Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tea Caddy Finished







The shellac I used was regular ol' orange shellac.  I had to strain it and decant it off of the wax, but it looks the exact same color as the garnet shellac, and it's 4 times less expensive ($10 per pound vs $40 per pound from Brooklyn Tool Co.).  I put the caddy in a sunny spot in my dining room, but unfortunately most of the sunlight hit the top, so it has a distinct reddish hue compared to the body of the tea caddy.
It was different working with stock this thin and small, and I learned a fair amount on resawing wood by hand. And that I'm horrible at making moldings and mitering them.  But I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a box maker.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again

It's that time of year again and hunting season is upon us. That means I've got to attempt to repair a small split in my dad's old 12 gauge semi automatic shotgun and get back on the shooting range to practice for deer hunting.  I don't particularly enjoy target shooting with my Remington 700 BDL .270. It kicks, it's deafening, and it enjoys expensive ammo. That's pretty much why I purchased a 10/22 so that I could practice shooting without selling a kidney.

The last I can recall, I was feeding it Hornady 130 grain SST type ammo and it was grouping about .5 MOA. I still have a box of Remington Accutip which uses the Hornady SST bullet, and I suspect it's made at Hornady's plant, but I plan on trying to purchase some more Hornady ammo and Winchester ballistic silvertip to see what kind of groupings I get.  But I still need to take it to the range to see if I need to make any scope adjustments before hunting.

I recall the different ammo I've tried over the years with much umbrage. Winchester X, Remington Core-lokt, a South African imported type that was designed for thin skinned African game and utilized an all lead bullet and slightly reduced powder charge, Remington managed recoil, Federal Fusion...they all stunk to varying degrees. The Federal Fusion stunk the worst...I was managing something along the lines of 4 to 5 inch groups at 100 yards, and more often than not the third bullet would get thrown will nilly over the paper. But the Remington Core-lokt was somewhat decent and consistently averaged 2" groupings at 100 yards.

So what does this mean? Nothing, really. Just that Hornady SST bullets are very favorable to my gun for whatever reason and they're effective. Just looking on the internet for a particular brand of ammo will yield two camps, those that state "I was able to group 10 shots within a gnat's hair at 500 yards" and those that rebut "the results of this ammo make me thing my rifle sneezed all its bullets out over the target."

Right now I'm reading Jack O' Connor's book "The Hunting Rifle" and I'm curious as to what he says about bullet types. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What I've been working on lately














Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sideboard From Rough to Smooth

I have no clue where the idea came from to build a sideboard. I think it was just the fact that we had more space than ever in our dining room and it looked fairly barren, coupled with the fact that we seemed to have an endless supply of dishes, silverware, stemware, and tablecloths. I'd purchased "Furniture in the Southern Style" almost a year ago to this date, and pored over the photos, drawings, and exploded diagrams of the different pieces from the MESDA collection. The one piece that I kept leafing back to was a simple three drawer sideboard with a back splash, some corbels around the front legs, and banding, constructed using mortise and tenon joinery.

I drew a design based off it, but stripped out the back splash, the corbels since they looked really clunky, and the banding because I wasn't sure how it would look against cherry (the original piece's primary wood is black walnut native to the southern USA. The secondary wood is southern yellow pine AKA longleaf pine).

I bought 47 bf of cherry and 10 bf of tulip poplar for the sideboard, based on calculating the bf requirements for the cutlist given in the MESDA book and then adding a little extra just in case. As it turns out, this was actually a little bit too much, and I wound up making a coffee table with the top and rails made out of the clearest and straightest cherry and using some left over white ash for the legs. I asked the guy who was selling me the lumber if he possibly had any leg blanks in the rough.
"Leg blanks? How thick do you need it?"
"Around 2 inches rough"
"No...I got a 10 foot slab of  cherry 3 thick and 10 wide. Will that do it?"

And so I purchased a huge ass slab of wood that will give me hernia problems when I hit 40.

