Workbench Wednesday – A Perfect Fit

One of the unintended outcomes for my cypress auxiliary bench is that it fits perfectly behind my driver’s seat, making it nearly effortless to take it with me whenever I travel.  Given my frequent travels to visit family I’m thinking this auxiliary bench will log a lot of miles.

Until this blindingly obvious flash of insight I always laid the auxiliary bench flat on the seat or in the bed, sometimes causing a logistical conundrum about how to stack the cargo, and in what order.  Now all of those concerns are assuaged, and the inclusion of this accessory will simply be routine.

Workbench Wednesday – Homemade (Wooden) Holdfast

One of the key features of The Ultimate Portable Workbench is its weight, or more precisely, its lack of weight and its rigid stability.  That is to be expected for a portable bench, designed for on-site furniture restoration projects.  This concept has been unfolding in my brain and shop for three decades.

My estimate for Version 4.0 is a fighting weight of 50-60 pounds, not featherweight but manageable especially since it folds flat-ish.  Even though I no longer have any plans for on-site work (there could always be a project that temps me, but it has been a very long time since I did any on-site work) I am going to finish this version as a gift to my son-in-law, given his nomadic status (military) for another ten years.

One of the critical improvements in this version is the increase of work-holding capacity to the point where the bench could suffice for almost any woodworking venture.  In addition to the two twin-screw Moxon-style vises I figured out a way to incorporate holdfasts into the design and function.  The critical thing was, as I alluded before, thinking beyond the realm of steel/iron holdfasts.  They work perfectly in this or any other application but they add unnecessary weight.  But, what about holdfasts made from lighter material?  At one point I thought about trying to cast some aluminum holdfasts myself, but I have had such success with wooden holdfasts I have decided to pursue that avenue enthusiastically.

Following Mike Siemsen’s perhaps tongue-in-cheek reference in his brilliant video I made a first proof-of-concept model.  Imperfect to be sure, but successful enough to propel my further development.

One of the main faults for the initial prototype was that I had not oriented the grain direction of the clamping arm properly.  So after a short time in service the arm broke exactly where you would expect.  Solving that problem was simple and straightforward, my favorite kind of solution.

First, rather than making the arm from a scrap piece of pine in the kindling box I used one of the dozens of white oak sample blocks I had boxed under one of the benches.  I created these for a corporate presentation many years ago that I would thought was going to lead to a consulting gig, but it never did.  I provided a complete set of samples for each attendee in my presentation so I had a lot of these blocks awaiting a new purpose.

Once I determined the general nature and shape of the holdfast overall I placed the block in the drill press at the inclination I desired and drilled a 3/4″ hole to accommodate the 3/4″ oak vertical post.

I rough-shaped the block with the bandsaw and glued a length of 3/4″ oak dowel into the arm.


Once the glue was set — I used T3 since I have a lot of it on hand at the moment — I finished shaping the head/arm with rasps.

And with that it was done and ready to get to work.  I’d guess my total time of fabrication for the holdfast was about 10-15 minutes.

It works exceedingly well, holding whatever piece might be reasonably worked on The Ultimate Portable Workbench.

Workbench Wednesday – Ultimate Portable Workbench 4

With shop life resuming some vague semblance of normal after late winter and the presence of Li’l T on the scene, I’ve been able to return to working on the Ultimate Portable Workbench.  I’ve now reached the stage where I need to layout the holes for the vise screws, and for the holdfasts as well.   You see, I’ve decided that even though this is a portable workbench where low weight is among the highest goals, a set of holdfasts can be a much-valued addition.  Hence, my exploration of wooden holdfasts.  More about that next Wednesday.


For now my main objective was to locate the holdfast holes so that I could add some backing blocks to the insides of the top and bottom plywood skins.  This started by just arbitrarily selecting the locations and marking out the centers of grid boxes and drilling 3/4″ holes.

I then clamped the second skin to the underside of the half-constructed torsion box in order to simply use the holes in the first skin to drill the holes in the second skin.

