Vises

Workbench Wednesday – #7 (2011) Roubo Sawing Bench

In great part due to the rapidly forming manuscript for To Make As Perfectly As Possible – Roubo On Marquetry and the number of my essays describing the seemingly arcane practices of 18th Parisian workshops, in 2011 I built a slightly diminutive (2/3 scale) version of Roubo’s sawing bench as illustrated in Plate 278, Figures 10 and 11.  The dimensions for my version were determined by the space in my basement workshop; I now wish I had made it full sized.  Doing so would have doubled the mass of the bench, and in this instance mass is really the only important thing.  The construction was real meatball woodworking, I simply fit and fastened together 4×6 tulip poplar stock then drilled holes for the vise screws all the way through the top horizontally.  For the female threads I simply used the wooden vise nuts that came with the threaded screws.

This workbench has only one purpose and function, to hold a work piece firmly while it is being resawn.  What we found immediately in battle was that the bench vise did a fine job of holding the work piece in its jaws tightly.  Unfortunately the bench was simply too light to perform well in action as the whole thing danced around the shop with every saw stroke.  The only way we could get it to work was placing anti-skid pads underneath each leg and then loading it up with as much weight as was handy.  Currently this sawing bench is the storage home for several hundred pounds of fire bricks I keep handy.

Roubo alludes to this problem himself, extolling the virtues of massive weights being stored on or under the bench to hold it steady, or even more likely bolting the entire unit to floor.  In my old basement shop this made no sense on the concrete floor in a tiny space, it makes more sense now that I have wooden floors and lots of them.

Most recently I used the saw bench during my demo at Working Wood in the 18th Century at Colonial Williamsburg, employing an attendee as my stabilizing weight.  In preparation for that demo, and in response to my having cannibalized the unit to use the original vise screws on other benches, I made new screws and screw nuts with my Bealle threading unit.

I cannot say I have used this bench enough to become facile at resawing veneer, the best I can do is about eight leaves per inch.  Only time will tell if I ever get to the point where I can saw a dozen leaves to the inch like the old timers, but if I do this bench or one like it will be part of the equation.

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.

Toolapalooza 2018 – Calling Captain Ahab…

For many years I have been on the hunt for a most rare quarry, the Emmert Metalworker’s Vise.  As a life-long aficionado of Emmert K1 Patternmaker’s Vises, well, maybe not my whole life but certainly since I joined the Maddox Foundry pattern shop in 1978, I have found the K1 to be something close to a perfect woodworking vise.  By that time Emmert Company was long gone but Kindt-Collins, the foundryman’s supply house, was manufacturing them.  I was so taken by the vises in the pattern shop that I checked into buying the K-C version.  The price of almost $2k in 1980 scared me off but I was indeed hooked.

Fortunately in 1982 I was able to buy a pair of vintage K1s at a price a married college student could afford.  They sat unused for three years until I finished school, got a job, a house with a basement shop, and a workbench to put one on.  This has been my constant woodworking companion ever since.  (My second one waits forlornly for a bench of its own.)  As I have often said to my well-established woodworking friends, “If you have never used an Emmert K1 don’t start now because you will be black-and-blue from kicking yourself for waiting so long.”

I am ashamed to admit that I never learned of the Emmert “Tool Maker’s and Metal Worker’s Vises” a/k/a “The Metal Hand” until a decade or so ago.  If Emmert’s woodworking vise was this good, how fantastic must be their metal working vise?  I was now on the hunt for this great beast.

Occasionally they would come up at auctions or on-line, but the prices, like that of the Kindt-Collins K1, were enough to retard but not diminish my ardor.  It seemed as though every time the prices would eventually zoom into the stratosphere and I would have to drop out.  A few years ago at Donnelly’s I hung in on the bidding long past my point of reason and still the hammer price was twice as much as when I dropped out.

As a profound gesture of friendship and condolence in the aftermath of my dashed hopes, my friend Jersey Jon presented me with a consolation prize, an equally rare but far less expensive (I hope) product brochure for the vise.  It remains a treasure in the Archive of Don.

With high hopes I noticed one in this year’s MJD Summer Auction catalog and the chase was on.  I knew from the listings that this item would be on the block at lunch time on Saturday.  I located and examined the vise almost immediately on arriving on Thursday, and from that point on all the auction activity pointed to lot 26XX (at the moment I cannot recall the number).

When the moment was approaching our little band of tool mavens quieted down in anticipation of the lot number.  Once it began it was soon clear that only one other bidder was fervently interested.  As fate would have it he and I both had the same secret limit and fortunately I got there first!  The auctioneer sang out the next increment several times then said “Sold to number 78.”  With whoops and back slaps I was the winner, and unlike Captain Ahab I was going to live with my conquest.

Afterwards we loaded it into the CRV with some effort.  At home I wrestled it to the ground, not much of a contest as it weighs more than a hundred pounds.  The trick was avoiding smashing my toes or aggravating my back.  Once on the hand truck it was a piece o’ cake to wheel it into the shop, and with caution I hoisted it onto my bench to remove the grease and grime.

