pricing will be in the general neighborhood of the Benchcrafted Tail Vise.



10th Anniversary Vises




We're nearly to the end of production on this very limited run of Glide M and Tail Vise M 10th Anniversary design vises. Looks like late November before they are ready to go on sale. We have very few of these, so if you're interested in a set (they will only be available as a pair, Glide and Tail Vise together) we urge you to keep abreast of our Instagram feed. @benchcrafted. We'll also post here when they are ready. To keep it fair, we'll announce the time when they'll be posted for sale in advance, so you can be at the ready when the page launches. We're using some expensive red metals and unique woods and processes to produce these, aside from the new "X" spoke design, so be prepared for these to cost more than our standard offerings. That's all we know for now.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Join us at Amana Timber and Tools on August 18

Join us on August 18 at the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop in Amana, IA where we'll be demonstrating our Classic Workbench (which you can also buy and take with you) and our other tools in the new Amana Timber and Tools space at the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop. This is a soft opening featuring spectacular locally harvested Amana timbers from Tim Krauss of Amana Forestry

For those familiar with Handworks, this is the same space as the Furniture Shop, but backdated to the original look. It's a very cool space now. Eventually the Timber and Tools will have an extensive selection of local woods and an array of traditional hand tools for woodworking. 

Right now, the space is filling up with lots of live edge spalted maple slabs, oak, walnut, cedar and sycamore. Pics below were just as they were moving in a few weeks ago. Tim and his crew are doing some amazing things with their spalting technique, be sure to check out the spalted sycamore, it looks like marble.

We'll be demonstrating starting mid morning until 2pm or so. We'll have a few things for sale, stickers, vises, posters, plus the Timber and Tool will have lots of amazing wood to sell you. 

While you're in Amana, there's also Millstream Brewery, Amana Smokehouse and Meat Shop, Amana Woolen Mill, antique shops, museums, wine, food, gifts, and more. 

Saturday is also the gathering for the local Model A Club. The streets will be lined with Ford Model A's from the late 20's and early 30's. The first Amana ambulance (a Model A) will be present, which is owned by the grandson of the original owner. It still has its original paint and mohair interior, in remarkable condition. 












Monday, June 4, 2018

Not Woodworking: Gameboy Zero


It's about time we talk about some retro gaming here. At Benchcrafted we appreciate a lot of the older ways of doing .. just about everything, and that includes video games! Nothing beats the look and feel of the classics and there's no better way to revive that than with a Gameboy running on a Raspberry Pi.


This type of build is known as a 'Gameboy Zero' because of its use of the Raspberry Pi Zero, a computer less than half the size of a credit card. You can run a full Linux operating system on this thing, but they are very popular as retro console emulating devices.

Along with the Raspberry Pi, we'll be using Kite's Super AIO (all-in-one) board. It's perfectly designed to fit inside an original Gameboy case to allow button input, display driver, speaker plus headphone amp, and much more. It ties the whole build together and makes for a much cleaner result, opposed to the alternative of incorporating multiple boards and tying them all together yourself. We don't want this thing to look like Ian Holm at the end of Alien on the inside.

Notice the bottom right corner of the Raspberry Pi has been trimmed

The first step in the process is to solder the RPi to the AIO board. In order to do so, the RPi must be trimmed. I used a small Japanese saw, but a dremel would get the job done just as well. PCBs like this are mostly made of fiberglass sandwiched between a thin layer of copper so they're pretty easy to cut through. This notch allows the RPi to rest in a convenient spot while allowing the relocated SD card slot on the AIO to line up perfectly with the slot on the Game Boy case that was original used for the display's contrast wheel, something we'll no longer need with our new backlit LCD. 


The first points to solder are for the USB port where the RPi gets power and the SD card port so it can be relocated. I first dabbed on a little solder to each of the pads on the RPi, then lined them up with the corresponding holes on the AIO board. By sticking the pointed tip of my iron through the holes in the AIO, I'm able to heat the solder on the RPi pads. The solder naturally wants to flow onto a heat conducting surface which, in this case, is the rings of copper around the holes in the AIO, linking the two boards. After adding a little more solder to each hole for a domed finish, we can move on to soldering the first four of the forty GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that allow the AIO board to communicate with the RPi for audio, video, and button input. 


Both the RPi and AIO board have through holes for the GPIO pins so in order to solder them together kapton tape is first placed over the holes on the AIO. Unlike electrical tape, kapton tape can take very high temps so it's great for applications where it may be exposed to hot solder. 


When the GPIO pins are placed in the holes in the RPi, they are stopped by the kapton tape on the other side making it very easy to solder. 

The GPIO pins are soldered to the RPi first

After the GPIO pins are soldered on the RPi side, the whole assembly can be flipped over and soldered from the other side. At this point it's a good idea to boot up and test our work before we go any further. By plugging our power cord and micro-SD card into the AIO board, we can confirm that all our solder points made a good connection. 


Loaded onto the SD card is Kite's custom image of RetroPie. RetroPie is a Linux based operating system designed for Raspberry Pi that offers an easy to use interface for displaying and running all your game roms with its included emulators that'll run anything from Atari 2600 games all the way through to Playstation Portable and everything in between. Our image is set to test mode so we can check that everything is working properly and sure enough we get all green lights, besides WIFI (which we don't have on this unit) or the rest of the GPIO pins. 

With testing out of the way, the rest of the GPIO pins can be soldered.

With all of the pins soldered, we can now plug in the display included with the Super AIO kit. This is a 320x240 resolution display, plenty for the low resolution of the retro games we'll be playing. The ribbon cable from the display gets plugged into the front of the AIO, just in time for another test. 