With that step accomplished I marked the grid pattern on the underside of the second skin so I knew where to put the backing blocks.   Once again I used T3 adhesive, in part because I had a lot on hand and because I could not always be sure of the environment for the bench.

Once the blocks were secured I just used the holes in the skin to guide the drilling of the holes through the block.  This process allowed me to get perfectly aligned upper and lower collars in place so that holdfasts could be used in this feather weight bench.

Once that was finished I set the second skin aside and moved on to the threaded holes for the vises.  I had already glued backing blocks in those locations.

I drilled the holes through the apron and the grid using a combination of drill bits to accomplish the desired ends.  The hole in the apron was 7/8″, in the grid web the holes were 1″ to accommodate the 1″ vise screws.


Fortunately I have a set of extra large taps and dies, rescued from the trash eons ago, so making the matching threaded openings was a snap.

Workbench Wednesday – More Planing Board Noodlin’, a/k/a “Gobsmackery”

While at my daughter and son-in-law’s house recently knocking off a ton of piddling little jobs I took the opportunity to use and revise my cypress planing board/bench top from a couple years ago.

One thing I did to the board was add another planing stop to the bare end of the bench.  It was just a simple thing, an oak board with a couple slots cut into it and a tightening screw for each slot so the board could be raised or lowered as needed.

Along the long sides I moved one of the shooting shelves up and skewed a bit towards the flat top so that it would serve me needs more satisfactorily.  I’m doing almost all of my work with either a block plane or a small jack plane so there was no need for a really deep shelf distance from the top.  The other shelf was removed altogether and turned into a really low-tech Moxon vise using bolts and handles from the local hardware store.  Not robust enough for hard daily use but certainly enough for my needs, or so I thought.

After a few days of using it I decided to step it up a tad.  I replaced the old narrow shelf/jaw with a new piece of 5/4 x 1-3/4″ cherry, affixed to the top with two 1./2″ NC bolts embedded with epoxy into two “T” handles.  Sure, it is not as functional as a full-blown Moxon but more than sufficient for light duty on-site work.  The jaw is purposefully off-set 1/4″ below the bench top to provide another shooting shelf.

As I mentioned earlier I was able to use a small Woodcraft holdfast  on the bench top with great success.  I ordered some more of them but they were beefier than the previous ones and I thought they were too much for this little work station.  It was then that I heard the sound of my palm smacking my forehead with the recollection of the first minute of Mike Siemsen’s fabulous video on woodworking without vises.

So I asked myself, “Self, could a useful holdfast be made from, you know, wood?”  So, in keeping with the unofficial title of the barn, The Proof of Concept Place (h/t my pal John H) I gave it a try.  Using a piece of 2x literally from the kindling barrel and a piece of dowel from the scrap box I drilled and glued them together, then shaped the assembly with the band saw and a rasp.

In action it was astounding!  To be sure I need to reorient the grain of the arm to eliminate as much of the short grain as possible, but the performance of the scrap wood holdfast had me gobsmacked.  I will blog about step-by-step making the real one in a couple weeks.


PS  my new best buddy “Li’l T” made it home last night after nine harrowing days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Prayers of rejoicing abound coast-to-coast in thanks for God’s providence and the medical magickery.  He is home and in the loving arms of his parents but is more than a little fussy; I think he might have heard me comment on the true inflation rate (~17% if calculated with the same formula as 45 years ago) and his share of the national debt his predecessors have hung around his neck.  That would crank up anyone.  Gotta be careful what I say within earshot of the little guy.

Workbench Wednesday – Planing Board Revisited

During a recent visit to keep our daughter company (read: fuss and spoil) while her husband is away on travel as she approaches her “due date,” Mrs. Barn and I undertook a number of little projects around the house, things they have just been too busy to address while renovating their “fixer upper.”  In order to provide myself the maximum capability given the circumstances (being military and spending every available minute on house renovations my son-in-law is not able to have a dedicated workbench.  Yet.  But I have plans…) I grabbed my bench-top raised planing board to use on top of his garage work table, along with my “traveling kit.” about which I will post soon.

