Nicholson Prototype “Moxon” Vise Construction & Assembly

Part of my motivation for adding an above-bench a/k/a “Moxon” vise to this ensemble was the knowledge that this tool was going to wind up at my friend Bob’s shop after I return from Arkansas.  Among other things Bob is a gunsmith and needs to have a comfortable work station while he is standing.

In the prototype I had the bench on its back to drill the holes for the face vise, and just left it that way for working on the Moxon.  I drilled all the holes needed for the Moxon on the drill press; 1-1/2″ on the movable jaw through which the threaded dowel could traverse, and 1-3/8″ in the fixed jaw to accept the threading.

I glued and screwed the fixed jaw to a base which would then be the means of affixing the unit to the bench top.

I used a similar approach on the screw hub/handle set-up with three differences.  First, the threaded screw as only 12″ long rather than the 16″ for the face vise.  Second, I used only one partially drilled 2x octagon for the handle itself so the profile of the until was more compact, and third, I omitted a doweled handle in-part for the same reason.

The only meaningful thing I learned in making this unit vis-a-vie the upcoming workshop was that the threaded screw only needs to be 8″ long for this vise.  Anything longer and you really need to use the face vise.

I found this accessory so useful it was earning its keep within a day.

So here is the finished prototype ensemble.  I was not displeased.  On to screw production for the workshop.

Nicholson Prototype Face Vise Construction

The vises I had in mind for the Nicholson prototype were simple in concept and construction.  The face vise was simply two pieces of SYP 2x stock leftover from the bench construction.  I glued these together with my typical clamping of deck screws and fender washers, then drilled 1-1/2″ holes for the screw-stock to pass completely through.

The threaded holes in the apron were drilled at 1-3/8″, then tapped with the tool provided in the Beale kit.  I already had an oversized tap handle from a set of giant taps and dies I’ve had since forever.

It seemed so simple, two holes in the jaw, two holes in the apron.  Sigh.  I somehow managed to drill one of the threaded holes in the apron directly into the end of one of the battens underneath the top.  D’oh.  I had to cut the jaw to remove that hole, and drill another hole in the apron for the new screw location.  That’s why you build prototypes.  Given that we were going to be building perhaps as many as a dozen benches in the Arkansas workshop, it was good to get this mistake out the of the way now.  I’ll leave that hole in place as a reminder of my own hubris.  Not exactly a Saint Jerome “Memento Mori” moment, but a humbling touchstone nevertheless.

Back to the construction and assembly of the face vise.

My strategy was to assemble the screw unit as a whole, hub and handle hole included, before cutting the screws.  That worked out pretty well.  For the handle hubs I made four identical pieces of SYP 2x stock cut 4″x 4″.  I drilled the 1-1/2″ hole in the center of each of these four pieces, on two the holes went all the way through, on two they went 3/4 of the way through.

I set up the miter gauge on the table saw to make octagons out of the squares.

I glued the whole unit together with yellow glue.

The 1-1/16″ hole for the 1″ dowel handle was drilled on the drill press and then I could use a temporary handle to turn the unit as I cut the threads on the Beale unit.

The handles were outfitted with rubber chair tips on the ends and the vise was put in its place.

Nicholson Prototype Vise(s) Construction – The Screw Stock

With the workbench itself completed it was time to move on to the two twin-screw vises for the unit, one face vise and one “Moxon” vise for temporary use on top of the bench.

My first consideration was the stock for the screws themselves.  For all the screw making on this unit I used 1-1/2″ tulip poplar dowels from Lowes; it was clear, straight, cheap and readily available.  But, in a previous undertaking of refitting my Roubo saw-bench with new screws, I had observed ferocious tear-out when using the Beall Wood Threader due to the softness of the wood.  I think the Beall system was designed for use on dense hardwoods like maple or tight-grain oak, but all that meant was that I had to turn tulip poplar into something that behaved like a harder, tighter grain wood.

My resolution of the “tear out” problem was to impregnated the dowels with a dilute solution of epoxy and acetone.  I mixed a small batch of epoxy, thinned it 50/50 with acetone and brushed it on the dowels.  It soaked in well, and was hard in 24 hours.  The result was to reduce “tear out” by more than 90%.

Even the “feel” of the impregnated screw stock was better when feeding through the cutter.  With this problem addressed I could charge forward.  Goo thing, as I not only had to make the four screws for the prototype bench but for another ten benches as well in order to get ready for the Arkansas workshop.

