Posted tagged ‘Nicholson bench’

Nicholson Bench Project – A gallery

May 9, 2014

Nicholson Bench Project Update – Cross stop complete

May 7, 2014

The mill of time grinds slowly, but exceedingly fine.

So we’re old and we’re slow.  But we finely got the cross stop finished (except for a coat of BLO) and in place.  It’s made out of walnut, because that’s what we had.  It has two 1/2″ thick cheeks with intermittent 3/8″ spacers placed over the leg sets and cross members, made long enough to accommodate several steps, which will allow the stop to be positioned 1/4″ or 1/2″ above the surface of the bench to hold material in place while planing across the grain (cross planing).  The steps were simply “rubbed” with Titebond I, so no clamping was necessary.


steps glued in place ready for trimming and fitting



cross stop set at 1/2″ position


cross stop provides temporary storage for saws, protecting teeth from a “workbench catastrophe”


cross stop in “storage” position


Nicholson Bench Project – Shellac on a workbench?

April 20, 2014

We’re getting closer to finishing this thing up and putting it into everyday service.  One question has been repeatedly asked; why are you using shellac for a finish on a workbench?

The normal thinking is that shellac is for fine furniture, musical instruments, carvings and objets d’art.  And, of course, the assumption is that the surface would be too reflective and “slick” for a workbench.  But the truth of the matter is that shellac provides a durable, protective film that will withstand the harshest treatment.  Recoating and repairing a shellac finish is very, very simple; just apply a new coat over the old film, as the alcohol solvent “re-wets” and “bites” into the existing film, creating a complete bond.

But the most significant reason to select shellac as a workbench finish is that it is fast.  I was able to put on four coats in something under three hours.  It would have taken me four days to put on four coats of oil.  This may not be important when you’re first building a bench, but when you decide to recoat an existing bench, you want to be able to get the job done as quickly as possible.  Time is money.


There is, however, one caviat.  If you’re using a shellac that has any color (orange, amber, garnet, etc.), you must be careful to apply very even layers to avoid lap marks.  Witness above.  I was using amber shellac (because that what I had) and literally “throwing it on” with a big, soft brush.  You can see the lap marks on the apron.  While this does nothing to diminish the protective quality of the finish, it does wear at my artistic sensitivities.  It’s a pretty simple problem to repair.  A little sanding or scraping on the apron’s surface, and a single coat of shellac, padded on, will take care of the problem.


While “rooting” through some old finishes, I found a can of One-Shot sign painter’s gold enamel.  The last time I used this stuff was in 1976.  No one, in their right mind, would use something that old, right?  Well, I opened the can, stirred it up and it looked pretty good.  Painted up a little sample and to my surprise it dried just like it was supposed to.  So I just couldn’t resist a little “faux gilding” on the date carved into the vise chop.  And, we do plan to replace the pipe handle with something a little more “appropriate”.


Nicholson Project – Finishing up

April 11, 2014

When you’re working in two and three hour blocks of time, it’s hard to maintain momentum.  Especially when the project participants are from the “curmudgeonly” class.  But we’re almost there.

The front vise chop is massive, nearly twenty inches wide.  The slide bar is 2 1/2″ square.  The slide box isn’t even permanently attached, yet the vise travels smoothly.


We decided that we would use shellac for the frame and a traditional oil finish (BLO and wax, maybe a little turpentine) for the tops and aprons.

Orange shellac and red oak equals “Golden Oak”, the color of half of the kitchen cabinets and trim in North America.  Shellac allows you to build a good film thickness very quickly and can be applied in “less than clean room” conditions.  If it’s a little rough, simply rub it out with steel wool, then wax it back up to the level of reflectivity you desire.


Someone asked me if there was any rhyme or reason to the holdfast hole pattern.  I said yes, there is a rhyme and a reason,  and there both in my head.  Just leave it at that.  A few more “fancy schmancy touches” and we’ll be in business.

Nicholson update – the “almost” roll-out

March 30, 2014

As the poet, Robert Burns said “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley”  Due to scheduling problems, a partial “roll-out” was all we could muster over the weekend.  But it proved worthwhile, nonetheless.


Considering the outstanding torsional rigidity of the structure.  The deep cross members provide another benefit, more weight.


This 3″ thick slab of ash will become the chop of the face vise.


The slide box for the face vise.  It will be mounted between the aprons.


