Have a Party, Build a Sawbench

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The first project in my next book, “The Furniture of Necessity,” is a Windsor-style sawbench. While some might think it’s a complex exercise in geometry and joinery, it’s ridiculously easy once you understand a few principles that have nothing to do with trigonometry.

In my mind, this project is fundamental to understanding chairmaking and building early Western tables and other pieces of “staked” furniture, such as backstools and formes.

To explore this form a bit more, John and I threw a sawbench-making party in Indianapolis this weekend where eight of us built sawbenches using a variety of hand- and power-tool methods. We also consumed a ridiculous amount of food and alcohol.

(If you are interested in this form – not to mention food and booze – I am teaching a weekend class in building these sawbenches at Highland Woodworking next month. Details here.)

Some of the highlights of the weekend (for me):

Raney Nelson of Daed Toolworks demonstrated a technique for adding a gorgeous charred finish to wood that will be the subject of an upcoming article in Popular Woodworking Magazine by blacksmith Seth Gould.

John, my partner at Lost Art Press, built a sawbench using four different and messed-up legs that had been sent to the burn pile by the rest of us. John assembled that sawbench, and then almost made me pee my pants by polishing the legs of the thing like it was on the cover of a woodworking magazine.

Narayan Nayar, the photographer for many Lost Art Press projects, demonstrated an offset turning technique that resulted in some beautiful elliptical legs.

Dr. Tim Henrickson made his first leg on a lathe that looked like it should be in an alien porn movie.

Megan Fitzpatrick, the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, had a video chat this weekend with her 4-year-old niece. So we all took off our shirts and walked around in the background during the chat.

Dr. Koa, aka Sean Thomas, brought along some cask-strength bourbon and rye that triggered all of the above events.

This is the third party we’ve thrown to explore early techniques, and it was a bunch of fun. Not to mention useful. If you ever feel uninspired or stuck with your woodworking, consider throwing a quick build-fest to tackle a fun project like this.

But don’t be like us and go shirtless in December. Engorged man nipples are not pretty.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Furniture of Necessity | 23 Comments

Slab Bench Maintenance: Remain Reamed

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Because holdfasts are the primary workholding device on my French oak workbench, I am quick to investigate things when the holdfasts stop working well.

This week I noticed my holdfasts were getting stuck in their holes. They were difficult to get in and out. After a little investigating I found two things had gone wrong.

As the thick slab continued to dry, the holdfast holes had distorted enough to create an interference fit with the shaft of the holdfast. The distortion isn’t something you could see, but you could definitely feel it when you pushed the holdfast into its hole.

Second, the end of one of my holdfasts was a few thou too big for the holes. How did this happen? Easy. When the holdfast holes started to distort and the holdfast began to stick, the only way to release the holdfast was to strike it from below the benchtop with a metal hammer.

Surprisingly, this hammering upset the end of the holdfast and caused it to swell at the end of the shaft. And it was enough to make the holdfast even more difficult to insert and remove.

At this point in the blog entry I should insert a few proctology jokes. And something about a swollen shaft. But I’m feeling too classy this morning to go to that dark place.

To remedy my distorted holes and swollen shaft, I turned to two electric tools: A corded drill and a grinder. I put a 1”-diameter Wood Owl Nailchipper bit into the drill and reamed the holes. One of the holes – the most distorted one – gave up a spider web and two mummified houseflies.

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Then I dressed the end of the holdfast on the grinder until everything worked well. The shaft dropped smoothly into every hole and the holdfast returned to its normal grabby self.

— Christopher Schwarz

Note: The shaft of my vintage holdfast was made so its shaft is the same diameter along its entire length. Not all vintage (or new) holdfasts are like this. Some taper along their shaft. This makes them immune to the above problems, but I don’t find they are as easy to set.

Posted in Workbenches | 19 Comments

Workholding with the ‘Naked Woodworker’

The workbench that Mike Siemsen builds in the DVD “The Naked Woodworker” doesn’t have a single vise, but it can perform all the standard woodworking operations.

To prove this point, we asked Mike to make a short video that demonstrated how to use this Nicholson-style workbench for planing, sawing and chiseling tasks. Mike, always the overachiever, made the above 31-minute video that puts his bench through all of its paces.

