Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bench #3 - Rails and Leg Mortises

Following Schwarz's book, I made the tenons on the ends of the rails by gluing two pieces together, the inner half being shorter. This was quick and easy, and yielded perfect tenons. The rails are 3" wide x 3-1/4" tall.

The mortises in the legs are very large. When is the last time I needed to cut a mortise this size? I don't know that I have. So I followed Schwarz's method of wasting the majority with a Forstner bit, overlapping the holes to get the cheeks as close to flat as possible. It's a very effective technique.

I squared the corners with chisel. I don't have a corner chisel, and I wasn't about to wait for one to be delivered, so I went at it with a typical chisel. It was hard work, and I'm glad its done.

Working with parts on this scale is a real workout. I guess I've been spoiled building instruments that weigh less than 3 pounds.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bench #3

About 10 years ago I built my second workbench (pictured above). Before that I worked on the one in the background (with the yellow vise) for several years. It was actually more robust than #2, but lacked the workholding capabilities. That bench was built following plans in an issue of ShopNotes magazine from the mid-90's. It had a thick top of MDF and a substructure of laminated 2x4's. But it was short and lacked a tail vise. After working on #2 for almost 10 years, I've come to the point where I'm not so sure about a conventional tail vise. Mine has sagged time after time, even after shimming it and rebuilding it. I've been researching tail vises for about a year now, and I've come up with very little info about just what's being done to improve the design. It seems the hardware hasn't changed in the last decade, and I'm still hearing complaints about tail vises. Maybe I'm not doing something right, but I think most of my woodworking contacts would agree with my assessment of the tail vise. So for this next bench I'm ditching it. Yes, I will probably miss clamping between the jaws, but I'll still have #2 if I need that feature. One thing I wont miss is that sagging section of benchtop where my tail vise is now, nor the tendency for the vise to rise up above the benchtop when clamping between dogs. More on vises later.

I built #2 after the Nelson/Fortune bench in Scott Landis' Workbench Book (Taunton Press). It was a great bench for a while, but at 38" it's a little tall for handplaning. This height has been good for detail work and routing however. Another thing I dont like about this bench is the base. It's too spindly. The bench wobbles when hand planing. That can be very irritating. The bench is also too short, at 6' long. For all its shortcomings, this bench has served me well, and has seen countless projects over the past decade. One interesting note. I built the top from a section of rock maple bowling alley approach. And no, I didn't simply plane the section flat and slap it on the base. I was nuts enough to pry each strip apart with a shovel and pitchfork. And that's what it took. 3" long hardened spiral nails do not give up their grip without protest. Never again....

When I built the Fortune/Nelson bench, there was another bench that caught my interest, but I overlooked it as too daunting a task. This was the first bench featured in the book, modeled after the design recorded by 18th century French author Andres Roubo. The top of this bench is a massive slab of solid wood, joined to the base of 4 thick legs with a through double tenon dovetail (or whatever that joint is called). I loved the monolithic character of this bench, but I didnt have the tools or skills, let alone the enormous timbers to construct it. So I waited. Last year I discovered Chris Schwarz's book on workbenches and it rekindled my interest in the Roubo bench. I'd been away from the internet woodworking scene for almost a decade, and in the mean time a sort of explosion of valuable information has occured. I was really glad to see such a renewed interest in classical woodworking techniques and tools. Anyway, this led me to plan for a new bench, and I though this blog would be a good place to share the experience. I haven't seen too many sites or blogs featuring this bench, so hopefully this will provide for a good exchange of ideas. I encourage anyone to send me corrections or criticisms along the way.

I'll be using Landis' book, along with Schwarz's text and some other sources as a guide along the way, but this bench wont be a direct copy of either author's plans, although my bench will be quite close to Schwarz's design. One change I'll be making concerns the vises. I'm planning to incorporate Roubo's sliding leg vises as pictured below. I'll also be outfitting the bench so this vise can be repositioned on the other side of the bench. I use the bench from both sides now and then, and having another vise there will be very handy. I'm also planning to incorporate an enclosed tail vise, along the lines David Powell's tail vise from The Workbench Book. This will solve the problem of sagging, and still allow clamping between dogs. Plus it eliminates the problem of the screw protruding from the right end of the bench when the vise is in its open position, since Powell's design attached the screw's nut to the dog block, keeping the screw stationary like a typical tail vise.

Andre Roubo's bench with sliding leg vise.

The bench will be built from a stiff and heavy, inexpensive wood. In my area this means Ash. When I built my #2 bench, hard maple was considered a utility wood. That was just before the big "white kitchen" craze, and now it's almost the price of cherry. I'd like to use a closed-pore wood for the top, but maple is just too pricey. Most of the ash I have is flatsawn, so once glued up, the quartersawn edges will make for a good top I think. First thing I did was to get the base built. So I started by gluing up 8/4 slabs of ash into a three-board lamination for each leg, which when finished will be 5-3/8" square. After power jointing and planing the slabs, I planed the glue surfaces with my #7 jointer until I had a totally flat surface (I never glue up straight off the jointer). The legs alone weigh 24 pounds. This is going to be a tiring project.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Super Scraper

Here's a tool I've been using for years. It's called the Super Scraper. The original intent was for metal working, deburring, rust removal, etc etc., but I use it in the shop pretty-much on a daily basis. The owner of my local sharpening service invented and manufactures the scraper.

