Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Adjustable height stool

When I started building my workbench, I promised myself I would avoid the complexity of any height adjusting mechanisms or bench-on-bench contraptions, instead deciding the solution was a place to sit. I recently decided to get a little fancy and make the stool adjustable. This was also a good opportunity to try out tapered round mortise & tenon joinery, which was extremely simple compared to the usual rectangles.
My newest workbench accessory

Construction details:

  • maple with walnut wedges. I accidentally put the wedges in the wrong direction, but fornutately nothing split)
  • tapered octagonal legs were made by laying out both ends and planing to the lines. A handscrew clamp, itself clamped to the bench, was instrumental in holding the legs after I had tapered the first two sides. A jack plane with a rank setting made short work of it.
  • I used a reamer and tenon cutter from Lee Valley
    • mortises were made by drilling and using a tapered reamer
    • tenons were made by sawing shoulders, whittling approximate tapers, then using a tenon cutter
  • the legs are arranged to sort of "windmill" around the center, because I like the way it looks. If I were to do it again, I would make them splay out more for increased stability. But what I did works OK.
  • The adjustment comes from so-called "piano stool hardware" that I found at Lee Valley. It works really smoothly (and could probably serve as good vise hardware). The overall height is quite low, raning from "I'm sitting at the workbench" down to "My eyes are peeking above the workbench surface".
  • The seat and hub were made from 8/4" maple, laid out as a circle on a board that was just wide enough for the hub. This makes the stool very stout, although a little top-heavy for my taste.
  • The seat was shaped using spokeshaves, drawknives, a jack plane, and probably a few other shaping tools I have lying around. Since the stool lives in the workshop, I'll probably shape it more as time goes on and I learn where the uncomfortable parts are (I've already gone back and done this once).
  • I finished with one coat of danish oil, which is very minimal, but looks nice and is easy to reapply after subsequent seat re-shaping.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Life seems to be getting out of the way, at long last, and even giving me the occasional boost.
I'm working on a stool with stalled legs and piano still hardware. It seems like a good alternative to an adjustable height bench.

So I think I'm back in the shop, and back on this blog!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Still here

I haven't posted much in a while because life has gotten in the way of both woodworking and blogging. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon. In the mean time, here is some evidence that I'm still here, still alive, and still able to cut up bits of wood when necessary:

These wooden riser blocks were the key ingredient in an alternate storage spot for my motorcycle top box.

I might use this box for portable tools, since it mounts to a thing with wheels.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

This is what a hand-tool problem looks like.

This is how far I got ripping by hand (pictured) before I remembered that I have an electric jigsaw. Maybe 2 or 3 feet.

Step 1 is admitting you have a problem, and I think step 2 is bargaining. After that I'm a bit hazy.

...Then I thought, "meh, I don't feel like taking it off the wall", and proceeded to rip the rest of the 7 feet by hand.

In all fairness, using the jigsaw would have meant taking it down, plugging it in, puttting on safety glasses, hearing protection, and dust mask, making the cut while keeping the cord out of the way, putting the tool away, putting eye/ear protection away, wearing the dust mask a little longer while the dust settled, getting sick of it and taking it off after 10 minutes, and having an itchy throat for 3 days. Heck, I needed the exercise anyway.

But these are just rationalizations and excuses. Obviously, power tools are always more efficient. If you see a scene like this or hear so-called reasons like these from a friend or loved one, help is not far away.

Take them to your local power-tool vendor and introduce them to a salesperson. They probably just need someone to accuse them of being crazy, before it's too late.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2 things that really don't need to be combined.

Woodworking and drones, that is. The other day when my friend Kevin was with me in the shop, we were playing with a new toy--a cheap little quadcopter that can take lo-fi videos. I was flattening the bottom of the top of my workbench, so we got some footage. Here it is, in all it's shaky, low-resolution glory.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2 out of 2 ghost agree: there's no such thing as too many clamps

Yesterday my good friend Kevin was at my place, and he was nice enough to help me glue some more thickness onto my workbench top. More hands make it easier to finish while the glue is wet, so thanks a bunch Kevin! We are both interested in photography and silliness, so this was the result:
We piled on weight, and then used typical clamps to get the front glueline as tight as possible.

Bonus tip: spreading shavings around the floor is a good way to catch glue drips. Just sweep when dry(ish).

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trying a wooden jack plane

This old jack is still a workhorse
Even though my metal jack plane does a good job removing thick wood shavings, I have been wondering for a while if a lighter weight wooden plane might allow me to be more efficient. Last week I found myself face to face with a vast selection of vintage wooden planes at the Liberty Tool Company in Liberty, Maine. Knowing that I had a lot of stock removal waiting for me at home (on the underside of my workbench-top in-progress), I decided to give it a try. After hefting 30 or so possible choices, I found one that was just right. It had all the parts, was pretty light, and even had similar ergonomics to my metal jack (so as to work at the same workbench height. I brought it home for an incredible $21. Although I've heard that New England (where I live) is a good place to find old tools, this was my first experience seeing a large stash of good ones.
At the end of this experiment, I'll be getting rid of one jack plane. Building the Anarchist's tool chest has taught me to value my space highly, and I now own three jack planes, two of which are set up for efficient mass stock removal. So I'm paying close attention and thinking hard about my choices here.

So far, the wooden jack is looking like a potential winner, largely because of the weight (so it's good I didn't get the solid rosewood one). Like I would with any jack, I spent a few minutes cambering the blade.

However, there were a few caveats with this approach:

  1. The back of the iron wasn't perfect, so I had to swallow my perfectionist nature and use the ruler trick on the back. I'm hoping the tiny back bevel will disappear with successive sharpenings. This doesn't matter much at all.
  2. Adjusting the wooden plane takes a few minutes to get used to. For me, this was about 15 minutes. Maybe it would take longer if I was trying to be as precise as I would be for a smoothing plane, but for coarse shavings, it doesn't seem to be a big deal. Hit the toe, iron, and wedge until it sits where you want it to--no big deal if you are comfortable with any other plane.
  3. Buying used has it's pitfalls. If I wasn't paying attention I could have bought one with no wedge. I recommend paying attention to detail even if you're not spending hundreds of dollars, because of the time you can save. I looked at all the same things I would look at if I was about to tune it up--does the wedge hold the blade firmly, does the blade have some life left in it, is the tote relatively intact, etc. In the end, I probably spent an hour browsing the store, and a half-hour getting the plane tuned up.
However, none of these really amount to much compared to the fact that I just knocked about a 16th of an inch off the bottom of a 2'x7' workbench while barely breaking a sweat.
This rippled surface might give you some idea of the shavings that are coming off.
So, I think lightweight and wooden is a good way to build a jack plane. In a smoother or jointer, I appreciate the precise depth adjustments that come from typical metal versions, but with a jack plane I just want to get on with the work without making my muscles too sore. (But for the amount of wood I had to remove on the bottom of my bench, starting with a circular saw and an axe didn't hurt either.)

In conclusion, wooden planes are fun, efficient, and not scary. Cheers!