Category Archives: carpentry

I Can Finally Call It A “BENCH”!

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So, does anyone notice anything……different in this picture?  It’s subtle, I know. That is, if the word subtle can be used in a sentence under a picture of this epically overbuilt workbench.

Today, the Fed Ex driver delivered a 45 pound box to my very doorstep. “Oh my”, I exclaimed. “Whatever in the world could THIS be”?

Much to my delight, enclosed in the battered and broken box, was a vintage Craftsman/Columbian 10 inch, quick release vise.

OH JOY OF JOYS!

OH DREAM OF DREAMS!

As many of you already know, one of the bits of minutia that I have been fretting over was what vise(s) to put on this workbench of mine, to finish it off and make it truly usable.
I had been considering the classic, “old school” front and end vises that you would normally see on a Scandinavian/Continental bench, but I had mounted these on my first bench and found them to be “rack-master-5000’s”. That is to say, they would rack and bind in their mountings and cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then the focus turned to the Record line of all steel vises made in Sheffield, England. These are wonderful, pass on to your great, great grandchildren vises. Since anything that resembles the old Record company and/or their fine metalwork has been long gone for nearly ten years now, it is pretty much EBAY or dumb luck as far as getting your hands on one of these. Even if a suitable example can be found, the cost would lead one to think that they are forged from solid gold ingots….wholly unsatisfactory.

There are high quality clones from out friends in the far east as well as from the former Czech Republic. Reasonably priced, and more than adequate for the job.

Then I finally caved in and, in a state of desperation, began scouring Ebay for something old, something heavy, something made from steel that was mined from these here United States.

While going through my normal “find something promising, google it, learn all I can about it” fits, I found a brand that seemed to be in fairly good supply. Columbian Vise Co.

Columbian vises are regarded as the American version of the Record vises. They are hugely overbuilt, made from very high quality MURRICAN (American) steel, and have been around since the late 30’s to about the late 70’s. Examples of their 10 inch vise were selling quickly on “The Bay” The game changing reason I became interested in this option, was the fact that these vises were manufactured in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio.

As I did my due diligence dance, I discovered that Columbian also rebranded their flagship vise for Sears Roebuck. Virtually identical to Columbian’s top of the line woodworking vise in every way….except for peoples interest in one on Ebay. Surely there had to be some reason these were not being snapped up by vintage tool enthusiasts…right? There had to be some sort of catastrophic defect in them to drive people away from buying them.

Researching further, I asked this question on several woodworking forums. It is in the pages of these forums that I normally can find answers and confirmation of those answers, just by using the search function. This time though, I needed to be specific, so I posted my question and got next to no responses. Except for one guy who used to work for Sears. He told me that, yes these were indeed nearly identical to the Columbian flagship vise, and that the only differences were in the casting of the Craftsman brand name in the face, and a little extra metal added to the chop faces. Otherwise, exactly the same.

I confirmed this with another fellow on a separate forum who has one of each. No real difference in the vises. All parts are totally interchangeable.

After finding this out, I was bent on obtaining either a Columbian or Craftsman 10 inch, quick release vise, and I was not going to pay anything remotely close to retail for it….

In just a few short hours, and one or two aborted attempts to negotiate the securement of several sub-par vises, I stumbled on a vintage (c.1964) Craftsman/Columbian. The seller stated they really didnt know much about it other than it had been in storage a very long time. I circumvented the normal bidding process and contacted the seller directly with an embarrassingly low offer…..i’m talking really, really low.

The response left me dumbfounded. The said that my offer would be fine since they had had the thing listed for some time with no bites. They needed the boat anchor gone.

So this is all well and good since the condition appeared in the pictures to be better than any of the other examples I had seen.

Here is where it gets interesting……

When I opened the box this morning, there was inside, ….. another box! THE original box. Not only that, but upon inspection of the vise, I discovered that the darned thing had NEVER BEEN MOUNTED. It was brand new, in the box, with the original paperwork.

