Friday, 12 June 2015

Dear, It Followed Me Home. Can I Keep It?...

Last spring, while out walking the dog, I came across a real find sitting at the side of the road waiting for the garbage truck to haul it away. It was a small workbench made in the 1950's, with a vise attached and all. It was a tad rough, but beggars can't be choosers, so I carried it home. The dog was no damn help at all with this, by the way.

While carrying it home, I took a break at the halfway point and used my phone to take this...


Ok, a Moxon it isn't, but I thought it was just the ticket as my outdoor workbench. I had to stiffen it up a bit, which I did using pressure treated lumber left over from when I built our deck. I was still pretty light, so I screwed it down to the deck's floor. It wasn't perfect, but it was usable.

I also had to rebuild the vise. The screw was fine, but the round wood guides had pretty much worn away. I replaced the guides with 1" hard maple dowels, but not long after I had a devil of a time getting the thing to open. It had rained and the dowels had swelled. I finally got the thing apart and replaced the dowels with copper pipe, which, of course, never swelled. The problem was, the pipe was a hair smaller in diameter than the dowels they replaced, so the vise acted sloppy from that day on. I also moved the vise to the right end of the bench and back again - twice. I couldn't figure out which setup I liked better.

The bench top was a full 20" wide, but only 10" was usable as a worktop. The front half was made from a 2" x 10" hunk of Douglas Fir, but the back half was only 1" x 10" pine, dropped so the area could be used as a tool tray. I hated it, truly hated it.

The other problem I had with it was the top's overhang. There was a full 10" of overhang on both ends, so I couldn't use them. As soon as I started wailing away on anything close to the ends of the top, the material would bounce around like crazy.

So I have started to modify the old girl...


I used 2" x 10" construction grade lumber for the new top, which means it is either Fir, Pine or Spruce. I cut everything to length and then applied Thompson Water Sealer to all the hidden surfaces. With a bead of construction adhesive on the mating surfaces, I screwed down the first layer using 2½" screws. I then gave all their top faces a second coat of Thompson. When that had dried, I laid down a second layer of timber, also using construction adhesive, but this time using 3½" screws. Once things were set, I laid out the holes along the length of the top and face, putting a dog-hole every 6". Because I staggered the joints in the different layers, I couldn't space the rows out evenly, but I did get five rows in the top and three in the front.

With the dog-holes drilled, I went ahead and flattened the top...

I started flattening with a Stanley #5 that has a
cambered blade. Note the gap. When I installed
the top layer of timber, I used clamps to draw
the pieces together so there were no gaps. I let
it sit with the clamps on for 24 hours, then
removed them and let it sit for another 24
hours. When I returned to it to start planing,
a ¼" wide gap had opened up on one end.
Bugger!
I then went at it with a Stanley #8, starting at an
angle of 45°, then from the opposing 45°, then
along its length to get it flat.
I then finished off by going over the whole thing again with
a Stanley #4.
Once I had the top flat, I chamfered all the holes using an 82° countersink bit that I got from Lee Valley. I can't praise this bit enough as it refuses to bounce or produce tear-out. Brilliant for a countersink bit chucked into a hand drill.

Originally, I planed to just use more Thompson Water Sealer on the top, but that would be too easy and wouldn't look as nice. Instead I mixed up a 50/50 mixture of Spar Varathane and thinners, then tossed in a couple of shots of dark walnut stain. I applied four coats of this, letting the wood soak up every drop, then I gave it four more coats of clear Spar Varathane as it came out of the can.

I had a hell of a time trying to coat the insides of each dog-hole, and failed miserably. The first time I tried the bench out I had a hell of a time getting the hold-down to drop into the holes as they were all swollen. I have an idea how I can correct this. I'm going to re-drill each hole, and before I move on to the next one, I'm going to run through a 1" spiral cleaning brush that has been soaking in the wood sealer. I'll give it a couple of coats and that should limit the amount of swelling, or at least I hope so.

My next attack on this bench is to add a serious set of legs to the right end of it using some railway tie timber I salvaged. It should add some serious weight to this bench and once in, I'll be able to use it to hold a leg vise that I plan to cobble together.

Peace,

Mitchell

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Two Chairs Walked Into A Bar...

A few years ago, travelling through one of the better neighbourhoods of Toronto, I came across a couple of teak patio arm chairs sitting on top of a pile of garbage at the side of the road. A short while later, they were sitting in my backyard. I scooped them up for a couple of reasons. First, their design was one I have admired for years, but couldn't rationalize the expense. Back in the early 80's, when I first discovered this style of chair, they ran about $500 a pop. Also, I have an affinity for teak, so I just couldn't see these two chairs end up as landfill.

This is one of the chairs as it was when it arrived home...

This is one of a pair of poor, old Teak
chairs that someone had chucked
to the curb.

Teak has dropped a bit in price over the years, mainly because a lot of the teak on the market today isn't really teak at all. Their are a few species of wood that share some of the same properties as teak, so they have taken over much of the market because true teak, often called "Burmese Teak", is environmentally protected. If the Teak you buy today is truly Teak, you can pretty much count on it originating from a Teak Plantation located in either Indonesia or India. There isn't really anything wrong with plantation grown Teak as far as its properties go as they are about the same as old-growth Teak, but it doesn't have the same grain structure or colour.

My affinity for Teak came about while I was rebuilding my 1968 40' cruiser back in the early 90's. The boat came out of the factory with plywood decks coated with fibreglass, all painted white and I hated them. I wanted something a little more "nautical" looking so I went with Burmese Teak, which sold for $35 a board foot back then. Between the ⅜" thick Teak deck boards, the 1" thick covering boards and the caulking to fill them all in-between, I think the upgrade cost me about $3-grand, but it was worth every penny.

