Workbench Wednesday – It Only Took Seven Years…

… for my FORP Roubo bench to find its rightful home underneath the bank of northeast-facing windows.

As I’ve mentioned previously the spatial arrangement in my studio has been undergoing reorganization, or as James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton calls it, “rearrangeritis.”  In one sense I am living with the curse of too much space, thus I need not be particularly efficient with my shop layout nor unduly burdened by the necessity of tidiness.  I am trying to improve on both counts.

After completing the construction and assembly of my 2013 FORP workbench last year I planted it on the north wall of the shop, thinking that would be a good place.

I was wrong.  I back-filled the space around it with my favorite little two-sided workbench and some other stuff and before long the whole space was a chaotic mess.

Plus, that new space was so crowded it precluded me even installing the superb wooden screw leg vise that was part of the original design.   In the original configuration the four inch round block plus the three inch moveable jaw would have made the whole thing stick out too far to even walk past easily.  There simply was no room to  use it even if it were installed so it remained on the sideline.

After much cogitation I decided to move it underneath the large bank of windows facing east.  This was not done lightly — rasslin’ an 8-1/2-foot, almost 500 pound workbench by myself is not something to undertake on a whim.  I set aside a day to move the bench and the other nine things that had to be moved first in order to accommodate the move around the corner, but it was absolutely worth it.

This should not have been a huge surprise to me as it was the location for my first Roubo workbench built from timbers left over from the barn re-erection.  Truly, this was THE right location for the bench and I was an idiot for not recognizing this from the git-go.

I now have a sublime arrangement of my beloved first workbench sitting in the middle of the floor at that end of the shop with the Roubo a simple body-rotation away.  The arrangement continues to make every day in the shop an unfettered joy.

In addition to the move itself I finally finished the installation of the Roubo’s leg vise after first reducing the thickness of the jaw from three to two inches and reducing the size of the bulbous block that was exactly at knee height and stuck way out into the work space.

To reduce the number of times I whacked it with said knee I tossed the vise screw in the lathe and cut down the outer terminus block by an inch in length, moving the wrought iron collar right up against the handle holes and shaping the end, yielding a result much more to my liking than the knee-cruncher originally made.  In fact completing this feature was one of the motivating reasons behind the move.

Using an outrigger stand temporarily until I get the sliding deadman built the bench works just like it is supposed to.

The integration of the massive Roubo into the workspace has other meaningful implications as well, almost like the ripples radiating from a stone being tossed into the pond.  Not the least of these effects is the rendering of the planing beam as redundant, clearing up that particular space in the not-too-distant future.   I may use part of that space as home to the full-service standing tool cabinet I have always wanted.  If so I will have to find a new home for the exquisite vintage mahogany I have stored underneath the beam.  Some of the other re-arrangeritis is more subtle as I will build a small, low Roubo bench for the space where the giant Roubo bench used to be.  This lower bench will allow me to work for long stretches while sitting.  As I get older I find the Eastern tradition of working while sitting down is all the more attractive; I actually do not mind working while standing, it’s the bending up-and-down that wears me out.

All things considered I am thinking that these changes will result in higher shop production-ableness while reducing the total footprint of the space.

Stay tuned.

One Of These Days… – Accessing My Hand Saws

About the same time I made the hanging wall “cabinet” for my Japanese tools I also made a similar cabinet for my hand saws.  It is fair to say that the second iteration of the concept was every bit as successful as the first.  I had this “cabinet” tucked into the corner above my Roubo bench.  Once again the cabinet door was so large (24″ x 36″) that almost everything (well, mostly the Gerstner full of layout tools) blocked it from opening fully, thus inhibiting the access to the inside contents of a dozen mostly vintage carpenter’s saws.  Plus, the combined inside depth was so shallow, ~4 inches, that I had to hang the saws flat inside, several to a peg.  That got real old, real fast.

The only part of the set-up that I liked was the holstered fittings for my back saws, which kept them visible and accessible.

So I pulled out all the saws from the interior and abandoned the “cabinet” on the wall.

Pulling out some scrap plywood I made two shelves to hold saws, one slotted for the top and one plain shelf for the handles at the bottom.  I attached these to the wall where my Japanese tool “cabinet” had resided previously.  The fit and location seem perfect.

I use the sides of the top shelf to hang surplus Japanese saws, and that arrangement also works very well.  I’m thinking that I will make a swinging panel on the front of the shelves to hang my back saws, but have not committed to that yet.  I have a bit more spatial arranging to do in the studio space before I get to that point.

