Tuesday, October 29, 2013

To Make As Perfectly As Possible

Last week was one to remember. I traveled to a secret location to do two things. Make good on an invitation from Don Williams to lend an extra set of eyes in examining H.O. Studley's piano-maker's vises (more on that soon) and take delivery of my deluxe copy of "To Make As Perfectly As Possible."

Here's a dilemma I thought I'd never face. I walk into the room with the Studley chest and bench. Don points and says, "there it is (the chest), and there's your book." I get a blank look on my face, and wander over to the chest. I stare for probably 5 minutes (maybe more). Don eventually says, "aren't you going to look at the book?" I say, "um, yeah, I probably should" or something idiotic like that.

Eventually I pull myself away from the chest and open my deluxe TMAPAP. It's imposing, like the chest. I want to peruse the tome, but it's hard to focus with Studley and Roubo doing battle for my attention. I make a decision and close the book. I'm a few steps away from the Studley ensemble, and I only have the morning to examine it. The book goes in the car and awaits its turn back home.

Finally I get a chance to examine the book up close. I'm in my office, sitting at a trestle table I built, sitting in a chair built by the editor of TMAPAP. It feels right this time. I slip the book out of its cover and open to the first page. It says in small print "To Make As Perfectly As Possible". I touch the next page and immediately try to separate it from the next page. It doesn't separate. The paper is thick. So thick that it feels like two sheets. It's intentional. A page of this size needs extra thickness for durability. If it were thinner, I could tear it.

The first thing that I notice is the color of the paper and text. It's friendly to the eyes. The font is large and easy to read. It's inviting. Then I turn another few pages and I encounter a beautiful little dropcap letter F. It's made up of stylized vegetal designs and is just the right amount of stylized that my eye has to pause ever so slightly to make out the letter.

I turn another page and a beautiful decorative element at the top of the page presents itself. It's crisply designed and printed. I take a picture of it and check the shot on the screen of my camera. I zoom in to see if I'm in focus. And I see something that my naked eye didn't catch.

In the very center of the design is a subtle change. There is a tiny head in the middle, unlike the elements elsewhere in the design. The head is only 1/8" high.

On the same page is a glorious drop cap with acanthus leaf elements. It's the first word of text in TMAPAP. I begin reading, but I only last about half a page. I've already found a problem with the book. I can't focus my attention both on the content of Roubo's masterpiece, and also on the masterpiece that is the design of the book itself. They must be taken in separately. I turn more pages to taste more of Wesley Tanner's work.

A plate appears and I take my glasses off for a closer look. The detail is excellent. I can see everything the engraver intended.

As I read on, I discovered on interesting section on Roubo's "Moxon" vise (that felt weird to write.) I was familiar with this plate, but never with accompanying text, which was quite fascinating to read.

"After benches, vises are the greatest tools of the cabinetmaker. They are of two sorts, namely,
those of Figs. 1 and 3, in which the movement is made horizontally, and of which the screws have
holes to receive iron rods, serving to move them. These vises are composed of two twin vertical
supports, AB and CD, which are of 5 to 6 thumbs in size, by 3 to 4 thumbs of thickness, because of
their lengths [in order to resist bending], which varies between 2 to 4 feet, that is to say, in that of
AB, the screws are tapped in [the rear jaw], instead of their entering completely [being tapped] in
the other [front jaw]. The length of screws of these vises should be around two-thirds the length
of the former [vises mentioned in the previous section], and 2 to 3 thumbs diameter. One should
take care that their heads are bound with an iron ring in order to prevent their splitting while one
forces them in making them move. See Figs. 1 and 3. One makes use of these vises on the bench, in
order to saw while upright, to work on the piece, or to glue the work. In one or the other of these
different cases, one secures the bench vise with two clamps so that they will be held in a fixed and
unvaried manner."

That's Roubo's "Moxon vise " alright, " order to saw while upright."

