Nicholson Workbench Part 2

The other side assembly is finished and both are now drawbored…

What is drawboring??? Read about it here. Basically, you have an offset peg that is driven through the mortise and the tenon. This forms a tight mechanical bond between the two that is constantly being pulled tight by the offset peg.

This is the first time I have used this technique for joining mortise and tenons. I followed the steps outlined in the link above and in Schwarz’s ‘Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use’ that is available at Lost Art Press. The technique is really quite easy, and something I will use as often as I can.

One of the great things about this technique is how the drawbore closes up the joint. I had a couple of tenons that were not so snug in their mortises. They probably would have been okay with just glue, however I am certain now they will never come apart. From what I understand about drawboring, you don’t need to use glue at all in the joint because the offset peg mechanically bonds the mortise and tenon. I wasn’t quite sure how everything would turn out (as this was my first attempt), so I spread some glue on the joint as well.

I ended up using 3/8″ oak dowel stock for my pegs. I drilled a 3/8″ hole about a 1/2″ in from the edge of the mortise. I marked the offset 1/8″ toward the shoulder of the tenon. I used alignment pins that I picked up from Sears for about $6-$7. I was debating purchasing drawboring pins from Lie Nielsen, but once I read Schwarz’s article in the link above about drawboring, I knew that was the way to go. The alignment pins worked great…helped me to draw the joint together for test fitting and final assembly.

Everything went together very well, except when I came to the very last peg. Usually you can tell when the peg has bottomed out in the hole by the change in sound when driving the peg home. I must not have been paying attention, because I missed it. I just kept hammering with gusto. Then I heard that awful sound of wood cracking…I had split the wood out the back side by driving the peg too deep.

After a few moments of freak out…

I assessed the damage and determined a way to fix it. Luckily most of the damage will be covered by the lower stretcher that connects the two side assemblies. I was more concerned with the damage I had done to the corner of the leg. I ended up removing the damaged section of that corner…cleaned up the damage…then glued it back in place. The repair looks like it will be just fine, and the leg was not compromised. It was a good lesson learned for future drawboring…glad it happened on my workbench where I don’t really care too much about appearance.

I finished up the legs by adding a chamfe around the bottom of all the legs to prevent them from splitting should the bench be moved around.

Next up: I have to plane a couple of reference faces on the two lower stretchers that connect the two side assemblies. Then I will cut the tenons and chisel out the mortises as I did for the side assemblies…and eventually drawbore them too. At that point, it might start to look like a bench.



Stanley Sweetheart #4 Smoothing Plane review

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I purchased this plane back in December 2011. I picked it up on Amazon for a great discount…I think it may be on sale now as well. For about $135 you can’t beat the value here.

I have been using it here and there on a couple of small projects. I really haven’t given it much use yet..I want to make sure to shape and hone the blade before I put it to a full workout. As a result, I have been using this plane directly out of the box.

So, from limited use, here are my two cents…

I really like packaging when it is done right. The box that the plane arrived in has that great Stanley old-fashioned look. I saved the box because it just looks cool to me. Perhaps 50-75 years from now it, along with the plane will be worth something…or not. I just can’t bear to toss it.

My first impression of the plane has to do with its weight. This little puppy is heavy…somewhere in the neighborhood of 5lbs…just what you need for a smoothing plane. The sole of the plane and both sides were dead flat and square to each other…this releaved one of the concerns that I had before purchase. The blade from what I can tell looks good…it’s A-2 steel and reminds me very much of the Lie-Nielsen blades that I have come to trust. I say, ‘from what I can tell”, because I have yet to shape and hone this blade. Hopefully the back won’t require too much work to flatten and the A-2 steel will hold it’s edge well. Only time will tell. Lie-Nielsen has that ‘cryogenically frozen’ process for their blades, so this will be a good comparison for me.

The only issue I had out of the box was that the rear tote was a little loose. However, I had no problem getting it where it should be. I would guess this was just from the natural movement of the wood, because I experience this on my other Lie Nielsen planes from time to time as well.

I had some difficult figuring out the adjustment mechanism for the blade. I use block planes, or bevel up planes mostly, so this is a big adjustment for me. The bevel ups are so easy to adjust and swap blades in and out. It was a big decision for me to go down this road. The mechanism that this plane uses is based on the Norris style adjuster. It allows you to make the depth of cut and lateral adjustment from the same mechanism.

