Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Nicholson Bench With Holdfast Vice

About six months ago I had a dilemma. I was doing my first Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event and I needed a bench. Well the thing was I had a bench. I had two benches, in fact. The thing was I needed a bench that one person or well sort of one person could hall around to shows.

I needed a few things from this bench. As I alluded to it needed to be light or a least a lot lighter than my current benches. Second it needed to be something I could take apart. In other words, knockdown designed. Third I really didn't want to drop anymore money on vice hardware considering this would be used only on occasion. 

Nicholson Work Bench

About that time I had seen Mike Siemsen make a no non-sense Nicholson bench from home center materials. It really caught my eye as a simple solution. Now all I needed to do was make the legs removable. I decided to use some barrel nuts or bed bolts. These are cross-locking nut thingamajigs.

Here are some pictures to see the way it assembles/disassembles for transport.

Bottom of knockdown Nicholson bench with four legs on top disassembled

The leg is notched to make it flush with the front of the bench

The leg slides in a dado and the bolt is installed

The legs are dadoed into the front and back boards to stop lateral shifting in heavy use.

Barrel nut

How the bolt functions with out the leg installed just for clarity

Once I had that down I needed to address my last concern. The methods of securing materials to work them. Obviously the faces, edges and ends of boards.

For working the faces a simple holdfast and batten method seemed to be the best option rather than a costly and time consuming instillation of and end vice. This is something Richard over at The English Woodworker resurrected and works incredibly well. I use the sliding lock from my Dutch tool chest as the batten since it travels with me and the bench.

For working the edges of a board I use bench dogs or holdfasts in the holes on the face of the bench to support the board while holding it securely with at least one hold fast. Just that simple.

Since I was on the hold fast kick, up to this, at some point a new fangled face vice contraption just popped into my head. What was the inspiration? Who knows. I have never seen anything like it thought it is so simple I genuinely doubt it could be entirely unique. But I guess it could be. If so I am dubbing it the Jamesfast Vice. Boy thats a little egotistical, don't you think. :) Feel free to call it the Holdfast Vise. That makes more sense anyways.

Jamesfast Vice

Note the supports that hold the holdfasts up when not "clamping"

This is a simple device really. It is just a pair of holdfasts and a board for a vice jaw. Hit them both down to secure. Hit the backs of the fasts to loosen. The key to making it work is to insure that the front jaw has a slot rather than a straight hole for the holdfast to pass through. This allows the holdfast to properly "grab" in the rear jaw while not binding in the front jaw. 

I added a couple of "L" shaped blocks of wood to hold up the ends of the holdfasts while they are not knocked securely in place. 

I will admit this is not a perfect vice. What is, right? Anyway, it works best if the end of the fast lands over some part of the piece that you are holding. If you do, it works just like you would expect. If not then it might not want to really grab, duh!

Heres is one other detail that might help you see how the parts interlock. The top and sides are tongue and grooved. The top is floating and the sides are glued. These are the only "fancy" joints on the bench and I debated doing them. I think the top benefited the most from this.  This is how I did it but I am sure it could be altered without ill effect.

All the cross ribbing was installed with pocket holes and screws but could have been face drilled straight through if one didn't have that gizmo.

Once I was done with the bench I got really excited about what I had just accomplished. I had made a bench for around a hundred bucks (not including holdfasts) that actually worked and worked really well. When I consider how many new woodworkers could have an authentic way to have a serious hand tool woodworking bench without a major chunk of money, that no doubt they have other real world things to spend on, it is pretty cool in my book.

At the event that I first brought this to I was surprising how many people asked me about the bench (rather than my tools). Did I have plans, etc? 

Chris Schwarz was at this event as well and we had a short chat about it. After that I went home and stored it away. I am happy that Chris ran with the knockdown aspect of the bench and applied the deep wealth of knowledge on workbenches and really rocked a new design. Read about it here if you haven't seen it already. Or watch this video he posted on it.

My bench looks pretty lame compared to what he put together. But lame or not it works! So good news is that you can make one too. No, I don't have plans. I would love to but at this moment in time I am jam packed with tasks. Please look at the photos and go buy some lumber. It really is as simple as it looks. 


