After the move, I’m back again!

Hi again, everyone.  It’s been a bit longer between posts than I wanted it to be, but as I mentioned in my last post we’re moving. Actually, we moved, past tense, and it was much more chaotic than we originally expected.  Then again, what move isn’t?  Anyway, we’re moved into our home in the woods.  Well, we have all the essentials at least.  We still have a lot of stuff in storage, which until last weekend included the vast majority of my woodworking tools.  HUGE shout-out to Margaret for climbing and shimmying her way to the far back corner of the storage unit to rescue my boxes of hand tools!!!

I mentioned before that the house we bought is on over 6 acres tucked in the woods of Brown County, Indiana.  I hadn’t, though, said much more about it.  The house itself was about an even trade as far as square footage, though it’s arranged quite differently than where we were.  Before we moved in, we figured that the bigger of the two storage barns would work out fine for a shop, and we could add on to it or build a bigger one if I outgrew that.  The “shop” barn was locked up when we came to look at the house, so we couldn’t look inside.  After closing, that’s the first place we went…even before unpacking anything.  The first thing we saw when we opened the door were stairs.  I have a two story shop!  I didn’t even know that two-story storage barns existed until then.  I’d started planning the layout a bit before we’d moved, but all that was out the window now, because the stairs took up space that I’d been planning to fill with tools.  We’d loaded my lathe, two Craftsman toolboxes, my drill press, and the rough lumber from my Roubo into the last truck/trailer/moving truck/van/car load from the old house (yes, we did have all of those at the same time).  As we unloaded them, the toolboxes went on one wall in the middle, the lathe went inside the door on the same side, and the lumber went on the opposite wall.  Then the shop got shut up and left for a week or so while we settled into the house.

So amidst all the unpacking and going back to work, I had to figure out how best to use my newly discovered two story shop.  My first thought for the second story was to use that as my lumber storage and rough sawing space.  The stairs in the barn go across the back wall, with tight corners at both ends, so moving a long, heavy board up and down the stairs would be difficult and potentially dangerous.  My idea was to add on a hay loft door and hay hoist like you see on most livestock barns.  I’d planned to hoist all my rough lumber up there from the bed of my truck, let it acclimate up there, then saw it to length and either hoist it back down or carry it down the steps.  It probably would have been cool for a while, but in hindsight I could see myself getting tired of having to do all that extra work for stock prep.  Especially if I was unloading from a trip to the lumberyard by myself.

One day as we were settling in, I needed a tool for something.  I hadn’t put together a box of “house tools” yet, so I had to go get them out of the shop.  Whatever tool it was happened to be in one of my rolling boxes, so I unlocked it, opened the drawer, and let go like I always do.  As soon as I let go, the drawer slammed shut.  Huh?  As it turns out, the floor of the shed was sagging under the weight of my toolboxes.  Sounds fun, right?

So, now what I thought was going to be an awesome shop isn’t quite so awesome.  It looks a lot smaller when I’m standing in it than it did on paper.  Plus it’s started to have the same issue that my garage shop did – my space is being encroached by other things – bikes, household storage, etc.  We don’t have a garage, so that stuff had to go somewhere.  Now I’m facing some hard questions:  Is that barn big enough for my shop?  If so, how can it be made sturdier?  If not, how much shop do I need?  How much will it cost to upgrade the barn?  How much would it cost to build a completely new shop?

I’ll wait until next time to address those questions.  If I keep going now, you’ll still be reading this when I post my next entry, and my hands will have typed themselves right off of my arms.  Next time I’ll talk about my method for planning out my shop layout, the options I researched, and why I pretty well settled on what I did.

What does that all mean, you ask?  That all means you’ll have to check back next time to figure out what I’m talking about!  Until then!

Sorry for the absence…

Hey all.  I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything on here.  I feel like it’s safe to say something now (without fear of jinxing things), but since about the first of the year, my family and I have been getting ready to move.  We’re in the long paperwork process of selling our house and buying a new house in Brown County, Indiana.  One of the big reasons we wanted to move was to give us the ability to make a bigger shop for me.  I can’t completely explain how, but I’d pretty much outgrown my two car garage shop.  Granted, almost half of it was taken up by camping gear, all my girls’ bikes and scooters, and shelving for household stuff like decorations,.  We also want a bit more distance between us and our neighbors.  We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, so even though this is one of the more “spacious” of the communities in Franklin, our front yard is still pretty much nonexistent.  So, last month we put our house on the market and started looking at houses to buy.  We decided on a house on 6-1/2 acres in the woods of Brown County, which is one of the more craft-centered counties in south central Indiana.

