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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Work Bench

The lowly work bench.
To a lot of people, including myself I must admit, we don't think much about our work bench. We toil away on whatever surface we can convince ourselves is flat and stable enough to work on.
At one time I had a worse work bench than the one above, an old door on two saw horses.
Then one day I was going down the road and seen an old kitchen table someone had thrown out. So I picked it up from the curb and carried it back to the shop, fixed a leg on it, and had a nicer work bench. As time went on I banged it up so bad that the top was terrible. So I screwed some plywood on top. As that plywood got banged up, I added another layer.
Somewhere along the way I threw together shelving under all that plywood. Then I added the pipe clamp vice on one end. It is a nice work bench. It did it's job. Let's face it though. It really is just an old kitchen table that I've built up around.
Please do not misunderstand it. This is a fine work bench. I am not at all making fun of it. It has served it's purpose well. I've always liked it because I can abuse it day in and day out, cut on it, finish on it, write measurements on it, and if it gets bad, add more plywood. This bench will probably be in my shop for years to come. It is my go to surface finishing. You may notice on the top where I have gotten stain all over the top.
Yes I am getting to a point.
For a couple of years now I have been thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'd like to have myself a proper, nicely built, solid work bench.
I've seen other's work benches. I've drooled over a few in various wood working magazines. It came to my mind a while back that the whole time I've been admiring all these benches, I was also making mental notes of what I might want in my own work bench, just in case I ever decided to take the time to build one.
Well, that day has come.
A couple of the obvious things I wanted in my bench were for it to be solid, and I wanted to use up wood that wasn't good for much else, just so I could say I did not waste expenses on it.
So I have had a pile of broken cotton wood planks in my shop for what seems like forever. I made it out of that. I ripped those broken planks into widths, working around cracks and bad imperfections, to get all the usable wood I could out of it. Then for the solid pieces I used Titebond III glue and screws to assure that it all held together good. Actually, I used way more screws than needed because I want it to hold together long after I'm gone from this world. I figure one of my kids will one day have a nice bench, or they can all get together and have one helluva wiener roast with it.
I wanted a wide bench. I wound up making it thirty inches wide and five feet long. I've looked at wide benches and like the split top design. This allows one to use clamps in the middle of the bench if you need to for clamping down items.
For each slab I glued up cotton wood to make them twelve inches wide, five feet long, and five inches thick.
On one end of the slabs I mounted a vice. In that vice I attached a block with double holes in it. This allows clamping straight in the vice, or placing dogs in the holes to make use of the corresponding double row of dog holes that run the length of the table for clamping long materials.
On the side of the other slab is another vice for clamping small items.
Both of these vices did not add to the cost of the bench. The one on the end was given to me by a friend who upgraded to a larger vice. The one on the side if a Record vice that my Dad brought to me from Georgia where he picked it up at a yard sale.
For sturdiness of the base, I set out to make it as beefy as the top.
The feet and the stretchers for the split top are five inches tall and four and a half inches thick. The legs are five inches wide and three inches thick. All of this was built in layers, with two of the three leg layers passing all the way through the feet and stretchers, and everything glued and screwed together.
Between the foot and leg assemblies I wanted to put drawers for storage. So instead of a simple stretch, I rabbited, glued and screwed two horizontal board and one vertical board up the middle. This created space for drawers on each side.
Then both slabs for the split top were rabbited a quarter inch to match the base. Then they were glued down and held firmly in place with seven inch long lag bolts.
At that point, I stopped and stained everything done so far with Minwax dark walnut stain and saturated it all with boiled linseed oil.
The drawers on each side are made of cottonwood and ride on three quarter inch runners that are glued and screwed to the inside of the base assembly. I used box, or finger joints as some people call them, to assembly the drawers.
I left the drawers light colored to contrast the bench, then added dark handles to contrast the drawers. I was actually torn on how I wanted to finish these until I got it all done. Then I stood back and looked at it and couldn't have been more happy with the result. So I went ahead and finished the drawers with boiled linseed oil.
You may have noticed that one side has four drawers while the other side has six.
This is because on the side with the dog holes I wanted two deep drawers for hand planes.
