Category Archives: Shop aids

The Fountainhead – part 2


The first post in this riveting series can be found here.

So after all the drama of the past 11 days we can get back to the usual business of documenting a slow, yet delightful woodworking journey. The jaws of my fountainhead were fixed to the arms using slow setting epoxy and an almighty Assegaai draw pin. As I mentioned in the previous post, one should be carefully not to offset the hole through the tenon by too much if working with such extremely hard wood as this. You will be able to appreciate from the pictures below, how the excessive offset I used caused an obvious deviation in entry angle on the entrance side. You will also notice the gap on the exit side. If the offset was even slightly more it would have destroyed the jaw on the exit side.


A quick test fit.


Here you can see the so called leather hinge.


Driven by my shame regarding the issue of copying some else’s design, I decided to created my own unique clamping mechanism. It all started with a laminated block of Kaapse Swarthout (Maytenus peduncularis).


Which received an Ysterhout (Olea capensis macrocarpa) footing. The tool supermodel is obviously pre-glass-door-incident. The photos should paint a fairly comprehensive picture of how I went about shaping this wing nut on steroids.



… and Bob’s (Demers) your uncle.


The final product with a Cape Brewing Company craft beer in the background. Imagine a fountain of craft beer … Sorry I got a bit distracted there.


You should be able to see the seal leather grip on the inside of the jaw in this picture.


The shape of my giant wooden wing nut was inspired by my idea of the head of a fountain.


The fountainhead – part 1


Seeing that my planer is still in ICU I am continuing to do the odd little jobs that does not get done once the major projects start in all earnest. One of those jobs that has been on the list for a few years is a shop made saw vise. Once again my e-mail advisor Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works sent me in this direction. He told me about an article in the August edition (#219) of Popular Woodworking by Jason Thigpen. Apparently Mark is using one of these himself and finds it exceptional.


I found scrap pieces of beach and something I though was Tasmanian Blackwood for the job. At this stage I think it might actually be Walnut, but I am not too sure. While living in New Zealand I restored a few riffle stocks of Walnut and this seems to be quite similar. I am a bit confused about where it came from though. Clearly it was in my father’s pile of wood that came my way, but I do not recall him ever using walnut for any project.

Unfortunately both piece of scrap were significantly twisted, but fortunately thick enough to be planed out. Both these species are so hard that it took me a whole day to get rid of the twist, and square up the four blocks all by hand.


Marking out the tenons.


Sawing the tenons.


Sawing the shoulders.


I usually stay about 1 mm away from the knife line with the saw and remove the rest by horizontal pairing ala Charlesworth.


That bit of waste next to the knife line also serves to protect the actual shoulders while I plane the cheeks of the tenons to it’s (almost) exact thickness. I use my Stanley no. 10 rabbet plane and a set square to achieve this.


A quick change of handle for my Lie-Nielsen chisel. I turned this pairing handle myself, which is one of the wonderful advantages of these socket chisels. The longer handle makes for more accurate and comfortable pairing.


As you can see here, this Charlesworth method can be frightfully accurate.


This area was removed on the table saw. I am sure you will excuse me for not wanting to plane unnecessary by hand at this stage.


It got cleaned up with a Stanley number 78 rabbet plane. No sweat.


The mortises were first drilled out on the drill press and then fine tuned using a few chisels. The wood was simply to hard for my brace and Irwin auger bit, which is why I had to resort to the drill press.




One of these elevated areas will become the actual jaw of the vise. The other was kept intact to make drilling these holes easier.


Here I am fine tuning the actual jaw surface. Jason dubbed it a “compound springjoint”. What that basically means is that you first remove a bit of timber from the bottom of the jaw to ensure that the first contact between the jaws occur at the very top of the vise. As the tention increase the slight distortion (bending) of the arms results in the entire jaw face clamping down on the saw plate.

Once that is accomplished you hollow out the length of the jaw by a smidgen. This in turn will ensure that the ends of the jaws make contact first. As the clamping pressure increase the small gap in the middle close up and you end up with even pressure across the whole length of the jaw faces.


The area I mentioned earlier that was left intact also helped to keep the jaws stable on the bandsaw for this operation. One of the curves were too acute for the bandsaw so I had to use my shop made bow saw.


