It Really Is Something Of A Sickness…

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Above is the first picture of the as yet, undecided, workbench.

I continue to waver back and forth between calling this a Holtzapffel, and building a twin screw front vise for it, and calling it a Roubo, and building a leg vise for it….lol.

I’m pitiful. It is something of a characteristic feature of my particular brand of bench building insanity, that I am just not content unless I have wrung my hands and paced the floor late at night churning over the various options available for a particular build.

All this mental energy over what….the choice between two vises and if I call the thing by a long dead German guys name, or a long dead Frenchman? Sheesh….I need to take a bit of my own advice and just enjoy the moment.

I only have a little more to do yet on this unnamed bench. Drill dog holes for my hold-fasts and possibly a Veritas fixture or two. I am thinking that I may be running a row of dog holes along the front edge for use with this….

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It is a Veritas Surface vise. I can use it in conjunction with dog holes in the bench top as a stand in for the end vise I have elected to delete in this build since the bench is going to double as an out feed table for my table saw.

I’ll just need to see how things go. For now, I am basking in the glow of having not hosed this project up. It’s been a bit of an adventure.

In related news, There is a series in the works for my column over at Highland Woodworking. (I love saying that.)

If you have interest in seeing what I did to get to this place, stay tuned as I think I will be writing it up here in the next few weeks.

 

 

 

The Once And Future Madcap

Big doings here in Madcap land. 

It seems I have managed to weasel a real writing position out of some poor, unsuspecting editor.

That’s right, The Madcap Woodwright will be a regular contributor to the Highland Woodworking Blog. 

(http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/highland-woodworking-blog.aspx)

I will have a monthly byline at the blog with additional contributing duties for the newsletter as well.

The good folks at Highland Woodworking have been among the very finest of tool addiction enablers. A true boon to the tool addiction addled minds of the woodworking masses.They have been providing extremely high quality woodworking tooling, education, and support for the woodworking community for as long as I can remember. They are a true stalwart in American woodworking, and I am very excited to be joining the team.

Check out their website at:

http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/index.aspx
And…..

Look for my first articles to begin appearing in the blog and news letter beginning in February.

Literacy is so cool.

Makers Gonna Make

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With the onslaught of negativity and strife that my country, as well as many others, seems to be embroiled in, I felt the tug of the Muse to jot down some thoughts that might bring a little smile or even a wholesale perspective change to someone.

lately I have been keeping something of a low profile on social media. In these pages here, I have been pretty good about keeping my personal beliefs and feelings about politics, media, pop culture, and any of the other distractions that most of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves, indulge in out of the mix.

Make no mistake, I have some very profound beliefs about the above listed topics, but it all pales in comparison to my passion for being a woodwright. Further, as I have expanded out into the germinating world of the artisanal, I have developed a growing passion for the community that seems to be developing around “Making.”

Somewhere along the line the word Making and Maker evolved from simply being a conjugation of the verb make, into a movement.

Artisans and craftspeople are commonly being refered to as Makers. Fine, works for me.

In previous posts I discussed how generations younger than my own, have begun exploring the path less traveled. They have elected to take up woodworking or blacksmithing or glass blowing. They have explored artisanal distilling or brewing. They have taken to crafts baking or cooking. Anything but following the well-worn and traditional path of going to school. Taking on crushing debt to get the diploma and social network that higher education promises has taken a back seat to self-determination and self-education.

I am encouraged by this small, but passionate community. In small numbers I see people who are engaging their life with fearlessness. They may be doing so out of necessity, or out of an intuition that the normally followed path to career and family and “adulthood” has run its course. They may share in my observation that life is just too fucking short to be shackled to the seeming safety of the 9 to 5 to retirement means of living a life.

Granted, most of these folks are 20 years or more my junior. They do not have a mortgage, or kids, or other traditional obligations to provide for. It took a divorce, a remarriage, and a spouse who supports my need to make and to create for me to sit here and preach the gospel of “Madcap Woodworking.”