Japanese Toolbox – The Wood

Finally I had a perfect use for some of the magnificent select 4/4 Southern Yellow Pine I obtained a couple years ago, and this tool box was it.  I grabbed  couple of the 10-inch wide boards and headed up the hill to get started.

My first step was to mill it down to 5/8″, there was no need reason to use it any thicker.  One of theo notable characteristics of a Japanese tool set  is how much lighter it is in the aggregate versus a European one of the same variety.  I mean, many, many pounds lighter.  So, even a fairly large box would be sufficiently robust at 5/8″ wall thickness, anything heavier would simply add unnecessary poundage.  I ran the boards through the planer, and in retrospect I would have instead re-sawn them rather than turn 3/8″ of prime SYP into shavings.  Next time…

I cut the boards to the rough lengths I wanted and ripped one of them to re-glue into the top and bottom panels after hand playing the edges.

Cleaned up with a Japanese plane they were ready for me to move forward.

One Of These Days… – A Japanese Toolbox As A Solution?

As I mentioned earlier I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the hanging wall cabinet for my Japanese tools was not a successful solution.  I figured a traditional Japanese tool box might be the better path and browsed youtube for examples of folks making them.  None of those examples seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  After referring back to the mother ship, a/k/a Toshio Odate’s monumental book Japanese Woodworking Tools, my copy of which is well worn, I was validated in his statement that the tool box is made to hold whatever tools were being housed.  Thus there are as many different sizes and proportions of toolboxes as there are craftsmen and their tools.  Duh.

With that level of freedom conferred I spent a couple days making the one that suits my needs perfectly, and will, I suspect, make the tools much more accessible and thus more integrated into my work routine.  Since Japanese tools seem much more kinesiologically sympathetic to my, uh, aging meat machine, it is likely that this method of work might become my dominant habit.  I’m all about cultural appropriation, baby, snowflakes be damned.

Were I to have a conversation with the 1970 Model of Don I would tell him, “You know, playing basketball on asphalt courts several hours a day is going to make your knees really ache some day.”  And believe me that day came a long time ago.

Stay tuned to follow along as I go down this path.

One Of These Days… – Access To My Japanese Tools

I’m pretty convinced of the efficacy of hanging tool cabinets versus a floor-level tool chest.  As I was setting up my studio on the barn I had a pile of large surplused drawers and made two of them into a tool cabinet for my Japanese tools.

A few weeks ago I finally had to admit, “Well, this isn’t working.”  Not only were the drawer/doors too big for easy access, the space in front of them was simply too convenient for me to pile stuff there, blocking the door completely and rendering the interior tools inaccessible.

Something needed to change, and it was a “one of these days” moments.

Stay tuned.

One Of These Days…

Like many (most?) of you I have a long list of things to do around the shop, usually memorialized by the phrase, “One of these days I’m going to (fill in the blank).”  Given my lengthy hiatus from getting into the workshop over the past few months I have been reveling in a week-plus in the shop.  On my return I was struck by the fact that the place looked like a tool bomb had gone off, the result of me swooping in for a minute or two to get something or other that I needed elsewhere on the homestead, and then failing to reestablish order in the aftermath of that particular moment.  I greatly admire my friends MikeM and MartinO and SharonQ for whom order and tidiness simply flows out of their pores, but that is not the way I am wired, unfortunately.

The impetus for the latest/current tidying of the shop is based on a number of things, the first being the general state of disorder as previously described.  Add to that my desire to get the leg vise for my FORP bench installed and ready to work.  Add to that the currently-in-gestation woodworking/musical instrument making club that will soon begin to convene on a weekly basis in my shop since I’m the one with the necessary space, workbenches, and heat.  So, I need to clear out a bunch of stuff that is just taking up space in order to accommodate three other fellows with their projects.  Then there is the always evolving strategy for tool storage.  And lumber storage.

And, and and…

My first step in this ongoing adventure was to consolidate some boxes of wood scraps and removing a shelving unit of just plain stuff in order to move in my drill press and water wheel grinder.  It’s funny how even by replacing one shelving unit with two machines the place seems more spacious already.  It gives me instant gratification to keep moving forward.

Stay tuned.

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

While reading the profile of my long time friend and fellow Lost Art Press author Joshua Klein I was reminded of his small (tiny?) workshop when I visited him for the first time many years ago.  This in turn caused me to continue my reflection on the blessings of my own work space where I have a generous space for virtually each of my undertakings, roughly 6500-7000 s.f available to me.  AS I wrote recently, there will come a time when life in the hinterlands will likely become too challenging for us as we eventually approach our dotage, and the cabin and barn will be in the rear view mirror.

