Nicholson Workbench Part 4 [Finale]

The top is on, holdfast holes are drilled, a planing stop is in place, and a shelf exists…she’s done!

This post took place over a number of days. I wanted to break up the posts and detail each step, however I couldn’t get myself to stop working on the bench long enough to blog. My apologies if this post seems so long…I could see the finish line and didn’t want to stop until I finished.

Before I attached the top, I had to finish the base. I installed two cross braces that will support the top. They sit on the back supports of the front and back apron, and are nailed in place through the aprons. Then I used my jack plane and a hand saw to bring everything into the same plane.

Next up was the two top pieces. I started with the back section of the top…had to do a fair amount of planing to get a flat surface on the top and bottom faces. To help hold the top boards in place when plaining the edges of the boards, I put my half-functioning bench to use. In order to do so, I marked out and bored all the holes for the holdfasts on the front apron. I changed my mind a few times on the layout…going back and forth between old drawings and pictures. I’m happy with what I settled on…I have a good amount of overlap of the holdfasts the entire length and width of the front apron.

When I finished the top back piece, I paused to contemplate installation of blocking underneath the top. I decided that I wanted the option to add holdfast holes at a later date anywhere along the length of the top…so I went ahead with blocking in under the top. I marked out the blocking to fit between all the cross braces, and set them in far enough so as not to prevent the top from sitting flush with the back apron. I nailed them all in with cut nails. [later I had to glue and screw one of them, as it kept popping off when a holdfast was driven in]

Everything fit together nicely once the blocking was in place. Therefore, I nailed on the top back using cut nails driven through the cross braces. I went over all of them with a nail set to prevent any issues when planing the top later on. I repeated the same process for the front piece of the top, including the blocking underneath. I adjusted the width of the front piece so I ended up with a 1/2″ gap between the two top pieces.

Before I started to work on the shelf, I decided to put in the planing stop. I figured I could use it for surfacing the shelf boards. I had a good section left over from one of the legs…I think it’s about 10″ or so. I planed all four sides flat and square to each other. Then I used it to mark out for the mortise to cut in the top.

I cut the mortise in the same manner that I cut the mortise for the leg assemblies, etc. I started by boring out the bulk of the waste with the largest bit I could find. Then I cleaned up the waste with my largest chisel. I made fairly quick work of it, but it cost me in the process. I slipped more than a few times, and beat the heck out of my knuckles…not to mention sliced my left index finger with my chisel again. I went to work the next day with five band aids and an immovable shoulder. I couldn’t just stop though…these injuries happened when I first started cleaning out the mortise…I cut most of it with a rag wrapped around my left hand. I am beginning to wonder if I am the only woodworker who gets hurt like this so often…why are there always blood in my pictures?

Despite being prone to injury, the planing stop works great. I had to do a little more clean-up to get the nice tight fit that I wanted, but not much. I finished off the top of the stop by chamfering all the edges.

The following night was all about holdfast holes. The first I put in was in-line with the holding stop on the back top piece…enabling me to put a small board across the width of the bench to work as a large planing stop. Then after some careful thought, I decided to place holdfast holes down the center of both top pieces the length of the bench. This enables me to clamp the entire length of the bench. I made sure to space the holes based upon my holdfasts and how much they overlap.

The majority of the holes were no issues to make. There were two holes in the minority. The blocking on one section of the back piece of the top kept falling off while drilling one of the holes. I must have forgotten to flatten the mating face of this board because it was rocking a little. When I would try to drive a nail in one side, it would pull out the other. Finally, I took down the blocking, removed the nails, flatten the mating side, and glued and screwed it back in place. After this adjustment, I finished drilling the troublesome holdfast hole with ease.

Over the next couple of nights, I worked on the shelf below the bench. I didn’t want anything fancy, just a functional shelf to hold my most used items. I planed up the boards so they sat flat with the bottom of the bench base. I attached them using cut nails driven into the lower cross braces that connect the two side assemblies. I made sure to start the first piece square. Then I used a 1/2″ spacer board to line up the next board. I continued making my way from left to right across the bench. I notched the two outer most boards to fit around the legs.

…and then a bench was born!

Thanks go out to Chris Schwarz and Bob Rozaieski for their incredible knowledge and inspiration…I could not have dont it without them!

Here’s a slideshow of this part of the journey.

