Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Woodworking in the kitchen

About a week ago The Lady was off at a conference for a few days. Normally, I can sneak off to my workshop after the kids are asleep, in order to log some time on woodworking projects. However, as the only adult in the house, I couldn't really do this.

So, in order to make some progress on a woodworking project, I moved my operations indoors. The kitchen, I reasoned, has hard floors that are sweep-able, and lots of counter space.

But I was careful to lay some towels over the counter, so I didn't scratch things.

The photo above shows my work in progress. Look! it's an oven!!! Yep, I'm in the kitchen. A pile of weatherbeaten wood on the floor in front of the oven, as well as in the toekick area to the left. (I'm leaving the wood grey and weatherbeaten: I'm going for a ''rustic'' look.)

The core of my operations were my little sawbench. A sawbench is basically just a sawhorse that's optimized in size and shape for more ergonomic sawing of boards using a handsaw: it's short enough that you can put your knee on it, thus securing the wood to be sawn.

My sawbench, however, has become a mini-workbench.

(Side note: Most sawbenches I've seen have splayed legs, which stick out beyond the work surface of the sawbench. See the fairly typical ''Google image search'' hit, below -- although there **are** a few with vertical legs. I designed my sawbench to have vertical legs, so that when I'm ripping lumber I don't accidentally cut into the legs.)

A good workbench (for hand tool woodworking, at least) is a clamping platform with enough mass to stay put. (I should possibly be citing Chris Schwarz' Workbench book here...) However, my sawbench is pretty darned light: I can pick it up with one hand.

I compensate for its lack of mass in two ways. First, I've installed a hook on the tail end, where I hang sandbags (rinsed-out juice jugs, filled with sand). This keeps the end from kicking up when I handplane.

The other thing I do is stick my right foot against the nearest leg of the sawbench. This keeps the sawbench from sliding forward when the wood resists the handplane. Standing this way is a little awkward, but not terrible. And, it works.

If standing like that became too awkward, I'd just lay a piece of wood on the floor, against the base of the kitchen cabinets, and brace the front legs of the sawhorse against the wood.

As far as its suitability for clamping: well, my sawbench is basically an elongated cube, and it's an open frame. So I can clamp things horizontally, vertically -- whatever.

For handplaning, and sharpening with a whetstone, I clamp a scrap of wood to the non-weighted end. This serves as a planing stop: you can see it sticking up vertically just a little bit past the work surface.

Then, to handplane a piece of wood, I just butt it up against the planing stop. In the below photo I've placed my sharpening stone in a similar position.

And, the photo below shows how I position my workpiece when I need to plane the edge. I've clamped a caul (is that the term? a cleat? a supporting length of board) across the two near legs of the sawbench. This supports the weight of the wood that I'm handplaning. Other clamps hold the wood in place horizontally.

This piece of wood, eventually, will become part of a rustic wooden box.

And: note that the right-hand bar clamp is actually clamped **between** the slats on the top of the sawhorse? In other words, not having a continuous top ''isn't a bug -- it's a feature!''

In instances where I need a solid top, I just throw a piece of plywood across the top.

Dimensions? Well, you can get a sense of scale relative to the clamps and the sharpening stone. But basically, mid-thigh height. The length and depth were determined by the board that I used for the top: the length is approximately one-third of the length of the original board (but allowing for two of the three slats to protrude slightly, as support for workpieces that hang over the edge); the width is three slats wide, plus the spaces between.

Making it thigh-height does deviate from most other sawbenches: most people make theirs just under the knee, to facilitate kneeling on the wood they're cutting. Again, I intentionally made mine higher than that, so that I could better use it as an emergency workbench (or a workbench for my kids). And mid-thigh still works for kneeling on the boards I'm cutting -- although, sometimes I supplement it with a clamp.

Anyhow: I used this arrangement for three nights, sweeping up the sawdust and wood shavings each night, but otherwise leaving everything set up.

And then, the night before my wife came home, I put everything away.


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