That is what makes these up-and-commers so amazing in my eyes. They just don’t care about the pressures that come with the traditional path. At a much earlier stage in the great game of life, they seem to grasp the wisdom of exploration and creativity at a gut level. They seem to understand that there is so, so, so much more to life than just the college you graduate from, the car you drive, the house you cover your head with or the amount of liquid capitol you have on hand at any one time. They improvise, they adapt, they share, they collaborate. They succeed.

In adopting such non-traditional approaches to life, they seem to be able to create a very satisfying life for themselves. Once the relative stability of this life takes root, they really start to expand out into their world creatively. They make things. Beautiful things.

It is a little humbling to allow myself to remain at this crossroad between fully committing to The Tiny Shop full-time, and continuing to dance around the edges of it as I continue to look for a safe, well-paying “day job.”

Balls, these folks have BIG BRASS BALLS.

One in particular that will remain nameless here, decided one day to take up photography.

“I want to do…this” said he. Then he picked up his camera, went to the mountains, and took pictures. Upon his return, he begins leveraging his social networking skills and posting these images online. Inside of 30 days, he begins to get inquires from outdoor goods manufacturers, ski resorts, and outdoor sports bloggers requesting information about his services. NOT just here in the U.S.A, but also in several countries in Europe as well. He just up and decided to go DO IT, and see what happens….no  biggie….BALLS.

More of this please. More of people saying to hell with status quo. More of people following their bliss…responsibly. More of a departure from the self-imposed enslavement of traditionally valued benchmarks of success. more of the redefining of what it looks like to be successful, happy, and content. Not in a self deluding or lazy way, but in a heart-felt, deep down in your gut, “these are the things that are important to me” way.

Bravo to the makers. Bravo to the craftsman young and old. Bravo to those who ignore what is considered the “right way’ to do things. Bravo to the explorers. You are all having a very empowering impact on me for sure, and I suspect and hope on the world around you as well….just….bravo.

 

 

Winter Workshop Wonderful…Or…Up Off My Lazy Ass.

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Santa has the right idea. A large workshop, warmed by a large hearth, wood floors (NOT laminate or “engineered”wood), plenty of projects and 364 days to crank out finely crafted goods. Paradise.

Now that the cold is descending on Colorado, The Tiny Shop is cranking up the heat and working seamlessly. I have a small commission…well…a favor is more like it. I am building a small trestle chef’s cart for a good friend. After that, I have a small gift for the love of my life in the works, and a little rehab on a cutting board for my folks.

After that, I need to plan out the build of the Roubo, and I REALLY need to get to work making some prototype pieces to flesh out some ideas that have been rattling around in my melon.

This is where it pays to be mindful. If taken all together, and stacked up one on top of the other, the projects can begin to take on the feel of drudgery. They can cause anxiety and can plant the seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction with the art form that I love so deeply.

On the other hand, if I choose to prioritize and approach each project individually, that holds the promise of a winter full of mindful woodworking opportunities.

The trick is to get started.

Once the actual planning and sketching, and revising is taken care of, there needs to be an actual application of effort. One foot in front of the other, one process initiated and enjoyed for its own sake, at a time.

Each time I start a new project, there seems to be a latency period. A time of apprehension that stalls the project before it even gets started.

I had this pointed out to me by the love of my life recently. It seems that she sees in me a struggle to overcome a slight period of fearfulness that inhibits my forward progress.

I at first resisted this assertion. Surely she could see that there were many pieces to the puzzle that needed to be arranged through divine intervention before I would be able to motivate myself off top dead center. Surely she could see that there were tools to buy, wood to dry, and stars to align before I could actually put edged tool steel to wood.

No, not at all.

Basically I was being called out on a small hypocrisy that I allow myself to indulge in. Here in this blog , and in my ongoing book manuscript writing, I preach the gospel of fearlessness in all things, and especially in working wood. Yet, I procrastinate in the beginning of every project due to some niggling little fear or feeling of inadequacy that inhibits me.