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Nicholson Workbench Part 3

We now have a standing bench with front and back aprons…

It has been a while…I suffered an injury to my left middle finger. You wouldn’t believe how much you use this finger…it is used quite a bit in addition to the friendly gesture. Somehow I came down on the finger right at the edge of the nail with a hammer while nailing in the back apron. There was a lot of blood, and then it became infected and pretty much useless. I have injured myself with hand tools in the past 4-5 months more than in all the years of working with machines. Perhaps I am forgetting about safety because I am not working with machines. I am learning at an accelerated rate that this is not the case. With hand tools you work close to the working edge of the tools most of the time. I need to take more care.

Back to the bench…

I cut the tenons for the front and back lower stretchers the same as the sides…except I had to be a little creative. In the photo you can see my setup…my table saw is coming in handy…it makes a nice joinery bench. Clamping the stretchers in this way were a little too high for me to saw. I resorted to standing on a cut-off of one of the legs, which raised me a few inches off the ground giving me the height I needed.

After cutting the tenons, I marked out the mortises and cut them the same as I did for the side assemblies. I did a test fit and everything looked good, so I moved onto drawboring the joints. I drawbored one of the assemblies to both stretchers and everything closed up nicely…and I was careful this time not to blast the peg through the other side of the leg.

Then when I tried to fit the other end of the stretchers into the other side assembly, disaster hit again. The stretcher totally didn’t line up with the mortise as it had in dry fit assembly. Apparently the drawbore at the other end had pulled the joint from where I hoped it would go. My solution was to try to force it back into place…well that didn’t work. I heard that not-so-wonderful sound of wood cracking again. However, at this point I didn’t care, and I went on to drawbore the other side. There still is a big crack in the leg, but because I drawbored everything, the base of the bench is solid…nothing is loose or moving in any direction. It’s a testament to just how strong the drawbore joint is. I did decide though that this would be the back of the bench that will sit against the wall where it won’t be seen.

Next I prepared the back apron, cutting it to final length and planing all sides and edges flat and square. I then measured and cut the back supporting piece for the apron and flattened only the side that would attach to the apron. I don’t care about the side that faces the inside of the bench as it won’t be seen. I was most concerned about the side that is to attach to the back of the apron to make sure I had good contact between the two pieces.

Then I assembled the two pieces together using cut nails that I purchased from Tools for Working Wood. This was the first time I have ever used cut nails. It really isn’t any different, except you have to orient the nail in the direction of the grain. I wanted to try these to see what all the hype was about, and apparently they have more holding power. Time will tell…I didn’t use any glue.

The hardest part of the assembly of the aprons to the bench was cutting the large half lap joint. I’m sawing down the length of the grain with a cross-cut saw that most likely needs sharpening…not too mention the leg is 3 1/2″ wide. I literally was sawing for 40 minutes to complete both half laps for the back apron. I ended up in my T-shirt…and it was 45 degrees that night in the shop. I then cleaned up and made some adjustments on the half lap with a wide chisel. Then I nailed the apron to the legs with the cut nails.

I repeated the same process for the front apron…with a couple of changes. First, I broke down and purchased a Pax 26″ rip saw to cut the half laps. Using the right tool for the job cannot be overstated. I cut both of these in about five minutes. That’s a huge difference compared to the 40 minutes I spent on the back apron. The second change I made was the placement of the cut nails. Before I started nailing the back support to the apron and the apron to the front legs, I drew some lines where my holdfast holes would be.

After much thinking and erasing pencil lines, I decided to put the vertical lines 12″ apart. Then I connected those lines at an angle bottom to top from left to right. I transferred these lines around to the back of the apron and marked where I should drive the nails, so as not to interfere with the holdfast holes.

The bench looks awesome…

Now she stands in her place, waiting for her top and shelf to be installed. First I have to install two support braces between the two aprons, and then plane everything level and into the same plane. I made sure to level the two aprons to each other, so all I would have to do is plane away the leg assemblies between them.


Sketchup for Woodworkers

There are some programs out there to help you design woodworking projects using Google Sketchup. However, before you go out and buy such programs, you should check out this podcast.

Hardwood podcasts puts out a podcast Sketchup: A 3D Toolbox and it is free. It breaks down all the tools built into the program, helping you to understand what the program can do from the ground up. With anything new, you need to learn the basics first.