Hows that for thrifty?

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There she is folks….a BRAND NEW COLUMBIAN/CRAFTSMAN 10 inch, quick release woodworkers bench vise, mounted in it’s new habitat, ready to finally be used as intended.

EDIT:
Below is a picture I added for reference. It is a picture of the Columbian version of my new vise but in RESTORED CONDITION.

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Anyhow, now I can finally say I built a functioning WORKBENCH!

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Mr. Sellers Perfect Timing.

I swear I had nothing to do with the timing of the linked article from Paul Sellers blog.

https://paulsellers.com/2015/07/making-decisions-take-control/

However, his fortuitous post supports my contention that the world today may indeed, be ready for something of a shift in the way we view success, the way we determine self worth, and the way in which we participate in our own lives.

While there is certainly a hint of indignation in his post, Mr. Sellers does effectively, at least to my mind, continue to encourage a certain fearlessness to those who dream.

It is as though he is shouting to the world that “It’s good to want to be self sufficient. It’s good to use your woodworking talents as a means of being independent. DO IT!!!, for gods sake, its OK. Don’t be afraid!”

So refreshing. So encouraging to see and feel that I am not alone. So good to read such a naked call to arms.

Just sayin.

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Rediscovering the Woodwright.

So today, I stumbled across this article…..

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/

If you read the article, you may have noticed the section on “Artisan’s Revenge” or some such. It is an interesting and hopeful notion that there may still be a seat at the socio-economic table for professional woodwrights like me.

Happily, I have discovered others out there, both in the blogosphere and through school, that share the same hope.  Folks who mirror a number of the same ideas that you can read about in several blogs like Paul Sellers blog

( https://paulsellers.com/woodworking-blog/paul-sellers-blog/ )

Love him, or leave him, Mr. Sellers, among others, present an encouraging case for the future of the artisan in the modern economy. He calls it “lifestyle Woodworking”

It’s interesting to me that the very nature of modern economics has forced a development of an entrepreneurial spirit. Not yet fully developed perhaps, but alive and kicking.

This is, according to the Atlantic article pinned above, due to several factors.

First,
In my view the term “job security” no longer has the same definition as before.

With a significant percentage of the workforce being what would traditionally be referred to as “under employed” there is a significant swell of outside-the-box creativity both in job hunting and defining employment, as well as folks creating as a means of employment.

Whether it be because traditional full-time jobs have been fractured into part time positions, or because workers string “gigs” together to pay the bills, one thing holds the potential as a happy byproduct of “underemployment” ….. Time available to create!

So, to take the lemon of unemployment or underemployment and make lemon cello out of it, there seems to be fertile ground and willingness to rediscover artisanship as a viable means to support one’s self.

This is encouraging. Part of me mourned my decision to pursue what many considered a dying art/trade.

Still, because I love it, and because I’m actually good at it, I soldiered on, always hoping that the demand for handmade, high quality, “things” made from wood, would experience another revival.

It seems I am not alone. Nor are artists who paint, nor blacksmiths(something I am determined to learn to do), or writers, or people willing to collaborate in developing new ways of doing business independent of established economic norms.

It might just be that folks are tiring of being defined by how large their house is.

It might just be that we, as a species, might be on the brink of redefining the level of satisfaction we derive from our work. We may be at a place where, when freed up to create, we find that it is satisfying to “live to work”.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a place in our lives where we had food, shelter, family/friends, and something we did that satisfied us as our job?

Maybe not so far fetched.

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“IT…IS…ALIVE!!!!”

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Well….sort of.

Recently, I have been remiss in my blogging duties. Aside from being insanely busy, I have also been working very hard to get the “Tiny Shop” up and running. Progress has been slow, and tedious, but it continues.

As any of you who have been reading or have gone back and read the many posts that incessantly chronicle my preoccupation with work benches, know, I have been slowly building a traditional-ish workbench for my “Tiny Shop”.

