Woodworking – a Start

Tall and Assembly Benches

In the course of working on some friends’ Tiny House, we learned that the non-standard nature of it had a big effect on cost. For instance, the Tiny House required a front door that measured 78 inches by 27 inches — very non-standard. We could find one manufacturer that would supply a door that size, only it cost $1400. Not very practical. So, we decided to design and build our own door.

It’s not hard to find door plans on the Web, and we soon had several examples to work with. I’ve done a little woodworking from time to time, and thought I could build one. My friends found an attractive antique stained glass window and completed a design. We built it over a couple of days and it turned out great. Best of all, I got to satisfy my “tool jones” and purchased a DeWalt biscuit router. A fantastic way of joining the panels of the door.

Flush with success, I started remembering some of my other wood projects over the years, and realized that I really enjoyed that type of work. I wanted to do more. With contributors like Paul Sellers and Wranglerstar, there are some excellent videos on YouTube that explain woodworking technique. A rabbit hole beckoned.

First of all, there were a number of tools lying around the shop that were rescued from my Dad’s place when he and Roz moved to a smaller house. A 10-inch Craftsman wood vise, a pair of Stanley smoothing planes and various other parts and hand tools. I had always wanted to build a proper woodworking bench, but the collection of junk filling the shop was a barrier. Not enough space. Well, maybe it was time to do something about that. No reason the two existing benches couldn’t be cleared and set up for woodworking until there was time and space for the new bench.

An afternoon’s work and the two benches were mostly cleared. One is a standing bench, about 35 inches high, built from a long-gone home improvement store kit from the 80’s. It’s been my go-to workspace at the ranch, and looks like it. The other was built after I completed the shop around 1998. It’s intended for sitting, about 28 inches high and is covered with a replaceable sheet of Masonite. Like the standing bench, it’s 2 by 4 construction, but at the time, it represented my best woodworking skills. I sometimes use it to glue up and assemble my (thus far) simple woodworking projects.

Even though the tall bench already had a big metal vise, it was the best candidate for the woodworking vise. I realized that it wouldn’t take much to mount it, and only had to modify the front apron of the bench slightly. The vise had been sitting under that bench for at least a dozen years, and was a little stiff. No matter, a couple of hours mounting and clean up, a little grease and the vise was ready for use.

Another tool from my Dad, the now very rare Record M146″Holdfast” had been installed years before. Originally used to stabilize the Stanley grinder from my Grandfather’s shop, it had proven really useful to trap and hold various things that I needed to cut, grind, bend or assemble over the years. I remembered there was a second collar in the original box and mounted that in the tall bench. Now I had two positions for the holdfast!  What about benchdogs to trap lumber? Some perusal of Amazon yielded several candidates. A two-pack of Big Horn benchdogs seemed like the best fit. Ordered and installed a couple of days later, my bench was taking shape!

Tall Bench with Vise and Holdfasts
Old Bench with New Equipment

The tall bench configured with a vise, holdfasts, and benchdogs, it was time to think about some basic hand tools. Wood chisels, and a hand saw seemed in order. I had been watching various videos, especially Paul Sellers, and was intrigued by the various wood joining strategies. In particular, I wanted to learn how to make a mortise and tenon, and dovetail joints. The native woods here, Live Oak and Ashe Juniper (aka “cedar”), cover the ranch. Would either or both of those joining strategies work with them for fine woodworking? Only one way to find out.

As I read each article and looked at each video, other tools seemed necessary. A set of stones for sharpening tools. A dovetail marking gauge and knife. Perhaps a replacement iron for the Stanley wood plane. A mortise gauge and crosscut saw. Over the previous few days, trips to Home Depot, Harbor Freight and Sears turned up some tools, but they weren’t inspiring. I wanted the real thing. For instance, Wood and Shop.com had a very useful buyer’s guide. I soon learned of the difference between “construction grade” wood chisels and the “woodworking” variety. Fine Woodworking.com provided more information on various kinds of woodworking chisels. As I began shopping for chisels, Amazon helpfully suggested other items I would need: a dovetail saw, a dovetail gauge and a marking knife. A couple of quick searches on dovetail saws, and I soon learned there were many choices. Wood and Shop.com was helpful there as well.

In the end, I decided to go for good, basic quality. With my modest skills, I probably wouldn’t know the difference between chisels costing $20-$80 or $300 dollars. Woodtalk.com forum posts helped decide on the Narex set, although the new Stanley “Sweetheart” chisels  were tempting as well.

New Woodworking Tools
A few new tools –

The rest of my kit filled out as follows:

Dovetail marking gauge
Marking knife
Dovetail Saw
Arkansas Stones
Mortise Gauge
– Crosscut Saw (Husky 20 ppi purchased at Home Depot)

My plan was to develop some basic skills, and add tools as needed. I have a pretty well-equipped shop already with various power and hand tools, and I felt sure I could make real progress. Next step: refurbishing my Dad’s Stanley smoothing plane.

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