The workbench – a 10 year oddessy of indecision

I have spent many years either collecting tools (to use one day), or working on my house. The latter involves the use of some wood-working tools, but not as many as I would obviously like. Now my house-renovations have moved to the final stages – trim, a coffered ceiling, and more built-in shelving, and eventually some custom furniture. Ideally making small-house furniture custom furniture is how I’d like to spend my early retirement. Stuff like a bookcase built into the base of stairs… but more on small house stuff later (yeah, I could fill up another blog I imagine). One of the projects on the back-burner for *far* too long has been a workbench for the workshop. My workshop is small, and in the basement. The only piece of machinery that is in it is the drill press. Planer, jointer, table-saw all relegated to backyard use (although the jointer will be set-up in the shed now that my under-porch storage is built).

Not having enough space to do uber-large projects, I opted to buy a maple bench-top from Lee Valley *years* ago. It’s a 24″×60″×2¾”, 110lb maple slab. So the plan is to build a Roubo-style workbench. So why has it taken me so long? Work on the house, life – and in-decision. About the time I started thinking about the bench, Christopher Schwarz published his first book on benches: Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use. Then his next book The Workbench Design Book came out. Once I had a design figured, there was one other factor – hardware. Around that time the wooden screws from Lake Erie Toolworks appeared, as did new products from Benchcrafted. I had settled on a leg-vise with a more traditional woodworking vise on the right end of the bench – here I already have a vintage Record No.52. It was the leg vise that was confounding me. Should I buy a glide vise with a cast-iron handwheel, or a more traditional wooden screw, or something with a linear bearing (like the VX20 from Hovarter Custom Vise)? Should I build a parallel guide, buy a criss-cross, or one of the other mechanisms like the chain vise? Too many decisions to make. Partially I have been holding off because Lee Valley started carrying the Benchcrafted products, but it takes a number of months to update the product line, and shipping these heavy products from the US to Canada does not appeal to me.


Benchcrafted crisscross

I have rough cut the legs and stretchers out of ash, but have waited to begin the mortising work until the decision is made. In January I finally decided. First I picked the benchcrafted criss-cross retro to work as the parallel mechanism. Then on the day after I enquired about the availability of the Benchcrafted “Classic” leg vise, it “magically” appeared on the Lee Valley website. So now the bench will have a Benchcrafted classic vise/criss-cross combination for the leg vise, which will be made out of a huge piece of spalted Maple I picked up from Exotic Woods in Burlington (as will the sliding deadman). Now that I have a drill-press the mortises will be easier to cut, and I can run the legs and stretchers through the jointer and planer. I chose the crisscross and classic leg vise combination partially because they are designed to go together. The vise has a 1″ diameter double-lead acme thread, which runs extremely smoothly. The vise also has a nice black Parkerized finish. In an ideal world it would be great to build a 6-8 foot long bench, with a 4″ thick top. The reality is though that a 5’×2′ bench is plenty large en0ugh for a tiny workshop in a semi-detached.


Benchcrafted classic leg vise

Tools of the Trades spring ’15 wrap-up

So today was Tools of the Trades. A good show, with quite a few vendors – Brit guys were missing though. There was the usual bunch of stuff. I saw quite a few Millers Falls bench planes, lots of vises (some big ones too), and measuring tools. Sometimes it’s as though there are waves of tools, with every show having 2-3 tools in abundance. I wasn’t after anything uber specific. There were no wooden planes which really stood out, and the infills are always a mixed bag quality wise (and expensive). There were a couple of Victor block planes, but I just couldn’t fork out the $240+ for them (I’m eyeing a Veritas DX60). Maybe one day – just one of them.



Lots of planes, and chisels…


More tools…

What did I end up buying? Three block planes – no surprise there. The first is a Record No.230, with a knuckle lever cap. The second is a Stanley No.130 double-end block plane. I consider double-ends to be ugly ducklings, but I should have at least one in my collection.


The Record No.230, and the Stanley No.130

Lastly, an odd companion to my other BOSTON block plane, the BOSTON 2A. The vendor selling these had three of them (extremely odd) – and this was the nicest. These planes are completely aluminum – bar the blade. Oddities to be sure.


The Boston No.2A and together with its sibling the No.2


The “Zig Zag” ruler

In North America we don’t see many folding “Zig Zag” type folding rulers anymore (in North America anyways), as they have been waylaid by the tape measure (at one point Lufkin catalogs dedicated 10 or more pages to these rulers). Growing up though, there were numerous folding rulers from Switzerland in my house. In Europe, they are often branded with company names and given out to to advertise the company. They are still heavily used in Europe, especially by trade such as cabinet makers. They are portable, light, adjustable, and accurate. Below are zigzags from Lufkin, Stabila and Wiha. Lufkin called these rulers “spring joint rules”.

Zigzags from Lufkin, Stabila and Wiha Tools

Last week I bought a new Wiha zigzag ruler at my local industrial tool emporium “Atlas Machinery“. It was just sitting there on the shelf for $15.95, and I thought – why not? What drew me to this one was, firstly the “Made in Switzerland” stamp, and secondly that it is made of plastic (with both imperial and metric scales). Part of the issue with older rules of this form is that they were made of wood, and the joints often became loose over time. The fact that they are made of wood is only an issue if you want to use them outside, the joints are another issue all together. Below are some of the features of a zigzag – a brass sliding depth gauge (for inside measurements), and the clarity of the scale.


Sliding depth gauge and imperial scale

In the older zigzags, the joints are often made of metal that tends to rust over time, which means bending the joints is less than smooth. The new plastic zigzags have no play in these joints because each is spring loaded, and unlike their wooden brethren, these have 90º stops. Better than tape measures? They certainly aren’t as long, however they won’t rust, or kink. And they stay open. The scale is embossed, so it won’t wear off. These new rulers are made of fiberglass, and are chemical, water and scratch resistant.


Zigzag joints: old vs. new

Historical note: Lufkin patented the folding rule joint in 1953 (Patent No. 2,713,206). They cite a zigzag patented in Switzerland in 1941 (Patent No. 215,429, Fabrique D’Instruments de Mesure). They also mention the patent of Stanley Rule & Level Company of 1913 for a “Folding Rule Joint” (Patent No. 1,080,192).

Time for tool fest!

You guessed it… time this coming Sunday (29th) for “Tools of the Trades“, in Pickering Ontario. Sure to be a good show. This time I have nothing I’m really looking for, except maybe “unusual” looking planes. There is always one tool seller with the odd Victor block plane – so maybe one of those. Starts at 10am – get in early for the coolest stuff!