Tuesday, February 7, 2017

simplest 45-degree planing cradle

I have seen a lot of devices for holding boards at a 45-degree angle from laying flat on the bench, but all required a tablesaw to build quickly. Here is what I came up with when I was planing tapered octagons for stool legs recently. It's easy to make with just a handsaw.

Planing cradle shown in lower right hand corner (the thing with the v-notch)
All I did was cut a 90-degree "V" out of a strip of wood, which holds the board at an angle. This took about 2 minutes to lay out and cut. It maintains the angle securely and nothing more. I drilled a hole in it and hung it on a peg near the bench for re-use.

I still needed more conventional workholding to maintain the board's position. This could be dogs, a planing stop, battens, etc, but in this case I used a handscrew clamp and another board to shim it up, because I was working on the bottom face of my bench-in-progress, and I don't have much workholding.

Why do any of this?

To turn these:

Three square-stock leg-blanks. Also shown: the rest of the adjustable stool in the background, and my note reminding myself of what the shoulder lines are so I could resume later. 

...into these:

Three tapered legs, made only by layout and planing. Oh, and a carcass saw if you count the fact that the tenon shoulders have been cut already.
Making tapered legs is the kind of work that a jack plane makes easy. I would not want to try to get this to work on a tablesaw or bandsaw.

That's all for now. If you missed the summary of this stool, check it out here, or see all my completed projects.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A useful mallet-making tangent

I was chopping out a giant sliding dovetail for my workbench endcap, when my chisel mallet broke again. I really didn't feel like trying to get the pieces glued together for the third time, so I started making a couple malletts to replace it. Two is a good number of mallets to have, because if one breaks, you can still bash mortise chisels to make another one. Since I was starting from 1/2 a mallet, one of mine was made with a wedged dowel in an auger hole for a handle.

busted commercially-made mallet, surrounded by 2 new mallets.

I had a short length of 2" x 2" maple available, so that's what I used for the heads. My widest mortise chisel is 1/2", so I made the handle out of 1/2" thick maple. I traced and carved a shape for the handle, and traced the orientation of the wedge-shaped top on the maple block, in the orientation most comfortable. Rounding the handle made it quite comfortable, even as narrow as it is.

Gluing leather onto the slightly domed face. Hide glue seems to fit rhe bill.
I domed the face a little with a block plane, and glued two thicknesses of leather on it. And rounded the back so it won't look like a hitting face.

Completed mallet.

Double thick leather was needed for the right kind of thud.

Here is the other mallet I made. The handle was originally about a 20" length of 3/4" poplar dowel (because that's what I had), but it had an unpleasant vibration until I cut it down quite a lot. It works well as a short mallet.
While I was sidetracked anyway, I made this planing stop. It was useful for making mallet handles.

This weird looking design actually has familiar ergonomics. Instead on cutting the face at an angle, the handle curves down at an angle. Either way knuckles stay just above the bench in use.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

durable plane iron marking method is handy for bevel-up planes

I have a small collection of plane irons that swap between three bevel up planes, as needed. I really like this approach because it makes it easy to get the right cutting angle in any situation. But this also means keeping track of which iron gets sharpened at which angle. I was using a so-called permanent marker in this capacity for a while, but they aren't what I would call permanent on a shiny steel surface that comes in contact with oil and water regularly.

Marked plane blade with wooden stylus. The large number has just been done with bluing fluid. The small, half-faded number is from a "permanent" marker.

So, I landed on the idea of using bluing fluid. The procedure is pretty simple, but there are a couple of easy ways to screw it up that I have learned how to avoid. Here's the procedure:
Marking my box full of blades takes only a few minutes.
  1. Get some liquid bluing fluid.
  2. Clean the plane blade thoroughly in the area you want to mark. You can polish up with an abrasive if you want to be sure it's clean.
  3. Make a stylus by sharpening a stick of wood. Cut off the very tip so it has a little width, matching the line you want to make.
  4. Write with the stylus. You'll need to dip it in the bluing fluid often. Avoid the temptation to soak the whole stick. I understand it's nasty stuff and not something i would choose to get on my skin, plus you don't want o make a puddle where you are trying to write. The fluid goes on clear, and turns the surface nearly black in about 3 seconds. Be patient and careful, because this won't erase without an abrasive.
  5. Clean the fluid by dousing in water. You don't want to wipe off the bluing fluid with a rag, because you'll most likely end up with a smudge instead of numerals. I like to take it over my sink, start the water on high, and then put the blade under the tap in one fluid motion. That way the fluid is long gone before it has a chance to discolor the surrounding area.
  6. Prevent rust by thoroughly drying the blade and applying oil or another rust preventative as you normally would.