The Norris style adjuster takes some practice, and I imagine with time I will be able to do with my eyes closed. Some woodworkers have complained that there is a lot of backlash in this adjuster which makes it difficult to hone in on the final setting. I don’t have this as an issue because I like to sneak up on the thickness. I’ll start where the plane takes no shaving at all and increase a 1/4 turn and try to the wood again. I just repeat until I get the perfect shaving I’m looking for…I rarely overshoot this way. I’ve tried it the other way and experienced the back and forth where the backlash would drive me crazy…it’s much faster to sneak up on it. You could always leave the plane set if your going to be using it for a block of time and lay it on its side.

The result of the planing that I have done with this tool has been excellent. I am able to get those 0.001″ shavings that everyone is looking for. In use the plane is solid…there is no chatter…most likely do to the frog and the base all being one piece. Due to the fact that the frog is molded into the base, the mouth adjustment is made by a sliding mouth mechanism. This is awesome and what I have come to love on my block planes. It is so easy to adjust with just a turn of the front knob…it kind of makes up for the Norris adjuster. The mouth adjustment is really good too…you can close the thing down to produce the finest shaving.

This plane resulted in the best finished board I have seen, except for one thing…plane tracks. The blade comes from the factory ground flat across. You need to nick off the corners of the blade to eliminate the plane tracks, and ever so slightly round the blade…otherwise you defeat the entire purpose of the tool. This will be one of the first orders of business when I work on shaping and honing the blade.

For more than half the price of most premium planes on the market, this tool is totally worth the purchase. Check out other reviews and see for yourself…this plane has been run through the mill by just about everyone.



It’s been almost a year since getting this plane. I did eventually reshape the blade to remove plane tracks. I also spent a good deal of time on the level cap. I kept getting shavings caught between the blade and cap. Once I removed the gap, shavings stopped getting caught. I worked on sharpening the blade only a little. The back of the blade was flat and I had no issues getting a sharp edge. The edge retention seems to be pretty good. I find myself honing about the same frequency as my Lie Nielsen blades. As far as adapting to the adjustment mechanism on this plane…it’s a non-issue now. Once you learn how the tool responds, it’s easy to adjust accordingly. We are now in sync with each other…Stanley and I. I really like this plane. It’s giving me great results on face grain and end grain…yes, it has replaced my Lie Nielsen low angle jack for cleaning up end grain.

Nicholson Workbench Part 1

Side assembly with mortise & tenon…

The lumber (doug fir) for the legs has been in the shop for a while now, and seems to have acclimated. I began by cutting the legs and cross pieces for the two side assemblies. The lumber is construction grade so I had to do a little work to square up some of the factory cut ends.

Next I began planing references faces on the legs and cross pieces for one of the assemblies. I decided to work on them individually to break the work down so it would be more manageable…something I really like about hand tools.

I marked out all four mortices and tenons using a marking gauge and knife. I made sure to carefully mark off the waste sections, as a the two tenons on the bottom are off set to allow room for the mortise and tenon of the front and back stretchers.

I cut all the tenons using my new Lie Nielsen 12″ tenon saw. If you haven’t already, you can read my brief review here. I made sure to deepen the knife and marking gauge line with a chisel to create a reference for the saw to follow. Then I broke out my new Lie Nielsen x-cut carcass saw to saw the shoulders of the tenons. You can read my review of this puppy here. That was all the work I had to do on the tenons…they came quite square off the cut…not perfect, but well enough for my workbench. By the way…yes that is blood on the side of the cross brace in the picture to the right of the offset tenon…I put everthing into my work.

I then showed each tenon to each mortise that I had marked out previously. I had them all numbered so as to easily find their mates. I had to make some slight adjustments to the mortises scribe lines, which I did before deepening them with a chisel. I cut the mortises by first using a 1″ diameter forstener bit to hog out most of the waste. Then I came in with a couple of chisels to fine tune the mortise walls. After a few test fits and fine tuning on each one, the first assembly went together good. I checked for square and it was dead on.

I plan on gluing and drawboring the joints, but not for now. I want to use the cross braces as references pieces for the corresponding cross braces on the other side assembly. Once the second side is finished, I will glue and drawbore them both.

I then started on the second side assembly, and so far have only got as far as planing two reference faces on each leg and cross brace. Tonight I plan on marking out all the mortise and tenons, and then sawing out the tenons the next night or so.

