Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Apartment Workbench, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

Building the bench consists of breaking down the lumber, building the top, building the legs, attaching them, and adding the cross-braces.

So, how do you build something when you don't have a workbench to work on? You use your stack of lumber as temporary supports. As you cut parts, you can add them to the stack. Just be careful moving around it; since nothing is secured it's unstable.

Breaking Down The Lumber

Cut the parts to length according to the cutlist below. Note that it doesn't include the cross-braces. Save one 2x4 for last for them, so you can size them to wherever the legs and pivot block end up. If you've made any adjustments to the plans, note the adjusted lengths on the cutlist.


Qty Name Lumber Length


2 Lower layer, wide2x8 48"
1 Lower layer, narrow2x6 48"
2 Upper layer, wide1x8 48"
1 Upper layer, narrow1x6 48"
2 Front apron1x6 48"


2 Left leg2x4 29"
2 Right leg2x4 32"
2 Upper stretcher2x6 20"
2 Lower stretcher2x4 20"
4 Spacer2x4 20"

Accurate measuring and marking, followed by accurate cutting and fitting, are the keys to precise woodworking, even with this low grade of lumber. Get in the habit of using these techniques.

This bench is crude enough that you can get by with a little slop, and the hinges have some play in them, so don't drive yourself crazy going for perfection. You can work to within 1/64" precision, half of the smallest graduation on the combination square I bought. Work to the standard appropriate to the project. For a small jewelry box, you'll work to within finer than the thickness of a sheet of paper.

To make accurate cross-cuts, use a knife line. That's what the utility knife is for, a marking knife.
  1. Measuring with a ruler or straightedge, make a mark at your measurement.
  2. Place the point of your knife in the mark.
  3. Place the head of your square flat on the edge of the piece and slide it over until the blade is up against the knife. This means the square is exactly on the measurement.
  4. Knife a line across the piece, using several passes to deepen it.
  5. On the waste side of the line, use the knife or a chisel to carve out a small v-groove trough. Paul Sellers calls this a knifewall.

Use the straight edge to measure length. Make a mark at that point with a pencil or knife.

Set the knife in the mark, align the square and slide it over against the knife, and repeatedly knife a line across.

Carve out a trough on the waste side of the line.

To cut:
  1. Rest the saw in the trough and start sawing with light, nibbling strokes. Because the trough is precisely positioned, the saw will be cutting at an accurate position and angle square across. That avoids the problem of the saw skipping around off the mark as you start the cut.
  2. Once the kerf is established, raise the angle of the saw and use steady full-length saw strokes.
  3. Catch the cutoff before it falls so it doesn't tear off a chunk at the corner.

Support the work on the lumber stack as a makeshift sawbench. After starting the cut in the trough, raise the angle of the saw and cut smoothly and steadily.

At the end of the cut, catch the cutoff so it doesn't tear off at the corner.

Stack the cut parts higher for higher support. Two stacks on each side of the cut fully support the piece so it won't fall when the saw reaches the end.

All the lumber cut to length except for two of the legs. I modified the design for the upper stretchers slightly after I had cut these, so two of the short 2x4 pieces in the photo have been replaced by 2x6 pieces. The plan and cutlist show the correct parts.

Building The Top

To build the top, edge glue the thick lower layer first, glue and screw down left and right spacers across the pieces, laminate the thin upper layer onto that and screw it down, and laminate and screw on the front apron.

The combination of glue and mechanical fasteners is very effective. The screws also hold things in place while the glue dries. You can continue working if you want to, or wait until the glue dries at each step. There will probably be gaps in the glue; while you want to minimize these as much as possible, they won't ruin the bench. More clamps always help.

Clean up any glue squeeze out and drips with wet paper towels.

To glue up the lower layer:
  1. Apply a generous bead of glue to one edge of each 2x8 and spread it evenly with your finger.
  2. Lay these down and clamp them up edge to edge with the 2x6 in the back. The wet glue may make the pieces slide around as you tighten the clamps, so adjust their position as you go, making sure all the seams are flat.

Spread glue along one edge of each 2x8.

Lay them down flat with one end aligned and clamp them edge to edge.

