Monday, January 26, 2009

Shave horse in progress, and other things.

So, there are various things I'm working on. Too many of them are shop projects, and not paying projects, but that's a topic for another day.

One of those shop projects is a shave horse. For those of you who've never really heard of one of those before, it's basically a large, foot operated clamp, with a place to sit. The clamp holds the work pointed more or less at the operator, so that he or she may use a spokeshave or drawknife to shape it. There are varitions on the theme, and a couple of different ways of making them, but the one I'm working on was developed by Brian Boggs, a chairmaker who works (worked?) out of Berea, Kentucky. I took a class with Brian a year and a half ago, and I'm still in awe. He's one of those smart people who has done a lot of work to understand the things that he does. And watching him with a tool in his hand is really something to see. It's not every day that you get to see someone at work who is so familar with his craft as Brian is. He shapes wood with more fluency than some people have at tying their shoes. But I digress... Again, a topic for another day.

So far, I've built the base to the shave horse. It looks vaguely like an amputee sawhorse. I haven't put the seat together yet, which is one of the next steps, so I can fit the rest of the pieces involved. And, just for a goof, I hung a pair of hex nuts between the back legs. Dumb guy humor, but it works for me.

Yes, the back end sits up higher than the front end. yes, it's sort-of on purpose. One of the features of Brian's shave-horses is a seat the tilts forward, to re-align the spine, to make work less tiring. That's one of hte problems with sitting at or on a bench or stool, or anything flat. To sit up straight, you either have to shove your back end way out behind you, or curve the lumbar section of your spine forward, out of the normal recurve position. On most shavehorses, which are flat, you have to lean forward to work. I've tried this, and it's tiring... and the lower back does complain. I tried Brian's solution, and clamped on a simple board, shimmed up in the back. It makes a huge difference. The ideas behind my decision to have the back end higher up are the following:

1) Folks who have to have the seat farther back will have longer legs than I do, and they'll probably appreciate a little more elevation

2) It angles the seat a little bit already, so shaping a seat that's angled will be easier.

3) The back legs started out a little long anyway. I sat down, and liked the angle, so I left it, but it also saved me from having to cut hte legs down again.

Once the horse is finished up, I have a few other things I need to make to put together a chair building outfit, like a steam box, and a kiln for drying parts, and some bending forms, and so on. But one thing at a time.

In other news, I spent the past day and a half of shop time re-arranging my work space, to get the basics all within arms reach. The basic idea is taken from numerous sources of shop management, including the infamous Toyota Production System, and the concept is pretty simple. Wasted movement is wasted time and effort. Minimize walking around. Keep important tools close at hand. This is something I read about, but was already on the way to figuring out for myself... I called the problem a case of "the bumblebees." Essentially, I spent a lot of time in my first shop buzzing around for one tool or another, which was either stored in the wrong place (across the shop) or had been left in the wrong place when I'd used it last. The second part I'm working on by using a pouch to carry things like tape measure, 6" combination square, pencil, marking knife... to have these things with me when I'm in the machine room and need to measure something. It's helping, some. Other times, I take the pouch out, and leave it somewhere, and then I'm right back at square one. Ugh.

So, refinements to the space continue, but I think it's finaly starting to get somewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cold, Cold, Cold.

So, the three of us have concluded that next year, it would be nice to have a heated shop. Among other reasons... yellow glue, according to the bottle, works best at temperatures above 55 degrees.

I remember reading that label once, and dismissing it, thinking to myself, who the hell would be doing fine woodworking at less than 55 degrees?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Band Saw Heaven

I was talking with someone on the message boards today about bandsaws... So, this is a shot of the kids.

On the right in the foreground, in battleship grey, is our Yates 36" bandsaw. At 9.5 feet tall, it's enormous. It sounds like a turbine spinning up when we turn it on. And it's just awesome.

to the left of that is my 18" Laguna bandsaw. It's a lot shorter, and it's actually not too much bigger than a "regular" bandsaw, but it doesn't sit on a stand or anything like that. As a result, the table actually sits a lot lower than normal, which is great for breaking down rough lumber... and feels a lot safer than dealing with a table saw for the same operation.