The first thing I did when I got the lumber was to pick out boards that were clear of knots, straight grained, and mostly flat. Unfortunately there were very few boards like that. What boards I did pick, I cut out drawer fronts, sides, and tops from. But because I used most of the flat and clear pieces of cherry for the coffee table I built, I had to go back to the lumber stacks and pick out some pretty crazy looking pieces of cherry that had some serious cupping.

The Legs

After I got my parts cut out, I started work on the legs. I'm not sure if you've had the pleasure of ripping 10 feet of 3 inch thick cherry, but it's the kind of pleasure that you want to reserve solely for a tablesaw or bandsaw. And because of the small, small size of my shop, I had neither. Just a lowly 700mm bowsaw with a 5 tpi web. After I cut the leg blanks out of the slab, I started work on them.

After mortising

Tapered



The tapers were done by using a drawknife to hog off waste. For something like this, though, there was a lot of material to take off. A hatchet or ax may have been a better choice. Mortises were cut with a 3/8" Narex mortising chisel which was a godsend.  It's unique in that it's trapezoidal in cross section which allows you to better steer the chisel which is exactly what I needed in the wild figured cherry. The case sides are fairly wide, and more than likely the original side was one piece of black walnut, so to accommodate wood movement, I chopped the top mortise as the fitted mortise and left the bottom two a little longer than needed for their tenons and left them unglued. The reason is simple: if the wood attempts to contract, it'll be able to shrink on its lower half, and if it attempts to expand, it can do so on its lower half. Had I fitted the tenons tightly to the mortises and glued all three, when the side would try to expand or contract, it would split the sides.

The Sides and Back

After some serious handplaning, the case sides wound up being in the neighborhood of 12 inches wide. I used my dinky Stanley rabbet plane (the type with a one arm fence and depth adjuster that uses a lever instead of a nut and yoke) to cut rabbets to the proper tenon thickness, and then cut out the tenons from the one long rabbeted edge. Let's just say the Stanley leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to cutting rabbets. I now have my eye on the Lee Valley Veritas model. The back was done exactly the same way, but I mortised it for the drawer runners.


The Front Rails

The front rails were a nightmare. By this time, I was running fairly low on cherry. What were supposed to be the rails for the sideboard were now the rails for the coffee table. So I had to use some seriously twisted wood with crazy grain pattern. Grain run out, sapwood dispersed throughout, reversal, grain diving down, coming back up, undulating...it had it all!



Dry fitting to check the mortise and tenon

Dry fit to test for square on the case front

The Top

Because my best pieces went to the cherry coffee table, I settled for some lesser boards that had a lot of sapwood and a ton of warping. I did my best to flatten each piece, but after an hour I threw up my hands, and glued the three boards together. I think the real trick to getting flat panels from rough boards like this is to try and joint the edges so that the faces are approximately coplaner, and then roughly flatten the back face, and get the top dead flat and smooth from tear out. But now I know.


The Drawer Runners

This part wasn't too bad. After dry fitting the front rails I mortised the lower rail and cut tenons on some cherry off cuts and pine for the drawer runners. Looking back, it would've been much better to have had the side drawer runners as wide as possible so that they mated with the inside of the case sides. That would've made putting in drawer guides a cake walk, as I could've glued strips on the wide runner so that they butted up against the drawer. Because as of right now, my two outside drawers have no guides on their outer edges since their outer edges line up perfectly with the outer edges of the drawer runners.

At this point I should've said, "Hey wait a second..."
The Glue Up

The glue up is the most exciting time of any project. It's the time when you're nearing completion, and it's also the time you'll most likely pay if you haven't done a dry fit, especially with larger pieces. After a particularly exciting glue up involving an out of square stool, a lone too long tenon for its mortise, a paring chisel, and my thumb, I always do dry fits to rehearse the best way to put the piece together and to find any mistakes while I can still fix them.





The Drawers

The drawers were constructed using half blind dovetails in the front and through dovetails in the back. I remember this being somewhat routine, although I wish I'd practiced dovetailing a lot more before jumping into the half-blinds. While I was chopping out the waste for the center drawer front, a large piece of cherry cracked out of the back despite my best efforts to use as little force as possible to chop the waste out and to keep the back well supported to prevent this from happening.  But happen it did. I cut a triangular patch that was larger than the damage out of the drawer front, and cut a piece of veneer to cover it. I clearly hadn't had enough sleep the night before, since you should always cut the patch of veneer first, and then scribe the shape of the patch over the damaged area for a better fit.