Historically, my modus operandi is to allow the project to go un-started until I am locked into a time crunch or deadline issue. Then it is Katy bar the door, and damn the torpedos….full steam ahead!!!!

Not very mindful or fearless I must confess. Nor is it very conducive to a full enjoyment of my Tiny Shop and all that it stands for. The work is still first-rate, and my clients have been satisfied to be sure. However, I am left with the realization that I really must, if I am to see the evolution of Madcap Woodworking continue, begin to focus my attention to the more focused application of the advise that I so freely dole out here on these pages and elsewhere.

The really annoying part of the whole thing is not that my wife sees this in me and feels so free to call me on it, it’s that it is exactly the type of fear that I think should be eliminated completely. It is that same feeling of not being good enough or accomplished enough, or refined enough, that is such a killer of the joy that should abound in The Tiny Shop.

To be sure, these fears are fleeting and short-lived. They evaporate as soon as the saw dust and plane shavings begin their decent to my shop floor.  It is just that initial time of delay and avoidance that is the crux of the matter.

As I explore the reality of mindful woodworking, I realize that I may have jumped too far ahead in the process. I think it important to stop now, and take a moment to examine this issue I seem to have with the initiation of a project. Perhaps once this particular burr has been removed from under my saddle, I will have a new realization of mindfulness to prattle on and on about…..interesting, very interesting.

EDIT TO SAY:

This burr removal is NOT in any way, going to stop or even slow me down in the progress of starting these new (and not so new) projects that I have slated for the near future. I just mention this because I could very easily use this opportunity for introspection and flat-out navel gazing as a means for avoiding the commencement of these projects.

Vigilant, ever vigilant.

 

…and so it begins…again.

Above: Roubo In Repose.
Resting comfortably are the Douglas Fir timbers that will soon be the Roubo. The plan is to let them rest and dry out a little bit more before beginning milling operations on them. 

My hope is that with some creativity, my Delta jointer and elderly Ryobi planer will accept the challenge that milling these beasts will present. We shall see.

Also newly arrived at The Tiny Shop, both the bench vise screw from Veritas as well as the hold fasts from Gramercy/Tools For Working Wood.

Both arrived as promised and both display signs of exceptional craftsmanship. I am well pleased.

Edit to add:

The Scandinavian bench I built a year or so ago was also a Borg lumber build. It turned out so nice that I haven’t had the heart to really do any work on her without a blanket or other form of protection. Much to my embarrassment, I have allowed it to become something of a princess bench.

The Roubo on the other hand is slated to be the real work horse of the shop once completed. At least, that’s what I say now. Knowing myself the way I do, I may be making a trip to Harbor Freight during one of their (daily) sales, and picking up still more $5 moving blankets. 

It’s not that I fear the dings and dents of the work on the bench, it’s just that I have such a weakness for the beauty each of these designs impart to The Tiny Shop.  My hope is that the first ding, scratch etc. will then liberate me to finally get to putting these beasts to work properly and without bench condoms….. otherwise, I’ll be cutting dovetails in the snow on saw horses.

“Dry my lovelies,dry!”

“Baby, it’s cold outside.”

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It’s cold outside and winter has finally descended here in lovely Colorado. As the holidays approach, the siren call of workbench building has become too loud to ignore any longer. My latest rehab project completed and delivered, I find myself with an itch that needs scratching.

The latest completed project out of The Tiny Shop was a 1916 Brunswick phonograph.

wp-1479138980630.jpg She came to me in pretty rough shape. Strangely, I think it was the 3 or 4 miles of cheap lacquer that were heaped on this poor thing that protected it from the abuse and torment that only the ravages of time can bestow. Once I got it stripped down and sanded, it all of a sudden began to live again.

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She had been manhandled a few times prior to my loving ministrations. Some of her veneer had been sanded through, some of her lines worn down. On balance though, I felt her to be more than worthy of the care and attention I put into her.

