Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Specials at WIA

Couple last things before we push off for Kentucky and WIA 2011.

1. Due to a lazy worker (me), we won't be bringing Tail Vises, or Glide Leg Vises to WIA. We had hoped to. But here's the good news. If you had planned on picking up a vise(s) at WIA, no worries. We will offer free shipping for Tail Vises and Glide Leg Vises if you order at the show. And wait times should be much shorter after the show.

2.  We will have Moxon vises at the show. Lots of them. So if you're thinking about getting one of these, now would be the time. They weigh 8 pounds, and will fit in luggage easily. The six complete Moxon vises we're using as demo vises are also for sale at the show. These are a bargain at $299, completely assembled and finished, including two Gramercy holdfasts. Pick one up Saturday afternoon.

3. We have lots of suede scraps that we're bringing to the show. If you've wondered why we include suede leather with our vises its because it makes gripping work completely effortless and positive. I personally have suede lining every jaw of every vise in my shop. I absolutely love it. So we'll have a big box of suede scraps and a pile of bags to fill. Grab a generous fistful of suede (go easy Frank Bessette) stuff the sack, and slip us a five. That's all we ask. There are a few smallish pieces in there (good for clamp heads), but there are also lots of big pieces, like square-feet size. Seriously. So don't be shy, but also don't be a greedy b*%$#!d, or we'll call you on it.

4. For those with big chops (twin screws) and other demanding surfaces that require massive sueadage, we'll have an overflowing bushel basket of half-hides for sale. $25 per half hide. That's a good price. And it's probably more suede than an average shop would need forever.

5. I have an inside source that tells me there will be free, crispy bacon at the Bridge City booth. Economaki is from Iowa, after all.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stop Trying To Improve

The 18th century was a magical time. One gets the impression that although everything was mostly accomplished without the use of post-industrial-revolution machines, people still cranked out work at an impressive rate. Engravings from Roubo show vast lumber yards with great stacks of sawn timber, large workshops where men are making furniture at a steady pace.

Yes, the world was a small place then, but this work was common enough that Roubo and Diderot (both Frenchmen) set out to compose gargantuan volumes lavishly illustrated on broad subjects, not just woodworking related.

If you follow the Lost Art Press blog you know that the publishing house is translating Roubo. We are big supporters of this immense project. For us, Roubo's work is the pinnacle of woodworking texts. It may never be surpassed for its richness, detail, presentation and content. In our opinion, the techniques and tools in Roubo have not been improved on.

Modern machinery has drastically changed the way wood is taken from tree to board. The grunt work provided by these machines is an advancement in our opinion. But technique and joinery has decidedly gone the opposite direction. As woodworkers we've become trained by the modern world to accept so-called improved joinery techniques. Trees haven't changed. So why should joinery? The modern toolmakers would have you build chairs with biscuits and pocket screws, or dowels. These are factory methods designed for hobbyists. Are you interested in making real furniture, or recreating the Sauder factory in your garage? As Roy Underhill says, "stop trying to improve the 18th century".

To get inspired by these more enlightened times, where people's motivations had not yet centered entirely on the superficial and materialistic (and while LAP's Roubo translation is in the works), we like to browse through the pages of Diderot's Encyclopedia. And lots of it is available online.

The University of Michigan Library is in the process of translating Diderot's Encyclopedia. It's a huge task, maybe even larger than Roubo since it covers so many fields. You can access the webpage for the translation project here: 

The Library has translated many of the plate captions and some text.

The Library is using the Diderot texts provided by the University of Chicago's ARTFL Encyclopèdie Project which catalogs the Encyclopedia in digital form, available for free online here:

Browsing the Encyclopedia at the ARTFL website is a bit more user friendly than the Library's interface. Use the search page to get going. It helps to know some of the French terms you're interested in.

Here are a couple to get you started. I accessed these through "Browse Plates Alphabetically"

This is the section on marquetry, which also covers the special tools used therein.

This section covers the work of what nowadays we'd call a trim carpenter.

If you have Google Translate installed on your Google bar, a single click will translate the entire page, albeit roughly.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Cincinnati Next Week

In case you haven't heard, we'll be in Cincinnati (actually at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, a stone's throw from downtown Cincinnati) the weekend of September 30-October 1.

Barring any flat tires, 24-hour donut shops, or a rash of excellent buffets along I-74 we'll be pulling into Cincinnati with a trailer full of Benchcrafted goodies. Yes, we plan to bring actual product this time. So if you're in the market for one of our vises (or several!) bring money, which we like. You will save a bunch on shipping by picking up vises at the show.

