Sunday, February 28, 2010

Workshop Discipline And Tool Storage

Before building any furniture, I had one last quick workshop project: converting my rolling toolcart for hand tool storage. I had built it several years ago to deal with the proliferation of Shopsmith doodads and small power tools. At the time I had a rough idea of workspace management that I've refined even more with hand tools.

My workspace: workbench to the right, sawbench in center, tool cart to the left, clamp cart in back. This is roughly according to Adam Cherubini's article "The Ultimate Hand Tool Shop" in the book "Hand Tool Essentials". I can reach anything on the tool cart just by turning away from the bench, so that's my primary tool storage. The shop is big enough to spread out if I need to, as well as keep a separate assembly bench.

My wife is an operating room nurse. The OR makes a good workflow model for a hand tool shop. The operating table is like the workbench. The instruments are like the woodworking tools (especially for orthopedic surgery: they should call it This Old Bone!).

The patient undergoing surgery is like a project made from the finest, most delicate, most precious materials. The surgeon never wants to lay his tools down on the workspace. The danger of injury and contamination is severe. So the nurses manage all the instruments on a back table (my wife will scold my lack of technical precision here, but you get the idea).

Everything is close at hand. No one has to step far to reach anything, and the field of work is kept clear. I built the cart to be my back table.

As I was building my Roubo workbench, I really understood the value of that. My tools were either on the wall, on a shelf, or in a cabinet. I kept having to walk across the workshop and around my old bench to get something. I kept a few things on the cart as I used them, but I wasn't nearly as efficient as I wanted to be.

So sometime during the project, I came up with the plan to convert the tool cart, with the goal of getting the tools for 90% of my tasks on it. I started using it that way, using the center shelf as my plane storage.

I forced myself to the discipline: always put a tool back in its place, don't leave it on the bench, where it will fall off and dull on the floor, get lost in the pile, or cut my hand as I work. This takes some focus, because I'm a clutterer. Like the Sirens calling Odysseus to his doom, the dreaded horizontal surface calls to me: here, pile your stuff here! But it improved my efficiency. No more wasted time searching for a tool.

Oh yeah: and clean up at the end of every day!

The original cart setup for power tool woodworking.

Playing around with saw arrangements. I could hang them on the sides of the cart in place of the Shopsmith attachments.

Chisel arrangement, for a rack attached to the top edge of the cart. It's a bit too crowded, though.

I took all the holders off the sides, replacing them with Shaker pegs and simple finishing nails for hooks, and drilled hanger holes in the items that needed them. I added dowel pins and extra nails on the sides of things to restrict their swing when I moved the cart. I added simple racks to the top edge sides. I also replaced the original 1 1/2" casters with 3" casters, since the old ones seemed to catch on every woodchip on the floor.

The resulting cart met my goal: almost every hand tool I own within reach. While it's compact, nothing is crowded. Nothing has to be moved to get to anything else. If I need to add things (and I already have), there's still some spare real-estate on the sides and shelves. If I need to tear a bit apart and reconfigure it, I can. I'll continue to optimize it as I work.

Front view: all planes on the middle shelf, with long and short winding sticks and plane hammer hanging on nails. Bench hook, shooting board, mallets and boring tools on the bottom. Top shelf clear for any additional tools I need to pull from secondary storage, with trays on the right for measuring and marking tools.

Closeup of the plane shelf. All my planes are easily accessible, except for my collection of wooden molding planes, which just wouldn't fit. I have the most frequently-used ones here, though, rabbet and plough.

Right side view: large handsaws, rip and crosscut in two lengths and tooth counts for rough-cutting. Top rack holds several measuring and marking items and scraper.

Rear view: Clamps and 3' straightedge, all reachable from the front.

Left side view: small saws, again rip and crosscut in two tooth counts for fine joinery. Top rack holds all my chisels.

