Saturday, April 22, 2017

Handworks is Coming Soon

I have been slack in my frequency of posts as of late. The Handworks event is fast approaching and taking the time to shoot video and pictures just adds additional time to the process, time I can't afford if I want to have the planes I'd like to display at this prestigious event.

I'll be presenting a couple of things that are completely outside the box for me, but I will also have some very familiar tools as well.

Two of the tools I have in process at this time are actually for a customer in Norway. He is allowing me to show his tools at Handworks and after the event they will be off to Norway into his ownership.

I have taken time to shoot some pictures of the parts for these tools.

I like to make all the metal parts that are removable from the plane body first. When I get the plane body together those parts are ready to be installed and tuned. These parts, especially the lever caps, are very time consuming to make. It's nice to have that part of the process completed as I look forward to assembling the body.

Removable parts for a Brute shooting plane and a Winter Panel plane

Sole and internal parts for a Brute Shooting plane

Sole parts and bedding plate for a Winter Panel Plane

 When I process plane sides I lap the internal surfaces prior to drill the fixing locations. In the picture below the two plane sides are mated together for final shaping of the plane side profile. With the lapped surfaces mated together on a carrier of sorts the fit is so good that it actually looks like one very thick plane side.

When in fact it is actually the two pieces seen in the picture below.

I have to give a big thanks to my friend Jeff Matilisky. Jeff is a dentist in Gainesville, Fla. He is also a great machinist with a well outfitted shop. He has jumped in to help me create a lot of the parts needed to complete the tools for Handworks. Without his help there is no way I would have been able to finish the tools I wanted to bring to this event. This will also be his first trip to the Handworks event. He'll be one of the people tending my booth.

Hope to see you at Handworks. All indications are that it will be the largest crowd yet at this event.


Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, February 12, 2017

New Bench is Finished, Jameel Comes to Visit

For one reason or another Jameel Abraham has finished every workbench project I've started, and sometimes he ribs me about it. That's okay because that's what friends do. When he scheduled his recent visit I was determined that I would finish the Nicholson bench before he arrived. I wasn't worried about the friendly ribbing I would get if he once again finished another of my workbenches, instead I really wanted us to have the freedom to do something other than work while he was here.

We did other fishing. The first day we fished in one of the ponds on the property of Bo Childs I caught 6 fish, Jameel caught one. Before you think I wasn't a very good host let me explain. We coined a new fishing phrase that day, "quarter pounder". No, not a reference to a McDonalds hamburger. It was really a description of the size of the fish we were catching that day. It would have taken all 6 of the fish I caught that day to have added up to one decent southern large mouth bass. 

Neither of us felt like the day had been much of a success except for the fact that it was a beautiful February day. If people caught fish every time they made the attempt it wouldn't be called "fishing", it would be called "catching". Fishing is one of those things where you really have to enjoy to the doing of the thing whether you are successful at actually catching fish or not and you need to do it with people whose company you enjoy.

The next day was a different story. Jameel had landed a couple of small fish and just as we thought we had just enjoyed another warm February day outdoors things changed in a matter of seconds. See picture below for an explanation.

BAM! Just like that a large bass decided the plastic lizard Jameel was using for bait looked just right for it's evening meal. Jameel patiently landed the fish, held it up for a photo op and then gently released it back into the pond to be caught another day.

Oh Yeah, back to the Nicholson bench. So what was I trying to accomplish by building this bench? Many things really. I wanted a second bench. My eldest son is getting more interested in woodworking and when he has a chance to visit it would be very nice to have a second full functioning bench and when I do joint projects with my woodworking friends the second bench will be a very handy thing to have.

But there were underlying reasons. As a designer/maker sometimes you get an idea in your head and it will haunt you until you just build the thing. Sometimes it's the only way to satisfy the creative idea, and the only way to get it off your mind. 

But there was another reason. Most people make a Nicholson bench as their first bench, or something that will do until they have time to build their ultimate bench, usually a Roubo. These first Nicholson style benches are usually made from construction grade lumber, and typically don't include much in the way of vises. The work holding is usually crude and of a configuration that requires the user to expend a lot of physical and mental energy arranging work holding.

Building a bench is a large time consuming task and I wanted to prove that the Nicholson bench design could be made as a forever, one time bench. I also wanted to show that it could be an attractive bit of shop furniture and if one used substantial hardwoods and incorporated high quality vises the end result is a bench that is as functional as any version of a Roubo or other type bench, superseding the need to build a subsequent bench and allowing the woodworker to pursue his or her list of projects. Of course some people like building benches but it is grueling work considering the size of the timbers involved, so it's not something one would want to do on a repetitive basis. Unless you like building benches so much you chose it as a vocation.