Our family’s focus for this year is to really get McLaren Family Crafts ready to launch starting next year.  Being able to have a bigger shop is one part of that.  Margaret will have a craft room in our new house so she’ll have a set area to work on her sewing and quilting.  Being in Brown County should make it easier for us to sell our products.  Plus we’ve started our blogs and Facebook page to start getting our name out into the cyber-world.

So, it may be a bit still before I post again, at least about woodworking specifically.  Our closing is to be within a month from now, so by shortly after that I’ll at least be setting up my new shop and I can talk about that.  Until then, stay safe, stay warm, and have fun woodworking!

Christmas gift interlude

Happy New Year!  Did everyone enjoy their holidays?  Our family did, despite the fact that my kids and I were passing around some kind of bug.  Started the last day I had to go to work before Christmas, and my youngest is just getting past the final few days of it.  I hope.

I mentioned in my last post that I had been working on some Christmas presents in the last couple weeks.  I’ve been intending to make some of our Christmas presents for my wife and I’s families for several years, and just never found the time.  Well, I made sure to find the time this year.  I made a pen for my wife to replace one I’d had to repair, because I apparently disassembled it wrong and it didn’t work as well after that.  For our families, I made a trio of Christmas tree ornaments from a kit from Penn State Industries.  I turned a bell out of Zebrawood for my mother-in-law, a Christmas tree out of Padauk for my grandfather-in-law, and a snowman out of Bubinga for my parents.

The ornaments were a new adventure for me.  The only things I’d turned before had been (mostly) straight-barrel pens, so creating such a contoured piece was a fun learning experience.  I probably didn’t do it the “right” way, but they got done and everyone seemed to appreciate them.  I did figure out that the only finishing technique I’ve learned for the lathe – a CA glue finish – doesn’t work nearly as well on contoured pieces.  I had a lot of trouble sanding the finish smooth without sanding through it in the high spots.  I think part of the problem was that I had my speed up too high, so the finish was getting flung off the high areas.  I said earlier that I found the time to make these – the last possible time before the holidays.  In short, not time enough to go get another finish to use.  So, I did the best I could with the CA on the bell and tree.  The snowman actually had quite a bit of luster to it after cutting and a bit of sanding, so I didn’t finish that one.  That’s also part of why I gave that one to my parents – if it started to look bad after a while, I could easily take it back and put a finish on it, though I don’t anticipate that.  I had originally planned to paint a face on the snowman, but I couldn’t bring myself to paint over such a nice looking piece of wood.  Should’ve used pine or poplar instead if I really wanted to paint it. Ah, well…maybe next time.

The only caution I have regarding the kits is that you make sure to look at the kit pieces before you start turning.  There’s no bushings specific to the ornament kit – the instructions just say to use any size.  When I started on them, I just pulled out the tubes and went to work with the basic 7mm bushings.  It wasn’t until I’d finished everything and was ready to start assembling them that I noticed that the top and bottom parts were nearly twice the diameter of those bushings.  My better half assured me that they didn’t look bad, and I can always trust her opinion on such things.  I have a tendency (as do most crafters, I’d venture to say) to be too close to the work, and therefore I see all the mistakes plain as day.
All in all, I think the presents I made were well appreciated by everyone.  I enjoyed being able to give gifts that I’d made instead of something I bought (or a gift card).  The appreciation that was shown for these gifts meant that much more to me knowing that it was something I had made myself.
That’s all for this episode.  Next time, back to the bench project?  Maybe?  Only time will tell…

Gluing and Clamping the Roubo top – finally!

Happy holidays!  It’s that time of year again!  Anyone have exciting plans?  We’re busy at work, so I don’t get a lot of time off, but we still had three days of Christmas for our little family – ours and both mine and my wife’s families.   Plenty of fun was had spending time with family.

Last time, I was discussing some of the hurdles that I encountered while ripping and planing square the boards for the top of my Roubo bench.  I mentioned having seen a tip about not prepping more boards than can be glued in a single day.  Unfortunately for me, I was only able to prep one board in a day, if not two days, so I had to do the best I could with leaving them un-glued for a few days.  I did, however, glue the top up in sections, mostly pairs.  The wagon vise sections were sections of three, and there was at least one section in the middle that was four wide when I went to glue up the whole thing.  This made it easier to get things closer to aligned as I was clamping it all together.  In retrospect, I should have gotten them closer than I did – it would have saved a lot of planing on the top as a whole.