To attach the spacers to the lower layer, you'll drill counterbores and pilot holes. A counterbore is a hole wider than the head of the screw, so you can drive the screw down past the surface of the wood. It is only as deep as you want to seat the screw head. A pilot hole is a small hole narrower than the threads on the screw shank, to keep the wood from splitting as you drive the screw in.
  1. Mark in 4 1/4" from one end. Draw a guideline there square to the front using the combination square.
  2. Apply and spread glue to a spacer. Lay it down on the lower layer with its outside edge aligned to the guideline.
  3. With a 3/8" bit in the drill, counterbore each screw hole about 1/4" deep. Place the holes in a zigzag pattern along the spacer, two holes for each lower layer piece.
  4. With a 7/64" bit, drill one pilot hole in the counterbore at the near end of the spacer, making sure the spacer hasn't slipped out of place from the guideline.
  5. With the phillips head driver bit, drive a #10x2" screw in the hole.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the hole at the far end of the spacer, again making sure the spacer is properly aligned.
  7. With the two ends of the spacer screwed down, it won't move, so drill the remaining 4 pilot holes and drive the screws in them.
  8. Repeat these steps for the spacer at the other end.

Draw a guideline 4 1/4 in from the end, square to the front.

Use the 3/8" drill bit to counterbore six screw holes in a zigzag pattern to a depth of 1/4". The depth doesn't have to be exact.

After drilling pilot holes, drive #10x2" screws. Drive them at a low speed to avoid stripping out the heads.

To laminate the upper layer to the lower layer:
  1. Remove the clamps and turn the top over onto the spacers.
  2. Pour glue one one side of a 1x8 and spread it evenly over the entire surface.
  3. Turn the 1x8 over and lay it on top of the lower layer, flush with the front and one end, over the 2x6 and its seam with the 2x8. This staggers the edge joints between the two layers.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the next 1x8, adding glue to its edge where it meets the first 1x8.
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 with the 1x6.
  6. Clamp across the top layer. Put a 2x4 along the front to clamp it up flush with the front of the lower layer. Make sure the edge seams are flat.

Glue the first 1x8 down over the 2x6 and middle 2x8 of the lower layer, flush with the front and one end.

Pour and spread glue evenly over the next 1x8. Use a small piece of wood as a spreader.

To screw down the upper layer:
  1. Draw guidelines for the screw holes over the center of the spacers. Draw two additional guidelines spaced 12" in from these.
  2. Use the phillips-head driver bit as a center punch to mark the position of screw holes along the lines, two per upper layer piece. Technically this is tool abuse, but it won't hurt the driver bit in this soft wood. These punches will position the drill bit exactly and keep it from wandering.
  3. Counterbore screw holes to at most 1/8" deep.
  4. Drill pilot holes with the 7/64" bit.
  5. Drive #10x2" screws, making sure all the heads sit below the surface.
  6. Remove the clamps.

Use the phillips driver bit as a center punch to mark the screw holes in a straight line on the top.

Counterbore for the screw heads, drill pilot holes, and drive four lines of #10x2" screws. Note the 2x4 clamped across the front as a caul to flush up that edge.

Cut that last pair of legs. The top makes a nice work surface stacked up on the other parts.

To attach the front apron:
  1. Stand the top up on its back edge, raised up on the lumber stacks.
  2. Apply glue to the front edge and spread it evenly.
  3. Place the first layer of the apron on the glue, flush with the top and one end.
  4. Pour glue over the surface of this piece and spread evenly.
  5. Place the second layer of the apron on this and clamp everything across the top.
  6. Use the smaller clamps on the bottom edge of the apron.
  7. Set the combination square to 1 1/2" (the thickness of the upper layer plus half the thickness of the lower layer).
  8. Use the square as a gauge to run a pencil line down the apron. This is a guideline for the screws; it will be in the middle of the lower layer thickness.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8, with the square set to 3/8". This puts a second guideline in the middle of the upper layer thickness.
  10. Punch for screw holes along these two lines in a zigzag pattern, starting on the lower layer guideline. Space the marks about 6" apart on each line.
  11. Counterbore, drill pilot holes, and drive #10x2" screws through the front apron into the top layers.

Glue the pieces of the apron to the front edge of the top and clamp in place. The smaller clamps hold the two layers together along the bottom of the apron.

