When I came home from work this afternoon I found myself a little restless. Usually when I work on Saturdays I come home from work and try to unwind, in particular after busy days like today. Today was different. Maybe it was because I had gone to the gym and I was all wound up. Either way, I was full of what my mom would call “nervous energy”.
The first thing I did was clean and wax my table saw bed. That didn’t take long, as I try to keep on top of it to begin with, and since I’ve been using DampRid in my garage that has helped as well. Next thing I did was a little sharpening: a few chisels and my jointer plane iron. That wasn’t enough to ease my unease, and then I recalled an exchange I had with fellow woodworker and blogger Wesley Beal. He had mentioned making tool handles etc. as good projects for the winter months. Great minds must think alike, because back at the beginning of the summer I had purchased some wood to do just that. Today, I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to make a tool handle, but I did want make a new handle for my leg vise.
When I made the new chop for the vice a few months back I had saved some of the cut offs because they had very nice, straight grain. One piece in particular I had felt would make a good handle for the vice. So that was the board I decided to use.
Way back when I took my first ever woodworking class with Chuck Bender at the Acanthus Workshop. After Chuck bored us for an hour by rambling on about “the craft” things actually got interesting. One of the things we did was make a dowel from a board that was out of square. We had to first plane the board square, we then had to turn it into a dowel. At that point, I had never really planed anything, but if I remember correctly, I did a pretty good job of not only squaring up the board, but turning it into a respectable dowel that rolled evenly across the workbench top. Though that was five years ago, I remembered the lesson, and today I put it to use.
The first thing I did was cut the board to length with my home center Japanese Ryoba saw, which I chose for no other reason than I hadn’t used in a while. I then squared the board, used a compass to mark the diameter of the circle (which I copied from the original vice handle-though I made it a hair larger). I then continued to plane the board until I was very close to the arc on all four sides. Before I went any further I drilled in two 1/2″ holes on either end with a forstner bit for the stops.
Making the dowel is fairly easy. It is basically chamfering the corners, then making chamfers which meet the other chamfers, then easing over the edges. All in all, it took around 30 minutes to get the dowel formed and rolling cleanly across the bench, which I’m happy to say it did (Chuck was a good teacher).
I then began the final fitting, which took around ten minutes. For that I set the block plane to take a very fine cut, and gently eased of any high or rough spots. I won’t sit here and tell you that the dowel is a perfect circle, because it’s not, but it is certainly close enough.
For finish, I added a coat of boiled linseed oil, let it dry for a few hours, and then coated it with some furniture wax. I cut off two short pieces of a 1/2 oak dowel to use as the stops, and with that the new handle was finished.
The truth is I didn’t need a new handle, the original worked just fine. I’m not a particularly anal person, but I did want the new handle to match the vise chop, which it now does. And I didn’t do this just for nothing, I made the new handle four inches longer, which will make it a bit easier to use. But the best part was after I attached the new handle, I had a brief sense of accomplishment. I then cleaned up the huge mess, sharpened the block plane to a razor’s edge, and suddenly I was no longer restless.