Two New Vises

Fancy New Tail Vise

While my bench has been useable for a while now, I’ve wanted to add a tail vise to help when milling up stock. When milling by hand, you have to be able to go across the board, perpendicular to the grain, diagonal to the grain, and along the grain with your planes. While I can get this done with a planing stop and battens, a tail vise and dogs make it really easy.

After I scabbed on a spacer block, I chiseled out the mortise for the inner vise plate, so it would sit flush(ish) with the end of the bench. Word to the wise, don’t do this with a 1/4″ mortise chisel; it takes a couple of hours.

Next, I attached the vise and made up a quick chop from some 12/4 poplar left over from the bench top.

Vise Chop and Dog Holes

All that was left was to drill the dog holes and make some dogs to go in them. I ordered some 3/4″ maple dowel and it showed up a bit oversize. Sadly, oversize means it doesn’t fit, so I had to break out the 80 grit and atomize a couple hundredths of an inch of maple. Fit with a bullet catch, a small leather face, and a coat of wax, the dog is ready to go.

Chips and Dogs

I had mentioned two new vises. The other is my edition of a Moxon with hardware from Benchcrafted. This build is really pretty simple, though you do get to practice a bit of fancy mortising for the nuts. Next time, I’d hold the nuts down with a holdfast while marking them. They shifted a bit under finger pressure and things got a bit sloppy. Still works though. Oh, and I’d gang up the two pieces when drilling the through holes. That way, any slight deviation from plumb and square carries through. Or I’d use a drill press. Still, a damn pretty bit of kit and it works beautifully.

Moxon Vise

Sharp Solves Everything

by zimpenfish

One of the first things you run into with both woodworking and cooking is figuring out how to keep your tools sharp. Chisels, saws, planes and knives all get dull after using them for a bit and need to be sharpened to perform well. Lots of people, myself included, start off pretty confused about sharpening, but if you’re willing to spend some time learning and practicing, sharpening tools is actually quite easy.

Now, I’m not about to launch into a diatribe on how to sharpen things. Many others have already done that, so I’m just pointing out what helped me get over the hump.

First, Christopher Schwarz’s video The Last Word on Sharpening is a great place to start for general sharpening. He explains the various sharpening tools you’ll need and how to use them to get back to work.

Second, if you’re using hand saws, Ron Herman’s video Sharpen Your Handsaws is the place to start. I use Ron’s technique to sharpen my handsaws and have had great results.

Last, neither of these guys talks about sharpening kitchen knives, but once you know how to sharpen a plane blade or a chisel, a knife is child’s play.

(and no, I’m not being compensated for either of these recommendations)

Divided and Conquered

An image of a drawer full of spices, separated by wooden dividers
Organization is sexy

Sometimes, it’s the little things that keep you going through the big things. I’ve got a couple big projects in the shop looming over me, the Stickley Lost Side Table and a new porch swing. Both of these projects are things that are going to take a fair bit of time, which can be a drag on your motivation.

Mandy has been reorganizing the kitchen and wanted a new place to store all our spices. They had hung out in a drawer in our pantry, but it was hard to see what we had and was always messy. We have a nice, wide shallow drawer under the range that would be perfect, but it’s just a wide open expanse of space. Spices would roll all over and it didn’t keep things neat and tidy.

I happened to have some 1/2″ poplar lying around and thought, hey, I’m a woodworker. I can make drawer dividers! Two hours of work later, most of that planing the stock and fiddling with divider placement, we had a nicely divided drawer.

I sized the area so that the individual spice jars cannot spin, for the most part. That way, when the drawer opens and closes, everything stays in place and doesn’t roll around. As bad as their spices are, the space jars from McCormick, with their octagonal sides, are really nice here. They just stick in place.

The piece is just 1/2″ poplar, planed down to about 3/8″. The short arms are fit into notches in the long arms, so I can easily adjust the width of each horizontal space, but not the height. This is fine in this case.

No finish on this, just nicely planed poplar. Fits right in.

