Thursday, 6 November 2014

Vertical Challenge

(By Ben Lucas – 6’8” in his socks)

Sharp tools are absolutely essential when in the business of building wooden boats.  This is drummed into new apprentices at the very outset and it doesn’t take long for the “penny to drop”.  Everything becomes so much easier with really sharp edges – and it’s safer too.  That said, grinding and honing tools can become a bit of a chore - something which is too often delayed until it can’t be put off any longer. 

Then one day, John, our tutor, suggested we invest in a “Tormek Sharpening System”. He’s got one at home and swears by it.  He said the advantages were numerous – accurate sharpening, no over-heating, safe to use and versatile – and you can sharpen almost anything on it – plane blades, chisels, knives, scissors, axes, spoke-shave blades, gouges, lathe tools and so on.   The only disadvantage is the cost – not just for the basic machine, but the numerous jigs that go with it.  And spares aren’t cheap either – a replacement grinding stone is about £250!

Anyway, John put up a good case and the machine arrived after a couple of days.   I was asked if I would take responsibility for the machine – not only to maintain and generally look after it, but also train others to use it.  John pointed out that bolting it down onto a standard bench was no good at all, because this makes it too high and you can’t get to both sides of the machine.  So he asked me to make a little stand for it.

I did a bit of thinking, made a few drawings and then set about making the stand.  Although I say it myself, the result was an absolute masterpiece.  Made from scrap plywood, the stand covered “all the bases”.  It was cheap, strong, reliable, portable, and even had a shelf for all the bits and pieces – spare jigs, honing paste and so on.  I was so proud of this stand, you would not believe it.  And everybody liked it, or so they said.

Mk I Stand, abandoned....

“But why is it so tall?” asked Abbey.  “I’ve got to stand on a tool-box or a milk crate to use it.  I’m only 5’3”!”   I said the stand was fine, as most people in the yard are taller than that, and we can’t just cater for the odd shorty.

“But it’s too high for me as well”, said Aiden.  “I’m 6’ and even I have to stand on tip-toe to use it”. 

“And why does it rock about?” asked George, one of the work-experience lads.  “If you put it on three legs instead of four, it wouldn’t matter if the concrete was uneven – and you wouldn’t have to put a wedge under it every time you use it………. as well having to stand on a milk crate”, he added as an afterthought.  For a fourteen-year-old, George can be very sensible indeed, but I didn’t tell him that.

“Well, yes” I said, “but apart from it being just a bit too tall for a few people and it rocking about a little bit and needing a wedge, I think it is fine - magnificent in fact”.

After a few weeks of general complaining by the apprentices, John asked me to shorten the stand and put it on three legs.  I think he had to ask me three times before I finally gave in. 

But I just couldn’t bring myself to butcher my creation and decided to make a completely new stand.  “Tormek stand Mk 2” is six inches lower and has three sides, which was probably a mistake as it involved working out lots of angles - although this did solve the problem of giving it three feet. 
But somehow I had now lost all enthusiasm for the project; I didn’t even bother to make a shelf and just screwed a plastic container on the side for the bits and pieces.

Mk II Stand
In my opinion, Stand Mk 2 is absolutely hideous and has no place in our workshop – although strangely enough, nobody complains about it anymore.


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