Once the sections were all glued up and I was ready to start gluing the whole thing together, I suddenly remembered that I was getting ahead of myself.  Remember the wagon vise that I mentioned in my second post?  I’d almost forgotten to make them!  Those two sections of the bench top needed to be cut down before being assembled with the rest of the top, and I hadn’t done that yet.  Luckily, I remembered before it was all glued up.  So I cut these laminations down by about 19″ on opposing ends (I want a wagon vise on the right end for both sides of the bench) and then went on to gluing everything together.  I came up with the 19″ number because that was how much reach I anticipated having with the screw I was turning and the length of the chop I was making.

One note about gluing (and clamping) that I discovered.  The first class I took at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking was with Michael Fortune, and it was an introduction to woodworking.  He said that he found the clamps at Harbor Freight to be of similar quality to the Jets and Jorgensens, so that’s what I  bought for this project – 30″ bar clamps that were black and blue, with rubberized handles.  They seemed like they worked well enough when I was gluing the separate sections, but they didn’t seem to have as much clamping power when I went to clamp the whole bench top.  Maybe I just got some bad apples, but on some of them, the textured handle started spinning when I tried to tighten them more, and I felt what I can only describe as plastic gears being stripped as I turned the handle.  Could have just been defective clamps, but I had to pull out the two 48″ parallel clamps that I’d bought years ago to feel like I had enough clamping force.

So here we are more than a year from when I started this bench project, and the top is finally all laminated.  No, it didn’t honestly take that whole time to get it done.  A couple months after that class about the pen making (where I learned the overhand ripping from the Schwarz), my youngest daughter was born.  Purely by coincidence, the day after she was born, the lathe that I’d been eyeing was restocked.  So naturally I bought it, and quickly got sidetracked making pens.  Last winter was really cold here in Indiana, too, so I couldn’t do much of anything in the shop for most of the winter.  So that’s all to say that yes, it took me a year to laminate the top of my bench, but it would have taken far less time if I had been working on only that.

I think I’ll leave it there for this entry.  Next time I might take a side trip from my bench progress and talk about the Christmas presents I made- barely finished by Christmas.  Enjoy your holidays, and check back soon!

Starting the Roubo: Stock selection, sawing and planing

Back for more?  Great!  When we last talked, I was discussing why I needed to build a workbench and why I chose the style that I did.

As I mentioned last time, the majority of my inspiration for my bench came from Chris Schwarz’s Workbenches book.  In this book, Chris mentioned that he bought the lumber for his benches from his local home center because he was able to find quality southern yellow pine there.  Being in the same general region as him, I decided that would be the best bet for me as well.  Once I took entirely too much time making sure that I knew how much I needed, I jumped in the truck and hit up my local Lowe’s.  No specific preference, it’s just the closest.  Rather unfortunately for me, almost as soon as I found the  2x10s and 2x12s, a store associate found me and offered his help.  I, being at times too accommodating, accepted his help but felt rushed while going through the stack because of it.  I didn’t take as long as I should have to pick through what was there, which meant that I came home with several boards with knots in them.  On this point, my advice is this:  don’t be in a rush when you’re picking your stock.  Make sure you get what you want, not just what’s on top.

Once I got it all home, I loaded it on my lumber rack to acclimate.  I really only needed a couple weeks or so, but life happened, good weather didn’t, and it ended up being about three months before I started doing any work on my bench.  I chose to start by ripping the boards to laminate the top.  I’m not entirely sure why, though that would allow me to size the base to the top instead of building the base to the dimensions out of the book and hoping that my top would be the same size as Chris’s.  And that’s where I encountered the first hurdle.

This bench is my first serious woodworking project that I’ve done on my own, and without power tools.  I knew from – I don’t know, probably doing a few little things with my father when I was young – how to crosscut a board for the most part.  But how in the world do I rip a board that’s eight feet long by hand?!?  I don’t have a sawbench or sawhorses.  What I ended up doing for my first board was prop one end up on a two-step stool that I use in the shop.  Once I got close to halfway through the board, I tried standing it up against the track for my garage door.  This actually seemed to work better than the stool.  It was still far from perfect, but it cut quicker that way.  Altogether, I think it took me close to two hours to cut that eight foot long board.  I REALLY didn’t like what that seemed to mean for me getting this bench done.