Closeup of the chisel rack. An additional short row of plastic-handled chisels is on the back side of this rack. Each rack consists of two pieces sandwiched with screws. The front piece has dadoes fitted to each item, easily replaceable if I want to change the layout. The back piece is pegged to the top edge of the cart with four dowel pins, no glue required.

Rack construction detail: chiseling out one of the dadoes.

Cutting the shoulders for the next dado.

Closeup of the top left side. The plastic-handled chisels slip into mortises through the shelf.

Closeup of the top right side.

Which leads me to one last thing. In a previous post I had mentioned building portable storage to accommodate everything. I wanted to be able to have all my tools with me. But Bob Easton sounded the voice of reason: be selective.

So I took an operational approach: make sure I have the tools to do all the  operations I want to do, but without having every size available all the time. Consolidate a bit and make do with the smaller ones.

For instance, how often do I need to chop a 1" mortise? That 1" mortise chisel is big. And I don't need both #6 and #7 planes when I can get the jointing done with the 6. In the shop, it's nice to have all the choices, but when I go portable, I need to think about what I'll actually be working on and plan for the specific tools required.

The operations: break down a board and prepare the stock (crosscutting, ripping, resawing, jointing, thicknessing). Cut rabbets, mortises, dovetails, and other joints and fine parts. Make pegs and bore holes for pegged joints. Smooth to final surface. Attach hinges and latches.

Here's the much more manageable set of tools. The small panel and joinery saws. Minimum set of bench and joinery planes. A few mortise and bench chisels appropriate to the scale of work I'll be doing. The small brace and eggbeater and a few bits. A minimal set of measuring and marking tools. A pair of aluminum winding sticks. This can be finessed as required for a specific project, but is sufficient to build just about anything.

This can all fit in one chest with a deep section and a shallow till, plus allow for a turning saw held in the lid. Maybe add another shallower till for a few additional items, like sharpening tools. But this would all fit in something reasonably easy to carry and fit through doorways.

Update April 2012: since I posted this, I've outgrown the storage it provides and reorganized the workshop.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Know Kung Fu

Having completed my Roubo workbench, I feel like Neo in The Matrix when he wakes up in the chair after downloading skills for the first time.

My download took considerably longer, and like Neo, my skills still need honing. But it's given me the confidence to take on the challenges. I throw my head back and breathe deep, curling my fists as I gather power: bring 'em on! I got yer dovetails right here, buddy!

For me, it was an ambitious undertaking. As I had hoped, it was a great skill-builder. Where before I was intimidated by complex machine setups, now I know I can just grab my hand tools and knock the work out.

It was also a successful exercise in patience, taking months to complete. But I disciplined myself to be happy with incremental progress. I enjoyed the time I could spend on it without getting greedy for more.

The greatest feeling is the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of knowing it was me, my skills doing all the work, not my machines. Now I feel like a real woodworker. I have a real workbench!

My only regret is that I spent 36 years being a wannabe power tool woodworker. Yes, 36 years! Starting with 8th grade shop class, where we had table saws and power jointers and planers. These were all hopelessly unobtainable for a teenager with little money. Think of all that time I could have been doing stuff if I had instead focused on hand tools. What a missed opportunity.

And now I'm that most tedious of boors, the instant Expert. You got questions? I got opinions. I'm qualified. I've completed one major project!

So I'll bask in the glow of self-satisfaction while I plot my next one. My wife keeps threatening to buy a side table for the loveseat in the living room. I've been telling her for years I can make one. That rediscovered Stickley...

The other thing that's been rolling around in my head is tool storage. I have one plan for the workshop so they'll be immediately accessible by my bench. But I also want to go portable with them. I've been trying out some till layouts for a chest.

Everything I need to go from rough-sawn boards to final furniture with fine joinery. You can see the major tool groups laid out for their stacking tills, clockwise from upper right: planes; boring and rasping; bits and shaves; chisels; saws and molding planes. Measuring and marking items spread around for the moment.

