Projects in progress or in planning...

Hammacher Schlemmer Combination Bench and Tool Cabinet

January 2016
Hammacher Schlemmer sold a workbench and tool box combination from sometime in the late 1890's through, I think, the 1920's. The ad on the left, this one, is one representation of their workbench marketed to all woodworking wannabes. Another ad played on the emotional premise inherent in parents' desire to teach and bond with their children.

I have wanted to try building an updated version of the Hammacher Schlemmer Combination Bench and Tool Cabinet for many, many years. I want it to be furniture-like as it was intended to be but I could never convince LOML it would be nice enough for inclusion in the main living quarters. That changed when I showed her pictures of the Meluish bench Joe Parker made and presented at a BAG meeting (Bay Area Galoots).

My bench will use 1-inch MDF as a base and frame. Exposed surfaces of the bench frame will be walnut veneered. The rest of the bench will be solid walnut. The panels in the fold-out wings will be solid walnut, but the inset panels will be veneered with walnut crotch veneer, flat, on the outside, and raised panels on the inside. (Note: I changed this concept to flat panels in and out somewhere along the line) I'll use more modern metal vises, one on the end as the original, and a removable one on the left front. Collecting the tools to populate it will be fun.

I've made a few sketches. Dimensions for the vises are very tight but I think I can fit them in. The original never had a front vise so that one will be difficult. I have reduced my veneer supply to only the walnut needed for the bench so I'm ready to go.

March 3rd, 2016
Well, I've started! I bought 2 sheets of 1-inch MDF. The MDF will be used for the base, the back, and the supports for the bench top and the drawers. It will provide needed rigidity and weight. I'd forgotten how much that stuff weighs! I had to rough cut the sheets before I could even get them off the truck. Handling the rough pieces to make finished dimensions is difficult.

The sheets of MDF are square, near perfectly square. But, the edges are rough and they get nicked up in all the handling along the way to the consumer. I rough cut each piece with a circular saw, and then each piece was re-cut, all four sides, on the table saw. This to make certain all the pieces were square and smooth-edged.

After the pieces were cut, I propped them up in their relative positions to check the dimensions. I cut up a bunch of small blocks to represent the various solid wood pieces that will make up the edge treatments. So far so good!

I have some walnut veneer but decided I didn't have enough to do a really proper job. I ordered some circasian walnut veneer and that will be used for the show surfaces. I'll use the old stock for non-show surfaces like the back of the cabinet and inside the drawer supports.

March 22, 2016
I've finished with the veneer work for now. Most of the veneering went very well. I used the similar sized pieces of MDF as a press for the veneer. Clamps and a couple concrete blocks make the press. This worked quite well except for the large back pieces. I wanted the large back pieces to be a continuous veneer sheet so I tried to press the whole thing in one piece. The veneer piece was too big to properly flatten out and it came out with some wrinkles in the middle. It's a little disappointing but not real important as the wrinkles will be behind the drawers. Here is a picture of the drawer support pieces. The one on the left has the exposed side up with the circasian walnut veneer. The one on the right has the drawer-side veneer. They look a little different but I suspect there won't be much difference once they are finished. This is the back and this is the bottom piece. The next step is to make the border for the bottom. It will get a 3/4 to 1 inch mitered border finished with a round-over bit.

April 13, 2016
More progress, though nothing startling to report. I put the trim on the bottom. I ran the assembly through the shaper to put a nice round-over on the edges. For the back, I added a top board that will carry the lid and I added side trim that will carry the doors. Sometimes you need longer clamps, sometimes you can improvise! The next step was to make the grooves in the side supports. These groves will support the drawers in the cabinet and the drop down lide in front of the bench top. I used a pretty straightforward setup, the only risk was inadvertantly turning one of the support pieces; didn't happen. Here's what the pieces look like so far. I couldn't find barrel nuts in the size I wanted so I made some. Drilling the holes for the barrel nuts and connecting bolts required some fixturing. The barrel nuts will be used as part of the bench top hold down system. The drawer shelves were made using biscuit joiner as floating tenons. I made the three top shelf sections as stand alone pieces. I glued these in place keeping the sides square. I couldn't risk trying to glue in all seven shelf pieces in one glue session. The rest of the support shelves were assembled in place. So far, so good. The two support sections are sturdy and square. To make the drawer support frames I used some of the worst boards from my stash. Selecting bent, bowed, and twisted boards, I rough cut the pieces I needed, jointed one flat surface, used the bandsaw to rip a flat piece a little thicker than the needed 1/2 inch, and then jointed the stock to the required thickness. Not a complicated process but look at all the wood waste. just from the drawer supports. and then there are more cut-offs.