To this point back at the barn I have used the planing board as little more than an elevated work surface, not insignificant but certainly not exploiting its capacity to the maximum.  I was recently inspired by a video from Tamar over at 3X3.  This is perhaps the most elegant and high-function solution to the problem of auxiliary/bench-top work station I’ve seen.  Ever since seeing the unit built by my friend WilliamD at an SAPFM event several years ago I’ve been a complete fan of the concept, and a couple years ago Adrian Preda’s version lit a fire under me.

With my planing board sitting on the garage worktable I made a number of modifications to enhance its capabilities at being a productive shop accessory, especially in a setting that was not outfitted as completely as my own shop.

My first action was to attach skids underneath the “legs” for two reasons; first I wanted it raised about an inch for my use in the barn (it may be only an inch, but sometimes an inch makes all the difference in the world when doing hours of work at the station), and second I needed a means to clamp it down to the work table in the garage.  I used some cherry I had and simply screwed it to the bottoms of the legs, making it effortless to remove or revise in the future.

My next modification was drilling a series of dog/holdfast holes through the top.  With the accessories I already possessed this enhanced the performance immensely.

The center row of holes is 5/8″ matching the small Woodcraft holdfast while the other holes are 3/4″ to accommodate the Lee Valley devices.  At some point in the future I am going to experiment with making home-made holdfasts.

Next week I’ll discuss the remaining modifications.



Workbench Wednesday – Shannon’s Bench

This is the rare occasion where Workbench Wednesday features someone else’s workbench.

In my years of serious woodworking I have seen three fundamentally new workbench forms come on to the scene.

First is the torsion box which, to my knowledge, was popularized by Ian Kirby.  I have employed that technology in my first and still favorite workbench, and in another larger bench built for my friend Tom, and is the basis for my ultimate portable benches, now entering their fourth generation.  The torsion box is an elegant high-performance idea, and I am glad I know of it.  It has certainly served me well.

Second is the workbench/modular working system by trim carpenter Ron Paulk, whose mobile workshop is a wonder of ingenuity.

But the focus of this post is the idea I find the most exquisite and innovative of all, Shannon Rogers’ “apartment” or “joinery” workbench.  I saw an early prototype in 2009(?) and was immediately captivated by the concept.  The final version is downright seductive in its genius and capability.  Ever since seeing it in its final glory at a regional SAPFM meeting in 2011, making it has been on my “to do” list.

I’m not sure exactly when I will get to making one, but you can be assured that the day is coming in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you, Shannon, for unfurling your creative power and unleashing this brilliant design on the rest of the world.  I simply cannot think of a better solution to full-spectrum woodworking in such a small footprint.  The video is an excellent tutorial of the set-up’s capabilities.

Workbench Wednesday – Storage Cabinet Under the Roubo

No, I have not forgotten the Ultimate Portable Workbench and will return to it very soon, but last week I spent a day resolving one of my frustrations with the massive oak Roubo bench.  Until now I have just had open storge underneath it, and even though I put contents in boxes and milk crates it was not a particularly useful setup.  Given my intention to reorient priorities in the shop and gather all my marquetry tools into one place, now was the time to make a change.

Way back in time I acquired a large number of drawers from surplused (read: thrown away) museum collection storage cabinets and have used them variously as cabinets themselves with a piano hinge, parts trays, etc.  In this instance I tossed together a cabinet box into which I could place five 24″ deep x 36″ wide drawers to hold marquetry and parquetry tools and jigs.  It was nothing special, just Baltic birch sheet stock and aluminum angle drawer supports.

I am pleased with the new accessory for the bench and shop and await my own decision on drawer pulls to complete the project.  Sometimes I am a fussy client.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Workbench Wednesday Edition

I’m thinking much of this topic and most of these projects, with one or two exceptions, fall clearly into the “…and well beyond,” territory.

