Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Veritas Plow Plane is Groovy, Man

OMGOMGOMG I just got the Veritas "Small Plow Plane" today and it is awesome.  I know, the entire internet has been telling you this since it came out, but this time it's true.  Five minutes after I got it out of the box I made the most perfect groove ever in the edge of a piece of pine.  Crisp, square edges all around, nice and straight, with an even depth.

Cleaner than a router table
It was quick, and clean, and quiet and all those other great things people are always babbling about hand tools - except this was easy.  I've watched videos of other people using plow planes (Roy!) so I had a clue what I was doing, but unlike sawing, chiseling, or nearly any other thing I might do at the bench, this required no learning curve on my part.  The finesse is apparently cast right into the steel.  Sweet.

Since I'm in Veritas fanboy mode, allow me to continue...  I don't like buying tools without putting my hands on them, even if everyone says they're awesome, because I just don't know if they'll fit me.  Veritas has a big booth at The Woodworking Shows, which are otherwise mostly dominated by big buckets of Chinese-manufactured goods, sadly.  It's too bad they don't do something classy like Lie-Nielsen does with their Hand Tool Events.  Would it be too much to ask for them to travel together?  Now THAT would be a hand tool event, especially if they brought along other independent makers like Blue Spruce and Bad Axe.  Anyway, I went last weekend, and got to try out their Skew Rabbet Plane and several other tools that I've been looking at for a long time.  Guess what's coming in the mail in a week or so!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Budget Moxon Vise

All the cool kids are building "Moxon vises" these days.  Actually, the cool kids built them several years ago, and I'm finally getting around to it.  It's basically a fixture to hold workpieces up a little off the bench, and especially to hold boards up vertically for dovetailing.  I've got quite a few drawers to build in the near future, so it's time.

I don't need to build a big one with $150 worth of (admittedly very sweet) hardware like you can get from Benchcrafted or similar.  I built mine with 2x6 lumber left over from a construction project, and $12 worth of hardware from the local Ace Hardware.  It works great, and unlike other "budget" Moxon vise plans I've seen, I'm not ignoring the cost of the expensive hardwood scraps that people use for the body.  I could have picked up a kiln-dried 2x6x8' stud from the local home center and built this thing for $15 as long as I also used that stud to make the handles.  The handles are long to cover the nuts, but also to cover the end of the bolt threads.  There isn't any metal exposed on the front of this thing to ding your tools or yourself on.

The $15 Moxon Vise

I used a couple of 1/2" x 5" carriage bolts to provide the clamping force, with long coupler nuts inserted into turned wooden handles for leverage.  The only little innovation to this design are some springs over the screws that push the jaws open when you loosen them.  With this setup, clamping depth ranges from 0" to about 1 5/8", and if I need more for some reason, I can just swap out some longer carriage bolts.

I milled the lumber down a bit by machine to make it square and prettier, and then used a hand plane to ease the edges and chamfer the upper front.  I clamped the two vise jaws together and drilled a 5/8" hole in the center a few inches from each end.  Then, I countersunk a 7/8" x 1/2" deep mortise around each hole with a forstner bit, using a scrap of oak to center it over the through hole.  The depth of both mortises together should be just a bit more than the length of your spring when it's fully compressed so that the jaws can close completely.

I glued a 2x4x20" base to the rear jaw, to give me something to clamp the vise down with and make the base wider for stability.  Either hold-downs in dog holes behind the vise or clamps at the front of the bench make for a secure setup.

I turned some 2" square x 3" cherry stock into simple handles at the lathe, drilled a 1/2" hole almost all the way through them, and then chiseled that hole a bit to fit a 1/2" coupling nut.  The length makes for a good friction fit into the wooden handle, with lots of bearing surface so the wood doesn't wobble or strip out.

I wiped on a coat of Watco, which, along with Zinnser shellac products, are my go-to finishes for most shop projects.

Detailed parts list:
1/2 x 5 carriage bolts, 2ea
1/2 flat washers, 2ea
1/2 coupling nut (1-3/4" long), 2ea
3-1/4" x 3/4"dia x 0.050 wire spring.  With firm finger pressure (~5lbs) it compresses fully to 3/4" length.

the hardware I used for my cheap Moxon vise
18 x 5-1/4 x 1-3/8, 2ea jaws
22 x 3-1/8 x 1-3/8, 1ea base
1-3/4 dia x 3 for handles.  If you don't have a lathe, you could use large dowels, or cut the corners off a piece of square stock to make octagonal handles.  The larger the diameter, the more leverage you can apply to the vise, but you don't need a lot.

