Alternative workbench/assembly table (Chapter two)

Finally after an anamnesis of note, we will proceed with the task of documenting the process of building an interim work surface with some proper work holding options. As stated in chapter one, most of the design features came from the Festool MFT table, but also included a smattering of random internet-generated ideas.

Due to my lack of tools to mill and laminate fairly large chucks of wood at the time I decided to get a steel structure made by a friend. In the pictures below you can see my rough hand drawn sketches to the welder. I apologise for the coloured lines running through the sketches, it must be some problem with my scanner. You will also see some gibberish mixed with english in my handwriting. This is Afrikaans, which is my first language. You have probably picked up that english is my second language.

my tafel Terence tekening 1My tafel terence tekening 2my tafel terence tekening 3

This became the carcass of the table to which I added all the bits over a ten month period. The steel frame was designed with 20mm threaded rod at the bottom of each leg in order to adjust the height of the table. The idea was that in this way I can get it on exactly the same level as my table saw (which I still did not have at this stage and therefore unsure about exact height) in order to use the assembly table as an extension table with the table saw.


In the above photo you can see what I mean with the height adjustability. While the steel base was being built, I started the process of drilling the ‘dog holes’ in the plywood top. The problem I faced was that I did not have a functional router at the time and therefore had to use a handheld drill. In order to do a semi-descent job I decided to manufacture a guide jig for this purpose. I took a 2 meter piece of heavy angle iron (5mm thick) and drilled holes of 20mm diameter spaced 96mm (centre to centre) apart. This was stolen directly from the Festool MFT version as I thought there must be a fairly good reason why they decided on these measurements.


The idea of this jig was to get the holes lined up as close to perfect as possible given the method. It worked quite well in terms of getting it lined up square and straight. The weakness of my approach came as a result of using a handheld drill rather than a router. Using a handheld drill makes it very difficult to drill a hole that is exactly 90 degrees to the work surface in all directions. The dog holes of my table are therefore slightly off 90 degrees in a pretty random fashion. This leads to dogs that sit in the same way, but so far it has not really caused any hiccups from a functional point of view apart from reminding my obsessive compulsive daemons that it is imperfect. As this will eventually become a dedicated assembly table, the holes will be used primarily to accept F-style clamps through the top, in which case the slight error in alignment would have no effect. A router would have done a better job non the less. In the pictures below you can see the alignment of the holes and it being used to accept F-style clamps and my own version of bench dogs. I will write a post at some point in time about these dogs.


The next step in this riveting ordeal was to create a heavy sleeper made up of laminate strips of Rhodesian Teak. The proposed purpose of this sleeper is to stabilize the metal carcass/frame in it’s length, especially for tasks such as hand planing. I bought some Rhodesian Teak boards that were harvested in Zambia. Apparently the harvesting of this wood has been stopped completely since I bought these boards about 18 months ago. In the last picture my son Didier pose with a hunting top and water boots in a town with an annual rainfall of 360 millimeters (14 in)!!!!


In the next few photos you can see how the sleeper found it’s resting place between the two shelves underneath the table. The gap you see in the bottom shelve is meant to get rid of sawdust easily as the angle iron sides stands proud of it’s surface. You will also notice the colour difference of these two boards. I used scrap bits of chipboard that was recycled from the crates my father built to safely transport all the workshop equipment from George (RSA) to Windhoek (a journey of 1800km or 1118 miles).



I think this will conclude chapter two. In the next chapter we will look at the cumbersome process involved in adding all the paraphernalia to the top of this table.

Alternative workbench/assembly table (chapter one)

I decided to build an assembly table that doubles up as a workbench as a first option. The plan is to extend the workshop at some point in future, at which time I will build the proper bench and have the benefit of having two dedicated areas for each task. For now I have to live with something that can do most of what a good bench can do (but not quite) and all that can be expected of an assembly table. At the moment I am thinking that my dream bench will probably be a variation of the so called Holtzapffel design. I am slowly working through the two books by Christopher Schwartz on the topic.