As I delve deeper into the book I realize this is like no other woodworking book I've ever encountered. There is an assumption in Roubo's tone that you are serious about the material he's presenting, yet he does it without presumption or arrogance. He's like your favorite teacher, one you love, but one you're also a little afraid of. After reading a good portion of the book (and I need to go back and re-read it again) I can no longer look at modern woodworking the same way. The vast majority of us are just barely scratching the surface of what Roubo and his contemporaries were capable of. We're all dabblers by comparison. I don't mean this in a degrading or insulting way. Rather, I mean it as a refreshing realization that there are high standards out there to aspire to in our woodworking. And the classy way in which Roubo presents his material is inspirational on many levels. This book has refreshed my interest in the craft like few things have.

If you didn't get on the list for a deluxe edition, Lost Art Press will be selling off the few remaining copies from the first run. Even if you don't read the text, the book itself alone is worth the price.

I hope to begin exploring some of Roubo's parquetry techniques in the future. I've been waiting years to try his method, and now that I have the text, its full speed ahead. I will be blogging about that experience as I go.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tuck's Benchtop Moxon

Tuck of Spaghetti, California sent in these pictures and description of his Moxon benchtop joinery vise. Tuck's Moxon came out quite nice. His bench ain't too shabby either.

Here's Tuck's description.
This is a Joinery bench. It is designed as such utilizing the hardware from Benchcrafted for the double-screw vise based on Joseph Moxon. Why a bench on a bench? The behemoth upon which it sits is perfectly-situated for planing and a host of other activities. However, to cut and chop out material at a comfortable height it’s simply too low. It quickly gets uncomfortable hunching over to measure, mark, and make a saw cut. Worse, it doesn’t allow me to comfortably grasp the saw with the delicacy of holding the hand of a toddler; a much-needed technique for myself for smooth sawing. Ditto for chiseling.
I’ve seen some great solutions to this problem. One of the simplest (and best, having tried it) is Jim Tolpin’s clamping support shown here and here. However, there are a lot of other operations that are made easier with a raised platform. Sketching, carving, anything that needs closer examination. Too many to mention.
This version was designed with some consideration. The pinch-points for the support of the bench were specifically sized so that they would be squeezed into place between two dogs. Further, a small pad was added to sit just in front of the dogs, pushing the plane of the fixed jaw surface flush with the front of the bench surface upon which it sits – thereby supporting the work at the front of the stationary bench. Adding work between the jaws is aided here because that work is also pushed into the front of the larger bench’s 4-inch top. When putting the bench in place, a slight tap with the palm lines it up perfectly flush. No holdfasts needed.
Both jaws were lined with suede for gripping and to protect against marring the work – though one alone would’ve been fine there. The movable chop was made thicker – to deal with any possibility of racking – and laminated so that the strength of the grain direction would aid in this endeavor. Its component stock is turned perpendicular. Finally, the benchtop and fixed chop were also laminated for added strength and rigidity. The entire thing was made from leftover parts from the planing bench.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

La Forge Royale Etaux

I've been fascinated by the Forge Royale catalog since I was first introduced to it several years ago by Chris Schwarz. This catalog, and others from companies like Camion Freres, serve as great inspiration for what we do here at Benchcrafted.

Part of our research into old workholding technique here includes searching out extant examples of classic vises. The etau is an intriguing vise form that appears in various versions in the La Forge catalog. It serves much the same function as the carver's chops with the added benefit of being able to mount to any bench or even a table. It's a work-site vise as much as anything, although the examples I've seen have all been in workshops.

I have mine more or less permanently mounted to the back corner of my bench, where its doesn't interfere with 99% of the bench work I do. But when I need to work on something close, sharpen a card scraper, spokeshave a curve, pare a through mortise horizontally, I turn to my etau.

I recently acquired two examples of etaux from France. Both are products of La Forge Royale, items 177-178, and 179-180. The catalog numbers are curious, as they suggest two different items, or perhaps sizes of etau per style. The word is still out on this.

Etau 177-178 uses a threaded rod and nut as a pivot point to prevent racking. The end of the rod butts into a counterbore in the moving jaw and passes through the fixed jaw. The counterbore is deep enough to house the round nut when using the vise with thinner pieces. It's a nice system, but requires adjustment when changing workpiece thickness. The etau clamps to a bench via two finger-jointed C-clamps screwed to the cheeks of the rear jaw. It's a system that doesn't hold up all that well, and one which we tried to improve on when making  the version pictured above on my bench. It's rock-solid.

