Porter Cable Restorer

This week while traveling through the Lowe’s stores I call on, I stumbled upon this sander in the tool aisle. It’s called a restorer that uses a sanding drum to sand wood. It was originally $129.00, but Lowe’s had it on clearance for $69.00. I thought it was too good of a deal to pass up so, I bought the tool along with a box of 80 grit sanding sleeves and a paint removal wheel.

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I’ve seen a tool like this being used one day while watching This Old House. Norm traveled to a cabinet shop that builds furniture out of old barn wood. They were using a Makita wheel sander to sand away all the dirt and paint to give the boards a clean look without removing the character of the old wood.  I looked on Amazon to see how much the Makita costs and read the customer reviews. You can read about it here. Even though the Makita has a 7.8 amp motor while the Porter Cable only has 3.5 amps, both machines use 4″ drums, so I thought picking up this Porter Cable restorer for $69.00 was a steal.

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I grabbed a piece of old flooring and tried the tool out.The restorer comes with a variety of sanding grits, from 60-120 so, I slid on a 80 grit sleeve and gently placed it on the wood being careful not to put too much pressure on the machine so it would not dig in.

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After a few light passes, the wood was clean from dirt and grime. I even hooked up my shop vacuum to the restorer and very little dust, if any, escaped. The beauty of this tool is because it is a sanding drum, it slightly bounces off the surface following any irregularities in the wood. Had I used a belt sander to sand the board, the bottom plate of the sander would have flatten any of those irregularities away. After I was done sanding, the wood still had an old look, but was clean from dirt and grime.

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Impressed with its performance, I decided to clean off the top of my workbench. You can see the difference between the sanded surface with just one pass with the restorer. The tool even has variable speed so I can gauge how aggressive the drum will sand.

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You can buy a wheel to remove rust and paint from metal for about $12.00. When I use this wheel, I’ll make sure I won’t hook up the restorer to my shop vac. It’ll be just my luck that I’ll suck in a spark that will ignite the dust inside the vacuum bag creating a dust bomb. No thanks.

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Roubo Style Workbench

Walking around an antique store called Ohio Valley Antique Mall in Cincinnati this weekend, I ran upon this massive beast in one of the aisles. An eight foot long authentic Roubo style workbench. I’ve seen dozens of old workbenches before, but for some reason this guy stuck out to me. The previous owner screwed nickel-plated hooks on the front of it for someone reason. Probably to hold coffee cups or some other nonsense.

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What made this bench stick out was the splay of the front leg along with the leg vise. I imagine this was done to prevent the workbench from racking when sawing. The cast iron vise hardware turned smooth and could still tighten with something with a good grip.

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It had an old planning stop hole used for planning boards. Oddly the area around the hole was all worn down. When I see wear marks on old pieces like this, it makes me wonder what type of work the craftsman did to make those types of marks. Though it does appear he was sawing on the right side of the planning stop.

Another interesting clue is that it is quite possible that at one point there was another vise installed on top. The three holes around the lighter circular area is possibly where he bolted down a machinist vise onto the bench.

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The legs were jointed together with a simple bridle joint however, the legs were not jointed into the bench’s top. More likely the top was just bolted down to the legs somehow. I didn’t feel like moving everything around in the booth to get a better look.

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The bench top was a good 12″ wide x 4″ thick piece of pine. It had a tool tray in the back that appeared to be in real good shape given it’s age. Notice how there are no bench dog nor holdfast holes in the top.

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Who knows where this bench will end up. Probably in someone’s home as a kitchen island, but for a cool $700 it can be all yours.

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Now That’s a Leg Vise

While traveling between Greenville, OH and Richmond, IN for work, I stopped in an antique store in New Paris, OH and came across this behemoth. The flywheel on this leg vise must have been 18″ in diameter and was very smooth when I turned it.

Some of you may be aware of Jameel Abraham from Benchcrafted who makes reproduction flywheel hardware similar to this for workbench leg vises. I’ve tried one at the Woodworking in America conference a few years ago and loved it.  I even considered buying one for my bench before I built my Roubo workbench a few years ago. This thing would beat up his flywheel and take its lunch money.