The Finish

I finished the coffee table first before getting into the heavy work on this piece. But the thing that irritated me is that the garnet shellac over the cherry coffee table top looked really...orange. Not at all what I expected. I knew I'd have to stain the whole sideboard since all of the boards I'd used to build the top had cream colored sapwood in it, and the front rails were hideous with sapwood and crazy mineral streaks. I purchased red aniline dye from Lee Valley and applied it until I got the color mostly evened out. The top was the first part that I finished, using the French polishing technique and the same garnet shellac. The drawer fronts got the same treatment, and the rest was brushed with about 4 coats of garnet shellac. I used a card scraper to level the finish on the front legs, rails, and sides, and French polished on a small amount of shellac until I got the sheen I was looking for.  The hardware was bought from Lee Valley.


Sideboard finished




Aaaand we're done. I finished the sides by humping the whole case minus the top out to my back porch with a drop cloth laid down and using a brush to put on three layers of garnet shellac. After three hours of letting it dry, I used a card scraper to scrape flat the surface on the rails, stiles, the fronts of the legs and the case sides, and then charged a pad and polished on shellac until my pad began dragging slightly (approx. two coats). The end result looks great. It's not a highly polished surface compared to the drawer fronts, but it's got a great sheen to it, it's smooth, and the grain is partially filled, giving it a little bit of texture.
I debated about refinishing the top. Although I had French polished it, I hadn't done quite enough bodying sessions, and the shellac had shrunk back into the pores which also highlighted low spots in the top. This set it apart from the high gloss drawer fronts, and not for the better.
I'd also run out of BT&C dewaxed garnet shellac. I could wait for two whole days for my other batch of orange shellac to dissolve and then decant the shellac from the wax, or I could press my luck and try to rub out the finish to see if I could get a better sheen from it.
I haven't had much success rubbing shellac out with pumice and rottenstone. Part of me wonders if the shellac was on its last legs (I French polished the center drawer front and let it sit for 3 days to allow the shellac to fully cure. But when I clamped it to my bench top to install the drawer pull, the shellac was still too soft and cloth indentations were left in it. On the other hand, we had some pretty intense heat that week in the upper 90's and my shop doesn't have A/C). Whatever the reason, I took a chance and used just the rottenstone to polish it up. And it worked great! Over time I expect it to acquire a more semi-gloss look after dishes and plates slowly scratch the surface.
I'll do another blog post detailing the build from start to finish and lessons learned along the way.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sideboard is complete...now it needs to be finished.

Last I left off, the sideboard had its center drawer with a huge piece of wood missing from it, and I didn't have a great idea how to fix it. What I came up with was sawing up pieces of veneer from an unruly grained 4 inch wide piece of cherry and then using that to fill the gap. Clearly I was tired, since I routed out the recess for the patch first, and then cut the patch to fit.
Never do this. It's much easier to cut the patch, scribe the recess around the patch, and then route the recess. You can do it the opposite way, but then you have to mess around with tracing paper and attaching it to the patch. It's a pain.

It doesn't fill the broken wood exactly, but it's enough to prevent your eye constantly returning to that one spot.
Finishing this drawer front gave me the most grief. I french polished the drawers, but for this one I held off on finishing it until I got the patch in place. The heat during the week was intense, and actually caused the shellac to dry too quickly on this drawer front to prevent the oil used in lubricating the pad to rise to the top of the finish. What happened instead is that it coalesced into large droplets that formed scabs and numerous bumps on the finish.  After discovering this, I let the drawer sit for another week, in case the oil was still trapped in the finish and would continue moving around, and then used a card scraper to flatten the surface.
With the flat surface, I put on two coats of garnet shellac and allowed them to fully dry for a few days before scraping the surface flat again, and rubbing the finish out.
I put an antique finished (satin-like) federal style pulls on the drawers and they're resting comfortably in the case. All to do right now is to finish the sideboard case and to attach the top.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sideboard Drawers