I just finished using it to make a small dovetailed cedar box, and I've got a modification in mind already.  I typically cut tails first then I want to clamp the pin board in the vise and hold the tail board perpendicularly to mark the waste on the end.  I usually just hold it down by hand, but any small movements can make for some ugly gaps.  So, when my new plow plane comes in the next week or so, I think its first task is going to be to make a groove in the upper part of the rear jaw for a clamping shelf just below the upper edge.  That, combined with a little support device (aka block of scrap) will let me clamp the mating board down securely so I can concentrate on accurate marking.  This is a feature found on many of these devices, but I didn't build it originally because I was trying to keep it as simple as possible.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Garage upgrade: new concrete pad

Once the building was suspended about 6" over the work site, I built forms with 2x6 lumber, held in place with wood and metal stakes.  I brought in half a yard of 3/4-minus crushed rock, and compacted it with a gas-powered compactor my neighbor just happened to be using the day before I needed it.  I have a hand compactor, which is basically a 15 lb iron plate on the end of a handle, and that would have been a hour-long workout.  Instead it was five minutes of guiding this machine around and I'm sure it did a better job, too.  The main pad is 4" thick, but it goes down to 8"+ around the edges to form a footing.  Yes, that's enough for frost depth around here.  I ran a single piece of #3 rebar around the perimeter, in the lower middle of the footing, to strengthen that portion, but I didn't bother with anything in the center of the pad.  Yeah, it might crack, but it's just a garage floor.  I didn't do any control joints, either.  I'm livin' on the edge!  I did put down a sheet of 6 mil plastic under the central part of the pad, to reduce the amount of water vapor moving up through the slab.

The concrete truck was scheduled for 10:30am.  I finished the rebar at 10, and got the plastic cut and laid down by 10:20.  Phew.
Ready to pour the concrete
The actual pour wasn't too dramatic.  The truck's delivery chute reached nearly to the back of the garage through the main door, so I just had to push the mud around a little with a rake and jiggle the corners.  Pulling a 13' screed board by yourself is a lot of work, but I'd been mentally preparing to scoop a few yards of concrete from the middle to the back of the pad if the chute hadn't been able to reach over my lifting beams.

Finishing it was no fun.  A strong storm forecast to roll in off the Pacific started dumping rain about the time the truck left.  Most of the pour was under the garage's roof, so not a big deal, but I had to run around and put up pieces of plywood to deflect areas that were dripping from the gutters or blowing in under the gap around the edges.  My lifting beams made bull floating the surface a huge pain in the ass.  I couldn't get the handle where I needed it half the time, and wound up digging in a few spots.  I managed to give it a quick once over in one direction and then gave up.
Using the Bull Float
After a couple of hours, I came out and edged the slab, and then hit it with a big steel trowel I bought the night before.  I guess I should have had a "fresno", which is bigger, thinner and has round ends.  I've never used one, but maybe I'll get one next time.  I tried to do a lot of the work hanging from planks laid on the lifting beams, but that was a tough angle to work from, and I was constantly moving the planks around so I wouldn't fall off.  A much better method was the usual way, which is to take a piece of plywood and use it as a work platform.  Thick plywood distributes your load better so you don't dent the surface, and you just clean up the spot where the plywood was previously sitting as you go.  I had a ~3'x2' scrap of 3/4" that worked really well.  I screwed a piece of nylon webbing to it so I'd have a handle to pick it up with as I moved along.  You need a strong handle, because the wet mud really sticks.  From down low, it's much easier to control the angle of the trowel and see any imperfections.  Anyway, my troweling skills are sub-par, but I got it relatively smooth and flat, so whatever.
Smooth Enough
A few days later, I formed and poured a couple of little ramps to get the car from the sidewalk grade to the garage slab.  I mixed up ten bags of concrete by hand and made the pads about 4" thick, with a couple of pieces of rebar in there.  To me, rebar is always a balance between making the concrete shape strong enough to last, but not impossible to break up later if (when) you realize you screwed something up or your wife changed her mind about how things should be.

After a week of keeping the slab damp and letting it cure, I lowered the garage back down, and parked the car inside.  I can't tell you how nice it is to finally have a floor I can SWEEP.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Garage upgrade: lift it up

Step one:  reinforce the framing so it won't fall down on me.  I installed some ceiling joists / collar ties to the rafters to prevent the roof from spreading.  There have historically been a couple of 2x4's nailed across the top plates, but no support for the rafters themselves.  A couple have crept out a few inches, and I might lift the center of the roof and pull them back in with a winch later on.

Then I installed a piece of OSB sheathing at one end of the building, screwing it pretty densely to the framing, to provide shear resistance.  That let me cut a pretty big access hole in the back wall, relieving some weight and making it easier to move materials around.