This vise has the very classy Forge Royale lion medallion on the front jaw.

Etau 179-180 features a very slick cast iron St. Peter's Cross mechanism. When I purchased this vise I wasn't sure of the maker. But when it arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find the maker's mark cast right into the St. Peter's Cross.

The overall form of the St. Peter's Cross is very similar to the vintage one we used to cast our Crisscross. Although that example doesn't have a maker's mark, the connection between it and this mini version are unmistakable. I'll have to do some research into this further.

This etau works flawlessly. The cross supports the weight of the chop, screw, and itself for truly effortless adjustment. It cranks down and holds work tight. At the bottom of each cross mortise is a metal wear plate to provide smooth movement and prevent the bottom of the arms from digging into the wooden jaws.

We may end up doing a small run of etau parts in the next couple years. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Drawsharps are up!

Some of you have been waiting....Drawsharps are up on our website!

UPDATE:  Refill & Rehab kits are up now also.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vise hardware outside the USA - new dealers

We are happy to announce that we now have a European dealer for our vise hardware.  For many of you who send us so many emails asking for shipping quotes from overseas, this will come as welcome news.

Coming highly recommended to us, we are lucky to be working with Dieter Schmid of Fine Tools, Berlin, Germany.  Many of you will already be familiar with this respected vendor of some of the finest woodworking tools available.  

We hope this will be a long fruitful experience and that our European customers will find it equally beneficial.

Please head over to their website and take a look.

We'd like to take this opportunity to note what we had previously neglected to announce.  Our vise hardware has also been available for several months now in Canada via Lee Valley, our exclusive vise dealer up North.

While they have carried our Mag-Blok from our earliest days, it wasn't until earlier this year that we could make our vises available to them.

Needless to say, we know of no one else that is finer to deal with than Lee Valley.  They are an exemplary company that we are proud to have handling our wares.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Watch Pete Shave

Also watch him demonstrate the new Drawsharp...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Galbert Drawsharp--Pricing and Availability

The Galbert Drawsharp is nearly ready to order. Just a few minutes ago we finished packing a shipment destined for Pete Galbert's booth at Woodworking in America next week. Pete will have Drawsharps for sale at his booth in the Marketplace. If you want one, I suggest you hit Pete's booth first thing Friday, as he'll have a limited number of Drawsharps at the show.

If you can't make it to WIA, you'll be able to order the Drawsharp beginning at 9:00 am, Friday October 18th. See our store page to order. We expect our regular dealers both domestically and abroad will add the Drawsharp to their offerings. We'll post a list of dealers once stock is on the way to them.

The Drawsharp is an ingenious, yet simple jig for putting a consistent, repeatable razor-sharp edge on any drawknife. Traditionally the way to hone a drawknife is by hand. Although we're all in favor of developing hand skills, we're also in favor of making certain tasks easier, especially since nobody we know enjoys sharpening. The Drawsharp let's you focus on getting a keen, consistently polished edge without having to concentrate on how you're presenting your stone to the edge, and without slicing your hand open.  Sharpening drawknives makes many people a bit uneasy. With the Drawsharp the cutting edge is facing away from your body and hands, and the honing action is parallel to the blade, with your fingers safely behind the cutting edge at all times, making for a very safe situation. If you've shied away from using drawknives because of sharpening (and they have great potential for furniture makers too, not just chairmakers), the Drawsharp will open the door to this wonderful tool.

The drawknife spine rides on an acetal wear plate and two nylon bumpers which, along with the position of the two posts, determine the honing angle. One post for honing the knife's bevel, and the other for honing the back. A scale on each side, along with clear markings allow you to record the setting for a particular drawknife, then return to that setting quickly.