Finally, I can post a couple of pictures of my nearly completed workbench. It is built entirely of BORG (Big Orange Retail Giant) dimensional lumber. 2″x6″ x8′ boards were laminated for the top. The trestle is made up almost entirely of 4″x4″ material with the exception of some 2″x8″ boards that are the lower stretchers of the trestle.

Joinery is all hand cut mortise and tenon. These M&T joints are fortified by 5/8″ carriage bolts, washers, and mating nuts. I decided to put two of them through the tenons to ensure the kind of heft and “stoutness” that I was after for this bench. Definitely overkill of the highest order, but quite satisfying for me. The M&T joints were nice and snug fitting, but I wanted a really , REALLY stout bench.

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Currently, the trestle is glued, bolted, and wonderfully stout. The only things that remain to be done are construction of the tool well, attaching the top to the trestle, and finishing the bench.

The last time I built a bench, the “Beloved Bench”, I left it unfinished. There are two schools of thought on finishing wood working workbenches. One is NOT to finish it at all. The thinking goes that it is better to leave it unfinished so that no “slickness” develops on the bench top, thereby making some hand work operations more difficult.

The other school of thought, is to use some sort of oil finish. This gives a modicum of protection, and allows for easier clean up of glue and other contaminants.

Since it seems that I am doing all the things with this bench, that I did NOT do on the Beloved Bench, I have elected to finish this bench.

Since I am painfully, economically challenged of late, I have decided to use a “home-brew” wiping varnish on this bench. It is cheap, it is proven, (and proven, and proven) and it is stone simple.

Once the bench is sanded and ready, I will mix a batch of finish that is a mainstay of countless cabinetmakers and furniture builders. It is a blend of 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 spar varnish, and 1/3 turpentine. The turpentine thins the oil and varnish so that they penetrate deeply into the wood, and also help to dry-cure the finish just a little faster than normal. After a couple of thin coats have been applied and cured completely, I will “finish the finish”off with some quality paste wax. It should be beautiful.

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DO YOU…SEE THE LIGHT?

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Almost brother James, almost.

This weekend, I posted that I had been making headway on putting my “Tiny Shop” together. I can say with only a little reservation, that I can indeed SEE THE LIGHT.

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I still need a whole grip of things to get done before I can say that it is actually a “Shop”, but I’m here to tell you, this little building is a damn sight closer to becoming the realization of a working woodshop.

While things get shuffled here and there, I can start to see how things are going to need to be arranged in order to get efficient use of this space. I can also see that machine upgrades may need to happen sooner, rather than later.

But that is a different post.

For now, this is shaping up to be a nifty little place to birth the shop of

Dun
Dun
Dun

The Madcap Woodwright.

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A Day In The Life … or … The spirit of James Krenov is alive and well and living in Denver.

