Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bag O' Suede, and Other Updates

After only 2 requests, we are now offering suede scraps. Yeah, we aim to please.

After cutting out nice squares and rectangles of suede for packaging with our vises, we are left with odd-shaped pieces, because cows are funny-shaped.

We stuff scraps into nylon bags until we can stuff no more. Once the bags are full, they are about the size of a Dachshund (minus the legs) , and weigh well over a pound (that's the contents of one bag, pictured above.) There are always some pieces with nice acreage in each bag. Sometimes you'll even get an entire piece from one of our Moxon vises that didn't pass inspection, plus some odd pieces. Those are a deal. Colors are random, but are always drab brown, tan or the like. Earthy, shop-friendly colors. The Bag O' Suede is only $20.

You can line all your vises with suede, the faces of your dogs, the faces of your clamps, the pads on your holdfasts, anything you want to be grippy and padded. You can even cut long thin strips and make leather rope if you like. It's handy stuff to have around the shop.

The other updates are these. We've redesigned our ordering page. So much so that we don't even have an ordering page anymore. It's gone. We've replaced the ordering page with the "Store" page.

At the top of each page on the website is a row of categories. Click on the "Store" tab, right by the Benchcrafted logo. This will take you to the page where you can add any of our products to your shopping cart. In the "Products" box at the left are links to everything we offer. That appears on every page for easy navigation.

The new "Store" page has also been completely redesigned to be clear and concise. Products are now arranged in category boxes so you can quickly find what you're looking for. There's a lot less scrolling too, as the page is shorter.

We have lots of suede in stock, so feel free to test out the new Store Page. Thanks!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Video - Inlay a Royal Dutchman

This past week my computer died. For three days I waited while parts arrived for the new one. Which meant I didn't have easy access to email or the internet.

Every evening after work for those three days I spent in the shop working on furniture projects. It was like the days before the internet when I would spend every night at the bench making stuff. It was great. I miss those simpler days

One of the projects I'm wrapping up is the Jefferson bookcase from Popular Woodworking Magazine. I'm dovetailing the cases from some European steamed beech. Now I know why Schwarz built his in pine. I'm not new to dovetailing hardwoods, but right now I'm pretty sick of it.

The lowest medium size case was glued up earlier this week, and a nasty internal split showed up. I have no idea where it came from. It was simply baffling that I chose that board to be one of the most prominent in the piece. But maybe I figured I'd fill it when I milled the stock. That was a couple months ago.

I'm ready for this project to be done, so I figure, why not have a little fun with it at this point? So I grab my gaylord of inlay (its actually more like a tackle box) and grab a piece that will cover the void. The piece was quite fancy, totally wrong for this simple dovetailed bookcase. It will hide under books.

Here's how I did it:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Holey Cow

Here's a little blog post (tongue-in-cheek warning) about some of the suede we include with vises.

Suede leather was once the protective covering of that double-bacon-cheeseburger you had for lunch last week. Americans eat a lot of hamburger. A lot. That means there's a lot of cow skin out there (that doesn't make it cheap, though, curiously. Not nearly as cheap as say, a  Jr. Whopper–which has about as much protein as a Moxon vise.) And we make that cow skin into lots of useful things. Peel it off and run it through a big sander and you get suede – that wonderfully grippy stuff that we like to line our vises with. But there's a problem with it, especially with the larger pieces that our Moxon vise requires.

And the problem is: cows have holes.

We all know the typical holes. The one where food gets it, and the one where food gets out. The two where the eyes go. Those are big holes, and easy to cut around.

But when we we're ready to eat what's inside the sack-o-suede, then humans start to really mess things up. Like these clowns in the picture above. That's a perfectly good area of unblemished suedeness that this guy is going to put a hole in with his arrow. Thanks for that, Ndugu.

Here's another perfectly awesome expanse of potential Moxon gripiness violated by some kid's practice arrow. Does that say "Hasbro" on it?

Then there are completely natural holes, like the cluster of holes between this cows legs. That's where the YooHoo comes from. Love that stuff. By the way, why doesn't the milk in the utter turn into butter when the cow waddles back to the barn? Weird.

Speaking of weird, here's a gorgeous piece of rich brown suede still attached to the meat, but some brainless human has actually installed an access hole of some sort right in the side of this cow. That must be where you squirt the chocolate syrup.