I have started making dividers for the drawers to hold different tools I want to store in them. None of this is glued or attached in any kind of way because I may change these layouts several times before I am happy with them.
So here it is again. I am extremely happy with it. I have pushed myself to the limit working hard on it. I think I have a bench that will, short of some natural disaster, out live me though.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sanding And Sharpening

Anyone who reads my blog posts know I enjoy making my own tools and accessories whenever possible. This sometimes puts me at odds with some people. I get emails from time to time telling me to try this brand of this, or this brand of that, and that I'll see how much better it is than what I made. I will be the first to admit that sometimes the people who tell me this are absolutely correct. Other times, well, not so much.
When I get a chance to do so though, I do try to give some of these suggestions a chance. It all comes down to if and when I can get the items at a reasonable cost and if that cost is worth it to me to take a chance on it.
That will be the subject of the first part of my blog.
Here is the sander I made a while back besides the Robert Sorby Sandmaster that I recently caught on sale.
This is one of those times that the suggestion made to me was correct, well, mostly.
The sander I made does do the job it was intended to do. There is nothing at all wrong with it. However, I also have to give the Sorby brand Sandmaster due credit. It does the same job, but it seems to do it faster and smoother.
Here is the first bowl, made of rose wood, that I sanded with the Robert Sorby Sandmaster.
The sale that was going on when I bought the Sorby tool has now passed. They do have them on Amazon last time I checked though if you'd like to search for them there. Also, the Sandmaster is available from several other well known suppliers.
Next up is the lathe tool sharpening jig.
This is the Complete 4pc Precision Sharpening System  from Penn State Industries. You can find it here if you are interested.
I do like this system. I do not regret buying it. is easier to set up than my shop made system. However, besides being a little more convenient, I do not see the difference at all between the grind quality off this jig compared to my shop made one. I mention this because I got three different emails telling me that this jig would create a more repeatable, and "better" grind. I have to completely disagree with that statement. I can grind two tools, one on the Penn State version, and one on my shop made version, and you cannot tell the difference in them.
All that being said, I do recommend this system to anyone who can afford it. You do get a lot for the $129.95 price tag compared to similar systems. For me personally, the better flat rest, compared to the crappy ones I've been using that came with my grinder, made it worth the price of admission.
Since I was improving sharpening devices in the shop, I decided to finally get around to remaking my oil stone holder. 
This is my old holder. It is something I had thrown together in less than an hour. It served it's purpose, but I had grown tired of it. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the stones are in their plastic containers that they come in. These containers allow the stones to move a bit and gets aggravating when trying to sharpen some tools. It was time to upgrade it.
I wanted something that held the stones more firmly. However, I still needed to be able to cover the stones to keep saw dust out of them.
This is my roll around cart with all my sanders and such. I wanted the sharpening station on this cart. However, I needed it to be movable so that those rare occasions when I'm running out of room on my work bench and piling things up here on the cart it can be moved.
So I sat down and thought about how I wanted to do all this. It was one of those rare occasions that I actually drew up a plan on paper before beginning. Maybe I ought to do this more instead of just making it up as I go along.
Here is what I came up with.
It is a simple box that sits on the sanding bench. The latch in the from keeps the lid secure in the front. The plywood is attached to the front board and slides into slots in the side boards and the back.
When I need to move it, the whole thing just pulls up and can be sat aside. There is four dowels glued into the bottom of the sharpening station that set into corresponding holes in the bench top.
This is what it looks like with the top removed.
I like this much better than my older design. I saved the plastic containers in case I need them in the future. Under the cover, the two diamond plates on the right end still retain their plastic covers. I use only water on them and I didn't want oil from the stones to get on them since oil and water doesn't mix well. Also, I seldom use the diamond plates. I like my oil stones better. The only time the diamond plates get used is when I have a badly damage or new tool that I need to change the bevel on quickly. After they leave the diamond plates, they get actually sharpened on the oil stones.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

More Pens

I have been wanting for such a long while to do some truly higher end pens, made with some higher quality kits. I have neglected doing so purely for financial reasons. These kits are not cheap, and there is no guarantee I'll be able to sell them for enough to make it feasible to even be making them. I wanted to so badly though. So I've been getting a little here and a little there, working up to making just such presentation as I hope to show you today.