No New Pre-Orders On Beading Planes- Thank You! Oh And I Got A Secretary!

Thats a long title. Anyways I am probably not thinking straight after getting Schwarzed, as so many of my recent customers kidded me about. He probably laughs an evil villain laugh as he hits the publish post button. Muahahahahahaha Muuuahahahahahaha. Then drinks a beer with his feet up. OK OK OK, I kid. (...just fanning the flames.)

Anyhow I must put the breaks on the beading plane orders at this time (8/28/14, 9:14 est). I know, who turns away business these days. Well I would love to make beading planes for the next year but I think for the next 4-5 months is good enough to start with. I have a number of other obligations and personal endeavors in the furniture, planemaking and teaching world that I need to allow room for in my schedule. I hope you understand.

Plus, I am not a big fan of making people hurry up and wait so I prefer to stop for a while and then open up orders again just as soon as I can. I sincerely appreciate everyones enthusiasm for moulding planes. I love them too.

I thought it might be an appropriate time to share a recent family photo. I don't talk a lot about myself here because this blog has always been about the ins and outs of my interest in woodworking and sharing those things in a hope others can benefit from it. But now that my readers also support me and my family then I figure you should see who benefits.

Oh and this leads me to my next exciting announcement. I have an official secretary to help me manage my correspondence and invoicing. Its my wife! Tracy and I worked together in a similar way for about 7 years in the past so we fit like a glove and it feels kinda nostalgic. So, expect her to reply to some of your emails regarding standard inquiry related things. Like notifying you when something is going to ship, etc. I will still be responding to most things as a general rule as I like to get to know my customers. That is important to me.

From left to right: Tracy, Petra, Claire, Caleb

One good thing about this secretary is she makes good coffee. (If only my Dr of Chinese medicine would let me drink it like I want to.)

Tracy making coffee

Oh and she knows how to give me that look that says you have been goofing off on Instagram too much, get back to work. I know some of you will appreciate that. :)

Thanks again ya'll!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Now Taking Pre-Orders on Side Beading Planes!

UPDATE: As of 8/28/14 -9:14 est- no more new pre-orders on this plane until next time. Thank you for your enthusiasm! UPDATE

It is official. I am finally getting around to straightening out my schedule enough to open up to new orders again. As some of you know I stopped taking orders on planes back in the spring to catch up on work and to take an inventory of my beech stock.

In an effort to manage my time as efficiently as possible I am producing planes in batches that align with my carefully dried beech plane stock. I am opening up to beading planes as the first phase and will open up to other planes in the coming weeks and months.

3/16" side beading plane

For the sake of new readers... My planes are made from stock that I cut, dry and season. It is american beech and the planes are made in a traditional 18th century style and construction. These are not four piece planes glued together here. They are solid one piece construction that will last a couple hundred years if you and your grandchildren store them properly. Once the stock is roughed out on the table saw, the making process is done entirely with hand tools. The blades are Lie-Nielsen tapered moulding blanks that I profile and heat treat in house.

Side bead plane

OK, on to the bead planes. I am offering 1/8", 3/16" and 1/4" sizes. These are sizes appropriate for furniture size work. If you have no beading planes then definitely start with the 3/16". It is very versatile. The 1/4" is good for larger scale pieces. Think bead on the apron of a table. 1/8" is good for small scale pieces possibly like a spice or jewelry box.

Here is a short video of the 3/16" plane in use.

As of this post, all these sizes are $285 US each + $10 shipping. International customers please send me your address and I will calculate exact shipping for you.

I hope to get my but in gear so that my web designer can finish up my new website and store so that you can purchase directly but for now you will need to email me at calebjames(at)me(dot)com. I will respond with an emailed invoice that you can pay through and that will include a window of completion date.

I appreciate your interest and patience!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Man Behind The Camera (or in front?)

As everyone one could probably guess, my name is Caleb. But what you probably didn't know is where I started from and how I got into woodworking.  Recently a short documentary was made about my work and who I am. I didn't plan to make it. It just happened.