The slide box is built “around” the slide.  The slide is removed and scraped to provide just enough clearance for movement.


Surface dimensioning using a temporary cross stop.


Ripping.  Sawing from the side would move a “lesser” bench.  But there’s plenty of weight here to keep everything in place, even though nothing is bolted fast, at this point.


Cross cutting.  Easier than sawing on top of the bench.  But still, a proper shop will have a saw bench, built to appropriate height.


Planing an edge against the crochet.  Such a simple, marvelous device.

As soon as the bench is “fully dressed”, I’ll put up the gallery.


Nicholson project update

March 26, 2014

We’re going to make the cross members full height.  This will add to the torsional integrity of the bench, making it a very strong “box beam” structure.  We’ll locate the cross members with the help of a stopped sliding dovetail.  The lower portion of the cross member will be lagged into place to pull out any irregularity in the apron surface.  (If you choose to use a stopped dado, remember you’ll have to lag it top and bottom.)


Our dovetail is marked out and we’ll cut it will a backsaw.  Note that we aren’t using any saw guide blocks.  If you haven’t done much hand sawing, it might be a good idea to use a guide.


After we cut the “cheeks” of the dovetail, we remove the bulk stock.  A small router, router plane or simply “hogging” out with a bench chisel will do.  A sharp paring chisel will be required to do the final fit up.


Here we’re using the bench, prior to completion for some fair heavy chisel work.  Note that the bench is being held together with clamps.


 The finished joint and the full height cross member.  These two features add incredible stiffness and weight (always a good thing, in workbenches).


The storage shelf is put into place.  A ledger is added to the lower stretchers and loose shelf boards are laid in place.  Be sure to leave enough space to accommodate seasonal expansion.  Lapped jointed boards are probably NOT a good idea here, as falling debris will impede their movement.  Remember, this shelf is for big stuff, not jewelry.


The Crochet, or Hook, is attached to one of the top halves with lags.  It will be a great help while joining multiple boards.


Over the weekend, we’ll “roll this baby out”.  We’ll be exploring many of the work holding methods that the Nicholson bench accommodates.  Should be very illuminating.



Nicholson Bench – construction continues

March 16, 2014

After some discussion about certain details of the build, we head back to the workshop.


We still have a few mortises to make.  Most of you know that this blog is dedicated to handwork.  That said, many of the joints were machine cut, due to our compressed schedule.  But one of the goals of this project was to put the construction of a heavy,”first-class” bench well within the reach of woodworkers working exclusively with hand tools.

Remember to position yourself in a way that allows you in maintain squareness while cutting the mortise.


Tenons on the stretchers are hand cut, as this is considerably easier than maneuvering the long pieces on the table saw.  It’s a very good idea to incise the shoulder line, then create a “guide groove” on the outside of the line with a good sharp chisel.  This makes cutting the shoulder of the tenon much easier.




It’s important that the leg sets be clamped squarely while the glue is curing.  (We’ll pin them after they’re dry, just for a little additional insurance).  If we were working with air dried lumber we would draw bore and draw pin the leg sets together.  We’ve measured, then used a clamp on the diagonal to pull the leg set into square.


The material for the aprons has been cut to length.  We’ve decided to shorten the bench a bit.  Originally it was going to be seven feet (7′).  But, bearing in mind, that we’re somewhat limited for space in the classroom, it will now be just six feet (6′).  Still it will be a substantial workbench.  The tops are 2 1/2″ thick and the aprons 1 3/4″.  We had our sawyer, Dennis Sharples plane and rip the material.  Normally, we would have prepared the stock by hand.  But again, some concessions to modernity had to be made in order to stay on schedule.


Here, Carl and I are dry fitting the base for last Saturday’s demonstration.  I’m really “getting into my work”.


If I looks as if I’m supporting myself and preparing to faint, it’s due to the fact that we just put the aprons and tops in place.  At this point, the bench is being help together with just four clamps.  Still, it’s amazingly stable even without the fastening bolts that will pull it all together.  We’re guessing the weight at this point is around 225 pounds.  When we’re completely finished, we’ll do a legitimate weight analysis.  Even in it’s shortened form, it could be very close to 300 pounds.


A little camaraderie at the end of the demonstration.


Next week our goal is to have all of the boring done for connection bolts and holdfasts, the vise, crochet, shelf boards and cross-members ready to install.

