Benchtop Bench – downsizing the jaws

i decided to start fresh on the oak chucks for the twin screw. This time a single board for the bench side and double for the screws.


Categories: Woodworking

Building Jeff Miller’s – “A Benchtop Bench” – Part 2

June 29, 2015 Leave a comment

I am blessed. Last weekend I was able to squeeze in a few hours in the shop between a class I’m taking on Saturday and celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday. I am blessed. My middle daughter wanted to take me out on Sunday so my preference was to go to the movies. We went to see “Jurassic World” and as I mentioned on Facebook, “Nothing screams family like dinosaurs eating humans!”. I am blessed. My oldest daughter doesn’t really acknowledge holidays but she was around and decided to go with us and treat me to frozen yogurt. Doubly blessed.

This weekend I had the last installment of my class and was asked to spend some quality time with Callie (middle daughter) again on Sunday. She was building a computer from parts and really needed my help. If you knew me, you’d know that I work with computers all week long and have done so for 35 years. As you might imagine, this wasn’t on the top of my “favorite things to do on Sunday” list. I have to admit however, between the two of us we got the thing in service AND I still managed a little shop time as well. And the result was some memorable time together with my daughter. Did I mention that I was blessed?

Art's Work

Last weekend I was able to cut the mortise and tenon joinery for the trestle legs which was no small feat considering how badly I botched the mortises. My thinking was that I would setup my drill press fence and some stop blocks and hog out most of the wood. Unfortunately I didn’t set the fence up carefully enough and all my mortises were not only off center, they were slanted. The result was that I couldn’t really use the table saw or even the bandsaw to help me cut the tenons. I cut the first tenon with my saw and it came out pretty acceptable. I decided that I could speed the process using the band saw and although the tenons looked fine, the fit wasn’t so good because the mortises weren’t symmetrical and the tenons were. So I cut the last tenon by hand again and found it was the best fit of the lot. I don’t think there was any harm in experimenting. I did observe that my Veritas rip backsaw cut through that pine 2×4 material “like butter”. I finished up the weekend by gluing up the trestle legs.

The next step to tackle over this last weekend was to cut the mortise and tenons for the stretchers and install the bolts that would hold them in place. I was a little nervous over both tasks but into the wilderness I went. I began by cutting the quarter inch tenons on the table saw using my cross cut sled. The work progressed easily and the result would have been without incident had I been a bit more careful. In my zeal I nicked up one of the ends. Opps, oh well it is entirely serviceable for a work bench.

To cut the mortises I first agonized over the layout. Clearly I haven’t done this sort of think enough times to have method. I could measure the tenons accurately with my calipers, but how do I center the mortise. I can locate the center of board, but this I have to divide the caliper reading in half and layout each side, resulting in obvious error. It was madness I say. I could eyball it, but then I noticed I could never keep the stretcher perfectly verticle. Finally some sanity prevailed. Ultimately I could lucky. I measured up from the bottom of the trestle on all four riser pieces. This would be the bottom of the mortise. I drew a center line down the center of the board and using my calipers, I measured where the top of the motise would fall and drew a line. Were I got lucky was having a drill bit the exact width of the mortise. All I needed to do was to set my DP fence so that my drill bit tip was dead on the center line and I could hog out the wood. The work went quickly and surprisingly, very accurately. I used a ruler to draw a straight line on both outer edges of the drill holes and cleaned up with chisels. Did I mention I was surprised things went quickly?

So the next step was to lay out the bolt holes that would attach the stretchers to the trestle legs. Placing the bolt on top of the two pieces I made a mark on the wood were the bolt tip ended. This would be the center of the nut access hole. Using my largest Forstner bit 1″ 3/8″, I drilled to within about 1/4″ of the outside face. I was nervous about making a rookie mistake and drilling through so I double checked my DP depth stop several times before starting the task.

Next I dry fit the trestle assembly and hel and drill the bolt holes. I started by drilling a smaller hole from inside the mortise, then flipped the pieces over and used the small hole to locate where to drill with the larger bit (sized for the bolt). The plans called for hex bolts but I had purchased carriage bolts which I felt would be suitable so I decided to go ahead and used them.

Drilling through

Drilling through to the access holes

I was now ready to mock up the assembly and using the trestle holes as a guide, to carefully drill through the end of the stretchers into (hopefully) the center of the nut recesses.

Stretcher Nut Recesses

Stretcher Nut Recesses

The first one was easy, so I got careless and one of the holes was just a bit off center. This made access to feed the nut on the bolt a bit challenging. Well they were all difficult but all very manageable save that one.

Be careful and drill staight!

Be careful and drill straight!

Other than cleaning up my laminated vise jaws, time had run out for the weekend. Next up I’ll attach the bench top to the completed trestle and then begin work to fit the vise. Admiring my vise jaws I now realize that I might have “over achieved” as they are a bit beefy. I may decide to downsize the bench side face and use just one of these big guys.