At this stage the little area pictured had served it’s purpose and was removed by hand planing, (after an ice cold beer). You would also put ice in your beer if your shop averaged 33-35 °, trust me.


The table saw once again came in handy for this angled cut.


As you can see the table saw left nasty burn marks, which were removed by hand planing.


The second bevel were all done by hand planing.


Next came the so-called “leather hinge”. It is an appropriately sized block of wood with leather on both sides that keeps the arms parallel to each other. If you read Jason’s article it will become a bit clearer.


By the way, you might be able to see by how much I chose to “off-set” the draw pin holes. As it turns out this is slightly too much. I realised by doing this that for extremely hard wood like this one should use less. Nothing disastrous happened but if the off-set was anymore I would have destroyed many hours of toil during glue-up.


Here you can see the leather hinge and (as per usual) my hardware improvisation.


Unfortunately I did not take a photo of the crucial step of drilling the holes for the two bolts that pass through both arms and the leather hinge. I employed insert nuts to anker the bolts. I used to struggle with these insert nuts. They never used to seat nice and straight. That is until I made this incredibly complex insert-nut-inserter. You screw the insert nut onto the device with enough of a leading section of threaded rod which keeps the nut lined up and launch it with your cordless drill.


So why the title “The Fountainhead”? I happened to listen to an audio recording of this classic 1943 novel while working on this project. At some stage I realised that the saw vise actually resembles the head of a fountain.

Warning: This post will now deteriorate into a pseudo-philosophical discussion of literature rather than woodwork. Please refrain from reading any further if you are allergic to such quasi-intellectual drivel.

The novel seems to be quite relevant to the sentiments expressed by many woodworkers that forms part of the resurgence in handcrafted furniture. There seems to be an underlying theme  that permeates through most of what is written online by the new generation of woodworkers. The theme can be seen as a reaction against consumerism (gone crazy), industrialisation and it’s decaying effect on quality. The Schwarz has in recent years linked it to American Anarchism.

Interestingly though, one of the main themes of the book is at odds with one of Christopher Schwarz’ ideas. He often argues that most designs that stood the test of time can probably not be improved on. I am particularly thinking of his ideas around workbench design. The main protagonist in the Fountainhead, Howard Roark challenges this idea with his approach to architecture. He is fiercely opposed to any form of copying. So it was with shock that I realised that I was pretty much copying Jason’s saw vise, which I usually do not like doing. Of course a workbench and a building is two different things, but it is interesting ideas to mull over on your journey towards your own philosophy. There are no rights and wrongs I am sure, just concepts to ponder over for woodworkers with a philosophical bent.

One more observation I made was extremely thought provoking. Probably the major theme portrayed through this story is that of individualism being more desirable than collectivism. According to the novel the individual should produce work that is true to themselves and original. They should not merely give the masses what they want, which is usually a slightly tweaked version of what has been done ad nauseum  in the past. What seems to betray this prime philosophical stance of the book, is the fact that in true American style it has a fairly happy ending. In other words, what the masses want.

Anyway, I think that any modern woodworker can benefit from reading this book. It will get you to think about and challenge your beliefs around design and woodworking in general.

I conclude this post with a picture of a Shaft-tailed Whydah (bottom) and a Redheaded Finch (top) that came to visit my shop this weekend. We will hopefully finish the project in part two.


Shop floor with je ne sais quoi


I suspect there are quite a few woodworkers out there who are convinced that I have lost the plot a long time ago. If you are one of them, then this post will be the final evidence you need.

I have a problem in that my shop has a concrete floor. It has caused quite a bit of unnecessary swearing and sharpening after dropping a chisel or a plane blade. My slightly camp quick-fix solution to the problem was to cut appropriately sized chucks off this hideous old carpet to drape around my bench!

Now if that does not create a workshop ambiance for a real man, then I don’t know what will!


Shop made saw benches – 3


My daughter thought it was necessary to strike a pose on the (first) finished saw bench.



I moved on to the second of the two benches to be finished. Here you can see how useful the split-top (design of my workbench) can be for operations like this. I am marking out the pins, using the tails as a template for those of you who are unsure what “operations like this” means.


Here I am fitting the dovetail joint.