This is a shot from the flying bridge of my Teak decks on the
bow of the boat. The Teak decks were framed with mahogany
boards and toe-rails, as well as mahogany king boards down
the centreline. The shot also shows the custom dual-anchor,
Teak-covered pulpit I added, as well. The boat was
redesigned and rebuilt to head south.
This is the transom of the boat. What you see stained red is
mahogany, and what is light-brown is teak. The Teak swim
platform was original equipment, although I did have
to rebuild it. The Teak covering boards I mentioned
in the article are the narrow strips of deck around
the cockpit. The custom table is mahogany.
The reason Teak is an excellent boat-building and outdoor furniture material is that it is light, strong, durable and rot, fungi and mildew resistant. Those strong plus don't come cheap, however, as Teak has some downsides. Teak's durability comes from the fact that it is loaded with silica, which plays royal hell with any sharp edge that comes near it. Its rot resistance comes from the fact that it is loaded with its own natural oil, which makes it very, very difficult to keep finishes on it for any length of time. 


If you live in the sunny south, you can leave the Teak unfinished and it will turn a beautiful light silver colour and the only touch-up required is regular wash-downs with salt water. Here in Ontario, we have humid summers and damned cold winters, buckets full of acid rain and a lack of salt water for washing, so our unfinished Teak turns a rather unattractive blah-grey. To put some life in your Teak, you can use specially developed coatings, such as Cetol, or use standard Spar Varnish, or, G_d forbid, Teak Oil. At first, I went the Teak Oil route, not knowing any better. It was a huge amount of work for a very short return. To apply Teak Oil properly, you have to brush on multiple coats, sanding each coat into the grain using progressively finer grits of sandpaper with each one. The excess oil and wood dust is also a royal mess to clean up between each coat. It took a week to oil my decks and when they were done, they were bloody gorgeous, but they turned right shabby-looking within a couple of months and I couldn't face doing them again so soon. I then stripped out the oil with solvents and went at them with varnish. After about four months, there was a number of areas that were showing the varnish lifting, especially in the corners and while I could have repaired it, it would take a week to do, as, with Spar Varnish, you can only lay down one coat a day. Finally, I settled on the Cetol, using the matte for the decks and the gloss for the covering boards. I had to redo them every spring and fall, but that involved only a quick sand and re-coating, a one day job. (Just a note here on the gloss finish Cetol. To get good results, you need to lay down a couple of coats of matte, then a few coats of gloss. No matte - no gloss.)

Ok, back to the chairs.

There were two things wrong with these chairs. The first was that the original finish hadn't been touched since they left the factory, and it was totally gone. I didn't like the blah-grey it was wearing so a full sanding was in order. It also had an original design flaw. The design had a metal bar running through all the slats in the back and seat with its ends running in a track routed into each rear leg. This was to allow the chair to fold. The problem was, there was nothing to hold the legs together at the required distance and as a result, the bar wouldn't stay in its routed tracks. When you sat in the chair, it would rather unceremoniously collapse.

In the left photo you can see the track the bar was supposed
to run in. In the right photo you can see that the plan
didn't work - at all.
To start, I drilled out all of the "pins" that helped hold all the parts together and broke the chair down to its 37 pieces. I then scraped what I could with a card scraper and sanded the rest. I didn't want to try and go down to completely fresh faces, but just enough to give a clean display of the wood's grain, but retain some of its patina and bruises.
A card scraper quickly cleaned up the surfaces, although
it did require putting a hook back on it quite regularly.
It was better than sanding, however, as the natural
oil in the wood clogs the paper up even quicker.
Once I had the Teak cleaned up, I then wiped each piece down with acetone to remove any surface oil so the coating would stand a better chance of adhering. I used Spar Varathane for this job, although Spar Varnish would probably do just as well. "Spar" means that the product doesn't dry to the brittle coating that regular varnish or varathane becomes, allowing it to expand and contract with the wood in its outdoor environment. For the first four coats, I used a 50/50 mixture of varathane and thinner. This watery mixture has a better chance of soaking into the grain more, giving the finish coats a "tooth" to hang on to. Because of the heavy presence of thinner, each coat dried quite quickly and didn't require sanding before the next coat was applied, meaning I was able to apply two coats each day. Once a sheen started to show, I knew I needed to start sanding between each coat and thickening up the mixture. The fifth coat was mixed to 75% varathane and 25% thinner and the seventh and eighth coats went on right out of the can.

This shot shows four seat slats with progressively more coats
of the 50/50 mixture applied to them. The top slate has
received one coat, the second one down two,
the third one down has three coats on it and
the bottom one has received four.
Here are "The Boys" (the 14 bottom slats) hanging in a line
drying the second coat of 50/50.
Once all the pieces had eight coats on each, I sanded all the frame parts so they would be ready to receive a final coat once the chair was together and started assembly. I then widened the bar's track in each rear leg. The mortise and tenon joints were epoxied and pinned, using ¼" maple dowel.

This shot shows the pinning of the mortise and tenon joints,
along with the widened bar track.
I assembled the chair and turned my attention to the new plates I wanted to make for the bar. I purchased 2' of 3/16th brass plate which I cut into two plates. A duplicate of the rear legs' original slots was cut into each plate. I then drilled each for screws and countersunk the holes. 

This shot shows one of the new plates I made
and how the bar was held in place to keep the
legs at the required width to fold the chair.
The back and seat slats are interwove, so once I had them together I was able to measure their overall width. I cut the bar to a length that was 1" longer than the slats total width and drilled a small hole in each end to accept a cotter pin. With the bar passed through all the slats, I placed a plate over each end, then a flat washer, then held the whole thing together with a cotter pin at each end. Each plate was then screwed to the appropriate rear leg. This, I figured, would not only support the slats, but would hold the legs together at the required width and the washers and cotter pins would keep the bar ends running in the slots, allowing the chair to fold without the bar popping out. 

I folded up the chair and discovered it didn't work. Damn!

What I had failed to allow for was the amount of wood that was removed from each slat. Surprisingly, over the 27 slats it totalled just over an inch. By cutting the bar as much as I had, the set-up was pulling the legs together at the top, so the chair sat perfectly when opened, but when I tried to close it, the spreaders at the bottom of the legs held the legs apart 1" wider than the bar. Forcing it to close caused one of the washers to fold up around the bar and that end popped out of the track. All of this, however, told me I was on the right track and that the plates would work.

