Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Make A Parallel Guide Pin Handle

We've been wanting to do this video for a long time.

Once in a while we'll get a customer request for a handle for their parallel guide pin, to match the Glide's rosewood knob. There's a reason we don't supply a finished pin with the Glide. People leg's are different widths (and not just at Wal-Mart) and their parallel guides are positioned differently. So it would be impossible for us to supply a finished pin-and-handle that would fit everyone's bench properly. So we supply a raw steel pin for you to make a finished pin from. It's a quick and fun project that will greatly improve simply using a naked steel pin, which is difficult to grab.

The first handles we made for our own benches, and for custom benches we built were turned from rosewood to match our vise handles. But since then we've changed our opinion of the best handle style for the pin. Turned rosewood looks pretty sweet, with that little brass ferrule and a nice finish, but it doesn't perform as well as it could. Here's why. When you do need to move the pin you want to move it quickly and get back to work. A slick, round handle does not provide for the best grip. What you want is a handle that's easy to grab, easy to pull out and replace with a minimum of effort. A handle you don't really have to grip all that much. And for us that handle is octagonal and tapered narrower towards the pin. Rosewood handles are too slick.

So yesterday I took a few minutes and made a pin for the small Roubo bench we took to WIA this year. It was fun because I actually used the bench itself to make the handle. I wasn't too finicky on this one. Just knocked it out quick. It works great.             

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Foot Longs Discontinued

Shortly after we released our Moxon vise we began to get requests for a longer pair of acme screws to increase the capacity of the vise. At first, we hesitated. Why? Because you don't need them. We designed the vise with sufficient capacity (and then some) to accomplish its intended use. If you'd like to read more behind the reasoning, see this.

But we're suckers for sweet talk. We had a few requests for longer screws, so we decided to offer them. But the special requests have gotten out of hand. Even though we've stated pretty plainly on our ordering page (sold as an accessory only), we're answering numerous emails everyday asking for Moxon vises with 12" screws only, with both 12" and 8" and requests for an extra set of hex nuts to get some extra use out of the original 8" screw.

So here's the deal. We're discontinuing the 12" screws. Yes, its partly the crazy requests thing (call it a pet peeve), but much more importantly its because offering the 12" screws is misleading. We  know that seeing the 12" screws on the ordering page makes one think "gee, they must offer those for a reason, I should have those too". But its not true. You don't need them. Period. They bring nothing to the party that the stock screws don't already bring. We want everyone to be as excited about getting their Moxon vise as we are (and I personally have used the heck out of mine this week, cutting almost 100 dovetails in 3/4" beech--I would have been in pain without it.) The Moxon vise will be 100% completely awesome and wonderful as-is. Promise. If you don't believe me, listen to Chris Schwarz, who recently built his Benchcrafted Moxon (and Chris didn't order the 12" screws).

"This tiny company in Iowa makes the best wagon/tail vise I’ve ever used and the best leg vise I’ve ever used. Now they make the best double-screw vise I’ve ever used. They make three vises, and all of them are 100 percent crazy over-the-top winners." - The Chris Schwarz Blog

We have a few pairs in stock if you must have them. But after those are gone, they are gone.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For Matt Bickford

I am doing it, Matt. Anyone else?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

At Long Last: Updated Tail Vise Instructions

Providing our customers with accurate, easy to follow installation instructions has been extremely important to us. We want you all to get the absolute best performance from our vises.

Over a year ago we made some significant improvements to the Benchcrafted Tail Vise. Making these improvements and adding to our existing instructions (which covered both our original vise and subsequent improvements) they became a bit cobbled. We didn't like them, and neither did a few customers. So this week we've been spending time correcting this shortfall.

We've prepared some 3-d drawings for the new version of our Tail Vise installation instructions. Photographs of the installation procedure are quite useful, but the clarity of a good 3-d drawing (and we hope they are good) can be extremely efficient at transmitting information. The updated plans also include numerous photos (in black and white, which in our opinion is a clearer presentation) to illustrate the process. We've also rewritten a large portion of the text to be more clear and concise. As a result the instructions are not only cleaner in appearance, but also shorter. We trimmed seven pages, but also added some new techniques, as counter intuitive as that sounds!

Hopefully the new version will make the process of installing this vise a better experience.

You can download the new instructions directly from our Downloads page.
(the new file may not be immediately available as we upload it, make sure you refresh your browser)

As always, we're happy to answer technical questions by email, which allows us to be more exact in our responses, and it also means you don't have to remember the details of a phone conversation.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shoot From The Hip

In the past decade I've done a lot of selfish woodworking. When I was in my late 20's I received an oud as a birthday present from my entire family, and when I found out how much they paid (and they overpaid) I set out immediately to do what any woodworker would do: make one myself, sell the gift, and use the money to buy lutherie tools.

And that's exactly what I did. Trouble is, I got bit by the lutherie bug. And it totally consumed every bit of my freelance woodworking. So much so that I even started taking commissions for instruments and working many late nights in the shop trying to get these instruments done, so I could get to bed in order to get enough sleep to do my real job during the day. It finally caught up with me. In 2008 I built my last oud. I also burned out a little bit. Making delicate instruments is demanding work. The same way that building benches is demanding, only at the opposite end of the spectrum.

