Full Chisel Blog

November 23, 2011

Roubo Workbench build day three.

And I should be done.  However I have been distracted several times so I am behind schedule.

The top is completed with the square catch hole [made the wooden part of the catch] and all holdfast holes are drilled.  The legs are all joined with dovetail and rectangular tenons on the top and the 2″ by 4″ mortises on the legs to receive the stretchers.  I also drilled the holes in the front legs for holdfasts.  The stretchers are 4″ by 4″ with a 1″ by 3″ rabbit on the inside to accept the boards for the storage shelf.  The ends of the stretchers are tenoned off and all dry fit up.

I made the chisel rack, will finish up the crochet, the iron for the catch and grease cup today and will try and finish the drawer as well, but no guarantees on that one.

This bench is built on speculation, it will be for sale and I will not be using the bench, my personal bench is a Nicholson, English through and through.

I will post construction pictures and finished pictures on the next post, after the holiday.


November 20, 2011

Roubo Workbench

Well with everyone building a Roubo workbench, I thought I would make one.  I started today and finished the top, solid slab of birch 32″ wide, 96″ long and 6″ thick.  The legs are maple 6 by 6 inches and just under 36″ tall with a dovetail and rectangular tenon on the ends.  I fit up one leg today and should finish most of the bench tomorrow.

I still have to rebate the stretchers, tenon them off and mortise them into the legs.  Then some leg holes, holdfast holes, crochet, grease cup, drawer and chisel rack.  No vise on this one.

Kind of fun, and a fair amount of work.


August 1, 2010

Tallow, Lard and Bear Fat


Once again I am spurred to make these comments because of more silliness on a woodworking forum on the Internet.  Someone asked if anyone made their own tallow and everyone put down the simple request and went ‘modern’ even though the forum touts its archaic nature.  Instead of answering the question suggestions were made to use [laxative] mineral oil, paraffin oil (petroleum distillates), etc.

As many of you know, I am not interested in ‘modern, better, improved, new or recent’ methods, I do history and the book has already been written, we have a good idea of what was used in the nineteenth century and earlier and if we don’t then we can research the historical archives and find out.

And to the statement ‘if they would have had it, then they would have used it’, I say well they didn’t, so they couldn’t have used it, so I won’t be using it, or if I were a frog, then I would be a prince.  They seem to miss the point of traditional woodworking, using the proper tools, materials and techniques of the period in study.

Tallow is the internal fat (suet) surrounding the kidneys and intestines of sheep, goats, deer and oxen that is rendered down at a very low heat, just enough to cause the grease to melt away from the connective tissues.  While liquid it is filtered then allowed to cool when it is fit for use.

Lard is the rendered belly fat from pigs [Sus domestica] and is soluble in benzene, chloroform, ether, slightly in alcohol and insoluble in water, with a specific gravity of 0.917 at 77° (F), a dielectric constant of 2.1 at 176° (F) and melts at 97 to 107° (F).  A mixture of lard and beeswax fills the grease cup under the end of my workbench, that I use for screws and nails.

Bear fat, commonly called bear grease is the material rendered from the body fat of any species of bears [Ursus spp.], and was commonly used as a lubricant, lamp oil and to make the finest croissant, according to the French.

Tallow and bear fat have similar melting points, specific gravity, etc. to lard and work as a lubricant for metal and wood, a rust inhibitor for ferrous metals, for cooking, to protect leather, wood and other organic materials from moisture and as a lamp fuel for illumination.

I am certain many shops in the nineteenth century were illuminated with lard lamps, grease lamps and tallow candles.

Lard is readily available at any grocery store in containers ranging from one pound boxes to 5 gallon barrels and can be stored at room temperature and protected from light.  This is the material I use as it is the easiest to acquire and I am too lazy to make my own, although I have made it and tallow before and on one occasion I had the opportunity to remove the fat from a dead bear.  It was a mess, but my buckskins got a good coating of a traditional bear fat.  I can now purchase bear fat/oil from a local Native American Trading Post when it is available once a year.  Bear grease can be solid at colder temperatures or liquid when at warmer temperatures.

