Sunday, August 22, 2010

Portable Workbench

For the intro hand tools class I'll be teaching in October, I'm building two portable workbenches. These are from Roy Underhill's The Woodwright's Apprentice. It also appears in Bernard E. Jones' The Practical Woodworker from 1918. The two benches will be a few inches different in height to accommodate different students.

Roy makes it from full thickness pine 2x10. Since that's virtually impossible to find, I got some gorgeous 2x10 nominal thickness poplar from The Woodery.

The top is just a simple slab and tool well. The leg assemblies are made from 2x2's with half-lap joints for the 5/4x6 upper rails and drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints for the 2x2 lower rails. They attach to battens under the top with hinges to fold down roughly flat.

A large stationary workbench like a Roubo relies on massive timbers and beefy joints to resist the forces of planing. This bench relies on the mighty triangle, the shape that made iron trusswork possible. Two cross-braces swing down from the middle to bolt to the lower rails in the leg assemblies, forming two triangles.

From a mechanical engineering standpoint, the triangle forms a rigid structure; push on any point and it maintains its shape. For a square or any higher order polygon, pushing on any member or joint will deform the shape.

Ripping one of the slabs into 2" widths for the leg pieces.

Crosscutting to length.

Jointing a leg piece.

Jointing the slab to re-establish the edge.

Periodically checking for square...

...and flatness. Keeping it that way is easier than correcting it if you go off.

I had recently replied to a post on Sawmill Creek saying that you could probably rip 2" stock at about a foot per minute with a good saw. This project was a good time to put that to the test, so I timed my rips. My first three took 22, 24, and 22 minutes for a six-foot length, nearly 4 minutes per foot. Not quite what I had expected; I decided to sharpen the saw.

Taking 10 minutes to sharpen the ripsaw. This is a Thomas Preston 6 TPI, somewhere between 100 and 150 years old.

The result of the fourth rip from the same board: 7 and a half minutes. Think about that for a moment.

Sharpening the saw reduced a 22-minute operation to 7 and a half minutes. That's a minute and a quarter per foot, within spitting distance of what I had said.

There's just no substitute for a sharp tool. So the moral is, if you think you need to sharpen, sharpen. It's time well spent.

My one deviation from the design was to add a spacer to the batten on one leg assembly, so that the legs will fold flatter. This needed to be square in cross-section.

Using the cambered jack to reduce the spacer width to match the thickness. Big heavy curls down the length and on the diagonal.

Fine curls jointing it smooth.

Checking for square.

Marking across all four legs for length. Two longer legs above, two shorter below offset by the spacer.

Cutting the legs to length completed all the cutting and sizing. Next step was to mark for the joinery.

Marking for the upper rail half-laps, without the spacer in place.

Marking for the lower rail mortises.

Gauging a leg for a mortise. The gauge is set to the width of my 3/4" mortise chisel. Always gauge from the face side!

Gauging an upper rail for a lap joint (it'll be a half-lap on the leg). Always gauge from the face side! And did I mention? Always gauge from the face side!

With the layout done, time to start cutting the joints.

Sawing an upper rail shoulder.

Sawing an upper rail cheek.

Sawing the matching leg half-lap cheek. I started it with a back saw, then switched to my D-8 when that bottomed out.

All the rips start by notching with a knife on the waste side of the line. This makes for a precise start with the saw.

Cleaning up the sawn face by paring with a wide chisel.

Chopping a lower-rail mortise.

Next I drilled the holes for the drawbore pegs and screws. The upper rails are glued and screwed to the legs. Proper assembly with screws requires pilot holes to prevent splitting. This isn't like attaching decking with self-drilling screws and a power driver.

Drilling the leg mortise for drawboring.

Drilling the peg hole in the lower rail tenon, offset toward the shoulder by 1/16".

Using a Yankee push drill to make the screw pilot holes. A little quick honing of the bit cutting faces made it work better.

