Archive for July 2013
The Workbench Build BeginsTuesday 30th July 2013
![Workbench Build][Workbench Build]
So it’s begun. I will keep you up to date on the blog and maybe drop a video or two along the way. At the end of the process I hope to have a decent joiners bench, made in a traditional style to compliment my woodworking. I will also put together a “How To” when it’s all done here with my Dovetail guide. All measurements will be in imperial as it lends itself well to this type of work.
Right with that out of the way lets do something. The first job is going to be making the leg frames. All the timber to make these can be cut from four 8′ lengths of 2′ x 4′ PSE/S4S stock which has a finished size of 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. I cut out the following sections;
- 4 x Inner Legs 36 1/2″ Long
- 4 x Outer Legs 27 1/4″ Long
- 2 x Bottom Rails 27 3/4″ Long
- 2 x Top Rails 24 3/4″ Long
All quickly dispatched these with a 9TPI disposable hardpoint saw. The reason why I went for this type of saw was because it costs less than £10.00, super sharp and easy to use. It’s good to have one of these saws in the arsenal. Premium saws or vintage saws would be great options too but would cost more to buy or cost more time sharpen and get fit for use, they can come later when the bench is here.
Workbench Wood – Pinus Sylvestris Is FineSunday 21st July 2013
What should a classic British Joiners bench be made from? Anything really although the utility wood of the UK, European Redwood* (Pinus Sylvestris), is hard to beat. In my “5 Facts” article a while back I took a quick look a European Redwood. From a workbench perspective it’s a good choice because it’s cheap (these kind of benches are not generally made from expensive timbers), readily available, works easy and takes fixings and glues well, its also strong and moderately hard. Some of my references call for a Beech top but nearly all books state that European Redwood is a very suitable substitute.
There are few options on sourcing the timber. The nicest route would be to submit a cutting list to a Joiner and have them prepare the Redwood for you from the top “Un-Sorted” grade. This means a little more cost but usually less defect and the ability to have the sizes you want. The second option is the PSE sections that can be purchased from DIY stores or Builders Merchants. This is normally always “Fifth” grade which typically has more knots and defects than Un-Sorted. The last option in construction grade used for joist, rafters and the like. This grade is normally regularized (speed planed) including eased edges and is strength graded rater than joinery graded. Please do avoid treated timber. I see nothing wrong with this construction grade as long as you take some time to pick the timber. The eased edges don’t need to be removed on the type of build I’m doing so the construction grade could be a way to build a really good value bench. If you are US based you will be lucky enough to have Southern Yellow pine available to you which even in construction grade is a fine bench building timber.
- Also knows and Scots Pine, Red Deal, Yellow Deal, Archangel Pine, Finnish Redwood, Baltic Redwood, Russian Redwood just to confuse you ;-)
Holdfast & The English WorkbenchSaturday 20th July 2013
Here’s something you don’t see mentioned (that I’ve noticed yet) in any British joinery text from Nicholson* until the present day. You do see the Record bench holdfast mentioned that operated using a metal collar in the bench top but not the simple crooked steel version shown above. When at college I worked at a bench that had a Record holdfast, I never used it, nor did anyone else. More fool me? Well the limitation with the Record version, if you can call it a limitation, is that it needs a metal collar let into the bench top and unless you want your bench peppered with metal collars you would have one or two clamping positions. This might be fine but it does create limits. Whereas with the simple holdfast shown above, drill a hole in any position and you can clamp. So why don’t they get a mention in the books. I think I can speculate that the main reason is the pace of change within joinery. The quality of sawn timber improved as mills became mechanised and eventually machines also did much of the heavy planing and morticing. So the need for these simple clamping devices diminished and then disappeared. Without much guidance from the books I took some advice from Richard Maguire . He uses a hold fast on a British style bench and get’s on with them just fine whether he is using it in his thick bench top or his thinner apron. I’m keen to try them and to see if they enhance life at the bench.
*They are clearly shown in the earlier Moxon book but his bench is nothing like the British joiners bench, the Moxon is much more like a French style of bench.
Bench PegsFriday 19th July 2013
The bench peg is perhaps the most humble of appliances that you can use on a British bench. Bench pegs are still mentioned in later joinery books such as “R.Bayliss Carpentry & Joinery” form 1961. However they do become largely redundant during the later part of the 20th century as the need to work long edges of boards at the bench has almost gone in comercial joinery workshops due to machine work.
Follow this link to my pinterest site where you will see a wonderful image of two British style workbenches from the Williamsburg museum. These early style benches have a lot of bench peg positions to allow a wide range of support locations. Notice too the benches are flat topped with no tool tray and look very much like the bench described and shown in Peter Nicholson’s book I mentioned in an earlier post. I just hope my bench looks as good as those in the Willimasburg workshops. Next time, hold fasts.