Many oils, fats and grease or other lipids can go rancid, which is the chemical decomposition of the material.  This caused the fats to have an undesirable odor and flavor.  Rancidity can be caused by water splitting fatty acid chains from the glycerides, by oxygen when the double bonds of an unsaturated fatty acid react chemically with oxygen and finally by the enzymes of bacteria breaking down the structure of the fats.

As heat and light causes the fat/oil/tallow to go rancid, rendering at low temperatures, storing in a cool, dry and dark environment will prolong its usable life.  But the whole rancid question really doesn’t pertain to using the stuff on wood or metal.  I don’t lick my tools that often and there is such a small amount that it is not unpleasant on the nose.  I for one happen to like the taste of rancid peanuts, any odor from my boots and shoes isn’t caused by the lard I slather on, the wooden plate I eat from regularly, while it was finished with walnut oil, its top coat is grease and I also have and use Buffalo Tallow lip balm.


March 24, 2010

The Workbench

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,The Trade,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:18 am

The Workbench

Much attention has been given lately about various historical iterations of the trusty workbench, that stalwart of the workshop, that one tool necessary to get any woodworking done.  There are detailed original engravings showing every type of workbench and most of them are complex with fancy joinery and a variety of ‘improvements’ included on each.

I for one was caught up in the fray and have built about 10 benches in 40 years; I only built one with the useless tool tray and have converted two benches with trays to useful benches by removing the useless tool tray abyss from the workbench top.

The last bench I built was one of the simplest designs and if I were to build another it would be even simpler.   A couple of the benches were quite nice and I was apprehensive to use it, so I sold it and built another that didn’t have that problem and I used it for several years.  I have seen benches built by folks that looked like a piece of furniture made out of fancy hardwoods with a high gloss finish and were quite very impressive.  I think the first time a sharp chisel went into the bench top the owners went apoplectic.

There are even books written about workbenches and on woodworking forums there is always a thread about the latest efforts to build the ‘perfect’ workbench.  I enjoy some of them because it is them doing the work and not me.  I don’t think there is a perfect workbench but there are several that approach perfection, sort of like the search for the ‘ideal chair’, the search continues.

When researching old probate inventories and other historical records; workbenches are mentioned and occasionally priced and much to my surprise the workbench or bench was listed for very little money.  If the list included a bench vise it was always much more expensive than the bench.  The books that mention building a bench the description is quite simple, left rough everywhere but the top.  Books also mention buying second hand benches.

And the value of these benches, were from $0.05 to 0.375, which is not much even in nineteenth century dollars, a skilled craftsman would make about $1.50 a day.  The cost of a workbench was less than a glue pot.  Of course there are some surviving workbenches that would have more value, but by and large it was just another tool and not much time or effort was wasted on making a bench when it was much more important to get to work to make things that could make money.  And that is the difference between then and now.

Today we can take inordinate amounts of time on building a workbench because most of the people doing this kind of woodworking are not making their living doing woodwork.  Not that there is anything wrong with this, I like workbenches and have my opinions as to what contributes to a good workbench, like a top made of softer wood so as not to damage the work being done on the workbench, &c. 

I think a lot of people decide to build the fanciest bench they can find and don’t really think about what they will actually be doing on that bench.  Many of them then realize when their bench is finished that they never use the tail vise and most regret the tool tray, etc.  When building a workbench consider what you need to get done and build a workbench that will accomplish those goals.


April 1, 2009

Prototype Dovetail Saw

I have finally come up with a solution to the controversy between Western Push style Dovetail Saws and the popular Eastern Pull style Dovetail Saw.  It was brought about when one day I was cutting some dovetails with a Western style Dovetail Saw while a friend of mine was watching.

He commented ‘if that saw had a handle on the other end, he could give me a hand’.  What a thought, my mind went back to the two handle whip saws of yore and put 2 and 2 together and got 22.  Now I think I have solved the problem with whither you prefer the Western or Eastern style handsaw.

Ultimate Dovetail Saw

The Eastern end is traditional with a tang and bamboo wrapped handle.  The Western end is a typical riveted handle that is octagonal and tapered.  This will surely set to rest the problem about deciding which to choose.  Just choose this one.