Luckily for me, before I had opportunity to rip my second board, I took another class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking (which I will from now on refer to as MASW).  This particular class was on making fine writing instruments with Barry Gross.  Okay Buddy, now what in the world does turning pens have to do with making a workbench with hand tools?  Well, it just so happened that none other than Chris Schwarz was also there that week, teaching another class.  The way the school is set up, all three classes eat lunch at roughly the same time in the same cafeteria.  One day I found myself at the same table as Chris and struck up a conversation with him.  I’d already taken a class with him the previous fall, so I wasn’t as star-struck as I otherwise would have been.  I told him that I was working on the Roubo from his Workbenches book, but that I was making it entirely with hand tools.  I explained that it was a lot harder work than I expected, and that I’d only ripped one board so far.  He responded by asking if I’d heard of overhand ripping, which I hadn’t.  Chris, being the type of person that he is, offered for me to stop by his class when I had a few free minutes so he could show me.

What he showed me appears to be covered in a video on the Popular Woodworking website (http://blip.tv/popular-woodworking-videos/overhand-ripping-3276397), but I’ll try to explain it the best I can.  Clamp the board hanging off the front of your workbench with your cut line past the bench.  Starting the cut is a bit awkward, especially if you’re right handed.  Start it like you normally would on the right end of the board.  Then take your saw and hold it in both hands in front of you, with the blade pointed down.  Then put the saw back into the kerf in this orientation, moving the saw up and down.  If the blade starts to bind up, decrease the angle of the saw (teeth down from vertical) for a bit, then straighten up again as you can.  Again, if you’re having trouble picturing, check out the video. Using this method, the time it took me to rip an eight foot long board went from two hours to half an hour or less, stopping frequently.  I may need to stop less when using this technique on a shorter bench.  Or maybe I just need to work out more.

I didn’t want to rip all of the boards at once, because I saw a tip somewhere to not prep more boards than can be glued up at the same time.  Since my shop time at present is limited to a couple hours a day, I only ripped one board at a time and then started planing them.  That’s when I ran into my second hurdle.  How does one hold such a long board on a bench with no end vise?  What I ended up doing was using my face vise (super-cheap metal thing) and a bench jack that I made from salvaged 2×4 pieces and a 1″ dowel piece.  Works well enough, it seems.  Well enough to get the bench built, anyway.  Okay, so now I can edge joint my boards.  I wasn’t too worried about getting perfect since I knew they would have to be planed flat once the whole top was laminated.  Now time to plane the faces.  I tossed the board on the bench top, put in two more 1″ dowel pieces and a piece of scrap on the end for planing stops, and went to town planing.  Roughed with my coarse-set jack plane, then went back to finish with my jointer plane.  But my jointer wouldn’t cut in the middle of the board for some reason.  Hurdle number three.  I found out with some help from my wife that the bench top was bowing down in the middle when I was planing there.  I suppose I could have added a support piece going from the underside of the top to the shelf, and one from the shelf to the floor, but it would have to be exactly the right length to keep the top perfectly flat.  What I did instead was just skew the jointer plane for the finish passes, so I was cutting diagonally across the board instead of down the length.  This way, less of my plane sole was registering on the surface of the board.  Typically the opposite of what one wants to do with a plane, but it seemed to work for my situation.

I’m going to leave it there for this episode.  Check back soon for the next chapter in my saga!

Why a Roubo bench?

Welcome back for episode two!  It’s been a while since I last posted, so it’s past time for an update!

 

