Casing the Joint

Finally back to work on the Grandfather Clock… I’ve mostly been milling up boards for the case that will “hold the pendulum” (it’s really going to hold shelves), but I finally started putting the case together today.

It’s only about half done, but I was moderately impressed with the work I did, so I wanted to take a couple pictures before heading inside for a snack.

The only downside is I managed to blow out a huge chunk of wood from one of the show faces, so i took some pictures. I was planning to add some mouldings to cover the dovetails, anyway, so I’ll just make them a little bigger to cover a big chunk of missing wood. The difference between a professional and an amateur isn’t that the professional makes less mistakes, it’s that he knows how to fix them.

(sorry for the crappy picture quality; I didn’t want to drag my big camera out in the rain)

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Done enough

I’ve gotten a lot done since the last post and I think I’m going to call this bench “done enough.” It won’t be “done” for a long time. It may never be “done,” but for now, I’m not doing anything else to it.

I drilled all the dog holes, flattened the top a bit, got the twin screw vise assembled, and applied some finish. I need to seriously level the legs, but they’re good enough for now. I’ve got some plastic shims from the home center to shove under there if need be.

The finish is just a few coats of Watco Danish Oil rom the Home Depot, It’s still wet in the pictures, which is why it looks all shiny. ¬†It should dull down when it dries. The point isn’t to look pretty, it’s to provide protection. Danish oil is an oil/varnish blend that sinks into the wood to resist staining, repel water, etc. I put one coat on most of the surfaces and two coats on the surfaces that would be touching work pieces (the most likely to get splattered on; and if they get glue drips or something, I’d want to remove it easily; I don’t care if a stretcher has glue globs on it).

I also rearranged the shop to put the new bench against the back wall, next to the windows. I think it’ll be nice to be able to look out the windows while I work, but it feels weird to have my back to the garage door, especially in the summer, so it may end up moving around a bit ūüôā

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She’s got legs!

I finished the last of the laminations and had to see how it all went together…. and it’s starting to look like a workbench! (well, an upsy-downsy workbench)

The photos are from a test fit (and many things did not fit), but the final has actually been bolted together. Not everything was straight, some things had to be resized, and I totally screwed up the length of the long stretchers, but I’m over it. I’m really only concerned with the front , which is fairly flat. It’s going to face the wrath of my jointer plane soon enough! That will make everything perfectly flush and very useful.

The finish line is totally in sight. I just need to saw those “tusk lap joints” flush and finish installing the front vise and everything will be golden. Yeah, then there’s flattening the top and applying some finish. ¬†But at least it will be upright.

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I used a router!

I honestly can’t remember the last time I used a handheld router. Since I built the router table extension to my table saw, I’ve been using that exclusively. With the router table, I have a nice solid reference surface, a solid fence to guide the work, etc. Heck, most of the work I’ve been doing with it recently is cutting rabbets and dadoes for drawer bottoms and case backs. I can cut rabbets with my shoulder plane or fillister plane… and I’m looking at getting a plow plane to handle dadoes for things like drawer and box bottoms.

But, getting that benchtop up on the router table might be a¬†little¬†difficult. So it was time to break out the old plunge router. This cheapie Skil router (visible in one of the photos) was actually my first real woodworking power tool; really my first “fine woodworking” tool. I’ve hated it for a long time. But today I took the time to set it up, align the fence, set the depth stop, etc., and it actually worked pretty well. I was pleasantly surprised.

The groove is for a sliding deadman, which will probably be a project for a later date, but it is a lot easier to cut the slot before the bench is assembled. Of course, between the giant front vise and the end vise, there are only a few feet of travel for the sliding deadman, but I think it will be worth it.

The slot itself is 3/4″ wide and 1-1/2″ deep (half the thickness of the benchtop). ¬†It’s set back 3/4″ from the front with the intention that I’ll build the deadman from whatever 2x4s or 2x10s I have left over (2x stock is really 1-1/2″ thick). And as I was planning the sizes, I actually thought to myself: “that leaves part of the front of the bench at merely 3/4” thick!”… and then I realized that’s the thickest board I use to build furniture … furniture that will last for generations. It’s interesting to have this “thicker is better” workbench building mentality.

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Tail Vise

I took the quick release vise off my old bench and attached it as an end vise on the new bench. Nothing really special, but did learn how much better a woodworker I am now than when I first installed that vise. Everything was accurately measured and absolutely spot-on. Some of that is remembering the things I screwed up the first time I installed it; the rest is learning better techniques for measuring. For example, this time around I marked the hole positions using a drill bit that precisely fit the hole (3/4″ forstner in this case) and had the foresight to drill the hole one size bigger (7/8″).

And I made the top of the chop just a little proud of the benchtop. ¬†That way I can plane it down flush and it looks like I really know what I’m doing.That’s the key to woodworking: making it look like you know what you’re doing.

