Count the clamps

I was looking through my workshop pictures folder today seeing if there was anything I could share with you and found this one. It’s a leftover that I don’t think got used in the workbench build posts, but something struck me when I looked at it. It’s a perfect example of a number of different types of clamps all in use.

I’ve seen a number of “What’s your favourite tool” threads on various woodworking forums and the answer is never clamps, but where would we be without them?. There’s at least three different types in this picture – a pile of F-Clamps, the big blue corner clamp, and the vice itself which is probably the most used tool in my shed.

If I was to take a picture of every different type of clamp in my workshop I’d have C-Clamps, edging clamps, another variety of corner clamp, handscrews, sash clamps and probably a few more, plus a number of different vices that perform a similar function.

I can’t think of many projects that don’t use at least one clamping device in some way. Here’s a challenge for you, leave a comment for me to tell me how many different types of clamps are in your shed. I’d be interested to see the results.


Portable Workbench – Revisited

Now that I have a full size bench I didn’t expect to be using my portable one as much but so far it seems that the opposite is true. I’ve already had it set up as a finishing table, and I moved it under the light while I did some tool restorations. It’s also home to the drop saw now, and the ability to clamp two extension arms into it is fantasic.

It’s lost the front vice to the big bench, but now it’s truly portable again. Given the price of these, I’d recommend one to anyone looking for some extra bench space and they really aren’t a bad place for a beginner to start either.

One man’s trash

You know how the rest of the saying goes, and it applies to tools as much as it does to anything. Looking for old tools, especially if you can get them cheap or free, is a favorite pastime for many a woodworker.

Often called “Rust Hunting”, it’s even evolved into a sport of sorts and part of that is sharing what you find with your fellow hunters. The hunting can happen many places (junk yards, antique shops, friends sheds etc) but the two that are most favoured are the weekend garage sales and community markets.

One of my favourite threads on the local forums is called “Monday Night Show ‘n’ Tell“, where you can share the results of your weekend’s searching, and it’s amazing what people find.

I’ve done my fair share of rust hunting, and while I like the markets, I also like finding gold hidden in places you wouldn’t expect.

The below picture is of an old record #1 metalworking vice. Apart from a small amount of rust and a missing jaw, it works fine and it a solid little thing with years worth of service left in it. I picked it up at the start of the year for the grand sum of $2.50 from a scrap mechant when I went looking for a piece of railroad track to use as an anvil.

Sure, it needed a little love before it could be put back into service, but to get a new one of this quality could have cost me 20 times the price I paid, plus I get to save something that was going to be melted down otherwise.

The most common woodworking tools to be found seem to be old handsaws and claw hammers. Handsaws because they have for the most part been replaced by powered versions and are no longer needed, and claw hammers because they and the saw were staples of the handyman’s toolkit for the past century and more so there were more sold than just about any other tool. More sold = more to be thrown out.

I’m a big fan of restoring old saws as I’m sure any frequent reader of this blog will know and while some aren’t worth the effort, I have about 5 close to finished and all are looking like they will be great. For the normally minimal outlay it’s worth the risk.  The one below cost me 50c and a few hours work, see the original post if you want to see it before I fixed it up.

Rust Hunting can be both enjoyable and rewarding, and once restored you often have a tool as good as one costing hundreds of dollars new so it can be a great way to set yourself up with quality gear without breaking the bank.

Another example for you. I picked up this Miller Falls handdrill for $10 at a local market a while back. Sure, it’s missing the side handle but just about all of them are, it’s easy to lose parts that unscrew. I don’t find I need it and if I ever want to I can easily make a replacement. Aside from the fact that almost nobody is selling new hand drills, this is a piece of art from another time. I like to look at it almost as much as I like using it, and use it I do.

There is a warning label to go with the above though – it’s addictive and if you aren’t careful you’ll end up with more tools than you can possibly ever use or restore, and a shed so cluttered it’s counterproductive to getting any woodwork done. It’s also quite a competitive business and old doesn’t always mean good, so do your homework on what is worth restoring and also make sure you know the going rate for an item before you go looking for it.

How come the vice is so much lower than the top of the bench?

“I have one question with the location of the vice, how come it is so much lower than the top of the bench”

That one question from a member of the Australian Woodwork Forums had me scratching my head and trying to figure out what I’d done wrong.

I’d taken the vice out of Dad’s workbench earlier in the year and mounted it onto my portable workbench almost exactly the same way and it looked fine there, so why did it look wrong here?