Use the combination square as a gauge to mark guidelines for screw holes.

Drive #10x2" screws into the top layers after counterboring and drilling pilot holes.

In part 3, we'll build and attach the legs.

(Continue to part 3)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Apartment Workbench

The apartment workbench.

When I was demonstrating at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event earlier this month, talking to a number of people, I realized there's a whole class of potential woodworkers out there who are missing out due to some combination of severely limited space, funds, or skills.

The prototypical example was the lady who was a grad student living in a tiny city apartment with her husband and knew nothing about hand tools.

What they have is the interest and the desire. I know where they're coming from. I spent time in that situation myself, three out of three. If you're one of those people, this is for you.

Some of my woodworking buddies tell me they enjoy doing some work with hand tools, but I take it to extremes. I tell them that's because I want to show people it can be done.

You don't have to have a big workshop with a bunch of big, noisy, expensive power tools. You can work in a tiny footprint with a modest number of small, quiet, inexpensive hand tools. And then fold it up out of the way when you're done.

Introducing The Apartment Workbench

The apartment workbench is an adaptation of the portable workbench that appears in Roy Underhill's The Woodwright's Apprentice and earlier in Bernard E. Jones' The Practical Woodworker from 1918. From Paul Sellers' workbench, I've borrowed the idea of using pre-dimensioned construction-grade lumber. The top is laminated from these materials, offsetting the widths in the two layers.

It's small, with folding legs, to address the space limitation. It's made from a small amount of inexpensive materials with a small number of tools, to address the funds limitation. It's design is simple, relying on pre-dimensioned lumber, to address the skills limitation. Yet it's practical and functional, allowing you to build those skills.

Make no mistake, this is a small, crude, light bench. It's always better to have more mass. But that conflicts with the limitations we're dealing with. So it's a compromise, and your work will have to adapt to that.


I chose to get everything for the bench from a home center, because those are the most accessible suppliers for people, widely available and offering the lowest prices (though that's both good and bad). I limited myself to what you'll be able to find there.

Better quality materials and items are available from more specialized suppliers, but the goal here is absolute simplicity for the beginner while still maintaining a sufficient level of quality.

I generally have a low opinion of the hand tools available at home centers. Before World War II, people built everything with hand tools, and a tradesman or craftsman could expect his tools to last through tens of thousands of hours of use, to be passed from generation to generation.

That broad market for hand tools simply no longer exists. Because of that, the tools at home centers now have been reduced in quality of materials, design, and workmanship so that their working life is a few hundred hours at best. They're made to be thrown away after short use. That makes them cheap to buy, but means they're also cheap in quality.

However, for the hobbyist who only gets a few hours a week to use them, some are good enough to start with. Not all; some fall below the threshold of acceptability. I'll cover tools more below.

In the US, the predominant home center retailers are Home Depot and Lowe's. They sell lumber in standardized, pre-dimensioned sizes. I assume there are similar retailers and standardized lumber in other countries, though not all.

I went to Home Depot for all the materials and tools used to build the bench. I ordered the small vise from their website. The 4 1/2"x6 1/2" Pony vise is also available from Amazon, as well as other vendors.

The bench can handle a slightly larger vise (available from other websites) if you're willing to spend more money, but be careful about getting one too large that overbalances it. Vises get heavy fast. You can hurt yourself extending a heavy vise that tips the bench over on you. Portability, light weight, and convenience take priority here. That's part of the compromise.


You can click on any of theses images for a larger view. To obtain the plans, your browser should allow you save the images to your computer so you can print them out (you may have to right-click or Control-click on an image for a popup menu with download options).

The height of the bench as shown is 35 3/4". For comparison, my kitchen counter is 36" tall. I'm 5' 8", so that puts the bench about an inch below my belt. Height is a personal preference. The older you are, the more your back will appreciate erring on the side of higher, to reduce bending over.

If you want to make yours taller, you'll need to mount the spacer blocks wider apart on the underside of the top so that the legs fold down inside them. You'll also need to make the angled braces a little longer. It's best to save cutting the braces to size for the very last, since you need to size them to whatever you actually end up with.

