Tom Conroy is a book
restorer and bookbinding historian and teacher
living in Berkeley and working in San Francisco.
He makes and repairs
wooden bookbinding equipment, reconditions the
scruffiest high-quality woodworking tools he can
find cheap, and occasionally even uses the tools.
few months ago I was followed home by a piece of oak that had
been on its way to the trash, roughly 1-1/8" x 4" x 48". It had
a nice color and grain and it seemed a pity to let it go to
waste, even though it was oily and grimy to the touch and I
don't really like oak all that much.
But it was exactly the right size for something I
have been wanting to make for several years and
didn't want to do with wood that would serve for
the demise of the old GIC, Jack Kamishlian had posted pictures
of a device I think he invented, a fixture to be held in a
normal face vise which turns it into a shoulder vise.
downloaded the photos, forgot to download the text (the text is
not that informative:) but I put the idea on the back burner
because my current face vise is dinky.
The dinky came with the
bench - yes, I have sinned, I confess it, I bought my bench,
one of Garrett Wade's old Rhodesian Teak ones (I figured it out
that they sold these benches for the price of the wood), and I
love it, but the built-in vises are small, slow, and weak.
years I have been intending to replace the face vise (3/4"
diameter screw with about 6 t.p.i., 6" opening with all the
threads engaged, or maybe 6-5/8" just before it drops off) with
a big Record opening over 15". It seemed foolish to build the
shoulder vise fixture, which clearly must be custom to the host
face vise, before replacing the face vise. So both projects
languished. (Anyone need an explanation of why installing the
Record vise languished, hmmm? You there, with the bench with no
clutter on it, you got any comments to make? Are you lookin' at
me? Are you lookin' at me? I thought not.)
Only, this piece of oak on its way to the dump
was just the right size for a shoulder vise fixture for the
current face vise, and I figured, I will make it as a sketch for
the better one that I will make when the big Record is
installed, down around the time of the Greek Kalends, and if it
doesn't work I won't be out anything but time and a bit of free
oak and I don't really like oak anyway.
Of course, the oak was not without problems. It
is slow-grown, in other words tight annual rings which in oak
means weak and brash; and flat-sawn, though this turned out OK
because the part that shows in use is the board edges and they
have a nice opulent display of flake.
But mostly, it is oily. It
was associated with some piece of bookbinding machinery (maybe
built in, maybe part of a stand, I don't know) for a long time,
and by a long time I mean decades, and by decades I mean
anything from four or five up to eight or ten. And over time it
got little spurts of light machine oil from the machine, and
over eighty years that is a lot of machine oil. I planed away
the surface hoping to get rid of the disgusting oily-grimy
bleeding feeling, and though that got rid of the grime it was
clear that the oil was still there.
So I figured, OK, I will rely on coarse dovetails
to hold the fixture together, not on glue, and hope that there
is enough of an unsaturated core to the wood that glue will be
able to get a grip and help. Well, maybe.
When I crosscut the
board it looked at first as if the oil was purely on the
surface, but a day later the freshly-exposed oily section had
oxidized and deepened in color, and I could see that it had
penetrated an average of over 1/4", and in places had penetrated
all the way through. But, I figured, this is just a sketch with
free wood that would have been thrown out anyway and I don't
really like oak, so I went ahead.
My normal choice of glues is those I know best
from bookbinding: hot glue, PVA, and (since it is just souped-up
PVA) yellow aliphatic resin. But here I figured none of these
hydrophilic adhesives would cohere to hydrophobic oil, so they
My coarse dovetails, the main thing that would hold
the fixture together, are **very** coarse, so I figured
gap-filling might be good. I took a couple of off-cuts and glued
them together outside-to-outside with some old epoxy I happened
to have sitting around, and I couldn't break them apart.