The Handmade Workbench

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a new workbench. I needed something that supported hand-tool use, with supportive vises to keep pieces firm.

The Benchtop

The benchtop is composed of premium 2×4’s of pine wood. I trimmed off the curved sides and cut them down to 1 1/2″ x 3″ x 48″. I then glued up half of the boards length-wise to form a giant, thick plank. I did the same for the other half of the boards and eventually glued the two massive pieces together.

Flattening the Benchtop

The benchtop was now one solid mass of wood, but it was far from flat. There were many imperfections in the 2×4’s shapes that created a very uneven surface. A good benchtop should be perfectly flat to serve as a reference surface. I started planing the benchtop with my largest plane, my No.5 Sargent. This process took many hours as I constantly checked my progress with a straightedge. Eventually most of the rough spots were smoothed out and I finished the surface with my No.4 smoothing plane and sander.

Adding the Vises & Trim

I wanted two vises on the workbench, one on the front-left side, and another larger one on the right side. I cut the wooden vise grips out of hickory wood to add some character. For the benchtop’s trim, I used red oak. To make things a little extra fancy, I added dowels to the sides of the trim.

Frame Mortises and Tenons

Now that the benchtop was nearly complete, I needed to work on the leg frames. I decided to make a solid frame with 2×4’s with mortise and tenon joinery to ensure a sturdy construction. It took quite some time to cut out the 16x mortises, but eventually the pieces all came together smoothly and formed a snug fit.

Workbench Assemble!

With the frame sanded and smoothed, I was ready to attach the benchtop. I went with some pocket-hole screws to attach the benchtop to the frame. This would make it easier to remove if I ever needed to do so in the future. Now I had a solid workbench.

Bench Dogs

To get more use out of the workbench, I drilled some bench dog holes lined up with the vise grips. With matching holes in the vise grips, it allows dowels (bench dogs) to be inserted into the holes in order to hold a piece of wood firm using the vise. The homemade bench dogs still need some work, and the vise handles need to be made.

Vise Handles

I smoothed some chunks of red oak and attached them to dowel rods to create some quick and useful handles for my vises. The workbench is ready for use!

Finish-ed

I added some Danish Oil to all the surfaces to give it a nice sheen and finished look.

Workshop Upgrades

I’m am currently in the throes of building a new workbench (hints of it seen in the photos below). I’ll post more about that project once the process is complete. However, I thought I’d share some of the workshop improvements I’ve been making recently.

I installed a new lightning system, composed of six high-efficiency LED strips. They are provide amazing illumination for the entire shop, using only 240 watts (2 Amps) with brilliant sun-like 5500K brightness. Since I’m running my entire shop of a single 120V outlet, I had to be creative with the wiring, but I managed to get everything connected and out of the way, while still allowing my power-tools to utilize up to 15 Amps of current when they desire.

The second upgrade I made was adding an air filtration system. The air has been seeming rather thick in the shop lately. I almost always wear a P100-rated air filter over my face, but it would be nice not to have to do so some day. The air filtration system claims to remove down to 1 micron-sized particles, which should do the trick for protecting my lungs. I’ll still wear the face-mask for sanding and other dust-producing processes, but afterwards I can run the air filter for 4 hours and clear up the floating particles. Yay! for lung health.

The Awakening Earth

Now that I have the catchy title, I can explain what I mean by that. For anyone that knows me, this is an idea that I love to bring up during deep conversations. Now I present this idea to a wider audience. I do not think I am the first to suggest such an idea by any means. However, here I present my particular telling of the story.

It begins with EMERGENCE. What is emergence? Emergence is a new state of being that is more than the sum of the parts. Such as you. By you, I mean your consciousness. That part of you that feels most ‘you’ like, your thought patterns, your thinking, and your internal dialogue. Your consciousness is an emergent property of your nervous system. You are the “ghost in the machine”, something that which exists due to the collection of your parts (e.g. neurons), but cannot individually be found in those parts. This kind of emergence is the greatest and most mysterious phenomenon of the universe.

What does this have to do with the Earth? Well, let us now imagine something similar arising at a higher level. What if you and I, and everyone else on Earth, served as ‘neurons’ on a larger scale. Our collective thoughts, interactions, and complex interpersonal relationships would form some kind of network. A network not that dissimilar to the complex network in which neurons interact within your brain. This inter-global network of interactions and relationships between people may act like a kind of global brain.

