Workbench and Dovetails

As regulars will know, I don’t have a workbench in my workshop – a shocking admission, a shocking omission.

(I do now have a Walko Workbench though, which if nothing else is convincing me even more that a workbench is a must-have workshop tool, whether it is the portable Walko, or a fullblown bench.)

I have a couple of motivations for trying my hand (so to speak) at handcut dovetails.  One is simply because I like having as well rounded a skillset as I can, and having a level of skill with handtools to complement my comfort with powered tools will only make me a better woodworker.  It also means that when it comes to using “the best tool for the job”, I’m not going to be limited to only choosing “the best tool for the job so long as it has a cable attached and a powerpoint nearby”

Another motivation actually gets back to my opening sentence.  I have always been particularly partial to workbenches that are a reflection of the craft of the woodworker, and the thing that really sets a workbench apart in my eyes is this attention to detail:

Dovetailed Tail Vice

Dovetailed Tail Vice

And you cannot hope to achieve a dovetail of that size using a router!

Al Navas from has been doing dovetails a lot longer than I have, and has been offering me some advice. One thing he has been promoting which caught my imagination is his practice ‘bucket’, and the concept of a dovetail a day – before doing any other work, he practices another one.  I wish I was able to do woodworking every day (or even every week), but the concept is still valid.

Al's Dovetail Practice Bucket

Al's Dovetail Practice Bucket

Of course when cutting a dovetail, once you have the angle right for one, wouldn’t it be nice to have all the cuts done simultaneously. And once again Veritas comes to the party:

Veritas Dovetail Gangsaw

Veritas Dovetail Gangsaw

Now sadly (or not), this was actually from their April Fool collection, but the problem with Veritas and their attempts at an April Fools joke, they take the concept and engineering so far that you end up looking at the tool thinking “it might have been intended as a joke, but……uh…..why not?”

Keepin’ on Truckin’

I’ve always really enjoyed the tradition of wooden toys, and although I have not made too many myself (other than the few dinosaurs and front-loader gracing my office primarily), I’m constantly drawn to the wooden toys that are more heirloom than toy, with beautiful timbers being showcased, stunning finish, precise details.

I saw these pictures displayed on the Aust Woodwork Forums by one of this site’s regulars.  I’m always inspired when seeing these sorts of toys, so thanks Aussie (Ross) for both producing such an inspiring project, and sharing the stunning results with us!

1929 Ford Stake Bed Truck

1929 Ford Stake Bed Truck

Early Model Car and Truck

Early Model Car and Truck

A proud craftsman (and owner) of some beautiful examples

A proud craftsman (and owner) of some beautiful examples

A complete WIP (work in progress) can be seen here, and the plans themselves came from Toys and Joys.  I am seriously considering ordering some plans myself! I’ve perused the site a number of times, but having seen a local result is particularly inspiring! I hope at some time I will get to share my own version – hope it looks anywhere near as good as this!

Delving in the Archives

I’ve been spending a bit of the evening, diving through the files and folders of the old website (the really old one – my Triton one, last updated December 2006, and now only residing on one of my harddrives).

I spent a bit of the day (non shed day) re-setting up my home wireless network, and now sitting on my laptop in front of the Formula One, I have wireless access of my other computer (and can control and see its screen on this computer). So I can also see and access the 3 external harddrives currently plugged into it (4.5TB) as well as another harddrive plugged directly into my router, and a printer I can send files to wirelessly.  I feel like a king of my wireless domain!  All this is only relevant because of the access to my old files (easily).  Got a bit distracted – exciting action-packed start to the Grand Prix – bits of wing and cars flying everywhere!

One file I found, which I had pretty much forgotten – click here to see (it is about 1MB, so too big just to drop onto the main page (unfortunately)

A rather young Gordon Heggie demonstrating the Australian-made Superjaws.

FWIW, it is an animated gif file – what we used to use to get some inline form of movie file, back in Web 1.0 days! How times have changed (imagine one of my 30 minute movies all as an animated gif – probably fill the average harddrive!) 🙂


I did manage a short excursion out to the shed today – with the intention to try handcutting a dovetail.

Yes, I did manage, no, it isn’t worth showing the result!  (I was rushed, so finessing the fit just wasn’t on the cards).  Irrespective, it looks no worse than many of the dovetails on current imported furniture, so now I just have to get the standard up (need lots of practice time).

As much as there are all sorts of sawblade guides etc on the market, I found the actual cuts and chiseling to be the easy part.  What was difficult (and had a massive impact on the quality of fit) was getting the markup / layout neat. If I had gotten that aspect sorted, the whole evolution would have gone a lot smoother.

An interesting exercise, and I will do quite a bit more to see if I can’t achieve a reasonable (and consistent) quality.