Way in the background to the left, is my little 14" powermatic, with a riser block, and a pin guide for doing pattern cutting... which is a new technique to me, and there was a small learning curve, but I'm liking it so far.

In essence, the topic of discussion was how to obtain thinner boards, since they're not usually commercially available... or if they are, they're basically the result of 1 inch boards being run through the planer to get thinner boards for sale. With a bigger bandsaw, or a really tweaked smaller one, it's possible to take 2 or 3 inch beams and saw them down into 1/2" or smaller thickness boards for use as drawer sides and the like.

Truth is, the more I learn about how to use a bandsaw, the more I really like them. I've heard of a few professional furniture makers who started out with just band saws, and no tablesaws... and one in particular (Brian Boggs) stands out as being very accomplished in so many regards as a chair maker. He's very competent, accomplished, well published... and he's the epitome of the self made man, having started with a bag full of hand tools, and working his way into having a huge shop... which doesn't have a tablesaw. But, it does have a huge bandsaw.

I learned a lot with the Laguna about resawing, and general bandsaw work. But I still lusted after something bigger. Now that we have the Yates in teh shop, I've been circling it, not quite sure I'm worthy... but I'm really excited to see what she can do.

All my best to the folks from Woodcentral, if and when they come. I've been quiet over htere lately, I've been wanting to show off what I've been up to. Hope some of you approve...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Final details

So, the bench was pretty much built, but I had a few other details to attend to before it's really complete.

First and foremost, I was having issues getting the end vise to line up squarely with the end. I found two problems:

One, the casting on the rear jaw was uneven, so it wouldn't sit squarely. It took some wrangling to shim this out, and I still should have done a better job of it. I'll revisit that when I have time.

And Two: the end of the bench wasn't actually square. I was surprised by this at first, but in the end, not so much. My finicky nature says the block should have been cut squarely. But really, it was mostly square, within a reasonable tolerance for most activities. And like so many other things in this world, if you're really going to be THAT picky, you're either going to have to pay more to get it that way, or you're going to have to do the modification yourself. No big deal, in the end. So, I squared it up with the use of a fancy saw and a router.

Last real modification on the bench for now, I needed a bigger chop for the end vise, and then to drill dog holes everywhere, to enable me to handle clamping and working with large panels. BUT, I wanted a lot of them, and I wanted them to be evenly spaced. So, I had to make a fancy jig to help drill them squarely, and regularly. The whole thing rested on the use of a very long drill bit, which would be going through roughly 6 inches of wood at the deepest, so I used a lot of paraffin to lube the bit when it got hot. As a result, the inside of the holes for my drilling jig (shown to the right) feel like a candle... there's a lot of wax in there.

In other news, my efforts to organize are beginning to bear fruit. I was sitting at the bench the other day, going over various lists I'd compiled, and for once, the way I'd compiled them enabled me to bring them all together in a meaningful way, and it sent me off, working happily and efficiently for most of the day. The only problem is that the list had an end... so now I'm making new lists. One for every project, and each potential project starts out the same way... with a page with the title of the project in sharpie marker across the top, and then tucked into a folder, to be fleshed out later... at home, or on the train.

In the immediate future, I have a couple of projects. One, is a set of shelves for my Dad. I have to go to his place soon to measure the space, and find out what he wants. Two, I have a trestle table to build on spec for a store that said they might buy them. Three, I'm working on building a shave horse, which is a work holding fixture that's very useful for chair parts. I've been wanting to build one for a while now. So, it's time to do so. Once the immediate, paying jobs are out of the way, I'll be moving on to making chairs, since my sister indicated that she's in the market for chairs... or would be, if I'd build some.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Bench!

