“With Hammer in Hand” by Charles F. Hummel (UP Virginia). Resurfacing like Brigadoon, the woodworking shop of the Dominy family was sealed up with the tools still on the benches and saws still sharp. Moved to the Winterthur Museum, the workshop is an open portal into village woodworking in early America. Hummel’s book takes it tool by tool, piece by piece, expanding our view with a true scholar/craftsman’s eye.
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You can bookend my 30 years of woodworking with two volumes. Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft” (U of North Carolina P) marks the beginning. Today, Steven W. Semes’ “The Architecture of the Classical Interior” (Norton) makes sense of all the conflicting mishmash of “design speak” tossed about. Hope I have another 30 years in me so the Semes book will someday be a midway milepost in a long, rewarding journey.
Being a lover of Japanese design and tools, I’m embarrassed to say I only picked this book up in the last year. I was anticipating a straightforward, almost encyclopaedic, approach documenting the history and use of most Japanese woodworking tools. I got that, but also so much more. The stories Odate tells of his youth and apprenticeship are truly jaw-dropping, and reveal as much about working wood in Japan as what life in a fascinating and secluded Pacific country was like when he was young. I was five minutes into this book, and I guess I had an astonished look on my face, when my wife politely asked how I was enjoying the book. I looked up in bewilderment, paused for about five seconds, and said “It would take me an hour to explain what I’ve learned in the last five minutes,” and went on reading. Even though this book has been around for decades, it’s worth reading today.
This book addresses a key dilemma of the beginning woodworker: how do you build good projects without the basic shop furnishings to get the job done? And, why struggle with makeshift workshop equipment when you can create your own? Now you have the guidance of an expert woodworker to help you build workshop basics that you will use for years to come.
Grouping George Nakashima’s The Soul of a Tree and Jim Krenov’s Worker in Wood with Nick Offerman’s Good Clean Fun might seem sacrilegious, but we like how the trio’s perspectives encompass the diverse spirit of woodworking. The older books combine photos of exceptional work with serious reflections on the nature of craftsmanship. Nick is equally passionate about wood and woodworking, but he’s more willing to admit that he’s enjoying himself–a good example for all of us to follow.
The last thing is to semi-permanently attach the bolts for the vises. Given the amount of work necessary to get to the bolt heads, once the top is joined, I had intended to tighten them up so they wouldn't spin, and lock them that way with blue Loctite. (That's the strongest non-permanent grade.) That didn't work. What I found was that the bottoms of the countersinks weren't quite flat, and when I tightened the nuts down that far, the ends of the bolts would be pulled far enough out of alignment that the vise bases would no longer fit. In order for the vises to fit over the bolts, I had to leave the nuts loose enough that the bolts had a bit of wiggle - which meant that they were almost loose enough for the bolts to spin. So I put Loctite on the nuts, to keep them from unscrewing, and filled the countersinks with Liquid Nails, in hopes of keeping the bolts from spinning. I considered using epoxy, or a metal-epoxy mix like JB Weld, but I didn't have enough of either on hand. It seems to be working for now, though the real test won't be until I have to take the vises off.
A couple nice qualities about this bench include the weight and vice capacities. The weight capacity of this bench is 330 pounds which is decent, though it will not wow you too much. The vice, on the other hand, provides a 7” capacity which is tied for the most on our list. That said, there is only a single vice, and it is not able to be repositioned. This can make things a bit frustrating for lefties as it is a right-handed configuration.
A workbench needs to be heavy enough that it doesn't move under you while you're working, and stiff enough that it doesn't rack itself to pieces under the forces that will be placed upon it. It doesn't take many hours of planing a board or hammering a chisel for a worktable made of nailed 2x4s to come apart. Traditional bench designs use mortise-and-tenon joinery, which is strong and rigid, but not really suited for a novice woodworker who doesn't already have a bench.
2. Bill Hylton's Power-Tool Joinery by Bill Hylton. From the editors of Popular Woodworking magazine, this is a go-to for setting up power tools for making joinery. Organized by joint type - rabbets, half-laps, dovetails, etc - it provides detailed instructions show you how to make each joint with every tool possible. I especially like the jigs and fixtures details that show you there's definitely more than one way to skin that cat.
Clamp the inner jaw of the end vise in position, leaving a little bit to trim off later, and then use the dowel and dowel center trick through the screw and guiide rod holes of the vise base plate to mark the position of the screw and guide rod holes in the jaw. Remove the jaw and drill 1-1/8" holes in the marked positions. I used the drill guide for most of the holes, and drilled freehand for the last bit. When you're starting a spade bit in a deep hole like this, start the drill very slowly, and the bit will move the drill into a perpendicular position. Start it too fast and the bit will bind and you'll damage the sides of the hole.
Of all the machines in a workshop, we think two deserve their own books, not just because they possess the greatest potential, but when used incorrectly, are most likely to bite back. Bill Hylton and Fred Matlack’s Woodworking with the Router comes close to being the Router Bible. This tome provides an excellent overview of routers and bits while also explaining how to build and use jigs for router tables and handheld routing. Similarly, Paul Anthony’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Tablesaws gives entry-level and experienced woodworkers the information they need to safely use this workshop workhorse and accomplish more with their saws. Both books have excellent photos and great illustrations.
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Stop it. Really. I mean it. Pick a height between your thigh and waist that seems right. You’ll adapt. Don’t worry about your back. You’ll adapt. If you are really uncertain, make it a little taller and then cut down the legs. After a decade or so, your work habits will put a magic number in your head. You’ll have built enough furniture that you will know your number. Until then, pick a number.
Tapping the knowledge of dozens of top-shelf woodworkers, Scott Landis’s The Workbench Book, and Jim Tolpin’s The Toolbox Book are filled with inspirational photos and drawings that you can use to enhance your workbench and tool storage needs. John White’s Care and Repair of Shop Machines completes the workshop triumvirate. The author’s straightforward advice for repairing and setting machinery will help you make the most of every machine in your shop.
Finishing is often an afterthought and spraying a finish isn’t exactly the first technique discussed when the topic does come up. While it’s often easier to wipe on a couple of coats of finish and be done with it, there are times when spraying a finish makes the most sense. There are many advantages to spraying a finish but there are some drawbacks too. Spray Finishing Made Simple does what it claims – it takes an imposing, unfamiliar topic and makes sense of it. This book is for the first-time spray finisher, as it starts with the basics and progresses through the stages. Don’t let the unknown stand in your way if you’re interested in learning about spraying. Pick up this book and get spraying.
Another odd design feature of the Windsor Design is its dog holes. While this bench provides a variety of dog holes and even offers numerous pegs and dowels to go along with it, the dog holes are not spaced as closely or with as much variation as you see with many other benches. Ultimately, this means that smaller workpieces may not be able to use the dog holes and pegs as well.