I bought a new bar, but a threaded one, along with a bunch of jam-nuts and washers. Once I had this bar in place, I centred it, then put a washer at each end and a pair of jam-nuts to hold the slats tightly together. The plates were then added, then another washer and two more jam-nuts at each end, these to hold the legs together at the same width as the spreader and to keep the bar in the slot. Folding the chair up this time worked perfectly.

This is the end result, a very nice looking chair that doesn't collapse when you sit in it.



I still have the second chair to do, as well as turn a Teak coffee table I just found into two footstools. I think this work can hold off until next summer. You don't want to rush these things, you know.

Peace,

Mitchell


Monday, 30 March 2015

Tools of the Trades Show - Spring 2015

I attended the Tools of the Trades Show in Pickering this past Sunday, after missing the last couple of shows. It was nice to get back into it. This was the first show put on by the show's new owner and I have to give the guy high marks for a job well done.

From my understanding, the show originated some years ago as the brain-child of a small group of guys who were involved in the vintage tool market in Canada as either dealers, collectors or both. Over time, the number of founding members dropped until it finally became the responsibility of one man who had far more on his plate than putting on two shows a year. He did well by it, always filling the room with tables and filling all those tables with tools, but I think he knew the show needed more attention than he had time for, so he finally sold it.

It appears the new owner of the show came out running right out of the box. There were a few new dealers there this time, ones that I have visited online before but not met in person. It was nice to put a face on a URL. It appeared to me that the new owner didn't loose any of the old presenters with the change in ownership, and that was a good thing as many of them are good at what they do. It was also nice to see Sauer & Steiner Toolworks back at the show again. They were missing from the last two shows I attended and nobody makes planes like them.

One major change in this spring's show was the lighting. I have been carrying a Mini Dynamo Flashlight for years now and it has been a lifesaver for me at times. For the first time I was able to keep it in my pocket throughout this show. I don't know if the Pickering Recreation Complex changed the lighting or the show's new owner paid extra to get them to turn the lights on, but wow, what a difference. 

As for purchases, all I can say is that I had a long list when I walked into the place and it wasn't much shorter when I left. As usual, I was looking for anything and everything made by H. E. Mitchell, but I was also looking for new sharpening stones, a cabinetmaker's hammer, a two-way hammer, a bullnose plane, a rabbet plane, a saw vise and an rough Stanley 220 plane to steal parts from so I could make a friend of mine's 220 usable. I walked out with the saw vise and a really rough looking Stanley 220.

The seller thought this was made by Disston
due to the "No. 104" in the casting. I don't
think so, though, as that number is the only
marking on it and I don't think Disston made
a vise with that designation. Also, the
marketing departments of big companies like
Disston would never let a product out its
doors without the company brand on it.

After walking through the door I made two complete circuits of the room and checked out what everyone had to determine what I was going to buy. On my first round I stopped at one dealer to check out a rather cool looking sharpening stone set-up, one with three stones attached to a rotating centre spline that kept the the unused stones submerged in an oil bath. I took the top off and set it down in front of me so I could see what was going on inside it, only to be suddenly scolded for getting oil all of the guy's display. I didn't think I had made a mess of things, but with my eyesight deficiency, I know that I have been known to miss the toilet bowl once or twice, if you know what I mean, so I just said "Sorry", and walked away.

I had picked out some definite purchases and a couple of maybes by the time I finished my second go-round so I got down to business. I headed to the booth were I saw the beefy saw vise shown in the photo above sitting on the floor beneath the table. The tag said it was 18-bucks so I handed the dealer a 20. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised when the guy stated that he didn't have any change. I thought was very odd for someone looking to sell a bunch of tools for cash over the next few hours. Even at $20, the vise was a steal as shipping alone, for something that heavy, would run $40 or more, so I told the guy to keep the 20. Two minutes later I was thinking, "Mitchell, you're such a schmuck."

Next, I hit three displays looking to buy the 220. The first two examples just struck me as being too good to use as donor, but the one at the third dealer was just right, including the price of $15 that I ended up paying.

That sharpening set-up was gnawing at me so I headed back to that dealer again as I felt it was just the ticket. I stood in front of the thing for awhile waiting for the dealer to come and talk to me about it but he seemed to ignore me. I ended up going at it a second time and the dealer's reaction to me was worse the second time than it was the first, but this time my wife was standing beside me and she was quick to tell me that there wasn't one drop of oil anywhere. As we walked away I remembered that a couple of years ago I got an odd reaction from this guy when I asked for his business card, so I wrote him off as being a royal asshole who should find himself a salesman/frontman if he wanted to sell in these venues.

Sadly, the guy had so royally pissed me off that I couldn't get back into buying mood again so we left, taking my unfulfilled shopping list with us. In the end, not only did the jerk loose a sale, but four other vendors also lost sales because of him.

No worries, though. Come October 4th of this year I'll be back at the fall Tools of the Trades Show and the only thing I will remember about this one bad dealer is to give his booth a huge margin when I pass it by.

Peace,

Mitchell


Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Bench By Any Other Name Is Still...

I spent a lot of time thinking about the type of bench I wanted to build. I read everything Christopher Schwarz wrote on the subject, I sent away for plans from different online sources that I thought might give me a greater insight into what would work for me and I wrote a great deal about the thoughts I had regarding my perfect bench here, on my blog. Rereading those posts was a real trip for me as some of my ideas were really out there.

In the end, though, all of it was for naught.

Back in 2002 my son was a budding chef who wanted to hone his skills by cooking up a storm, even at home. To make his life easier, he decided to build himself a cooking centre, an almost 5' long bench set to a height that was perfect for cooking, a good butcher block top and lots of storage for the tools of his trade below. That summer he came down to the marina where my wife and I were moored and he joined me in the yard to use my tools to get his bench built.

This is what he came up with...

I had started tearing the chef's bench down before I realized
I should take a photo of it. The hole at the top-left in the
photo was filled with a drawer that matched the one
on the right which, at the time I shot this photo,
was in pieces.