Each square sleeve is loaded with two abrasive pads: a fine diamond pad on one side, and a finer abrasive paper pad on the other. The diamond pad is used to bring up the initial burr, and the opposite side is used to polish the edge further. Each sleeve rides on the copper anodized posts via a VELCRO bearing, so the sleeve can rotate to follow curved knives. To expose fresh abrasive to the edge, simply slide the sleeve up a bit--it will hold its position and still rotate. Each sleeve can also be flipped end for end to expose even more abrasive. The Drawsharp comes packaged with enough abrasive for dozens of sharpenings. Everything you need is in the package. Price is $84.

Here's a short video on assembling the Drawsharp. We'll be posting detailed videos on how to use the Drawsharp next month. In the meantime, stay tuned to Pete's Chairnotes blog, where he'll be posting about the Drawsharp in the next day or so, including video of how to use the Drawsharp.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Custom Mag-Bloks

White Oak Mag-Bloks
We still have a few 18"
Flecking is not as pronounced in all of them.  Luck of the draw.
Shoot us an email and we'll invoice you.  Price is the same as our Standard bloks.

We also have:
22" Walnut Mag-Bloks
Price is $110.00 ea.

We have just a handful of these.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Case For Dogs

Since early this year I promised my 10-year old nephew George that I'd help him build a small chest. I asked him what he wanted it to look like. He said "like Steve's." I said, "who's Steve?" Then George told me more about Minecraft.

In a few months I'll be 40. Not old. But old enough to start complaining about the youth of today, and their seeming addiction to video games. I don't have much room to talk. I spent a huge part of my youth in arcades like "The Gold Mine" "Alladin's Castle" and a local favorite, D.W. Dawg, a place that sold foot-long weiners up front, and in back for $5 you could play all the games you wanted, for as long as you wanted. If you're from my generation, you may still get goosebumps seeing this at the bottom of Frogger: CREDITS: 100. Arcades were and will always be vastly superior to any console game (except for maybe Pitfall on Intellivision.)

So when I finally went on to higher studies at college, I began to master such subjects as Mortal Kombat and The Addams Family (the best pinball game ever.) It didn't help that my older brother and I (we're five years apart) ended up in the same Algebra I class, and quickly deciding that if we couldn't pass it in high school, certainly the college atmosphere would not improve our chances, made haste to spend the 2 o'clock hour at the student union shooting pool, eating cheeseburgers, and dividing our short term loans between rolls of quarters and racing wheels for our hybrid bikes.

But when George showed me Minecraft, I was intrigued. It looked more like Legos than a video game. You built stuff. That did it for me. I agreed that I would help George build Steve's Minecraft Chest. But it would have to be done in style. Not some cheesy MDF cube and paint. No. Real wood, real hardware. Something that would last longer than a video game fad. More on the chest in the near future. Surprisingly, it's one of the more satisfying projects I've done.

This week, George and I put in a lot of time each evening inlaying strips of Macassar ebony sawn veneer and leveling each layer to the surrounding cherry squares. As much as I love my new toothed planing stop, I had to ditch it for these processes, for obvious reasons. Score one for the dogs.

Here's a pic of Steve (and George.) Don't wait for the image to resolve. Steve is only 8-bit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Galbert Drawsharp First Look

Developing the Galbert Drawsharp along with Pete has been a great learning experience. Pete is full of so many great ideas about the craft and toolmaking that it's like opening the flood gates when we talk (listen.) Pete's philosophy is a great mix of traditional and modern, much like how we do things here at Benchcrafted. Case in point, in the image above from a Skype session earlier this year, Pete is holding up a prototype part to his webcam while I take a closer look. Skype is so handy for things like this, but how do you save the image? Okay, Print Screen will work for one shot. But my mind doesn't always work that fast. So instead I pick up a camera and take a picture of my monitor. Just feels wrong. But it got the job done.

Speaking of which, the first batch of Drawsharp parts is finished. Well, mostly. Due to a stupid error we made one part the wrong size. But it's the good kind of wrong. The too-big kind. So back in the lathe they go, then back to anodizing. Long story short, we're now really scrambling to get them done for WIA.

But there is still hope. If everything works out they'll still make it to Cincinnati in time.