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