Even if you are an old hand at hand tools, I think you’ll pick up a few tricks from the video. I know I did. Be sure to watch Mike using a ripsaw at 23:30. The man can rip. And the dovetail vise – similar to Caleb James’s version – is mighty clever.

The Naked Woodworker” is available on DVD and via instant download from our site. No matter how you purchase the video, you’ll also receive a spreadsheet that details all the materials and tools in the video, plus drawings for the workbench and a transcript of the entire DVD in Word format.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Be sure to watch to the end so you can see Mike’s cornball joke. And please do consider taking a class at the Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking. Mike is an excellent woodworker and fantastic teacher. I’ll be teaching a class there in 2016.

Posted in The Naked Woodworker DVD | 25 Comments

The Anarchist’s Gift Guide

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Most holiday “gift guides” are mostly bogus – lists of items that a store needs to move, are at a particular price point or have a high profit margin.

My gift guide is the opposite. These are things that I don’t sell (also FYI, I have never participated in an affiliate program anywhere, either). These are things I have used to death and really like. I think you will like them, too.

For the most part, they are inexpensive items that are worth far more than their price tag suggests.

I did a gift guide last year (which is still valid) and am in the middle of writing one for 2014. Both are on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine here. Check it out if you have family members who want to get you something for the shop.

Me? I just asked for beer.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 4 Comments

You Are the Vise of Meat

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Workbench disclaimer: A traditional workbench makes many tasks easier. Please read that sentence again with the emphasis on the last word. Easier. While you can build anything with nothing, things are easier with a traditional bench.

Today I dressed the carcase of a tool chest, which was quick and easy with the help of my legs.

Use a Sawbench. Here I’m leveling the end grain of the tails. The traditional sawbench, when paired with a heavy bench, makes many carcases an easy job. Add a moving blanket to protect your work. Note in the photo above how I am using one leg to push the work firmly against the bench. For bigger cases, I put the moving blanket on the floor – no sawbenches – and push the case against the leg of the bench.

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Use the End of the Bench. I like narrow workbenches because they allow me to sleeve the carcase over the benchtop. The benchtop prevents the case from deflecting while you plane it. Again, my leg keeps the case in place against the benchtop.

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On Tippy Toes. Leveling the ends of a carcase can be difficult because they can rarely be sleeved over the bench. Even over this short span – about 18” – the board will deflect when you plane it, making it difficult to make it true. When possible, I put my leg into the carcase (note the rag protecting the work) and push up with my knee to support the panel while planing it.

This honestly and truly works. Try it before mocking.

When I cannot wedge my leg into the carcase I use a “goberge,” also called a “gobar.” Essentially I wedge a heavy stick inside the carcase to support and push against the panel I’m planing. Big cases sometimes need two goberges.

Last trick and I’ll let you go: Grab some shavings. Usually I am trying to plane a carcase square and flat so I can add mouldings, skirtings, whatever. But sometimes the panel doesn’t have to be dead flat, it just has to look flat.

When that’s the case with a case, You can use a few shavings to help plane that last little hollow in the board that is giving you fits. While the carcase is sleeved over the bench, put a couple shavings between the carcase and the benchtop right under the hollow spot. The shavings will deflect the board right into your plane’s mouth. Thank you Robert Wearing for that trick.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Workbenches | 9 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 31

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‘The Book of Plates’ and ‘The Custom Box’

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At long last (thank you USPS), I received a box of the production-bound copies of “The Book of Plates.” Like many readers on Twitter and Instagram, I was smitten. It is a bit intoxicating to hold, page through and examine.

We have had several customers who – having received “The Book of Plates” – have asked the following question: “Where the %$#^ is the custom wooden box you promised?”

So if you are wondering the same thing, here’s the answer: “The Book of Plates” ships in a custom cardboard box made in Indianapolis (and at great expense). We said it shipped in a custom box, and I showed it to you here in this video. It’s cardboard, which is termite barf, which was then eaten by a nearby drunken termite and pooped out into a flat, corrugated format (termite sphincters are amazing).

That’s your custom wooden box.

There is no custom wooden box, and we apologize if you read “custom box” as “custom wooden box.” If we did ship “The Book of Plates” in a custom wooden box, then John and I would be wearing custom wooden barrels as we shuffled into the poorhouse.

As always, if you are dissatisfied in any way with our products, send them back to us and we will gladly refund your money.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 45 Comments