If this idea of a global ‘brain’ is true, then how does it ‘think’? It’s a hard question to answer from our perspective. Much as if an individual neuron questioned how your collective  consciousness thinks. In fact, I doubt that we, as collective members of the network, are able to even perceive the existence of a higher emergent consciousness. We can see the network connections, we can see where communication and messages travel and interact, but we cannot see the overall ‘whole’ at once. It is beyond us. Much like a single neuron in our brains cannot “see” the overall consciousness beyond its limited signal inputs and direct connections.

So, so far, I’ve argued that people on Earth form a collective network that may serve as a higher level emergent consciousness. Now I want to talk about time scales. It takes about 1 millisecond (that’s 0.001 seconds) for a neuron in your brain to send a signal to another neuron somewhere else. You might say that the “speed” of communication is on the order of milliseconds. I’d also argue that the “speed” of thought for human consciousness is on the order of seconds. It typically takes me a second or two to form a complete thought in my mind. Based on this analogy, it takes about 1000x longer for the emergent consciousness (e.g. me) to “think” compared to the timescale it takes for the underlying parts (e.g my neurons) to send messages among themselves. Additionally, it takes seconds (or even longer) to share those ideas and thoughts with others, and perhaps hours or days to actually act on those thoughts and ideas.

Therefore, if there was a collective, emergent consciousness formed by the collective interaction of humans on Earth, it might be fair to assume that this emerging consciousness “thinks” on a much slower timescale that we do. If we can communicate among ourselves on the order of seconds, this Earth consciousness might “think” on the order of hours, or even days. In fact, I’d probably take months or years for this collective consciousness of Earth to even act on its “thoughts”. Such a long timescale for a consciousness is hard to comprehend.

So, if this emergent Earth consciousness exists, when did it come to be? Another complex question, as its hard to define when any consciousness truly exists. There is no definitive line that is crossed. However, I do believe that the Earth consciousness has been developing for quite some time. Think of the advances in human technology that greatly enhanced our ability to communicate across the globe. Telegraph cables laid in the 1800’s were the early development of this global consciousness structure. Then telephone communications enhanced it even farther. The internet, however, was the greatest advance in the global communication network. I believe that the maturing internet is the great turning point in the development of the global consciousness. Cell-phone communications also greatly increases the point-to-point communication between individuals across the globe. Now, any two points across the globe can theoretically communicate and interact.

This vast network between human beings is far more complex and interactive than the connections of neurons in your brain. Perhaps, much like the network of your brain has resulted in the emergent consciousness that is you, our collective interaction has resulted in an emerging consciousness that spans the Earth. The Earth is awakening.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the possibility of a global emergent consciousness. Please SHARE if you find this as fascinating as I do.

Hand Planes

So far, I’ve been sticking with machine-based woodworking and only occasionally reaching for my cheap chisels to touch up a bad edge. I have recently been thinking about trying out some traditional, hand-tool woodworking. There is nothing smoother than a hand-planed surface. So I needed to get some hand-planes.

I headed over to the local antique mall and snooped around. Unfortunately, I only found two usable hand-planes: a beat-up smoothing plane and a small rabbet plane.

The smoothing plane is a Miller Falls no9 (circa 1941). However, it seems like the woodworker who last used had to replace some parts with Craftsman replacement parts (circa early 1950’s). Overall, the mixed parts seemed like they’d work together and everything I needed was there.

The rabbet plane is quite beat up. It appears to be a Sargent rabbet plane (circa 1940’s). It may be missing a the guide-bar making it most useful for cutting rabbets, but it does have the depth guide, so it’s not completely useless.

I took the planes apart and threw them into a bucket of white vinegar to soak overnight. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of rust on them. So I tried WD Rust Remover with more success. After 24-hours soaking in the solution, the tools began to shine.

Both planes are usable after a good sharpening of the blades.

While I was working on restoring the two hand-planes I had found, I had also begun shopping online (ebay) to see if anyone had some good restored planes that were already ready to be used.