Using the same bit in an eggbeater drill on the second leg assembly. I had used this drill before, but it was kind of difficult. I noticed it was stiff even off the wood, so I put a drop of oil in each of the 3 oil holes. Voila! Complete transformation, zipped right through the holes. From annoying tool to preferred tool.

Countersinking all the screw holes. The flukes on this bit fill with dust quickly, so a couple reverse rotations in each hole clear it to continue.

After all this preparation, the joints went together fast.

Using a Yankee driver to drive the screws. After dragging the threads on the white beeswax block, they go right in, as easy as using an electric driver.

I completed the upper rail assembly by chucking a driver bit into a brace and using it to set the screws the last little bit. You need to be careful with this, the brace has so much leverage it can drive the screw right through without any effort, splitting the wood. I accidentally drove one down 1/8" deeper than I had countersunk the hole.

Making a 3/8" drawbore peg by riving off some scrap, then driving it through 3 successively smaller holes in a dowel plate. This is noisy, so I wear hearing protection!

Driving in the peg. As it follows the path through the offset hole, it draws the joint up tight, as solid as the wood itself.

This completes one leg assembly. Just need to trim things up.

Trimming the peg ends flush.

Trimming the ends of the through-tenons flush.

The two leg assemblies completed, with spacer and battens resting on top.

My through-tenons are still pretty ugly. Maybe after another 20 or 30 they'll be good.

Next will be attaching the top.

(Continue to part 2)

Recommended Books
The Woodwright's Apprentice: Twenty Favorite Projects From The Woodwright's Shop 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review: Lee Valley Veritas NX60 Block Plane

The Lee Valley/Veritas NX60 Premium Block Plane in repose.

I call it the Starship Enterprise plane. It looks like it should be with the boys on Top Gear, sitting next to a Bugatti Veyron quivering under brakes after hitting the Launch button, poised to take on the Euro Fighter Typhoon. Or perhaps taking part in a beach assault with the Royal Marines. But is it Green? No. It's sleek liquid silver and black. What does it have to do with cars? Nothing.

It's just gorgeous. Superb industrial design, check! Of course, simply looking good is not the measure of a woodworking tool. Like a supercar, it must perform. At $279, it's the most expensive production block plane on the market. However, that's just 1/5734th the price of a Veyron, so from that perspective it's well within the means of even the most penurious supercar enthusiast (though based on the ratio of the Veyron's 1020 brake horsepower to the roughly 0.1 hp sustained output of a human, the car is a better deal, dollar per unit of power).

I'll just note that the Bridge City CT-17, another spectacular bit of industrial design, is $859, but that's a one-of-a-kind commemorative tool run (the Terminator called, it wants its body parts back).

I was fortunate enough to be awarded a $250 Lee Valley gift card for a blog post that turned into a "Tricks of The Trade" item in the upcoming October 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. You'll just have to get the magazine, but it goes to show you they cruise the web; my thanks to the editors!

I scanned the Lee Valley website for a suitable purchase while awaiting the card's arrival. What better opportunity to buy an over the top premium plane? Frugality ain't in it! When the card arrived, I ordered the plane, kicked in the difference, and it arrived four days later (it was over the weekend, after all). Efficient shipping, check!

The first thing I noticed after I stopped the bedazzled whirls in my eyes: this is a serious weight of metal. It would have answered handsomely in Jack Aubrey's long nines during a chase.

The nearest things I have for comparison are a Stanley #18, patent date 2-18-13 (adjustable mouth, normal angle), a Miller's Falls #75 (fixed mouth, normal angle) and a recent Groz (adjustable mouth, low angle). Putting the NX60 next to the Groz is a bit unfair. It's like putting the Veyron next to that green Ford Fiesta. Sure, it'll get you there, but it's just not in the same league. There's a 10:1 price ratio.