Less than a year later, he was taking his first step up the career ladder and onto a rung that happened to be in Scottsdale, Arizona. His moving budget was limited, as was the size of his new abode, so he had to find a place to store his cooking bench. Naturally, his old man supplied the answer and my wife and I have been dragging his build around with us ever since. 

While we were on the boat the bench sat in storage. In our first residence, after we moved back to dry land, I set the butcher block top up to slide in and out, doing so without having to screw anything to it, and we used it as a breakfast counter in the kitchen. In our second residence, it served as a sideboard in my office and it held a lot of my junk. In our current residence, it again sat in my office and I stored a good portion of my tool collection in it.

I have been messing around with a remake of the tool cabinet I made over ten years ago and by the beginning of last summer I realized that no matter what I did, it was never going to hold my entire collection. I realized something had to be done and decided that maybe my son's chef's bench might be the answer. 

The bench had a lot of pluses going for it when it came to doing a remake of it. First and foremost, the results would be a father/son collaboration, even though the individual participation would be over a decade apart. Added to that is the fact that the bench is built like a Sherman Tank and with a base that is 51" long, it would hold far more tools than my cabinet's 36" wide base could ever hold. It took me a while to build up the nerve to ask, but ask I finally did and I was surprised at my son's reaction. Either my son had no intention of ever wanting the thing back again, or he too liked the idea of the father/son collaboration. For whatever reason, he was quick to accept it.

Hauling the thing out to the patio this past summer, I went to work modifying it. This is the results...


The first thing I had to attack was its height. My ideal height for a workbench is 30" while a chef's work height is 36". To bring the top down, I cut 1" off each of the legs and cut 7½" off the top edge of the carcass. This brought the height down to 27½". I will be adding levelling feet to the bottom of each leg, so that will bring the height up to 28½". I added a structural frame inside and flush with the top edge and a set-back frame to support the top. This set-back frame adds the remaining 1½" needed to bring the overall height to the required 30".

The structural frame...


To install this frame, I cut 8" off the tops of the birch plywood sides and back panels and 7½" off the tops of the eight legs. I then built a 2" x 4" poplar frame with pegged corners that was rabbeted out to fit inside the carcass and rest on the top and back panels and fit around the protruding leg tops. I cut a matched pair of rabbets in the frame and the carcass' centre panels to tie them together. The frame was then glued into place and screwed around the edges, as shown in the photo. I think this will give the already solid structure an even better chance of withstanding the lateral pressures workbenches have to endure.

I then built the set-back frame...



I made the set-back frame out of 1½" x 1½" poplar, pegged at the corners, to use to attach the butcher-block top. I made this frame 3" narrower and 3" shorter than the outer dimensions of the structure frame for two reasons. First, this 1½" set-back all-round will allow clamps to reach further back into the bench for glue-ups and holding stock. Secondly, it gives a break between the top's edge and the top drawers so I will have room to remove tools from those drawers as well as helping me see into the back of them. The top overhangs the carcass by 2" in front and I am using full-extension and self-closing drawer slides, so with the additional 1½" spacing, I should have full access to all the top drawers. To allow the top to be removable, I used six ¼" machine bolts screwed up through the structure frame and into T-nuts mounted in the set-back frame.

The bench will have 21 drawers by the time it is completed, then the whole thing will be covered in maple veneer. So far I have only the three top drawers made and installed as I have been held up going further because I am currently making my wife happy with a redecoration of the entire house. I will blog more about the making of the drawers once the job at hand is completed. If you are married, you will know that we have to stop what we want to do and do our wives' bidding if we ever want sex again in this lifetime, so bare with me on this.

Along with the 21 drawers, I will also be making a new top section to hold planes and saws, as well as some of those tools that I really enjoy looking at. To make the whole thing workable until this is done, I cut the top storage panels from my old cabinet and set them up on the new. Currently, this is what I am working with...


Peace,

Mitchell

Friday, 14 November 2014

I Just Can't Leave Things Alone...

I'm a few days late getting this article posted but as my old man used to say when he was in the same pickle, "Better late than never".

This article is about how I ended up correcting a 70-year old mistake on my uncle's army service records. I put it together for publication in our local newspaper as an interest piece for their Remembrance Day edition. While they rewrote it, which is fine, it made my day to see his story get out in front of the public. There are so many men in all our histories who died believing they were doing what was right. Sadly, while we have all benefited from their ultimate sacrifice, most are diminished to a vague memory that is conjured up on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month every year. We owe them far more than that.