Over the weekend I spent a large amount of time prepping cherry for drawer fronts, cutting pine stock for sides and backs, and then lots of dovetail joinery. I've got 3 drawers built and the only thing left for me to do is to cut out bottoms for them, and to glue up the drawers together. I'm waiting for a lull in the dogs' napping schedules where I can sneak out to my shop and see how well the drawers fit the sideboard. So far, fingers crossed that it's a little snug.
This cherry that I bought is interesting. In its tamer state, it's a hardwood that's nice to plane and cut joinery on. But most of the tamer boards that I had set aside went to the coffee table top and the sideboard top. The drawers were mostly offcuts from some wider boards or boards that were so warped that I had to cut out entire middle sections. If I'd left those sections in and planed it flat, the thickness would probably have gone from 3/4" to about 1/4". They were that bowed.
The great thing about using these wild wood cherry pieces is that it stands out for the drawer fronts. Grain that twists and dives in an undulating pattern, pieces that have large bullseye patterns in corners where a branch had started growing. The problem is that this figure doesn't lend very well to structural integrity.
The first drawer front I gave up on trying to get the face of the drawer flat. Right now it's just flattish. But the back is dead flat and that's what I've been using as a reference, so it works out great. The second drawer front had rings on one of the corners. Cherry's brittle to begin with, so when I was cutting the half blind dovetails I gave myself some extra room in case anything cracked, and had a tail depth that was a little over half the thickness of the board.
That wasn't thick enough.
You can imagine my surprise (and the swearing) when I finished chopping the tail waste out and heard a large "CRACK." I turned the piece over and watched a large piece of cherry crumble apart, leaving a large void that would show where the tail is. Not quite the look to go for when you're doing half blind dovetails.
Tomorrow I'll cut the drawer bottoms and get everything fitted.
And I'll spend a larger amount of time trying to figure out how to inlay a piece of cherry into that crack.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sideboard update

Things are going rather slowly. I'm swamped with work, and the only thing standing between me and a completed sideboard is about 10% more work. The only things I have left to do are to make and fit the drawers and attach the top, and then start staining and finishing the whole thing. With the way things are going right now, I'll probably get most if not all of it done over the following week.
However, Lara and I debated about what we should make next. I pitched her the idea of a drop leaf table (also known as a Pembroke table) that would be small enough for four and big enough for two to eat breakfast on. Her eyes lit up over that. So as of right now, I'm waiting on receipt of 30 bf of soft maple to get started on my next project.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thus Saith The Law