The screw mechanism for the flywheel is so big and heavy that it needs its own shelf. I imagine the leg vise can open up to at least 12″.

Even the flywheel on the bottom was no slouch. It was probably about 8″ in diameter. It keeps the leg vise parallel to the leg of the workbench to hold the piece more snug. Put a little grease on these babies and you’ll be ready to go.

The bench sat on casters that could be rolled around the shop. For $1500 it can be all yours. I told the shop keeper that the flywheels were probably worth $500 – $800 just by themselves. What an impressive beast.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 5 – revisited

Well the bench is all done. I am really happy the way it has turned out. A few mistakes here and there but it’s just a workbench so in time it will be beaten to pieces anyway.

I finished up the base cutting through mortise and tenons through the front and back legs for the side stretchers. The front and back stretchers I cut slot dovetail joints so it won’t rack from front to back. No where on the bench (other than the top) did I use any glue. If and when I move out of my house, I need to be able to disassemble it and carry it out of my basement.

After the base was built I had to focus my attention back onto the legs. A couple of the legs split  down the sides as they were drying in my basement. I cut some 3/4″ thick butterfly keys out of red oak and pounded them into place. I then took some polyurethane glue and poured into the cracks to help stabilize the material. Honestly, I  don’t think the poly glue did anything other than make me feel better as I hear polyurethane glue doesn’t have any gap filling properties anyway.

On the bench leg that I installed my leg vise on, I needed to cut out and insert a southern yellow pine wedge. ACQ lumber is very corrosive to metal and because my leg vise hardware is made out of cast iron, I needed to insert a wedge so it wouldn’t corrode. I attached the wedge to the leg with wax coated screws designed for the ACQ lumber.

Once the bench was put together, I applied some deck stain to the base and then worked on the accessories like the crochet, the deadman, leg vise jaw and the drawer. On the curves of the crochet and deadman, I used my Stanley #113 circular plane. The plane’s bed can flex to a concave as well as a convex shape with the turning of a screw on top of the plane. I planed both sides of the crochet with ease however, you could also do this with an oscillating spindle sander if you don’t own one of these planes.


When I originally drew the bench, I didn’t incorporate a drawer. My old bench had a tool tray where I laid my bench dogs and hold fasts in. The tray worked fine but every time I planed or sawed something, the bench would rack and the tools in the tray would vibrate annoying me. It was only after I built the bench, that I realized that there was no way for this bench to rack, so I quickly built a drawer 12″ long x 3″ tall x 16″ deep. Even though in the picture the drawer looks like it’s in the way of the deadman, it can be pushed back so that the deadman can slide by.

I drilled 3/4″ holes down the front of the bench top for my bench dogs. In the back I drilled four 5/8″ holes to accommodate my hold fasts. I made they hold fasts while taking a blacksmith class from Don Weber in Paint Lick, KY in January. He showed me how to take an old car spring, heat it up, hammer it straight, then pound the pad and bend the curve to make a hold fast with incredible holding power. Spring steel hold fasts work far better than the cheap cast iron ones you find in woodworking stores because the steel has the ability to flex. The class was a lot of fun and Don is an honory gentleman filled with Welsh chair bodging and blacksmithing knowledge. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back to take his Tool Making for Woodworkers class in April.

After the bench was complete, I applied a coat of shellac to the top. It gave it some protection but also it raised the grain a little bit so that the top wouldn’t be so slick. Having a top with a little bit of grip is a good thing so tools won’t slide off.

Using the Emmert Pattermakers Vise

Some people say that owning a pattermaker vise for cabinet work is a little over kill as you will never really need all the versatility that the vise offers. I say, “it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”. Actually I have found one major advantage of using the vise.

Often the biggest disadvantage of building a bench that is designed low enough for planing is that when it comes to cutting joinery, the work piece is too low making it uncomfortable. Some woodworkers build a smaller bench that sits on top of the bench or simply switch over to a taller work bench when cutting joinery. Because the Emmert vise face can turn 360 degrees, I swing the jaws up making the the top of the jaws 38″ from the floor. Now it’s a lot easier on my back cutting dovetails.

