Knuckling Under

Being able to firmly secure a workpiece down significantly improves both accuracy and safety.  There are lots of different clamps on the market that engage with the working surface, and work with varying degrees of success.

The knuckle clamp from Woodpeckers is an innovative approach (as is typical for them!), using a reinforced polycarbonate body with seven pivot points to maximise the capacity of the clamp.  Either end of the body is a pivoting foot to ensure the clamp makes maximum purchase on the working surface, and the workpiece.

Clamping down the workpiece

Clamping down the workpiece

The clamp also utilises the Woodpeckers Multi-knob, which makes gripping the knob and tensioning it up easy.  Not sure just how much load the clamp can take, bit it certainly provided more than enough for the test job here.  They are said to be virtually indestructible, but I didn’t want to risk destroying the ones I had to prove the point!  You can use Knuckle Clamps on all sorts of tools and jigs (homemade and otherwise) which have T track slots. In this case I chose to use the clamps on the Pro Drill Press table from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  It would work equally as well on other items such as the router table, Incra Mitre Express, the T slots on a Torque Workcentre, and any homemade jigs that you have incorporated T slots.

Work holddown

Work holddown

As a bit of a test for the clamps, I decided to try a partial-width drill with a forstner bit.  Should prove a pretty good test of the hold capability of the clamp.

Partial width forstner bit hole

Partial width forstner bit hole

Clamps held well, without any suggestion of a kickback.  Didn’t know you could even do this with a forstner bit, especially when the central pin was not in contact with the work.  Something you must not do with a forstner bit mounted in a handheld drill – the risk of a kickback is too great.  On the drill press this is achievable, but you must keep hands well away.

Preset Clamp Height

Preset Clamp Height

The clamps can be preset, both in position along the track (and locked in position), and also preset for the degree of “opening”.  This is via a second nut on the bolt which has a spring to hold the clamp up.  This nut does not have to be moved while clamping down, so makes clamping, and reclamping work very easy.

Partial width forstner bit hole

Partial width forstner bit hole

After the first cut, I tried a few more with equal success.

Forstner bits are boring ;)

Forstner bits are boring 😉

So that is the knuckle clamp from Woodpeckers.  Sold in Australia through Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  They also have kits which includes track to create some useful bench-clamping solutions.

Deep Throat

You may not need the extra reach that this particular clamp offers, but it is useful to know that Bessey now have their “Deep Throat” range, with up to 500mm of throat depth.

Deep throat

Deep throat

Available from Carbatec. The 500mm throat is $300, so it is unlikely you’d buy a couple just to have them “in case”, but at least you know they are available if needed.

Small Steps

Probably seems like each ‘progress’ report is no different to the previous with the cot build, but there are a lot of small steps in between.

Lots of small other things too – floating tenons (aka dominos), holding everything together.  Little bit of thought required in setup for the Domino to ensure everything aligned, particularly where there were different thicknesses of materials, and offset joints, but once I got into it, the mortises were all cut in no time flat, despite there being about 40 to do.  They add so much

During glue-up, the Bessey K body clamps really started to shine.  The more I use them, the better I like them.   Increased my collection with a couple of 1250mm ones from Carba-Tec, along with a couple of Bessey extenders.

Ends

With all the components pretty much completed, what the final product looks like is becoming increasingly apparent.  And reflecting the multitude sketches of the various aspects of the project.

Building a project from pre-designed plans is a great way to learn woodworking concepts and techniques, but all the real problem-solving has been taken care-of.  It is not the best way to build, but I really enjoy building, designing and problem solving all at the same time, as in creating without pre-designed plans, and working out each step as I go.

Woodworking is a great mental exercise.

Best Parallel Clamp

I received an email tonight asking about parallel clamps, and thought my response may be of benefit to the wider community, so have posted it here.

The question was:
Hi Stu. Mate I was wondering what would u say is the best parallel clamps?
Jet, Bessey, Groz. And include best and value$$

My response:

The “best” without question are Frontline, with 4 tonne of clamping force, U section structural grade aluminium channel beams, thrust bearings, and a unique ability when making panels of applying pressure to push the panels flat, before pushing the boards together. Invented, and made in Australia. They are expensive compared to other clamps, and not designed to be used on something like a glueup of furniture for example.

I wrote an article in the Australian Wood Review a couple of years ago on exactly this topic, can’t remember my findings exactly, but both Jet and Bessey rated well, and would be my preference for a set of parallel clamps. Jet seemed particularly good value for money at the time, and a nice clamp, but it seems the vast majority regard Bessey as the preeminent brand, and any well stocked workshop inevitably has a large collection of Bessey clamps to hand. My clamp range is sadly lacking now I am thinkng about it. I do have a pair of Jet (and three 900mm Frontline!) and when I do get to stock up, I will only be looking at Jet or Bessey for value for money, quality and versatility. None of the other brands will get a look in.