Luckily I had come across Mark Nickel’s page, where he had professionally restored a number of hand-planes. His website (https://www.plane-dealer.com/) is a great resource for restoring these tools. I order a couple hand-planes from Mark to round out my collection. He even included a copy of his booklet on restoring and maintaining these tools.

I added a Sargent no 414 Jack Plane (1940’s), a Stanley no4 smoothing plane ((1942-1945), and a small Stanley no9 1/4 (1940’s) block plane. With these beauties, I’m ready for a glass-like finish on my pieces.

Workshop Layout

My workshop was now insulated and with my new infared heater, I was ready to do some work during the cold season.

After the insulation work was finished, I began laying out the furniture I already had to create some of the workspaces and flows that I had envisioned.

My first addition to this new space needed to be some storage cabinets. I threw together a quick carcass for a wall cabinet and threw it on the wall with some french cleats. The carcass was just scrap pieces of plywood.

Now things were starting to look a bit more organized. At least, I had some open surfaces to use again. My next project was a lumber rack. I wanted an out-of-way space to put all my long boards and nice pieces of lumber.

I threw together these racks over one day using 2x4s and simple cantilevers to hold the racks to the wall studs. My next project was to take an old shelf and turn it into some more useful storage.

I didn’t like the open shelves. They tended to invite sawdust to gather on anything stored on them. I decided to add some drawers to one side and a cabinet to the other. I added back panels to the shelf and some sides and a middle wall for the drawers. While working on the drawers, I also finally added the doors to my upper cabinets.

The drawers were made mostly out of 3/4″ plywood. The handles are traditional craftsman-style pulls made on my router and tablesaw. They look pretty worn and crappy, mostly because I used cheap pine and allowed the end-piece to be composed of end-grain. But at least they are functional and gave me a chance to practice the technique.

Already my workshop was beginning to look a lot better. I added cabinet doors to the other side and the whole piece was near complete.

Now my workshop was really taking shape.

Workshop Insulation

I knew winter was going to make wood-working difficult for me. I wasn’t willing to take a break for the winter, especially since Minnesota winters are about 6 months of the year. I decided the best way to extend my working hours would be to insulate my old garage.

So, I ordered all the supplies I needed and crammed them into my garage as rain and snow began to threaten the project. Space was very limited, so there was a lot of shuffling to get everything where it needed to go.

I used cheap OSB boards for the walls and ceiling panels, with R13 fiberglass insulation between the studs. I had to fill in numerous gaps in the walls and ensure everything had a nice seal where possible.

In the end, it was a great success. Now equipped with a small space heater and an infared heater, the place stays a comfortable 30+ degrees. More importantly, it keeps out the cold wind. I have to wear a coat, hat, and sometimes gloves, but I at least still get to work in the workshop during the cold season.

Now I could start putting together the layout for my workshop.

A Place to Sit and Plan

I decided I was moving my woodworking into the garage and desired to make that space into a full-fledged workshop. However, there were still a number of issues that I needed to sort out.

However, as I was standing in that space, trying to make plans, I decided I’d rather be sitting and planning. So, I looked online for a quick plan to make me a shop stool. I eventually chose to use Steve Ramsey’s shop stool plan, since it seemed easy enough and I already had all the parts.

This project took just a couple hours, and gave me plenty of time to think about other plans for my workshop.

Now with somewhere to sit, I began to draw up plans for my workshop. I laid out where I thought each piece of furniture should go and how it would improve my process flow.

I was working with an 11′ by 22′ garage. There were already very useful storage shelves at the back of the garage. Also, some not so good, temporary shelves along the walls.

I knew I would need to build lots of shop furniture to make the most of the space. That part I was greatly looking forward to. However, I would also have to deal with the biggest threat to my woodworking: the Minnesota winter.

Table Saw Cart

I began to notice that my tablesaw was leaving large piles of saw dust beneath it, even when the dust collection tubes were firmly attached. I also hated trying to haul the thing around on its metal stand.

I decided to build a mobile table saw cart to deal with both of these problems. I didn’t have any plans for the project. It was the first project where I just started throwing things together and working things out as I went. It’s not the best way to build things, but it was nice to be able to explore and see what I had learned over the past few months.