To do the actual lifting of the building, I sistered some short studs to four sets of opposing studs on the side walls.  Cutting slots in the siding with a plunge saw let me to run 2x6x16' lumber across the width of the building, with 2' sticking out each side.  The 2x6's are then screwed to the side of the primary studs, to keep them from flopping sideways, and prevent the lower part of the walls from spreading.  These beams bear upwards on the bottom of the short studs, which bear up on the top plate and are also lifting the regular studs through the fasteners.

I jacked up one side of the building at a time, using a motley of jacks I have around, from a 20-ton bottle jack that could lift the whole building to a little screw-up scissor jack that's meant for changing a car tire in an emergency.  Those little jacks are weak, and a little tippy, but they start really short and have a wide range, so they're handy, and easy to get at a junk yard.  I put a jack under each of the four beams and lifted a bit at a time until things were where I wanted them.  I then went outside and installed a stack of two concrete cinder blocks, sitting on 2x12 wood pads, to support the building while other work was done.  They're cheap and have good compression strength.  Repeat for the other side, and it's hanging in the air.

The 2x6 lifting beams definitely deflected some, but by keeping the points of support near the walls (either jacking from inside or on the cinder blocks outside) the actual stress on the lumber was not a big deal.  I was able to walk on them and work on the building with very little fear.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Garage

Our garage is a 12' x 18' shed, built probably in the 1920's.  When we bought our house, it had a dirt floor, no foundation, some serious framing deficiencies, no human-sized entry door, and failing siding on the south and west sides that get all the weather.  A layer of gravel, an access door into the yard, and an automatic opener for the flip-open garage door made it barely usable, and we've been parking our car and storing crap in it for a long time.

I've been talking about doing "something" about it for years, and I'm finally getting to it.  Not that I've been ignoring the situation.  I've drawn up various plans, and made two or three trips down to the city's permit office to explore the possibilities.  Building a new garage is OUT.  After all the setbacks are taken into account, it could only go into a fairly small defined area, near the back corner of the yard, and what am I going to do with the 5' setback area around it?  Pretty tough to make use of those little strips.  Then there's the cost.  Permits, demo and disposal of the old garage, and all new materials for a new garage will probably wind up costing me at least $10k, and that's complicated by the fact that we're in a flood plain area, so I'd wind up paying for an elevation survey and wind up building the lower three or four feet of the structure from all pressure-treated wood or concrete block.  $...$...$...

The one really nice thing about our old garage is that it's totally nonconforming from a zoning perspective.  It's about 2' from the back lot line, and a little less from the side lot line where the driveway is.  Those setbacks are supposed to be 5' and 13' respectively.  The downside is that the only entry ramp onto the property runs right into the garage, so I have to pull trailers, extra cars, etc. up over the curb and into the yard via a gate next to the garage.  That sucks.  Early inquiries with the city into getting a permit for another curb cut and driveway apron were the usual expensive pain in the ass.

The solution:  I'm going to have my own covered bridge.  Well, sort of.  I'm going to install a second garage door on the back wall of the garage, so I can pull through it into the back yard.  The main issue to think about is the shear strength of the structure, once there are two 7'h x 8'w doors cut into it's 12' wide end walls.  The current framing configuration definitely wouldn't survive, and in fact I'm kind of surprised the thing is still as square and plumb as it is, but some proper braced panels, bolted down to a decent concrete foundation should do the trick just fine.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mobile Base / Storage Cart for Contractor Table Saw

I have a Delta contractor type table saw.  I added a plate to the bottom to catch dust and chips years ago, but now it's time to build a proper cabinet for it.  I got four locking casters from Woodcraft, and a sheet of 3/4" cabinet plywood from Home Depot.  A couple hours with a circular saw and table saw, and I've got a box to set the saw on, with storage and dust collection underneath.

I've been using it for a while now, and I really like the dust collection.  I installed a piece of melamine-faced particleboard directly under the saw.  It slopes down toward the back of the cabinet, where there's a 5" wide cavity for the chips to drop into.  In that cabinet is another piece of melamine-faced hardboard, sloping toward one side, where a piece of 4" ABS plumbing pipe connects to my dust collector hose.  You can see the configuration of these dust-directing ramps in the photo below.  I also packed foam scraps from an old mattress pad up under the cast iron top, to limit air leakage.
View of the unfinished box from the rear, showing the melamine ramps that direct dust
to the port at the lower right side of the cabinet.
The rest of the cabinet is pretty much just a plywood box.  I put locking casters under each corner, and they work fine to hold the saw steady, at least for the way I use it.  They lock the wheel and prevent rotation of the caster assembly with one foot press.  I rarely load up big pieces of sheet goods or timbers on the table saw.  It's more for precision cuts on mid-size workpieces in my shop, so I don't need it to be totally immobilized.
I still need to fit the storage, but here's the saw mounted and usable,
with the old stock steel legs sitting on top.