The Carbatec Bench

The final push, actually the easy bit – the bench assembly.  With the Veritas vice in place, the four legs are bolted to the underside of the bench, and the vice(s) fitted.  Because I had added the Veritas, I had a vice left over so added it to the back of the bench behind the drawer.  It only needed 3 holes to be drilled to fit it there, so no biggie.

The shelf is then bolted to the legs which provides a significant amount of rigidity.  The vices are then screwed down, and the drawer assembled and fitted.  Anyone who has ever bought anything from Ikea will have no problem putting that drawer together.  The entire bench assembly should only take about 30 minutes.  (Again, instruction manuals be damned).

The standard vice is a very simple animal- the two bolts at the rear of the guide bars are removed, then the base is unscrewed.  The front jaw added then the unit inserted through predrilled holes in the bench skirt. The rear bolts are tightened, and the base screwed to the underside of the bench.

This was then repeated for the other vice that I fitted at the rear of the bench.  No point letting one go to waste!

With all the vices and fittings in place, it was time to turn the unit over.  Bloody heavy thing – weighs in around 80kg.  Perhaps not as heavy as a full wood one, but enough.

The bench in position in its new home.  (fwiw, the rear vice looks high because it has the removable jaw extension added).

With the Veritas in prime position, and clamps all around, this bench is ready to work. I’m debating whether to put my metal working vice on the bench as well – may do, especially if I park the Festool Vac under the bench.  The benefit of having the boom arm!

The bench can move a bit when pushed on, but it is pretty good.  There is some spring in the legs (unavoidable), but the majority of the movement would come from the feet.  If you were serious about bench stability, I’d not use the feet and instead would bolt the bench to the floor, and/or use a bracket to secure the bench to a wall.

I still have some holes to drill in the Veritas Vice jaws, so I can add some bench dogs.  The plastic ones that came with the bench will probably go in the bin, and instead I have picked up some Veritas ones from Carbatec, which fit a standard 19mm hole.  These will be perfect on the Torque Workcentre as well, as soon as I drill the new matrix of holes for the Walko clamps.

I got a set of Veritas Bench Dogs for the bench, and a set of Veritas Bench Pups for the jaws. Will see if that is enough for my typical use, not that they are particularly expensive, and they have a great, heavy feel.  With some holes in the side of the jaws of the Veritas Twin Screw, it will also allow large sheets to be clamped vertically to the side of the bench as necessary.

I also found these Veritas Surface Clamps, which also fit into the same 19mm holes.  The knurled knob tightens the clamp into the hole, and the arm moves freely up and down the shaft until a load is applied when it then locks into the ridging on the shaft.  These too will be extremely useful on both the workbench, as well as on the Torque Workcentre.

So the whole thing has come together nicely.  A combination of an easily assembled bench (that I didn’t have to make), and some quality fittings to finish it off.

One day, this bench will allow me to follow the reasoning of Douglas Adams (and the Deep Thought computer – a computer designed by pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings to answer the question of life, the universe and everything (42), and then to design the computer that could explain the question) and use it to build THE bench.  But not for a long time yet!  This bench will keep me out of trouble for a long time, and more than likely will only help me contruct another if I happen to acquire a much larger shed that would give me space for a second one!

Over the coming weekend, I’ll try to get some photos of the bench in action, particularly the Veritas Dogs and Pups (and Surface Clamps) and how they work with the vices to secure items down.

FWIW, the standard (unmodified!!) version of this workbench is expected to be seen on “Better Homes and Gardens” tonight (Friday 20 May 11) on channel 7 at 7:30pm when the Amazing Race teams appear and complete some building challenges.

Walko Surface Clamps on Order

After recently using the Walko Workbench, one thing that really impressed me was how functional and useful the Walko surface clamps were.  With the TWC, I think they would be perfect, with a matrix of holes cut into the MDF top to fit the Walko Clamps where-ever needed.

WALKO Surface Clamps

I’ve got 2 sets on order (apparently floating somewhere off the coast of Australia as I type) from Ideal Tools (they have a dedicated WALKO website now online).

The beauty of these clamps is they are really low profile, clamp very irregular shapes, quick action, fit anywhere (at least anywhere there is a round dog hole) and did I mention low profile?

Once they arrive, I will convert my TWC to a massive radial arm drill, and cut regular dog holes over the surface of the workbench’s sacrificial MDF top.