Rear underside, showing how leg assemblies are attached to the top. The cross-braces provide rigidity. Like bridge trusses, they form triangles that can't be deformed.

Rear view disassembling the braces and folding the bench. Then you can stand it up on its side or end for storage. Or use it as a low coffee table; folded up, it's 9 3/4" high, about shin height.

Front exploded view.

Rear exploded view.

Dimensioned orthographic view.


The bench is built completely from construction-grade 2-by lumber (US standard sizes 2"x4", 2"x6", and 2"x8", sold in 8' lengths), and No. 2 premium pine 1-by lumber (US standard sizes 1"x6" and 1"x8", sold in 8' and 6' lengths).

All you need to do is cut it down, cut some simple lap joints in it, then glue and screw it together. There's one slightly challenging cut, but you'll get the hang of it quickly.

This should be within the abilities of even complete beginners. Building the bench will start building your skills.

The nominal dimensions used to identify lumber are actually the rough-milled sizes, before planing and jointing at the lumberyard. The final, surfaced dimensions are smaller: 1 1/2" thick for 2-by lumber, 3/4" thick for 1-by lumber; then 3 1/2" wide for 4" lumber, 5 1/2" wide for 6" lumber, and 7 1/4" wide for 8" lumber. I've sized all the parts based on these standardized dimensions.

If you're using lumber following a different sizing system, you'll need to adapt the design slightly. But it's all based on the widths and thicknesses of the standard units. Fit the pieces to what you have.

The 2-by lumber is generally labeled "KD SPF", "KD whitewood", "KD fir", etc. KD means kiln-dried. SPF means any spruce/pine/fir. This is what's used for floor and ceiling joists and framing studs in construction. Since it will be covered by siding and sheetrock, it doesn't have to be pretty. The corners of this stock are rounded, so butting pieces edge-to-edge leaves a small groove at the joint.

The 1-by No. 2 premium pine is pine with a certain number of knots. It's used for finish carpentry. The corners of this stock are left square, so butting pieces edge-to-edge leaves a smooth joint, which is why I used it for the benchtop upper layer. There's also "Select" pine, which is almost entirely free of knots, but roughly twice as expensive, used for a higher grade of finish carpentry. A few knots in the bench are an acceptable tradeoff for reduced cost.

When selecting lumber, go through the stacks and bins and examine each piece. Some of the 2-by lumber looks like it's been run through a chipper, so skip those. The other main defects for both 2-by and 1-by lumber are various types of warping, cracks, and splits.

Sight down the length of each piece and turn it to all sides to confirm that it's straight end to end and free of cracks or splits. Pick the best pieces. Restack any you're not keeping.

All the materials and hardware needed for the bench except the vise, which is currently being shipped (this shows one extra 2x4).

Each layer of the top consists of one 6"-wide piece and two 8"-wide pieces. Since the bench is 4' long, you only need to buy one 8' board of the wide stock in each thickness, which you'll cut in half to get the two pieces.

For the narrower stock, the remaining half of the 8' 2x6 will be used for the upper stretchers on the leg assemblies. You only need to buy a 6' length of 1x6, which will leave a 2' scrap. You can use this for the vise chops (the wooden liners for the vise).


Qty Description Unit Cost Total Cost
1 2x8, 8'$6.49 $6.49
1 2x6, 8'$4.62 $4.62
5 2x4, 8'$2.57 $12.85
1 1x8, 8'$11.12 $11.12
1 1x6, 8'$9.98 $9.98
1 1x6, 6'$8.54 $8.54


Hardware and glue:

Qty Description Unit Cost Total Cost
2 #12x3" screws, 25$5.90 $11.80
1 #10x2" screws, 50$5.98 $5.98
1 #14x4" screws, 2$1.18 $1.18
3 3/8"x6" carriage bolt$1.10 $3.30
1 3/8" wing nuts, 3$1.18 $1.18
4 4" T-Hinge$3.67 $14.68
1 Pony 6 1/2" light-duty
woodworking vise
$22.96 $22.96
1 Wood glue, 16oz.$4.68 $4.68


Total cost of materials: $119.36.