Nicholson Prototype Construction III

The final 90 minutes of construction for the Nicholson was to finish the legs and top.  It was all easy enough to do.

I wanted to get the top planks on first, and to do that I needed to achieve a crisp, straight edges for the center joint.  Were my big table saw or jointer up and running I would have simply run them through one of them to remove the rounded edge, but I have not yet installed those outlets in the basement shop (and have learned to live without those machines for more than four years).  Instead I clamped the boards one at a time to the front apron of the bench and planed them with a jointer plane until they were what I wanted.

I then screwed the top boards to the cross battens.  I made sure to bury the screw heads pretty deep so the top could be smoothed with a hand plane without any concern for hitting them and nicking the iron.

I then rolled the bench onto its back on top of my short sawbench type stools, and glued and screwed the outer leg lamina in place.  As with almost every undertaking of this sort, I used decking screws and fender washers as the clamping forces.  Once the glue is dry I simply back out the crews and pry off the washers and put each in their proper container for use the next time.

A minute or two planing off the lumber mill chatter marks and I was ready to drill the holdfast holes, for which I used this exotically engineered jig.

While the bench was on its side I trimmed all the legs to length.

Back up its feet, I checked to make sure the top was flat, albeit not really smooth as there was a bit of mill chatter. I touched it lightly with a smoother plane to get it, well, smooth, followed by a quick covering with the toothing plane.

I cannot remember exactly why I took this picture of the bench upside down, but it does give you a good view of the entire undercarriage.

After drilling the holdfast holes in the top, through the planks and battens, and the construction of the bench proper was finished.  Now it was time to move on to the twin screw corner vise.

Practicing Log Splitting and Building A Riving Brake

With the commencement of production for the video “Making A Gragg Chair” steaming down the rails I thought it would be good to get back in practice splitting logs I had culled from last year’s harvest up on the mountain.  As soon as the mud dried out I drove up there and started wailing away at one in particular.  As I already recounted the initial results were not heartening.  The last time I split some giant logs was a couple years ago and that went perfectly.  Had I forgotten how to split a log?

A second log went much better but I had left my camera in the barn so you’ll have to take my word for it.

I also had long desired to build a riving brake, a tool I had never before possessed.  Now was the time to spend part of an afternoon doing so.

When my brother and I rebuilt the lean-to on the lower log barn lat year I was left with a half-dozen ancient chestnut poles.  They seemed to be perfect candidates for the project.

Using precision woodworking processes I trimmed the ends of the logs to allow for whisper-fit angled joinery.

That joinery was accomplished with a low-speed high-torque drill and a length of 1/2″ threaded rod and nuts.  With some judicious use of leveraging I got the tripod up on its feet.

I added the cross bracing and it was ready to put to work.

I’ll see if it is as easy to use as Follansbee makes it look.

Nicholson Prototype Construction II

With the young colt up on its not-at-all-wobbly feet I turned my attentions to completing the under-structure for the bench.  This included three main elements, namely the backing board for the front apron (I knew that this bench was destined to be used against a wall and so would not need for both front and rear aprons to be used in work holding), the top batten nailer on the rear apron, and the top battens themselves.

While some folks are perfectly content with a single-thickness apron and top, I choose instead to make sure that these are double thick, or at least there are regions of double thickness, to better suffice for grabbing holdfasts which serve as the primary workholding tool on the bench.  Thus the double-thick front apron and the battens-plus-planks for the top give me plenty of opportunity to locate and use holdfasts.


I ripped the front apron backer on the table saw such that the 2×12 became a 2×10 and a 2×1-1/2.  I screwed these in place so that the top battens that rested on them were 1/8″ shy of the top of the front and rear aprons.  This was so that I could plane off the top edges of the full aprons to remove the rounded mill-edge that they came with from the original manufacturing.  I placed the battens roughly equidistant, beginning with the tops of the legs and interspersed in between.

Here you can see the front apron has been planed even with the top surface of the battens.

This portion of the project took a little more than an hour, so I was just barely past the three-hour mark on the project.

Up next – affixing the top planks and drilling the holdfast holes.  Stay tuned.

Nicholson Prototype Construction I

The general approach to constructing a Nicholson Bench, an essentially “stick built” structure, is to assemble the legs into two end units and attach the aprons and top to them.  This time I tried something a little different just to see how it worked.  I assembled the legs to the aprons first, then added the end aprons to tie the four legs together.  I found the approach neither more or less beneficial than the other.