Speaking of the top, I have determined that because of the cast iron router table I am using at one end of the workcentre, my top needs to be 40mm thick.  I could do this with one thick MDF sheet (I assume sheets that thick are available), but instead I am going for 2x 16mm sheets, with an 8mm sheet sandwiched between them.  These will be screwed, not glued together, so once the first surface is completely wrecked in time by cutting/routing into it, I can simply flip it over for a new top, then rinse and repeat for all the other sides.  I expect it will be some time before I need to actually replace all the sheets!

I could always go 5 sheets of 8mm – wonder if that would be better?  My only concern is ensuring the sheets remain as flat as possible – whether regular screws are suitable, or perhaps regular bolts would be even better to ensure they are held tightly together.  A trick learned from the Ideal Tools course where lines drawn on the top intersect above each screw (or bolt), so that you know exactly where they are when setting up for through-surface cuts which would otherwise result in an untimely meeting of carbide and steel.

The Hall Table Fable

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out!…. (no – stop channeling Charles Schulz and Snoopy)

It was dark, well my memory suggests it was, but perhaps I just hadn’t opened my eyes properly when my alarm went off, way earlier than I am used to, at the start of day 1 of a three day furniture course being run at Ideal Tools in Williamstown. Bleary eyed, I loaded up the car with only a few bits’n’pieces – some Incra rules and square, Vesper marking knife, PPE and a few other pieces that I wasn’t sure if I’d need or not (I didn’t).

I took on the Hall Table course with one main objective – to challenge my design ability, and introduce an extra dimension to how I think about projects.  The concept of a hall table is pretty simple in itself – a slab of timber with 4 legs, a shelf and a drawer. Taking that to the next level and producing something not only functional but worthy of showing off was my challenge.

Terry Forgarty runs the course, whom I have known for a number of years through the Woodwork Forums, as well as at various woodshows, but this was a chance to really to know the woodworker.

normal_AF normal_Wj8

I found it invaluable knowing that Terry is a full-time custom furniture maker – it meant that not only was his advice about what can be done believable (didn’t hear him say something wasn’t possible either – it was all about finding a way), but also picking up some expert tips from someone who’s livelihood depends on the quality of his work.  When things went wrong (as they invariably do when working with natural products), his attitude was always of finding a way around or through the problem, not backing away from it, and using the problem to instead challenge the design.  More than one design element I ended up with were the direct result of a ‘problem’ being overcome.  The wood was whispering, and I was starting to hear it.

Mahogany Slab

Mahogany Slab

Of course, it wasn’t whispering very loudly at the start – a lump of timber on a bench.  Trimmed to lengths on the Kapex, and run through the jointer, the process began.  The order of things may be a bit out of whack, as much because of when I picked up the camera – I blog to woodwork, not woodwork to blog, so when I am in the depths of shavings, I forget to document the processes!

Terry covering the finer points of jointing

Terry covering the finer points of jointing

In the background, you can see Terry’s 2nd(?) most favourite tool – the Kapex.  Between it and the Domino (his first love), you get a good indoctrination into the Festool world, and that is a journey worth taking – putting aside the issues of cost, these tools can walk the walk.  I’m not so sure about the tablesaw arrangements after coming from a heavy tablesaw equipped workshop, but the rail system with a quality Festool saw is one worth experiencing.  The brand of machines is irrelevant to the course, but it is a pleasure to work in a shop kitted out with such a quality brand.

Legs Legs Legs

Legs Legs Legs

The legs, cut, ready for tapering.  Already your personal design decisions get called upon – the project is very much your design, your journey.  There is no emphasis on uniformity between participants, in fact individuality is encouraged. In this case, how you taper the legs (if at all) – I oped for a traditional twin taper – my thoughts for pushing myself lay elsewhere.

However, some initial problems that cropped up started impacting on the design even here (in a positive way).  Terry demonstrated a technique of using the jointer to do the taper that I had heard of, but not had given much thought to trying.  I’d normally use the tablesaw for the job, but I was here to learn new stuff, so gave the jointer technique a go.  It worked pretty well, and didn’t require a jig, and the legs were pretty even despite the empirical nature of the method.  It involved marking 2-3 starting points on the jointer, and running the timber through but starting partway down the length and not starting at the end.  In effect, deliberately sniping the timber, then exaggerating the snipe until it was a full taper of desired proportion.

The timber wanted to tearout, and no matter what I tried, it did.  (Yeah, I do know about grain direction etc).  Perhaps the timber was not cooperating, or the blades were getting blunt, but in the end I had legs, but some large chunks had been knocked off the bottoms.  Instead of trying again, Terry encouraged working around the problem, and thus the idea came of chopping off the ends, and Dominoing on some replacement tips.

And thus the legs gained a personality.

Table Lep Tip

Table Lep Tip

Instead of hiding the situation, I went with a jarrah tip to the legs, and this material then got carried through the rest of the project.