I’m sure there is a lot more useful things I can do with this vise but I’ll need some more time to experiment to find out what they are. I plan on making chairs some day and the jaws ability to angle 10 degrees will come in handy when I’m working with tapered legs.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 4 – revisited

After I completed the assembly of the base I focused my attention on installing the Emmert Turtleback Patternmaker’s Vise. Called a turtleback because the front looks like a turtle’s shell, you can read more about these vises at http://www.mprime.com/Emmert The vise will be installed at the end of the bench so that I can use vise pins along with my bench dogs down the length of the bench.

The first thing I did is determine exactly where I wanted the vise to sit. I sat the vise upside down on my bench and traced around it. Next I took my circular saw and cut half way through following the traced lines, plunging the saw down where necessary. Then I flipped over the top, retraced the vise and repeated the saw cuts. I finished up using a jigsaw in the area the circular saw wouldn’t reach. Once the chunk of wood is removed I cleaned up the cuts with my belt sander.

Next I needed to mark out the area for the hub of the vise to lay on the underside of the bench top. The hub is 5 1/4″ in diameter by about 3 1/4″ deep. Since there was no reason to have a perfect fit, I marked out the hub 5 1/2″ in diameter by 3 1/2″ deep. I took my circular saw and cut saw kerfs by eye, chiseling out the waste with chisels and gouges. I imagine I could have created an elaborate jig to route out this area with a plunge router but it only took 20 minutes doing it by hand.

Now it was time to move on to the screw bar of the vise. The cutting process was the same as the hub. The bar was 2″ wide by 18″ long so my channel was 2 1/4″ wide x 20″ long. When the waste was chopped out, I cleaned up the bottom of the channel with my router plane. If you never had the opportunity to use one of these planes you owe it to yourself to buy one. It’s one of the those specialty planes that you don’t use that often but when you do, you’re glad you have it.

Once the bottom was complete, I flipped over the top and used my plunge router to route out the area where the vise plate sits on top of the bench. The plate is about 1/8″ thick so I routed out 3/16″ deep making the vise a 1/16″ shy from the top. When I finalize planing my top with my Stanley #4 smooth plane, the plate should be flush with the bench top. 

I screwed down the vise to the top using 3″ #14 wood screws. The screw in the middle of the plate is only 1 1/2″ long because of the hub directly underneath it. The only caveat I have is that I’m screwing into end grain where the plate forms a 90 degrees. The screws are tight but it’s not an ideal hold since end grain has very little grabbing power. If you install your vise on the side of your bench like most, you won’t have to worry about this.

After the vise was installed, I needed to locate where to position the swing lock down bar. I slapped some double sided turners tape on the bottom of the lock and stuck it where it would work the best. Once I determined where that was, I screwed it down with 1 1/2″ #14 wood screws.

Now I just need to make a handle that’s 7/8″ in diameter and finish up my bench. Stay tuned.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 3 – revisited

When I went to Woodworking in America Conference in Berea, KY last year I saw Roy’s Roubo bench. The bench’s back legs were splayed out because he had a tool tray at the back. When I went to shake the bench, it was a solid as a rock and I knew right there and then that I wanted to incorporate that feature into my bench even though I didn’t want a tool tray on my bench.

The legs of my workbench are made from 6 x 6 pressure treated post. I planed them down in a surface planer to about 5 1/4″ square as I wanted to remove as much of the wane form the post as I could. After surfacing them, I check to see how square the legs actually were. It turns out they weren’t square at all but rather each one was a rhombus. So I took each leg over to the jointer and squared one side to a face then returned to the planer to true them up to 5″ square.

I measured the back legs by laying a framing square flush to the top of the leg and measuring up 90 degrees to the top to mark where the leg hit 33 on the tape measure.