Nicholson Bench build continues

March 12, 2014

As Winter Storm Vulcan howls outside, work continues on the Nicholson bench for the classroom.

View from my living room window.  Honestly, enough.

View from my living room window. Honestly, enough.

We’re starting to “dry fit” the base together.  “Doublers” that will provide additional clamping surface adjacent to the aprons have been glued in place.  As there are “right and left” components in the base, it is very important to double check lay-out.  And, upon dry fit, it’s a very good idea to match mark parts.


As a “lesson learned”, we could have simply centered our stretcher mortises on the primary leg face.  But we’re designing on the fly and for some reason, we decided to move the stretchers closer to the outside surface.  Can’t remember what the reason was, but centered should be just fine.

Les presented a “prototype” that might have served as a “universal” primary leg.  After noticing a look that indicated Les’ wry sense of humor, I realized that he was pulling my leg.


Tenons are hand fitted.  The “leg set” will be glued and pinned.  Accordingly, the stretcher tenons have a slight interference fit, that will provide enough room for the glue to do it’s job.  Be careful to give yourself a little depth clearance.  There’s nothing quite like trying to pull a joint together that has an excess of glue in the bottom.  It is virtually impossible to do.  In fact, with enough clamping pressure, a hydraulic event can occur that will literally blow the joint apart.  By the way, Les is using a Record 073, one of the best planes ever manufactured for this type of work.  If you ever see an 074, buy it, on the spot.


The longitudinal stretcher tenons have a slip fit, as these joints will be made fast using bed bolts.  This will not be a bench that will be easily broken down, due to its weight.  But we decided that we should have the ability to dissemble it, if necessary.

Here is the undercarriage (base, frame) dry fitted.  At 6′ 6″ long, it is substantial.  So much so, that we may shorten it up a bit.  Reducing the base length might give us a little more latitude, should we decide to mount some type of end vise.  However, we’re not sure if there is a need for that type of device, just yet.


Next will be dry fitting the aprons and lay out and making of the center cross members.  After that will be the installation of the main vise, attachment of the top and crochet.  Then, of course, boring holes (lots of holes) and finishing.  Should be ready for Spring, so to say.

Work on the “End All – Be All Bench” begins

March 7, 2014

Last week we took it upon ourselves to determine some of the defining parameters that we felt we should work to, while building the Nicholson bench for the Toledo Woodcraft Store.  There are only a few.  First:  workbench height will be at 34″.  This is a compromise, as the bench will be used by people of varying heights.  The ideal way to judge correct bench height for a bench to be used for handwork is to measure from the floor to the wrist of the user, or (and probably more ergonomically correct) from the crease of the buttocks to the floor.  Of course, this would be the user’s buttocks (old timers regularly “hiked one cheek up” on the bench while cutting mortises, in fact there are benches built for the sole purpose of mortising and they are typically knee height, so one could sit “astraddle” of the workpiece).  Second: simply enough, was to build the bench heavy.  A workbench cannot be too heavy or too long.  Let me repeat that, a workbench cannot be too heavy or too long.  However, a workbench can be too high and/or too wide.  So, be advised.  (Save time, save money, learn from the mistakes of countless thousands of craftsman who thought they had a better way, that’s how “standards” got started.)  And third:  use the most effective joinery methods.  This translates into joinery that is not only pretty, but joinery that will stand up to repetitive movement and stress.  So, now it begins in earnest.


Above is 2/3’s of today’s crew ripping stock for the leg sets.  Between Carl, Les and I, we’ve got over a hundred years of woodworking experience.  What does that mean in real terms?  It means we’ve made a whole lot of mistakes over the years.  A whole lot of mistake that you don’t necessarily have to make yourself.   Readers of this blog should realize that everything we’re doing here can be done with hand tools.  Only thing is it would take a whole lot longer.

So the first things we’ll build are the two leg “sets”.  Here’s a little “cartooned” illustration.  Dimensions aren’t important.  And remember, you can use almost any lumber, durability is the driving factor.  Just remember, it should be of a proper thickness to allow a holdfast to work efficiently.



We’re moving now and it won’t be long until we complete the bench.  But in the meantime, I’m wishing for warming temperatures because this is what is just outside my front door.  Is it Ohio or is it Siberia?  You be the judge.  My Norwegian friends will surely enjoy this.


We’ll have this thing put together well before we play our first round of golf (June 1?).


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