Another tool I discovered getting a serious workout was the belt sander.  I wouldn’t have though of a belt sander and fine furniture goes together in the same sentence, but Terry swears by his, and the Festool 7kg belt sander sure is a nice tool!  Might just have to retire that GMC thing I have.  I made the tips oversized, and quickly got it all nice and uniform once the glue (and Domino) had done their job.

Some tearout was fixed using Terry’s shellac stick – a trick that was worth learning.  Using some shellac that had been prepared (heated with a meth fire) and rolled by hand into a stick, it was then dripped into any cavities with a soldering iron to melt the shellac stick tip.  Kind of like brazing with shellac!

The front (with drawer opening) were cut, and dominoed together.

Table Front Glueup
Hall Table Front Complete

Slowly coming together.  The next stage finally gave it some real form, and once you can start seeing it come together, you can really visualise the additional elements required.

Tabletop in Frontline Clamps

Tabletop in Frontline Clamps

The Frontline clamps got an initial workout for this part of the glueup, but they were made to earn their keep later on.

Table Carcass Assembly

Table Carcass Assembly

The components were dominoed together (no, I haven’t made a mistake with dominos in all the mortises – there are still the legs to be added!)  Slots were also cut at this point for the joiners that will hold the tabletop in position.

Glueup!

Glueup!

All the elements bought together (some, such as the sides were previously glued before this final clampup).  Now the fun began.

I never intended to leave the tabletop intact 🙂

Frontline Contour Jig

Frontline Contour Jig

Firstly I needed a jig – a track for the Frontline Bandsaw Contour jig to follow.  The specific design was done deliberately to avoid particular elements in the grain of the tabletop I wanted to preserve, which I initially drew on the tabletop, then transferred to the ply.  The plastic guide was then tacked on, and the slot routed out.

Ripping the Top

Ripping the Top

Next, I took my perfectly good tabletop slab I had glued up, and ripped it apart on the bandsaw, using the contour jig.  You can see in this photo the Jarrah insert sitting on the bandsaw ready to be incorporated in the top.  It is fair to say that in addition to the Festool Domino which made the mortise and tenoning so easy, the design of this table would not have happened without the Frontline tools.  The contour jig for the shapes, and the clamps which take no nonsense from any mere lump of timber!

Dryfitting the new top

Dryfitting the new top

Frontline Clamps go to work

Frontline Clamps go to work

The top then got a second glueup, this time with its new element included.  Some minor gaps were not given a chance to talk back when the Frontlines weighed in.  No dominos either, with the vertical clamping taking care of alignments, there was no need.  Hmm – wonder if my workshop could benefit from another couple – at one point I had 8 Frontline Clamps on the job!

Another technique was used here as well – zigzag dominos on their side (and cutting the widest (40mm) domino slot to accommodate them) to create a strong mechanical bond to reinforce the glueline (and surrounding timbers).

I was then going to create some form of lower element rail, rather than a lower shelf.  The offcuts from the top were the inspiration, and by using the same template, the curves of the top are mirrored in the rails.

As Good as it Gets

As Good as it Gets

This is as far as I got in the end.  The first time I affixed the lower rails in place, I had them in, dominoed, glued and clamped, and was just walking away when there was a loud CRACK, and both lower rails had exploded into fragments.  The combination of the curves cutting across the grains, and a bit too much enthusiasm in closing the gaps had left one of the two unable to cope.  When it went, all the force was then carried by the second rail and both exploded in a shower of jarrah shards.  There was no dominoing them back together either.  This time, a remake was the only option.  These new rails are slightly heavier than I planned – 5mm extra width.  But it does display the benefit of the Frontline Contour – I was easily able to recreate the rails perfectly.  However, the additional time it took meant there was no chance of finishing in the weekend, so this is the current state of the project.

I’m giving the top some time to acclimatise and stabilise in its final resting spot in my home – if it survives a week or so there, then I will continue to finish the top – sand then scrape (yes, I too have discovered the benefits of cabinet scrapers on this course!), and make the drawer.  The sides have been cut – 8mm thick Jarrah, and they will be dovetailed all round, with a half-blind on the front (so the dovetails are not seen from the outside).  Not sure what I will do with the drawer bottom – something to carry the theme, and the handle will be a Jarrah rod with the same curve again in miniature, and 2 pins holding it to the front of the drawer.

To the course – I can definitely recommend it, and it was particularly suitable for my skill level (which isn’t that high), but it doesn’t really matter – the more skilled you are, the more time, and capacity you have to investigate the finer points, always with Terry’s knowledgeable inputs when required.

So has my woodworking improved? Of that I have no doubt.  Of course now I want a Domino of my own, but that is another matter!

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