Project: Custom Roman Bench

It's what I'd consider my second project in my tiny workshop. You've gotta have Sawhorses, then a bench!

I’m finally up and at ‘em with getting my own stuff together, and first things first: Sawhorses. Done. Workbench. Doing that Now. Wooden Mallet. Doing that now. There’s not much room to do much simultaneously, since a simple glue-up could push you out the door. Not for long, however.

First of all, I’ve got to get my sawdust under control. My landlord’s going to have a fit and it’s not healthy or fun to live with. I’m covered in it, and if I had a “sawdust camera” on me, I’m sure I’d leave a train behind me far beyond the footprints and clothing that’s covered. As you can tell, I don’t currently live with a woman. But I have a little daughter I hope to have with me one day, and I would definitely change things for her sake. I grew up in a garage, so I know what a drag, and how dangerous it can be. And I got a new sander today! This place is going to be more sawdust than airspace if I don’t act.

I’m gluing up the workbench top now and I made holes at each end for accessories like dogs and holds, and one of my next projects is a shooting board for it. I’m getting hand planes ready now, which means I’m surrounded by sharpening rigs and plane parts. I’d like to have a vise of some sort, too. I’m already getting ideas for things to make for it. It’s like building something with Legos: you just keep going. That’s why I like modular designs. Easy to add onto and mold and take away when needed. They’re customizable.

I made the bench out of 7 2x4’s, instead of 9. You need an odd # for the holes. Trust me, it’s far easier. I made my bench 6 feet because of space limitations. And weight - I’ll have to move this thing around a lot.

I cut one of the off-cut 2x4s in half and will cut those in half, making 4 legs blocks, that I’ll shape into the legs. That’s been an endeavor.

There are several ways I could make them. But I’m really getting into the hand tool thing. I use the power tools when it makes obvious sense, but I’ll grab the handsaw if I can is what I’m saying.

I’ll need to drill 1-1/2 inch holes through the bench, which I’m considering putting 2 cross braces under for more rigidity. If I do, then I’ll run the legs all the way through them, too. Which means decreasing the amount of material around the “tenon.” Hmmm…. I’m going to be putting a lot of weight on this bench, and 4 noodly tenons? Definitely the weak link. So I need to think about this as the glue dries.

I’ve been holding off forever and am finally embarrassed enough to buy my own orbital sander. Yes, the time has come. What do I want? Either a 3M or DeWalt palm sander. Sanders don’t need to be battery-powered, to me. There is a category of tools that fits that description. They need to be hooked to a dust hose anyway. How often are you sanding and finishing out in the bush?

Today I bought a Braun 2.8 amp Palm 5-inch orbital sander, for $20. Half-price off an already inexpensive tool. Is it the ultimate sander? No. Is it the most affordable and a good product? Yes. (Another discovery at Harbor Freight is the Braun Shop Vac. It’s a great deal when lined up with the competitors. I have it in my crosshairs, with the dust I need to be hoovered up.)

I could have found an equally-priced hard-used sander on Facebook/second-hand, but by the time I sink time and $ into that and have NO guarantee, reason is out the window. Most electronics break soon after getting them if they’re going to die. Either right away, or waaaaaaaaaaay down the road, and you got your money’s worth. Nothing lasts forever. For most items like this, I go for lifetime guarantees but there’s a cost I have to currently consider. I did my research and waited. The story of my life.

Firstly, if you’re in the market for a sander, orbital is the way to go. The others are garbage. Depending on the type and what you’re sanding, the paths go everywhere from there.

I still would love to have a spindle sander. A luxury, but it could do so much. I’m deciding if that’s a rationalization or reality. I do that with everything, like band saws, drill presses, and palm routers. All of which I want. It’s good to have goals. Those I have. I have strange wants to some.

Having used a lot of sanders, the things to focus on are noise, vibration to the user, hand/joint comfort, and weight, which is part of comfort and noise and vibration. Everything is a compromise of some sort.

I used the Braun sander tonight to sand a mallet head I’m making for myself and my daughter, really, and it was pretty quiet and easy. Just what I wanted and expected. And for $20 and under warranty, that’s tough to beat. It has a dial to change how aggressively it operates, but all experts I’ve heard say to leave it maxed out.

Hand Planes!

Man, I’m suddenly overrun with hand planes and sharpening junk. That’s a weird place to be as someone who grew up with razor-sharp pocket knives (but dull as a brick kitchen knives), whetstones, and rods around the house. I sharpened machetes and axes and hatchets on a grinding stone out in the shop, which makes me cringe now. I don’t know why my father never stopped me and showed me how to correctly do it. I wrecked a lot of iron.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

And I inherited a hand plane or two which never got the love it deserved and are probably sitting in a basement somewhere in this state now. I don’t have them, which is why I needed some.

I’m rebuilding my shop, which has dwindled down to nothing after being a poster for “Awesome Shop 2018.” Nothing’s left. So the Phoenix is rising and needs tools.

Don’t buy a tool until you need it is right. Don’t go get something just because you saw someone else with it or thought it looked like a good deal. That’s wasteful.

And when I’m restocking, I keep thinking about how much mileage I’ll get out of each. For example, I got a double-edged Japanese saw that has been incredibly useful. 2 saws in one! Instead of a band saw, I got a hatchet, which I can use for all sorts of things. But the responsibility is mine to learn how to use it to cut wood, keep it sharp and use it right. Which Means I can shape curves and make tenons. No one’s born knowing how to do that, but if you can work a hammer, and I think I can, you can do this. That’ll take me much further than a heavy stationary saw.

So there are many planes out there. What did I get with such a limited budget and space? Great question and I have a great answer.

Michael B. Musgrove