The main reason I decided to go for the assembly table setup first was that I thought I could get more out of it as an all-round working surface. This is obviously open to debate and as these things go, I have learnt about the shortcomings of my setup only since using it. I will get back to that later on in this particular novel.

As this was my first project in my current shop after a 3 year hiatus away from any shop work, I thought it would be better to do something less involved before building my dream bench. This way I will have a surface to work on and get an opportunity to first hone my skills a bit. It also provides time in the shop to find out what type of bench would work best for me. I also had a serious lack of tools at that point in time, as everything I collected over the past years (in Kiwiland) were stolen between New Zealand and Namibia when we moved here.

The assembly table I designed included heaps of ideas from past frustrations with not having a proper bench and ideas found on the internet. However the bulk of the design came from the Festool MFT worktables.

So let’s go back to first explore where this so called experience/frustration with inadequate benches comes from. The first attempt at setting up a shop of my own was back in 2000 in the garage of our first house. This was in my home town of George on the south coast of South Africa. The bench I used was one that my father built many years ago. It has a steel carcass, cladded with wood. As my father used to be mainly a power tool woodworker it served him well. It served me well in those early years too, but later on while living in New Zealand I was force to become more hand tool orientated due to the cost of having to set up a new shop from scratch as I did not take any tools along. The bench is not ideal for hand tool work due to it’s limited work holding options. It reminds me of another reason I went for the assembly table setup as a first step and that is that I still have the green bench when I need to whack the daylights out of a piece of wood. Please note that this photo was taken while the shop was dormant during the 8 years we lived in New Zealand and only acted as a wood storage facility.



Below you see it in it’s new home in Windhoek.


In the pictures below you can get an idea of the frustrations I faced in the small single garage where I tried to do some basic work in New Zealand. The bench is a fire door on a hinge and two legs that can be removed quickly to enable the door to swivel down when the car wants to get back in it’s little house. The same goes for the Mitre saw which swiveled up during the vehicle’s sleeping hours. You can clearly see how this so called bench also lacked work holding abilities. This might be one reason why my current working platform has work holding options coming out of it’s ears.



In my current shop I started off working on a piece of plywood on top of collapsable sawhorses that I built in 2000. This is obviously an frustration in itself. The sawhorses were even more keen than my dogs to take a walk (due to their collapsable nature) when ever pressure were applied in a horizontal direction.


With all of that done you should have a good idea of what I have been through with ‘benches’ that might influence the design of the next working surface.

In our next thrilling chapter, we can then get on to the building of the actual bench and I am pretty sure you are going to have several sleepless nights waiting in ecstatic anticipation for it.

Mallet Mania

May 2013

I thought I should start with something easy as far as documenting my progress in the shop. These hand-tool-building posts are therefore not in chronological order.
It was a good 18 months into my workshop-development-activities when I got round to building some mallets. I started with two made on the lathe that seems to be recommended from carving purposes. I actually find that they are very handy for general chisel work too.

First, I found a few bits of scrap Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) and so called Rhodesian Teak. Assegaai is my favourite wood for making tools as it is known for it’s elasticity and tends to be very hard too. The Zulu’s obviously had good reason for preferring this wood for their assegais. It was also used extensively for wagon building (in particular for the spokes of the wheels) in the Old Cape Colony. In the pictures below you can see some pictures of the Assegaai tree, leaves and the traditional weapon it’s name is derived from.

1_Assegai_tree_-_Curtisia_dentata_-_afromontaneCurtisia_dentata_-_Assegai_tree_-_Table_Mountain_slopes_5assegaai Curtisia_dentata blaarAssegaai

Rhodesian Teak (Baikiaea plurijuga) has undergone a name change to Zambian Teak, which is probably more politically correct. The bits of teak I used came from some left over from another project to do with my workbench/assembly table, which we will cover in another post. By the way, this wood actually originates from Zambia, despite the fact that you find the tree in several other countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to name a few.