Vice ChoicesSaturday 13th July 2013
The traditional British Workbench has little variation in vice choice. Early benches generally had a wooden face vice (although some did have leg vices) consisting of a wooden screw to apply clamping pressure and runner to prevent the vice spinning and drooping aimlessly. During the early part of the 20th century this vice soon became a thing of the past in professional joinery workshops. Its replacement was the mass produced quick release vice. The chief advantages of the quick release vice was just that, it’s quick release. Whereas a wood screw had to be unwound the quick release only needs a tug on a lever and it can be slid out and then slid back again in the blink of an eye. The quick release is supremely strong too, allowing the worker to apply firm pressure with no fear at all of damaging the vice.
Nearly any image you will see of an old British joiners bench will have the vice to the left of the worker when stood at the bench. The reason for this is that it suits the right handed worker. And we know from our history books that left handism (yes I made up a word) was something to be corrected rather than accepted.
So, the choice is made, its a no brainer, fit the quick release vice. Well one things for sure I would not be dissapointed having worked at one for 15 years and played with them as kid I have found them to be truly brilliant. That said I’m anxious to try out an old face vice. The compramise here is that I won’t be using a wooden screw but a metal one instead. The other break from tradition is that I will be adding a vice in the tail position and this will be a quick release. I was tempted to omit this and stick rigidly to tradition but it seems sensible to have one. The advantage to this is securing items to the bench top, however I also think it could be rather useful for tenoning too although testing that theory will be for another day.
A Bench StopFriday 12th July 2013
Here’s a bench top from close to home. Our workshop in fact. This bench stop comes from our old bench top that was fixed against the wall at our Cooks Cross Workshop. The top is 2 1/2″ inch (63mm) beech and is thoroughly battered, bruised and used, just like a good bench should be. It features some nice old nails too designed to give extra bite when timber is thrust against the stop.
Although perhaps this type of stop would not be the first choice of work restraint for many woodworkers it certainly proved very useful to most old school joiners. Even after the bench top was retired from hand planning it still found a home in the corner of our new workshop. And if I do need to plane something up by hand its still right there.
English Bench – Bench StopThursday 11th July 2013
What kind of work holding can you expect from a British joiners bench? Well just the like the bench, its really simple stuff. This device is normally used during planning and gives the worker something strong to thrust against. The simplest form of bench stop is a long section of 2″ x 2″ fitted into a tight fitting mortice in the bench top. The stop is then raised and lowered using blows from a mallet. To improve the grip old bench stops did, on occasion, have sharpened nails or screw added to bite into the end grain of the wood. Folding wedges were also used instead of the 2″ x 2″.
The industrial revolution offered what on the face of it seems a really neat solution to save you making a wooden bench stop. The iron bench stop shown above offers a reliable and easily adjusted bench stop. But do you fancy introducing your nice bench plane to a hunk of metal? I’m not sure I do. Therefore my bench stop will be a simple wooden one.
Workbench Height – Another Quality SourceTuesday 9th July 2013
Moving along almost 100 years from Peter Nicholson’s advice on benches there is almost the same advise to be found in Cassell’s Carpentry & Joinery of 1907. “Of course, the height of the bench will be influenced by the stature of the worker and by the kind of work to be done.” The height prescribed for the average worker within the book is 3′ (914mm). That’s an increase of almost exactly 4″ (100mm). Although my increase of average height theory might seem heavy on conjecture to some, at least there is some evidence to back it up.
Further to this I found myself in a lucky situation. We have just made a garage workbench for a client at a height of 36″ I had to give it a try against our regular workbenches that are 34″ tall.
First image is at the garage bench. This felt fine for hand planing although if the board width exceeded 400mm in width it was a stretch. Joint making position felt OK but a little low perhaps.
Next up was our regular joinery workbench set a 34″. For hand planing this felt great. If my job was mainly to prepare rough sawn boards by hand then 34″ would be hard to beat. That said it’s a bit tool low for joint making. There in lies the issue, a compramise must be found.
My bench build will still start at a lofty 38″ with a view to fine tune to achieve the compramise.
Workbench HeightMonday 8th July 2013
Like many things in woodworking bench heights, sharpening etc can lead to paralysis by analysis when in fact it could be really easy. Good advice can be found by firstly reflecting on the woodworking you do as a profession or enjoy as an enthusiast and then secondly looking at what has been done before.
Back in the 1820′s they had the right idea
“Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workmen”.