The Super Scraper is made by brazing (I think that's how its done) a square section of carbide, a little over an inch long onto a steel plate, then riveting that to a robust wood handle. The carbide is as sharp as any new router bit and readily takes the finest dusty shavings in hardwoods and exotics, all the way to a curly plane-like shaving. It also really shines as a glue removal tool, since it wont catch or lift the wood grain like a putty knife or chisel. I wait until the glue gets pretty rubbery, then away I scrape. Works great. I also use the Super Scraper to tweak joinery and for scraping areas where I want a dead flat surface. Card scrapers are a great tool, but this guy takes the lead for critical flat scraping operations. I like to think of it as a single-tooth joinery float. I made one modification to the tool by grinding back the front shoulders of the handle to allow a bit less angle of attack.

Pushing the scraper gives decent results for hogging off lots of material, but it can be prone to digging in if I'm not careful.

These are shavings right off the scraper.

A more controlled way to work is with the scraper in a vertical position, grasping firmly with both hands and pushing.

The carbide cutting edge really shines on dense woods like ebony.

Sharpening the scraper is fairly easy. Over about 8 years, I've touched it up only a couple times on a fine diamond stone. The manufacturer will sharpen it for free for the life of the tool.

Drop me an email of you're interested in purchasing one.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Resource for handwork info and news

Luke Townsley, founder of recently dropped me a line about his website. Luke is providing a nice service by aggregating blog headlines and links from some of the best woodworking, particularly hand woodworking sites from all over the internet. Luke's philosophy is all about therapeutic woodworking (he's even trademarked that term) and the possibility of using hand woodworking as a way to unwind and relax. I've never found woodworking to be very relaxing, using hand or power tools. I think a beer and a comfortable chair do the job just fine. But Luke may be on to something. I know I'll be checking his site to keep up on the latest blogs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deserted Ouds

A customer recently made a visit to Las Vegas, Nevada with his oud. He was concerned with humidity levels adversely affecting his oud. Typical levels during the summer months range in the 10%-30-% level. That's a potentially dangerous environment for any instrument, but especially so for ouds constructed around the 50% humidity level. So with some advise I received from oudist Mavrothis Kontanis (see link at right), I fit one of my Khalaf Oud soft cases with the Planet Waves Small Instrument Humidifier for this customer.

The small unit fits perfectly in the area of the case where the neck joins the pegbox, and attaches via a curved pin through the case lining. There are also a couple self-adhesive velcro tabs to hold the humidifier in place, although the pin works best in the soft case. I also recommend that a soft cloth be wrapped around the neck-pegbox area and held in place with a loose strap (I used a velcro tie-wrap designed for bundling wires) to protect the back of the neck and pegbox from scratches, although the humidifier is quite smooth and low-profile. The absorbent material in the humidifier is excellent. I filled it with two complete syringes (the humidifier comes with one to fill it) of water and it completely absorbed the water. There was no trace of water on the outside of the device, and even after shaking the device vigorously I could not detect and trace of leakage. In fact, I shook the humidifier while wrapped in a paper towel, and the towel remained bone dry. I'm really impressed with the product.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A very special oud for a friend

In a few weeks, this instrument will be delivered to it's owner, Mike Malek.
Over the course of the last year, Mike and I have been designing every aspect of this instrument, from the bowl woods, all the way to the little inlays on the upper bout of the face. Over a year and dozens of Photoshopped jpeg-laden emails later, the oud is finally finished. This instrument was based largely on an oud made by Abdo Nahat & Sons in the early 1930's, with some elements borrowed from other Nahat ouds. Look for some more details about this particular instrument in some upcoming entries.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Brese plane kit complete

I finished up the Ron Brese small smoother kit over the weekend. I'm really impressed with this plane, and for the price of the kit (less than $300), it's the most pain-free way to get into a brand-new high-performance infill smoother. I made a few changes that added to the time necessary to complete the kit. But the basic, unmodified kit would be easily a weekend project for the this plane's target audience, I would think. Funny thing about kits. It's my first one, but I almost feel like I made the whole thing. It's pretty satisfying work, and a fantastically functioning tool to boot. Special thanks to Dumont Digital for the excellent photography.

Here's a pic of the plane's first test drive...

...and the actual test drive... :-)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Brese plane---shaping, peening, lapping, tuning

For those more interested in oud construction, I promise some interesting posts in the coming weeks. For the time being though, it's infill plane construction. There is a certain similarity between plane making and luthiery, I've always thought.

Here I've sanded the ends of the infill flush with the body.

Getting started on shaping the infills. I used a Nicholson #49 rasp, followed by my little Grobet detail rasp. Great tools.

Here's a little video.

After rasping and filing.

Ready to file and peen the screw heads.

The screw heads after some filing, then peening.

After peening, and filing almost flush. The scratches on the side are from the masking-tape covered tip of the file.

After lapping the sides and further refining the shape.

The sides lapped and infills taken through 0000 Liberon Steel Wool.

To tune the lever cap to the face of the iron, it must sit perfectly flat to the iron, otherwise the plane will not perform correctly. When I do critical fitting of oud ribs, I often use an LED pen light to check the fit. I aim for a light-tight fit. So I figured this would be a good application for this technique. You can see the tip of the LED at the upper left.

I'm shining the light as far as it will go into the escapement, butting it tight to the end of the lever cap at the left end. See the sliver of light tapering to almost nothing as it moves to the right?

And at the right end it's light-tight. The little spot of light is from the gap between the right edge of the lever cap and the inside of the right side wall but there is none showing between the lever cap and the iron. I need to remove more material from the right side of the cap.

Here is a video to illustrate the technique.

Next pics will be of the finished plane!