So let's get started.
The Tycoon
For each of my pens, I'd like to first quote what the site that sells the kits says about each pen style.
"The Tycoon is simply a great looking pen. This kit features ultra smooth and durable threading, a regal design and striking facets on the rollerball nib. Plus the 24kt gold plating offers a bright pure gold plating that will give your pen a rich and luxurious look. Our 24kt gold uses a "premium rack plating" process and is covered with an epoxy coating for extreme durability. We guarantee it's beauty and durability with a lifetime guarantee."
This Tycoon pen is made of cherry burl with coffee grounds inlaid into the voids.
I find myself more and more wishing to take the worst of the ugly pieces of woods and make them interesting, if not beautiful. This pen is a perfect example of that.
For each half of the pen I used two pieces of end scraps off a block of cherry burl. I carefully glued them to each end of the pen tubes and allowed them to dry. Next I turned the blanks down to about an eighth of an inch over final size. Then I started taking a tiny bit of coffee grounds at a time and gluing them into the space between the two pieces until I built the coffee grounds up above the point where it was turned to. Then I allowed that to cure completely and finished turning, sanding, and finishing the pen.
All the pens in this post are finished with ten coats of boiled linseed oil and cyanoacrylate glue, buffed up to twelve thousand grit micro mesh, buffed with plastic polish, and then given two coats of Johnson's Paste Wax.
This Tycoon pen is made of live oak burl with the voids filled with grits.
I love burls in general. I have yet to find one I don't like the look of. Oak burl has to be my favorite though. It was when my supply of it got low enough that I had to start using pieces with voids in them though that I realized the beauty that adding contrast to the material could do to it. I was originally afraid it would take away from the interesting and twisting grain of the oak burl. Instead though, it only added to the intricity of it.
The Apollo Infinity
"Introducing the elegant Apollo Infinity™ Gold Titanium Gel Rollerball Pen Kit - the next generation of pen from the Apollo Elite™ group. This pen features the "infinity" band - a revolutionary 3-D band style exclusive to the Apollo Infinity™. The pen keeps the same elegant rounded profile of the original Apollo Elite™. Includes smooth writing Black Gel ink. The Gold Titanium (TN) plating looks just like gold and is absolutely permanent. It will even outlast our guaranteed standard gold finishes. All TN kits are stamped with a "TN" indicated on the pen clip to authenticate it’s Titanium status."
This Apollo Infinity pen is made of oak burl with coffee grounds for the inlay.
I couldn't help myself. After seeing how the last oak burl and coffee pen turned out, I had to create the look again for the Apollo pen.
This Apollo Infinity pen is made with box elder burl. The void is inlaid with salt.
The Majestic
"The magnificent Rollerball Pen Kit will inspire your creative talents and will delight your recipient a hand made pen that will exceed even the most discriminating collector's expectations. The Majestic Pen includes many remarkable features including: A rhodium-plated clip that includes a sparkling Swarovski clear crystal; All exposed accent rings, bands and caps include elegant custom hand-carved 3 dimensional designs; Components are cast, polished then plated with extremely durable Black Titanium plating; Its regal profile is accented with brilliant rhodium-plating on all components and has a flawless fit and finish; The rollerball assembly includes a rhodium-plated pen nib with a premium Schmidt steel cartridge refill with a ceramic point; The finished project is complimented with superb balance, superior writing characteristics and an overall stylish, polished & elegant appearance."
This Majestic pen is made with walnut burl.
I only had enough walnut burl to do one more pen. Since this was my favorite design of all the premium pen kits I'd ordered, I decided to use that burl to make the Majestic.
The Broadwell Art Deco
"Penn State Industries is proud to team up again with accomplished pen designer David Broadwell to bring you this exquisitely original Art Deco Rhodium & 22kt Gold Fountain Pen Kit. Art Deco was an opulent and lavish art form that spanned the 1920's and 1930's. The art form influenced architecture, industrial design, interior design, fashion, and film of the period."