Some miscellaneous things aren't shown, like mallet and hammer. Coping and turning saw. And sharpening supplies. And work-holding devices. Hmmm, will I be able to lift this thing? Maybe I'll need two chests, stackable. 

Popular Woodworking's Arts & Crafts Furniture: 25 Projects For Every Room In Your Home 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Roubo, part 16

(Go back to part 15)

I had originally said I wouldn't add the crochet. But I wanted to keep it authentic. This bench comes from a period where hand tool work was a high art. If they thought it was an essential appliance, then I wanted to give it a try.

My solution was to add a removable crochet. This wouldn't be as solid as a fixed crochet, but would allow me flexibility. I had a cutoff from the glued-up stretchers just the right size.

I formed the curves the same way as the sliding deadman.

I found the surform rasp a little better to use on the concavity.

The surform plane worked well on the convex curve.

Gotta chamfer all the edges!

Boring the hole for the post. Since the post will be fixed to the crochet for insertion into the top, this needs to be a continuous straight line for a good fit.

Trimming the post after bottoming it in the hole.

In order to get a good solid attachment to the crochet, I sawed a kerf down the post and drove in a wedge. The wedge needs to be aligned perpendicular to the grain to avoid splitting the crochet as I drive it in.

After cleaning up the end of the wedged post, I bored a cross-pin hole through the end of the bench and the post. Then I inserted a removable pin. This locks the post in place. The crochet moved out a bit as I bored the hole, leaving a small gap, so I added a layer of PSA sandpaper as a shim. That makes it draw up tight against the top when the pin is inserted.

Testing the crochet.

Under pressure from a workpiece, the crochet had too much give, so I drilled two small holes for alignment pins.

The crochet removed. You can see the sandpaper shim layer, the main post and alignment pins, and the withdrawn locking pin. I glued a square nut onto the end of the pin for easy handling and trimmed it off flush.

The alignment pins made a big difference in stiffness. Still not as solid as a couple of lag bolts, but it holds quite well. We'll see how it stands up over extended use.

Speaking of shims, I had another brainstorm. The indexing holes in the leg vise parallel guide are spaced about 3/8" apart. When something in between those points is in the vise, it suffers the same racking as a parallel clamp where the two screws are not set equally.

So I bought a deck of large flash cards at the toy stored and made a set of shims to allow fine spacing. This in turn allows fine parallel adjustment of the leg vise for maximum grip. Just like a parallel clamp standing on end.

A stack of 10 of these cards measures out at 0.14" with a dial caliper, so they average 0.014" each.

Finally! The completed bench, with leg vise, planing stop, crochet, deadman, Wonder dog, and holdfasts.

I kept a log of all the time I spent on the bench. Spread over 20 calendar weeks, it totaled 88 hours and 26 minutes. There was probably a good hour or so spent fiddling with the camera, so call it 87 hours.

And now a final treat. I made a video demonstrating the features of the bench. It's in two parts due to YouTube limitations on length. NOTE: I have seen problems with these showing up with Firefox on Ubuntu Linux, so if you don't see them below, search for them on YouTube with by clicking here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Roubo, part 15

(Go back to part 14)

The sliding deadman has a gentle hourglass shape. I laid this out with a bowed ruler, then cut it out by kerfing and chiseling. I have the parts for a Gramercy turning saw, but I haven't built it yet.

This is a little easier to handle than rigging up a 4'-long beam compass.

Cutting regularly-spaced kerfs to the curve, staying just above the final cut line.

Chiseling the steps. Reminds me of introductory calculus, find the area under the curve as the limit of dx approaches zero. Just need to be sure to always chisel downslope on the grain.

Fairing the curve with a convex spokeshave. This removed the saw and chisel marks, but left chatter marks.

Rasping out the chatter marks.

The scraper brought it down to final smoothness.

I chamfered the edges with the spokeshave and scraper.

Boring the holdfast holes.

And that was that! I slipped the deadman into place and the workbench was complete! Right?

But then I had a brainstorm. A removable crochet...

One of the 23 known woodworking puns:

Bench dog, large.