Lest we forget.
Correcting a 70-Year Old Mistake
William James Andrew Mitchell
Dec. 1942
The following article is about a local boy who never came home from the war and how his nephew, who he never met, corrected a mistake in his records 70-years after it was made.
William James Andrew Mitchell was born on October 4, 1916 in Peterborough, but at the time he enlisted in the Canadian Army, his had moved to the newly created corner of Ivan Road and Meadowvale Gardens in Highland Creek. The family lived in a small cottage his father had built on a double lot just after their purchase in the spring of 1934. Because of the size of the property, the family was able to augment their income by everyone pitching in to raise chickens and grow fruits and vegetables. Billy, as his father called him, had graduated that same year with a motor mechanics certificate and that fall he started working as a mechanic at Leno’s Garage, the only auto repair shop in the village.
Billy's father, William, or Will as he was known in the family, had firsthand experience in war, having served with distinction during WWI in France. Even though he had returned to active duty in 1940 as an instructor at #20 Basic Training Camp in Brampton, he didn't want his oldest son to have to witness what he did (by the end of the war, the senior Mitchell held the rank of Company Sergeant Major and was the camp's administrator). Against his father's wishes, Billy finally enlisted in the Canadian Army on July 16, 1941.
Billy spent the first 17-months of his service being kicked around Canada and then spent another 19-months doing the same in England. Over those 3-years, he was transferred 20 times, a result of him being shipped wherever and whenever his skills as a motor mechanic were needed. During that time he participate in numerous Driver and Motor Mechanic training courses, eventually earning the army’s highest trade classification for both, as well as their accompanying pay hikes. When his nephew reviewed his service record for the first time, he noticed that his uncle had also participated in an unusually high number of courses in Rifle Training, Bren Gun Training and Combat Techniques, far more than his nephew had seen in the other service records he had reviewed. When Billy finally arrived at the front in France on July 3, 1944, he was a well-trained motor mechanic with a high level of combat skills. The unit he was attached to, however, saw him differently.
Billy had been transferred to The South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR), a regiment that had the sad distinction of having one of the highest attrition rates in the Canadian military. The SSR were part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division who were prominent in the allies' actions to push the enemy westward. To them, Billy was what they needed most; a highly trained soldier who could, in a pinch, fix any vehicle they might have a problem with. In other words, Billy, who was then a few months shy of his 28 birthday, was suddenly “regular army”.
Within a month of joining the SSR, Billy had been promoted to Acting Lance Corporal. The day after that promotion, he also earned himself a Military Medal. The Military Medal Citation states that while on patrol, Billy came across another SSR patrol that was pinned down by an enemy machine gun nest. Realizing the precarious position the other patrol was in, his first action was to divert the enemy’s fire away from the pinned patrol and onto himself, getting himself wounded in the process. Wound or not, he then went “forward toward the machine gun post and, firing his weapon from the hip, destroyed the post”. The weapon Billy was doing his James Cagney impersonation with was a Bren Gun, a 10.5kg (23lb) gas operated machine gun that spewed 600 to 800 rounds per minute and is believed to be Billy's weapon of choice.
Ten days later, Billy was promoted to Acting Lance Sergeant and six days after that, Billy was “killed in action”. He was still two days shy of his 28th birthday.
Billy's parents were devastated by his death. Because Billy didn't want his mother to worry, he never told his parents he was in the thick of it as "regular army". As far as his parents knew, Billy was behind the line doing what they thought he did best; fixing machinery. Because he wasn't a commissioned officer, there was no record regarding the circumstances of his death so they didn't have a clue what happened to him. Thankfully, once the war was over, one of Billy's mates came to their rescue.
Joseph Potash was an American citizen living in New Jersey when the war broke out and he wasn’t pleased that the United States didn't declare war on Germany right away. His answer to this was to head north and sign up with the Canadian Army. He and Billy had met originally in England during Billy’s brief attachment to Joe's unit, the 2nd Heavy Anti Aircraft Artillery Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. Although Billy was soon transferred out of the 2nd, they never lost touch with each other. Both were finally transferred to the front within days of each other and once in the thick of it, they saw each other often as the 2nd Heavy Anti Aircraft Artillery Regiment was the outfit that gave The South Saskatchewan Regiment their artillery support.
Not long after the war was over, Joe bundled his young family into the car and they headed north to visit with Billy's parents. During their first meeting he related to them what he had been told about how Billy died. As an Acting Lance Sergeant, Billy was leading multiple reconnaissance patrols on a daily basis. On the evening of October 3, 1944, he lead a patrol of 12 men out to look for enemy patrols, stragglers and snipers in and around their location at Camp de Brasschaet, Belgium. Upon returning to their line, it was discovered that they were one man short. After Billy had submitted his patrol report, he asked for and received permission to retrace the patrol's course alone to see if he could locate his missing man. While doing so, Billy mistakenly entered an area that hadn’t previously been swept and stepped on a land mine. On October 4, 1944, a patrol found his body, an unnecessary death as that same morning, the missing man found his line.
When Billy's nephew viewed his records for the first time, he realized his uncle wasn't getting the recognition he deserved. Every database his nephew had accessed to find information about Billy had his rank listed as “Lance Corporal”, yet the last two entries on his service records stated differently. The second last entry in his uncle's service records listed his promotion to Acting Lance Sergeant and the last one stated, “Killed in action”. There was no entry that demoted his uncle back to Lance Corporal and because of the army's unwritten rule that a soldier retains the rank he held at the time of his death, his nephew knew that the rank his uncle had been remembered with over the last 70-years was just...wrong.
The issue of the incorrect rank bothered Billy's nephew for a few reasons. 
If his uncle was a Lance Corporal, then when that patrol returned to their line, he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave again to try and locate a missing soldier. Instead, as a Lance Corporal, it would have been more likely that he would have been ordered to get some sleep. 
Then there was the reality of what an "Acting" promotion really is. While there are a few reasons why a soldier would be given an "Acting" promotion rather than a full one, the most common reason was to use it to test a man’s moxie, to see what he is made of and whether or not he can handle the responsibilities of the rank. When Billy got that last promotion, he wasn't handed the two extra chevrons for his sleeve that denoted his new rank, nor did he get the higher pay rate and the few other minor benefits that came with it. What he got was the responsibilities of the rank and nothing more. 
When Billy's nephew put together everything he had discovered he quickly realized that Billy was killed in action because he chose to fulfill the responsibilities of his temporary rank to the best of his abilities, yet for the past 70-years, he wasn't being remembered with the rank that gave him those responsibilities in the first place. 
The definition of an "Acting" promotion also explained why Billy's rank was incorrect. When his body was recovered, Billy was still wearing the rank insignia of Lance Corporal, a single chevron. Given that the soldiers who had the gruesome task of collected the war dead weren't the ones who fought beside Billy, they wouldn't have known about his new "Acting" rank, so they used the rank they saw when recording his death. What surprised Billy's nephew most is that his grandfather didn't spot this mistake and fix it then. 
Armed with what he knew, Billy's nephew wrote the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Library and Archives Canada and a few other departments explaining the mistake he had discovered and why he felt it should be corrected. They all replied within months and before long the databases’ listings started to change, displaying Billy’s rightful rank. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission even went one step further by first having Billy’s gravestone inspected to see if the correction in rank could be done on it and finding that impossible, they committed to installing a duplicate gravestone, but one with the correct rank as soon as possible. 
So as it stands now, from this time onward, Billy will be remembered as Acting Lance Sergeant William James Andrew Mitchell MM. If those who come across his listing take the time to understand what the information offered about him represents, they will gain a good understanding of who this man was and what he stood for.