April 24, 2016
I was trying to decide between working on the bench top or the drawers next. I had a couple 10/4 cherry boards and decided to hack them up for the bench tops. I reduced about 50bf of lumber to this pile and then further reduced it to the parts needed for the bench tops. I had hoped I'd be able to make the bnech tops using all heart wood but it couldn't be done. SWMBO says she likes the contrast between the heart wood and the sap wood; so that's that. I'll probably let this pile sit a while. While this wood is very dry, it's been drying for more than 20 years, I did cut off a lot cracks, knots, and general thickness and I want to make sure any movement has settled out before assembling the bench top.

The vises will be a pretty tight fit so I'll need to have them on hand when I lay out the bench top. I ordered them and got them in. These are Lee Valley Veritas Front Vises. One will go on the end and the other on the front, on the left side. The front vise will be removable and store under the bench top when not in use. The Veritas vises are green, just like the ones I bought 15 years ago. I had painted the first ones I bought with Old Pontypool Asphaltum (black japanning) from Liberty Paint Company. When I bought the paint in 2001 I bought a gallon and repackaged some of it to sell to other folks but had no takers. I had heard stories of very poor shelf life for this product. When I popped the lid on one of the small cans I was surprised to find it appeared to be just fine. I disassembled one of the vises, wiped the pieces down with prepsol and applied two coats. it seems to work as advertised; still very slow to dry and will likely need some heat applied. These are the same vises installed on my shop roll-arounds from years ago.

May 21, 2016
I worked on making the hold-downs for the bench top. They are made from 1/2 inch brass stock. They will fit in a slot cut on the inside of the bench top side pieces. These hold-down blocks work with the barrel nuts to hold the work bench top in place.

I've been working on the cabinet drawers for most of this month. There are nine drawers in each cabinet. Top to bottom, the drawer outside heights are 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, and 4 inches respectively. The inside useable height is about an inch less. The big drawers are about 25 inches wide and 16 inches deep. The fronts are 5/8 thick. The sides and backs are 3/8 thick. They have a plywood bottom advertised as 1/4 inch but is actually about 0.200. These drawers are probably not rugged enough to load up with nails and horse shoes but they should do fine for the collectables I plan to fill them with. I had to install all the handles to make certain I had enough and had drilled the holes correctly. Cutting dovetails in walnut is not as satisfying as cutting them in cherry. The open grain in the walnut tends to chip so I had to make some repairs. Lacquer sticks can be your friend! The fronts have an accent line below the handle that I cut with a 1/4-inch round-over bit. The spacing for the accent line and the handle position are different for each size drawer, predictably.

June 15, 2016
My original plan for the cabinet top and the doors was to make walnut raised panels for the door inserts. I was going to make solid walnut raised panels, venneer one side, the ouside, and have the inside show the solid wood raised panel. Well, after more thought, I decided the raised panel would be proud of the inside frame, creating some problems, and using up a lot of valuable wood. After rethinking, perhaps over thinking, I decided to go with flat veneer panels inside and out. I decided to use 1/4-inch MDF for the substrate and then labored over what veneer to use. I had originally planned to use walnut crotch veneer for the panels. I couldn't find much that really pleased me. What I finally settled on was walnut crotch veneer for one cabinet and walnut burl veneer for the other. This is the walnut crotch veneer. It is not the figure I was going for, but it is economical for its size. The pieces I bought, six pieces, are 24 x 36 inches. This doesn't have the distinct fossil like pattern I like, but I think the swirl will be fine. This is the walnut burl. I bought 8 pieces of the walnut burl, each sheet is 26 x 19.5 inches. As I said, the substrate will be 1/4-inch MDF. I bought two sheets and brought them home in the back of the truck; they were all ready starting to roll up in the sun before I got them home. I rough cut the big sheets to handling size, put them in the shop, well weighted to flatten them out.

I labored over how to handle the veneering process, yet again. The veneer I bought was advertised as not needing to be flattened. True perhaps, but it wasn't really flat. I was concerned that using a pad between the cauls would not fully flatten it. I had just made a bunch of veneered boxes. For those I had used a Melamine platen and a pad to install the veneer. After much thought, I decided the pad didn't really reduce risk in any way, so I decided to simply use two 3/4-inch melamine coated particle board cauls and a requisite number of clamps.