Gravity is a bitch

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This is not the first thing you want to see when you walk into your shop, especially when said cabinet was full of your hand planes and sharpening stones. Definitely not the first thing.

After pushing my stomach down out of my throat, I surveyed the damage. Fancy new tote on my jack plane, toast.

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Yoke on my no. 8 jointer plane from the late 1800s, busted.

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Otherwise, my tools were mostly unscathed. The handle on my crappy spokeshave snapped off, and my 8000 grit sharpening stone has a nice crack, but it’s still useable. And that was really it. Couple dings in things, but nothing major. Thank god for the ductile iron in the modern planes, and a couple lucky bounces for the others.

I ordered a replacement y-adjuster for the 8; it arrived on Saturday. After a trip to the local hardware store to pick up some punches, it was pretty easy to replace, if nervy. Anytime you have to hammer on cast iron from 100 years ago, you get a little nervous. All went well though, and I have a working jointer again.

Now, back to making furniture. And tearing down all those crappy cabinets.

A Review of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest

The Anarchist's Tool Chest

No, I haven’t gone and decided to embrace some of the shadier parts of rural Michigan. I’m doing something even crazier. I’m building furniture.

If you’ve followed this site at all, you’ve seen the recent videos for Chris Schwarz’ new book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest. I received my copy yesterday and finished it up tonight; here are my impressions after the first read.

First off, the book itself is a beautiful object. It has a lovely solid cover with an embossed graphic, no silly paper dust jacket to get torn up and lost. The cover has a texture to it, so it won’t slip when placed on a stand or your lap. It’s a good size, and has the feel and look of an old book. The paper is heavy and crisp, the type is wonderfully set, with some nice little touches in the typography. There’s no colophon, so I’m not sure what fonts were used, but the type is easy on the eyes and well spaced.

The book is a story in three parts: why you should build things yourself, what tools you’ll need to do it, and finally, where to store those tools so they will outlast you. Unlike many of the books published under the Popular Woodworking label, which tend towards a collection of articles, this has a narrative and a coherence that makes it an enjoyable read, more like a novel.

The first part, why you should build for yourself, struck a chord. I strongly dislike most manufactured furniture, especially Ikea’s furniture. My father taught that it’s better to buy a quality thing once, rather than buy a cheap thing ten times, and I’ve ended up kicking myself every time I’ve forgotten this maxim.

To that end, as my wife and I have been furnishing our home, we keep moving up the retail ladder. First, I picked up a bedroom set from Ethan Allen. Looks nice, but after living with it for a while, the build quality is only OK. The Stickley living and dining room stuff we purchased later (after saving many pennies) is better, but even that has some quality niggles. And going back to the showroom now, I don’t see Stickley getting better. Boards in top glueups are getting narrower. Joints look sloppy.

In the second part of the book, what tools you’ll need to build quality furniture, Chris doesn’t pull any punches. His thesis is that you only need about fifty different tools to make just about any common piece of household furniture. Yes, only fifty tools, and none of the fifty are power tools. He advises that you should buy the best you can afford, trying to buy such that you’ll never have to buy again.

As the (soon to be former) editor of one of the more popular woodworking magazines, I think it takes some testicular fortitude to say straight out that it would be better for most folks to limit their tool set and buy tools that you only have to buy once. He does include some power tools in the margins, things that will make life easier, but not the standard table saw. The shop as described is much more centered around the workbench, not the power equipment. The powered gear exists like a shop apprentice of old, dealing with the drudgery of milling rough lumber.

The third part, how to build a chest that will hold your tools so they’ll last a few lifetimes, is more like the workbench books; here’s what we’re going to build and here are the rules for how to design and construct it. The writing and pictures are clear and concise and have me seriously considering building a tool chest instead of the hanging tool cabinet for the Hand Tool School final (sorry Shannon). [ed note: definitely building a tool chest instead of a hanger after I proved gravity works]

Throughout the book, Chris punctuates his point with personal stories from the journey down the path. It’s a much more personal book than anything he’s written before and I enjoy that touch. The writing is top-notch.

Give the book a read.