Monthly Archives: January 2015

“Once more into the breech” … or … “How I came to love building workbenches”.

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One of my very favorite woodworking activities is researching and building workbenches. Now, I realize this is the sort of discussion forum argument fodder that has been discussed, written about, and pondered over, and over. It runs the risk of being both redundant and boring. However, The woodwright’s workbench is considered to be one of, if not THE, most important pieces of equipment in his/her shop.

My first bench, now sitting without love or even comprehension in my ex-wifes garage, was a maple topped, Douglas Fir-ed trestle, masterpiece of flying by the seat of my pants. An old 1 and 3/4′ thick maple laminated dining table left over by my parents, was cut and modified to produce a lovely bench top that served quite well. The bench was basically my take on the Frank Klausz bench, sans the traditional shoulder vise. A plain face vise and simple tail vise were all I had needed or wanted at the time.

Now that there is a new shop in the works, and some of the major machinery has been located and purchased, I turn my attention to the business of design and pre-planning of my main workbench.

Initially, I figured I would just duplicate and perhaps improve upon the original bench I built. In my mind’s eye, I envision an all maple constructed bench in the “Acorn Workbench” style. Two long rows of dog holes, and perhaps some that intersected at the left, for use with the face vise too. Mortise and tenon joinery, and even…gasp….perhaps a Danish oil or Linseed oil applied for both protection and conditioning, as well as to add a little panache.

But the woodworking gods took no pity on me, and the sticker shock of Rock Maple lumber forced me to at least explore other materials for my new benches construction. The thought of any material other than Beech or Maple for this bench, at one time would have been unthinkable. But in doing my normal internet searching for information on possible alternative materials, I happened upon the Roubo style bench espoused by Chris Schwarz.

Let’s be honest here. Workbenches, at their core, are nothing more than a means to secure work pieces for had work to be done to them….Well …..yes and no. Yes they are really just a tool, but for me, it also is an aesthetic part of my shop. Call it a security blanky, or fetish or what have you, but I want my workbench to be as satisfying to look at, as it is to work on.

So with that said, I find myself considering some other workbench designs, and materials. Now the selection of materials has grown from just Beech and Rock Maple, to  Beech, Rock Maple, White Oak, Southern Yellow Pine, CVG Douglas Fir, and Ash.

Design has settled on just a couple of possibilities though. I am currently leaning to the Acorn Workbench design. This was what I had before and I liked it. This time though, I am considering a tool till along the back of the bench a’la Frank Klausz’s well-known bench. I go back and forth on this, as many bench builders do. Ultimately, I suspect I will include one in this bench as I am quite sure I will “need” to build a second, smaller bench, for a combined table saw outfeed/assembly table. So that would free me up to build my main bench any way I wanted, knowing that I would also be able to build a completely different design for the second bench. Decisions, decisions.

As far as materials go, unless I can find Rock Maple here in Colorado for at or near the price of Douglas Fir or the like, I may end up building both benches out of BORG sourced lumber. There is something to be said for building a soon to be used and abused workbench out of cheaply obtained, widely available dimensional lumber. I feel it might just add the sort of worry free independence that expensive hardwood just can not deliver. if I dent or otherwise mar the top…so what, it only cost a fraction of what the maple would have run me. Whats that?…a knot in the base leg….hahaha…so what? it bothers me not at all…..WHEEEEEEE

I think if I am going to stick to the Acorn/Klausz style bench rather than the Roubo style bench, then some simple vises will also be in order. While I would dearly love some made by Benchcrafted, or Lie Nielsen, I simply can not justify the expense when a Veritas or Woodriver vice would serve just fine.

Although, I must admit that the notion of crafting a wood screw operated vise myself also has a great deal of appeal. I rather like the idea since I could point to my bench(s) and say without equivocation, that it/they were hand crafted entirely by me…..hmmmmm….seems I may have been premature in this blog post. It is quite clear I have a great deal of further web surfing to do before I begin musing on my future bench build.

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School Days…….(and a direction for this blog is taking shape)

Last night was my first class at Red Rocks Community College here in Denver, Colorado. After many years working professionally as a woodworker, my wife finally talked me into adding some alphabet soup to the end of my name.

Now, this is no small feat. I had steadfastly refused to re-engage in woodworking as a profession, let alone go to school for it. However, the more Love Of My Life (henseforth referred to as LOML) and I would discuss what we wanted for our futures, and the more I meditated on what I was really passionate about, the more woodworking kept being the one thing that I could truly point to as my hypothetical ideal career choice.

So, with a direction discussed and decided on, I took the plunge and enrolled in Red Rocks Community College’s Fine Woodworking program. My research revealed that this program is well thought of, and regarded as one of the better offerings out there, west of the Mississippi.

Going into this program, I mentally decided to make myself a blank slate. My intention is to proceed with the program as though I have never cut a single stick of wood in my life.

I had many reasons for this. Most of all, I want to get the most that this program has to offer. Even though I have plenty of experience working wood, some of my father’s words of wisdom keep popping into my thoughts.

“There is a BIG difference between having XYZ number of years of experience, and having the same experience XYZ number of times.”

In other words, if I feel as though I know it all, then there is a REAL big problem. I would be completely negating the whole purpose for going back to school.  My intention is to start from scratch, learn new skills, un-learn bad habits, and also to rekindle the fire and passion I have for working wood.

