It’s been quite some time


Well, it certainly has been a while since my last post…it’s approaching a year now.

There’s a plethora of reasons I could come up with: it was just way too cold in the shop this past winter (it barely broke 35F in the shop all winter), there’s the kids (lots of work there), the P90X3 challenge (90 consecutive days of intense exercise), and a much needed hiatus (needed the time to re-focus).

However, even though: it was frigid, and I didn’t have much time (P90X3/kids/hiatus), I did manage to get a couple of small projects completed so far this year.

Saw Sharpening Vise

One of the first things I set out to do this year was build myself a saw sharpening vise. I based the design off the one that I believe Lie-Nielsen uses/created.The concept is basically two pieces of wood hinged together that clamp the saw blade in place.

I just drop it into my moxon-like vise, which provides all the clamping pressure I need to hold the saw plate steady. To help with the holding power, I glued a couple of strips of leather to the inside faces of the saw vise. Not bad for some extra scraps taking up space in the shop.


Shooting board

I also made this shooting board from scraps around the shop. The base is made out of MDF and the rest are scraps of cherry and maple. I’ve been meaning to make this one for a while. I should get a lot of use out of it.


Tool Rack

Again…here are some more scraps. I had these nice strips of cherry left over from the Chiffonier project. It is not eveident in this photo, but there are strips of walnut sandwhiched in-between the strips of cherry. The walnut strips were strategically placed according to the tools you see in the photo (ie. each chisel has it’s own home). The walnut creates a gap large enough for the small end of the tool to pass through rack. This helps keep my bench neat & clean, and in addition, positions the tools I use most at close range.


Pine Shelf

I did manage to get one non-shop project finished. This shelf is made out of some type of pine. It’s held together with cut nails and glue. There is no fancy joinery – dados, rebates, dovetails, nor mortise & tenon – just the nails. A few chamfers and some shellace & wax and it was ready for it’s new home.



Hopefully won’t be too long for the next post-


Nicholson workbench additions

It certainly has been too long since my last post. Every day life has been consuming me. However, I was able to accomplish a couple of things during this hiatus…

I had been using my Nicholson bench for a while without any work-holding devices other than the planning stop and holdfasts. I was having a fair amount of trouble sawing on the ends of boards for dovetails and tenons, and edge planing wide boards. I used the method of clamping the workpiece to the front apron of the bench using a couple of holdfasts.

The only way this would work was to drive the heck out of the holdfasts into the bench. The clamping pressure needs to be sufficient to overcome the force of sawing…especially when sawing tenons. I was seeing the same issue when planing edges…the holdfast would loosen and the work would slide or fall.

It quickly became a necessity to add two additions to the bench…

The Crochet…

The first addition is a crochet, or hook attached to the front apron to aid edge planning. I had no specific plan to follow, just an idea and a picture of what the hook should look like. I wasn’t, and still am not, sure how much the angle or size of the hook matters…perhaps someone will research it someday.

I had a little bit of stock left over from the leg cut-offs from the bench build. It seemed like it would make a good solid hook…it measures 3″ x 3″ x something. I planed it flat and square and sketched the shape of the hook on the top face. I just eyeballed what I felt looked like it would work.

I cut the curve out with a rip saw and coping saw, then used a rasp and file to round out what I had mangled. Before I cut the curve on the outside of the hook, I drilled out the holes for the lag bolts to attach to the bench. Then after attaching the hook to the bench, I cut an angle off the front corner…I decided this looked good enough and ditched the curve idea.

The end result is a huge improvement over the old holdfast method I was using. The hook is solid, and holds various thickness of lumber up to 12/4. It’s much faster too…when I finish the edge of a board, I just pick it up and put the next one in…no fussing around with holdfasts. The only issue I found was that I needed to add one more holdfast hole. The boards need to be supported along their entire length, and the holdfast hole I had wasn’t close enough to the hook. The board would tip down toward the floor as I planed toward the hook. Therefore, I added one more hole just underneath the hook.

