Monday, July 28, 2014

La Forge Royale Miter Jack Hardware Kits

The La Forge Royale miter jack drawing is just about done. I've spent the last couple weeks taking it apart piece by piece and accurately measuring every part, to the nearest 1/64". This vise was very carefully crafted, and even after about 100 years or so (that's a wild guess, but probably fairly close) the things functions sweetly.

We've decided we're going to make a short run of hardware for this vise. If you think you'd like one, post a comment below (please don't email us, use the comment form) It will help us gauge how many to make.

When we get the first batch of bits together, we'll build the first one and document our construction sequence. We won't produce measured 2d drawings for the vise, but simply post the Sketchup drawing when its ready, in a week or two. If you don't know how to pull dimensions and move things around in Sketchup yet, you might want to learn. It's easy. We recommend Bob Lang's Popular Woodworking video course. It's excellent. 

Here's what will be included in the hardware kit:

- Hardwood screw and tapped nut block. The nut block will be milled to final thickness, but oversize in length and width. You'll take it to final size, and cut the joinery. We'll likely use hard maple since its widely available. But we might use beech too, like the original. Thick beech is available, you just have to look harder.

- Brass ferrule and garter, steel garter pin, cross pin. The ferrule, screw tenon and steel garter pin will be pre-drilled to accept the cross pin. We'll provide instruction on how to assemble it, since you'll have to assemble these parts after the entire vise is built. Once the garter is in place, the screw can't be removed from the nut block without driving the pin back out.

- Steel Hook. This is the part that engages the half miter block and allows it to move in tandem with the moving jaw.

- Screws. These will be flat head, slotted, and likely unplated to fit with original.

Our version will be slightly different than the original. Here's how.

- The original jaws are fingerjointed. We didn't include this in the drawing. If you want to fingerjoint them, nothing wrong with that. But it's probably not necessary. I think an excellently prepared and glued lamination will hold up just fine. In fact, both fingerjointed surfaces in the original are loose.

- The screw pitch in the original is 5tpi, 1-1/8" dia. We'll try and duplicate this. But to keep costs reasonable we're going to source stock brass tubing for the ferrule. This may dictate that we alter the size of the screw a bit. It won't matter to you, since all the threading and tapping will be done.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Looking Back and Forward

Six years ago this month I finished my first "Roubo-style" bench. It contained the very first Benchcrafted vise. I chronicled that build on my now-retired luthiery blog.

As I look back on the past six years and ahead, I'm reminded of why we started making vises. As with many woodworkers, I get inspired to build from many directions. But it's using the tools themselves that provides the most meaningful feedback. In short, the best research I can do for Benchcrafted is to spend as much time in front of my bench as possible, using the vises, and breaking habits so I can further refine and develop our tools. Benchcrafted has always been, and will always be about the core traditions of the craft of woodwork. The more I do this, the more I find myself returning to traditional ideas and methods, regardless of my perception of speed or efficiency. Why? There is a "groundedness" in tradition. A safe harbor. A place where we can return to when we press the reset button of unnecessary advancement and improvement. With current advances in CNC machining and the wide availability of off-the-shelf precision components designed for precise movements in the industrial arena, and tempted as we are to borrow from these arenas, we inevitably steer back to rudimentary ideas, paring our designs down to the simplest, purest forms of antiquity with the fewest moving parts. This principle reveals again and again that the old ways in general are best, especially when working with a material that has been around longer than civilized man. Wood has not changed, and it could be argued that man, in all his technological and scientific advancements has lost the aspect of purity and simplicity which allowed the ancient Egyptians to erect structures that modern man still can't quite explain.

I always have, and always will consider myself a woodworker first. Making vises is a product of that work. And it should be. I never want to make vises strictly as a money-making venture. It must always be driven by the craft. So I spend as much time in the shop as possible. Everything we sell is used nearly every single day in my personal shop. I wouldn't have it any other way.

My 8-year old Roubo bench has undergone a few retrofits over the years, but its still my main bench. It's now outfitted with the latest version of the Glide leg vise, and our Tail Vise. I've also increased the size of the dog holes to 1", to accommodate our larger hand-forged holdfasts. Other than that, its the same as the day I finished it. A massive wooden clamp that does what it needs to quickly and without fuss. There is nothing more irritating than fussing with vises when building furniture. Ironic as it may seem, it's my goal that our vises become transparent in use. I don't want our vises to be enjoyed. I want them to become such a seamless part of your workflow that your mind is not occupied with their function at all, but that it become more of an extension of your body. You don't consciously have to think about breathing.

So what's in store for the next few years? We do have some new products brewing, and hope those make it to production. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I've got a flame birch side table about half done that I'm itching to work on.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Miter Jack Of Excellence

Last month we received an email from a tool collector who sent us some pictures of a beautiful miter jack manufactured by the La Forge Royale company. The collector asked if we'd like to see the tool. We said, "absolutely". The gentleman replied, "I'm just up the street from you, I can come over at your convenience."