(Continue to part 16, the end!)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Roubo, part 14

(Go back to part 13)

Time to cut out the sliding deadman. By now some of these steps should be pretty familiar.

Ripping to width.

Jointing the ripped edge.

Before going further, I planed the piece down to final thickness. Since I had to take off about 1/4" from each face, I tried three different planes: my transitional jack with crowned blade, a metal fore plane with slightly more aggressive crowning, and my scrub plane, with the most aggressive blade (meaning the smallest radius to the crown). Then I jointed and smoothed both faces.

After having used the transitional for heavy work before, I was surprised and pleased to find the thicker blade in the metal fore plane made faster work of it. I measured the thick shavings with a dial caliper at about 30 thousandths. The scrub made about the same progress, but with deeper, narrower cuts. This is definitely a useful experiment to try with your various planes to see which one works most efficiently for you.

Trimming to length. This needs to be a precise cut, although I still took a hair off the endgrain with the jointer.

Forming the V-groove in the bottom edge. First I cut down the center line with a tenon saw, then started cleanout with the chisel. I finished up with the shoulder plane, alternating from side to side.

Using a cutoff from the bottom rail as a reverse mullet to check the fit of the groove.

Cutting the half-lap tongue that will fit in the top track.

Cleaning up the tongue.

A little further shaving of the top edge until it slid into the top track and dropped down on the rail.

The deadman slides smoothly back and forth along the length of the rail.

Next will be final shaping.

(Continue to part 15)

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Roubo, part 13

(Go back to part 12)

I didn't have any stock wide or thick enough for the sliding deadman, but I had plenty of waste left over from the top. I glued up two panels for proper width, to be laminated for proper thickness.

Sections for the first panel. I ripped a narrower central piece so the solid widths of the other panel would overlap these, and jointed up the matching edges identified by the cabinetmaker's triangle.

The two panels glued up. The one in back is the same overall width, but I had to add extra spacers because the clamps wouldn't adjust that small. I should modify these clamp rails to handle narrower widths.

This time, I did a thorough job of wiping off the excess glue with a sponge and bucket. That made cleanup a lot easier later once the glue had dried. There were no big gobs to damage my plane iron.

With the panels clamped up, I started drilling the dog and holdfast holes. All 25 of them.

I spaced the dog holes 3" apart, accommodating the travel in the Wonder Dog at the end. I used the cylindrical surform rasp to clean them out a bit.

All these holes got to be a lot of work, so after each one I spent a few minutes sweeping up shavings to rest my arms.

Finishing the holes off from below, having just pierced the bottom side when boring from the top. I had to take off my bifocals to look upwards this close!

After completing the holes, I removed the panels from the clamps. They'd had about an hour of setup time, so the glue joints were strong enough. Then, before it completely hardened, I lightly cleaned the last bits of glue off the panels and clamps with my glue clean-up chisel. This glue drip management was a lot easier than chiseling off rock-hard bits a day later. I let the panels finish curing overnight.

First use of the new Gramercy holdfasts! I rough-planed one side of each panel, traversing almost straight across after first chamfering the edges.

A note about the Gramercy holdfasts. I had just gotten them recently, and I initially had some trouble getting them to grip well. They kept coming loose under the force of planing. A little checking online revealed some concerns about holding in such a thick top, but I followed Joel Moskowitz's instructions to rub around the shank with 120-grit sandpaper. I also noticed they still had a little oil on them from the manufacturing process, so I first wiped them down thoroughly. Cleaned and roughened, they now grip tenaciously.

The resulting rough-planed panel.

Winding sticks (aluminum angle iron) laid out to check for wind before starting the finer work.

Sighting down the length of the panel across the winding sticks. Looks good, no twist.

The final result after flattening with a try plane followed by this smoother.

The two panels laminated together. The matching faces have to be dead flat to each other.

I didn't bother cleaning up this glue, since I was going to be sawing off the waste from each side.

(Continue to part 14)