It’s all in the dovetails, continued

It’s all in the dovetails, continued

In the time between marking out the dovetails in the top and bottom of the coffee table and actually getting around to sawing them, the temperature suddenly dropped and so did the humidity. As a result my bottom panel developed a noticeable cup. Now I’m not too worried about the cup and certainly won’t go planing the panel down – by the time I’m done there’ll be nothing left, and the panel will just cup on me straight away anyways.

Benchcrafted, moxon vise, coffee table, dovetails , walnut

The reason I’m not too worried about it is because it will be held flat for the life of the coffee table once the carcase is assembled. For now I just need a way to keep it flat while working on it and using it to mark the pins later. I used this as an excuse to purchase and build a Benchcrafted moxon vise. I’ll leave the vise build for another post but it was quick and the hardware is fantastic. With the panel clamped tight in the vise, it’s held flat and I can saw a lot more accurately.

I generally try to saw as dovetails close to the lines without splitting them as possible. I did end up regretting having so many dovetails on each panel, and must’ve gotten a little tired by the end because there’s a noticeable difference in how close I was to the line at the start vs the end. I used my Lie Nielsen dovetail saw – I absolutely love my two thin plate backsaws from Lie Nielsen. I cut out most of my waste with my Knew Concepts Fretsaw.

A bunch of chiselling from both sides of the panel later, I was ready to clamp the panel in the vise again to mark the pins…and then repeat the process for the pins, hating myself for going with so many tails and pins.

Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Artisan Coffee Table, Builds, 0 comments

Flattening, flattening and more flattening…

So the boards for the coffee table are glued up, and the joints are looking pretty good – taking the time to carefully joint the edges really pays off big time. There was still quite a bit of unevenness in the panels, so it was time for the long slog of planing the boards out of wind, and down to thickness so we can get to the joinery!

Veritas, Stanley, jack plane, walnut

I started off using my Stanley No. 5 with a heavy camber, set to take heavy shavings – cross crossing across the board diagonally and checking periodically with winding sticks. Winding sticks are an absolutely essential tool for the hand tool woodworker – mine are around 16″ long, made from maple and inlaid with bubinga and walnut. For jobs like these larger panels I do wish I had a pair of longer sticks – something else to add to the never ending list of future projects….

Jack plane, Stanley number 5, scrub plane, walnut, straight edge

With the wind removed from the board I check for high spots using a straight edge. I finished off (for now) with my Veritas No. 6 fore plane. I’m not bothered about getting it perfectly smooth at this point, just to reduce the scalloped texture enough to be able to work the panels for dovetails etc.

With all four panels done, (took ages and made me regret this whole hand tool thing for a bit there), it was time to bring them down to thickness. I just used my marking gauge set at the thickness of the thinnest panel and gauged a line all the way around the rest of the panels.

Planing, walnut, woodworking

Now it’s time for, you guessed it, some more planing, down to the thickness line for all the panels. A few hours, a lot of calories and sweating later, all the panels were almost ready for joinery.

Stanley, jack plane, scrub plane, walnut, woodworking

Next up is cross cutting the boards to length and squaring up all the sides.

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Making a (rather fancy) Plane Hammer

Making a (rather fancy) Plane Hammer

A plane hammer is a tool that I’ve found myself needing for a while now, but every time I find myself at Lee Valley I end up finding other things to spend my money on and keep telling myself that I can make my own hammer. Well yesterday I was in a tinkering mood, so I made myself a rather fancy plane hammer.

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Purpleheart scrap for the head of the plane hammer

I raided my scrap pile to find suitable candidates for the hammer and decided on a piece of Purpleheart for the head and some Western Australian Desert Rosewood for the handle. I’ve had the WAD Rosewood scraps for some time now – these are pretty expensive and hard to come by in Canada, and they are a beautiful and dense hardwood, so I was saving them for a suitable project. The Rosewood has lovely purplish red splotches that I figured would go well with the Purpleheart head. For the brass side I used a threaded brass head, like the ones you see in cheap 4-in-1 hammers. With the stock decided upon, it was time to finally make myself a plane hammer!

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Rounding the head on the lathe

Initially I planned on making the head a simple round or rectangular shape, but then I figured I may as well have some fun with it. I used a ball peen hammer for inspiration as I’ve never seen a plane hammer made this way before. The first step was to cut the Purpleheart scrap in half and glue it up.


Sawing the cheeks for the handle tenon

After glue up I squared up the piece and rounded it on the lathe.My handle stock was 0.5″ by 1″, so I decided on a mortise 0.5″ wide by 0.75″ long. I clamped the round stock in a vise and bored out the waste, and cleaned out the remaining portions with a chisel. At this point I decided to round the tenon instead of squaring the mortise, as the round stock wasn’t the easiest to chisel straight down on. Just to clarify – it wouldn’t have been safe to chop the mortise before rounding, as that increases the chances of catches and accidents on the lathe.

Plane hammer - Making a plane hammer; Brass; Purpleheart; Rosewood

Rounding the tenon using a rasp

I marked and sawed my tenon cheeks and got to work shaping the rounded tenons with a rasp. It pays to be careful here, taking it slow and trying the fit constantly. When the tenon was going halfway through the mortise, I marked the mortise with pencil to identify the tight spots and rasp accordingly. The resulting fit was pretty good, but had a little play along the length. That’s perfect though as I would be wedging the tenon anyways.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

Threading the head for the hammer

I then got to work shaping the rest of the handle using an aggressive rasp followed by a finer one. The idea here is simple, whatever you do on one side, repeat on the other! Back to the head now, I chucked it back into the lathe and got to work shaping it like a ball peen. As always, I like to mark all the points at which features change or start in my workpiece. There were no essential measurements here (except for the  brass end, where it needed to meet the brass head accurately), so I just went until I was satisfied it looked good and ball-peen like.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

The head shaped and finished!

