Sunday, October 2, 2016

Benchless School Box Build - Part III - Stock Preparation

This build is going slow not because my workholding methods are slowing me down, but my lack of shop time is. I've run into an unexpected mental barrier to woodworking in our new apartment.

The barrier has to do with the fact that my "shop" is actually our home office. Any mess I make in there must be instantly cleaned up, and when I'm done, all woodworking materials must be put away.

This is much different than the way I usually work. Even when I'm being good in my home shop and keeping everything neat and tidy, I leave my project on my bench, and my tools go in my easily accessible tool chest.

Here, it's a bit different. When I'm done, cleaning sawdust isn't too bad because I pretty much sweep after every operation. Tools, however, can not be left out here. They go to the bottom of a bin in a cabinet.

This isn't the worst thing in the world, but I find that getting 15 or 20 minutes of work in isn't so attractive an option of my spare time when half of that is preparing and tearing down my workspace.

I think I can solve these issues with a couple of projects to do soon, such as a sawbench and a Dutch tool chest. Mostly, though, it is just a matter of changing my work routine and making these processes more efficient.

Enough excuses, let's get on to my build:

Some of you may have been wondering in my last couple of posts on this build what I meant by using a tiny piece of fiber board as a bench.

Well, the answer is that more than anything, it is used as a stop to allow me to work on the floor. The spacer board lets me plane to the end of the board, using the wall as a stop, without my plane bumping into the wall stopping the cut.
Edge jointing with my new "bench."
I have to say, some care must be taken to find a part of the floor that is flat enough that the board does not rock when planing. This tile floor is pretty flat, but it isn't perfect. With just a little trial and error, a proper place to plane is found.
Such concentration!
I do find that planing this way I must slow down comparing to doing it on my bench. It's not so bad though. If it takes a minute to joint a board like this rather than the usual fifteen seconds, it's not really that slow.
Not the most comfortable, but it works.
This position is far from ideal, but it does indeed work. I would say if you are learning woodworking by doing it on the floor, you are giving yourself a bit of a disadvantage, but it can indeed be done.

Notice that I am just resting the board on the ground. Nothing is holding it up straight. I wanted to try this build without any clamps, but I think if I had one to help steady this board to edge joint, it would be easier. I feel like I really have to balance things to get it right. The trick is just to go very slow.
Two boards edge jointed.
Really, in no time I had these two boards edge jointed. A bit of liquid hide glue, and a rub joint is all that was needed for this.
This panel will eventually be the lid to the box.
How about smooth planing the faces?

Well, with my stopping board, this is also possible.
Face planing.
The stopping board is much thinner than the pine boards I am planing, so it isn't a problem. I was worried that the hard tile floor might mar the opposite face I am planing, so I used a towel to protect it. This works just fine.

The next issue I had was shooting the end grain square. My new shop is so new, I don't even have a proper shooting board. I have some ideas of one to make that would work on the floor, but I want to get on with this build. Here's what I came up with:
Shooting end grain.
It might be kind of hard to see what is happening here, but everything is loose. My "bench" is used to slide my jack plane back and forth on without damage, and some of the stock I have for trim on the school box is used to elevate the board I am planing in order to allow the blade to make contact with all of the endgrain. I used what I had at hand to space the board to be planed far enough away from the wall that the plane wouldn't stop before the end of the cut, and the towel protects my plane if I am a bit too aggressive.  This gets the cut square in one direction only (the width of the cut), unlike a regular shooting board which will also automatically square the cut along the length of the cut.

This means that one has to be careful, and plane to the line I have scribed that hopefully was square when I laid it out.
Here you can see I am getting close. I am planing very close to the line I marked across the width.
Another swipe or two, and this is what I have:
Finished cut.
Next, I sized out some of the parts to finished length. This required some cross cutting, and I have to admit I've been thinking about a few different ways to do this.

I tried out this method, which seems to work. I used my dining chair which we are using for an office chair at the moment as a traditional saw bench. The only major difference being I have a Japanese saw, which is only a little more awkward in this situation.
Cross cutting with a kitchen chair.
I used my spacer board to protect my chair, give support to my cut, and help make sure I wasn't sawing into the front of our brand-new kitchen chair.

It's not a bad idea to triple-check that there is plenty of clearance before sawing this way.
Please don't cut into our new kitchen chair!
Something to keep in mind, is that the board you are cutting likely will NOT be level to the ground when cutting, so a bit of adjustment must be made. In my case, I left plenty of room to fix an unsquare cut with the shooting board.