image Now that I have made some headway on sorting the shop, my thoughts turn to just what it is exactly, I intend to do with it. Obviously, there will be much lolly gagging, and pondering over steaming cups of coffee. There will be plenty of tinkering, and tweaking, and fussing about with the machines. I can also imagine a period of building jigs, and shop cabinetry, not to mention those pieces promised to the Love of my life (LOML) once the shop is operational. After that, it is a little foggy. If I were asked what my fantasy life would be like, I would have to say that I would be quite content to stroll out to the shop early in the morning, smelling the lilac as I passed by, coffee cup in hand. I can clearly envision opening the shop up, turning on some music (perhaps Bach, or Brahms. Maybe some Miles Davis, or Duke Ellington.) and sketching something from the catalogue of project ideas I have stored up in my minds eye. Once a suitable direction has been selected, the rough dimensions and scale imagined, it is time to saunter to the lumber rack and select from the gobbs and gobbs  of North American hardwoods or perhaps something European and mysterious. Something I have yet to cut into or work with yet. Perhaps some Olive wood, or Steamed Beech. Running my hands over the rough sawn boards, I wait for one or two to speak to me. As esoteric and deluded as this may sound, I have ALMOST felt this experience as described by James Krenov in his books, from time to time in my career. The experience of being patient, and waiting for the wood to “Tell” you what it wants to be. Once the boards have been selected, it is time to begin the day by bringing these precious pieces of wood into square so that they can begin their metamorphosis from rough sawn stock, into something fine and pleasing to the touch. The anticipation of the finished piece is present, to be sure. However, there is great joy in handling the boards, discovering their grain and figure as they are milled carefully. As the day progresses, a break for a drink from a refrigerated water bottle, and a bite to eat. Mustn’t forget to feed the Koi also. I can imagine spending 20 minutes or so, munching on a sandwich, drinking cold water, and watching the Koi Hoover up every last morsel of food tossed in their pond. Once snack time is over, it is back to the shop to lay out joinery, or to take glue-up’s out of the clamps and scrape the squeeze out from the joints before preparing them for their intended use. As mid day turns to late afternoon, good headway has been made. The piece is ready to be dry fit. With the remaining time in the day, perhaps even getting the piece into glue up is possible if executed well. Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Will I have to rush through the glue up process? Or can I take my time, and allow the piece to come together, rather than bullying it into submission? Maybe there would be someone waiting to buy the piece. Someone who knows what went into it’s construction. Someone who sees the same synchronicity  between the wood itself, and the piece as a whole. This would be the ideal way to spend my days. Yes, this would be an ideal day in the life of the Madcap Woodwright. A day spent exploring my imagination, and making useful things for people to enjoy. Definitely something to work for…no question. Like me on Facebook @ Madcapwoodwright Follow me on Twitter @ mdcpwoodwright

Some Thoughts On The Modern Woodwright….OR……Chris Becksvoort Is My Hero.

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As of late, I have found it a bit difficult to sit down to tap out a post here, as has become my habit. Suffice to say, the muse has not been upon me.

That is until I began researching clamps (of all things) to use in the soon-to-be-new-to-me shop.

I remembered reading an article in Fine Woodworking Magizine some time ago, that had some pictures of one of their long time editor’s, Christian Becksvoort in his home shop.

The article was about small shops of different sizes and scale. In one of the pictures that described Mr. Becksvoort’s shop at his home in New Gloucester, Maine, there was a wall full of sturdy looking clamps. These were clamps that I had never seen before, and felt that I simply MUST have them……..as I have mentioned before, it’s a sickness.

Me being…well… “Me”, I Googled Mr. Becksvoort, and through his website sent an e-mail asking him if he would be kind enough to send me any information on those clamps if he could. (NOTE: please notice the request by him to direct any “woodworking questions” to his contact info at Taunton Press. He provides a link. I must confess that in my zeal, I did not notice this little request until AFTER I had sent the email to his business email…lessons learned, and he still took the time to respond to me. Nice guy)

Now, Christian Becksvoort is a well known name in woodworking circles. He has written books, gives workshops, edits a well known and established woodworking journal, AND finds time to produce fine, handcrafted furniture in limited quantities. In short, the man is a woodworking God to many….myself included.

So, imagine my delight when, in ten minutes time, I had received a reply from him graciously forwarding to me the contact information for the company that made his clamps. We traded a couple of emails, and that was that.

Or was it?

You see, in this day and age, it can be difficult to find a Woodwright like Mr. Becksvoort. Successful, well known, self employed, and solvent. Granted, he, like so many talented Woodwrights out there, supplements his income giving lectures, and writing, but that is only because he had made his name by hand crafting such fine pieces in the first place. The man is truly living the dream after having paid many, many dues. To me, having any expectation of getting a response from him, let alone within ten minutes, was a lot to ask. At least in my mind it was.