I am so taken with the BenchCrafted Classic Leg Vise and Criss Cross, I've decided my Shaker bench will need to be refitted with this same vise and Criss Cross, lest I won't be using my Shaker bench as much as the bench with the Criss Cross mechanism. Jameel and I worked on this retrofit for my Shaker bench in between fishing jaunts.

In the pic below you can see the necessary length of the dogs and the block system I used to secure the edges of the bench at the center parts of the split top. The small blocks are drilled an tapped with 3/8-16 machine screw threads and are glued to the edge of the top boards. The small beams lagged to the stretchers have 5/8 diameter thru holes to allow the 3/8 diameter bolts plenty of room to move as the top boards expand and contract.

Long Dogs are a necessity for this bench unless your name is Clyde and you've starred in a Clint Eastwood movie.

In the picture below you can see the back angle section of the bench removed for finishing. One of the things about this design is the fact that one person can build this bench by themselves. Nothing thicker than 8/4 timbers were used, however once assembled this bench has a massive amount of accumulated weight. You can also see the blocks used for securing the middle edges of the top. 

Because wood is wood and it moves and changes I knew it was futile to align the end cap flush with the top boards and apron. Over time and use it would misalign itself so I inset the end caps 1/4 inch to alleviate this worry.

In Summary:

I had intended to add an 8/4 thick shelf across the low stretchers, however when all the elements of the this bench came together it was such a heavy assembly I decided against the shelf. The shelf was also to serve the purpose of giving me a substantial structure to which I would mount a dead man rail.

I have only seldom had the need for holding really wide panels in the leg vise of my Shaker bench. Given that the bench seems to possess plenty of mass I decided to forgo the extra chore of making the lower shelf, dead man rail, and dead man. Instead I made a small appliance that would serve the purpose of holding one end of a wide panel and would have a wide range of adjustment. You can see it in the first picture hanging from the front apron and below. I call it a "Hanging Deadman". It didn't take long to make and with the few instances in which it will be needed I thought the time required to make it was commensurate to the need.

The Split Top:

Besides making the bench easier to build the split top serves a couple other purposes. (1) It solves wood movement problems in the bench configuration. (2) The best advantage of the split in the middle of a bench top is it gives you a place to put the things that typically want to roll off your bench. Basically any tool with a round handle, like a screw driver or an awl. Place them over the split and they stay put.

The Hanging Dead Man

 So what happened to the old beater bench? As I explained in an earlier post,  everyone needs a beater bench to do things you would never want to do on your nicer woodworking benches. The old beater bench has made a great out feed table for my table saw. 

Now back to my project list,


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 
― Oscar Wilde

Friday, February 3, 2017

Nicholson Bench, Almost Finished

Lots of progress on the Nicholson bench this week. In the picture below you can see that a stretcher across the center of the bench has been added and end caps have been fitted and installed as well. When the top boards are added this essentially makes this a solid maple torsion box of sorts.

The center stretcher has been lagged in place, however the end caps have a tenon that slips into a mortise at the ends of the bench.  I did not want to depend on a couple lags screws to hold everything in place when the leg vise applies outward pressure on the end cap. In this configuration the pressure is applied to the tenon that in turn presses against the side of the mortise. Note that I made the mortise slightly deeper than the length of the tenon. When the lag screw pulls the aprons against the shoulder of the end cap it establishes the width of the bench assembly. I wanted it to fit tight against the shoulder of the end cap and not bottom out in the mortise.

The lags I obtained to use for this bench are squared headed lags with a black oxide finish. I think it plays well with the finish on the vise hardware. I sunk the heads into counterbores on the front of the bench but left them on the surface on the rear apron.

The video below shows some of the other work that's taken place since the last post. Smoothing, making bench dogs and fitting the leg vise.

When making my first bench Jameel Abraham advised me to make dogs for every dog hole. This may seem a bit extravagant but not having to move bench dogs around to different holes saves an enormous amount of time over the course of several years of bench work. If you watch the video and wonder why my bench dogs are so long there is a reason. The Nicholson bench has a wide apron. Unless you have arms like an Orangoutang the dogs need to be at least as long as the apron is wide, otherwise they will be quite difficult to pop up for use.