In the video above I have the daughter board that also comes with the AIO kit plugged in. It mounts in the case to give you volume control, a full size USB port, power switch, and a mode button (for controlling screen brightness and other basic functions). I also have a small speaker plugged in to test audio. Everything seems to work perfectly so we can move on to mounting the screen.


Our new color LCD is quite a bit larger than the original Game Boy's monochrome display so the case will need some modification to accommodate it. Firstly, all of the posts surrounding the display area need to be removed. I used a dremel to remove the bulk of the material. It works great as long as you take your time as to not heat up the plastic too much which can cause clumping. 


With the display window cut, I also took this time to drill the holes for the two extra face buttons. The AIO board has through holes so you can easily mark where you need to drill to line up with the button pads on the board. I used a step drill bit to drill the two holes. A step drill bit is great for plastic because it doesn't pull like a twist bit and won't mar up the surface like a forstner might. You can also use the next step after you've achieved your diameter to get a bit of a chamfer. After drilling the holes I wanted to see if I could give them a bit of a fillet with the dremel but I just ended up making it worse. Without close inspection though they look pretty good! 


The posts we removed earlier are necessary to close the thing up properly so instead of cutting them off and gluing them back on the the back of the new LCD, I 3D printed this adapter (designed by HoolyHoo) that not only holds the LCD in place perfectly while conveniently replacing the screw posts on the back, but it also adds the button wells we'll need for our two extra face buttons. 

You'll notice the bracket has brass inserts in each of the posts. These small, knurled nuts get inserted to the pre-existing holes in the bracket by applying some pressure from a hot soldering iron. Once inserted, they aren't going anywhere. 


I held the screen in place inside the bracket with some double-sided tape. Since the two parts of the case are held together primarily by this bracket, I wanted to be sure the bracket itself wouldn't come loose so on top of a little hot glue in the corners, I also used some ABS plastic filament for 3D printing to "weld" the bracket to the case using a soldering iron. That should hold better than any glue. 


It's now time to place our brand new, glass lens from Hand Held Legend. This lens fits great in the pre-existing recess of the case while perfectly framing the larger LCD screen. It's also clearer than the original, plastic lens and will be less prone to scratching. The pre-applied adhesive makes it easy to install, as long as you take your time to remove every speck of dust from the LCD beforehand.

Despite my best efforts - and I'm very particular about this sort of thing - I couldn't eradicate every tiny molecule of contaminate. After placing the lens I found a piece of dust and a small piece of plastic shaving from the case roaming inside that are now sandwiched in there for eternity. It's mostly only noticeable in bright light, but it'll haunt me forever.

Clearing out the battery compartment to accommodate a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
The battery is held in place with a little hot glue


Perhaps the trickiest part of a Game Boy Zero build is figuring out how to mount the rear buttons. These buttons are necessary if you want to play a lot of SNES, Genesis, or Game Boy Advance games, just to name a few. Many other builds I've seen online use a lot of hot glue to hold small tactile button switches in place but I wanted to do something cleaner with the same squishy button feel of the face buttons. I decided to design a bracket that would not only hold the rear buttons in place but at the same time offer a structure for the power switch, mode button, and cartridge slot to mount on.

I started by drilling the holes for the buttons in a location that didn't interfere with anything else inside while still being ergonomic in use. I designed the bracket around those new holes and the existing structure of the case.



     

After designing in Fusion 360 and printing, we have a final product that works perfectly! That is, after three failed parts that didn't quite fit, but that's inevitable when you're designing for 3D printing because of expanding and contracting plastic that never comes out with the exact specs you designed it for.

Failed parts


I cut down a piece of perfboard to mount the squishy type micro switches that will be actuated by the Game Boy buttons mounted inside the bracket. 


To mount the PCB for the buttons I inserted more brass inserts into the bracket and sanded down the surface for a flush finish. 

After soldering, the rear buttons are ready to go!


You can see here how the rear buttons will pop out the back of the case as well as how a standard Game Boy cartridge slots onto the tongue in the back of the bracket. Obviously the system can't actually read the cartridge, but I figured if I had the extra space I might as well allow the insertion of real cartridges for a more authentic look. 


Here's the bracket inserted into the case with the mode and power switch inserted. They're held in place with just a little hot glue but the bracket itself offers the actual support so they won't go anywhere. It's all held in the case via the four screw holes on the face of the bracket that line up with four existing screw posts that were originally used for a bracket that held the cartridge in. 

The rear buttons almost look original and they work great!

The speaker gets soldered and held in place with a little hot glue


It's finally time to join both the front and back. Once everything is plugged in you can see that it's actually fairly tidy, thanks to Kite's Super AIO board. The whole thing is held together with six screws: four in the front display bracket via our brass inserts and two towards the bottom into existing posts that line up with holes in the battery bay. 



The display appears washed out in the video above but in person it's actually quite nice!


This was a really fun project to undertake as someone who has very basic knowledge of electronics and only ametuer soldering skills. The best part is figuring out problems on your own, such as the rear bracket. 

There are easier and cheaper ways to emulate and play these old consoles on the go. Any Android phone can do it with very little effort, but even if you use a proper controller with a smartphone you're still introducing a lot of lag and lose any semblance of that classic feel. 

If you're interested in building one of your own, a really good resource is Sudomod.com. They have guides, a marketplace for sellers to offer their Game Boy Zero parts and components, and extensive forums. It's also where you can find Kite's Super AIO boards. Kite only produces these in limited batches so you'll have to wait until he puts pre-orders up if you want to get yourself one. His latest iteration uses the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module which, instead of all the soldering we had to do on our Raspberry Pi Zero model, is as simple as plugging in a stick of RAM.

John Abraham, BC Dungeon Master