Addendum: while working on assembly, I realized I needed two additional packages of screws: #10x1 1/2, 25 and #12x2 1/2, 20. These should be under $10. Also, it doesn't hurt to have extras in all the sizes, because the regular wood screws at Home Depot are such low quality that the heads strip out easily when driven by a drill. Then you're left with a half-driven screw that you may need to remove with vise-grips. You might have better luck with decking screws.


In selecting the tools to build the bench, I opted for the lowest price tool that offered a sufficient level of quality. That means I skipped a few of the very cheapest items and spent a little more money for a better version.

That's a long-term tradeoff. You can certainly save a little more initially by going strictly for the cheapest, but you'll end up spending additional money pretty quickly to replace them with something better.

So start off better and save yourself the trouble and expense. Beware cheap, junky tools, no matter how shiny or how big the word PROFESSIONAL is on the package.

Because this bench uses pre-dimensioned lumber, you don't need any hand planes to build it. You need measuring and marking tools, a saw, a chisel and mallet, and a few clamps. You also need a drill for drilling screw holes and driving screws.

While I emphasize hand tools, Home Depot doesn't carry hand-powered drills, so I got a power drill. I chose corded instead of cordless because that offers better power for the same price. That means it can handle drilling larger holes with spade bits, and you don't have to worry about the battery dying halfway through driving a bunch of screws. Note that I bought 100 screws!

Tools: clamps, straight edge, power drill, handsaws, utility knife, mallet, drill bits, driver bits, spade bits, chisels, and combination square.

The clamps shown are the bare minimum you'll need. You can never have too many! These are Jorgensen Heavy-Duty bar clamps. They also have light duty bar clamps for a few dollars less, but these are much sturdier.

I got two saws. The 20" Stanley SharpTooth saw is a western-style push saw. It has impulse-hardened teeth sharpened in a combination rip/crosscut pattern. These teeth can't be resharpened, and the handle is pretty ugly, but it does a sufficient job until you can find a nice old antique saw to restore. The Irwin/Marples Japanese pull saw (known as a ryoba) is an extra. It has a crosscut side and a rip side. You can get by with either one of these saws.

For chisels, I got a Buck Brothers three-pack with 1/2", 3/4", and 1" chisels, and added separate 1/4" and 3/8" chisels (not needed to build the bench but good to have). There are cheaper ones, but I find these a little better.

I got a reasonable selection of drill and driver bits with quick-change adapter. This really is a helpful gadget, especially when driving screws, where you need to switch back and forth between counterbore, pilot, and driver bits. The spade bits are for larger holes.

This is enough tools to bootstrap you from nothing. If you already have some tools, by all means put them to use if they're functional.

While you don't need any planes to build the bench, they'll be the next thing you should get. I don't recommend the really cheap bench planes that Home Depot carries in the stores.

However, online they carry Stanley planes that are reasonable, 14" No. 5 jack plane (model 12-905, $61) and 9 3/4" No. 4 smoothing plane (model 12-904, $50). These are the lowest price planes I would recommend. The Stanley No. 5 and Stanley No. 4 are also available from Amazon at similar prices, as well as other vendors (however, check prices carefully, some sell them for twice the price).

If you buy old handplanes online, you can certainly find better quality ones for the same or less money. The trick with these is that you'll need to spend some time cleaning and tuning them. Also, not  all online sellers know their tools. So they may not be able to accurately assess condition or know if parts are missing.

My favorite reliable online tool dealer is Patrick Leach. He knows his tools (Patrick's Blood and Gore is a widely-known encyclopedic collection of old Stanley tool information), and always has good affordable ones on his monthly tool list.

Chisels and handplanes need to be sharpened. No matter how sharp they are initially, they dull in use. If you're going to use hand tools, you need to be able to sharpen them. The tools Home Depot sells have been sharpened at the factory on sanding discs or belts, leaving fairly heavy machine marks.

The simplest, least expensive sharpening setup to get started uses sandpaper adhered to a hard, flat surface, going through a series of progressively finer grits. Once honed this way, even cheap tools can take a good edge. Over time, the cost of sandpaper does add up, so you may opt for other methods long term.

Sharpening: wet-dry automative sandpapers in extra fine grits, polished granite floor tile (you can buy these singly), protractor for measuring bevel angle, single-edge razor scraper for removing sandpaper from the tile, spray adhesive, roll of non-slip shelf-liner, and coarser sandpapers.