This is the newspaper's version of the story...



Lest we forget.

Peace,

Mitchell

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Dressing Stock For Drawers...

Given that my son hasn't seen the light yet when it comes to working wood without horsepower, I decided to make him a little video to show him what he is missing.

Here I am taking ¾" thick recycled oak and planing it down to ½" to use as drawer sides using my Stanley No. 5 and No. 6. I have converted the No. 5 to a scrub plane by grinding an 8" radius at the cutting edge of the blade so it hogs material at a satisfying rate. The No. 6 is running a "stock" blade, but one that is bloody sharp.

Dressing one drawer side takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, but I have chopped that down to a less than 5 minute video. I hope you enjoy it...


Peace,

Mitchell

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Quick Portable Vise Update...

It has been a hell of a long summer for me this year. I had some health issues that laid me up pretty good these last six months so as a result, I did very little since my last post and the little that I did do, I didn't feel much like posting about it. Thankful, I'm up and at it again, feeling better than I have felt in a couple years so I hope to be making a lot of sawdust over the winter months to catch up on things. I still have to go through a couple of more procedures, but they will be like a walk in the park compared to what I have been through.

So without further adieu...

Tadda...


This, of course, is the portable vise I have been writing about for the past 10 months or so. I did finally get it all together and actually used it in ernest for the first time today. I can't believe the difference it makes - it is astonishing. It is surprising how little torque I have to give the handle to secure the board. When I first set up the ¾" x 2" x 22" hunk of oak you see pictured above, I tightened things up what I thought was needed and when I hit it with the plane, I realized that the centre of the board had bowed up off the vise. I backed the thread off 1½ turns and tried it again, expecting the board to shoot off the table but no, it held its position and suddenly hand-demensioning a board became a hell of a lot easier.

Some of the final steps I took with the vise was chamfering all the holes to reduce splitting when they were under stress, adding a sliding cover to the storage area at the back of the vise, scrapping the whole thing with a card scrapper and then coating the whole thing with a couple of coats of wax. Because it is so damned heavy, I also added a carrying handle on the right side, some of which can be seen in the close-up shot below. 



While this thing was far more work than I thought it would be, its performance under use is way beyond my expectations.

Peace,

Mitchell


Saturday, 5 April 2014

They Gave Plumbers Their Own Saws???

This ugly little brut is the latest addition to my H. E. Mitchell tool collection...


This saw is interesting on a couple of counts...

How I came by it is a story about the kindness of others...

A few years ago, after researching Henry Mitchell on Ancestry.com, I came to the conclusion that W. L. Goodman was a little off in his "British Planemakers from 1700", regarding when Henry started his own tool making business. Goodman had him listed as starting in 1855, but Henry was born in 1839, so at 16-years of age, even back then, Henry would have been too young to go off on his own. I believe he opened his first shop in 1866 or '67 in Eastbourne, Sussex, a business that went into bankruptcy in 1868.

I ended up contacting the group that took over the updating of Mr. Goodman's book and sent them off my research results and conclusions. Whether or not it was accepted or not, I don't know, but they did ask me to contact a Mr. Simon Barley, a noted saw expert in England, and offer him my same findings. I believe the reason for this was that Henry always advertised as "H. E. Mitchell - Saw Maker", even though he made a full array of jointing tools. Mr. Barley was receptive, said "thank you", I said, "your welcome", and that was the end of it, up until a couple of weeks ago.

Somehow, Mr. Barley remembered me when he came across this saw in his travels. While I think that is a bit astonishing in itself, he was also kind enough to contact me and offer me the saw for far less than a reasonable price, which I accepted. Within a few weeks, the saw was sitting on my doorstep. In this day and age, to me, that was truly impressive.

The saw, in itself, is an interesting one...

When I first viewed the photos of it that Mr. Barley sent me, I thought it was a "Pruner's Saw", but he explained that it was actually a "Plumber's Saw". Both edges of the blade are toothed, one at 12 teeth-per-inch and the other at 8. Neither run of them have much of a set to them, so I would class each as set for cross-cutting. While Pruning Saws are similar to this one, their course edges are set with 4 to 5 double-teeth per inch. On this one, Mr. Barley explained that the 8 tpi edge was for cutting wood while the 12 tpi one was for cutting lead pipe. Go figure! He also stated that the saw was produced around 1900.

Then there is the maker's mark...

This saw came with two maker's marks; the one I am interested in, being, "Mitchell - Brighton", and another, the Isle of Man coat of arms with the initials "J" and "T", the mark used by Joseph Tyzack & Son. What's up with that?


My first job with the saw was trying to figure out why it had the double maker's marks, hoping dearly that I wasn't going to put credence to the thought that was running around in the back of my head that ol' Henry was a bit of a rouge and wasn't beyond re-stamping someone else's work.

First I looked at the etchings themselves. They were obviously made from different transfers, as one was sharp and intricate while the other was course and uneven. They were, however, well aligned with each other and there was no evidence that the Mitchell mark covered up the usual "Joseph Tyzack & Son - Sheffield", which is commonly displayed with the Isle of Man coat of arms. I came to the conclusion that the saw came from Tyzack with just the coat of arms, which, after a little research, I discovered was odd.

I then looked for a medallion, but sadly, one wasn't used on this saw as the cheeks are too small. If it had a "Warranted Superior" medallion, then it would have been put together by Mitchell. If it had the Isle of Man coat of arms, it would have been a Tyzack tote. Not having a medallion wasn't going to help me, so I looked at the tote itself.

It is pretty hard to credit any given maker with a saw tote that is over 100-years old. They get beaten up, reshaped and replaced over the years, so who knows if this tote was even the original. What I did note, though, was that this tote was shaped along the lines of other Mitchell totes I had seen (most in pictures) and didn't appear anything like any of the Tyzack totes I had looked at. Tyzack totes have a very pronounced line where the bottom round-over of the grip meets the flat of the handle. Disston has that same line, but Mitchell totes are much softer, the line being far from pronounced. There are a lot of "W. Tyzack" saws out there, but one by Joseph are much rarer, so finding images of them to compare this tote to wasn't easy. The few that I did find though, had one major difference over the W. Tyzack totes, and that was how the clips were formed. J. Tyzack had softer clips while W. Tyzack kept a distinct flat on their face. Mitchell also uses a flat clip design, but his designs are also much finer. Mitchell liked to remove as much meat as possible from his totes and this one is no different, odd considering its use.