Now I was ready to cut them to length. The bench will be 33″ tall so the two front legs will be 33″ long since they will protrude through the top. I cut each leg using my circular saw flipping it at each pass and cleaning up the end using my low angle jack plane. I measured the back legs by laying a framing square flush to the top of the leg and measuring up 90 degrees to mark where the leg hit 33″ on the tape measure. I cut the leg to size with a pass on each side finishing up in the middle with a handsaw.

Back leg tenons are 2x 3x 4 long and are cut at a 20 degree angle. 

Bench top is upside down. Layout the mortises as accurately as possible.

I used a bevel gauge to align my drill and cut out the mortise with a 1 1/4 forstner bit. Drill half way through then flip the top over and finish.

I then laid out the tenons and cut them to size with my bandsaw finishing it up with my handsaw and chisels. Once I made the tenon I laid out the mortise on the bottom of my bench top. I used a 1 1/4″ forstner bit and drilled several holes at a 20 degree angle. Then I flipped the top over and finished the mortise from the other side. I pared to the line with chisels until the tenon slipped into the mortise with ease.

Once the back legs were cut, I laid out the rising dovetail on the front legs and cut to the lines using a back saw and trimmed to the line with a chisel. I then laid out the dovetailed mortise on the bottom and top of my workbench top and cut on the waste side of the line with a backsaw. Then I chopped away the center with chisels the same way you would chop out the waste material on a half blind dovetail joint. The trick in making a rising dovetail work is for the ability of the top of the dovetail to fit at the back end of mortise on the bottom (if that makes any sense). In order to truly understand it, you need to read Roy’s book “The Woodwright’s Guide; Working with Wedge and Edge” where he describes the joint far better than I can. I read over the details of the rising dovetail in the book but it wasn’t until I actually tried to make the joint did I fully understand how it is done. The best thing about the joint is that it looks impossible when you see it for the first time. The joint can not slide down nor can it pull out due to the double dovetails. The trick is the joint drops down at an angle.

Once all the joints were cut, I fitted them in the mortises and examined how well each leg was level with one another. Luckily they all lined up fairly well. Then, I flipped the bench over to see how well it sat on the floor. There was a little bit of rocking due to my basement floor not being level but when I cut the through mortises in the legs and temporarily fit the side stretchers, the bench became a lot sturdier. Next, I’ll work on the base and install a shelf to hold my air cleaner.

Disclaimer: Some people may be apprehensive working with pressure treated lumber since it contains the harsh chemicals ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quaternary). If you’re uncomfortable working with pressure treated lumber, don’t use it. The main reason I decided to use it was for the additional weight it would give to the base. While building the base I did no sanding so there was no airborne dust present. In fact the only time I experienced any dust from the ACQ pressure treated lumber was when I emptied my dust collector bag from my surface planer.

I used to work for a pressure treated lumber company and have been exposed to CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) which was supposedly more volatile than ACQ due to the arsenate in the material. I handled CCA lumber on a daily basis for years yet I experience no side effects. I also experienced no side effects from handling the ACQ lumber i.e.; rashes, sneezing, congestion, etc. while building this bench as well as building my deck a few years ago. However that doesn’t mean you won’t. Use your best judgment if you decide to use pressure treated lumber.

As far as being in constant contact with the ACQ lumber, I believe it will be minimal at best. My top is built with regular southern yellow pine which is where I will be doing much of the handling of the bench. The base will just sit there undisturbed. I will have very minimal contact touching the base for any reason.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 2 – revisited

Well after letting the wood acclimate and dry in my shop for about a month, I finally had the time to assemble the top. I took each board and planed them down to 1 1/4″ thick. Be prepared to have a boat load of shavings coming from your planer. I ended up filling four garbage cans with planer shavings. After surface planing, I straightened the boards the best I could with my transitional jointer. The boards were just too long for me try to joint them over my 6″ motorized jointer so I clamped each one to the bench and did it with a hand plane. It didn’t take that long at all and honestly I wasn’t looking for a perfectly straight edge anyway. I just wanted to get rid of the crook in the board so I could rip them to size on the tablesaw. After each board was ripped to 4 1/4″ wide, I laminated them into sections using five boards per section. The shorter part of the bench was laminated with seven boards.