I'll go through the sharpening process later. For now, the factory edge on the new chisels should get you through the bench.


Qty Description Unit Cost Total Cost
2 Jorgensen 24" heavy-duty bar clamp$15.97 $31.94
2 Jorgensen 12" heavy-duty bar clamp$13.97 $27.94
1 Ryobi 3/8" Clutchdriver drill$39.97 $39.97
1 Empire Straight edge, 48"$7.97 $7.97
1 Stanley 20" SharpTooth saw$11.97 $11.97
1 Irwin/Marples 9 1/2" double pull saw$22.97 $22.97
1 Stanley 6" retractable utility knife$4.48 $4.48
1 White rubber mallet, 16oz.$4.97 $4.97
1 Ryobi SpeedLoad 17pc drillbit set$19.97 $19.97
1 Ryobi 8pc driver bit set$3.97 $3.97
1 Bosch Daredevil 1/2" spade bit$3.97 $3.97
1 Bosch Daredevil 3/4" spade bit$4.67 $4.67
1 Buck Brothers 3pc Pro chisel set$19.88 $19.88
1 Buck Brothers Pro chisel, 1/4"$8.46 $8.46
1 Buck Brothers Pro chisel, 3/8"$8.96 $8.96
1 Empire 12" combo square$9.96 $9.96


The power drill and bits, extra saw, and extra chisels added $113 to the total. You need to have some way of drilling and driving, so you could get a cheaper drill and fewer bits for less than I paid for the drill. The other items are nice to have (especially the small 1/4" chisel), but you could work without them for a while.


Qty Description Unit Cost Total Cost
1 12"x12" polished granite floor tile$4.94 $4.94
1 Empire protractor/angle finder$5.97 $5.97
1 Single-edge razor window scraper$3.47 $3.47
1 Can spray adhesive$5.77 $5.77
1 Roll of non-slip shelf-liner$5.79 $5.79
4 3pack sandpaper
(one each in 80, 150, 200, 400 grits)
$3.97 $15.88
4 3pack automotive wet/dry paper
(one each in 600, 1000, 1500, 2000 grits)
$4.29 $17.16


If you plan on restoring old hand planes, get a second granite floor tile to use for cleaning and flattening beds and sides on sandpaper. Polished marble tiles also work.

When buying sandpaper, you don't have to match the grits I've shown here exactly; if you skip an intermediate grit or get one slightly higher or lower, it will still work. I got the automotive wet/dry sandpaper in the finishing section of an auto-parts store.

Total cost of tools: $291.06.


The total price to build the bench and have the tools left over to build stuff is $410.42. Add the two handplanes, and the total price to create a functional workshop, starting from nothing, is $521 plus tax and shipping. You can shave about $50 off that by skipping the extra items I got.

If you want to learn more about acquiring hand tools, see Chapter 4: The Tools in my online course, Intro Hand Tools.

Part 2

In part 2, we'll start building the workbench, beginning our first cuts and addressing the bootstrap problem: how do you build something when you don't have a workbench to work on? Hint: that's a nice stack of lumber... I'll show you how to use all the tools.

Before you cut anything, double check the measurements of the materials you have and any adjustments you've made. Plans can also have mistakes. Make sure everything adds up properly. Otherwise you may have to spend more money on replacement materials.

(Continue to part 2)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Events At FIM

This young man intently testing the Lie-Nielsen tools told me he reads the blog, but I neglected to get his name. I gave him a demonstration of fitting a tenon for a cherry frame and panel door, though the results were rather gappy.

I've been busy the last two weekends with events at Phil Lowe's Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. First was the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event on Friday and Saturday the 6th and 7th. Second was Phil's presentation yesterday for the Society of American Period Furniture Makers New England chapter, the third in his series building a Seymour night stand.

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event

There are two things I love about the events Lie-Nielsen puts on at various places around the country and the world. First, they let people try out every tool they make, providing skilled staff to help out. Second, they open them up to local vendors and demonstrators, giving them a venue to share their love of the craft.