I then put this together with the information I had about H.E. Mitchell...

Mitchell converted his business, "H. E. Mitchell - Saw Maker" to "Henry Edward Mitchell & Co. Ltd., makers of iron furnishings for stores and offices. I can't figure out who ran this new corporation for him, but it might have been a son-in-law, as Henry, himself, wasn't involved in its day-to-day operation. Instead, Henry opened up a one-man saw shop in the back of his oldest son's grocery store in Howe. I think he did this because, while he saw the writing on the wall regarding the demise of the hand tool business, he didn't want to give up without a fight. It didn't last long, as he closed his little shop down towards the end of 1900 and retired to his country home, “Hatherley Villa”, in Keymer, a small town just north of Brighton.

My conclusion about this saw...

Looking at what evidence I had accumulated, I came to the conclusion that H. E. Mitchell "probably" filed the teeth of this saw on a blank he bought from J. Tyzack and Son, not an unheard of practice. I also think Mitchell made the tote, and to prove, probably more to himself than to his customer, that he was still in the game, he re-etched the saw with his own mark, but doing so in such a way as to suggest a "partnership" with Tyzack in the making of this saw.

That's my story about this saw, and one I'm going to stick to.
 
I have used terms about saw totes in this post that I didn't know without looking them up, so to save grief for any of you that are in the same boat I was in, I have made up an illustration that will give you the names of the basic parts of a saw tote.

Peace,

Mitchell

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Vise Head...

It seems like forever, but I am slowly getting this portable vise together. I just finished the head of the vise today...


I made the garter for the 1½" thread from some ⁵⁄₈" walnut and sunk it in the oak ³⁄₈", rounding over the edges of both just to soften up the look of the vise a bit.

Once I had the garter set, I rounded over the holes on the face for the two stabilizers so they matched. The two maple stabilizers had their outward ends rough-rounded and an ¹⁄₈" tapered slot cut into each, 1¹⁄₈" long and going with the grain. I then used a small gouge to cut slots along the grain all around the ends of the dowels so the glue would have something to grip.


After coating each end of the stabilizers with glue, I pushed them into place, leaving them a ¼" proud of the surface of the oak so they would match the protrusion of the garter. I coated the walnut wedge with glue and stuffed more of it down the slot and whacked each home with a mallet.


Once the glue set, I trimmed off the excess wedge and sanded the ends of the stabilizers smooth.

The handle is a hunk of ¾" maple dowel with ends made from black walnut. I drilled out the centres  of the ends with a ¾" forstner bit and cut their outer diameter round using a 1¼" plug cutter. The tops were then sanded so they have a slight crown and all the edges were rounded over. I then installed the dowel and glued the ends in place.


I currently have half the dovetails cut in the frame so, hopefully, within the week I should be showing off the finished vise. At least that is the plan.

Peace,

Mitchell

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

No Snickering - Thank You Very Much...


Okay, I admit it. I chickened out.

I glued a couple of pieces of scrap together and planned one edge down to a 14° angle to use as a saw fence to cut the pin slots for this sliding dovetail.

I just didn't want to take a chance and possibly screw up a lovely chunk of oak using a new technique, so I went with what I know...


They turned out pretty good, though, so I'm happy...


Peace,

Mitchell


Monday, 24 February 2014

Chiselling a Square Cut...

I had to trim the two ends of the centre stock for the portable vise and, frankly, I was a little worried about it. I'm just not very good at making square cuts with a saw. I'm sure it is an eyesight thing, and because I don't have any depth perception, it is damned near impossible to tell if the saw is at right-angles to the stock or not. I've tried different things to find a work-around, but I haven't been successful.

While checking out some woodworking videos on youTube the other day, I came across a post belonging to Paul Sellers, a woodworker in Wales, at least I think he is Wales. The post is "Part 3" of his, "How to build a workbench" and is titled, "Cross cutting the top", which seemed right up my alley at that moment. I watched the video and when it came time to bite the bullet and do the cuts, I decided to do it following Paul's instructions. It was a good decision

I marked out the cuts with a box cutter, fitted with an extra sharp blade. I then took a ¾" chisel and starting about ³⁄₈" on the waste side, I chopped out a bit so the wood angled into the knife-cut. I even went beyond his instructions and did the same to the ends that would face away from me while I worked the saw, but as it turned out, this second trough wasn't helpful to the saw, but it was for me. I could see it better than a line, so it helped me see where square was.

This is what the glue-up looked like when I was ready to take it outside and run a saw through it...


I have worked this trough-guide trick before, but only for short cuts. I do use a slight variation of it often for cutting dovetails, but I have never used in on a cut as long as this one or with stock as thick as this one. The theory behind it is that a saw is like electricity or water; it likes to take the path of least resistance. The saw will tend to follow the square cheek that the knife cut and if it decides to wander, it will be more likely to wander away from the perpendicular-cut wall. This is where the ramp that you cut with the chisel comes into play, as its angle will try to force the saw back against the square face, which just happens to be the line you want the saw to follow.

With this cut, though, Paul's instructions were a little different from what I was used to. What he suggests is that you follow the knife-line across the top of the cut, but angle the cut away from plumb across the bottom, leaving a little material on the waste side of the line. I used an old Diston full-sized crosscut and made the cut.

Once the waste was gone, I stood the block up on its end and using a Veritas Low Angled Jack, I  planned away the waste down to the line, doing so halfway across from one side, and then turning the stock around and finishing it off from the other.

I have to admit, Paul's instructions make cutting a very square end to a very big board very easy.


I was so impressed with the results, I decided to use the same process to cut a sliding dovetail in the side rails of the frame...


I'll let you know how I make out.