I also opted to make my dogs from 1" diameter rock maple dowel stock. This extra diameter makes it possible to cut taller faces on the dogs and I've been amazed on how rigid they feel compared to 3/4" diameter bench dogs.

The next post should be the conclusion of the bench build,


I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end. Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bench Legs and First Fit Up

The legs for this bench are obviously one of the unique design ideas. They are made from laminated pieces of maple and my intention all along was to apply some sort of painted and aged finish. But of course first the legs and stretchers would have to be glued up into assemblies.

These leg assemblies are the foundation for the bench and therefore they really need to be square.

While the leg assemblies were in the clamps on the bench they were at the optimal height to allow me to break all the sharp corners with a small plane.

The finishing process was laborious but the steps were actually quite simple.  I first applied a coat of Potting Bench Green solid exterior stain. This material looks a lot like milk paint. I lightly sanded all the surfaces after the first coat dried and applied another coat. The next day I rubbed the painted surfaces down with a maroon ScotchBrite pad. I then applied an oil pigments stain and wiped it lightly leaving enough color to give the paint an aged appearance. I then placed them in the garden house to let all the applied finish dry quite thoroughly and so the tacky finish wouldn't be exposed to the dust created while working on the other components of the bench. I let them be for nearly a week. I then brought them back into the shop and applied a thorough coat of finishing wax.

With the apron boards prepped, and with the leg vise details and holes drilled for assembly and work holding I was ready to do a first assembly fit up. 

Note, there are some wood movement issues in this design that have to be considered. There is a gap between the bottom of the apron boards and the bottom of the notch in the legs. The boards for the top of the bench will be glued to the edge of the apron boards so any expansion has to go downward. If this is the way you want it to move you've got to allow space. If the apron boards were against the bottom of the notch in the legs the apron board would lever upward when it expands and this would wreck havoc on the shape of the bench top.

Everything lined up as it should and so I turned my attention to processing the boards for the top of the bench. This meant hoisting more 8/4 maple timbers. I am once again reminded of why they call this "woodWORKING"


 "If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember,  this whole thing was started with a
dream and a mouse."
– Walt Disney

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Back to the Bench

After Christmas I decided to turn my attention to the workbench project. The legs and the 8/4 soft maple lumber I had acquired for this project have been in the way and taking up a lot of space in the shop. Best possible solution was to go ahead and turn them into a bench that would be a usable tool in lieu of dealing with the clutter on a daily basis.

If you would like to refer to the first blog post on this bench build here is a link.

It explains the scope of the project and the reason I chose the Nicholson design. But now back to the build.

First off I needed to shorten the legs. Legs that are 5" square present a problem. I guess if you had a 12" mitre/chop saw you could use that to cut them to length. I even considered loading them up and taking a trip to Wyatt Childs Inc. (site of the FORP events) and cutting them to length on Bo's large sliding saw. After closer inspection and giving some thought to the problem, I decided that the legs were all quite accurate in length the way I received them from Osborne wood products, so all I really needed to do was accurately remove the part I didn't need in order to make them 32" long. I set a fence on my bandsaw, installed a new blade and an operation I thought would be a challenge turned out to be quite simple and easy.

The next order of operations was to cut the mortises for the stretchers. There are a myriad of ways to do this but frankly this bench project was between me and some other projects I have in the cue so I needed to do this quick and accurately. Besides when you're 63 years old you don't have as large an energy reserve as you did when you were 40, so my milling machine was a quick and easy to way quickly setup and cut these mortises.

I won't bore you with pictures or video of cutting tenons. If you're reading this you've probably cut a few and in many different ways. I made the shoulder cuts on the table saw and cut the cheeks on the bandsaw. Once again, "easy peasy!" The fit was exception and this allowed me to move the project forward at a quick pace.

The next order of operations was to process the 8/4 boards for the apron boards. I needed to notch the legs to accept these boards and I needed to know the final thickness of these components before notching the legs to accept the apron boards.

7 foot long 8/4 maple boards are not easy to handle and present a challenge just hefting them thru jointer operations and the like. I found it much easier to take the tool to the board in lieu of the board to the tool. I did work one surface of these boards thru my 12" jointer after knocking the high spots down with a hand plane. Thick timbers always seem to have a certain amount of twist and if it's not removed in the early stages of process it will remain a problem thru out the build.

The video below is an overview of several of the operations needed to prepare the apron boards.