EZ Deadman for the Workbench

I needed to joint the edges of some long lumber a few years ago, so I tacked together this support from some scraps.  It's been serving me (almost) perfectly ever since.  It's ugly and crappy, but it works well, and I've come to appreciate the flexibility of a standalone appliance instead of a sliding deadman fixed to the bench rails, or some other elegant, dare I say sexy alternative.

It's a scrap of 3/4" plywood, about 12" x 8", with a 2x6 post attached via some long screws through the bottom of the plywood.  I cut the post so the top is just below the edge of my workbench, and I clamp various fixtures to it to support my work.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Home-made Bicycle Work Stand

I'm my own bike mechanic.  Shocking.  Yes, and for years (decades?!) I've been mostly either just leaning the bike against something, or flipping it upside down on the handlebars and seat to work on it.  I've looked at the commercial clamps a few times, but they're just a little too much for me to justify.  I looked at DIY work stands on the web, and saw some ok ones, but mostly they looked kind of kludgy and like more hassle than they are worth.

Well, I bought a new bike last weekend to replace one that was stolen a few months ago.  First order of business is a set of fenders and a rack, but I also took a look at the work stand they were using in the store.  The mechanic was nice enough to let me take a photo of the clamp head, even.  It looked like such a simple, straightforward design...

Efficient Velo Tools bike workstand clamp

So my new bike sat in a corner in the basement all day on Sunday while I put this together.  It works great, and it only cost me about $10.  It's two pieces of oak scrap I had, about 7/8" thick, 1-3/4" x 12".  I clamped a ~1/2" scrap of cedar between them and used a 1-1/8" forstner bit in the drill press to bore a hole down the middle.  That made the two halves of the clamping saddle.  I glued some thin leather to the inside of the clamping part with silicone, to improve the grip and prevent marring on the bike.

A thin piece of cedar between the oak arms makes it easy to form a perfect pair of curved jaws with a Forstner bit
Then I screwed a block to the back of the clamp, to provide a fulcrum point, and tied a small piece of elastic bungee cord into a loop to hold the back together.  The clamping mechanism is just a 3/8" x 4-1/2" carriage bolt installed through the clamp halves 4-1/2" from the saddle end.  I reamed out the hole through one side by rocking the drill back and forth, to provide clearance for the bolt when the clamp halves pivot apart.  I used a 1/2" flat washer to spread the load at the head of the carriage bolt, and a 5/8" dia. spring in between the two clamp halves to move it open when I loosen the nut.  On the outside, I used a long 3/8" coupling nut to tighten the clamp, and got fancy with a turned handwheel made of poplar.  I cut a drilled hole into a hex shape in the handwheel hub with a chisel, and then epoxied it onto the coupling nut.  Having the long nut stick out of the handwheel is really handy, because you can pinch it and spin the assembly quickly into position when there's little force on the clamp, and then use the large diameter of the handwheel to torque it down.  Go easy, don't clamp any aluminum frame parts or anything carbon.  Aluminum seat tubes are cheap to replace, and pretty beefy anyway.
The seatpost is the safest place to clamp
To mount this clamp head, I drilled a couple of small holes and attached one arm to a 12" piece of 3/4" iron pipe with two 1/4" carriage bolts, lock washers, and nuts.  I made a couple of oak saddles for the pipe, by drilling a 1" hole in the middle of a small block of wood, and then cutting that in half.

The pipe is mounted into a 2x4, and fixed with a C-clamp for now.  I drilled a 1-1/8" hole near the top of the 2x4, and then cut a slit about 12" down the center of the board, splitting the hole in half.  The C-clamp at the top squeezes the two halves of the board together and tightens the pipe in the hole.  It's a solid connection, but it allows me to rotate the clamp head to any angle by loosening the clamp.  The 2x4 is also the weakest part of the whole assembly.  With a bike mounted in the clamp, the 2x4 will twist under pressure and allow the bike to wiggle - which is fine, for the most part.  If things are too solid, you could bend the bike, so I'd rather have the weakest section in the stand somewhere.  That said, I do want to improve the support post and clamp to make it easier to use.  Plus I need my C-clamp for other things.  Update:  I used a 3/8" x 5" carriage bolt, some washers, and another coupling nut through a 7/16" hole through the top of the 2x4 to replace the C-clamp.  It's basically the same mechanism that tightens the seatpost clamp.  It works great.  Much more powerful than the C-clamp, because of the finer pitch threads.
Pipe clamp is essentially the same as the seatpost clamp mechanism
In use, I clamp the 2x4 post into the big vise in my work bench, so I don't need a separate stand, but it would be pretty trivial to make one out of either steel pipe (especially if you don't care about the rotation clamp) or wood.  Now, time to install some crap on my bike.
Bike clamp in use