It seems like it has been a slow process thus far, but I am making sure to do this to my satisfaction because this will be my most used tool in the shop.

Slow and steady she goes.

– JR

Lie Nielsen 12″ Rip Tenon Saw Review

The tenon saw is the larger saw in the first photo. I purchased it along with the x-cut saw that I have blogged here. The photo shows the contrast between the two saw types. Obviously the tenon saw is much larger, hence requiring the closed handle design.

Out of the box, my impression was the same as that of the crosscut carcass saw. This saw is substantial, beautiful, and just down right awesome. The curly maple handle is a thing of beauty, and the fit to my hand was perfect. It easily fits three fingers and has for what seems to me the perfect angle for cutting. It just feels comfortable when sawing. The other thing you notice right away is the size of the folded brass back…it’s thick! It puts my old Stanley to shame. It really stiffens up that large blade, which is a huge plus for me and my modicum of sawing talent.

You can once again check out all the specs at Lie Nielsen. They do offer this saw in both rip and x-cut configuration, as well as larger sizes. I went with the 12″ rip version because I plan on using it for sawing tenons less than 3″. I can’t imaging needing something larger, but you never know.

I have been using this saw quite a bit on my workbench build. Overall, this saw has been fairly kind to me. I am not loving as much as the x-cut carcass saw, but that is most likely due to my technique.

The issue I have is starting this saw. It’s a lot of touch and go…there are days when I can start a cut on the first push. Then there are days when I try to start the cut and can’t…after six or seven tries, I have to walk away and start over. I think it just takes some getting the right angle and pressure on the saw…when I let the saw do the work and take the weight off of it, it seems to start the cut nicely. The forgiveness is not as great as the x-cut carcass saw…it has to do with the saw filed rip. You just can’t start it the same as a cross cut saw. If you try to pull back a few starter strokes, the saw with get hung up and jump all over the place. You have to start on the push stroke…which takes a little getting use to. Hopefully, as I use this saw more and more, this issue will disappear.

Once the saw cut is started, the saw performs quite well. The first tenon, and every tenon I cut after that, didn’t require any fine tuning to fit a mortise. That’s impressive as I have just switched to hand tools and cutting tenons by hand. I won’t ever say that a tool will help you with your technique, but I will say that this saw shouldn’t hurt. The saw tracks in the kerf nicely, cutting straight and square.

I’ve got a few more tenons to cut on the workbench build…so I’ll keep putting this one to the test.

– JR

**update Feb 2013**

I have returned this saw to Lie Nielsen in exchange for their 16″ Thin Plate Tenon Saw. The use of the 12″ saw worked well for my workbench build, but I haven’t used it since. The kerf is just far to wide for the work I do. Lie Nielsen was great about exchanging my saw…that’s why I love them so much. If I had to do it over again, I would definitely cough up the extra $20 for the 16″ thin plate saw. It starts so easily, and the kerf is small, and it cuts so easily. I will never need another tenon saw.

Lie Nielsen X-cut Carcass Saw Review

I recently purchased this new saw from Lie Nielsen. The close handled saw in the first photo is a rip tenon saw I also purchased, which I will also blog in another post.

Lie Nielsen lists this saw as a carcass saw. You can check out all the specs at their site.

I plan on using this saw for cutting small pieces across the grain using my bench hook, cutting miters, and cross cutting tenon shoulders.

Out of the box first impression…

What a beautiful saw. That curly maple is gorgeous, and it blends so well with the folded brass back.

When I first picked up the saw, the first thing I noticed was the weight. For a little saw, it surprised me. It feels substantial, and it is…solid.

How does it cut…

My first couple of runs through a board were just matter of fact. I actually was disappointed and thought about sending it back. Then I realized something…I was doing it wrong.

When Lie Nielsen says not to put any weight on the saw, they mean it. I took the weight off the saw and let the tool do the work. The result was amazing. What a beautiful and fun tool to use…effortless.

This saw cuts and starts so easily. It cuts straight following the kerf very nicely. The resulting cut is smooth, straight, and easy to keep square. Pretty much all you have to do is keep it square to the kerf and the saw does the rest.

I’ve been using this saw on my latest build (Nicholson bench), and couldn’t be more pleased. I can’t find anything negative to say about this saw.

I can’t wait to cut something else.

– JR