Crisscross – installed and in use

I’ve got a Crisscross from Benchcrafted mounted on my newest bench and I must say, I never really liked adjusting the parallel guide pin, and now I don’t have to any more. The vise is still smooth as silk (if I spin the hand-wheel hard, it will rotate up to 15 times – I counted), and the grip is still as tenacious as ever. And no setting of the parallel guide pin!

Crisscross from Benchcrafted

The Crisscross mounted on my bench with Benchcrafted’s Glide Vise

Did I mention that I didn’t like setting the pin?

There’s another benefit as well; installation was easier than dealing with the parallel guide as well, and there’s less to go out of adjustment with seasonal changes to the wood (or clamping with the pin set incorrectly).

What’s different? Other than not having to set the pin (!), the vise has a slightly more nuanced grip. With the parallel guide, the vise would grab with a great deal of force right away. Now, there’s about a quarter-turn between first contact with the workpiece and fully tightened. That actually makes it easier to grip something lightly, not much harder to grab all the way. There’s a little bit of toe-in built into the mechanism, and that quarter turn seems to take the chop from toed-in to parallel with the leg. I haven’t had any issue with the bottom of the chop pulling in too far (I tried).

It did take a few days of use to get as smooth as it is now. That may have something to do with a little bit of breaking in on the threads, or perhaps it was a slight misalignment in how I set the acetyl bushing. In any event, the vise has gotten better as I’ve used it.

I’m going to retro-fit the Crisscross onto two other benches, but that may have to wait until over (or after) the holidays.

Bumping Up Against Your Limits

sawing aluminum as practice

Dovetail Practice – to a point

How do you get better? By learning more and doing more. At first, things either come naturally, or they require a lot of work to master. Eventually, you start to bump up against stuff that’s harder to overcome. And sometimes, after lots and lots of work, it feels like you’re coming up against the true limits to your talent.

For an athlete, that might mean that your body just doesn’t have the capacity to go faster, or respond quicker, or to jump higher. For a musician, it may be the inability to play a certain piece perfectly no matter how much you practice. And for a woodworker, it may be the inability to shape, join, smooth, or finish a project just the way you would like.

I will not in any way deny that there are limits to your ability, but those limits of are significantly further along than you might realize, though. Having trained extensively to be a classical musician, and then later on with a coach as a cyclist and runner, I’ve come to realize now that you can almost always push farther and improve more than you would ever think possible.

But most of us have other limits that are far more constraining than ultimate ability; we have families, jobs, and all kinds of other obligations and passions that prevent taking our skills all the way to their maximum. And this can be frustrating.

So how can you improve as much as possible in the limited time and with the limited energy you have available to you?

1) Take a class. It’s one of the fastest ways to give yourself a boost A good teacher or coach will find ways to push you well beyond what you think is possible.

2) Stop reading quite so much (or watching so many videos) and start making stuff. Sure, the stuff you read is important, but actually making things is far more important. Stop reading this right now if it means that you’ll go to your shop and make something. You may feel like you don’t know the right way to do something. Try to figure it out on your own. There really isn’t a “right way” to do anything. But figuring something out on your own is infinitely more valuable.

3) Get comfortable making mistakes. If you shy away from mistakes, you’ll also avoid challenges, and you can’t possibly get better without challenging yourself. Switch to cheaper wood if you’re uncomfortable messing up the good stuff.

4) Work on your weaknesses. It’s really tempting to just play to your strengths, and you shouldn’t neglect them, but you’ve got much more room for improvement with your shortcomings.

5) Be sure to balance out hard work on things you need to work on with “play” – stuff that’s just plain fun and fast to do. It will keep you fresher and more engaged. Oh. And it’s more fun.

6) Have tools that are good enough. You don’t need tools that are perfect. In fact, you’ll hold yourself back more by fussing your tools or your shop to perfection than you would by actually getting to work with tools that are simply fine. I’m not saying don’t learn how to sharpen well. But avoid the temptation to have the perfect tools or to make everything perfect before you attempt to use it.

7) Find places to practice. Even hack-sawing an aluminum bar can improve your dovetails if you work on your saw technique while you cut the bar (at least for a little while, until you get frustrated and just want to actually hack through the rest of it). You don’t have years to mess around; get practice anywhere you can.

8) Concentrate on the fundamentals. They makes everything else easier. Oddly enough, I know a good place to go for this: my newly released book, The Foundations of Better Woodworking.


Roubo-style Workbench Classes

I’ll be teaching two classes where we build the workbench I wrote about for the current issue of Fine Woodworking. Both classes will be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of two consecutive weekends (each class is six days long). The dates are April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14; and then on June 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, and 30. All class days are from 9 am to 5 pm. I’m keeping these classes small, which is better for me and better for you. You’ll need to bring your own vise hardware and wood (carefully milled). You can also purchase milled wood from me if you prefer. I’m working on shipping options as well, so benches can be shipped to you after class if necessary.

These are just about the best workbenches I’ve come across, after building eight of my own, helping a few other people make theirs, and working on dozens and dozens of benches of all types.

Click here for more information.