Once in a while we get some pieces with a little fuzzy edge. Those pieces must have come from this bruiser.

In all seriousness, some of the suede pieces we cut up for Moxon vises have an occasional small hole, usually no larger than a coin. We are not tree-huggers, but to waste a piece that large seems quite wasteful, and expensive. We could cut them up into smaller bits, but with the dies we use, this is not practical. You'll be cutting two holes in the suede anyway for the screws to pass through. So if you get a Moxon with holey suede, glue it to your jaw and get on with making furniture. A little hole ain't going to matter a whip, unless of course you've just finished a triple enchilada burrito chimichanga with habanero chipotle buffalo sauce and you're feeling a bit duodenally challenged.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Video: Tapping Massive Tail Vise Nuts

The first version of the Benchcrafted Tail Vise used a hex nut bolted to steel angle. While this was functionally good, the design was later refined to allow more vise capacity and easier installation.

Thus was born the massive 1" thick nut that we currently use. This nut starts out as a solid chunk of free-machining steel. Each block is sawn to rough length, then the milling begins. Each end of the nut is milled to precise length. Although this serves no functional purpose in the finished vise, it allows accurate positioning for the other operations that the nut must go through. Plus, it makes for a nicely finished part when you take it out of the box. The pilot hole for the acme tap is drilled and then a large chamfer is cut around each side of the pilot hole. Finally, the two holes in the bottom edge are drilled and tapped for the cap screws that hold the sliding plate to the nut.

Then the blanks are tapped with a 1 1/4" x 4tpi left-hand acme tap. And that's where the interesting part happens. Acme tapping removes huge amounts of material, so acme taps are usually two-stage. The first section of the tap is for roughing in the profile, and the teeth reach to near full depth, but they are narrower than the finished thread. A short "no cut" section is followed by the finishing portion of the tap which takes the threads to final dimension. If you've ever tapped steel before you know that it takes some force to turn the tap (even with a small 1/4-20 tap) and there is always the risk of breakage. Taps are easy to break. So when tapping by hand you reverse the tap every turn or so to break the chips.This is impossible when tapping acme thread. The thread needs to be cut in one shot. So to help clear chips the tap is flooded with cutting fluid. If a chip gets jammed, the tap can break. And a couple weeks ago, that happened. We had a tap break even at the slow speeds that we tap at, and the tool launched itself across the shop. Acme taps are huge, and when they break they make a nice sharp end that wants to lodge in soft flesh. Thank God, no one was injured. This part is probably the most "touchy" part of our vises to make. It's always a tense day when Tail Vise nuts gets tapped.

Here's a video of the process.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Smoother - Friday

Friday was a day to get as much done as possible. I had to leave for the airport at 4pm, and I was still running the mill at 3:30. With Ron's help I managed to get the body of the plane entirely assembled by the time I left. The wood components got roughed out, and still need to be finished. Ron had made the lever cap the week before I arrived, and ground the iron as well. He perfectly anticipated what I could accomplish during my time at Brese Plane, including loosing half a day from the first pair of botched sides. Thank you Ron!

I hope to get some free time in the coming weeks to finish shaping the tote and knob, and I plan to take some video of that as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Smoother - Thursday

After hump day, (and three 14 hour days) I was in the mood for something other than plane making.

Luckily, Ron had thought ahead.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Smoother - Wednesday

After Tuesday's highs and lows I woke up Wednesday morning enormously motivated to make good progress. Monday and Tuesday had both been 14 hour work days, with about an hour break for lunch and dinner. Ron and I would scrounge leftovers from the fridge, sit down for 20 minutes and head back out. Wednesday would be another 14 hour day. Wednesday night (Thursday morning actually) I went to bed, and when I awoke I realized I hadn't moved an inch all night. We were both exhausted. Thursday was a very important day, but more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Smoother - Tuesday

Tuesday was a momentous day at Brese Plane. I managed to almost completely negate what I had accomplished from Monday up until noon on Tuesday.  In one bonehead moment I completely destroyed my chances of making this tool, and in the next moment I was back on top.

For any of you who have read David Pye, just because machines are involved does not mean there is no workmanship of risk. With digital readouts, strings of decimals, and the tendency to invert figures (3.167 can easily become 3.176) the workmanship of risk mostly takes place in the mind, and not in the hand. Coming from a hands-on background, I would much rather rely on my eyes and hands to create, than on the mind to control a machine in a numerically controlled manner. I flunked Algebra in high school and college.

