Last night after work I did something I haven’t done after work in some time; I woodworked.
The cooler late-summer evening weather has finally allowed me to actually spend a little time in the garage in relative comfort. When I arrived home last night I hadn’t planned on woodworking in the least. But something told me that I should really get that leg vise re-attached before something bad happened to it. Maybe that something was past history, maybe it was the fact that when I entered my garage I noticed that the leg vise had been moved, and the person who had moved it wasn’t me. Either way, I decided not to delay, as the only thing I had left to do was attach the parallel guide.
Over the weekend I had finished the bulk of the work. The new chop needed to be planed flat and chamfered, and for that task I used the “big three”: Jack plane, jointer plane, and smooth plane. It took me roughly twenty minutes to get the chop finished, and I was actually sweating a little after the fact. There were shavings everywhere, and for the first time since I installed the tool tray it actually was a mess. Still, it was oddly relaxing and satisfying work, and the chop looked pretty good after all was said and done. I lightly sanded it with some 220 grit paper and then attached leather to the face with wood glue. I let that dry overnight and on Sunday morning added a coat of linseed oil. Once the linseed oil was dry I attached the screw to the new chop and installed it on the bench so I could mark out the mortise for the parallel guide. Once that was done I called it a morning (Sunday was a special day at my house not meant for woodworking)
Last night I drilled out the holes for the parallel guide using a drill press, planed it with a smooth plane, added some chamfers, and sanded it down. I then used the finished guide to lay out the mortise on the chop, as after the dimensioning it was a slightly different size than it was when I first laid out the joint. For the guide I used a scrap piece of oak, and because it was slightly thinner than 3/4 , I could not use a ¾ chisel to chop out the mortise. That minor inconvenience notwithstanding, I had it done pretty quickly. I made the tenon 1-inch long for added strength, and I thankfully achieved a near perfect fit. I even impressed myself with the fact that the bottom of the mortise was almost perfectly flat before I stretched the router plane to its limits to finish the job. Clamping a parallel guide to a chop for glue-up is not necessarily easy, and I probably could have inserted the dowel used for the stop and used the leg of the workbench as a clamp, or I could have trusted the “snugness” of the joint to hold. Instead, I pre-drilled for a couple of pocket screws to use as clamps, and I like the idea of having a mechanical fastener at this critical joint. After, I added a coat of wax, buffed it off, added another, and attached the vise to the bench. And I can honestly say that it looks great.
I had planned on letting everything dry overnight, by my impatience got the best of me, and somewhere around the witching hour I decided to give the new vise a test run. My first impressions were very favorable. The first and most obvious feature is the much wider face. The new chop is almost 3 inches wider than the previous one, and that creates a far greater clamping power/surface. I clamped a board with very light pressure, barely applying any force to the vise handle, and the board would not budge an iota. In fact, it was so tight I could have used that clamped board to actually lift the bench (that is in theory-I only lifted it a hair as the bench is not light). I planed a few shavings just to give it a try and it worked perfectly. Another obvious feature is the fact that the new chop sits just 1/16th of an inch lower than the top of the bench, rather than nearly an inch and a half like the old vise chop did. This will allow me to clamp narrower and/or thinner boards much more easily.
A less obvious feature is the improved parallel guide. On my original vise, I used a board 20 inches long as the parallel guide, for the new guide I used a board only 14 inches in length. Firstly, I’ve never clamped a board more than 10 inches wide or 6 inches thick in the vise, and secondly, the shorter guide is lighter and was much easier to keep straight and square when I was attaching it. Part of the issue may have been the fact that when I originally made the vise five years ago, I was still very much a beginner woodworker. The mortise I chopped out for the parallel guide then was not nearly as crisp or perpendicular as the mortise for the new guide. To put it bluntly, I am much better now, and that new guide is much improved in both construction and function, which is easily noticed just by the way it sits and much more so when the vise is in use. There is not a hint of crookedness, drag, or sag. It is much better than the original in every way.
All in all this was a relatively fast and simple project, but those are usually my favorite. To me, there is nothing better than making something useful that also looks pretty good. For some reason or another I put off doing this for more than a year. Now, I’m glad I took the time to do it, because I know it will improve my woodworking as well as improve the functionality of my bench. In any event, Phase 3 is finally complete and I actually have a few furniture projects planned for the upcoming months. The only part of this project that bothered me is the fact that the new vise looks much nicer than the rest of the bench, and it has me considering…..