Like a Friday-night car show: Stanley, Miller's Falls, Groz, and Veritas block planes. Does that thing have a hemi?

The NX60 has a 6 1/2" sole, 1 3/8" wide iron, and weighs 1 lb 12 1/2 oz. The Groz is 6 1/4" by 1 3/8", 1 lb 7 3/8 oz. The Miller's Falls is 7 1/8" by 1 5/8, 1 lb 6 3/4 oz. The Stanley is 6 1/4" by 1 5/8", 1 lb 7 oz.

The NX60 is heavy, as I said, 21% heavier than the Groz, 23% heavier than the Stanley, and 25% heavier than the Miller's Falls.

The fit and finish of the NX60 immediately stand out.

The NX60 lever cap has a somewhat lower profile than the other planes, making it fit in the palm a little differently. My favorite cap of the bunch is the Stanley. The bulbous shape fits comfortably in the hand, so if I have any quibble with the NX60 it might be for a slightly higher rear end.

Under the hood.

The iron is as precisely machined as the body. Note the large locking wheel in the lever cap. It locks down securely very easily. Even the lever cap screw is precisely fitted, with a bolster against the body. It takes a bit of force to snap the cap back and forth on it. Backing off the iron helps.

Body machining and irons.

The NX60 iron is twice the thickness of the others. This makes it stiffer to resist chatter. The bearing surface of the bed is long and precisely machined, again helping resist chatter. The iron adjustment mechanism is heavy, secure, and precisely machined (notice a theme here?). None of this is going to bend. That can't be said for some of the others. There are no cheap stampings.

Side view.

The soles.

The sole of the NX60 is precisely machined; the literature says to .0015" tolerance. The others have varying degrees of flatness and smoothness, and could benefit from cleanup on some sandpaper on a reference plate. You wouldn't think of doing that with the NX60.

The toe plate is fully housed in the body casting. It won't jam against the edge of the iron if you hit something while planing.

Breakdown. The blade advance is also the lateral adjustment pivot.

Just visible in the photos are set-screws for lateral adjustment and mouth openings. These act as guides for maintaining settings.

Exploded side view.

Now we see where it really counts. Sole and toe tolerance of the Groz: the .003" gauge fits under the machinist's square.

Tolerance of the NX60: the .0015" gauge has no room.

The precise toe plate tolerance means that when you want to take a really fine shaving, you can do it. The others simply can't reach that level of fineness.

Closeup of the adjustment mechanism and cap screw, with very little backlash.

This adjustment mechanism reminds me of the system on the Lie-Nielsen shoulder plane (based on the original Record design). It allows very quick, easy, and precise adjustment with secure lockdown. Need to adjust the depth of cut by a quarter turn? You can do it fast and trust it, without worrying about the iron shifting.

The heavy A2 iron.

I couldn't leave well enough alone, I gave the iron 5 strokes each side on a strop with green rouge. But it's ready to go out of the box, 25-degree primary bevel, 27-degree microbevel, and 23-degree relief bevel on the heel to reduce the amount of work necessary when regrinding the primary. With the 12-degree bed angle, that's a total cutting angle of 39 degrees.

I know next nothing about metallurgy, but like the Veyron, the NX60 uses advanced materials, contributing to its cost. The literature that comes with it says the body is cast from nickel-resist ductile iron, which is more durable than grey iron, and the nickel gives the alloy the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. All the turned parts are stainless steel.

In use: cleaning up end grain on a dovetailed corner using a two-handed grip.

Unlike the Veyron, the NX60 relies entirely on manual traction control. Its mass feels authoritative in the hand, giving it the momentum to carry smoothly through end grain and small smoothing tasks with minimum chatter. I'd like to see the Stig take a few corners with it!