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So, without gainful employment, and without a paying project for The Tiny Shop, what better time to embark on yet another bench building adventure?

I mentioned in a recent post that I wanted to replace the cobbled together, yet highly functional, table saw out feed table I have with a second workbench. Since I have been gradually returning to hand tool use and finding myself returning to the joinery techniques of my youth, it was a wonderful excuse to enter once more into the madness that is bench building planning.

If I remember correctly, the last time I wrote I was still hemming and hawing over which style bench to make. On the one hand, a scaled down and modernized version of the Scandinavian/Germanic/Continental bench was the initial go-to choice after flirting with a Roubo design and also a brief tryst with the Holtzanapffal design. Thematic and aesthetic continuity.

I set the idea for the second bench on the back burner for a little while though. I was really starting to feel hemmed in my shop space, and the thought of a cold winter in such tight quarters was all I needed to start pondering the ways in which I could get a little breathing room in there.

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Above is the original configuration of The Tiny Shop. Functional, fairly efficient, and mostly very comfortable. However, the limitations of the space and the lack of adequate means to store lumber, were beginning to wear on me. Stacking boards on top of the Gorilla racks was a real pain in the ass. It ment I had to un-stack, and then re-stack the entire pile whenever I needed something that was not right on top of the pile. It also had a way of accentuating the closed in feeling of the shop. The ceiling is very low, and towering racks just make it feel a little….tight.

In mulling over my options, I was staring at the gorrilla rack system and remembered that it was made to be modular……thunder clapped, the earth shook. Why not separate the two sections, and set them side by side rather than one on top of the other? Duh!!!

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So that is what I did. Above you can see the mayhem that this caused. The Tiny Shop turned into a mess that still haunts my quiet moments. The upside though,is that I was able to mount proper lumber racking on to my walls. These were perfectly sized for  such a small space. While I wont be stocking up or nurturing a wood stash any time soon, the racks allow for good storage of lumber for projects in process currently. Perfect!

They also have the added benefit of creating the feeling of a more open space. Double bonus!

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So, that little bunny trail project accomplished, I turned my attention back to the replacement out feed table.

It has become something of a return to the obsession that I had when building the S.S.Madcap bench of world renown. Back and forth I go between the various pro’s and con’s of each considered design. What should be the planned length? What should be the planned height? Blah, blah, blah.

As lumber buying time approaches, I find that the Roubo design keeps nagging at me. The down side is that anyone who has read Christopher Schwarz’s books, or who frequents the popular woodworking forums has built this bench. It is ubiquitous, almost cliche.

BUT!!!!!

I WANT ONE!

Yes I could carry the traditional woodworking bench theme through with another copy of the classic form. But I have done that…twice now. Add to this that for all its zombie like devotee’s, there is a lot to like about the Roubo, especially for hand work.

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To start, the roubo has some features that make it a better choice for the type of work I am doing lately and plan to do moving forward. For example, instead of having a large overhang of the top, the Roubo’s legs are flush with the top. this provides extra clamping surface that the Scandinavian design does not allow for. It is lower than the S.S.Madcap. The lower height not only being optimal for hand planing, but also perfect for outfeed duties…happy, happy, happy.

It is designed to be very stout. I will be building mine with BORG lumber, just like the S.S. Madcap was. However, this time around, I will be using 4×6 material almost exclusivly. The exception being the shelf below the top which will be made from 2×6 or 2×8 BORG wood. It is going to be an absolute beast just like the Nimitz class bench I built before.

The goal here is to do this on the cheap, but still make a handsome and useful tool for the shop. The discovery of Douglas Fir as a good choice for this type of build has been like a wonderful Christmas gift.

 Sure it is fairly soft and not generally considered to be workbench material, but there are a lot of folks out there…a LOT…who would disagree, and go on to argue the liberating merits that a cheap lumber bench, made well, offers. 

Myself included.

This bench will need a vise. These can be quite expensive and time consuming to build into the bench if done in a period correct fashion. Expensive but exceptional Benchcrafted vise hardware being the normal go-to in these applications.