It all hinges around a magazine article that was written up about me and my chairs from when I lived back out west. So check it out and let me know what you think and don't laugh too hard, please.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Making Of A Traditional Wooden Moulding / Molding Plane

I was having a little fun with a new app on my phone that allows me to take a time lapse video. So, I decided to do a video of me making a moulding plane. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough memory on my phone to do the whole process. Didn't realize this until I was completely done.

Anyhow, this is a little time lapse video of me making the plane from the point of the blank being roughed out to the initial fitting of the wedge. This is probably about 1/6th of the plane making process not including the time to cut the tree, process the log and dry the wood. Nor does it account for iron work or the heat treating process. So in other words it is a snippet of the process but gives you a taste of what is involved.

As you can see, lots of hand work is involved. I would estimate that about 95% of the making of these planes is with hand tools. I use a chainsaw to process the log into manageable sections from the log and then to the bandsaw to take it down to smaller blanks. Then to the kiln for slow drying.

Once it is dried I size the blank on the table saw and cut the shoulder there as well. The wedge is roughed out at the table saw as well on a jig. One of only two jigs for the entire process. Everything after that is done with hand tools all the way to the finish.

All surfaces are left straight from a cutting tool. Either plane, chisel or card scraper. The only exception is truing the final profile with sandpaper to tune it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Planemaking And Chairmaking Classes In The Works! *PLUS* Surprise Visitors To The Shop!

So, yesterday I had a nice surprise. If you keep up with chairmaker Glen Rundell then you know he has been touring the Eastern half of the United States over the past few weeks. Mostly hanging with Pete and the gang up in Massachusetts, doing the Lie-Nielsen open house (which I missed, ugh!) and things like that. Glen hails from down under in Melbourne. He has come a long way to get some fresh inspiration to take back home with him.

Anyway, Glen was in Virginia taking a class with Jeff Lefkowitz, who teaches the chairmaking courses for Brian Boggs and after the class they loaded up and came down for a visit to the shop. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Left to right; Claire, Caleb, Jeff, Glen

Truthfully, he gave me a day or so notice, so I had good motivation to clean up the shop. I am in the middle of paneling the walls. More on that later. And my wife made some enchiladas verdes as a special treat for lunch. Handmade corn tortillas, umm. She's a Canadian that cooks some good Tex-Mex. Got to love it! (I am really getting off track here)

As I filled them in on the goings on around here I realized I haven't been blogging much lately. I am not one for fluff or filler on the blog but I think maybe I should share with everyone else as well. As I was telling Glen and Jeff, I am planning on taking one half of my shop and dedicating it to a classroom and am almost halfway there. I get pushed by just about every craftsman I know, that I should be teaching classes. I get requests on an ongoing basis as well. I am finally coming around to the idea.

I am looking at, of course, teaching some planemaking classes. Possibly a four day class on making a pair of hollows and rounds and a rabbet plane. I may split these up as two different classes. These would be a really good start and you can make the majority of planes based on those two formats.

The other classes would be some introductory classes on chairmaking. One will be on making a Danish modern stool which will include lathe work, joinery and danish cord weaving. A two or three day class depending on size. The other will be a three leg windsor stool that will have lathe work, hand drilling, reaming and seat carving. Probably a three day class as well depending on size.

I am up in the air about prices as of yet. It has a lot to do with class size and demand. I have room for about six students at a time though I would tend to want the class sizes a bit smaller. We will see.

Send me any suggestions or classes you would prefer to see available so that I can plan accordingly. I am not asking for a commitment but if you are a reader of this blog and see a class here or something related to what I do that you would like to take at some point, then let me know. Your feedback will make a difference.

Thanks and I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moulding Planes at Woodworking In America 2014

I guess it is about time to officially announce that I will be at Woodworking In America 2014. I decided not to tag along with Peter Galbert this year. We though about recreating the fantastic four crew of 2013 but seeing as another person is going to be in the bunch then I decided to not be a fifth wheel. Sorry Pete! There always has to be that one guy that leaves the band and messes everything up. :) One good album and its all over after that... never to be heard from again. Lets hope that last parts doesn't happen.

Oh, I will have my booth right next to Pete's though. Haha!