And there it sits to this moment, awaiting a plan to mount it, perhaps on a new bench.

In hindsight I wonder if landing this beast after such a long quest will diminish my enthusiasm for attending tool gatherings like the one where I obtained it.

Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

But like Jameel Abraham once quipped to me, “Why couldn’t we collect thimble boxes instead of cast iron anchors?”

The Cheapest, Easiest and Simplest Saw Sharpening Vise Ever?

While noodling around the shop getting the classroom and supplies ready for the upcoming (actually, just-completed) “Make A Petite Dovetail Saw” workshop I devised and built several of perhaps the easiest and simplest saw filing vise ever.  Like me you can make one in minutes using materials from the scrap box.

I started with some 1/2″ baltic birch cut into a pair of 6″ x 8″ panels.  These were connected together along one of the long edges with a piece of piano hinge, with about 1/8″ space between the panels when the hinges were screwed on.  Following this a pair of scrap strips approx. 1/8″ thick were glued to the inside edge at the tops (the hinge was on the bottom).  Once the glue was dry I trimmed the top edges with a block plane until they were clean.

The result was a wooden book facsimile that was narrower at the bottom than at the top.  This would be important later on.

With these top strips in place along the inside edge and the glue hard I planed a chamfer along the bottom of each of them to create bevels that touched at the top of the vise, thus bringing it into intimate contact with the saw plate being sharpened.  At this point the vise is finished.  Really.

In operation the vise is pretty much idiot proof.  Place the saw in the “book” so that the teeth are exposed by the amount you want.  I generally shoot for a tad more than the distance between the teeth, but you can use what ever is convenient and comfortable.

The vise with the saw inside are gently pinched together and placed in a bench vise, a Moxon in this case but any vise that fits is an option.  By adjusting the Moxon vise such that the thinner bottom of the saw vise slips into it easily yet the saw vise engages with the Moxon jaws a little more than halfway in, this seems to work perfectly.  Press down on the saw vise until it is snug in the Moxon and fully engaged with the saw plate.  A gentle tap on the top of the saw vise drives it deeper into the Moxon and causes the saw vise to pinch the saw plate so that it can be filed.

When you are finished with a filing run a 3/4 turn of the screws loosens the Moxon enough to allow the saw vise to be easily lifted out of the Moxon.

 

Traditional Woodworking Workshop – Day 2

 

On the syllabus for Day 2 was to finish up the workbenches quickly and get started on the initial pair of pratica, namely the winding sticks and the planing stop.  But in the lull of battle preceding the gathering of the students I reveled in just walking around, admiring their productivity yesterday.

The benches soon received their finishing touches of holdfast holes and threaded aprons to accept the screws for the vises.  I learned after the fact that a good drilling jig would have been very helpful for these holes.  A few of them were slightly off kilter, and a good jig would have saved a lot of headache in the end.  I’ve already got the design in mind and will fabricate it as soon as I get home.

Soon the holes were drilled and threaded and the screws lubricated and tested in them.

The double-thick jaws were laid out and drilled with a drill press that was brought over from the shop and the vises installed.

After this the Moxon vises were a cakewalk.

The benches were  then given their first real workouts with the resawing, ripping, and crosscutting of the pieces for the winding sticks and planing stop.  All variety of saws were employed, with my giant c.1800 two-man frame saw the the new Bad Axe version receiving great acclaim.

One of my treats for the day was giving Cam a lesson on saw sharpening.  He’d finished up his work in the metal shop for the day and dropped in to see what we were up to.  Being a skilled metal worker Cam took to it like a fish to water and the results were gratifying.

This is one of my favorite images for the week, with husband and wife working alongside each other in their own tasks.  A profound model for us all.

Different Ways To The Same Place

 

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In preparing and packing the truck load of material traveling with me for the upcoming HO Studley exhibit, I was once again struck by the similarities and idiosyncrasies of the eight piano makers vices that will be on display there. What prompted my devolution into this indulgence of my vise vice was the adjacent proximity of Dan’s vise and Tim’s vise sitting on a wooden slab.

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At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking these were two identical units, notwithstanding the dimensional differences. When they are turned over you begin to see some differences, but they still look like they are from the same lineage.

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If you work up the strength to turn them around to look at more of the business end (Tim’s vise is about 60 pounds, Dan’s is almost 90), it is clearly apparent that there are some profound differences in the morphology of the frame-and-platen configurations.

On Tim’s vise, the ways are square-bottom channels with matching shapes on the platen. There is no adjusting these. Studley’s vises are of this configuration.

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Dan’s ways are considerably different, again while providing the same tool functionality. In his case the ways are machined dovetails with on spaced to allow for the insertion of a pressure bar, which through the adjustment of square head gib screws determine the “tightness” of the unit.

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And when you toss Mike’s vise into the mix, head scratching is the result, as the movable carriage is outside the frame that is fixed to the underside of the workbench. Where did that design come from?

Only one of the multitude of mysteries about these magnificent tools. I look forward to showing them to you at the end of next week.