I did build a few other projects during this time. But on the whole the stuff that should have been built was postponed to satisfy the lutherie urge. So now its payback time. I'm building furniture for my home and my family's homes, and I'm rather enjoying it. When I started building instruments I had never done anything remotely as fine as lutherie. I just build basic furniture. The closest I got was carving, but that's a different skill, and one that's rather forgiving compared to planing a soundboard that can be ruined with one extra pass of the plane. Especially when the soundboard contains lots of sub-1mm thick inlay that has taken days to make. So to move from such work back to rudimentary, workaday stuff like cutting through dovetails carries with it a very unique feeling. Once one has the skills to make things, the mind tends to relax and enjoy the process, focusing more on the anticipation of completion (one of my favorite aspects of making things) rather than on the minutiae of the project itself.

Last week I started one of these long-overdue projects: a large bookcase. My parents have used a bookcase built by my brother (back in our college days) that has long ago grown too small. I had sketched out a set of drawings some months ago, but when Chris Schwarz wrote an article earlier this year about Thomas Jefferson's bookcases, the design caught my eye. So I picked up some beech and started the project last week. Yes, I'm using beech. Chris' cases are pine. And after having cut the first round of dovetails for the base in 1" thick beech, I'm admiring Chris' decision to use pine. But not entirely. I have grown quite fond of beech, and its lack of chatoyance, character and figure. It's a great wood for exhibiting form with a clear finish, as opposed to exhibiting form by means of a painted finish. That's probably why the lines of so many classic beech-made woodworking tools are so appealing. This set of cases is actually for my office, but when I finish them I'll see how the folks like them. I may be building another set of these right away in cherry.

Earlier this evening I was fitting the mitered frame to the inside of the plinth when I discovered a new (to me) technique for shooting. This 1" beech is demanding work for a shooting board and plane (I'm using a Lie-Nielsen #7) Normally I would use my miter jack for this sort of work, since I can clamp the entire piece and use both hands to control the plane, but when you have an extra bench around with a shooting board setup, its hard to get the miter jack out. So moving the plane through 1" of beech takes some effort, even with a sharp iron and light cut. So as I was shooting the miter on the ends of the short pieces I discovered that the heel of the plane landed squarely on my belt, just over my hip bone. So all I had to do was keep the plane in the cut, plant the heel of the #7 on my belt and more or less lean forward. No foot movement required. It felt a lot like planing a long board by simply walking along the bench, arms held rigid. I had complete control of the plane and it allowed me to take a thicker shaving than usual. Another way of using body mass (I have plenty) to your advantage. Below is a short video to illustrate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mod Your Moxon For Half Laps

Schwarz's Tongue

If you have a Moxon vise, whether it be with Benchcrafted hardware, or the wood screw version, or the F-clamp version, or the pipe-clamp version, or the T-nut and donut version, etc. you'll want to follow Chris Schwarz's lead and cut a big fat chamfer on the front of your chop. This gives you clearance for tilting your saw down (or is it up?) for cutting half-lap dovetails. The vise will work without it, but in our opinion the chamfer looks nice, especially with the lamb's tongue, and thats reason enough to add it. In case you were wondering, it does not weaken the vise, or make you crank down on the wheels to hold your work.

If you're like me, when you see a lamb's tongue and wonder how to do it, you think about how to cut that flowing curve smoothly. Well, that's really the easy part. It's the chamfer you don't think about, since it seems straightforward. But since its stopped it creates some problems. You cant simply tilt your plane and have at it. Chris has his own method, which he illustrates in this Lee Valley Newsletter. But its for a smaller chamfer. Cutting one of this size calls for some heavier work.

Here's how I did it. When I tested the idea last week I cut the chamfer by sawing a series of saw kerfs about 5/8" apart, across the corner of the chop, stopping just short of my layout lines. I then broke these pieces off with a chisel to get rid of most the waste. I followed up with a drawknife to clean up the remnants of the saw kerfs and to smooth the chamfer. In dry, hard maple this is tough work. Then I refined the chamfer with a rabbeting block plane, working across the grain (up the hill) to get the chamfer flat. Finally I drawfiled the flat and finished up with a card scraper. The lambs tongue (mine is slightly different, below) I shaped with drawknife and scraper, followed by a few swipes of 220 going downhill.

Those boards in the vise are part of my Jefferson Bookcases in beech that I started last week. The Moxon vise has been indispensable for this project.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

12" Screw For Moxon Vises Now Available

Shortly after we released our Moxon Vise we received numerous requests for longer screws for the vise. If you plane drawer sides after assembly, or boxes, you'll appreciate these longer screws. Using these screws you can clamp up to 6 1/4 (and a smidgen more) between jaws/chops. And when you're through using them for the wide stuff, back off the rear nut and advance the screws so the extra length falls behind the fixed chop.

The pair of screws is $39, including domestic shipping. They are listed only on our ordering page, right under the Moxon Vise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Awesome Video

I don't like to reblog, but this time I have to.

If you want to see what many aspects of Roubo would look like in a real shop, watch this video.
Thanks Doug Berch for the link. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Shaker Bench Review

"You know it is kinda funny.  I own a woodworking business.  We build millions of dollars worth of cabinetry, millwork, stairways……every year.  When we finish a project, I don’t really have much interest in looking back on this work.  If it is done right, the customer is happy, and I got paid, then I am happy and we just move on.  But having this bench  in my personal hobby shop is different.  I really don’t want to take my eyes off it.  In the end, this bench inspires.  I think that is the highest compliment I can give.  It’s like a musician listening to another musician’s work and saying WOW. "

-T. Remster, owner of the Benchcrafted Prototype Shaker Bench

If you'd like to build our Shaker bench, which Chris Schwarz stamps with his seal of approval, visit our website.