My box of blades would be excessive for one plane, but it serves these 3 nicely. I often pop a high-angle blade in the jointer to avoid tearout and save the smoother some work. The jack plane is my primary shooting plane, so it often holds something with a low angle.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Workbench update for January 2017

As I've mentioned before, I spent a lot of 2016 neglecting my workshop. I did the shop stool and the cutting board, along with a few other small things, to get my motivation snowballing again. Now I'm starting to dig in (literally) to the workbench again. The top is still upside-down, generally presenting an inviting surface on which to put clutter, and not being very useful as a worksurface without any workholding.

Here's a look at most of the setup for routing these dead-man grooves. Annoyingly, the aluminum guide was slightly curved until I forced it into alignment with a clamped-on batten (not shown).

But while it's in this position, I want to do as much as I can, to save flipping it over multiple times. This means cutting one side of sliding dovetails for the endcaps, without being able to fit the endcaps on. It means cutting sliding deadman slots (plural, because I put one on the back too, in case I want to use the back), but not having anything to slide in them. Soon it will mean partially installing an end vise and partially completing leg joinery. I think the lack of immediate reward is part of the reason I've been procrastinating. But I got going again, and this time I don't plan on slowing down until it's got all the necessary features and finish on it.

This 3/4" spiral upcut bit is just the ticket, as long as you wear a mask and don't leave any containers open.

I think another reason I have been procrastinating a little is that the scale of this project makes certain power tools almost indispensable, but I really don't enjoy all the dust. But the router really did make the sliding dead-man grooves practical (since I forgot to cut them pre-lamination).

I actually convinced my circular saw to do a stopped plunge cut so it wouldn't have the final say on the ends. It was almost accurate, though.

Cutting the ends square was greatly aided by my circular saw, although I did cut the ends (where it will show) with a sash saw for better accuracy. I did manage to get the circ saw reasonably perpendicular, though.
All my workbench reference materials, in one place.

Despite all the procrastination, and delays, I seem to have regained my momentum. There were two things I did that seemed to help a lot. One thing was to get my notes organized. Each task gets a full page containing drawings, and any notes or concerns. This has helped me avoid wondering what I'm missing. A couple of workbench books act as appendices, because my notes contain page numbers.

This 3" thick slab of maple was acting as a dedicated sharpening area, even while I was temporarily without a workbench. How did I not think of drilling dog-holes in it sooner?

Another thing that helped me want to be in the shop was some temporary workholding. I turned my dedicated sharpening station into a temporary bench by clearing it off and drilling a row of dog holes. This plus appliances I already have makes it easy to do whatever work comes up, whether for the workbench, or a small side project to keep me motivated. This is the thing that really made me feel like spending a lot of time in the shop again.

That's what's going on in my shop. I hope something's going on in yours, too.

...and for no reason at all, here is a picture of my dog during the 1.5 seconds in which he tolerated my sunglasses.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Corner cutting board

This is a cutting board I made for a specific corner of my kitchen island. Without it this space was pretty much wasted, but now it is a perfect spot for food prep. As is typical for me, I'm not going to go step by step through the build, but just acquaint you with the design. The wood is some cherry (6/4 I think) offcuts that I had gotten a good deal on.

Even though this is little more than a rectangle of wood, it is a perfect example of why I make stuff. It has several subtle features that are specific to the need. The footprint matches the space, the thickness is chosen to be enough so that a knife is unlikely to contact the stove knobs. There is a small groove to catch debris or liquid and keep it away from the stove.

The real impetus for this was the cleats though. A couple of strips of wood screwed into the bottom hold the cutting board in its spot while in use.

And then there's this odd little tab on the far corner. It's a foot. because of the cleats, this needs it to stay level if it gets set somewhere else. It's a short piece of the cleat material. My first idea was to do a hidden version, but then I imagined a scenario where we're using the cutting board to serve an appetizer. I can just picture someone fishing around for the tab while lowering it onto the coffee table and spilling a pile of cheese into the eagerly waiting canine mouths that tend to anticipate these things at my house. So, I opted for the visible version.

The simplest way I found to get the foot to sit right was to inset the hinge. I did it with a small router plane and my marking knife. It would have been slightly easier with the help of a small curved gouge, but I was finishing up the details in the kitchen, and I didn't feel like walking back downstairs to get it.

 The groove is really meant to keep gunk off the stove. To keep stuff off the floor, I tapered it down to the right. I hand-held a shoulder plane at a little bit of an angle and used it with a 1/2" set up block and my fingers as a fence. The fence wasn't necessary after the first stroke. I started all my strokes at the same spot near the left (far) end to get the taper. After that I finished it off with a few strokes from a small plane I have with a fingernail-like profile.

Well, I hope I inspired you to fill a need somewhere. That's all for now.

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 simpler way to get close to my work was having a good 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 fortunately 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!