January 12, 2009

Extrapolating Moxon’s The Art Of Joinery {1703}

Because Moxon’s work is one of the first English language books about woodworking has grabbed my attention.  And because of the early engravings and text it is possible to determine some shop practices of our ancestors.  (Look familiar?)

Moxon Study 1

I will make a shorter hand screw to fit in the face vise, but it works great.  I jam the wood into the cleat then snug up the hand screw.  I had made the drawing of the Moxon bench last summer but I couldn’t finish it because I was uncertain as to how the vise looked.  Then thanks to Chris Schwarz’s edition of this seminal work, I put text to engraving.

I do have to do some work on the Moxon Smoother as the curves on both the front and the back are not severe enough.  I finished it off today and didn’t have the book with me at the shop.  I will round over the front and back, perhaps carve a date, stamp my mark, slap on some oil and figure out what is the next arcane tool I will make.

Moxon Smoother

This one is in maple, thick beech eludes me.  It went quicker that the first coffin smoother that I made, is the same 50 degree bed but is about two inches longer than the boat shaped smoother.

As helpful as the text in Moxon about workbenches and other items, certain tools were given short shriff.  For instance, the compasses or dividers and the two sentences about the smoothing plane, woefully inadequate.  And why is this?  I think that a lot can be gotten from Moxon as much by what is not said as what is said.  Why are some of these tools just given tertiary mention?  Probably because of familiarity, one wouldn’t necessarily state the obvious.  And that would have been obvious to people at the time period, it would have been general knowledge, so why say it again?

For such a slim volume, Moxon speaks a great deal.  There is much that can be gleaned from this tome.


January 9, 2009

The Moxon Workbench

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Uncategorized,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:55 pm

Well here is my take on the Moxon Workbench from The Art of Joinery, 1703.  The bench is rendered correct in the engraving, others such as the plow plane is reversed as does happen with engravings of the time period.  The reason the engraving is correct is the catch is in the proper position for working right handed.

Moxon Work bench

And here is how the vise can also be used.  I think the front vise on the right is for dovetailing and other joinery, not for holding boards when planing, that is the job of the single screw vise on the left.  The double threads don’t need to be that long and are contained within the back chop.

Moxon Bench 2

The twin screw vise can be repositioned as mentioned in Moxon’s text and secured with a holdfast.  I am not sure how the vise is secured to the front of the bench, where it is in the position it is in the engraving.

The perspective is raked in the engraving of Moxon’s workbench and that may account for the direction of the single hand screw on the vise on the left, the first vise that Moxon describes.


July 20, 2008

Using a Workbench

Filed under: Techniques,Uncategorized,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:17 pm

I presume you all know how to use a workbench, so some of this may be old hat, but that is not going to stop me.  A workbench is a bench where you do your woodworking (I love stating the obvious) and it shouldn’t interfere with getting work done.

As I have mentioned before my workbench tops are made of softwood, as I don’t want my workbench to damage that which I am working on.  Now while I mostly use pine for what I make, it is more important to me to have a soft top on the workbench.  People ask if it doesn’t wear out?  Well I am sure that the top of my bench will only last a hundred years or so, I can’t imagine wearing out a bench top.

Probably the most important thing about a workbench is that it should be solid and not move on you when you are using it.  If a bench wobbles, moves, sways or jiggles when you use it makes what you are doing difficult as the work is moving in unwanted ways.  Accuracy diminishes when the work moves when it is not intended.  If it is not stable and moves when you work on it, I am not sure it can be called a workbench.

Nor do I think workbenches should be built like a piece of furniture, while they look wonderful and could be in most peoples living rooms, and are great examples of the fine craftsmanship of the woodworker, I think most will be reluctant to use the bench for fear of damaging its pristine look.  That interferes with getting work done.

The reason I built this type of bench is that I am not sure a vise (permanently) attached to a workbench was not a time-saver and gets in the way.  I have two other benches in my shop with tail vises and face vises, they are identical benches, one has been raised up 5 inches (with a cleat under the trestle feet, the other one is lower for planing and both have the nasty tool tray holes, one has been rehabilitated and the other one is in therapy (its crap tray is going away soon).