As I mentioned in my first post, I’m in the process of working on a Roubo workbench that I will use as my primary bench.  I’ve found out the hard way that a high quality workbench – at the right height – is essential for quality woodworking.  I’ve had basically three workbenches in my woodworking “career”, and they all have fallen far short of my needs.  My first was all plywood and 2x4s.  It was too narrow, too tall, and the top wasn’t long enough or thick enough.  I acquired some butcher block scraps and screwed those on the top, which made it better, but still not good enough.  It was still too tall, and with the addition of the wider top, too unstable.  The third (or second, if you consider the two iterations of my first bench as one) was left to me by the previous owner of our house.  Made out of all 2x6s and bolted to the wall, it is more stable than my previous benches.  It’s a full 8′ long, which has come in handy while building my Roubo.  However, there is not enough support under the top to keep the boards dead flat for planing.  I have to admit that I’m something of a hoarder when it comes to anything that could possibly be used in my shop, so I have yet to get rid of either of these benches.  My first one, with the butcher block tops, got its legs cut and is now where my Turncrafter midi lathe and the rest of my turning project preparation stuff lives.  The one left to me is my primary bench until I finish my Roubo, but I think I might just be able to convince myself that I need the space more than a third workbench.  Or maybe my wife will “strongly suggest” that I take it down.  Only time will tell.

 

When I started taking woodworking classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking (marcadams.com) and working on the benches they have there, I realized what a quality workbench was and that what I had was far from this standard.  I knew if I was going to do any kind of serious woodworking, I needed a better workbench.  I started out looking at the ones that can be bought from some of the well-known woodworking stores, but they were over $1000 for a decent length, and seemed to be getting mixed reviews.  I don’t remember when in my process I discovered (or re-discovered) Chris Schwarz’s Workbenches:  From Design and Theory to Construction and Use (http://www.shopwoodworking.com/workbenches-1), but it definitely reminded me that it was completely possible to build a wooden workbench in a woodworking shop.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t need a book to remind me that I can make something instead of buying it, but that’s what it took.  Call it tunnel vision if you must.  In this book, Schwarz details two different styles of workbenches:  an English workbench and a French, or Roubo, workbench.  I was drawn to the Roubo primarily because I liked the look of that one more than the English bench, but it seems to me like it has some advantages, too.  While both are made from construction-grade lumber, the top on the Roubo is 4″ thick or slightly thicker.  This gives the bench more weight, which makes it harder to be moved while you’re trying to plane a board.  Plus I would rather have a really thick solid top than a thinner top and really long apron.  It seems to me that it would make it easier to clamp things to the bench without the apron.  Maybe I’m just weird like that.

 

Once I’d decided on building my Roubo bench, I planned, planned, and planned some more.  I read almost, if not all, of the aforementioned Workbenches book, even the section that talked about the English bench.  I found a bit in another part of the book that discussed wagon vises, and I was hooked.  For those that aren’t familiar, a wagon vise is a type of end vise where the moving block, or chop, is inside the perimeter of the bench top, rather than on the front edge.  Bad description, I know, so here’s how I’m making mine briefly.  I laminated the front two boards of my bench top.  The next three boards were laminated in the same way, but they were cut shorter, and a part of this cut-off section became my chop.  The rest of my bench top was laminated in the same way, creating a space towards the right end, two boards from the front.  The chop will be drilled for a bench dog and will be moved with a vise screw, just like any other end vise.  (Still lost?  My apologies.  Try a Google image search for “wagon vise” and that should sort things out for you.)

 

So, now you know why I chose the bench I did, and why I embarked on this adventure.  Tune in next time for more!

 

Hello, blogging world!

My name is Buddy, and I’m co-owner of McLaren Family Crafts in Franklin, Indiana.  I co-own the business with Margaret, my wife.  She does crochet, cross stitching, sewing, latch hooking, or anything that strikes her fancy.  Me?  I do woodworking and make fine writing instruments.  I plan to craft fine furniture and useful household implements, as well as crafting tools.  I’ve made a handful of writing instruments and other small turned projects.  I’ve also made some things for Margaret to use with her crochet and sewing, and I eventually plan to make woodworking tools like wooden planes.  I’ve taken a handful of classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking over the past few years, being taught by some of the big names in woodworking, namely Chris Schwarz, Graham Blackburn, Michael Fortune, and Barry Gross.

So what is the point of this blog?  A small part of me kind of misses blogging.  I had a LiveJournal back in the day, and I enjoyed being able to open up about what was going on.  I enjoy talking about woodworking, and I can sometimes find more time to talk about woodworking than to actually do woodworking.  Plus, I enjoy helping people, and that’s the main point of this.  I am by no means an expert, but my hope is that my experiences will help others starting on their woodworking ventures.

I’m going to stop here, though, because I don’t want it to take a year to read my posts.  Now you know who I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.  My next posts will discuss the project I’m working on now – a Roubo workbench. I will go through my design process and how I started working around some of the problems that I’ve encountered along the way.  Stay tuned!