sometimes it take a village

Work in progressAs some of you may remember, over the summer I picked up a Noden Adjust-A-Bench at auction. After lugging it up 5 flights of stairs, it’s been sitting in my apartment, waiting for me to move things around and build the necessary jigs.

In short, inspiration or motivation was needed.

Motivation was found in the form of a friend coming to visit and the necessity to clean up and organize my apartment work space. Reassembling the table with a single person was a little troublesome righting it but the improvement over the old worktable was a welcomed improvement. I was really looking forward to the adjustability to file smaller backsaws higher than bigger panel saws.

Once upright, the first thing needed was a proper bracket to hold my vise. I wanted something sturdy but also removable as I use the space for other tasks as well. My solution was to dovetail a bracket and use 5/16th carriage bolts and wing nuts.

The next thing I needed was a vise. Not really concerned with heavy use for woodworking, I figured I’d pick up a Wilton 7″. I found a local listing and made plans to meet. As it turns out the seller, Hop Usner, was a retired printer who worked in offset and sheet-feed, a world I know as well.  He currently buys and resells mostly power tools for woodworking and just picked up some school shop equipment. Among them was a really cool complete miniature letterpress for cards and envelopes. I took a few minutes to check it out and see what fonts and other parts were included and while doing so a Wilton patternmakers vise caught my eye. The vise looked in really good shape for its years, and its ability to flip from a machinist jaw to a 7” parallel would make it a real space saver. So as they say, a deal was struck.

bench_07With some extra time off around the holiday it was time to get cranking on the necessary jigs and hardware needed. I started with the bracket for my trusty TFWW saw vice. Like most of the tools Joel has built it’s both indestructible and the Cadillac of its type.

bench_04I had some smaller pieces of 5 quarter maple that would work perfectly. Having a few saws, I decided to go with a traditional dovetail joint. These being bigger DT’s than I normally contend with, I decided to reduce the angle and widen the tails a bit. The end product is less than master craftsman but not too shabby. After a quick coat of oil, it was ready for installation.

I first learned about a Noden bench when taking a class at Philadelphia Furniture Workshop. Allen and Mario, the owners, use one to teach from as it works well for a variety of tasks. Thinking at that time it would work well as a saw bench, I looked into the company and found they were designed by a local furniture maker/tool designer, Geoffrey Noden in Trenton, NJ. The retail price is fair but more than my budget would allow for.

Fast forward and I guess the gods saw it differently. The point of this back story is to say once I got my table together, one of the breaks on a caster promptly broke. This would prove to be an issue as my floor is less than flat.

So knowing (see back story) Noden isn’t far from the shop, I figured I’d see if a replacement could be found. As it turned out Geoff said he had a bum batch of his casters a ways back and offered to replace it for free. Having the time and interest in seeing his shop, I decided I’d head over the following day and also stop by Willard Brothers to ogle over some fine woods and see what pear and apple he they had in stock.

Brainstorming the best way to mount the vise to the bracket, I must have missed a turn and I realized I was off track, but as often is the case with adventures, my detour in misdirection put me in front of a fasteners store Onyx Fasteners; as the name suggests it deals with all things fasteners. Karma really is your friend!

This being not such a great part of Trenton, after being buzzed in and wandering my way through a maze of boxes, bins, trays, and bags, the owner guessed,

“You must be lost. We don’t get much walk in business.” I explained it was his luck as I was both lost and in need of some threaded inserts. He brought me a few different styles from a large selection and after I picked a few, we moved on to directions. As it turned out he knew Geoff and explained I was just a little north of where I should have turned. Before leaving we exchanged cards and he even pulled a few old saws out of the back room he’s been meaning to list on Craigslist. I don’t currently deal with the larger cross cut saws but they do fit a need for many.

Back on route Geoff’s shop wasn’t far. When I saw a flitch of white oak in front of a non-descript building I had arrived. Once inside he gave me the caster and a quick tour of the place. His main business the last few years has been the benches and the Noden Inlay Razor that he demonstrated to me that allows you to create custom inlays of all type. After seeing it I’d say it’s quite an ingenious design. Like many designers and craftsmen, Noden has filled his shop with prototypes of the bench and other projects. Although these current designs are mostly metal much of the furniture he makes is traditional in nature. I marveled over a large slab table with joints that used 3″ plus mitered dovetails.

Of course we talked saws after that and I checked out his collection of golden aged Disston’s including an 18″ sash saw that was used for those mitered dovetail joints. He also had an interesting early production Lie Nielsen dovetail saw that was given out to a select few for feedback.  After finishing up with the saw talk it was time to hit the road.