Attaching the top, then the vise is next.

Attaching the top, then the vise is next.

Perhaps I’ll save one of these for another vise and just use 3/4″ face on the bench side?

Beefy laminated oak chucks.

Beefy laminated oak chucks.

Thanks for stopping by Turtlecove, until next time……




Building Jeff Miller’s – “A Benchtop Bench”

June 16, 2015 Leave a comment

The idea of building a benchtop bench has been on my mind for a while now. I’ve seen a few variations on a bench of this type; Steve Latta published a mini-bench or Fine Woodworking which looked OK. With this design there is a tail vise and the legs are flush with the top for clamping work to it’s sides.

FWW Minibench

Fine Woodworking Mini-workbench – Steve Latta

I really like the side clamping option of this design but I wasn’t excited about purchasing a tail vise when I already have that capability. The Latta bench looked a little easier to build than the design I selected which was published by Jeff Miller also in Fine Woodworking Mar/April 2008. I selected this bench for it’s home made twin screw Moxon style vise using inexpensive veneer press screws.

Jeff Miller - A Benchtop Bench

Fine Woodworking – A Benchtop Bench – Jeff Miller

Either design offers the advantage of raising your pieces for easier detail work such as carving, routing and joinery. I’ve wanted a twin screw style vise like this for marking and practicing dovetails and I had purchased the screws several months ago.

Shop Fox - Veneer Clamps

Shop Fox – Veneer Clamps

The bench will be made from Home Depot 2×4’s. Not very exotic but very economical. They only cost $3 each so I brought home 7 just to be sure I had enough knot-free areas for the build.

Milling the lumber was performed crudely as I still lack a planer and jointer. Table saw, band saw and hand planes had to serve the work. By the end of the day Sunday I had the top glued-up, the stretchers and all the trestle pieces milled and cut to rough length.

Trestle pieces rough cut.

Trestle pieces rough cut.

Top glued up.

Benchtop bench top glued up. (say that three times fast)

With a bit of creativity and elbow grease, I was able to resaw the 2×4’s into trestle components.

Ready for joinery

Checking to make sure I have all the pieces. Next will be the mortise and tenons for the trestle and stretchers.

Making sure I have all the bench pieces

All the basic bench pieces have been milled.

So the next session will for joining the trestles and stretchers. I’m still deciding what wood to use for the jaw chucks. At this point I ‘m considering oak faces laminated over pine.

Once the tenons are cut the height will be reduced by 3″ but I’m still wondering if the bench will be “too” tall for my height. Now is the time (before cutting the tenons) to determine if I should lower it or not. If I go with the plan the overall height will be just over 12″. Really wish I could think of a design that would allow me to easily adjust the height but will likely just mock it up at various heights and make my best guess.

“Thanks for checking in with the Turtlecove Workshop”



Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig – Initial Observations After First Use

Susan was working late yesterday so I made use of my time and popped down to the shop and try some test cuts on the new sled. Very briefly, here are my thoughts on the first session. Remember, absolutely no experience with this jig and extremely limited experience laying out dovetails.

  1. I realized that I can barely layout tails first and had no idea how to layout pins first. Sandor’s instructions indicate cutting the pins first. (Note, this would have helped:
  2. I decided to layout and cut tails first because I didn’t have unlimited time to struggle with pins.
  3. Which side of the tail line to cut was fairly intuitive as the angle of the kerf lined up with the angle on the tail.
  4. Setting the blade height was not intuitive. I used trial and error, creeping up a bit at a time. This was time-consuming and part of the problem simply came from first use. However, after properly setting the blade height on one side, I switched sides and started cutting away only to realize the BLADE HEIGHT NEEDED TO BE LOWERED. The ramps are reasonably symmetrical however the miter slots apparently are not. Ruined the first piece but that’s why they call it a test.
  5. After marking both ends of another tail board, I cut both sides and was pleased with the results. I took this board to the band saw to clear waste between the tails. PATIENCE was required but taking time, I was able to clear the bulk of the waste without messing up the tails. Caution is required, it takes time. I don’t have a 1/8″ blade but that is what Sandor suggested in the instructions.

The Good

After a few missteps the tails I cut looked rather nice. I am hopeful this system will work with a bit of practice.

The Bad

I was surprised that blade height needed to be adjusted from left station to right station. I will figure out a way to easily and accurately set the blade height. Cleaning the waste between the tails requires refinement on my part. I was also pretty clueless as to which line to use for cutting pins. Another trial is required.