After the legs were cut to length and the apron boards were processed I could proceed with the work on the legs.

You can see in the picture above, the legs are mortised, the thru hole for the BenchCrafted Classic leg vise is drilled and the mortise for the BenchCrafted CrissCross is milled. I made both cuts for the notch to received the apron boards on the bandsaw.

Many will wonder why I purchased the legs already turned from Osborne Wood Products. Frankly the blanks to turn the legs would have cost as much as the already turned pieces. Like I said I have other projects in the cue and a bench project is already a large task. Ready turned legs sent the project forward at a much faster pace.


"When you're dead you won't even know you're dead. It's a pain only felt by others.

Same thing when you're stupid."      (unknown)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Last two planes of 2016

I completed the last two planes of 2016 in December. A Willie Davis style Winter Smoother with Olive wood. One of my favorite combination of materials.

The Olive wood in this plane is finished with a couple coats of shellac polish and then several coats of True Oil Finish. The Olive benefits color wise from the garnet shellac finish. It enhances the amber color of the wood. Olive being an oily wood needs to be sealed before the application of an oil finish, so the shellac serves a two fold purpose.

Hopefully the Tru Oil will help the durability of the finish. In a hand tool situation shellac has a reputation of not being very durable. Hopefully the addition of the oil will increase durability.

The final plane was a Winter Panel plane with a 440c stainless steel body and Macassar Ebony tote and knob.

In the past when I've combined Macassar Ebony with stainless or a steel bodied plane I've applied a patina'd finish to the brass. In this case the customer wanted the brass left to a satin sheen and finished with oil.

The finish on the wooden bits is True Oil. Macassar Ebony is not as oily as many exotics and therefore it takes the oil finish quite favorably and dries quite readily.

In preparation for the oil finish the surfaces are sanded to 400 grit and the first coats of oil are wet sanded into the material with the same 400 grit. The next coat is wet sanded with 600 grit. Subsequent coats are then steeled wooled between coats of finish. Once cured the surfaces are buffed to a nice satin sheen. The end results feels very nice in the hand.

This was the year in which we get all the kids and grandkids for Christmas celebrations. As soon as the last plane was completed I busied myself with preparations for their arrival. Fun and mayhem all at once. It was great?

January of 2017 has me turning my attention back to the bench project that I mentioned a couple post back.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The latest "JR" plane

I've found that collaborating with other artisans is a very interesting way to work. Engraver Catharine Kennedy and I have been working on a kit of planes for John Rexroad and just last week we completed another of these planes that are engraved on the interior and exterior.

So how does this happen? I make all the metal parts, mask off the areas where the pieces must mate. I then send them to Catharine in upstate New York. She engraves the interior surfaces while handling the parts with great care. At this point there is no going back, so to speak. In other words we committed to the parts at hand and when the engraving on the interior is completed we are so vested in these parts from the standpoint of time, any ding or unwarranted scratch spells disaster. The handling of the parts gets tedious at this point much less engraving and performing subsequent operations.

When the parts return to me they are as pictured above. Now the ball is in my court. I have to handle the parts with the greatest care during the unmasking and assembly process. I see to all the peining, lapping and grinding the radius of the heel and toe to the points where the sides and sole meet coming to a perfect tangent point of sole curve to the curve where the side of the plane meets the sole. If that sounds complicated and involved..........well, if it was easy more people would be doing it.

I then send the completed plane body back to Catharine for her to perform the exterior engraving task, after which she sends the plane back to me yet again so that I can add the wooden bits and actually tune to the plane to working order. Finally comes the point when we get to hand it over to the customer.

An exquisite way to embellish a brass monogram.

And on this side a fully rigged sailing ship complete with sea gulls in the back ground.

I guess a plane that contains this much visual stimulation could well do with some good quality, yet mundane wood. In for a penny, in for pound. Nothing less than one of my best olive wood sets would do.

Considering that this is second of this series of planes you might expect that this plane would have less impact than the first. I have to admit I sort of expected that myself. Not so.  This larger plane has a presence that took me off guard when all the elements were assembled. I am not easily impressed and this one put a lump in my throat.

This being an all brass plane makes it a bit heftier than the standard version of this plane. This affects the working characteristics of this plane quite a lot. You just start it down the board and it pretty much does the rest. You just have to make sure you catch it at the end of the planing stroke. (grin)

I don't mean to emphasize the difficulty of the work, but rather that is what makes this work so interesting to us.


Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. Raymond Chandler