I have noticed problems when using the tail vises in conjunction with bench dogs.  The screws on these vises can exert an enormous amount of pressure and it is easy to deform boards, even thick long boards, by over tightening.  When holding thin stock it is almost impossible not to bow the board one way or another with just light pressure.  I did some playing around the other day and it was difficult to get the board solid enough within the dogs to hold it without causing it to bow.

It is also much faster to plane boards against a stop or catch than it is to secure it between dogs.  The wood can be easily turned, flipped and smoothed without the vise causing the boards to bow, and it just takes too long, tightening, loosening, adjusting the dogs, not a labor saving devise.

The jam cleat or arrest is also much faster and using a face vise for edge planing, and a surface V-shaped jam cleat holds boards well for edge planing.  Just push the board in place and work, then pull it out, reverse push it in again and you are back to work.  I guarantee that it is much faster with no fear of distortion.

I also like the feel of the wood when I am planing it against the stops or catches and it requires a different technique, that actually improved my hand planing.  Because the rear end of the board is not supported when using just the catch (planing stop), you must exert more pressure on the rear of the plane, especially when off planing the end of the board.  One difficulty is planing a thin board with a bit of a cup to it or a chip of wood under the wood causes it to come up off the stop.  This can be avoided by having an iron toothed crochet (catch) set in the stop to prevent this from happening.

With the increase in heel pressure on the plane there is less of a tendency to plane more on the near side of the wood.  Free planing (not in a vise) is also much faster as the wood is easily reversed for proper grain orientation for planing, and easily flipped over to finish the reverse side of the board.  And having two stops allow you to use them in conjunction with each other to hold round or oval pieces or a corner into the two stops to plane on a skew angle to the grain.

 I am building a folding lap desk 12″ by 16″ by 6″, half blind dovetailed, nailed in bottom and top.  I prepared all the boards on the bench, did the dovetails using a hold fast to gang saw the front and back and did the half blind pins on a side rest (bench hook).  I planed the top and bottom flat before gluing in the top and bottom, using the two stops set all the way up.  I also used the stops to hold the box when smoothing the tops and edges.  I did use an end vise on another bench to hold the box when I ripped it apart.  I finished up the slopes with a smoother, again free planing against the stops.  I mortised the hinges against the stops.  I will post on this box soon.

I do need a vise for sawing, and it is my intention to build a proper sawing vise, then I will never have need for an end vise, which is just fine with me as the Best Woodworking Workbench in the World doesn’t have one.

I am also well pleased by the with the jam cleat (Not a Crochet) on the left front edge of my workbench.  I am contemplating and making inquiries about Moxon (see the thread at WoodCentral) and would like to figure out how that thing works.  The jam cleat or arrest works well with just one peg to support the height of the board at its proper location.  Push the piece in and start planing.  You can also use the bench as a height reference by allowing your fingers to touch the bench, so you can get a feel for the height as you plane.  Any time I can bring another sense into play, rather than relying on sight to check for smoothness or straightness, the better, especially as one ages.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog, old tricks?  Forcing myself not to use an end vise or face vise has been an interesting experiment and the results of which I will continue to practice.  It has not been difficult to wean myself from using vises, and had I not had this particular notion perhaps I wouldn’t have learned some valuable techniques.

I of course am not claiming authorship to any of this, I just looked at what was available during the early nineteenth century in terms of woodworking technology together with the extant examples we can examine and extrapolate and I put 2 and 2 together and got 22.


July 18, 2008

Workbench Appliances Part II

Filed under: Hand Planing,Sawing,Uncategorized,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:22 pm

Well, I decided I couldn’t or shouldn’t make one big post for these bench tools, so here are some more devices that make work easier.  I am always interested in making my work easier, I think all great inventions were intended to reduce work.  Put the laziest person in charge of the most complicated job and they will come up with the easiest solution.

For larger inside miters there is the Mules Ear Shooting Board.   This is also called a Donkey’s Ear miter board, I think because of the long hanging down rest for the work.  The large cleat on the bottom is placed against the edge of the workbench and fastened with a holdfast.  It can also be put in some face vises, it is a traditional design, this one made of mahogany, maple and white oak.  The stop is adjustable as the end gets chewed up, which does happen if you are not careful.  It is important that the stop supports the end of the board to prevent tear-out.