Another reason for starting from scratch is to really focus on each and every skill being taught, and to refine what skills I do have to a much more coheasive skill set. It occurs to me that taking a “never stop learning” attitude, will not only serve me well going through school, but in getting into this habit now, will definitely benefit me in the future as well.

My first class was on a very cold, and icey night. Things were a little touch and go as to if the class was even going to happen at all due to the lack of students in attendance at the beginning of the scheduled class time. As it turns out, besides me, there are at least another 15 die hard students willing to brave the elements, and abjectly moronic drivers in Denver. (how can people LIVE here, and still loose their minds and common sense whenever the snow starts to fall????…..I digress)

My professor and his teaching assistant seem at first blush, to be very well versed in woodworking in general, and hand tools in particular. Fellow tool junkies it seems……..I am HOME. This is by far the best scholastic experience I have ever had. Well equipped shop, knowledgable instruction, and the realization that the passion for woodworking is alive and well. RRCC Fine Woodworking Program…so far…..very highly reccomended.

Moving on.

Blogging is quite new to me. While I read and enjoy a number of blogs by other people, the notion of writing one of my own never occured to me. That is , until I read Chris Schwarz’s blog(s). I credit his writing with helping stir up my addiction to tools and work benches. NOT just those two things mind you, but those are the two that I noticed first. Endless Googling of obscure workbench designs, and hand planes etc.

In addition to awaking my dormant woodworking soul, Chris also does an amazing job of perpetuating the love of woodworking, and passing it on to others. THIS is a huge thing to me. He gleefully displays his obvious love for woodworking geekery…..this is my kind of guy.

So I thought I would take a shot at blogging too. Even if no one actually reads this, I like the idea of documenting my rediscovery of woodworking. I would like to think that there are some interesting thoughts and experiences that I would like to get recorded as I move through this adventure. School, classmates, what I am learning, what is old hat verses what is new to me.

Also, I confess that I too, am a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE tool junkie. The first shop I had, I spent countless hours researching the machines I wanted, and how best to place them/use them in a two car garage. I find that, since I am starting from scratch building my new shop, I am rediscovering the fun that the research is. I love finding the best tools, discovering what makes them the best, then going out and wheeling and dealing for them. I absolutely love the thrill of the hunt for good quality tooling. I would rather hunt down older, used, high quality tools, than to walk into a store and plunk down cash for the newer stuff that is available now.

So I plan to discuss my progress in the re-construction of my new shop here in this blog as well. Let’s be honest, I could not lay claim to being any kind of woodwright without talking endlessly about my tools, finding my tools, dealing for my tools, and just tools in general. It’s just not done.

One other thing I want to talk about, at the risck of being a bit of a copy cat, is what I plan to do about building a workbench. (or, more than likely, a couple of workbenches)

I know it is a subject that has been covered, re-covered, and gone over ad infinitum. I know that guys (and some ladies too) have written PLENTY about the in’s and out’s of woodworking workbenches. Whole books have been dedicated to the subject. (Jim Tolpin or Chris Schwarz for instance) But I absolutely love workbenches. I love building them. So, since this IS  my blog, I intend to do some writing on the subject too.

Well, I think that should be enough blogging for now. Unless something interesting comes to me before my next class, I suspect that my next entry will be on that next class….and maybe something about tool hunting…..and also maybe something about workbenches too….LOL…..thanks for reading.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

After a professional career in woodworking-cabinetmaking-millworking, and swearing up and down that I would never cut another stick of wood as a result, I have come full circle.

Following my career in woodworking, I had a high intensity career in Federal law enforcement, a divorce, and a lovely midlife regression to a more “Frat boy” outlook on responsibility. Good times, good times.

I left federal employ, re-married, and settled down…again. During this settling down period, my lovely wife and I began discussions as to where our lives were headed, and what it was we REALLY wanted out of our remaining years.The question “What would your ideal job/career/vocation” continued to be asked, and pondered by us both.

Inevitably, My ideal would be imagined as spending my days in an esthetically pleasing woodshop, with shavings on the floor, my workbench littered with various handtools and bits of whatever project I happened to be working on.

I am not at all sure why this always ended up being  my vision of how I would love to spend my days, as my life turned the mid point. Perhaps it was that creative voice in my soul, continuing to demand expression. Maybe it was a still, unsatisfied addiction to researching and equipping a fine woodworking shop. Maybe both.

Regardless, it was my wife who delicately continued to guide me to finding my way back to woodwork. In the span of a year, she encouraged me to explore going back to work as a woodwright. be it as a self employed woodworker, or to search out someone else with a like minded approach to the craft.

She also pointed to my desire to go back to school. As it happens, Denver has a community college that sports the third largest woodworking program. Red Rocks Community College has been quietly going about the business of both keeping fine woodworking alive, as well as producing future generations of woodworkers imbued with the love of craft and workmanship.

So, you may be asking, “what is this blog going to be about?”. Well, dear reader, I suppose I am not entirely sure myself. All I can tell you is that, it will be a woodworking blog. It will include my experiences in the Red Rocks Fine Woodworking degree program. There will be musings on the researching and equipping of my tiny little brick garage woodshop. Perhaps some discussion of my exploration into hand tooling and the use of handtools that have always excited me, but had been unobtainable until now.

I would also like to use this blog as a means to express my desire to keep woodworking alive as an art form. I feel that as a community, it is important for us as craftsman, to both share our mutual love for the craft, as well as do our best to provide a means of perpetuating woodworking and craftmanship philosophies.