However, it can also be done with minimal investment of time and money while delivering superior performance to iron quick release or traditional vices. More on this later.

Finally, the Roubo will be my first experience with traditional holdfasts.holdfasts

Embarrassing in their simplicity, they are perfect for the needs of someone who is working wood by hand. Simple, effective, cheap, and super versatile. More on these later as well.

The dimensions for the new bench will be something like 80″ long by 24″ wide by 34″ high.

The top is slated to be around 3 1/2″ thick, the legs and stretchers 5″x 3 1/2″. More than enough mass to keep it in place for any hand planing and mortise chopping.

One last benefit to all this, I now have more material to write about here. Since I continue to look for any excuse NOT to write in the book I am supposed to be finishing right now, I think this may be a good jump start to get the literary juices flowing again….

Nes pas?

Oui!

Fin.

Some Things Just Never Change

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The last post I made here was a bit of a departure from my normal obsessing over the various design options available to me when I am in the mood to dive into building another work bench.

Above you can see what has me paused for reconsideration of design. That is the Lie Nielsen large workbench. That thing retails at a cool $3500, + shipping on a parcel that has to weigh in at roughly 400 pounds. Not cheap.

Taking the Lie Nielsen  vises out of the equation for the moment, this bench exhibits some really attractive qualities in a blend of Scandinavian and Roubo styles.

For example, the legs are flush with the top just like in a Roubo bench. This allows for more clamping surface and also a place to use hold fasts for clamping also. (see hold fast holes in right side leg.)

While the base is of a trestle construction, a feature shared by some Roubo benches and traditional Continental/Germanic/Scandinavian work benches. This one deletes the feet normally found at the bottom of the legs of most traditional benches.

For what I have in mind, this is an interesting hybrid. Since I am going to be devoting more time to using hand tools for my work in The Tiny Shop, I will need a very stout bench to withstand the forces that operations like hand planing and the shock of blows delivered during joint fitting deliver . However, the bench will also be doing double duty as an outfeed table for my table saw. This is actually fortunate because my preferred bench height for hand tool work is almost exactly the same as my table saw height. (34″ from the floor)

Initially, I had planned to laminate 7 4″x6″x8′ together face to face to create a nearly 6″ thick top. However, given that the overall length will be less than 8 feet, this will not only be overkill, but might just …well…look funny. I also considered laminating 2″x6″ material together just like I had for my main bench, but frankly I am less than enthusiastic about this also. It’s a lot of work to mill, and glue 14 separate boards together without the help of a professional glue rack and deep-throated clamps to accept the oversized boards. Not to mention the lack of a wide belt sander to help me flatten the top after glue up.

That leaves me with a couple of choices should I decide against either of the two bench top fabrication choices above.

I could edge glue 4 4x6x8 timbers. This would get me a top that was just shy of 4″ thick and 24 inches across by 72-ish inches long. the timbers are thick enough to withstand multiple flattening operations with hand planes while the wood settles down and acclimate to The Tiny Shop.

Or….

I could just laminate 6 4x4x8 timbers to approximate the same thing, but with several more glue joints. In thinking it over, I think that having a 4″ thick top has several advantages over the radical thickness I considered before. Chief among them is that it will make chopping out the through mortises a little easier.

Still I must confess to being drawn to the heft of multiple thick timbers laminated together. I am just having a hard time envisioning what that will translate into visually on a bench that is less than 8 feet long and at a 34″ working height. The proposed length would be somewhere between 6 and 7 feet.

I suppose I will end up going with my gut.

Right now, the gut consensus is to go ahead and build the monster bench top, and slap it on top of some sort of hybrid Scandinavian/Franco trestle base a’la Lie Nielsen.

This also brings me back to the original thinking behind building a Roubo at all. I would kind of like to have “one of each” so to speak. (Scandinavian and Roubo) So why the hemming and hawing? I guess it’s just what I do once the itch to build ANOTHER workbench gets a hold of me.