Anyhow, I may sound a little surprised by the personal response by one of my hero’s.  The truth is, if I really thought about it,  I shouldn’t be. Chris has a long standing reputation as a true ambassador for the art of woodworking, and also as a thoughtful and well respected “stand up” guy. I have followed his work for as long as I can remember, and can attest to this. Granted that my endorsement means very little, and that on a personal level,it is based only on three or four gushing emails traded with him in the span of an hour. Still and all, he did respond personally, and was just as gracious, encouraging, and friendly as a hero SHOULD be.

So, this begs the question, “Why so few Woodworkers like Mr. Becksvoort?” Why is it so, that so many aspiring woodworkers either never move past the hobby stage in their woodworking, or if they do try to strike out on their own professionally, fail to make a living at it? How do the Sam Maloofs, Christian Becksvoorts, and James Krenovs “make it” and others do not?

All good questions. All questions that I wish I had an answer to.

If you listen to some, you may get the idea that fine woodworking as a trade, is dead. That it is relegated to being a craft or hobby only, and that mass production and the IKEAs of the world have replaced it with disposable furniture. In some respects, and for some people, this may be true. However, for me at least, I do not think that it is asking too much of the world to make room for and appreciate finely crafted furniture. Pieces that started as a tree, and were lovingly, respectfully, and honestly worked into a table, book case,chair, or cabinet designed and built to last several lifetimes, and the people whose hands make them, surely still have value and an audience.

One of the keys to advancing this mindset, and thus securing the livelihood of present and future generations of Woodwrights,  is through connection to folks like Mr. Becksvoort. Connection with like minded artisans. It used to be that trade shows and guilds were the mainstays of this connection. Over the years, the guilds have either died off, or are only barely there, and the trade shows/craft shows have degenerated largely into not much more than living commercials for … gasp … tools and jigs that are not really NEEDED.

There is one area that has brought hope though. The internet.

The internet has been a wonderful resource not just for researching woodworking, but also for connecting like minded artisans. I belong to a handful of quality online woodworking forums. (sawmillcreek.org , woodworkingtalk.com , lumberjocks.com, etc.)These forums are an absolute treasure trove of folks who, of vastly differing skill levels and woodworking interests, gather to shoot the breeze, talk about tools, and generally be there for one another. I doubt very highly that you could ask a question on one of these forums, and not get a researched, and thought out answer. More likely, you will get several. Even more likely, you will get several DIFFERENT answers. While it may sound like getting a bunch of different answers to a question is like spinning your wheels, think about this…..

In getting several different answers to a question, you are presented not only with differing opinions and options, but also with little morsels of information  that you can use to further your search, should you not find a satisfying answer initially.
A word to the wise, if you ask a question, and get several different answers that don’t really satisfy you, go out and research what morsels you get in those answers. If you come up with an answer all your own…. go back to your original post and SHARE THAT INFORMATION.

It is through the continual sharing of information that we help keep woodworking alive. Sure, you really DO need to go out to the shop and build stuff. To spend your days writing blog posts and researching tools and blabbering about workbench design, is an exercise in mental masturbation. It feels good, but produces very little.

However, sharing information, and helping fellow woodworkers develop and grow their skills and knowledge base, is a foundational move to keeping the trade moving forward, keeping it from dying. It is through this connection with one another that we help to evolve the art of working wood in that, methods and processes, both old and new, are passed on. Questions about various joinery techniques are answered. Help with applying finishes can be had. Critiques of design ideas are available for the asking. Discussions of forestry and responsible timber harvesting, renewable forestry, and general knowledge sharing on the subject of the proper management of our forests for future Woodwrights, are all facilitated  and made much more available via the internet now.

Therefore, a simple personal response to a very simple question, asked by a VERY simple Woodwright, is indeed a hallmark of someone who values working wood not just as a means to provide for a family, but also as something worth sharing and passing on to future simple Woodwrights.

Thanks Chris.

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