However, using a router with something like the Gifkins jig sure is a lot simpler, and neater (at least for a non-expert)

Cutting the Dovetails

Cutting the Dovetails

Using the quite beautiful Veritas Dovetail saw from Carbatec.  It feels really nice in hand – not your average saw, yet not an unreasonable price either.  If you are half tempted, see if the guys will open a box up for you (or rather don’t, because if you are tempted, you will then be sold!)

Chiselling out the waste

Chiselling out the waste

It was only a simple dovetail joint – 2 pins, just to test the concept. That’s the Walko workbench underneath it

The final "proof of concept"

The final "proof of concept"

No, it isn’t a pretty joint, or even particularly well done.  I knew the pins were oversized (better over than under to my mind), because you can always shave them down a fraction, however I’d run out of time and despite knowing the consequences of doing so, took the mallet to it to join them and got the inevitable splits form.  Oh well, I needed some more fuel for the potbelly!

Triton are BACK

Triton have again returned to Australian (and international) stores! Supply is limited, as is the product range, but that is set to grow, and quick.

The first 100 or so units (Workcentre) supplied hardly managed to make it to the store shelves before they were walking out the door again. I am getting from the manufacturer a list of stores initially being supplied. Bunnings will not be making the list.

The range is very limited as production is scaled up, so you have a unique opportunity to influence what are the next products bought back online.

I have created a special page here with surveys attached.

They ask what are the products you most want to see, and least want to see make a return.  I am not covering power tools in this survey – I will do that shortly.

Update – 3rd survey now added about upgrades/modifications to current designs

500,000th Visit Prizedraw

There is a new tag at the top of the website called simply 500,000

All details of a big giveaway can be found there .  Some great prizes already, more to come. An entry a day so don’t wait till the end, and the more you tell people about it, the more entries you get!

Competition will close once 500,000 visits have occurred – don’t miss out!  This will happen well before the end of September, so you don’t have long to enter (or long to wait to see if you’ve won something!)  You can enter and nominate a choice of prize later (some Carbatec prizes will be posted early next week for example), or leave the choice blank, and I’ll add your name to the prize with the shortest list (if you are the only person, then “automatic win”!) 🙂

Update – the response has been amazing! But the news is not all bad if you are in the draw- given the number of prizes, everyone with only a single entry still has around a 1 in 4 chance of winning! So by getting extra entries in, those odds become quite short 🙂

Oh, and the rate things are running, this comp will be over in 10-12 days, rather than the original expectation of 20-25 days! Means each day’s entry carries so much more weight.

Comp will be closed shortly (11 Sep 09)

Rubber Flooring

If you missed out last time, Aldi (temporarily) have more stock of their rubber floor matting, which I last saw in there almost exactly a year ago (wonder if Aldi has an annual purchasing cycle)

Rubber Floor Mat

Rubber Floor Mat

The price is now $25 (was $20 last year) for a pack of 6 (which includes heaps of edging), but it is still cheaper than elsewhere (the other notable version is about the same price (if not even more) and only has 4 pieces), and it is solid rather than a grid which I’d expect would quickly fill with sawdust (and cannot be swept out)

Holey Floor Mat

Holey Floor Mat

So I grabbed another couple of packs – obviously then after 12 months I am still happy with how the matting is working in my space.

Shed Security

Had a good question asked by Calum about securing your shed, particularly given how expensive this hobby can be become

“I recently found signs of prowlers around our house. This set off the alarm bells, how secure is my garage. How secure is the electronic garage door opener? Better put some bolts on the external doors. Better take an inventory of my tools and also take pictures. Have I kept the receipts of all my purchases?

So Stu, What have you done to secure your Shed? Do you keep an inventory. I imagine there are woodworkers out there with tools that would be very hard to replace. I wonder what the insurance companies think about sheds full of expensive tools.”

Nothing gets me thinking about Indiana Jones type property protection than the thought of deliberate acts to deny me what I have bled to collect together. Of course these days the prowlers seem to have more rights than you do, so I guess I’ll put away Spielberg’s imaginings and settle for what is allowed.

There are a number of things to approach with this topic, and if anyone has additional thoughts – do drop them into the comments!

Door Security – a roller door with electronic opener is ok wrt the electronic door opener is concerned, so long as the (hmm – what’s the polite term?) thief doesn’t get access to the space. If they do, then it is a simple button to override the mechanism and, well…… So give consideration to how strong the other doors are – some rear garage doors are done on the cheap, and use a hollow-cored door (especially if it is accessed from the house), rather than something robust. On any hinged door, give consideration to what hinges you use – can the pin be popped out and the door removed? There are hinges designed for secure doors. Roller doors can be pulled off their tracks, and levered up, so just how secure is any roller door? The one saving grace is because it is a garage, with a roller door it is normally fully visible from the street, so any attempts are going to be loud and obvious. Having security lighting (twin movement sensor floods) is cheap, but make sure the power switch is inside the secure area (eg inside the shed)

Roller doors can be great when woodworking- open the whole space up. On the other hand, because you are facing the street, anyone and everyone gets to see what you have.