The second saw bench after being glued and screwed.


This is another example of how the open end of my split-top provides additional work holding options compared to a conventional design. In the picture I am chopping off the protruding waste of the wedged through mortises.



I thought it might help to point out the few design improvements I made to the saw bench. As stated earlier in this series of posts, I used the design of Ron Herman as a starting point. I added the strips of wood as pictured to improve the grip of a holdfast as it increased the depth of the dogholes from ¾” – 1½”. It obviously also adds some strength.



I removed some wood (arch shape) from the footing to improve it’s stability on an uneven floor.



I drilled the two big holes in the end boards as grips when carrying the bench with two hands. The elongated grip hole in the top enables one to carry or move the bench with one hand. You will also notice the amount and position of holdfast holes.



I gave the finished benches a liberal treatment of a tung oil, diesel and turps mixture before the long weekend.



Now that they are done I need to move on to building a few bow saws and a frame saw.

The hovering skeleton chest


You’ve heard of the Anarchist’s tool chest and the Dutch tool chest, which seems to be very much part of the prevailing woodworking vernacular. I would like to introduce the so called hovering skeleton chest. It is especially useful to woodworkers who decides to approach their bench from all sides, rather than the more popular custom of shoving it up against a wall. This is not a new idea as you can see from this close-up of plate 11 (AJ Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier). Neither is the hovering skeleton chest (though possibly under a different name) a new idea, as a similar device is often employed in a kitchen to hang pots and pans from.

Plate 11_close

Here you can see the wife helping me to hang the contraption …



… after which I stocked it with essential tools needed at the bench.



Shop made saw benches – 2


My first version of Ron Herman’s saw bench were assembled this weekend. I decided to finish one (of the two) in order to hopefully learn something and use that knowledge to make small improvements to the second.


This is the tenon on the end of the apron. It is a through tenon that will be wedged.


The stretchers has a type of halve-lap dovetail (for lack of a better term) design as you can see. You will also notice that I decided to reinforce all the joints with slotted wood screws.


I added these strips of beech to the bottom of the top for two reasons: 1) to add strength, 2) to improve the grip of a holdfast due to the increased thickness of the top.


The same goes for the strips added to the end boards. You can also appreciate how I shaped the feet, which is one of the slight tweaks I made to the design.


Another one of those (tweaks) was to add an elongated hole in the middle of the top to act as a handle then one wants to move the bench using one hand only. The plan is to add two similar holes to the end boards to grip while moving it with both hands. I used slow setting epoxy as my adhesive of choice given that the bench was assembled in one go (that took me 1 hour). The extended open time is essential for this purpose. One of the advantages of adding the screws was that I needed no clamps at all.


Hopefully the bench will be finished in the next few days.

Shop made saw benches – 1


While my monster workbench is getting quite close to being finished, I want to start building two saw benches. I need to start preparing the stock as it inevitably takes a lot of time, seeing that I need to laminate bits of crappy wood to make up the boards I need. It pains me to see how those American woodworkers can rock up to a lumberyard and buy perfect boards (of almost any species) in any imaginable dimension, go home and start working on their project. I work for weeks to cobble together strips of wood to make up boards that will be appropriate for the task. I decided to use Tasmanian Blackwood in this particular case, as I have quite a bit of it and I do not like using it for anything else than shop structures.

I looked at heaps of different designs (in the past 6 months or so) to work out what would suite me best. The design I settled on is based on a saw bench in an article entitled “If the tool fits …” by Ron Herman, in the August 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

In the pictures below you can see the rough stock I picked. It is not the best stock at all, but I would rather use the good stuff for other purposes.


Here I tried to work out what the ideal height should be given my personal Vitruvianisms (I think this might be a new word). It seems that 18½” (47cm) fits my Vitruvian lower leg.


Arranging the strips for the first two glue-ups.


As per usual, I used my Festool Domino to ensure that the edges stay flush. The Domino is the only power tool I still enjoy using. It is fairly quiet and generally a joy to use.




The second batch of stock that was processed.


This is my woodworking buddy. Her name is Pipsqueack.


From these pictures you can appreciate the wide range of different colours one can find in Tasmanian Blackwood. These strips were the first to be hand planed on my new bench. The two planes I used feature in the last picture.