We'll also be bringing a bunch of suede with us. Half hides and grab bags of scraps. We only have a limited number of these, so get there first if you want some.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Matt Builds A Moxon

Watch Matt Vanderlist of Matt's Basement Workshop build his Moxon vise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Omega-3 Fatty Acid For Your Cast Iron!

We've been toying around with some finishes for our hand wheels here lately and thought we'd post some of our results for those of you who'd like to give it a try.

We first read about "seasoning" cast iron here and thought it might work nicely for the hand wheels.  Unfortunately flax oil is pricey so we started out by going the more rustic route and rubbing the iron down with a slab of salmon.  That was messy, we ran into a few bones and it made the fish taste funny later.  A small bottle of flax oil can be had for about $10 and will last a LONG time for these purposes.  Raw linseed oil (the non-edible version of flax oil) can be used also but it's a bit harder to find, the boiled variant being more prevalent.

After a couple days we're pretty happy with the results.  We ended up with a patina that's akin to years of use resulting in a warm look that's reminiscent of an old well used piece of iron.  It also has the added benefit of adding a rather robust layer of corrosion resistance.  The resulting finish is an extremely hard polymer that we assume will be very hard wearing.  Those small enameled splatters on the outside of an old frying pan are a testament to this durability.

We also tried a cold gun bluing followed by Minwax Antique Oil Finish that resulted in a similarly nice finish, though noticeably darker and more akin to a powder coat.  We're partial to the flax finish not only because of the look, but also since its natural (you can literally eat the flax oil) --the chemicals in the cold bluing are caustic and smelly. You can also apply the flax oil in your kitchen oven without spousal repercussion.

The flax oil process is simple but takes a while:

1. Clean the iron.  You want all oil and finish removed.  Depending on the item, plain soap and water will work, but you may need to wipe it down with mineral spirits if you've got some residual finsh on there.

2.  Put it in a 200 degree oven for 10 mintes to make sure it's bone dry.

3. Lay on a coat of flax oil with a brush. 

4.  Rub it all off!  The key here is to get an extremely thin coat, very even.  Any thick or uneven areas will cook differently resulting in pooling and possibly a blotchy result.  Watch areas where liquid tends to pool like corners.  

Don't be afraid to get a thin coat on the threads.  We were initially worried that a build up of oil on the threads would cause binding.  Much to our surprise after a few spins on the screws, the polymerized oil actually made the already smooth Moxon wheels spin like greased lightinin'.  We'd probably keep the thread coating light though, 2 coats or so.

5.  Crank the oven to 500 and bake the iron for 1 hour.  

6.  Turn off the oven and leave the iron sit until cooled, about 2 hours. 

7. Repeat five or more times (steps 3-6).  These wheels have 5 treatments.  I've done 6 on a skillet with great results.  The more you do the darker it will get.  The machined wheels seem to stop darkening after the 3rd treatment or so but it probably improves the durability. 

Well there you have it.  We're very pleased with the results.  We won't be offering this as an option on our hardware (don't even ask!) but we think there are probably a few of you who'd like to give it a try.  It makes for a more vintage look with the added bonus of protection.

If you'd like to see these wheels in person, come to WIA where our Moxon demo bench will have one Moxon vise with the cold-blued-and-oiled wheels, and one vise with the baked flax oil wheels. These vises are for sale at a special price at the show ($299), including the specially finished wheels at no extra charge. If you'd like a vise with one of the specially finished wheel sets, include that in your email ("flax oil finish" or "cold blued finish" when you order. )

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Wood Whisperer Bench Build Info

We've been getting lots of emails from folks who are confused about what to order for the Wood Whisperer Guild Build, featuring the Benchcrafted Split-Top Roubo. Hopefully this will clarify matters.

1. Marc is building our Split Top Roubo bench exactly as it appears in our plans. Follow this link for more info on the bench: 

Or watch a video about the bench :

2. Marc purchased a Split Top Roubo Benchmaker's Package to build his bench. If you want to build your bench just like Marc, you should buy a Benchmaker's Package as well.

3. Moxon vise. This is NOT part of the Split Top Roubo Benchmaker's Package, and you don't need it to build the bench. We're simply offering it at a discount for Guild members, and because Marc is the coolest Italian woodworker we know, except for that Italian guy who built that wooden boat that looks like a Ferrari.