Having a big door will definitely help (as in a big labrador!!)

Sometimes getting into the shed space is easier if you don’t go through the door! Is there laserlight on the roof? What are the walls made of? How is the wall material fixed to the structure? Some sheds can be easily entered using a Phillips (X) screwdriver, and unscrewing the few tec-screws holding the walls on! No need for a master key (aka bolt cutter). Speaking of which, if you are choosing a lock/padlock, remember what you are securing. Spending an extra $25 or so getting a better quality of lock is an investment in security. Going cheap is false economy – again remember the value of what you are protecting. I went “high security” for both the padlock, and the hasp and staple for the lock mechanism.

If the thief gets access to the shed, then your secondary security systems have to kick in. Motion alarm is a good start – if the idiot gets a surprise, they might just bolt. They are also very cheap.

Your computer can be a sophisticated security system. With a cheap web camera in the worshop plugged in and some software such as Webcam XP, you have a little security system . It has the option of when it contacts you – it can be set to movement sensor mode, so if more than (eg) 10% of the view changed (such as someone working into the scene), you can choose to have the program email you with photos, or with an email to SMS account, your shed can send you an SMS call for help!

You can even view the inside of the shed in realtime through a web browser.

Now, if the worst occurs, what can we have done to help return the status quo?

Insurance obviously. The company needs proof of purchase – either a receipt for example, or a photograph (photos are a great idea). The biggest danger is under insurance. How is that a bad thing? For example if I have contents insurance for $100,000 (and the shed contents is worth a lot less than that), but the house and shed contents combined are worth $200,000 and I have a robbery and the $2000 tablesaw is stolen I should be right ($2000 being a lot less than $100,000).

No. Being 50% under insured means that any pay out by the insurance company will be reduced by at least the same amount (50%), so you’d only get $1000 as the payout. Sucks huh! So don’t underinsure – the correct amount of cover is not that huge a cost (compared to loosing your workshop).

So photograph the collection, keep a record of all tools in the shop, and any identifying marks, serial numbers where available etc. Engraving or using microdots may also be good options.

Put up a sign on the fence “beware of the dog” and one on the shed “smile- your photo has already been emailed to the police”

Finally, remember that they will only really try to steal from you while you are not there. So (just for security purposes mind), the more time you spend out there, the less likely they will be to steal from you!

Hope that helps!

(I’d still prefer an Indiana Jones suitably sized bear clamp, with blowdarts, a 20′ granite boulder that is set loose if my handplanes are touched etc!)

Hand Tools

I was over at Ideal Tools on Sunday, being filmed for a Hand Tools DVD for use in Secondary Schools and Tafes. Not quite sure why I ended up in front of the camera – wrong place at the wrong time I suppose!  I came away with one thing definitely resolved – I am much more comfortable in front of the camera than I am with a hand tool.  Now there is a scary thought!

It was certainly interesting experiencing a full film crew, when normally it is me, myself and I doing all the roles.

There was a ‘director’ (not sure the real title), 2 cameramen (who also do the post production editing), a soundman (there was even a boom mic!) and one runnin’ around arranging lights, setting the clap board etc.

I didn’t have any problem with the filming side of things – guess Shed.TV has been preparing me a bit for the experience.  I sure don’t like talking about things I’m not very confident in though – felt like a bit of a tool.

So the experience has convinced me that it is time for (non electron-murdering) hand tools and me to become more familiar.

Those who have done it say it’s not that big a deal, so it is time I bit the bullet, found some time, and hand cut my first dovetail. It is obviously something I have been edging up on (secretly, in case I noticed).

I have a dovetail marking gauge from Australian Wood Review

AWR Dovetail Master

AWR Dovetail Master

A joinery knife from Chris Vesper

Vesper Tools Joinery Knife

Vesper Tools Joinery Knife

A set of Hamlet chisels from Carbatec

Hamlet Chisels

Hamlet Chisels

And as of tonight, the Veritas Dovetail Saw from Carbatec

Veritas Dovetail Saw

Veritas Dovetail Saw

I guess I am pretty much out of excuses!

Australian Wood Review

Latest issue of AWR is now out, and if you are interested in panel clamps, I have a big 5 page review of 13 different panel clamps that are available featured in this issue.

Issue 64

Issue 64

For those who have discovered Stu’s Shed from following the URL at the end of the article, welcome! Hope you like the place 🙂

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