The video tells more of the story.

Note: These videos are in 720 HD. Make sure you enlarge the video for best viewing. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Smoother - Monday

For the last three years I've taken some time off in the early part of the year to visit my friend Ron Brese at his shop in Thomaston Georgia. This year I asked Ron if he would assist me in making a plane as a gift for a good friend of Benchcrafted. He happily obliged. So last week I spent several long days in Ron's shop building this plane.

But here's the interesting part. This is a prototype of a new line of planes that Ron has been developing for the past year. Before I arrived, Ron had begun his own prototype, in order to test out some of the details of the plane so my build could have a better chance of succeeding.  As Ron finished up his plane, I built mine, and they both came together as a sort of fraternal twins by week's end. My plane did not get completed of course in only five days. But more on that later in the week.

Ron did not have a name for this new line of tools. So after looking over Ron's prints last week, and seeing that he had written "winter smoother" on one of them, the name stuck. I'm not sure if Ron will keep the name, but for me this tool will always be the "winter smoother."

~ Monday ~

The first day of the build I roughed out the plane sides from precision ground 1018 steel using a bandsaw. After a quick course in basic mill operation Ron set me loose on his Bridgeport-style mill and I proceeded to mill up the sides of the plane, as well as the sole pieces and bedding plate. My constant fear was crashing the bit into one of the vises, the table, or the workpiece. None of that happened, but I did end up encountering some rather tense moments. At one point I was feeling pretty proud of what I had accomplished, and the next I felt like I was back in junior high industrial arts. Needless to say, I learned an enormous amount on Monday. Ron was an extremely patient teacher, and gave me a wide latitude in figuring things out for myself. That ended up teaching me a great lesson, but it also made for some frustrating moments. I guess the best way to learn is to make mistakes. I won't argue with that. As Monday drew to a close I set my plane parts in a safe place and breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it through the first day without completely ruining Ron's mill, or my plane parts. If I had known what Tuesday had in store, I may have just booked an early flight home....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Heading To Brese Plane

Next week I'll be heading south to rural Georgia to visit my good friend and planemaker Ron Brese and his wife Julie. Ron and I will spend some late nights in his shop working on the prototype for a new plane design. We get a lot accomplished in just three or four days, and ideas for new tools flow into our minds like the salmon of Capistrano.

It's enormously beneficial to be able to bounce ideas off a fellow tool maker. Chances are we might also get a little slap happy from working too many hours without interruption. Last time we ended up pulling dryer sheets from the mouths of planes and thought it was the funniest thing since Foster Brooks.

But before we head down to the Brese Plane shop, Ron and I will be stopping off to visit our friend Steve Quehl at his Woodcraft of Atlanta store. Steve carries Benchcrafted vises and has just received a shipment of Moxon vises. Ron and I will be in the store from about 1-3pm. If you're in the area, please stop by and say hello. We'll have a Moxon set up on Steve's Benchcrafted Roubo bench for you to try out.

Watch for a series of blog posts in the coming weeks about my visit. I am taking along my video camera this time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Left-Hand Tail Vises For Sale

As 2011 came to an end we did a little housekeeping at the Benchcrafted warehouse.

Here's what we found.

1. A left-handed V.2 Tail Vise with Chrome handwheel. This vise was used in a demo bench and saw little use. It's for all intents and purposes, new. This has our current V.2 square nut block, but it's not the universal plate, so its a true lefty. $299 plus shipping.  SOLD

2. A left-handed V.2 Tail Vise with our current satin iron hand wheel. This is a brand new vise. It's the last of our left-hand only Tail Vises. So if you're in the market for a left-hand Tail Vise, here's your chance to get one and save a few bucks. $330, plus shipping.

3. Taco Bell Talking Chihuahua. Press his belly and he says "Feliz Navidad Amigos". According to carbon dating, we've had this plush toy since at least 1998. And it still works. According to this website, its an antique. After stumbling on this, we remembered how much we love tacos.   Good+  Make offer.

If you would like any of these items, drop an email to and we'll send you an invoice. Make sure you include your full name and address for an accurate shipping quote.