The Ugly

Peeking over the edge of the jig to watch the cut being made will result is a face full of sawdust. I encountered this at I initially attempted to adjust the blade height. Speaking of blade height, in order to cut 3/4″ stock that blade has to be pretty freaking tall and it is a bit scary doing so much cutting with beast spinning “out of its cage”. It would be more comforting albeit much slower to clamp the piece each cut and keep your fingers away from the front fence.  Whether or not I will actually do that is another question.


Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig

“Never let lack of creativity or talent get in the way of accomplishing a task”, I always say. With the tool tote effectively finished I spent time over the weekend building Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s dovetail sled for the table saw. I have dabbled with using the band saw to speed the dovetail process but it too would need a jig (at least a wedge) to make the cuts effectively. When I saw this plan a year or so ago, it was on my list of things to try.

Table saw dovetail sled

I’m pretty sure that I found the plan for free but it’s not my plan so I wouldn’t presume to publish it. Rockler sells it for $8 but you can probably find it other places as I’ve seen it around.

Basically the jig has four stations, and uses both ends of the sled. The end comprising the ramps are for cutting your tails, the other end with the angled fence allows you to cut the slope on your pins. Each side has a left and right cut. I can’t tell you how well it works yet as I just finished up my build late yesterday afternoon.

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade "guard".

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade “guard”.

I always read about how “it should only take a couple of hours to whip up this jig” but this one took me two sessions. During the first session of a couple of hours, I cut out most of the pieces of the project including the making of a really basic tapering jig. The tapering jig I made was nothing more than a piece of MDF notched to form the 8° slope recommended for the ramps.

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

For materials I used 1/2″ MDF for the bulk of the parts. I used pine for the tail ramps because I didn’t have any 3/4″ MDF on hand and I had lots of suitable pine scraps. I also used pine for the blade exit guards. The pins fence called for a piece 28″ in length and unfortunately for me, I had cut my MDF piece in such a way that I didn’t have it. What I had on hand  was a 24″ x 24″ plywood panel, so I built the fence in three pieces which I believe will work just fine.

The pins fence was built in three pieces instead of one.

Pins fence built in 3 pieces.

To support the center fence piece, I cut an extra support and slightly modified the placement of the other supports for best fit.

Dovetail Sled guts.

Dovetail Sled guts showing fence supports.

So that’s about all I know about it. I was going to buy a fancy miter bar but I just couldn’t bring myself to place the purchase. There are many fine products but I opted to make mine out of an oak scrap. With some patience and a bit of planing, I came up with a good fit.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

I might get a chance to try a few cuts today after work. I’m still a bit loose as to which side to cut on but I’m sure after a couple of test cuts I’ll figure it out. Building the jig with the pins and tails angle right is a big deal, they have to be the same or the two will never fit together. I feel cautiously optimistic that I got it right but the proof will be in the cutting.

You’ve been machine-making with the Turtlecovebrewer….


Toolbox – Part 4

This will be the last post on this build. For a relatively “simple” project this has taken quite a bit of shop time which I attribute almost entirely to design changes I made of the original plans. It’s really OK because I learned along the way although I’m ready to get this project off my bench and get on with the next one.

One thing that I got right was figuring out in what order to assemble this piece for glue-up. On Saturday I recreated this assembly prior to gluing just to make sure everything still fit and that there weren’t any snags. I decided to use Titebond III over original Titebond for the slightly longer open time I would need (10 mins vs 5 mins). Because the ends were dovetailed and the upper shelf and te handle fit into mortises, assembly began on one end making sure to glue and insert these pieces. Next the shelf was glued to the back, captured in a dado. Then finally the other end dovetails were carefully joined making sure to simultaneously glue and capture the shelf and handle. It wasn’t exactly simple but with the dry fit test run, it went without major problems. Once together the tote would mostly hold itself in place which made adding clamps easy.

Tote glue-up.

Tote glue-up. Pretty much used all my clamps.


Glue, mortises and dados pretty much hold everything together.

The Last Mistake??

So I had cut recesses in each end to capture the handle and I had the bright idea to use a long screw to strengthen the joint. The plan was to counter bore and plug the hole but wouldn’t you know it, I drilled right on through the remaining thin piece. Now I screw would be useless unless I wanted to plug and start over. I decided to deepen the 3/8″ drilling into the handle and used an oak dowel piece to both strengthen the joint and plug the hole. That worked OK but like so many features of this design, was not what I had originally envisioned.

Finishing Up

After the glue set up, I sanded the assembled tote and wiped on a coat of diluted Zinsser Bulls Eye clear shellac. I’ll still wipe on a few more of these coats and also need to make the latch for the drawer but otherwise this project is pretty much completed.


I’m calling this project completed. Making my own design changes was costly in time but rewarding for the experience.


A few more coats of wipe on shellac and a drawer latch and it’s ready for tools.