So, this is the new bench. I bought the top slab back when I was still working my retail job, and I bought the vise kit at a previous retail job, on sale for half off of the employee discount price. I basically got it for a song... and I've been carrying it around for years. The frame for the bench is just plain home center 4x4 fir lumber, because it was cheap. The new bench is basically a hybrid of my old bench, and the Holtzappfel design that Chris Schwartz wrote about in Popular woodworking.

My first bench was built in the basement of my old apartment, on top of a pair of 2x12s that were resting on sawhorses. It was modeled after Ian Kirby's arts and crafts style bench, and has worked out pretty well for me. The previous version has held up pretty well considering that I built it before I really knew very much. The wedged mortise and tenon joints look like the dog-ugly work of an amateur, which they are: I was a new woodworker when I built it. But the ugly joinery is also very stoutly made, so whatever it lacks in cleanliness, it more than makes up for in strength. 4 years and two moves later, it's still very strong, and very flat.

The construction details of the new bench are similar to the old bench, with a few differences, and with a lot more attention paid to fit and finish details. The joinery is much more cleanly and solidly done, though I did use wood filler to fill in a few cracks and things. I varnished the base, which I hadn't done on the old bench, except for one spot as a test area. One small detail I wanted to point out somewhere... the stretchers on the old bench got raised up to clear ductwork when the bench was being used as an outfeed table, they used to be lower. The stretchers on the new bench are deliberately close to the floor... so I can use the pallet jack to move it around if I choose. : )

The other influence on the new bench is a bunch of recent work by Chris Schwartz, and other recent magazine articles on bench building. The front is built to be a continuous plane, including the front faces of the legs, the stretcher, the rear jaw of the face vise, and the front edge of the bench top. I still need to plane the front of the stretcher to really get it 100% in plane, but I think for now, it's good enough. The general idea is that large work can be easily secured to a planar surface to facilitate edge work. It was a little challenging, in that I had to figure out how to work in the rear jaw of the vise. I had to notch the jaw to fit around the leg, and notch the top to fit around the jaw. But I think the end result is worth it.

The old version of the bench was built so that the edge of the top hung out in front of the legs, and while it was workable, it wasn't ideal. I used it mainly for small joinery and such, but larger projects were challenging, and rarely done well on that bench. The old bench has a small skirt on the front edge that is good to clamp to, which this one doesn't have, and I may change that at some point. The front of the leg is a clamping surface, and the wide twin screw vise will probably eliminate the need for a clamping skirt anyway, so I think it'll be a functional bench as is. And if I add that skirt, I may also add a length of T-track for holding things to the bench. But again, probably not necessary as it is.

Lastly, I put a quick release vise as an end vise. I got comments from my shop mates about how the twin screw vise is supposed to be a tail vise. So, basically, it sounds like I put the vises on completely backwards. Again, chalk it up to Chris Schwartz. He made a very valid point that quick release vises make great tail vises, because there's more of a need to move the vise in and out by more than a few handle turns, and a QR vise makes this a lot easier. And honestly, I like the idea of the twin screw vise for dovetailing more than I like a QR vise, which I'd end up racking anyway, with half the board hanging out of one side, needing to be clamped to a skirt, or clamped across the top of the bench. So I think this configuration will work best. We'll see though.

At present, I have my tool chest from school installed in the bench, to keep my tools close, and to weight the bench down so it doesn't slide too easily. I may end up moving it out and building a new set of drawers that are more solidly made. I'm worried that the nice chest will get beaten up, for one. For two, my bench back at school back had drawers that I could pull out to support work while I was trying to get it clamped up. So a future chest would probably have drawer sides made of Ash or Oak or something durable, so that they could support boards without being beaten up too badly.

Last but not least, there are a few other details I want to attend to. I need to drill dog holes in the top to work with the vises, and to work with other aftermarket accessories. I also want to add in a pop-up stop to plane wood against, which I had on the previous bench. I think I want to make it out of a really cool exotic wood, I just haven't figured out which wood to use yet. I think I'll add in other small details, like vise handles, out of whatever wood I end up using. But that's optional detail work for later.