"Alright class, now settle down, settle down. I'm so glad all of you can make it heah in this abominable weather. Because in addition to being alive, it means you can keep on giving this fine institution your tuition money. Now, befoah we begin, I would like to thank that individual who placed a moose hat outside my office door. That is quite a fine specimen of that magnificent animal, and it's a shame that my wife won't let me wear it around the hawse.
Now, we left off with intentional torts, and we'll work our way through contracts and strict or absolute liability. Just a reminder for the intentional torts, that baseball player case that I described. Bull Moose Jackson, or it could've been Puny Pete or Slimy Sam Jackson for all I remember, was warming up in the bullpen and had to endure that most heinous unpleasantry. No, I'm not referring to in-laws visiting and then their car won't start when they're supposed to leave, I'm referring to heckling. Jackson had been traded quite a bit in the league and the heckler kept saying things like, 'Jackson, I'm surprised you know how to get home at night since you've been traded so often,' 'If it weren't for gravity, you'd have trouble hitting the ground,' 'I've read War and Peace quicker than your fastballs have gone over the plate.'
Well, Jackson had one more pitch before he got up on the mound. But something went awry! He became so confused, that instead of pitching to the catcher, he turned 180 degrees and watched his errant ball bounce off the face of the heckler! Well, Jackson said what you and I would probably have said under those same circumstances: 'Oh gee whiz! How in the world did that just happen? The earth's rotation must be kickin' today!'
Ah, but this is a case of intentional tort. We already covered the criminal aspect in the previous class, so we won't go over that here, but the heckler in this case is faced with a situation. The good news is that he will never have to worry about brushing his teeth ever again. The bad news is that his very favorite teeth are down the back of his throat. What do you do? You'd make the argument for an intentional tort and force Puny Pete to pay for the damages to your favorite teeth.
Now, this leads into a case that features that wonderful institution Virginia Tech. And this case would probably have Thomas Jefferson decomposing in his grave. Wait, I meant rolling in his grave, I'm sorry. But it features libel, of a most serious nature. A university administrator committed some sort of offense in the eyes of a student newspaper editor. Now, it wasn't really an offense, but the perception was there. So, he used his position as editor of the newspaper to put the administrator's full picture above the fold, and this is extremely serious, now, with the words in bold, 'DIRECTOR OF BUTT LICKING' right below the fold. The Supreme Court of VA declined this libel case on the grounds that it should be common knowledge that there's no official post in VA Tech's administrative capacity for butt-licking.
For a contract, you have to have an offer, acceptance, and consideration. Let's say I want to have a hawse built, and there's a graveyard in my backyard. Here, let me draw it for you. See? Right there. But it's not just any graveyard. There's something odd about it. The mounds are about 10 feet wide, and rather large, and the headstones have rather unusual names on them. Names like 'Jumbo' and 'Mojambo.'
'Well that's interesting,' I tell myself. 'Their parents must've been those free spirited types.'
So anyway, I have the contractor build my house, and all is well and good. But as I'm sitting down to watch Lawrence Welk for the evening, there's a loud knock at my door. I'm not expecting company, so I ignore it or hope that my wife will answer the door. But then there's a loud crash and a pack of peripatetic pachyderms crashes through my living room! Did you all understand that? I said, WILD AND ENRAGED ELEPHANTS ARE INTERRUPTING LAWRENCE WELK IN MY HOUSE! As it turns out, that graveyard in my backyard is an elephant graveyard and my house is directly in their path! Now, I didn't know about it, and the contractor didn't know about it. It was not part of the contract. It was not part of the consideration. Generally, these things are settled by either a gentlemen's agreement or by amending the contract due to the circumstances. Um, this case, or situation rather, was based on a movie called Elephant Walk that featured Elizabeth Taylor. It's a good movie. And then when the elephants start tearing down the chandelier it becomes an even better movie.
And now we move onto strict liability. Strict liability means that even if you do absolutely everything correct, and through no fault of your own, something goes wrong within your area of responsibility, you are still responsible. Let me illustrate this for you. Let's say I have a 200 foot tall magnolia tree. That's a big tree. It's too big, in fact. I'm very concerned that the neighborhood kids might try to climb this tree and reenact Jack and the Beanstalk, but simply wind up hurting themselves. So I hire a tree removal service to come out. They take one look at it and say, 'Well that's just too damn big,' and then hand me a card for a demolitions expert. 'Gee,' I say, 'I'm not too sure about this, but if he's the top dog in his field, who am I to argue?'
So the demolitions expert comes out to my hawse, determines he needs about 300 pounds of TNT to get rid of this mammoth tree, and sets the timer and detonation wires. He does everything right. No mistakes. But as soon as he pushes the plunger, a bluebird happens to fly by the tree. But wait! A few hundred yards down the road, there's a tractor-trailer carrying several atomic bombs! And they're armed, because the airmen who were supposed to de-arm them forgot! The bluebird goes flying across and into the windshield of the tractor-trailer and now I no longer have to worry about my tree or debating a meals tax or a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom because there's now a giant crater where it would go. The demolitions expert did everything correctly, but because of strict liability, he is still responsible. All right, now, for next class we'll go over 'Machine Gun' Kelly, Ma Barker, and 'Squirrel-Toothed' Alice. Ya'll have a nice weekend."