Veneering the panels was mostly uneventful. Of course veneering one side of the MDF caused it to warp significantly. Rapidly veneering the second side mostly corrected the problem. For the record I used good-old Titebond II for the glue. I know, I know, you can worry about some small amount of creep but in this situation creep doesn't really matter. The one-hour dry time for the Titebond Versus 24 hours for the Unibond types was the reason for my choice. Here's the finished pile.

July 7, 2016
Well, screw it! That is the next step. The objective is to mount the piano hinges on the back of the cabinet. The three hinges are for the top and the two side doors. This hinge effort has been somewhat problematic. First I ordered some fancy, pricey solid brass hinges that were supposedly polished and lacquered. They arrived slamming together in a box, not polished, not lacquered. I returned those. Next I went with brass plated hinges from the local big box store. These hinges came with a bag of oversized phillips head screws in a bag taped to the hinge. Removing the taped bag removed some of the plating! Careful! I bought new brass oval head screws for the finished product. In order to consistantly and reliably install the brass screws I started with a drill bit the size of the hole in the hinge to make a centered divot and allow the brass screw to adjust to the hole. I used a 1/16 bit to depth, then a gimlet and finally a steel screw. Very time cosuming! I made a few test screw installs, but the new brass screws won't be used until the final assembly.

The next effort I screwed with was assembling the base, back, and drawer frame. These pieces are screwed together so they can be disassembled for finishing. Additionally, once assembled the single unit will be too heavy to move easily. A little on-line research suggested SPAX screws were the best bet for assembling MDF components. These screws have deep threads with courrugated cutting edges. I did some tests with #9 2 1/2 inch screws and some MDF scraps. With a properly sized pilot hole, the SPAX screws hold really well, no splitting, and they still pull strong after 5 or more insert and remove cycles.

August 15, 2016
I've finished the doors for the two cabinets. Nothing particularly entertaining in their construction. I used my little lamb's tongue jigs again. A little tricky to route the small pieces. Blocks and clamps, blocks and clamps. After the lambs tongue edge was put on all the stiles and rails, I used my horizontal router to cut the groves for the panels and the floating tenons. After assembly I laid the doors out to make sure I had the veneer patterns the way I'd planned. The crotch veneer doesn't really match from door to door, so the pattern is not too important. I wanted the burl to flow around the doors and I think I got what I wanted. After cutting off the exposed tenons I couldn't resist stacking the doors in place as a sanity check. A little precarious! After a couple more days screwing on the hinges, the doors are hung and align quite nicely. Here's the second one.

The carrier for the center drop down panel is a three-step affair. Probably a little difficult to visualize, but a tab slides in between the top shelf and the drawer stop below it. A second step provides a finished edge for the cork that will cover the MDF. Another step carries the hinge and covers the edge of the cork. And, the drop down aligns quite nicely closed or open. These will be pretty large cabinets with the doors open.

August 20, 2016
Here's the first test-fit of the bench top. I had to go with what I'm calling a vanity panel on the left end. The vise is a little bigger than advertised so I couldn't use anything much heavier. This vanity panel will hide the view of the vise from the end. The screws should let the bench top move around a little. My clamping scheme for holding the bench top in place works. It fits a little tighter than I planned. The hold down plates and screws need to be inserted into the slots and then the whole assembly lowered on the support. A little cumbersome but it works. The bench gets an end vise on the right and a front vise on the left. The front vise will need to be removed to close the cabinet.

August 25, 2016
The end skirt for the end vise will be held on with hanger bolts. There is enough play in the holes in the skirt board to allow for some movement of the wood. It is a scheme that works well as I have used it before. Here's a test fit of the end vise. This is the assembled end vise. The holes in the vise skirt will be plugged. Not certain what I'll use for plugs; I may have enough ebony in the scrap bin. Here's a look at the test-fit for the whole bench top. The front vise must be removed in order to close the cabinet. There will be a place to hang the front vise in the left side of the cabinet. The end vise on the right is pretty tightly fitted. It will have to be nearly closed to close the right side door.

September 3, 2016
I'm finishing up some odds and ends before starting on the top. I finished making the vise handles. They may be a little short but there isn't a lot of room to swing a longer handle. The caps will be painted black and the handle left natural.

I had made a very small and flimsy mock up to test the lid supports I had purchased. It wasn't heavy enough for a satisfactory test. I tried these lid supports on a bigger mock up and they didn't provide satisfactory support. The upright lid was wobbly and wanted to slam shut. This is the new mockup. Notice the fine blend of MDF and melamine! These gas shocks work much better. They supposedly lift 22.5 pounds each. They are positioned so that the barrel bears on the rear support. This seems to make the top fairly rigid when opened. There is no danger of these closing on their own. Simply lifting the top 5-inches from the closed position and the lid begins to lift on its own. It is necessary to hold onto it so it doesn't slam too quickly into the upright position. It should work well when the lid carries the tools expected to be secured there.

