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Workshop Appliances with Cecil Rogers


Anti-Racking Spacers - Workshop Appliances by Cecil Rogers

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Racking is as old as vises are! End vises, face vises, Moxon vises... Most seem to suffer from it.

Over the last twenty years or so, there has been a hand tool renaissance, and there are thousands of resources for hand tool enthusiasts out there. Oddly, when one searches for ways to solve the racking problem, there seem to be far fewer ideas to deal with it.

One typical problem; the work piece is only held on one corner.

In most cases, vise racking is a bad thing... The problems are two fold. First, clamping forces can be fairly high, and racking the mechanism can cause long term distortion that can lead to sloppy and poor vise performance. Second, it can cause problems with holding the work piece. Typically, racking causes the piece to only be held on one corner. Further work efforts cause it to slip or pivot, thus making it hard to accomplish anything.

So, here's a great way to spend an afternoon between projects, get in touch with a few of your tools, and solve the problem. I went "old school" on this project, but you can speed it up a lot if you knock the mill work out with power tools.

This all started for me when I rehabbed an old Stanley #605 and got a new (to me) dovetail saw. I was anxious to both, "get in touch" with the plane, and figure out the dovetail saw. So, having some scrap poplar shorts, I planed a piece to about 2" x 3/4", and about 10" long. It was just dumb luck that things worked out as they did, but I'm not one to thumb my nose at serendipity.

I have a little bench on bench/Moxon vise. It raises my work up a few inches above the bench for joinery work... it's much more comfortable for that type of work. Anyway, after laying out the pins, I cut about 2" off the other end to keep the vise from racking while I was working on the dovetails. Every time I took pressure off the part I was working on, that little 2" block would fall out. It was a hassle.

What It Is...

These are nothing more than 8" sticks. A 2" section is dovetailed into a 6" section. It simply makes a corner. It fits perfectly with the textbook definition of an appliance: "a piece of equipment for adapting a tool or machine to a special purpose."

A "guilt free, no harm, no foul" way to practice dovetails and still
wind up with a useful appliance.

What It Does...

It's not really just one single appliance. Rather, it is several of them. They are a series of dovetailed corners. Mine run from 3/4" down to 1/4" in 1/16" increments. They hang on one side of any vise you have, and keep the vise from racking. They don't fall off when you loosen the vise. And, if you need to work something thicker than your biggest spacer, they can be ganged together.

Once built, these will last as long as you do woodworking. If you find yourself working something of an "odd size," just make a new one, mark the size, and enjoy it for the rest of your woodworking life. When not in use, they sit patiently on the shelf waiting to be called into service.

When not in use, they just wait patiently up on the shelf.

And, if you happen to get a new dovetail saw, this is a great way to make some guilt free, no harm, no foul practice dovetails and still have a useful appliance when you're done.

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