After each section was dry, I ran them through the surface planer and planed them to 4″ thick. Then I glued two sections together. After that section dried, I glued the third. Then when that dried I glued the forth (you get the idea). I did my best to dry fit and line up the sections to minimize any hand planing once the top was formed. However, even after all the careful planning, I still ended up with an 1/8″ bow in my top. I’m not entirely sure why that was but if I had to guess, I say the bowing of my pipe clamps played a part. I’ve always heard of the limitations of pipe clamps and I think I found one of them. Clamping this massive behemith of a top was no easy task. I had to apply an extreme amount of pressure to get each section to bond tightly with one another. It was times like these where I wished I owned twice the amount of pipe clamps!

Once the top was glued together I grabbed my Stanley No 8C jointer and No 5C fore plane and went to town. I planed across and diagonal to the grain to level out the top as easily as possible. The 5C worked well to remove a lot of stock quickly. The No 8 was effective in leveling the high and low spots. Periodically I would check my progress with a straight edge (the side of my No 8 plane) and plane where necessary. I also used winding sticks to make sure the top did not twist from one end to the other. It took me an hour and forty five minutes to plane down the entire top but the funny thing was that I actually enjoyed all the planing.

Next I’ll make the legs and build the frame. I’ll keep you posted.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 1– revisited

I wrote this blog three years ago at Fine Woodworking.com and decided that I should bring it home to my blog. It’s in five parts but I will add a sixth part at the end to tell how the bench has held up. Enjoy!
It’s 2009 and I still haven’t made a new workbench I promised myself when I bought an Emmert patternmakers vise at an antique tool auction in Indianapolis last spring. After the auction I bought Workbenches by Chris Schwarz and was planning on building the Andre Roubo bench he built in the book. Then a couple of months ago, while attending  Woodworking in America Conference in Berea KY, I  saw Roy Underhill’s version of the Roubo bench and fell in love with it. The bench was solid as a rock with its back legs splayed out and it didn’t rack from side to side. Something my current bench is horrible with. Luckily there’s a write up of Roy’s Roubo bench in his new book The Woodwright’s Guide; Working Wood with Wedge & Edge. Because there were things that I liked in both benches, I decided to incorporate some of the features of both and design something that would fit my needs.
The two books that are instrumental for building the bench.
The design of the workbench. My Sketchup skills are still nonexistent so I have to design the old fashion way.

The bench will be eight feet long and made out of Southern Yellow Pine with my Emmert vise installed at the end. I’m going to try something that I’m not sure has ever been done before and build the legs and the stretchers out of pressure treated wood. I just like the idea of the added weight with pressure treated wood. Plus, I was able to buy 6×6’s for the legs and save some money verses buying more 2x stock and gluing them up to create a 5”x5” legs the way Chris does. I calculated how much material I need and bought (12) 2x10x8’s, (4) 2x12x8’s and (2) 6x6x8’s. The total cost was $132.00. Not bad considering I paid $150 for a piece of 8/4”x 8”x60” walnut when I built my Pennsylvania Secretary a few year ago.  The reason I didn’t make the entire bench out of pressure treated lumber is because ACQ lumber is very corrosive to metal. You need to use hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners when working with it. Since my vise is cast iron, it would end up corroding if I used ACQ pressure treated lumber for the top.

The lumber stickered and ready to dry. I need to find my moisture meter so I can see how dry the lumber is before I mill it to size.

After letting the lumber acclimate in my shop for about a week, I ripped the boards in half so that they would dry faster. My wimpy little table saw doesn’t have enough power to rip through 2x stock without binding, so I had to set the blade a little under ¾” high and make two passes, flipping the board over after the first pass. Due to the high moisture content some of the boards started to crook immediately once I took them off the table saw. Once the ripping was complete, I stickered all the boards to let them air dry for a couple of more weeks. Once dry I’ll start milling them to size.

I don’t know how this bench will turn out using pressure treated lumber but I figure I can describe some of successes and pitfalls I encounter while building it. I’ll keep you posted