Coming Together — Studley’s Workbench Replica

Integral to the in-production book Virtuoso and the upcoming exhibit on the same topic, I am striving to make it more than just a tool peepshow.  You are gonna learn something even if you do not want to!

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Part of that learning experience will be the exposure to the remarkable Studley workbench and vises (above), including a display of similar contemporaneous vises that have been loaned for the exhibit.

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To carry the weight of these six vises (somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pounds)  I built a fairly faithful replica workbench top, sitting on a base made for the exhibit but which will be swapped out for a cabinet base at some point.

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About the only semi-tricky part of the bench build was dropping the end vise dog slot with my 3-1/2 hp plunge router, the only power tool that makes me nervous.

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With multiple measurements and confirmations, I cut the channel from above and below, and the vise and its dog yoke dropped into place cleanly.

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Now I can put the router beast away until I need it again in several more years.

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To increase the didactic function I left the front edge of the replica bench unfinished so you can see the core construction.  As soon as the unit is back home the already-constructed front edge will be installed.  Another thing to occur after the exhibit will be to dispense with the glossy finish applied for the display (four coats of Tru-Oil, then buffed) through the vigorous use of a toothing plane to leave the surface I prefer.

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I don’t have any pictures of the finished bench with all the vises on it.  I mounted them when it was upside down, but could not budge it to flip it right side up until I had removed all the vises.  So, you will just have to wait on that visual for the exhibit itself.

Coming Together (the Studley Benchtop Replica)

Now that Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley is actually in production, one weighty anvil has been lifted from my neck.  However, another anvil still sits there for another six weeks, that being the exhibit of the Studley collection.  From now until then I am all-Studley-exhibit-all-the-time as I continue work on the exhibit components and attend to the multitude of details that have to all fall in place perfectly.

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The replica workbench top continues apace.  I got the top smooth enough (more about that in a day or two) to seal it with my preferred benchtop finish of 1/2 tung oil with 1/2 mineral spirits, and about 2% japan drier.

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I like this finish as it soaks into the wood deeply and provides a nice robust seal to the wood.

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For the exhibit the top will be pretty smooth, but once it gets back home I will achieve my preferred top surface by cross-hatching it with a toothing plane, a technique I learned from my long-time friend and colleague, and Roubo project collaborator, Philippe Lafargue.  But for now it is nice and smooth.

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I fabricated the exhibit base for the top from three 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood boxes, fitted them to fastening battens, and temporarily assembled it in order to layout all six of the vises going on it for the exhibit.

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One of the beauties of this exhibit is that it may be the only time in their lives that patrons to a museum-quality exhibit will get the chance to touch and manipulate historic artifacts, namely the six vintage vises hanging from the new bench top.

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If you would like to experience the bench top in person, and oh by the way see the entire Studley Collection, there are still tickets available here.

 

Two Parts Roubo, One Part Moxon?

It was more than a week into Spring, and being this Spring the sun rose to reveal an inch of icy snow coating everything the morning we were to visit the incomparable Conner Prairie historic complex, one of the nation’s premier enterprises of historic reenacting and interpretation.   Once the slop was scraped from my truck we were on our way; one advantage was that the bitter cold kept the crowd small and we had the place nearly to ourselves.

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One of the highlights was the timber frame barn in the Conner homestead.  The main cross-beam is a gargantuan oak timber more than 12” x 24” x 40 feet long (the historic carpenters there figure the tree trunk was more than eight feet in girth) and the longitudinal mid-rafter beam was an 8×8 perhaps 70 feet long.

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I especially enjoyed our time in the carpenter’s shop, where my wife and I were the only visitors.  This allowed for a lengthy conversation with the proprietor about tools, wood, and their lathe.  He showed it to me and allowed me a turn.

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It is a magnificent shop-built machine with a 300-pound flywheel that can get away from you fast!  Since I am a head taller than “Mr. McLure” it was very awkward for me, but I could see one of these fitting into the fabric of The Barn.

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In the center of the one end was the impressive work bench, which had been built in the shop in years past.  A copy of no specific documented model, it is instead a combination from a historically accurate vocabulary. 

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It seems to be about two parts Roubo with one part of Moxon and a dash of Nicholson.  The six-inch-square oak legs are capped by a four-inch slab top, and the fixed deadman is stout as well.  There is no real woodworker in America who would not be delighted to have this beast in their workspace.  I know I would.

If you are going near the Indianapolis area, take a peek.

Next PopWood Article – The Butterfly

Last week I finished the photography for my next article in Popular Woodworking, about “The Butterfly” an innovative sawhorse-type accessory I invented for the workshop or even around the house.  I think it will be in the June issue, but don’t hold me to that.

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Thus far I have worked with Glen Huey at PW, but he is moving (organizationally) over to American Woodworker.  I will miss working with Glen, but the way I look at it his arrival over at AW simply provides me another outlet for woodworking verbiage.  I’ve already started pitching article ideas to him, including one about the Ultimate Portable Workbench I invented, and would like to build another one for the article.  We’ll see if he bites on it.  If not I will chronicle it here.