Peace,

Mitchell


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Sometimes I'm Just Not In The Mood For A Little Tail...

I was just getting ready to layout the tails for the dovetail joints in each corner of the frame for the portable vise, but as I started to set up the dividers to mark-out some really cool, thin-tailed doves, a thought hit me that maybe what I had in mind was not the best way to go for something like this.

I am so enthralled with dovetail joints, I didn't even think about it. I just started to go at them with my only thought being how they would look, not how they would perform. I decided to hold off for a bit and take a serious look at what this type of joint is all about.

The first item on my new agenda was to create a couple of dovetail illustrations in different styles so I had some visuals to ponder.

The first illustration I created was the dovetail joint I was planning to use, one with thin pins...


I then created a dovetail joint with equal sized tails and pins so I could see the difference...


With my illustrations in front of me, I sat back and tried to remember the different points about them that I had read in the past.

The most common praise for dovetail joints that I remembered was about their ability to deal with wood movement. I came to my first conclusion that this, to me, isn't an issue in this application because the pieces being joined together are all sawn in the same manner and will share the same environment. For me, movement would only be relevant if the dovetail joint is used to joint two boards of different species together, or one board would spend its life in a damp environment while the other in a dry one (how that could happen, I have no idea).

So if wood movement isn't a factor in this application for using dovetail joints, what is?

Well for one thing - stresses!

Somewhere I read that dovetail joints, due to their mechanical design, deal with stresses quite well. Thinking about it in layman's terms, I came to the conclusion that the stresses on the joint come in six directions; forwards and backwards, up and down and out and in. If you have a look at the illustration below, you can see how a dovetail joint deals with five of these six directions, and why it excels at each. The angles of the tails and how they fit to the angle of the pins handle forward stress while the cheeks between the tails deal with the backward stress. The cheeks of both the pins and tails resist the upward and the downward stresses while the cheeks between the pins alone deal with the inward stress. The thing is, I also realized that a dovetail joint can't deal with outward stress.


Thinking about it, I realized that the way a dovetail joint goes together is its achilles heel. The straight pins allow the tails to slide into them during assembly, but they also allow stress to reverse the process as well. If you cut both the tails and the pins on the angle to help the joint deal with the outward stresses, you wouldn't be able to assemble the joint. 

My second conclusion was that, when it comes to keeping the joint together, the dovetail joint excels in five out of the six stress directions.

Is there a way to overcome a dovetail joint's achilles heel?

Yes - glueing!

You wouldn't glue two boards together using a butt-joint because glueing end-grain surfaces, even to a long-grain surface, is a waste of time. A glue joint only works if the surfaces being glued together are both long-grain.

If you look at either of the two dovetail illustrations again, you will note that both the side-cheeks of the tails and the side-cheeks of the pins, where they come in contact with each other, have long-grain surfaces. It is these surfaces that hold the joint together, and while we all like to spread a little glue on the cheeks between the tails and pins, we are really wasting our time as they are end-grain, and have no glueing integrity.

My third conclusion was that these long-grain glueing surfaces are another beauty found in the dovetail's design. It creates long-grain glueing surfaces where none existed before and it is these glueing surfaces that not only add to the joints mechanical strength, but compensate for its achilles heel as well, the one stress direction the joint can't deal with.

So would more tails result in a stronger joint?

It depends!

In the case of the first two illustrations, from a glueing perspective, the narrow pins have the distinct advantage. The traditional dovetail layout has two tails and three pins, but by narrowing the pins considerably, an additional tail and pin can be added. This addition adds 50% more long-grain to long-grain glueing area, which is considerable under any definition.

This was the style of dovetails I had planned to use on the portable vise frame, but looking at the illustrations, I came to my forth conclusion that the joint, with thin pins, won't be strong enough. True, there is lots of that wonderful long-grain to long-grain glueing area, but I think what the thin-pinned joint gains in glueing strength, it looses in pin integrity.

If you compare the two illustrations of dovetail styles again, it is pretty obvious that the 50% addition in glueing area came at a cost of almost 40% in pin material. For the application at hand, I think the thin-pin style isn't up to the task.

In traditional drawer construction, the tails are always added to the side pieces. This is because the mechanical ability of the dovetail joint helps it withstand the stress of the drawer being pulled out thousands of times over the course of the piece's life (foreword stress). It can do this because the tails are wedged-shaped, so the drawer face can't be pulled away, unless, of course, the stress is so great the puller breaks either the tails, the pins or both.

In normal use, a drawer has to endure very little outward stress. The only time this stress direction would effect a drawer is if it is owned by someone like my wife, a lovely lady who loves to stuff 10 cubic feet of clothes in a drawer designed to hold 6, or thinks that they put two drawer pulls on wider drawer faces for looks as any drawer, no matter what its width, can be opened with one pull. Under normal use, however, the long-grain to long-grain glueing surfaces can easily withstand the outward stresses. If a dovetail joint holding a drawer together does give-way, it is either because my wife is using it, or it is a result of glue failure.

The portable vise, however, is a horse of a completely different colour. There will be constant stresses forward on the front joints and backwards on the rear joints, the results of clamping a piece of wood between the two. What also has to be considered, though, is that not all the stock placed in this vise will be square-ended, meaning there will be a considerable amount of stress in the outward direction as well. As the vise is tightened on oddly shaped stock, the stresses will try to rack the vise, putting far more outward stress on the dovetail joint, the one stress direction that the joint is incapable of coping with. These outward stresses can only be coped with by not only the integrity of the glued surfaces, but the integrity of the tails and pins as well.

As this frame is made from 1½" by 3½" stock, two beefy tails will give me enough long-grain to long-grain surface to create a more than adequate glue joint to handle the stresses. If I used the thin pin design, however, I very much doubt that they would be strong enough to handle the outward stresses, resulting in failed joints over time. They wouldn't fail because of problems with the glue, they would fail because the pins would break off. A problem, after all the work I am putting into this vise, that I would rather avoid.

After all this deep thought while contemplating dovetail joints, it is time I headed off to layout some; all with equal sized tails and pins.

Peace,

Mitchell