The Moxon Vise…

The second addition was an adaptation of the Moxon vise. Apparently this puppy is all the rage these days. I wasn’t buying into all the hype until I realize how difficult it is to make accurate joinery when your holdfasts slip.

I wanted to build one of these awesome Benchcrafted Moxon vises, but I didn’t want to drop a lot of cash. After staring at my bench for a couple of days, it hit me. I figured, why complicate things, just attach a board to the front of the bench that moves in and out with enough strength to get the job done.

I had an 8/4 piece of scrap that I pick up from another woodworker who was going to burn it. I was saving it for some special project, someday. Well, this was someday…it was the perfect length (around 24″) for the type of work I would be doing, and it was thick…which to me, means strong.

My next challenge was to figure out how to attach it to the front apron and make it move like the Moxon vise. The only straight stong bars I had in the shop were my black iron pipes used for pipe clamps. If I could attach the black pipe using my Jorgensen pipe clamp set to the piece of scrap it might just work…basically like clamping up a glue joint…simple.

I drilled the holes for the pipe and temporarily attached the clamp set to each pipe. Then I checked the fit for feasibility…and it worked. I went a step further and purchased a couple 18″ black pipes to fit the width of my bench. If your bench is wider, you could go with a longer length, giving you a greater amount of clamping width in the vise. Once I installed the 18″ pipe, I attached the clamp set to the back of the front apron with screws. I did the same to the part of the set that was attached to the scrap piece.

This Moxon vise adaptation holds with incredible strength. It is also so easy to use with the built-in screws on the clamp set. It’s versatile as well…if I need to clamp a wide drawer larger than the width the 18″ pipe can hold, I can just swap out the 18″ for longer pipe. All in all, I spent about $9 on this vise…love it.

With these two new additions to the bench, I would say that it is now complete…but you never know.

– JR

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.


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.


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

Nicholson Workbench Kickoff

I am in desperate need of a workbench after moving into our new home. My previous bench was , and probably still is, attached to the basement wall. It has worked out for the best, because I need to custom fit this bench for the space that I have. I have been working on the design for a couple of weeks now, and I think I have finally settled on how the bench shall be built.

I am a big fan of the Nicholson bench, and have been reading/watching other woodworkers blog about their versions of this bench. Every one and their grandmother (I’m sure there are some grandmother woodworkers out there) have been jumping on the Roubo workbench style. I have to admit, for a while I was going to go this route…that was until I came down to earth and started focusing on what would be most functional for me.

Rob’s blog over at Logan cabinet shoppe is a big influence on the design of my bench. I have watched his workbench videos over and over again. I also studied Chris Schwarz’s workbench book a great deal to make sure he would approve. There have been a couple of other woodworkers out there that have found great success with the Nicholson style.

You can download a model of my version of the Nicholson bench here from the 3D Warehouse. I think I changed my mind about 12 times in the past couple of weeks regarding every element of the design. Everything from lumber thickness, tenon placement & size, shelf design, overall length, etc. I get really involved during this process and it is pretty much all I think about most of the day.

I ended up making the overall length of the bench at 6′. I felt this was the best for the amount of space that I have…I need to save room for that Anarchist Tool Chest that I am planning on building in the future. I also need to save room for my snowblower…it has seen more saw dust than snow this year.

I picked up the rest of the lumber last week, and it is currently acclimatizing in the garage. I went with construction lumber to keep the cost down…I prefer to use the good stuff for furniture projects. This is going to be my workhorse, and it is going to take a beating. I don’t want to lose sleep over it when I ding it up. I had to go to two stores to find what I needed. At one of the stores, I had to cut two 16 footers in half in the parking lot in order to get them in my Taurus. The majority of the base will be constructed of douglas fir, and the rest will be the mysterious ‘whitewood’ sold at the big box stores.

The first step in the project will be to set up the legs with their mortises. As I wait for them to acclimate to my shop, I will try to post some more tool reviews. I recently purchased some new hand tools, and would love to let you know what I think.

– JR