It took going back to the source and taking a look at dad’s bench to figure it out. His bench has a much shorter apron than mine does, and he’d also done one important thing I hadn’t thought about – he’d recessed the back jaw into the top of his workbench top, and drilled holes to let the bars though the apron as well, instead of having it slung under the bench like I had. This was also a lot stronger and meant he only needed short jaws to get them to match the top of the bench.

I’ve got plans to fit this the way he did when I rebuild the bench shortly, and I’m also thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should invite him over to help. He’ll enjoy it, I’ll enjoy it, and I might not be sitting here in a months time writing about how I didn’t install the vice properly.

Every once in a while…

Every once in a while you get the opportunity to show your other half why you spend hours in the shed by building a nice piece of furniture or by being able to fix a few things around the house with the myriad of tools you’ve collected.

I got the opportunity recently to fix a chair that was coming apart

and to fix a loose door handle. Why this was just stuck into the door and glued I have no idea, but it’s a pain to fix when it works loose.
Getting these little household jobs done seems to justify the time we spend in our shed or garages for at least a day or two, and are often the perfect excuse to get the minster for finance to let you buy another tool. I’m sure mine is reading this though so I have to tell you that I’d never do that and yes dear, you did authorise the purchase of a new set of sash clamps when the last chair came unstuck!

The thing is though, we need to make sure that we don’t fall into the ‘tradies trap’. You know the one, where the plumbers house has leaking pipes or the builder has had a half finished deck for a decade while their spouse despairs.

From what I hear, most of us woodworkers are lucky guys or ladies, and have fairly understanding partners so here’s my challenge to you for the coming weekend. Make sure you give up a little of that shed time and get a couple of fixes done around the house. Don’t make a song and dance about them, just quietly get them done and keep everyone happy.

Workbench revisited

I’ve had the pleasure of reading Christopher Schwarz’s “Workbenches : From design and theory to construction and use” this week after finding it build on the bottom shelf of the woodworking section of the local library and I’m currently wishing I’d found it a few weeks earlier.

It’s highlighted some issues with my recent workbench build that I’m sure would have come up anyway through use, but this has sped up the process of finding those flaws.

Firstly, I should have mounted the rails flush to the front of the bench so I could use the front stretcher as the back vice face and made use of the full width with the vice. This would have also made it possible to clamp boards for dovetailing to the front of the bench. Instead I left a 4cm overhand which is great for clamping but not for much else, as the struggle to get the vice faces on had already highlighted.

I think this would have the added benefit of letting my screw the top down on every edge and knock the last of the bow out of the top. It’s a lot better thanks to the weight I’ve had on it and the clamps but still isn’t quite flat.

Secondly, I have limited my ability to use holddowns and benchdogs properly by adding the cabinet below the bench. As much as I like it there if it’s going to stop the bench doing the job it was built for it has to move so I’ll use it elsewhere. This problem is at least easily fixed.

There’s a couple of other things the book has made me want to add – a crochet and a sliding deadman. Both could come in very handy.

I’ve decided to take the opportunity of the bench not quite being finished to fix some of these issues. To fix the overhang, all I need to do is cut a few more crossbars a bit longer and replace the existing ones, which will let me fix some messy joinery and possibly strengthen the bench in the process. The cupboard will just unscrew, and I will look at routing a grove for a sliding deadman.

It may seem silly to some to take an almost fully built workbench apart right away and make changes but I’d rather get it right the first time. I’ll keep you updated on the changes.

Sydney BH&G Show 2011

I went along with my girlfriend to the Better Homes & Gardens 2011 Show in Sydney yesterday. Despite the pouring rain that stopped us seeing most of the gardening exhibits it was still an enjoyable day. Lots of free food tasting, some very nice coffee and just enough tool stands mixed in to make it worthwhile for me.

Bosch were the standout display, letting you play with a Dremel and engrave your own dremel branded dogtag style bottle opener. I’m sure a lot of people who would normally avoid power tools had a go with that and enjoyed it. They were also the best for promotional freebies.

Ryobi gave away green enviro bags but sadly all that was inside was a lanyard and a catalogue. You could line up and try to win a cordless drill but I didn’t have any luck there. You could try out some of the Ryobi One+ cordless products though so that was enjoyable.

Trojan gave away hats but the display was basically pegboard full of their tools. They needed some sort of interactive element.

There were also two people selling the Z-Vice, which was fantastic looking until they revealed the price tags, and someone drilling holes through files to show how good their drill bits were.

Here’s the haul of the tool related promo stuff for your viewing pleasure.