The podcast is not geared toward woodworking, but it will teach you the program. This is how I learned the program, and I highly recommend it. I am able to apply the knowledge from this podcast to create any woodworking project I can imagine.

I subscribed to the podcast on iTunes. This allows me to go back, when needed to review certain aspects or tools of the program. I believe you can still download it on iTunes.


The Essential Woodworker

If you are thinking about getting into woodworking, there is a great reference out there that you should check out.

You can purchase The Essential Woodworker from Lost Art Press for $23, a steal at that price. The wealth of knowledge in this book is, to me, invaluable.

It can be a great reference book that I personally will be going back to again and again. It covers so many basic skills that woodworkers will need to master.

The book is loaded with tons of figures that support the text very well. You should be able to follow the text with little trouble.

If you check out the link above, the description provided at Lost Art Press accurately describes the book. I absolutely love this book. I just wish I had known about it years ago when I was starting woodworking.


Get Into Woodworking

Get into woodworking

In light of ‘get into woodworking week’, this morning my son said something that brought a lot of joy to my heart.

He was working on his little mechanics set…taking apart and putting back together a small race car.

He told me that he was practicing on his car with his tools so that when he gets bigger, he will be able to do woodwork.

How awesome is that!

I have never pushed him into woodworking at all. I just allow him to come into my shop to see what I am working on. He came to this conclusion all on his own.


VCF Sharpening System

This is my entire sharpening system…

My entire sharpening system cost me about $350…the most expensive item being the lapping plate, which retails around $200. I shouldn’t have to purchase anything else for a very long time.

I find this to be the simplest way to sharpen plane blades and chisels. The waterstones seem to cut very quickly giving instant feedback to how the tool is sharpening. This is great for me because I seem to go offline quite a bit.

I recently purchased the lapping plate, which has completely changed everything. Before the lapping plate, I would spend a great deal of time trying to flatten my water stones with sand paper and a flat surface. I would usually end up with a wasted piece of sand paper, a big mess, an un-flattened stone, and an angry demeanor. Now with the lapping plate, I can flatten the stones in 10-15 seconds and having truly flat water stones has increased the results of my sharpening tremendously.

Here is and outline of my procedure

*Note: Whenever I am working on the stone I apply a couple of sprays of water from the spray bottle. I also wipe off everything before switching to a different grit stone…including the honing guide. I also make sure to periodically re-flatten the stones with the lapping plate.

I use the ‘ruler trick’ when flattening the back of plane blades. A simple search on the net for the ‘ruler trick’ should lead you to this technique. You can also check out the Lie Nielsen You Tube channel, where they have some great videos on sharpening. I have adopted a majority of their techniques here.

I built the angle setting jig based off of Lie Nielsen’s. You should be able to download a pdf of it here from their site. I tried to make it and failed…I couldn’t get the stops to line up where I wanted them, which is the reason my jig has decorative dowels instead. I just move the dowel to the angle setting that I need for the primary bevel angle. Then when I need to set the secondary bevel angle, I insert the shim between the dowel and the tool to be sharpened. Using this jig allows me to get consistent bevel angles each time I sharpen.

New tools & major repair work…

When I receive a new tool or have a repair situation, I spend a little more time and effort. I like to start the same way…flattening stones. However, I start to flatten the back of the tool using the Dia-Flat lapping plate until I get the back of the tool perfectly flat. Depending upon how well the tool is made will determine how long this will take. I then work my way up through the 1000 and 8000 grit stones looking for consistent scratch patterns before progressing to the next grit.

I repeat the process of progressing through the stones for the primary bevel…starting on the Dia-flat lapping plate and ending up on the 1000 grit stone. I’ll follow this same procedure if I have a tool that needs the primary bevel reshaped or repaired. Then I’ll set the secondary bevel on the 8000 grit stone.

I have been researching sharpening for a long time, and I have tried many different systems and techniques. I really don’t understand why there are so many of them out there…it can be very confusing. After reading and trying so many of them, I came to the conclusion that I wanted something quick and simple, while at the same time having a system that would be low-cost to maintain. I didn’t want to have to purchase too many parts to the system (I have 2 stones, a lapping plate, and a honing guide), nor did I want to have to  worry about continuing to buy consumables like sandpaper (I shouldn’t have to buy anything else).

For me, this is the easiest I have tried and I am able to get great consistent results.