What a lovely “in a nutshell” way of looking at it. The bench height advised by Peter Nicholson is 32″ (813mm) for joinery work. OK so initally this sounds a little low. The first thing to consider is the date Mr Nicholson’s advice was first published, the 1820′s, nearly 200 years ago. Within industrialised nations average height has increased around 4″ (100mm). That brings us up to a bench height of 36″ (914mm). The next thing to think about is the tools. Leonard Bailey and his metal plane was not yet part of the fabric of woodworking. Wooden bench planes were the weapon of choice. A wooden plane typically stands 3″ (75mm) high whereas a metal plane is at most 1″. So therefore we could add a further 2″ (50mm) to Nicholson’s advice taking us up to 38″. This seems a perfect height for accurate joint making and hand work and will be a start height for my bench. I will however listen to my body, if I find it too high I can easily trim a 1/2″ off until it feels right for me (I think it unlikely that I would want to add height)
Back to the reflection. Think about the type of work you do or aspire to do. Does that involve lot’s of planning rough sawn stock to size with hand planes. If it does, drop a couple of inches or so and when you have intricate work consider a bolt on surface that can raise you up or a small joiners bench. On the flip side if you use lot’s of hefty power tools on big projects a bit lower again might be good. Our benches are 34″ (875mm) and they have always worked well for making general joinery. Take Nicholson’s advice ”Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workmen”.
The WorkbenchSaturday 6th July 2013
Thanks to the “The Beast” the bench choice is made. Over the next few months I will be building a version of an “English” workbench. At the end of the process there will be a full “How-To” if you fancy making your own which will feature some videos, drawings and photos. My concept is for a minimal hand tool build using readily available timber. This first post is a quick overview of the bench.
During the long, long history of woodworking many different types of workbench have evolved. Each culture developing unique solutions. Since at least the early 19th century the dominant form of woodworking bench in Britain has been characterised by a thin top supported by wide aprons with a single vice used mainly by joiners. The early versions of this bench lacked a tool tray and were fitted with a wooden vice. By the early 20th century the basic concept remained the same however the vice became a mass-produced quick release type, bench stops (or hooks as they were known) were also replaced with metal versions and a tool tray had become a normal feature.
The construction of the bench is very simple robust joinery. This enables a rapid build and a sturdy platform, the joiner can be working on a clients project in very short order indeed. For my build I will be basing the design on an earlier bench without the tool tray. There can only be speculation as to why the tool tray became more common. Some find a tray useful, others a nuisance. I am most familiar with flat level surface to work from, finding the continuous support to work advantageous and easier to keep clear, clean and organised.
#4 Plane Tune UP – ConclusionsThursday 4th July 2013
Would I recommend this journey for everyone? Well, there are some merits. By refining the basic tool I think you can gain an appreciation and deeper knowledge about the tool you are using. In addition it’s good value and there is I think, pleasure to be taken in giving an old e-bay or car boot sale tool a new lease of life.
That said if you don’t fancy refining a plane you have options. First up, just don’t bother and see how you go. Who knows, you may have a sweet tool right out of the box and never really test it enough to find faults.
If you have a bit more money to spend you are truly spoiled for choice. By spending more you get more. Your premium purchase is likely to need little or no tuning and look rather nice to boot. Here are a few of the options. I Just want to add I have not included the current Stanley, Record or Faithful versions of the #4. I see no reason why they could not be refined to a good standard, I would however anticipate a similar journey to the tune up I did should you want a high performer. I have also not added the low angle Veritas, a wonderful tool I’m sure but not a tool I have much knowledge of.
The cheapest of the premium planes is the #4 Quangsheng (UK) – Wood River (US). A Chinese made plane based on the “Stanley Bedrock” design. The key advantage of the Bedrock design is that you can move the frog without having to remove the blade. It also comes with a thick, high quality blade. Often during my tune up I looked longingly at this plane. If I reflect on the purchase price of my #4 at around £20.00 or so, the time spent not woodworking, the cost of the sundries needed and the fact my Record only has a regular blade. I think many would feel it’s not worth the time or effort. Food for thought when the #4 Quangsheng is currently £120.00
If you have more funds available there are some rather nice examples for you to consider. Makers like Clifton, Lie-Nielsen and Veritas all have stunning offerings. Both the Clifton and Lie-Nielsen are also based on the “Stanley Bedrock” design and the Veritas is a unique new design. These premium planes also tap into some other aspects such being able to buy a premium tool made in you own Country and the finest detailing. All this does come at a price of around £260.00
So the choice is yours. Every woodworker is different and will need and want different things from their purchase. If you can get to a woodworking show or demo day and try before you buy all the better. The only comment I would make is not to feel inferior in any way if you don’t have the funds for the high end planes. I don’t have one (yet) and I don’t loose any sleep over it. That said the price of the #4 Quangsheng is so attractive that I’m very tempted indeed.