Ok, down to business. I will have a 1/2 set of hollows and rounds on hand for your perusal and a number of bench planes but especially a panel raiser along with a couple complex profile planes and side beads. It should be fun so come over and try making some profiles or watch me if you prefer.

If you are really into wooden planes then you might have extra motivation to come since you will find Matt Bickford there as well. He will be one of the speakers also. I've never met Matt so it should be fun to converse with another modern maker.

You might find it odd that I would promote another planemaker but there is enough work to go around for everyone and I must say that I appreciate his book on moulding plane use. It needed to be written. In fact I was hesitating moving into making planes for others until I saw that he was writing it. Its hard to sell a product to the general masses when nearly everyone with the exception of a few don't know where to begin with them. I wrote a review on his book when it came out if you aren't familiar with it. Thanks Matt for writing it and thanks to Lost Art Press for making the publishing of such a book possible in the first place.

OK lets wrap this up. Come on out to Woodworking in America 2014 in Winston-Salem, NC between September 12-14. Its going to be a blast!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Riving Beech For Wooden Planes

So, I am reluctant to admit that I haven't had success riving beech. Why am I reluctant? I really can't say why. I guess I love the idea and frankly the crazy efficiency of riving wood. To those that haven't tried it then it is just mind blowing how quickly you can go form log to working wood. Add to that the way perfectly straight grain wood works has no comparison. You'll wonder why you have been wasting your time with all the sawn stuff. Anyways I love riven wood, OBVIOUSLY. But unfortunately I have not been so fortunate with the beech that I have produced planes from.

Let me explain with a photo. I think it says it all.

I really wish I could find the picture of me trying to split the log this came from. It was like 40" in diameter and had about 10 wedges in it when I gave up and went to rent the biggest chain saw I could get my hands on with a 24" blade. 

If you look closely the fibers follow all the contours. The wood really had that much curl. The distance between the curls is about 7-1/2". That is the biggest curl I have ever seen. 

Anyways, I know that there must be some American beech out there somewhere that is good riving wood. I have yet to find it. It appears the European stuff is much more cooperative from what I read. Until I find some that cooperates with my wedges and froe then I will have to stick with my saw. I still follow the fibers as straight as I can. 

There has been one advantage that seems clear to me and that is the billets that come out of this wood are practically indestructible. I have put some real pressure on thin mortise walls just to test them. They are so tough and that applies to the wedges as well. 

Let me know your experience if you have light to shed on the subject.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Drilling The Mortise On A Moulding Plane Accurately & Efficiently By Hand

I am really excited to be sharing this method of drilling. I know I started this subject a while back on drilling by hand with a bit and brace but I never followed up on the rest of the process. The reason is, frankly, I have struggled a bit with doing this part with absolute confidence every time I approached it. Now though I have been using a new approach that has changed all that. Heres how it goes. Warning- This is a bit of a long post but it is worth it.

First off, out with the bit brace and in with the cordless drill. I know, I know but once you see the results, and I guarantee they are worth it, then you can try this with a bit brace if you want. I love my bit brace but until I find some bits that are long enough, thin enough and don't break then I am going to stick with my new method.

In fact what prompted this new method is that one of the tiny Japanese auger bits I used to drill the mortises broke. I order these from a German supplier and shipping, etc. is a real pain in the wallet. I wanted something simpler.

So then, you will need some long thin drill bits. More on where to source these at the end of the post. Lets get to the process.

The key to making this who process so simple and elegant is a drilling jig. Trust me this isn't cheesy. Whats cool is that you likely already have this jig if you make moulding planes. It is the saw guide jig. This guides your saw as you cut the bed and breast angles. Below is the jig on the plane billet. (Billet has been sawn and waste from escapement chopped away already)

Moulding plane saw guide in place

So this is how it began... I came down to the shop on one weekend before getting ready to do a big order and as I had just broken a tiny auger bit recently I was pondering a new way to get the job done. I was even considering doing the efficient approach Matt Bickford uses with the drill press. Nothing wrong with this method at all. In fact, I had already ordered some long thin drill bits just for giving this method a try. However, If you know me though, I hate to set up any kind of machine or jig. I use them only when it is the most efficient method and only when any other way is just frustrating. As I have said before, I am just too lazy to set up a jig if I don't really really have too. I promise this is not a purist notion it really is just me being lazy.