Concluding Thoughts on this Project

My goal in redesigning the original Popular Mechanics plan was to eliminate all of those unsightly screws. Even counter bore and plugging so many screws didn’t seem ideal to me so I decided to use dovetails for the sides and a dado to capture the shelf. As built I didn’t use any screws, but I’m wondering if the tote will hold up as well without them. Time will tell.

Also, the use of 3/4″ stock makes this beast quite heavy. Add to that all the oak pieces and it became even heavier still. My recommendation would be to use much thinner stock if building a tote for real use. Without the tools to mill my own stock, I am pretty much limited to using dimensional lumber for time being.

It’s good to get back in the shop… Turtlecovebrewer

Categories: Woodworking Tags:

Toolbox – Part 3

Finally, a block of uninterrupted time in my shop over the weekend. The last time I was in my shop I spent the better part of a day reorganizing the equipment. I can’t really say that I was excited over a shop work-day rather it came more out of a total necessity. I can also say that the changes I made really has improved the work-flow. This is most certainly not my last re-organization, nor is it a “perfect” setup but it is working way better than the non-sense I had kluged together previously. Perhaps I’ll post a before and after for my next post.

Tool Tote – Fixing Mistakes

I’ve developed a little bit of confidence now in my woodworking and it’s not because my skills are that refined. I have learned 3 things that contribute to this feeling and I’ll share them here.

  1. Plans are useful –  It just occurred to me that project plans are analogous to a road map for traveling. Maps are useful, showing you the overall route and potential obstacles you may encounter along the route. Like a map, you can’t expect to blindly follow it without regard to the actual reality of the road conditions you experience along the way. If you are building without a plan, expect to make a few wrong turns and assume you’ll need to “figure out and fix things along the way”.
  2. You will make mistakes – There, I’ve said it. The question is how many mistakes will you make on a project. You’ll need to find a balance between, thinking it through and diving right in because you will need to do both if you want to get anything done.
  3. Anything can be fixed – Did I overstate my case on this one? Sometimes you can fill the hole with wood putty, sometimes you can cut a patch, sometimes you can change the design and sometimes you simply cut a new piece of wood. On this project I used all those fixes and I’m not finished yet.

I probably err a tad on the “dive right in” side of axiom #2 above. I’ve been putting all my recent projects in SketchUp but oddly, I’ve been doing this after the builds. A bit of time spent in SketchUp prior to the build would have saved me a few missteps on this particular project.

Weekend Tasks

Although the tote appeared mostly completed in my previous post I actually had many details left to complete. I wanted to add oak trim as a design element to the front. The use of oak trim as a design element was initially used to cover up gaps caused by ill placed dados. In this case it is simply a design preference, tying the oak strips in the back and drawer front together.

Oak trim added to front panel.

Oak trim added to front panel.

While the glue was drying on the trim piece, I decided to move forward with building the drawer. It would seem wiser to wait until the tote was fully assembled and glued up but, it was already dry fitted in its final form so I felt OK moving forward. Although no dovetails were involved in drawer assembly the design did call for two 3/4″ rebates, two 3/4″ dados and a 1/4″ rebate along all four pieces to accept the drawer bottom. I was too lazy to fit my dado stack for this small job so I cut the 3/4″ rebates and dados making multiple cuts using my crosscut sled and cleaning up the floors with my small router plane. The 1/4″ rebate was cut at the router table using a 1/4″ straight bit and a handful of trouble. Cutting the oak front I neglected to fully tighten the fence, thus my cut wandered. This was not severe enough to warrant a repair so I choose to overlook the imperfection. While cutting the drawer back rebate I made a more serious mistake. I had to make the cut in a series of shallow passes and while setting up the bit for the last pass I neglected to check the orientation of the piece and began routing the TOP rail. DOH! Of course I felt the router bit bite into the piece and I knew immediately that I had messed up. That one mistake I had to fix by patching.

Drawer construction.

Drawer construction.

So while I was waiting for the patch to dry, I moved on to the next task which was to shorten the shelf. Adding the oak trim to the shelf left it a bit proud so while the tote was assembled I set a depth gage to the capture the overhang. It was just about time for another mistake. Like a goof ball, I trimmed the pine edge which inserts into the dado thinking that I’d like the more valuable oak. Unfortunately the oak piece had to be trimmed because it overhung the end pieces. The oak overhangs actually needed to be reduced which I marked and cut at the band saw. Cleanup was completed with a chisel.

Shelf over hang was proud.

Shelf over hang was proud.

With that task completed, I flushed up the drawer back patch and assembled the drawer.

Assembled tote drawer.

Assembled tote drawer.

After relieving edges on all the pieces, I finished up the day adding a coat of shellac.

Pre-finished with shellac.

Pre-finished with shellac.

Not too much left on this project. With the pre-finish completed I’m now ready for glue-up and final touches.

You’re back in the shop with the Turtlecovebrewer.


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