The three front doors will have brass knobs and the doors will be kept closed with magnets as catches. I had to drill out the cup for the magnet to take the 8-32 screw for the knob, but this simple design seems to work well. A felt pad between the magnet and the catch plate will adjust the magnet tension.

The large section of the swinging door pair need a stop of some kind to keep them from hitting things stored inside and to align the small door to the front of the cabinet. I also wanted to provide some support to the end of the large door to prevent the door from sagging under the weight of the tools that will be mounted there. This small stick is my solution to both problems. The end of the stick has a beveled step which matches the 1/8th inch space under the door. The step also locates the side door and similarly, the position of the front door. These stick will be tacked in place rather than glued since they could wear and should be replaceable.

September 30, 2016
Nearly done cutting wood! At least for the basic cabinet. These strips go on the back of the cabinets. They are covers for the spax screws that hold the back and the drawer frame together. Makes sort of a board-and-batten appearance on the finished back. These are tool trays that go between the rear of the bench top and the rear of the cabinet. I jazzed them up a little with the handy hollows for grasping the ends.

I probably should go back and see how many times I've posted the same pictures. Anyway, here is the current configuration closed up, and here's the whole thing opened up. I've started collecting some tools with the optomistic idea that I will finish building the tool boxes someday. This Stanley #150 Mitre Box was one of the tools in the original tool box. It is also one of the few tools for the tool box that doesn't require a tool holder or carrier of some kind. This bright and shiny mitre box was refurbished by Mike Raub.

November 15, 2016
The cabinets are finished! I finished spraying them with pre-cat lacquer and have assembled them. I was a little worried they would not go back together without problems but everything went well. They are not quite as heavy as I thought they would be. I had guessed they would weigh over 300 pounds but they came in at a paltry 270 pounds, still not something that is going to be tossed around easily.

Here are a few details I haven't shown before... I think. These strips hide the spax screws in the back. The strips make a board and batten appearance. The shelf under the bench top is covered with cork. All of the parts for the bench top are completely finished to help minimize wood movement. I finally settled on a design for 'feet' for the cabinet. These pieces of 3/4-inch melamine have rounded edges and should slide well on hardwood floors without scratching. After removing pads I'd been using, I put a few pieces of double sided tape on the back of these melamine strips and lowered the cabinet onto them. Of course if someone was actually going to use the bench something with a rubber base would work better to minimize chasing the bench around. The tool tray sits nicely between the bench top and the cabinet back. The vises are a tight fit, but they work. The cherry handles have caps painted black and rubber 'O' rings provide a soft landing when the handle is released. The pneumatic lid supports work as expected. They appear to hold the lid securely in the vertical position. When open, the pneumatic rests against the back of the cabinet. This is not the recommended installation and since they are mostly plastic, I'm going to open the lid gently and minimize slamming the pneumatics into the back board. The pneumatics are a little more elegant than the chain used in the original cabinet, eh? The magnetic latches shown previously work well. Judiciously placed felt pads adjust the latching pressure and make the sound and feel pleasing.

Here are the pictures of the finished cabinets. This one has the walnut burl. I especially like the way the heartwood burl wraps around the sides and the top. This is what it looks like when fully opened. This one has what was called walnut crotch veneer. It doesn't have the usual distinctive feather pattern but looks pretty all the same. Surprise! It opens in a similar manner. The front vise must be removed to fully close the cabinet. When I get the tool holders built, the vise will have a hanger inside the cabinet.

January 13, 2017
As I built the cabinets I had a rough idea of the tools I wanted to include and where the tool holders would go. Based on these rough ideas I installed 1/4 - 20 threaded inserts on the insides of the doors and the lid. I could have put a little more planning into locating the inserts but I've managed to make do with their locations and the tool holders all work reasonably well. Each of the tool holders presented its different challenges. Holes for chisel ferrules needed to be tight enough so the chisels wouldn't fall out of the lid when closed. The odd sized chisel ferrules required special hole sizes. Spacing for chisels, files, and auger bits mathematically produced a lot of tiny fractional increments that were laid out with the scales on the milling machine.

Nothing unusual to report in making the tool holders except to say they were each a small challenge. Here's the lot of them. And another angle. They have been finished sanded and are ready to finish. As is usual, making the jigs to hold the pieces for spraying is a small exercise in itself. Most of the jigs have 1/4 dowel pegs to carry the holders. Some of the smaller pieces will simply be stuck on with masking tape. Here's another picture.