As I mentioned earlier, the brass side of this plane hammer was threaded, so I figured I would drill and tap a hole for it in the head. This would make the brass head removable if I ever destroyed the hammer (not that it matters too much, but it’s nice to have the option). With the hole tapped, the only things left to do were wedging the tenon and finishing the hammer.


The wedged tenon connecting the head and the handle

For the wedge, I drilled a small hole at the bottom of the tenon, which I sawed done to. I cut a wedge from a piece of Walnut, just eyeballing the measurements. The grain direction of the wedge should be flowing into the tenon (end grain up). Then it was a matter of applying some glue to the tenon, tapping it into the mortise, and tapping the wedge in place till it would no longer go any further. Once the glue dried I cut the portruding portion off and sanded it down flush. Oh, and finishing – I finished the head on the lathe (burnishing and paste wax), and for the handle I used tung oil and buffed it with paste wax.

Plane hammer; Making a plane hammer, rosewood, purpleheart, brass

The completed plane hammer along with some of the tools used to make it

And there you have it, a rather fancy looking plane hammer! I am extremely pleased with how it turned out, it feels solid and very well balanced. The head-handle joint looks perfect, and the woods used go really well together. I have always had a thing for beautiful tools as I find them inspiring, and I think this one is going in my regular use collection.


The completed plane hammer without any of the tools used to make it!


Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Toolmaking, Tools, 0 comments
Low Cost Split-Top Roubo Build

Low Cost Split-Top Roubo Build

A woodworkers bench is more than just a bench. It is the most important tool that a woodworker owns, even more so if the wood is being worked with hand tools. Since the projects I will be showcasing in the website will primarily be those of most interest to amateur woodworkers, the workbench seemed a fitting place to start.

A common dilemma faced by woodworkers is whether to build or buy a workbench. The most extreme proponents of the build camp find the idea of purchasing a workbench akin to heresy – something to be ashamed of, forever marking one as a fraud. On the other hand the most extreme proponents of the buy camp feel that building a bench is a waste of time; after all, as with all tools, a bench is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. To build a bench would be a waste of time that one could use to build other projects.

Should I build or buy a workbench?

Build or Buy?

Most woodworkers, myself included, tend to fall near the middle, but closer to the build camp, and for good reason. Building your own workbench gives you the option to personalise the bench to your own practical needs and aesthetic tastes, lets you practice and employ some very useful skills, and for some, is almost like a rite of passage – a personalised calling card, unique to the woodworker. Of course, if the right deal comes along/you are too busy to set aside the days, weeks or months it takes to build a bench, it makes perfect sense to buy a bench. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong choice. There is only a right choice, and that is the choice that you make.

For someone new to woodworking, I would recommend building a bench early on, out of cheap, easily available lumber. A bench is a large project, and when built using traditional joinery, is a great opportunity to learn and hone new skills while being large enough that small errors can go unnoticed. As for the lumber, a softwood workbench is as good as any hardwood, so long as the stock is sufficiently dry. It can be tempting to want to build an epic, beautiful bench out of exotic hardwoods straight away. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, although it is out of the budget of most beginner woodworkers. I would suggest that you build your first bench out of something easier on the wallet; you will probably find things about your bench that work well, and things that don’t – and you can use this knowledge for your ultimate workbench down the line.

So that brings us to the type of bench you decide to build. Maybe you want to build a massive behemoth of a bench and outfit it with top of the line hardware from Benchcrafted, so you decide to go the Roubo route, a style popularised recently by Chris Schwarz. Or maybe you want to keep it simple and build the bench quickly and cheaply, and go more of a Sellers workbench, popularised by Paul Sellers. Or maybe a Holtzapffel or an English style or a…you get the idea. All of these benches are great. If you want to find out what the strongest features of each are, there’s plenty of information online. The truth is that most beginner woodworkers have no way of knowing which style of bench offers the best functionality for their style of work. So much changes in the first few years (and even later). So I say don’t agonise over the type of bench. Pick one that appeals the most to you, whether for functionality or for aesthetics. In the end it is your bench – if you look at it and it makes you happy, that’s half the battle. If you find something doesn’t work for you down the line, you can modify it, or even just build another. No big deal.

Split-Top Roubo End Cap

If aesthetics matter to you, your bench should be beautiful to look at

The build I decided to document here is a Roubo-style bench, with a split top. This design has been popularised greatly in recent years. This bench isn’t an exact Roubo as seen in Plate 11 – it has been modified to suit my work better. I wanted a smaller bench to fit into a small space, and so I also made it shorter than your average workbench.

That said, I believe it is a pretty good design to work with for amateur woodworkers with limited space and budget. The bench will be made mostly of pine, (cheap, easily available), will have quality yet affordable hardware, and should meet 90%, if not more, of most hand tool work situations. If you have more space and would like a bigger top, you can extend the length of the top further without any changes to the base. Of course, if you want to use a hardwood for the top, that would work just as well too. I couldn’t resist adding a couple of purely decorative features as well, as you will soon see.

With that rather lengthy introduction, I commence the Split-Top Roubo Build! I hope you find this informative, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

Posted by Prairie Artisan Woodshop in Builds, Split-top Roubo Workbench, 0 comments