4. If you are not building your bench just like Marc, but still want to buy one of our vises (not a Benchmaker's Package), we are offering each of those also at a discount. So buy as many as you like.

5. Finally, as much as we'd like to send everyone a complete woodworking shop, when we say "everything you need to build.....except for wood" we mean exactly that. If you buy a Benchmaker's Package all you need to get on your own is some wood. Well, you'll need some glue too.

6. If you're attending Woodworking In America this year you can get free glue at the Gorilla Glue booth. See, we ARE looking out for you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Build the Split Top Roubo with The Wood Whisperer

If you've ever thought of building our Split Top Roubo bench and hesitated for a moment because of your skill level, now's your chance to allay your fears and build your lifetime bench.

Not that building a bench is particularly skill-intensive. But building something that must play nicely with large metal components takes some level of precision that may intimidate a beginner. A teacher or class would be the answer, but not everyone has the time or means to take a class.

Here's where the The Wood Whisperer Guild comes in.

Marc Spagnuolo, aka The Wood Whisperer, is the founder of the Guild, which is basically an online woodworking school with the distinct advantage over typical schools of being able to take "classes" at your convenience and at your pace, with tons of added content like forums and live chats. We're excited that Marc has announced the next "Guild Build" will be our Split Top Roubo.

Here's how the build works. Marc builds the project, and records the entire process in beautiful HD video, sharing construction details, techniques and methods. He covers every aspect of the project in great detail and glosses over nothing. Everything is covered from wood selection to final finish. The Guild provides detailed plans and other digital content to guide you through the build, again, at your own pace. We've seen the videos of the past Guild Builds and are impressed. The production quality is outstanding. Some of the best woodworking video production value we've seen online or otherwise.

Once the build starts (January 2012), Marc posts a new video every week and offers live chats, videos, interviews and other extras. He covers all the bases. By the time the build is complete, you'll be able to view the entire bench making process in HD video (including both our Tail Vise and Glide Leg Vise Vise installation), at your convenience. Plus, you'll have the support of other Guild Build participants and Marc to help you with any questions (we'll be here too of course as we always are) by way of email and the Guild forums.

Benchcrafted and the Guild are both offering some incentives for this project:

1. Join the Guild here. Use the code BENCHCRAFTED and you'll get 10% off your guild membership.

2. If you're already a Guild member and you purchase vises from us, you'll receive an additional  three months of Guild membership.

3. Get a discount on any of our vises or a Benchmaker's Package if you're a Guild member. More info here.

All told, if you join the Guild and purchase vises, that's 15 months of Guild membership for a little more than $100. A great value.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Moxon's Torture Device

"What on earth is that thing?"

"It's a bench for demoing our Moxon Vises at WIA"

"It looks like a medieval torture device"

"It depends on how you use it"

Our demo bench for Benchcrafted Moxon Vises is officially done. 

And pardon me, but it's wicked cool.

Four woodworkers can use the bench at once, all sawing away with pleasure and comfort while looking at their neighbors' efforts for inspiration, or an ego boost. 

The entire bench knocks down into seven pieces (the top is in two halves for ease of transport). The sawbuck-style base assembles with massive through tusk tenons which draw the base up rock solid. Dang this was fun to build. 

We will have six fully-assembled hard maple Moxon vises at WIA, plus one Moxon-style benchtop bench (on display only--its already spoken for.) All six vises are for sale now. Here's how it works. Each vise is completely assembled and finished (we use a couple coats of oil-varnish mix), hardware installed and ready to roll. The price is $299. Yes, that's the regular price of a complete Moxon vise, but this one is completely assembled and finished. And here's the best part. The two Gramercy holdfasts are included. That's a $34+ value, more if you include shipping. Plus, they will all be preloaded with 2011 WIA mojo when you take them home. We will also have a couple vises with specially finished handwheels. One vise has cold blued and oiled wheels that give the vise a real nostalgic look (and prevents rust). The other will have a polymerized flax oil finish that were trying out. No reservations on these special vises though. You'll have to claim them at our booth (they won't cost extra.)

You may order one of the six vises at any time. Drop us an email stating you'd like a complete vise at WIA. We'll send you a Paypal bill for $299. (you don't need an account to pay). You can take the vise with you at the end of the marketplace on Saturday. We'll also have hardware-only Moxon vises for sale at the show in case you want to build your own vise.