Clean up.
Here are the parts to my school box.
Now how to figure out workholding for dovetails?


  1. The end grain looks amazing after you have used your shooting board setup.

    Workholding for dovetails I would suggest the kitchen counter. Put the piece flat, and then use a long piece of wood to reach up the a cabinet above. Perhaps insert a small wedge to make sure everything is in tension.
    The n you saw the dovetails on a board that is horizontal instead of vertical. That should be fairly easy with a Japanese pull saw.


    1. That is an interesting thought. I think I probably will saw horizontally, but I hadn't thought of the kitchen. Good idea!

  2. If you have 4 F-clamps, use 2 of them to clamp a 4"X4" to a table or something else (balcony railing if there is one) and then clamp the board to the 4X4 with the 2 other ones.
    I see there are at least 5 Lidl in Alicante. They had Fclamps on offer not so long ago (at least here in Brussels).

    1. Hi Sylvain! Thanks for the comment. It's funny you mention it, because I was going to try to build this with no tools I didn't bring, and clamps were too heavy to ship. However, I did allow myself to buy one for this build. Funnily enough, I found a nice F-clamp at Aldi!

      My first clamp-less attempt wasn't accurate enough, but I have a couple more ideas and one clamp.


  3. As I've said before, where there's a will, there's a way! Outstanding work. Your plane must be really sharp - that end grain looks so smooth!

    1. That really is the secret to shooting. A sharp blade. The low angle doesn't hurt, but it should be around the same as a bench plane the way I have it set up.

      Thanks for the nice comment!

  4. Reminds me of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - the importance of always having a towel.
    Btw, greatly impressed with how you're doing so much without a bench.

    1. Yes, well you never know when your planet will be destroyed to construct a bypass.

      Thanks for the compliment. I haven't really gotten too far, yet. I need to wait until the Frau is at work before my next attempt at dovetails...

  5. Nice progress in working at your "no bench" environment. Reminds me to the first steps Paul Sellers showed in his Workbench build video series...

    1. Thanks, Wolfram! I think many barriers to woodworking can be addressed with a little thought, and just a few of the right tools.

  6. Hello Brian,
    Tough to work in these conditions, not ideal! I like what you are doing here! Best of luck!

    1. Thanks, Aymeric! It sucks getting old, but it's better than the alternative!

    2. want me to build you a milkman workbench? I have some 8/4 beech that might be suitable... let me know

    3. Wow! Thanks for the offer. I'm honored, but I'll have to think about it.

  7. Great work, we probably all started out woodworking with a minimalist shop (no shop). It's interesting to see someone with experience being able to apply lessons learned in a more complete shop into a non-shop, instead up fumbling because of both lack of knowledge and lack of shop.

    1. It's funny, I was thinking the exact same thing yesterday. I wouldn't necessarily recommend a beginner start this way, but realistically...

      I think what I would really like to prove here is with jus a little inventiveness, most problems aren't so big.

      In reality, I think many people work like this without realizing it. Have you ever had so much crap on your bench that you did something weird to get the cut done rather than tidy things up?

    2. Oh absolutely agree, our jury-rigging just gets more strategic as we've progressed. Beginners would benefit the most from the work holding shortcuts etc. more advanced wood workers use at a solid bench even when they have other options. For instance, not trying to hold the work piece in one hand and use the circular saw, but instead a simple bench hook can elevate and solidify the work piece making things safer, faster and more accurate.

      Many beginners don't know what can be done with what is "on hand", whereas an expert may select from numerous techniques well suited for the current operation, based on "good enough" or speed or nearby.

      Perhaps covering one's mistakes isn't the true sign of a craftsman as some have implied, perhaps it's knowing how to improvise given whatever the current limitation is.

  8. Inventive solutions and the your work doesn't seem to have suffered any either. Nice work.

    1. Thanks. You'll laugh when you see what I did yesterday wi e dovetails.

  9. Hey...found a video that may be useful to you...

    1. Cool! Too bad I didn't see that yesterday. The solution I came up with looked similar (albeit slower), only I didn't think of turning the work over. I just guessed that since I was good on the top, that I was probably close enough on the bottom.

  10. Brian,
    impressive to see that you are not running out of ideas under these circumstances. I admire your courage planing in direction of the floor tiles. Guess the towel is your bumper!?
    All the best,

    1. Hi Stefan!

      Yes, the towel is acting as a bumper. I've found the secret to working like this is with slow and methodical strokes.