Finishes and benches


I’ve been reading “Workbenches, Revised Edition: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” by Christopher Schwarz and what an excellent book it is; lots of photos and diagrams and bench-related information and ideas. Naturally it had me thinking of replacing, or at least making some major changes to, my bench. I built it a few years ago based on Paul Sellers original bench build videos, the ones he made in his garden (much better than the re-make). I made it with very few tools and the few tools I did have were not very well sharpened, and of course I didn’t have a bench, just a workmate. But, it works and has served me well. It has a few issues:

  1. The tool tray that takes up around half the surface area is just a rubbish trap.
  2. The top is made of cheap construction pine which is too soft and is disintegrating.
  3. The vise isn’t flush with the apron and neither are the legs.
  4. It wobbles. This may be more to do with the concrete garage floor.
  5. It’s a few inches too tall even for me at 6ft 5in which makes planing on the bench top sub optimal because I can’t get over the work and use my leg muscles to propel the plane forward.

Mr Schwarz throws in lots of other interesting ideas such as a leg vises and wagon vises and adjustable planing stops and crotchets. I’ll finish reading the book and see which of his ideas and designs I might want to incorporate into my new or re-engineered bench, or maybe I’ll just live with the bench as it is for a while longer.

Furniture Making School

Since my last post we’ve had Finishing week in which we looked at all sorts of finishes and colouring and bleaching and other chemical treatments. One of my fellow students was particularly pleased with the effects of nitric acid and a hot air gun on his walnut cross grain moulding. Here are some pics of my french polishing efforts:

French Polished Sapele

This piece of Sapele veneer has been grain filled with pumice. Nice and shiny although I’m not convinced it would be my finish of choice for an actual piece of furniture.

We did a bit of cooking and made some wax polishes:

Making wax polishes

You may recall the cross-grain moulding picture frame we made some weeks ago. It’s been stuck in the cupboard unloved since it was completed but now has a coat of shellac and wax and looks rather good:

The little box got the same finish treatment as the frame:

Small box with shellac and wax finish

Secret dovetail

Don’t tell anyone but we made a secret dovetail.

Back in the garage

The Ottoman project moved another slow step forward. Across the top of the frame will be two supports for the seat panel and the side panels. These will sit flush with the top rails and be housed into the short side top rails:

Band saw

Back at Furniture school we’ve been let loose on the band saw and what a versatile machine it is. I was considering buying a small planer/thicknesser to help speed up my garage projects as I spend a lot of time getting from raw timber to planed, square and sized pieces ready to work on. But having seen what a band saw can do I think this would be a better buy. I can re-saw and get close to square and to size and then finish off with a hand plane. I would always run a hand plane over a machined surface anyway. Maybe a Record Power BS350S .

In the hand plane department I’ve been using a Clifton 5 1/2 at school which is a good deal better than my Ebay sourced Record 5 1/2. It’s heavier and has a thicker blade which is easier to sharpen and its a bedrock design so it feels a lot more rigid. The only problem being the £300 price tag. I could go for a Chinese made bedrock design such as the Wood River which is rather less expensive, around £175. I have a Wood River No 4 and it is an excellent plane but the Clifton is made in Sheffield not China and I really should support UK industry.

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