So, I was thinking about how to make the jigs work on my drill press when my new method just jumped out at me. I though, why not just flip the saw guide around to the top of the billet and then use it as a drilling guide. All that was missing was the other angle for the "lean" of the blade in the plane. 

In practice you will align the jig with your drilling location so that you can just rest your drill lightly against the jig to maintain the correct angle. This takes care of the bed and breast angles.

I figured that the "lean" angle could simply be drawn on the end of the jig and I could just approximate the angle by judging the gap between my drill bit and the drawn line. 

Use the same process on both the bed and breast angles. Then, depending on the # size of plane you are drilling, you will do as many as one or two additional holes between the bed and breast holes.

These above ones are #2s and the ones below are #4s. I always do four holes for the #2 and three holes for the #4. The center holes are just approximated but I still use the lean angles on the jig to keep that on track. 

You will want to start with some very shallow pilot holes. Just deep enough to get the bit started at a steep angle. I do this before placing the jig on the billet. Start the drill bit at 90˚ to the top and then swinging the dill to the approximate drilling angle. It helps to place the billet in the tail vise with the mortise being vertical. It is easier to approximate vertical then any other random angle. I don't try to actually apply any down pressure but just attempt to get the hole started in the right direction. You can see a "pilot" hole on the #4 plane below.

Once all of the holes are drilled then you are ready to remove the very little waste remaining. Before you start this next part it is a good idea to go back and carefully "redrill" the holes to pull any shavings out. Be careful since you can easily drill into the bed or breast. 

Now, Start at the top and just nibble your way down until you can't remove any more waste. Take little bites and clear every little nibble out so that it doesn't remain in the mortise. Hand pressure is all you need here.

Once you can't remove anymore waste then you are ready to mortise straight down the bed and breast angle. Again, take light blows and alternate from bed to breast until you are through. As long as you can get a float into the mortise and start clearing things out you are done. It is easy to get really stuck so do as little as is needed in this position.

By the way if you have never made a plane then the video from Old Street Tools is the one to get. It will make this post more understandable. Larry Williams and Lie-Nielsen did a fantastic job on explaining how to make a pair of hollow and round moulding planes. Get it if you don't have it.

The crucial tool to make this possible is the long thin drill bits. You will need to special order these very likely. I want to mention that Bill Anderson who teaches at The Woodwrights School emailed me a while back and turned me on to this source. Thanks Bill! 

Above is a photo of the list of drill bits I own from McMaster-Carr just for drilling these holes. I primarily use the smaller bits since those are the hardest to find that are long enough.

You will still need to grind these into a brad point bit. It isn't really hard but it is intimidating if you have never done it.  Peter Galbert taught me this method and he has two great posts on his blog from years ago on how to do it. Post #1 & #2. If I where you, I would practice on some used up bits you have lying around. Don't be intimidated. Give it a try and you will feel empowered and surprised at what a little know how can do for you. No need to buy those expensive HSS brad points when you can grind your own. 

After all is said and done I just like how so many people can have an effect on how we personally reach an efficient and accurate way to our work. 

Keep sharing!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Follow My Micro Blog On Instagram @CalebJamesBlog

I've mentioned it before but I am really good at taking quick snap shots on my cell phone camera but not following up and posting about it. As you can imagine at the end of the day I am tired and I convince myself that I will make a proper post about whatever it is that I snapped a picture of at some later point. Needless to say it just doesn't quite make it here on the blog so many times.

So, that is why I decided to post some of those regular photos on Instagram. Some of you know what that is, some of you don't. It is basically a place that you can share photos and add a comment. I have been using this app on my phone for about a year now to quickly share photos with my family around the world. It is great. I think it will be a great platform to share some of my shop notes in a digital form.

If you want to follow what happens then the best way is to download the app for your smart phone and follow the user name CalebJamesBlog. You can go here as well to see whats happening on your PC or Mac.

If you see this profile picture you got the right account.

I look forward to your feedback as I get to posting shop life.

Take care!