Saturday, March 8, 2014
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Customer benches. We love them. Especially when people put their guts into them. If the word awesome hadn't been ruined by generation X, I'd use it here. Cody, your bench is succinct.
I just wanted to say thanks for your advice and how much I like the vise hardware. The vises are awesome.
I finished the bench a few days ago and I love it. I must say it was quite the project and am glad to be able to say it is finished.
I've got over 300 hrs in time on the build.
The finished dimensions of the top are 10' in length 5" in thickness and 28" wide.
I stuck by the plans where I needed but as you can see sized a few things up.
Many thanks for providing high quality vise hardware to the woodworking community.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Our public library flooded 6 years ago. All the books were ruined. It gave those in charge a chance to rebuild a library to "21st century" standards.
The result? No reference section. No microfilm. No out-of-print books. What was added? Treadmill-powered computers. A cafe with drive-up window (no joke), a young-adult section without books, outfitted with computers and video games, a bay of DVD-rental vending machines.
And the woodworking section? The bottom two shelves of my Jefferson bookcase at home rivals it. The old library had all the bound back-issues of Fine Woodworking, Krenov, Sloane, Nutting, Kingshott, etc. etc. They made no effort to replace any of these books. None. Want to do some research on local history? Look up an obituary? Find an old newspaper article? Sorry, we don't offer that here. But we can supply you with the latest issue of Weekly World News and a Grande Caramel Macchiatto Panchetta Panini.
What does the future look like for libraries? Who knows. But if our's is any example, it's not good. That's why I'm thankful for the internet. Transferal of knowledge is up to us now. Not that my library ever had any info on old French vocational schools, mind you. But if it weren't for the internet, much of this imagery would be out of reach, gathering dust in boxes and cabinets half a world away.
I gathered these images during our research for our Classic Leg Vise. Hope you enjoy them. We love them.
For the full gallery, click here: French Schools and Shops
Friday, February 7, 2014
We've been hard at work getting the first run of our new Classic Leg Vise ready for sale. Our goal was to have loads of vises on the shelf ready to go, make a fancy announcement, throw open the gates, sell out, then retire to a private island in the Caribbean. I thinks its safe to say we'll get close to at least one of those. Fancy announcements are cheap and easy.
The reality is, we've been tweaking one aspect of the vise that we wanted to really get right. And its taking longer than we anticipated. But this week we nailed it. All that's left to do is get all the bits of fasteners kitted up and the vises packaged. We hope to be ready to start selling these by the end of the month.
We'll have more info on the Classic in the coming weeks, including pricing and availability. And maybe even a fancy announcement.
Monday, January 13, 2014
In case anyone has noticed, its been a bit quiet around here lately. Two reasons. The holiday season is our busiest, and we've been hard at work getting our new leg vise in order. So shortly before the New Year, I set down my drafting pencil, engineer's cap and mug of spiced cider and headed out to the shop to use some Benchcrafted product.
I started this nail cabinet purely on a whim. And I finished it with an equal amount of surprise. I didn't know it at the time, but this little cabinet caused a big change in the shop that I hadn't planned. The wall behind my main bench is not exactly inspiring. Unpainted drywall, steel shelf standards and mdf shelves with eight years of accumulated detritus. I wasn't about to hang my new cabinet in that mess.
This is what the back wall of the shop looked like a couple years ago. I desaturated it for your benefit.
So I tore the shelves out (we've already repurposed one in an adjacent building--you've got to have a little Sanford and Son here and there) and piled all the garbage on the bench. I had two or three empty cans of linseed oil on that shelf. Yeah, empty. Too lazy to throw them out? Nope, the garbage is lower than the shelf. If you have the answers, please, I'm searching.
A call to my local lumberyard ---okay, wait, for you kids, local does not equal Home Depot (even though the words home and depot sound local) and no offense to Home Depot, actually, yes, offense to Home Depot---yielded a couple hundred square feet of prefinished natural hickory flooring, which I nailed to the wall and part of the ceiling. Admittedly, not my ideal look.
My first choice? Wide, unfinished quartered white oak run vertically. Cost: much folding money.
Cost on the hickory flooring: $0. (see kids, I told you to be loyal to your local yard)
The hickory definitely has the cheesy "sawmill office" look. But who doesn't like a cheesy sawmill office? All I need now is a circa 1987 Mr. Coffee with sludge rings in the carafe to complete the ensemble (pronounce that as if you was French.)