Another round of glue-ups.


Removing the dried excess glue with my shop made flush plane.







Lamination done.



I started preparing the laminated stock this weekend. The first and most arduous task was to get rid of the slight twist in the boards. Once one face was flat I used the electrical planer to flatten the opposite face.


After flattening one edge, …


… my shop made panel gauge came in handy to mark out the opposite edge. While doing this, I realised that by flipping round the lids of my sliding tool trays it creates an ideal stop (in conjunction with my planing stop) to do this task. Just another nifty feature of my bench design.


Yep, I am a “tails first” type of guy … for now anyway. This is my first attempt at multiple dovetails, so my approach might change depending on how it pans out.


Cleaning out the waste.


Transferring the tails to mark out the pins. Here you can appreciate how my shop made assembly table assists with this delicate task.


A first careful fit.


Also see Part 2 and 3 of this riveting series.

Custom made leather apron

2/12/2013 – I decided to take a dive into the world of hand stitching leather as I thought it could be very useful all around the workshop. Therefore I bought some beautiful cows leather from Nakara for the first project of this nature being a shop apron. Up until now I have been using an apron made by my dear wife. It worked quite well, but like with most things there were a few bits that needed improvement. Here you can see the leather.



I found the two images below on the net, which helped me to improve the design of my apron. The first image shows Lie-Nielsen’s version of a leather apron. What I borrowed from them was the split bottom part and the belt around the waist that wraps all around the apron as apposed to only being attached to the edges of the apron. I found that it was a bit of a mission to squat with my previous apron which did not have the slit at the front. The second picture shows the x-strap design which distributes the weight of the apron better and takes it off one’s neck. This is also a part of the Lie-Nielsen design although the second picture is not a LN apron.



Initially my plan was to take the bits (pictured below) of leather (already cut) on holiday to RSA and ask my mother-in-law to stitch it together with her sewing machine. This did not work as the leather was far too thick for her machine.



Once back in Windhoek I made some enquiries and found an old German shop that specialises in all the tools needed to hand stitch leather. Unfortunately I did not take pictures of the process, but here is the final product.


Shop High Stool facelift


In order to provide a brief hiatus in my bench building activities I decided that it is time to update the shop high stool I originally built back in 2000. You will notice that it was made out of the same Swarthout strips I used for the Darwinian Sawhorses. After almost ten years in storage it did not look particularly elegant.


I decided to rip the fabric off and to replace it with Hyena leather. Or at least that is what I think it is as it was written on the back of the piece I bought from Nakara.


It is a very sturdy and thick leather with a colour that is pleasing to the eye.


The staple gun did a sterling job to fix it. As you can see I did not spend too much effort to get it perfect as it is only a shop workhorse. You will also notice that I reinforced the structure with bits of scrap pine that was lying around.


Helpful charts tip

I like sticking up laminated documents next to my bench/assembly table with useful information that I need on a regular basis. In the first picture you can see a range of these documents. These pictures were actually taken quite some time ago, which means that the documents has since multiplied a smidgen, but you can get the idea.

The closeup picture show a chart with the various different clearance hole and pilot hole diameters for screw sizes 3 to 12 and a chart with the different speed settings recommended for my Festool TS55 circular saw depending on the material being cut. Below those (on the first picture) you can see three different conversion charts to help me to quickly convert imperial measurements to metric. The one that looks a bit like a ruler is by far the most useful, as it has all those confusion fractions like 7/16″ or 3/8″ or 15/32″ on one side of the ruler and you simply read off the metric equivalent on the other.



I found an excellent article on design entitled “A guide to good design” by Graham Blackburn in Fine Woodworking Magazine (January/February 2004) explaining how to use Phi (φ), the Golden Ratio and a Fibonacci Series to design objects with pleasing proportions. I made up a document with all the most pertinent bits of information, added a few drawings of my own, laminated it, and stuck it on the wall for easy access.



3/10/2013 – Since I wrote this post I have added a few things. As you can see there are two showing the different angles used when sharpening a rip vs crosscut handsaw, a chart showing the different files that should be used for the fore mentioned, and an illustration giving some guidance as to the various cambers used for different types of hand plane irons.