The Art Deco Pen features:
All components are cast, polished and plated with a durable Rhodium & 22kt Gold plating.
Includes spires and star bursts that characterize the Art Deco period.
Pen clip features unique Art Deco design and a radiant Swarovski Crystal.
Easily posts with threads on the end cap.
The cap is 3-D cast with intricate Art Deco detail.
The Pen Band is cast and gold plated with Art Deco detail.
Medium Schmidt™ gold and Iridium nib plus an ink pump and ink cartridge.
This Art Deco pen is made with cherry burl and coffee grounds.
I removed the pen kit from the packaging and was studying on what I would like to use for the wood. It just happened that I laid the parts out to get a better feel for them and they were right beside the pen I'd done earlier with cherry burl and coffee ground. I realized that, although I'd done it earlier, it would also look great on this pen.
The Broadwell Nouveau Sceptre
This is another kit designed for Penn State by David Broadwell, and features:
All exposed accent rings, bands and caps include elegant custom casted three dimensional Art Nouveau designs.
Components are cast, polished and plated with a durable 2 micron 22kt gold plate and Rhodium.
The Rollerball and Ball Point styles include a Schmidt rhodium plated pen nib with a steel cartridge with a ceramic point.
This Nouveau Sceptre is made of zebra wood.
Sometimes I am unsure what to make a pen out of until I open the package and look to get a "feel" for what will look good on it. Some pens just scream "I need some flare!" So it was with the Nouveau Sceptre. So I searched through my blanks. I thought about using burl and filling in voids for much the same kind of look I'd given most of my pens lately. This pen though, to me, demanded not to be presented with patched in beauty, but a hard wood that had flowing lines, much like the design elements of the hardware. So I thought about the diagonal cut zebra wood.
All of the pen kits used to make these and more can be found here at Penn State industries.
That's it my friends.
I may never find a buyer for these pens. If they sit in my showcase forever though, it was worth it, because I sure had a good time making them.
So until next time,


I've been back to doing a lot of pens at once lately. This will be the first of two posts just showing a lot of what I've been up to.
I am going to separate the ones in this post according to style.
This is a bolt action tec-pen. I've been wanting to do some of these. I've had several people who loved the bolt action click mechanism in the regular bolt action pens. However, due to their jobs and such, they did not want to have a pen with a bullet for a tip or a rifle clip. So these pens have the same mechanism, but without the otherwise unwanted accessories.
This one is done in blood wood.
This bolt action tec-pen is done in black palm.
This one is box elder burl.
The last one is done in hedge apple.
I purposely picked a piece of wood though with a void so I could fill it with coffee grounds. I find myself doing that more and more lately. I love the inlaid look of different materials and experimenting with it all.
Executive Pens
These pens are called executive pens. I seen them in the catalogue and thought they were nice looking pens. So I ordered a starter set of six pens.
This first one is done in something called canxon negro burl.
Spalted pecan.
I love working with burls and other woods with unusual characteristics that set them apart. This spalted pecan starts out with almost the consistency of a sponge. You have to keep soaking it in glue as you turn it down to keep it from tearing apart. It makes a nice pen in my opinion though.
This one is spalted maple.
Walnut burl.
Box elder burl.
The void on this one is inlaid with black pepper.
Buckeye burl.
The void is inlaid with grits.
Celtic Pen
These pens I've been wanting to do for some time. Every time I wish to order them though, they have been out of stock. They were finally available.
This first one is hedge apple with a Celtic cross inlaid with walnut.
It left my shop so quick that I wasn't able to even show it to the one person I had in mind when I made it. So I would have to make another one just like it.
This is a different pen, just the same material.
I like the look of the Celtic cross on these pens, but didn't think the yellow went well with the pewter finish, so I went with different materials on this one.
This is walnut with box elder inlay.
The last one I decided to do in live oak burl.
The crack void is inlaid with salt.
I have never met a burl I didn't like, but I must admit that oak burl has by far been may favorite to date.
Too bad I am down to my last few pieces of it. I will have to try to find more of this wonderful material one day.
That's it for this post.
I will be typing up the second part of this after dinner.