In the above pictures you can see the scrap pieces I used, with the Cecil John Teak (CJT) closest and Assegaai furthest.


You can see the lamination process which is the curse that I have to live with as 95% of the wood in my possession were cut into boards varying between 25-30mm (around the 1 inch mark). Therefore, I need to laminate in order to generate stock thicker than that.


My lathe is old and a bit dodgy so I tend to do my best to shape the blanks before loading the cannon. In this case I used the bandsaw.


Here you can see the Assegaai mallet already turned next to the CJT blank. The light coloured spots you see on the Assegaai mallet is caused by a fungus, but does not affect the wood’s strength at all (apart from inflicting the colour change) in this case. I therefore prefer to use Assegaai with these spots for my tools, where one is less concerned with aesthetics.




The above pictures show the same Assegaai mallet after a treatment with Ballistol oil. I use Ballistol on all my tools. In the case of metal tools the plan is to prevent corrosion, as opposed to wooden tools where the aim is to limit moisture movement. Luckily I find myself in a very dry climate anyway where we do not see any clouds between May and October. Yes, that means no rain either and quite low levels of humidity. By the way this Ballistol stuff is really top class in my opinion. It smells nice and has been used by just about every adventurer, hunter, bush doctor, and gun nut south (by way of expression of course, as it was probably used even more to the immediate north of the mentioned desert) of the Sahara.


Here both mallets are finished and you can see that I made some minor adjustments to the handle of the CJT mallet. The Assegaai mallet weighs 500 grams (1.1lb) and the CJT version weighs 430 grams (0.95 lb), which might sound like an insignificant difference. In actual fact I find these mallets quite different in that the CJT mallet is significantly smaller (and therefore quite a bit more manoeuvrable), but does not lose that much in weight.

(Added 11/11/2013) – This weekend I learned a new trick. The short piece of copper pipe picture below (which I picked up for free from a antique dealer) have me the idea to line the holes I drill in tool handles with copper. The idea is to drill a hole of the same diameter as the outside of the copper pipe, apply some epoxy, tap the pipe in, tidy it up, and Bob’s your Uncle.



Now I have the option of hanging the mallet.

Fine, so let’s move on to mallets of the alternative design. So far I have built two, again with an aim to produce mallets of different weights and size.


For both of these I decided to use a combination of Hardepeer (Olinia ventosa) (deep yellow in colour) and Stinkhout (Ocotea bullata) (dark brown) in order to take advantage of the beautiful colour contrast. Yes I know that is contrary to what I said earlier. I must admit that I am a sitting duck for aesthetically pleasing tools.


For the bigger mallet I used hand tools to cut the mortise for the handle, before gluing the Hardepeer inner part. Note the flaring nature of the mortise.


In order to add some considerable heft to this mallet, I created a flat mortise (not sure if this is the correct term) to accept a piece of steel. The piece of steel fitted very tightly into the mortise and was fixed with a screw as well as being glued in with epoxy.


Then I glued the two Stinkhout pieces to the outsides of the Hardepeer inner.

The handle was made up of two pieces of Witpeer (Apodytes dimidiata) laminated together.


Then the shaping process started together with six Witpeer dowels inserted from side to side through the laminated parts. Two of these dowels also passed through the steel weights. This was probably not necessary, but (you’ve guest it) were added for aesthetic reasons and I did want to ensure that the steel weights never starts rattling inside while using the mallet. Maybe others have some experience with this? Let me know whether it might add value or simply a wast of time.



IMG_5690Dead-blow MalletIMG_5799

The handle was shaped using a band saw and Lie-Nielsen carcass saw to cut out the rough blank and from then on only files. It was then glued into place using two Stinkhout wedges to expand it into the flaring mortise and left proud by ½ an inch, which was trimmed after a few days.