I’ve got plenty of workbenches scattered around the barn (16!), but I cannot seem to stop myself from planning on building even more.  It is apparently one of my dysfunctional psychopathologies.  Perhaps I was deprived of a workspace/bench when I was a toddler.  In short, I may have to start recruiting more family and friends to take some behemoths off my hands.

At this point I have several ideas in the works, some innovative, some self indulgent, and almost none of them “necessary.”

First, I need to finish up my Ultimate Portable Workbench, which I have already been chronicling here.

Second, two years ago I built a bench-top planing board from cypress and I would like to replicate that project using a slab of vintage black walnut, which I would resaw and actually build two.

Third, I would dearly love to build a version of Renaissance Woodworker Shannon Rogers’ truly innovative “apartment” workbench, with its joinery tower and detachable planing beam.  Simply genius, probably the most inventive workbench design in my lifetime.

Fourth, I’ve got a massive slab of ancient mahogany from the Cincinnati area lumber yard that Chris Schwarz obtained for me, it is roughly 4″ x 22″ x 7′.  To go with this, I have some 6″ x 6″ ancient black walnut for legs.  This would yield a truly remarkable Roubo bench, but then I already have a truly remarkable ancient wood Roubo bench in place.  Sounds like a pure vanity/self-indulgence project for me.  Maybe I should just sell the lumber to someone else who needs/wants a bench even more than I do.  If this is you, let me know.

Fifth, I’ve got a slabbed-up hunk of birds-eye maple ready to be turned into a bench, with vintage oak 6″ x 6″ legs.  Like the one in the previous paragraph, this would result in a truly eye-popping Roubo bench.  But also like the previous one, I do not need it and should find someone else who really does.

Finally, I’ve got a pile of oak 10″ x 15″ timbers airing out in the yard next to the barn, and with a little chainsaw work they could be rendered into usable bench slabs.  Maybe I can use them for chainsaw practice.

Oh, and I’ve got a stash of 7″ x 14″ Douglas Fir timbers from a building dismantling from around 1945 or so.  They would also make superb bench tops and legs.

Workshop Wednesday – A Slight Detour

My ongoing project to complete “The Ultimate Portable Workbench” takes a back seat to my revisiting a existing workstation in the shop this week.

A recent learning experience led me to re-think my salvaged Sjoberg bench that serves as my “fine work” station for almost everything un-woodworking-ish, like engraving, checkering, fine metalwork, etc.  During Thanksgiving week my son-in-law and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on reloading ammunition, which involves a lot of press work.  The Sjoberg was simply inadequate for those particular tasks even though I do a lot of other gun work there.  But, could it be modified to work for reloading?

I am happy to report that the answer was, “Yes.”

At issue was the shallowness of the workbench top and the difficulty, read: impossibility, of attaching some presses to the edge of said top as required by the processes involved.  A simple add-on solved both problems in one swell foop.

I had a scrap of butcher block benchtop material that fit the cutaway configuration of the bench top almost perfectly.  All I needed was to create a way to affix it solidly to the existing bench yet make it removable for more routine work.

I accomplished this through the addition of a couple simple elements to the underside of the slab so that one end could be captured by the face vise and the other end by the end vise.

Putting the new appendage in place and tightening the vise screws and viola’, the new feature is darned near perfect for the tasks.  It suits me so well I may wind up leaving it in place most of the time.

Installing it and de-installing takes upwards of seven seconds per operation.

Workbench Wednesday – Ultimate Portable Workbench 3

Gluing the internal ribs was no big deal; first I dry-fit all the ribs then marked their locations, so that I would know where to put the bead of glue.  I used PVA mostly because I have a lot of it left over from another project and just wanted to use it up.

Once the glue lines were down and the grid re-placed on top of them I simply “clamped” them in place with a couple hundred pounds of bricks.  Everything stayed put over night and in the morning all was well.

I moved on to the backing blocks needed for the threaded screw holes and a couple of other features.  For the threaded vise holes I just held them in place with spring clamps.

For the backing blocks on the top and bottom faces I uses more of the same                            ‘brick as clamps” strategy.