It's predictably cold in this the middle of January. After some more fiddling with the spray jigs I'll fire up the heaters in the shed (aka spray booth) and hope for the best. I have two 1500W heaters out there. I'm hoping they will bring the temperature up to at least 65 degrees. When I set up the exhaust fans, they bring the cold outside air right over the part being sprayed. I'm hoping the warm air from the sprayer compressor and the limited time the parts are in the cold draft from outside will all work out to meet temperature requirement for properly drying the pre-cat lacquer. We shall see.

January 21, 2017
The spraying went uneventfully. It was pretty crowded in there. I had to rearrange all the lawn equipment and cover everything. I had made a bunch of little dividers/separators for a chisel set. I thought spraying those would be problematic but sticking them to some boards with masking tape worked well. More on what those are for later.

The left side door carries a saw till. There are two sets of five saws, one for each cabinet. These holders have tight slots cut for the brass backs to keep the saws hanging more or less vertical. This is a set of Lie-Nielsen saws: small IT dovetail, tapered tenon, IT tenon, tapered carcass, and miter box saw. This is a set of Adria saws: dovetail, pair of small tenon saws (rip and cross), pair of large tenon saws (rip and cross). These exciting holders are for the front vise when not in use. The vise simply hangs by its handle. Here's the overall picture of the left side of the cabinet #1.

The lid carries quite an assortment of tools. This holder is for auger bits and layout tools. Cut from a single piece of wood, this was one of the more difficult ones. It has a lot of different width slots and variable spacing between them. I originally tried to use bar magnet tool holders. They were too weak and too bulky. I finally settled on these rare earth magnets. They are mostly just pressed in place. A few are supported by only one wooden edge. Those are epoxied in place. The holders for both tool boxes are the same with only small variations in a few dimensions. These two holders are for the chisels that store in the lid. The top one holds an assortment of Robert Sorby chisels. Only two of the fourteen chisels have blades that are wider than the chisel ferrule. Two of the holes have slots to accommodate these wider blades. The lower holder is for a set of German Bracht chisels. The German chisels blades are all wider than their handle ferrules and the holder has slots that allow the chisels to be removed through the front. The holes for these chisels are all somewhat non-standard. They had to be made to fit reasonably snug so that the lid could be closed without dumping the chisels out of their holders. These holders support a level and a couple Bridge City squares. Spring steel lets the top bracket move to install the level in the holder or remove it. Felt in the little blocks keep the squares from falling out. Here is the fully populated lid for one and the lid for the other.

The right side door carries files and chisels. A brace and an egg beater drill hang on the side of the center section. These two holders are for files and chisels on the right-side door. The top one is for files. The files kind of dangle, and they dangle very close to the chisel holder below. The large cut-out is for the vise handle. I made the file slots as tight as possible but I expect they will get bigger over time; that's what files do, right? The chisel holder lower of the two, has a back that aligns the files and protects the fingers when grabbing a chisel. The tools in the two sets are similar. The files and handles are mostly Nicholson. One set of chisels is by Freud, the other by Henry Taylor.

There are two holders, one for an egg beater drill and one for a brace, on the right side of the center console, under the end vise. The little tab on the holder for the egg beater, top one, stops the handle and keeps the egg beater from rolling over. The holder for the brace has a little shelf for accessories and to jazz it up a little. Here's a Millers Falls 5A and a Buck Rodgers T-1950 brace installed in cabinet #1. Here's the overall picture of the right side of cabinet #1.

I mentioned the little dividers I was spraying. This picture shows three little totes, a bunch of the dividers in the totes, and some straight sticks. I had used little wooden dividers made essentially from wood scraps, to display my spokeshave collection. I thought the display looked rather elegant so I thought I'd try something similar for a set of Pfeil chisels. I made the dividers first and tried fitting them in a drawer. I didn't like the way they just 'sat there'. I made some sticks to lift up the back edge. That looks better and keeps the chisel from sliding out of the divider when the drawer is closed. Still doesn't look quite finished. I needs a border of some kind behind the chisels for a finished look. That's where the little totes come in. Now they look pretty neat, right? There are 48 chisels in this set so there are three drawers for them. These haven't seen the light of day for 15 years! I wish I had two sets of these chisels, but alas, only the one set for cabinet #1

January 24, 2017
This is the end. Here's the fully opened glamor shot for cabinet #1, and closed. Cabinet #2 is hard to photograph. Here are pctures with tools installed, right side, left side, and closed. Thanks for looking, ya'll!