Now, lest you think I stopped at sawmill office, think again. I went all the way with it. All. The. Way. (I always wanted to try the single-word sentence, three sentences worth, with periods. Never. Again.) I could have stopped, lived with the cheese. But what is cheese without.......crackers. Yeah, cheese and crackers. The age-old combo that can't be beat. Like a guy walking down the street with an open jar of peanut butter, then unexpectedly bumping into a woman carrying an open-air chocolate bar. Or the Wonder-Twins putting out a forest fire by taking the form of eagle and the shape of water bucket. Yes, I combined cheese with its natural partner and Cracker Barrelled my shop.
I couldn't resist hanging up some of my French workholding devices on my new Dean & Deluca-class cheese-and-crackerized southern wall. Lest you think I went whole hog and installed the track lighting just for this, no, they were already there. But get this, I installed them retroactively in the future, during the past. So they were there already, even before they weren't, in anticipation of them not existing anticipatory-ily.
After I finished the decorating, I called in my shop stylist for a Feng Shui check before hanging the nail cabinet. There are some balance issues with my garbage can and scrap bin, but I think the new cabinet's Qi more than makes up for this slight imbalance.
Oh, and lest I forget, here's the sneak peek:
Monday, December 30, 2013
When Schwarz post his nail cabinet to the LAP blog a few months ago, I knew immediately I would build one. Why? I can't explain. It just struck me. It's a ridiculously easy project, so no challenge aspect there, but it seems lately I'm drawn to shop furniture that makes the place more pleasant to be in. So the back wall of my personal shop is undergoing a change. And this nail cabinet is the first part of the process. Later I'll cover the drywall with oak flooring and hang my new chest upon it.
I'm using Sapele from some 12/4 planks from Midwest Woodworking that Andy Brownell picked up for me a couple years ago. I had to do a bit of resawing, but the stuff stayed put as I sliced of 3/8" thick pieces. Very stable. I'm not a big fan of Sapele, so I thought shop furniture would be a good resting place for this material. I don't yet know if I have enough stock for the drawers, so in the spirit of the original, I may use something else. I do have a long beam of Douglas Fir that came out of an old library in Eugene, OR. It has ridiculously tight grain and would make fine drawer boxes.
If you end up building this project, make sure you err on the side of a tad loose on the egg crate dividers, especially if you use softwood. I have a hard time dropping my luthier's tolerances sometimes. I had a couple of the short grain section pop free when banging it together. Glued them back on in a jiffy though.
I'm also opting for card frame pulls instead of the bin pulls and knobs from the original. I need the labels. I picked up 21 of them from Van Dyke's, on sale for less than $3 ea. in an oil rubbed bronze finish. You can get nice, heavy cast pulls, but I didn't want to spend over $100 just on the pulls. Here's the link. http://www.vandykes.com/product.aspx?p=207415&green=5321A530-741F-5ECE-AFBC-B78CB130B044
Here's some pics of my French Oak bench in the dead of the coldest winter I can remember. The top is crowned (as expected) and the leg tenons are poking through about 1/32". The bench still works, although it does need flattening to perform better. In case you're interested, my top has opened up quite a bit on the worst end. The red arrows point to pencil lines that I drew across the ends of the checks when I finished the bench this summer. The lower check has just about doubled in size. In a month or two I'll wedge the gaps in the leg tenons, then flatten the top. I only ended up wedging one leg when I built the bench, and its the only leg that hasn't poked through the top. It will be interesting to see what the other three do next winter.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
We have in stock a handful of Carver's Vises, just in time for Christmas gift-giving. These are literally the last of them until we get enough demand to do another run, which may be never.
This is a sweet vise that I've been using so much lately that I have not removed it from the back left corner of the bench. I use it for detail work, sharpening scrapers, anything smallish that I need better control over. Heck, I even use it sometimes to hold magazines or pictures for reference while I work.
If you're into making charming shop furniture, just for the fun of it, this fills the bill perfectly, especially if you've got some special thickish wood kicking around the shop. We do have beech though, in case you need to buy wood.
If this is your first exposure to the Carver's Vise, click here for everything we've written about it.
After you're done with that, click here for the details on the vise itself and ordering info.
Order buttons are up on our Store Page. Refresh your browser if they don't appear.
If you order now, these will ship early next week, and should arrive by the 24th. Send us an email if you absolutely need it by the 24th and we will sell you faster shipping.