I wasn't sure if he was pulling our leg. Turns out he wasn't actually just up the street. It was more like just across the creek.

Earlier this week we got together to pore over this gem of a vise.

First off, a little history. La Forge Royale was under the direction of at least two men that we're aware of. A Mr. Lemainque, and later, Mr. Feron. It was the latter's catalog that the Midwest Tool Collector's Association reprinted in the 1980's, and from which we derive all of our images of this firm's wares.

This vise comes from the earlier period under Lemainque. The vise itself is stamped at least 5 times with A. DENIS, likely a previous owner of the vise.

I've used miter jacks for many years, and have built several versions to handle everything from full size case mouldings to diminutive parquetry for musical instruments. They are powerful fixtures that are more versatile than shooting boards (although more complex to construct.) They also require a more advanced technique to master. Get ham-handed with them and it isn't long before you've planed away all your accuracy. One big plus of the miter jack is that it places the workpiece in such a position that you can use a typical bench plane in a normal fashion, not on its side as in a shooting board. I prefer a low cutting angle, since most of the work is on end grain or some angled variant of such. I'm usually not a fan of bevel up planes, but for miter jacks I love them. They have a low center of gravity which feels grounded on the angled ramp of the jack. I usually use my Lie-Nielsen 164. You can also plane a miter from virtually any direction, which is especially helpful when planing moulded pieces to avoid blowing out the moulded elements. Tweaking the angle is also easily accomplished by subtly shifting the workpiece off-angle in the jaws. It doesn't have to sit dead flat on the ramps.

But enough about how miter jacks work. They work. If you don't have one, build one.

The first mystery we tried to unravel was the configuration of the clamping block, with its bold cyma reversa profile. With the jack in position for planing 45 deg. miters the inside of the block is parallel to the planing surface, and the bench it rests on.

With a holdfast position close to the front of the bench*, the jack can be held somewhat securely. However, I don't think this method would withstand the rotational forces encountered in use. 

*For illustration only. I don't have a hole in this bench close enough to the front, so the jack is positioned too far away from the front edge of the bench to be functional.

As I looked close at the sides of the block, I found some V-shaped notches in both sides. With the jack position for 45 degree planing, these notches matched up perfectly with the square dogs in my wagon vise.

The jack sits firmly on the bench held between dogs. A holdfast in the pocket would improve the stability even further.

While turning the vise around countless times I noticed the bottom of the mounting block was left with a toothed surface.

Underneath the fixed jaw I discovered a metallic hook and screw to engage the hook.

I pivoted the hook into position, then operated the vise.

A secondary, but much smaller jaw was now traveling along with the main jaw. What was this for? I didn't have a clue.

I looked closer at the screw itself. It's beech (as is the entire vise), precisely made, with a straight section to which is pinned a brass sleeve that engages a garter screwed to the moving jaw.

The end of the screw is made of steel, and I surmise that this bit of hardware also engages the pin through the brass sleeve. I couldn't investigate this further without doing harm to the vise.

The handle of the screw is fitted with a detachable lever, presumably to increase torque or speed when adjusting the vise. The lever would not engage the octagonal handle past this point. It may have been intended to slide off entirely. Note that this feature is not pictured in the catalog image.

I soon returned to the clamping block. The opposite side (above) has its face at 45 degrees to the opposing face, and parallel to the face of the opposing pocket. That places the pocket above at 45 degrees to the opposing pocket.

In other words, when the vise is placed along the front edge of the bench, the pocket is now parallel with the top of the bench, and the entire vise can now be held very securely to the bench (since the clamping block and body of the vise form a massive rabbet) with a single holdfast. The vise is now positioned for 90 degree (square) planing.

But it wasn't until I started operating the vise in this position that the smaller moving block started making sense.

As I opened the jaws, I had forgotten that I left the metal hook engaged. The small block moved with the larger and I immediately recognized its purpose.

I grabbed a bevel square to check.

The angle was 22.5 degrees. Beautiful.

Actually it was more like 23. And here's the eerie thing. The number "23" is written on the small block's ramp. Perhaps the maker or owner wrote that on there as a reminder of the actual degree of the ramp? But why not correct it?

One last detail I couldn't figure out. This little dowel sticking out the end of the fixed jaw. It's not pinning anything. The top half of the jaw is just finger jointed to the bottom half. No other joinery here.

So if this post hasn't motivated you to build one of these, what's your excuse? I'm going to build a reproduction at some point, even though I have perfectly serviceable jacks in the shop.

Special thanks to the owner, who is letting me examine the vise for a few more days. Without a doubt, a very sweet miter jack.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Few Holdfasts

We still have a few of our hand-forged holdfasts left. These are not on our website, but only for sale through the blog. More info here.