I had a bench setup in the demonstrator area, representing SAPFM. I got to meet several readers and gave a number of impromptu demos. As always, my sharpening station was a favorite item, along with the Al Breed carving vise I used to hold the cabriole leg I was working on.

One theme that came up several times was people interested in learning to work with hand tools because they lived in small spaces. One young lady told me she was a grad student living with her husband in a small apartment, and the landlord let her use some space in the basement.

She spent nearly an hour with me asking questions and trying things out. In addition to limited space, she also had a grad student's limited budget. But the key was she clearly had the interest.

She got me to thinking about how to deal with these limitations, so in a future blog post I'll be presenting what I call the "apartment workbench", a hybrid of the Roy Underhill portable workbench and Paul Sellers workbench I've built previously.

The goal will be to bootstrap the woodworker who has limited space, limited funds, limited tools, and limited skills, using only what's available at the typical home center. While this isn't my favorite source for tools and materials, with some judicious selection it makes a practical starting point.

Roughing out a cabriole leg with a bow saw and turning blade. The carving vise is held canted in the bench vise.

Remember Paul Lelito's West Bridgewater Walnut? He managed to wrestle several slabs of this in for sale. He also had some smaller, highly figured pieces. If you're interested in any of this unique wood for your project, contact him at 508-451-9999 (cell) or 508-563-2000 (home/shop), or via email at plelito@hotmail.com.

Paul with two large crotch pieces from the upper trunk section.

A section of lower trunk, dead straight grain. Just strap this to the roof of your car to get it home!

Some of the bookmatched sequential boards.

The flitches stacked and stickered at Paul's sawmill at the Magnolia Cranberry Bog in Marion, MA.

There were several other demonstrators I know from previous events. Peter Follansbee was there Friday making his signature 17th-century riven oak carved pieces. Matt Bickford was there with his magnificent moulding planes. Tico Vogt was there with his Super Chute shooting board. John Cameron, one of Phil's instructors, was there with some amazingly complex joinery.

Peter Follansbee working on a carved frame-and-panel door.

Matt Bickford demonstrating his moulding planes.

Tico Vogt demonstrating his shooting board.

John Cameron with some of his beautiful joinery.

Padauk frame-and-panel top showing the puzzle-like interlocking pieces. He said these techniques were invented to hold tropical woods together before the advent of modern glues.

Chairmaker Peter Galbert was there Saturday with his toolmaking assistant Claire Minihan and a new assistant, Tim Manney. Peter is a fantastic chairmaker and teacher, but he's also quite a tool inventor. I've tried out his lathe caliper in the past, as well as the absolutely fantastic travishers that Claire makes. 

He had several new items this time, a couple developed with Tim's help. There was a reamer, an adze, and a drawknife sharpener (now being carried by Benchcrafted).

The fascinating thing about Peter's tools is that he's addressed some very specific problems for chairmakers and created tools, or refinements of old tools, that work amazingly well. Of course, their use isn't just limited to chairmaking.

The adze was fantastic. This is something of a lost tool. I have a commercial one, but it doesn't work very well. Peter's version is easy to use, well-balanced, extremely effective, and easy to sharpen. Tim gave me a brief tutorial, then I worked on the pine slab they had on the bench of a shaving horse.

The Drawsharp drawknife sharpener was equally fantastic. Like Peter's caliper, it's a unique approach to an old problem. He demonstrated its use for me. The edge it produced was breathtaking, with beautiful cutting action. I have several nice old drawknives that would benefit from this (in case anyone's wondering what to get me for Christmas...).

Peter Galbert dishing out a seat slab with his adze.

As always, the main Lie-Nielsen tool display was like a candy store. They always have several benches setup with a variety of fine hardwood practice lumber. You can see more event photos in their Facebook photo album.

Sampling the wares in the candy store.

SAPFM Seymour Night Stand Presentation

Phil's presentation this time focused on the joinery. The front legs are joined with rails, as are the back legs. The top front rail is dovetailed into the leg ends. The other rails are secured with mortise and tenons; the bottom rail is a double-mortise and tenon.

Phil laying out the dovetail socket in the top of the front leg.

The back panel floats in grooves. The side panels are glued into grooves. Drawer runners go front to back, floating in mortises. The primary wood is mahogany, with poplar secondary wood.

