Monday, September 28, 2015

Meet Dr. Ray Fleck, Roubo's Personal Physician

French Oak legs, tapped for Plate 11-style leg vises by Lake Erie Toolworks. Pics by Nick D.

Watch for more as we get closer to the build. And if you use Instagram, the special code is: #frenchoakroubo (or so we're told.)

Incidentally, we have opened an Instagram account, specifically for sharing pics from the FORP (since we have little time to blog during the build.) But don't expect much after that. No vignetted pics of frothy pints, no Kodachrome-esque images of our neighboor's cat, no desaturated shots of our oatmeal. We can only handle so much of the digital world before we feel like programs under the heel of the MCP.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Limited Edition: Classic Leg Vise Unfinished NOW SHIPPING

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. 

NOW SHIPPING.  Ordering button below.  If you are International shoot us an email and we will send an invoice with accurate shipping.


Monday, September 14, 2015


As the FORP II approaches, we're getting excited to share another epic bench build. Which reminded us of the FORP I video we posted a couple years ago. What fun (mingled with not a small bit of agony) to reminisce the FORP I.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What Matt Makes With Our Vises

There are moments here at Benchcrafted that make all our shortcomings and errors melt away like the morning dew. We're about to share with you one of those moments.

A few weeks ago we were contacted by a long time local customer Matt Sullenbrand asking if we'd like to stop by and see some of his handiwork.We knew Matt from several years ago when we delivered a set of vises to his shop, located at that time in the attic space of an old coach house attached to a Victorian-era brick Bed and Breakfast his in-laws were operating. Matt was working exclusively with hand tools, and had nearly finished a Roubo-style bench and was also putting the finishing touches on a very well-detailed treadle lathe. I was shocked that someone in this area was following the lead of Underhill and Follansbee. Iowa is the home of the Kreg Jig after all. (I do use my Kreg Jig, by the way!)

We knew from sporadic email contact that Matt had been dabbling in making keyboard instruments, but that was a few years ago, and most of our conversations were about tools and old machinery.

What we saw at Matt's simply stunned us. In just a few years, Matt had become a full-fledged Harpsichord maker.

This particular example was jaw dropping. We have a soft spot for musical instruments, and this one didn't disappoint.

The lower keys are made from boxwood, topped with gabon ebony, with bone caps on the upper keys. Hand printed paper decorates the key well.

The main case is made from poplar, and is pinned together with oak pegs. The underside is plainly finished, as is the outside of the rest of the instrument, which is finished with a traditional process using gesso and natural pigments. The outside is not finished to a high level of refinement, but possesses a more "working" look. It balances nicely with the highly refined key well and area of the soundboard, which is made of spruce.

Matt makes every aspect of the instrument except the jacks (the parts that hold the plectra) which are made by specialists using pear and holly wood. Traditionally, the plectra were made of horn, but nowadays acetal plastic (Delrin) is used. Unlike a piano, which uses felt-covered hammers to strike the strings, on a  Harpsichord depressing a key plucks the string, much like a lute or guitar. There is no dynamic control on a Harpsichord, you get one volume level from each key. So playing more keys sounds louder (since more strings are getting plucked.) Complex pieces generate a cacophonous, yet ordered sound from the instrument. It's a sounds that will put a smile on anyone's face.

Regrettably, I didn't take notes during our visit, so I don't remember a lot of the construction details. But if you have questions, ask them below and I'm sure Matt would be happy to answer.

Hopefully we'll make it back to see Matt's shop sometime in the future. The craft of luthiery is always a fascinating one, and there are many workholding lessons us furniture makers can learn from those who practice the craft.

Thanks Matt for the wonderful opportunity to see your work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

We're changing our name to Benchcrafted's House of Suede

Judging by the number of orders over night we're in the wrong business.  The coveted Box O' Suede is long ago sold out.  We're afraid to report most of you will be getting prompt refunds later today.

Who knew.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bag O' Suede is BACK but bigger as Box O' Suede

We get fairly frequent requests for extra suede.  We don't sell the suede that comes with our vises unless you've bunged yours somehow.

In the past that's left us with a fair amount of "scrap".  We used to sell it, stuffed into a Flat Rate Padded Envelope, it typically ran 1-1.5 lbs. worth, which is more than you might think.  We stopped doing that because it was just too fussy and we have better things to do.

Well the scrap pile is getting near it's end and we want it out of here.  So we've added suede scraps back to the Store page, and the price is the same as before, $20.00 shipped in the US, only now it gets stuffed into a Medium Flat Rate box.  The Medium box holds a fair share more.  You'll get all sizes, totally random.  Some small scraps some large.

Once it's gone, that will be it...........we think.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Video and Pics: The Chest Lid Article

Last week the October issue of Popular Woodworking landed in my mailbox. Inside (among many other great articles, like Jeff Miller's slat back chair) is my article on how I made the marquetry-encrusted lid for my joint tool chest project with Chris Schwarz from earlier this year. Watch this video for a tour of the chest with Chris.

I've got a few articles under my belt now, but this one was by far and away the most difficult. The chest lid itself require many techniques, all of which I tried to cover in a thorough but succinct way. It's not easy to cram three months of work into five pages. (I made many many passes over the final draft to get to my required word count.) It is after all, a woodworking magazine, not my personal blog.

But because of the internet, I can share further details about the lid that one just can't fit into a magazine article.

I managed to take a bit of video during the construction process, all quite impromptu and rough, since I was working on a deadline, but it edited down to some interesting moments during the lid's creation.

I took 833 photos during the construction of the lid. I weeded out the bad ones and still ended up with close to 500, including some renderings and mockups of how the design developed.

I've uploaded these into a public gallery here. There's no captions or text. You'll have to read the article.

The first pics show the early stages of the design. At first I was going to do a painted medallion, but that got replaced by the tool montage. At one point Chris and I changed the dimensions of the lid, so the early pics and renderings of the sunburst show the lid a full 12" longer than the final product. I glued up the rays that size, then later cut 6" off each end before veneering the lid.

If you don't subscribe (and you should, it's an inexpensive subscription) you can pick up the issue at your local bookstore/newsstand (not sure when those are scheduled to arrive) or you can order the issue online through the PWM website.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sweet Bench: Small Shop Roubo by Frank Strazza

We received a quick note from Frank last week about a bench he's recently finished and is now up for sale. Outfitted with C-Series vises (for that vintage look) the bench is 66" long, 24" wide and 36" high. Frank reports the top is Euro beech, and the base is drawbored m&t eastern hard maple, built from solid 16/4 legs.

Frank's work is well known around here. It can described in one word: perfect. To see more pics of this particular bench, see Frank's blog and for more of Frank's work, see our blog post from a couple months ago.

In case you're wondering, the amount of work that goes into a shorter bench like this is no different than a longer bench. This is a bench your great grandchildren could easily be using.

Full disclosure: We don't have any special arrangement with Frank. When we catch wind of any professional bench maker doing outstanding work with our vises, we're more than happy to spread the word.

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".