The head of the smaller mallet was made up of the same species of wood, but were the lucky winner of an Assegaai handle. It does not contain any steel and weighs in at 350 grams (0.77 lb), as apposed to the Godfather of mallets at a whopping 1300 grams (2.87 lb).


The same method of attaching the handle was used, again for strength in the first place yet adding a touch of je ne sais quoi as well.



Finally, I glued a piece of leather to one face of each mallet and finished it off with a coat of (you’ve guessed it) Ballistol. The leather that was used came from the skin of a Red Dear I shot on the South Island of New Zealand (Fiordland) while living there between 2002 and 2009.

9/12/2013 – This weekend I finished a this beautiful mallet which will become my main mortising mallet with my new Lie-Nielsen bevel-edge chisels set, which is set to arrive early in the new year. It has an Ysterhout head and a Boekenhout handle. The Ysterhout is ridiculously hard and sinks in water. It took em ages to created the mortise for the handle and almost loss several chisels in trying to. I used sealskin on the on face. It is as tough as nails (if you excuse the pun). As you can see it weighs in at 780 gram.




A week or so ago I added a number of layers of leather to the leather side of these two mallets. The idea being that it would make them saver when tapping joinery together in order not to dent the work.




My journey 2


As you probably saw, I wrote ‘My journey 1’ over the Easter Weekend while watching school rugby in Joburg. This is the first time since then that I have had a chance to continue my blog-journey.

I know this is meant to be a woodworking blog, but as it is mainly for my own purpose, I have to elaborate on where I am currently and how it came about. While writing this post I am sitting on the shores of the might Okavango river, listening to the tranquil sounds of a light breeze drifting threw the reeds and a abundance of birds trying to out do each other in one continuous choir competition. It is even better than it sounds, but it took a bit of effort and good old fashioned African ingenuity to get here. This idyllic spot is situated (during this time of year) on an island surrounded on the one side by the deep Tigerfish infested waters of the Okavango river and on the other by a floodplain, which plays home to bad tempered Hippos and hungry crocodiles.


We got stuck just meters away from the great river, only to find, once we managed to get unstuck and launched the boat, that the engine of this particular vessel did not function to the level needed in order to negotiate the dangers of the mentioned river, Hippos and crocodiles. Eeeeeesh, diess ones is broken!!!

So let us continue with the woodworking. I am a Psychiatrist by profession and love my day job, but as day jobs go, you end up doing too much of it, which tends to take some of the fun out of it. As explained earlier, I always wanted to establish a proper workshop to indulge in some creative work with wood.

Since the end of 2011 I have started to do just that. We bought a fairly rundown house in Windhoek, the Capital of Namibia. Despite being rundown, it had a couple of things going for it. It has a massive garden that is overpopulated by large trees for the children and an extra long double garage with a high sealing for me. Look, the wife chose the house so I am pretty sure she is happy with it to. Thought I should add that before I am accused of being a male chauvinistic pig.

The process of setting up my shop is what I hope to capture on this site. It has progressed quite slowly, because of several reasons. It therefore pleased me when I recently heard Chris Schwartz use an Eastern saying that goes something like: “do not fear slow, only fear stop”. The reasons for the slow progress have to do with a lack of time (like I am sure most hobbyists find), and the predicament of being geographically challenged.

Yes, living in Namibia on the Deep Dark African Continent creates some major challenges. I outlined the particular challenges in an article I recently wrote for the Modern Woodworkers Association’s newsletter. Whether it will get published I do not know, but I will put it on this site in some or other shape or form in the near future.

The idea of this site is to document the process for myself and the odd family member or friend who wants to check out how I am getting on from afar. I still do not know much about how to make the site look good and would rather do work in the shop than find out so it might take a while before it starts looking like something.

What I want to concentrate on in the mean time is to document the various small projects that I have been able to complete so far, so be on the lookout for posts on a leg vise, sliding deadman, mallets, marking knives, bench dogs, and various jigs.