I only have a few photos, because like the last meeting I ran his video camera so people could watch closeups on a projection screen and record for posterity. I setup my tripod with pistol grip head on another workbench and stood on the bench. That gave me a nice high shooting angle down onto Phil's bench.

This time I had the wireless mic set up right. After the meeting I downloaded all the video onto his Mac and put together a quick test movie comparing the camera's built-in mic from last meeting with this meeting. The wireless mic makes a huge difference, eliminating all the background noise, people and chairs moving around, coughing. His voice comes through warm and strong. It makes the whole video seem much more professional.

This meeting was a real lesson in precision layout and fitting. I've read about everything Phil did before in his various magazine articles, but being there really made it sink in. There's just no substitute for watching and hearing him work.

The tools make a distinctive sound as the chisel snaps into a knife line, then slices across the grain. And with over 40 years of experience, he's breathtakingly fast and efficient.

For layout, Phil always takes measurements from his full-size drawings, then takes the measurement from the ruler. That's how he sets his gauges and combination square length.

He marks short widths and lengths with a cutting gauge. To mark longer dimensions, he sets the combination square, then holds the head to the part and makes a small mark at the end. Then he sets the knife point in that mark, slides a square across to it, and knifes all the way across. He marks firmly and deeply, so that a chisel edge will drop positively into the line.

He always chooses a reference surface, then takes every measurement from that same reference. For instance, for the double mortise-and-tenon, he stepped off each line progressively from the front face. That way, even if the piece isn't quite at the right width or thickness, short or fat by a bit, the lines will still be spaced correctly.

And he always marks both parts (mortise and tenon) at the same time, off the same setting. That point dropped magically home when he laid the marked up double tenoned rail end on the marked up double mortise leg face. All the lines matched up exactly.

There are those who argue you should be able to fit a joint straight from the saw, no trimming. But Phil always cuts fat by about a sixteenth, then trims to the line with a chisel. He did that for the dovetail, the tenons, and the notches in the drawer runners.

The only thing he cut to finished size was the mortises, since he was using a hollow chisel mortiser with specific size bit. So all the layout was based on the width of that bit.

Watching him trim to the line was the final point that drove it all home. With the piece upright in the vise, he would slide the chisel along the wood until it dropped into the knife line; you could hear it snap into place. Then he would lean into it, slicing into the grain.

He always worked either directly across end grain, or across side grain, never down the grain. That ensured that the chisel would stay in the knifed position, not get caught and run with the grain.

For end grain, he worked progressively across the full width of the cut. You could hear a distinctive rhythm of slide, snap, and scritch as the chisel moved to the line then cut in.

For side grain, he worked from alternating sides into the middle, to avoid blowing out the far side grain. Again, the sound of the chisel snapping into the gauge line, then scritching flat across the grain.

That rhythm is what I want to work on. With good positive knife and gauge lines, I could see that's what gave him fantastic precision and control. That, and 40 years of experience!

He quickly had each piece fit with a snug joint, tight enough for everything to hold together dry fit, yet pull apart with moderate hand pressure or light mallet taps.

Chopping the dovetail socket in the leg, holding back a sixteenth for later trimming.

Paring tenon shoulders to the knife line. Slide the chisel up along the wood until it snaps into the knife line, then push in to cut to depth. Repeat working sideway across the full width of the shoulder.

The rails and side panel dry fit to the legs.

Mortising a leg.

Notching the end of a drawer runner, sawing fat by a sixteenth.

Paring down to the line, across the end grain. One half of the notch width has been pared, the chisel is moving to the next. You can see the vertical knife line ready to pare across the side grain.

Paring to the line, across the side grain, first from one side...

...then from the other, again sliding the chisel along the face until it snaps into the knife line, then pushing in to cut.

You can bet these faces are trimmed EXACTLY to the desired dimension. Spectacular precision!

The next meetings in this series are 9AM-1:00PM on the following Saturdays:

  • Feburary 22
  • March 15
  • April 19
  • May 17
Meetings are open to SAPFM members and guests, but space is limited. If you'd like to attend, contact Freddy Roman at sapfmnechapter@gmail.com. Not a SAPFM member? You can join here for a modest cost.