And as you can see, the workbench is already in use. At least as tool storage. That’s one way it’s difficult to build a bench without a bench… You don’t have anywhere to put your tools!

But talk about workbench height problems! I’m hand sawing 2x4s to rough length on top of my new bench, which is on top of my old bench, which is probably a little to tall, itself. I feel like I should be on stilts.

I also couldn’t resist testing out the bit & brace on the doug fir. I’m going to have to bore out a bunch of dog holes and holdfast holes, so I wanted to test it out. My old bench had a hardboard and MDF top, which is a beast to drill with an auger bit. Because they’re essentially lots of sheets of paper laminated together, it would jam constantly. The doug fir went beautifully. My new Veritas bench dogs fit perfectly; tight enough to hold anything, but slide up and down nicely. Holdfasts hold tightly, wonder dogs work as well as the bench dogs. It’s a thing of beauty.

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Sawing Like a Greased Lamb

Okay, I was kinda looking forward to sawing the ends off my bench. I knew I didn’t have a circular saw that was up to the challenge and there was no way I was getting that beast up on my table saw, so I was going to have to break out the panel saw. I also got to play with a new toy I got from Lee Valley: mutton tallow.

I’ve been kinda obsessed with tool lubrication recently, which makes for a lot of interesting google searches. So when Lee Valley started carrying mutton tallow, I had to pick up a tin. When I received it, I immediately smeared some on my plane soles. It worked well, but it wasn’t as convenient as the chunk of¬†paraffin¬†wax I keep in my apron pocket. But the downside to paraffin is it sucks at lubricating saws. Imagine rubbing a candle on a sawblade; yeah, that bad.

And that is where mutton tallow really shines. Smear a little on my thumb and forefinger, slide them down the backside of the teeth and the first inch of the plate, and it’s cutting like a brand new saw (which is important, because my panel saws are ¬†terribly in need of sharpening). But the best part is the material. ¬†Mutton tallow is essentially lamb fat. And if you’ve ever cooked lamb, you know the fat has a very distinctive smell. ¬†Every time I open that little tin and catch that whiff of lamb, the first thing that comes to mind is “No meat? We have lamb!”

But back to the sawing part. After spending about a half a day pondering that “square framing square” (and even “square square”) is a complete verb phrase, I got around to squaring my square. ¬†The old Home Depot square was more than a little out of square, but a few minutes with a dead blow hammer and a screwdriver fixed that.

For the sawing itself, I used a combination of two grips. I started with the typical “overhand grip” that is usually associated with using a panel saw. Then, after I made significant headway, I moved on to a vertical grip. I moved off to the side of the bench, rotated the saw to a vertical position, gripped the handle in 2 hands and pumped the saw straight up and down, like a miniature pit saw. Which worked out great. Overhand sawing produces a long, angular cut and the vertical sawing follows along that path. Alternating the grips kept my arms from getting too tired, which is easy to do when cutting a massive block of wood with a very dull saw.

Speaking of massive blocks of wood, I had to take a picture of the “offcut” from one side of the bench. ¬†Yeah, that’s about 3 inches thick, 8 inches wide, and 22 inches deep.

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A Little Off the Top

I made shavings. Lots of shavings.

First I made handplane shavings. I wanted to get the tops at least somewhat level before putting them in the thickness planer.  At first I just went at it freehand, but then I came up with a system! As you can see in the photos, I used a red lumber crayon to draw a cross-hatched pattern on the top, then I planed diagonally across the grain until all the marks were gone.  Then I re-marked the whole thing and went over it again, 90 degrees from the first pass. Then I flipped it over and did the same on the other side.

Final thicknessing was another story. I usually put my lunchbox planer on my WorkMate and ¬†use a couple roller stands to guide it in. Turns out the tops are way too freakin’ heavy. The adjustable roller stands adjusted themselves to the floor and my planer’s posts got all wobbly under the strain. The solution was simple enough: build a stationary planer! I had a 12″ piece of¬†melamine-topped particleboard, so I slid that onto the bed of the planer, leveled it with scraps so it was nice and sturdy, and screwed the whole works down to my current workbench (the upside to trashing your old workbench is you don’t mind beating it up while building a new one).

And I got a helper. Special thanks to my sister, Rebecca, for helping me lug the behemoths around the shop. And for patiently waiting while I reset blown fuses.

I had originally planned to “joint” the edges on the table saw, but the depth-of-cut wasn’t quite there (nor was the horsepower), so I ended up jointing them by hand. Luckily, they were surprisingly square, so I mostly just knocked down the high spots and created a “spring joint” on the edges that were being glued together.¬†A spring joint is a slight concavity on the insides of the pieces being glued together; the ends are flush and the middle has a slight gap, which the clamps close tightly. It ensures a tight glue line.

Speaking of which, it’s now in the clamps and should be ready for legs and vises soon. I’ll try to get some pictures of me sawing the ends. That should be… fun?

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