Superb materials, check! Superb workmanship, check! The precisely ground fit and finish throughout, the high-quality materials all add up. Is this plane worth 10 times the cost of a cheap plane? Ask me again in 20 years, but I would say in general yes. They started out with better materials and spent more time and effort in manufacture. You'll spend far less time getting this plane ready to use (how long does it take to open a box?), and you'll spend less fidgety time using it. The time savings over that 20 years or more (you won't need to replace it due to wear and tear any time over the next century) will outweigh that initial investment, providing a good return.

And a 10x premium isn't so bad. The Veyron is 120x the cost of a Fiesta. So in that respect, the NX60 is a significantly better deal. Be sure to make that clear to your spouse when explaining why you should own one.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Horse Care Tote, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

Time to add the bottom and handle. The bottom needs to float free in a groove to allow for movement.

Here's something I forgot to show earlier. These marks are cabinetmaker's triangles. They point to the front or top of a piece, marked on matching parts. When the side and ends are assembled, they form an exploded triangle. That way I always know I've got things re-oriented properly. Losing track of that can be disastrous.

Grooving the bottom edge of a side with a wooden screw-arm plow plane. Start at the far end, work backward.

These are stopped grooves due to the dovetails. The skate of the plow prevents the iron from reaching the end, so it needs to be finished with a chisel.

The ends are too short to bother with the plow other than to score the position of the groove in the surface (the skate just gets in the way). Doing the groove entirely with the chisel. This is actually just as easy as using the plow.

Knifing the lines for the dado in one of the ends.

Chiseling a trough for the saw to follow, since this is a first-class cut.

Scoring the end of the dado with the router plane. This ensures it'll be exactly consistent with the bottom.

Sawing out the sides of the dado. A little tricky, because it's a stopped dado; I don't want to cross the groove. Requires careful patience, don't rush it.

The really fun part. As Roy Underhill calls it, rolling up the wood with the chisel bevel down, followed by the chisel laying flat, bevel up, to clean it up.

The final, precise cleanup with the router. I found it most effective to hold one side steady and pivot the plane on that. That gives a skewed slicing action to the iron.

The final grooved and dadoed ends.

Test fitting the handle in the dado. Snug!

Inside view.

Since I didn't have anything to rip in the earlier FEWTEL steps, here's an extension piece to increase the width of the center section, raising it's height. It'll fit in the dado under the main handle piece.

Jointing the edge of the extension piece.

Forming the tongue in one of the bottom pieces with a wooden match plane.

The matching groove in the other bottom piece.

Matching the two pieces up. I must have wobbled a bit, it's not quite a perfect match. A little planing at the joint brought it flat.

Forming the fillister (end-grain rabbet) in a bottom piece. After sawing down the shoulder, rolling up the wood with the chisel, bevel down. This is fun!

Using a rabbet plane for the edge rabbet.

The rabbet plane flopped 90 degrees to clean up the shoulder.

Final fitting for assembly, with the extension piece in the end dado.

I glued up the dovetails on one end, slid in the bottom panels, glued up the other end, clamped it, and let it dry.

Cleaning up the slightly proud dovetail ends with a block plane. As with the router plane, a slightly skewed, pivoted slicing action is very effective.

Some final light face cleanup with a smoother.

After taking the smoother around the top edge for flat corner transitions, lightly chamfering the top edge, just enough to break the arris.

All that's left is the handle.

Boring the end holes for the handle.

Before I use my new keyhole saw on the handle, it needs sharpening.

Cutting out the handle opening.

A little shaping cleanup with the rasp.

Gently rounding the edges with a scraper.

Chamfering the handle with a block plane.

The final piece after gluing the handle into the dado and 3 coats of combination oil and polyurethane finish.

This project was a great exercise in joinery, everything but laps and mortise-and-tenons. The dovetail spacing is a bit crude, but suitable for such a utilitarian piece. I should have taken another 1/8" off the thickness to make it lighter in weight and appearance.

But assuming it doesn't get stepped on by a thousand-pound animal, my daughter's great-great-grand-daughter will be able to use this for her horse.

The tote in use!