Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In The Works At Benchcrafted

This has been an enormously busy year here at Benchcrafted. The Carver's Vise, Handworks, and the French Oak Roubo Project ate up huge swaths of time. But during many late nights and early mornings over the past 10 months we've been plugging away on a couple new things that we're making.

In our research for the French Oak Roubo project we noticed that virtually all extant French benches (Plate 11 style) utilize metal bench screws for the leg vise hardware. Now, we haven't found benches that are much older than the mid 1800's, but a surprising number of these, around 90% of the one's we've seen, use all-metal hardware, much like the hardware used on the La Forge Royale carver's chops, and our reproduction, the Benchcrafted Carver's Vise.

With some help from Brian Anderson, (thanks to Lost Art Press for the introduction) we've discovered some interesting features of this seemingly simple mechanism. Namely, how does one install the vise? Many of the extant examples feature a large washer that fits between the handle (the hub to be specific) and a square bearing plate that gets screwed to the chop. The problem is, the round washer covers the mounting screws.

Yet other benches, which show no evidence of a square plate at all, show the round washer without fasteners. The answer is this: none of these parts is a garter. The screw and hub are not tied to the washers and plate, they simply bear against it in use. When opening these vises, the chop must be pulled back manually.

As an American woodworker, I'm used to my vise opening when I loosen the screw. I like this feature, especially when I have a workpiece in my other hand.

Although it doesn't happen often, we do get requests for vises with a more traditional, classic look. Even though handwheels on vises are not modern, our particular design has a bit of a modern flair that not everyone is into. Plus, we're vise enthusiasts here, and if we get the bug to make something, we're going to try our best to make it happen so other vise nuts can share in the joy.

That's the case with our new leg vise hardware. It will be made entirely from steel, will feature a round flange with two attachment screws, and no square plate. We'll be machining the flange and hub with a precisely matched concave/convex radius to spread clamping pressure and ensure smooth action when holding work.

The vise's screw will feature a unique thread that's all but disappeared from modern vises: the double-lead acme screw. Common in the 19th century and early part of the 20th century (H.O. Studley's handwheel-equipped vises use double-lead screws), this screw geometry fell out of favor, possibly due to the demanding nature of tapping the nuts, which requires lots of steel removal in a relatively short distance. This vise will move at 1/2" per revolution, or 2 tpi, the same as traditional wood screws. The screws, like all our screws, will be roll-formed, which leaves a smooth, polished finish. You won't need to slather the screw with oil or grease for it to work smoothly.

We're also incorporating a unique feature into the handle and hub which will allow quick and effortless gross adjustments.

We'll likely be finishing the show parts (the hub, flange and handle) with a new treatment that will give a satiny gray-black look to the parts, reminiscent of a hand-forged finish, but without the film look of paint or powder coat.

Paired with our Crisscross, this vise will be a very functional and classy leg vise for traditional benches.

Below is a mock-up of the new leg vise. We expect this to be available in time for Christmas. Pricing is still a bit up in the air, but we can say with confidence it will be more accessible than a Glide Crisscross.

Pete Galbert honing away with a Drawsharp prototype. Photo by Greg Pennington

The other item we've been burning the midnight oil on is something that is a bit unusual for us. Several months ago we we're approached by chairmaker Peter Galbert about producing a tool for sharpening drawknives. We've been approached before about making tools which don't exactly fall into the workholding category, and we've been pretty strict about sticking to what we know here. But when a world-class chairmaker pitches an idea, you tend to sit up in your chair and listen.

The Galbert Drawsharp is a honing jig that makes sharpening most any drawknife a quick, easy and repeatable task. Peter maintains a rigorous teaching schedule, and inevitably a huge portion of those classes is eaten up by prepping students' drawknives, many of which come straight from the flea market or used tool dealers. Needless to say, many of the edges need serious attention. The Drawsharp was born out of a need to get knives up to a sweet polish in just a few minutes, leaving more time for students to get to work with their knives. In many cases, the Drawsharp can eliminate the need for tedious grinding, which takes an experienced hand, or at minimum a separate grinding setup.

When I first starting messing around with drawknives several years ago, sharpening was always a chore, especially since I was coming from a mostly flat-work background, where I could get dead sharp edges on plane irons, and produce a glassy surface with ease. My drawknife sharpening skills weren't up to snuff, and I didn't have a burning desire to improve them. That all changed when Pete sent me a Drawsharp prototype several months ago. After an evening in the shop with an old Witherby and the prototype, I knew this was something we were going to produce. After countless emails, Skype chats, and phone calls, we finalized the design earlier this spring (discovering a couple big improvements along the way) and expect the first run of Drawsharps to be available sometime next month. Pete is teaching at Woodworking In America this year, and if all goes as planned, he'll have Drawsharps for sale in his booth in the Marketplace.

Later this fall, we'll have a video tutorial with Pete on how to use the Drawsharp to get a ridiculous polish on any drawknife. Stay tuned to the blog for updates.


  1. Awesome news about the Drawsharp - and perfect timing. Looking forward to seeing it at WIA.


  2. Oh dear. Looks as if I'm going to have to build another bench, just for the leg vise hardware. Thanks a lot guys!


    1. You're welcome Megan (offered without sarcasm, although we appreciate your's!)

  3. "...As an American woodworker, I'm used to my vise opening when I loosen the screw. I like this feature, especially when I have a workpiece in my other hand...."

    So will the new vise do this?

    Also, (geek question alert) what is the advantage of a double lead acme screw?


    1. "So will the new vise do this?"

      "Also, (geek question alert) what is the advantage of a double lead acme screw?"

  4. I predict the Drawsharp will be bigger than Tickle me Elmo! Anything from the mind of Galbert is like an Apple product where preorders will pile up even before the keynote to announce the product. So that being said, regardless whether it is ready for release at WIA will anxious drawknifers like myself be able to put in an order at the show? Do I need to bring a tent and camp out to get my drawsharp?? Seriously, this is huge and you hit it on the head. I just haven't had the burning desire to get really good at drawknife sharpening and probably why my collection of them is growing as I can sharpen a bunch of them then milk the edges over time. I'm really looking forward to this and it will hang on the wall next to my Galbert calipers (on a Mag block, and next to my Moxo vise and tail vise)

  5. Any idea when this vise will be available?


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