As with any other project the first task is to start with a pile of lumber and make bigger pieces into smaller pieces.  It was first thing in the morning so I was not up to full steam, and it took me about 45 minutes to get done.  I chopped them to length with my circular saw and a framing square, and ripped the narrower pieces with the table saw.  I ripped the boards in half, then ripped the factory edge to make sure everything was not only the same width but had a clean, sharp edge.

This project gave me the perfect opportunity to pull out my “butterfly sawhorse” as my assembly platform.  I laid out the legs on the inner side of the aprons so that they were located such that the cross batten for the top (its location was determined by the top of the leg itself, the center picture is a close-up of the arrangement) was going to fall approx. 1/8″ below the rounded factory edge of the 2×12 apron, so that I could easily plane that edge square once the unit was up on its feet.

I used a drill driver for the decking screws that hold the unit together (the ultimate location for the bench did not mandate the use of period fastners) and with the front and back sections completed I was able to affix the end aprons for a complete outer frame of the bench in about 30 minutes.  So, it went up on its feet for the first of several “up/downs” that were planned for the construction.

If you are counting, that means I went from pile of lumber to up on its feet in about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Up next  – the front apron backer, rear nailer strip, and the cross battens for the top.


Nicholson Prototype Cut List

Since one of the goals for my Traditional Woodworking workshop in Arkansas this summer is to efficiently build a workbench for and by each participant, I actually did something I rarely do — make a cut list.  Each workbench will consume six 8-foot 2x12s, and be accomplished in less than a day working in concert.

In case you are inclined to follow along and make one for yourself, here is a diagram of the cut list.  Ideally the edge of each piece would have a crisp square edge, but since my big table saw is not yet set up I wound up planing them square ex poste and in situ part way through the construction.  Each of the pieces ripped to “six-inches” is in reality simply the maximum width of a pair of boards you could render from the 2×12, so they turned out to be more like 5-5/8″ wide.  Also, the 48″ x 12″ piece in the lower left corner should be ripped to approx 1-1/2″ and 10″, providing for a backing board for the front apron and a shelf nailer for the rear single-thickness apron, on which the top’s battens can be affixed.

After getting everything cut, the next step is to assemble the front and back halves, affix the ends, and incorporate the two 48″-long elements I just mentioned.

Stay tuned.

A Twin-Screw Nicholson Bench Prototype

I’ve been invited by a group of woodworker’s in northwest Arkansas to teach a week-long workshop in traditional hand-tool woodworking this summer, and the starting point for the week’s exercises is the most important tool: the workbench.  Each participant will build themselves a 6-foot workbench that will not only be the work platform for the week but will serve them as a heritage tool for generations to come.  The sensible choice for the form of the workbench is the English Nicholson bench, given not only the time demands but the fact that I think so very highly of the form, its ease of construction, and superb performance.  I have made no secret of my preference for the Nicholson if I was a beginning woodworker and could make and have only one bench for the rest of my days.  It’s a moot point for me personally as I have lots of space and the means to build whatever (and how many) workbenches I want, but for either a beginner or someone with time and resource constraints, I think this is the path to follow.

If I recall correctly Mike Siemsen shows building a Nicholson with a panel saw, brace and two five-gallon buckets, but I had my circular saw and power drill as the primary tools and used my butterfly sawhorse as the construction platform.  I was able to build the basic bench before lunch time, and another half day tuning it up to full functionality.

You can follow along as I unfold the project step-by-step in the coming posts.


Planing Stop For A Torsion Box Workbench

I’ve waxed ecstatic occasionally about my little workbench that has been my workshop companion for three decades, a trestle-based torsion-box bench with an Emmert K1 on one corner, an end vise on the other corner, and a 48″ twin-screw face vise on the back side.  I used the basic design to build a bench for my pal Tom, only a little bit bigger.

One hitch to this bench design is that the hollow top precludes a simple rising planing stop (or holdfasts) that can be easily incorporated into solid slab bench tops, and some time ago we independently figured out a couple of good responses to the planing stop dilemma.  My solution to the problem was to make a simple “L” bracket that could be placed in either the Emmert or the twin-screw to allow for planing flat surfaces.  Admittedly, since the workbench is only 48″ long the workpieces would not be to large anyway.  (I find this accessory works perfectly in my pseudo-Studley bench as well)  Anything larger would be done on my big Roubo or Nicholson or planing beam anyway.

Tom took a different route to his bench, in that he made rising stops that are affixed to both ends of his bench with screws-and-knobs running through slotted openings in the stop.  It works like a charm.