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sideboard Case Glued Up

The title says it all. And like I predicted, it's too darn cold in Richmond to use hide glue for the glue up, so I went with yellow PVA. I'll try moving the case inside tomorrow, and flatten the tops and stain everything this weekend.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sideboard dry fit







Yesterday I cut the mortise and tenons in the front rails for the drawer runners, in addition to the drawer dividers, and today I cut the mortises in the sideboard back and the tenons on the back end of the drawer runners. I made a mistake in marking the right drawer runner; I had the piece inadvertently turned over when I marked it, so there's a gap between the inside leg and the drawer runner. The problem with this is that although it's not wide enough for a drawer to slip through, there's no room for a drawer guide. I'll fix it with a piece of scrap and hot hide glue, or just use a wide piece glued directly to the case side instead of the runner.

Wrangling this thing into place was a real chore. It's not heavy, but it's long, it's rather tall, and fairly deep. And this is complicated by the fact the drawer runners have to be set into their mortises in the bottom front rail and the case back, all while trying to keep the drawer dividers up tight against the top and bottom rail, and then squeezing everything into the case sides. Sheesh.
Right before cutting the joinery for the drawer runners, I had a brief thought about making the mortises in the back the same width as the runners. That way, I could put the front and back together, and then just slide the runners through the mortise in the back, and then seat the front tenons into the mortises in the front rail.

I (perhaps wisely) chickened out from doing this. The only way that could work is if I glued the front tenons and left the back of the drawer runners unglued. But this would mean that there would only be the glue holding the tenon in place, and that every time you pushed the drawers back, you would cause the runners to slightly pull on the tenons. I'm not sure if this would cause the glue to fail in 5 or 50 years, but there's also the fact that a mortise that big in the back (about 1" across and between 2 to 4 inches wide with a 1 inch depth) could potentially cause the back to split off along the mortises, especially if the drawers are loaded down with china and silverware.
So I wisely, if not adventurously, went with 3/8" mortises and side by side double tenons for the two wider drawer runners.

Dry fitting was done by putting the case back into the two sides, sliding the drawer runners into the mortises in the back, and then gently pushing the sides out so I could get enough clearance to slide the top and bottom front rails into the sides. And then a lot of finagling went on trying to get everything nice and flush. As much as I hate to say, I just don't think using hide glue for this glue up is going to be feasible. Even with my heater on full blast, the shop never got warmer than 37 degrees, and temperatures are supposed to be continuing in the lower 30's this week. Plus, there's no way I'll get everything together in time before the 260 gram hide glue sets. I guess I'll use good ol' yellow PVA.

After I get this thing glued up, I'll probably move it into the house (if possible) to give me space to work on flattening the top. Once the top is in order, I'll fit it to the case and then start work on the drawers. After the drawers are fitted, I can then start on the most exciting part: staining and finishing. I ordered a packet of red aniline dye stain from Lee Valley and I have plenty of scraps to test stains on. I'll see what it looks like with different strengths of the stain (two applications, one application, one application and then wiped) underneath two or three coats of 2 pound cut garnet shellac.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sideboard Coming Together

The sideboard's coming together. It's exciting because this is the biggest case piece I've ever worked on. It's also a bit of a one-shot deal. I've made three different shaker tables with slightly altered proportions, but that's okay. There's plenty of room for them in the home. I can design newer sideboards to get a feel for what I like, but actually building them isn't the best idea. Where the heck would I put it?!





This thing is huge. It's about 20 inches or so in depth and around 5 feet in length. I'm weighing the pros and cons of these dimensions. Serving on the top of the sideboard will be easy because of the length and depth. But having wide, deep drawers will make it harder to get stuff that's at the very back of it. I guess we'll be limited to storing large tablecloths and the like in it. I do like the height (38 inches). It's right at elbow level for me, and though I'd never consciously think of it, it's nice to pick dishes and the like up without bending slightly.
My dad made a smaller sideboard about 20 years ago that's scaled down to about a 4 foot length with an 18 inch depth. I'm still wondering if that would have been a better choice.
The only thing left to do know is to tease the joints together for the front rails. There's a slight gap on the left hand side of the front rail, so today I'll determine if there's junk in the mortise preventing the tenon from fully seating or if the mortise isn't deep enough. After that I'll start work on the joinery for the drawer dividers and the web frames so the drawers don't fall through empty space.