Though I pray that day is still long over the horizon I remain cognizant of the need to one day be constrained in my shop footprint.  When we eventually build our geezer-friendly final home I expect my shop space will be limited to a 10×15 shed, perhaps with a four-foot wide lean-to storage shed on three sides.  As I ruminate on that distant eventuality I find myself looking to see what other folks are doing with tiny spaces for shops.

I stumbled across this shop tour recently.  To say it is the opposite end of the spectrum from my current locale would be a gross understatement, but I found it immensely engaging nonetheless.

Solving A Black Hole

While I appreciate the spatial efficiency and construction elegance of large tool chests, I know myself well enough to realize they are not suited for my temperament nor work habits.  As the renowned classical philosopher Harry Callahan remarked, “A man has to know his limitations.”

I prefer my tools to generally be in open storage at torso height whenever practicable (not always possible but still the goal), such as my habit of festooning the shop with machinists’ tool chests and hinged cabinets chest-high around the perimeter of the space, and my always handy rack of drawknives.

For the past few years I utilized a vintage tool chest for storing my molding and joinery planes next to my FORP Roubo bench.  Unfortunately for me the reality of my untidy habits comes to the fore and the chest is almost always under a crap-load of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it less so.  Thus I spent more time devising “work arounds” to avoid accessing those tools than using them.  I decided that the tool chest had to go.  Exactly where it would go has yet to be determined but had to go it did.

At the same time with some shop rearranging I had a surplus but crude shelving unit that fit the spot perfectly.  Coincidentally it held all of the planes that were formerly stored in the black hole of the big black tool chest.

Problem solved.

In the weeks since I made the switch I have used the now-easily-accessible planes more than in the years they were languishing in said Black Hole.

I Don’t Do Windows (often enough)


For some reason I recently had to wipe something off of one of the windows in the shop and was astounded at the resultant change.  So I picked up a wetted sponge and placed a drop of detergent on it and scrubbed the whole thing.  Wow!  I’m guessing you can discern which of the four windows this was.

I immediately asked myself, “Self, when did you clean the windows last?”  So I answered, “Self, I am pretty sure  they were cleaned when Craig and I built the frames and installed the glass back in 2008.”  Further self-interrogation did not reveal any window housekeeping during the intervening decade.

Another thing goes on my “Do/Make/Buy” list hanging in the shop.  One window down, 67 to go.

Workbench Wednesday – A Detour

Before I move forward to discuss the next workbench in my inventory let me be diverted to discuss the retro-fitting of a previous bench, my Smithsonian Roubo, such that its location, role and function in the studio are completely new and immensely more valued.  Over time the bench had come to occupy the end of the classroom space, primarily because it was the only bench I had that could fit there.  It was not really large enough to suffice as a student bench for workshops so instead I employed it primarily for metal-working type projects including saw making and sharpening, hardware mounting, parts fabrication, etc.  (sorry for the lousy picture; I had already removed the leg vise for another bench, replacing it here with a Record 53)

When I recently removed the generic end vise and mounted instead the ~125 lb.  Emmert Universal Vise in its place, one piece of a convoluted equation began to take shape.  I knew the vise needed a robust platform and this little-used bench performs the function perfectly.

A second element in this equation was expanding the work space on the side of the barn housing my shop; I reorganized it so that my own shop would extend an additional nine feet to include the full footprint of the 14′ x 36′ bay in the timber frame.  (Of course that meant that I needed more workbenches there.  Stay tuned on that one.)

A third component in the equation was a beloved niece-in-law had expressed an interest in learning woodworking (actually I have four beloved nieces-in-law, but this is one in particular).  The odds are pretty good the second of the petite Roubos I built originally for my Handworks booth would eventually end up in their apartment.  So, I removed it from the critical space it occupied adjacent to my third child before it became too disruptive to do so.  I moved that little bench down into the newly opened space, for the time being.

Since nature abhors a vacuum something needed to go into that space previously occupied by the petite Roubo.  Hmm, I really did like having a metalworking-ish bench in the middle of my herd of woodworking benches…  Palm, meet forehead.  Soon I had the old, almost extraneous Roubo bench relocated, revived and recommissioned, sitting where it will be used daily.  I removed the second vise and stocked the space underneath with a lot of my mechanicky tools.

I have additional plans for this bench which I will chronicle when they unfold.

Here is a gallery of the Emmert Universal Vise showing off its moves.