Donkey's Ear Shooting Board

Here is the Miter Box that I currently use.  I have made and owned other types, but this one is the best for me.  I do like the French Miter Box for larger pieces, but I seldom cut miters that big.  this one has a cleat to hold against the top edge of the workbench to keep it secure when sawing.

miter box

In conjunction with the miter box is the Miter Jack, a clamp/vise to hold work so it can be touched up with a plane.  Here is an unusual commercially made miter jack, that I got for $15.00 after I beat the guy up on his asking price, and no I can sleep at night.  I think it is German, possibly Ulmia, but it is not marked, it is made of beech.

Commercial Miter Jack

It appears that the cuts on the bottom (with the screw holes) are factory made, it was attached to a nasty scrap of wood which I removed, and it looks like it has had more than one attached judging from the multiple holes.

Miter jack bottom

Here is the reason I think it is German, note the joint in the jaws.

miter jack joint

 Here is one of several miter jacks I made several years ago.

Miter Jack

Here it is in use, the photograph was taken in 2002 in a friends shop in Reno, Nevada.

miter jack in use

You might also note the bench design, it is of the same type, however you may notice the added molding at the bottom of the apron, it is for a sliding deadman, just barely visible, another useful support for pegs.

Speaking of Jacks, here is a Sawing Jack that I use with my fret saws and coping saw for fine work.  I can adjust it to various heights for comfortable working.

sawing jack

 And here is a Carving Jack, which is intended to elevate work above the workbench.  The stuff being worked on is clamped to the jack, which is also adjustable in height.  I use this often as I do not like to bend over to work, too hard on my old back.  It also brings the work up closer to my old eyes.

carving jack

And last but not least my favorite accessory for a workbench, a Pattern Maker’s Vise.

patern maker's vise

And it can be turned in any direction.

pattern maker's vise3

Or, it can be mounted on the apron to use in a horizontal position.

Pattern Maker's Vise-apron

And most importantly it can be easily removed from the bench when not in use.  So it does take a little time to set it up, less than a minute and the same time to remove it from the bench.  Until I had my epiphany about keeping my bench clean, this was set up all the time, so I really couldn’t use my entire bench, but of course there was all that crap on my bench that prevented me from using the workbench as a workbench.

And when I have to do a little metal work on hardware and such I use this little metal working vise.

metal working vise

I like this new arrangement, the clean bench really does allow me to get more work done.  Clean off your benches if you haven’t already.


July 17, 2008

Workbench Appliances Part I

Filed under: Uncategorized,Workbench — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:51 pm

Now that I have discussed the Best Workbench in the World, here are some accessories used in conjunction with said bench.  Because the bench does not have a permanent vise, it helps to have other equipment to perform various tasks.  These can also be referred to as sawing appliances or planing appliances but they are generally used on the workbench.  And handy they are.

The most common piece of workbench paraphernalia is the Side Rest, sometimes called a bench hook.  It is a simple device, one long wide board with a small cleat on each end.  I have gone through a couple of these handy tools and I currently have two, the shorter pine version and one larger I made of mahogany.

Side Rest

That is not blood, it is shellac.

I use it mainly to hold work while I cross cut off the end.  I also use it for chiseling as you can see the stop on the pine side rest is quite chewed up.  I also use them to hold pieces that I am chopping half blind dovetails, both sawing and chopping out the waste.  I do use an old woman’s tooth router plane to clean the waste out for the tails.

side rest damage

Here are my two side rests, the longer one is of mahogany.

Side Rests

I can also use my side rest as a shooting board in a pinch.

side rest shooting board

The next most frequently used device is the shooting board.  Most woodworkers make their shooting boards too short and will not work on larger stuff.  I made one that is longer than most so I can actually use it to square the edge of the board.  This is much easier to square a board and get a straight edge than by free hand planing the edge.  Can also be used to plane end grain.

Shooting Boards

 Another planing appliance is the Miter Shooting Board, this is used like a regular shooting board except the center stop has a 45 degree angle to each face, allowing you to shoot either direction.  With this tool you are planing end grain on fairly small miters.

miter shooting board

Well I had every intention of doing this in one post, but apparently I need more space, so more to follow.


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