In between that, I picked up some aniline dye from Lee Valley and I'll be testing it out on different scraps of cherry with garnet shellac to see if I can't get a color I love.




Saturday, January 18, 2014

The New Mutt Workbench

I'm finally getting around to posting the pictures, but I completed my workbench towards the end of December 2013. In the beginning of 2012 I purchased a Sjoberg hobby workbench since it was on sale at Woodcraft and it lasted for about 2 years or so. But it was a total piece of junk. The top was laminated maple that was barely over an inch thick, the legs were fir that were fastened with cabinet-type Robertson screws, and the rails were fastened to the legs with nuts and bolts. After about a year, the top warped horribly to the point where flattening boards was akin to playing the lottery (chances of getting the board flat are 1 in 650,000) and because of how thin it was, I was seriously concerned that if I completely flattened it, I would have a half inch thick top that would crack and split during mortising. The Robertson screws became bent and eventually stripped the threads to the point where you could lean on the bench and it would sway. And the rails? Since they were connected to the legs with butt joinery, I had to crank down on the nuts and bolts to prevent them from rotating like a prayer wheel whenever I worked.

Even though this all happened within a year, it was obvious I needed a new workbench within the first few months. Fed up with the thin top, lack of workholding capability, and the short length, I began looking for replacements to purchase. The only problem I had with the benches I found is that the tops were too thin (1 3/4" thick) for mortising by hand, they were way too high (36"), and their legs looked like they were made with eastern white pine from the home center. The others were just too damn expensive (ranging from $2000 to $4000).

It took me another year before I finally got around to building it, but I'm already happy with the results. In another year or two I'll update this post with changes I'd like to make to it.


The trestle base is made up of 3x3 leg blanks for the bottom and top, and the legs are 2x2 red oak. The top portion is through mortised, wedged, and drawbored. The rails are southern yellow pine half-lapped and bolted to the legs. The bottom is mortised about a third of the way through and is also drawbored. The shelf was made by simply cutting up a 2x10 and screwing it to the bottom of the rails.
The top is southern yellow pine laminated face to face. This was far cheaper than purchasing so called "workbench tops" (I suspect they're countertop production overruns) from Woodcraft and other specialty stores for close to $200. Those things are pretty thin (1 1/2") and more expensive than countertops sold by Ikea. You could certainly purchase two countertops from Ikea, but all told it'll cost close to $400 for shipping and the weight surcharge. The boards I purchased cost close to $75 and I still had material left over.


The vise I installed is a quick release Jorgensen. I still haven't gotten around to building a chop for it. For the tail vise, I ordered a face vise hardware from Lee Valley and will eventually get around to installing it along with constructing the chops. For the time being, I'm making do with holdfasts and a Veritas wonder pup.

Lessons learned:

  • I used a 700mm E.C. Emmerich frame saw with a 9 tpi web. Cutting tenons and the half-laps was a breeze. 
  • Mortising was horrible. After completing most of the mortises with a 3/4" bit and 8inch brace and cleaning up with a mortising chisel, I'm convinced the right tools for this job are a 1" bit and a 12 or 14 inch brace. There's no need to go out and purchase Jennings auger bits; 1" auger bits with hexagonal shanks are available at Lowe's for about 1/4 the price of the NOS bits. 
  • The shelf is extremely handy. Right now I'm using it for pieces of the sideboard that I'm building. It adds weight to the bench, it keeps things close at hand, and the weight of all the pieces stacked on top of each other keeps them flat.
  • I think the Jorgensen vise is better suited as a tail vise. The quick release feature doesn't offer any appreciable advantage over conventional face vises.
  • If I had the time, I would have constructed the rails with through joinery and then bolted them to the legs. However, I can't get the bench to rack at all, and it only took about two hours of doing the joinery by hand and massaging all the joints to where they fit perfectly. Deep mortising is a completely different beast. I spent hours fiddling around with the walls trying to find out where it was humped in its 3" depth, carefully paring, and then testing the fit. Absolute misery.
  • The overall bench is a little bit short (69"), but it fits my shop. If I had to, I could build a new top, and make new rails using the same base and stretch it out to 7 feet or whatever would fit.
 
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