The initial carcass came together quickly with 2x4s. I then began to imagine a slick chute for the sawdust to fall down into with a drawer to collect it. So I put together a chute system, using hardboard as a perfect surface to guide the sawdust down into the drawer.

The only down side to this construction, was that the chute supports would sometimes collect sawdust piles on them, but I was okay with that.

The finished piece works great. Especially with my old miter saw station as an out-feed table.

The drawer does its job, and I can empty it out whenever I choose, without worrying about a pile of sawdust growing on the floor.

I have found that the only down-side to this cart is the casters I chose. They don’t lock quite as well as I like and my uneven floor can sometimes make the cart rock during cuts. Not only does that lead to bad cuts, it also could be quite dangerous. I expect to switch the casters out for some fold-down legs, especially since the cart has become somewhat less mobile as I move my cutting operations into the garage.

The Shed

With fall and winter approaching, I knew I would need more space in the garage. My current wood-working operation was mostly done out in the driveway, where the breeze would handle the dust and sawdust could fly where it pleased.

In order to move into the garage, I would have to move some of our storage out of that space. I decided that I could build a shed on the edge of the driveway to act as storage for our summer items like gardening supplies and our bicycles.

I had never built anything before, so I expected this to be a difficult project. In a strange throwback to Thoreau and Walden, I really wanted to build this shed completely by myself.

I look online at various plans and figured out what I would need to build the structure. I settled on a plan I found at construct101.com

I set up the floor using 2x6s and 3/4″ plywood and began to put up the 2×4 frames.

Then the rest of the walls came up and header was made for the wide door.

Then the roof rafters were nailed into place. The 18 deg bevels ensured a smooth resting point.

I then painted the plywood walls and put up the back walls.

Then the other walls began to come up. Next, was the white-painted trim.

After the roof was somewhat assembled, the interior still showed some gaps, likely due to some poor measurements on my part. So I decided to add some additional trim pieces to close the gaps.

The roof was sealed tight and all the trim was set. The doorway was looking nice.

Now I just needed to finish the rest of the trim work.

I then put on the roof felting and overlaped the roof tiles. Unfortunately, I ran out of shingles and had to put the rest on hold for a couple days.

Next, I put together the doors. I then realized that the door frames were made with 2×4’s, but the door trim was made with 1×4’s.

So, I added some additional 1×4 scraps to ensure the hinges would align nicely. With a few pieces of hardware, the outside of the shed was finished. I don’t like that the doors are a bit twisted, so the doors don’t close very flush. However, I suppose I could reinforce in the future.

As a final touch, I added a shelf on the left side with all the 2×4 scraps to hold my garden pots and soil. I created custom bike racks to allow the bikes to hang vertically, maximizing the available space. Now there was plenty of room for my bike trailer.

Garden (2019): Expansion

It was March and we still had snow on the ground. I was very eager to start the new gardening season. I had lots of plans and more designs I wanted to execute.

Over the Winter, I had set up a small growing area with some LED lights. It provided us with fresh greens and herbs throughout the winter. I added an auto-watering system, making the whole set-up almost self-sufficient.

April

It was a colder and harsher April in 2019 compared to the previous year. I was quite eager to get started, but there was nothing to do yet while the ground was hard. I did enjoy watching the star magnolia tree blossom.

May

Two weeks later and it was a different world. All the tulips, daffodils, and crocuses I planted last fall were popping up. My wife and I prepared for our annual Kentucky Derby party. Spring had finally sprung.

June

This year I was working towards adding garden infrastructure. I added some trellises (thanks to my new woodworking hobby). I added a bunch more plants to fill in gaps. We added some beautiful flagstone paths to the south-side garden and put in a bunch of perennial flowers and bushes. The Russian comfrey plants were the star of the show, with their large soft-textured leaves and beautiful compact violet flowers.

July

August

August was bringing in beautiful summer flowers for us to enjoy. Our house was full of vases with clippings.

September

Unfortunately, I had to remove the fruit trees I had planted the previous year. I had learned the hard way about ensuring winter critters are unable to chew up the bark of the young trees. So, I put in two new apple trees on the back end of the yard near the garage, along with more perennials, forming a nice flower bed. I decided to forgo putting in new pear trees for now. One of the spots I had chosen didn’t quite get as much sun as I had predicted.