From here it was a few miles through Trenton to the infamous and previously mentioned Willard Brothers mill and tree service. Although I left empty handed it’s always wonderful to check out the selections. In the past few years as the popularity of woodworking for hobbyists has grown so has WB.

The next day having the finished bracket and final plans for attachment I quickly made some plugs for the 5/16 carriage bolts, packed up the needed tools and headed to my apt. for installation. The plan was as follows: Mount the vise to the dovetailed bracket and leave the top two mounting points proud so they contacted the bench. I then used threaded inserts and screws for those two holes. The entire assembly was then attached with counter sunk carriage bolts and held fast with wing nuts. The through holes were then capped with maple plugs made from scrap wood.

I also used counter sunk carriage bolts and since these would not need to be removed, or so I thought, I used air-craft style nuts. About that not needing to be removed part, it would seem that once installed the turret wouldn’t lock in one position and caused the vise to spin. Hmm… maybe this wasn’t such a good deal. Investigating further I could tell the locking mechanism used a washer that looked like a replacement to cam itself against the turret. This is quite different than how most round objects are clamped. Most would use a pinch style clamp; think break levers on handlebars.

bench_05Knowing a solution wouldn’t be found in my apt., I gathered up my things and headed back to the shop. Luckily still having a few days off I could investigate and research the problem, hopefully figuring out a simple solution. I started by emailing Hop to see if he had any ideas and then hit the web. I found some good information about the vise

Universal Turret Vise-1

The early version with pinch clamp on left and later model with cam clamp right

In 1959 Wilton invented what they called the Wilton Universal Turret Vise. It has two jaws that swiveled into place on a turret that allows the user to hold large items for woodworking, or with a flip use a set of smaller jaws for working metal including pips. Even though it hit the market in ’59 the patent was granted in 1961. Looking over pictures I could tell they changed the design at some point changing from a clamp to this cam style lock. I was also lucky enough to find the patent online with pictures and, although I’m sure it’d be clear to an engineer, it was a bit hard to follow but confirmed my belief that the key was an offset washer that when tightened would cam and effectively jam the turret from spinning.

bench_06The next challenge would be figuring out the proper size and having it made! Lucky for me I have a friend who I knew the second I saw that aluminum washer would be the perfect person to help, Gabriel Romeu.

Without getting too side tracked, I’ll just say I first meet Gabriel about 10 years ago. In that time I’ve learned how to do a multitude of things that span rolling a kayak to operating a Bridgeport lathe. In short some people answer questions and others teach you how to fish. Gman is the ladder and someone I always go to when I’m stuck on a problem.

So with vise and bits in hand I was off to his shop. Once there I caught up on his many recent projects including a recently built 3-d printer that I’ll say is just plain cool. After I explained my theory and we mulled it over, Gabriel quickly knocked out some test collars. As they say 3rd time’s a charm and within 20 minutes I had the needed part. I packed up the vises and 2 of his Sandvik saws in need of sharpening and headed back to the shop.

It wasn’t till later that week I got everything installed, holes plugged, and applied some finish. I’m happy to report all is working great. After working on a few saws I’m left wondering why I waited this long to upgrade. The only issue is that ugly ass handle on the vise.

So knowing the intended use for the vise is on the softer side of use, mostly knocking off backs or holding wood for test cuts, I decided a wood handle would be much nicer. The problem was that after checking the inside dimensions I needed a 7/8” shaft which excluded most commercially made replacement handles.

bench_03Lucky for me however a friend and customer Terry Rogan recently purchased a new lathe and offered to help, following up with the stipulation he would need to “test fit” so I should send the vice to him. Nice try Terry. The handle arrived shortly after and I can’t be happier with how it fits, works, and looks; it’s perfect. So with the holiday behind us and the new bench with vises ready to rock, the last piece of the kit was a plywood shelf utilizing the space under the top; I’m calling this complete.

bench_02I’d like to finish up by saying thanks to the many new friends who helped me out throughout the process. It’s proof positive it takes a village to keep this monger on track and I’ve often thought if you’re open to detours in life, life often provides some fun ones.

Joe Federici
sawyer with style

2 thoughts on “sometimes it take a village

  1. I love my Noden bench as well. Some tasks are greatly eased when the benchtop can be raised 6″ – 12″.

    The Wilton vise is really intriguing, but are you concerned that metal-work filings might ’embed’ in the wood clamping surfaces for woodworking?

    I’ve got Veritas’ Tucker vise which also has two jaws. I hadn’t thought of converting the narrower jaws for metal work.

    • Not sure if you can tell but I leather line the jaws on metal side of the Wilton. I really just use it for knocking off back on backsaws. All of the filing I do is in the saw vise my biggest issue is keeping the floor clean. I tend to throw a towel on the floor then shake it out on the roof.


Leave a Reply