A Spot of Pre-Flight Dovetail Practice

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A wide chisel helps to locate the tail board for transfer to the pin board

I thought I would get some dovetail practice in before I fly out for the Kentucky Dovetail Death March ™ later on this month, and this presented a perfect opportunity to start making drawers for the express lathe stand. The inclusion of drawers was a key part of the original design for the lathe stand, as not only will drawers provide a home for lathe tools and other small items (a workshop can never have too much storage!), but using the lathe stand as a storage unit also adds mass, which keeps things stable when turning larger workpieces. Originally I had intended to domino drawers out of ply – a construction method that is quick, efficient and perfect for a workshop storage unit. But as I wanted to do some dovetailing in preparation for my trip, it made sense to dovetail this round of drawers at the very least.

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Chamfering the leading edges of the tails for ease of assembly

So far I’ve made three drawers of varying depth and tail spacing – changing the dovetail spacing for each drawer offered some good practice after a few months of cutting only bench-sized joinery. One drawer will hold my lathe jaws, allen keys, and smaller tools which become indespensible when you use a lathe. The deepest drawer will hold my scorp, splitting wedges, and a few other chair making tools which need a separate home to my Anarchist’s Tool Chest. The final drawer is much shallower than the others, and will house story sticks and patterns accumulated from past projects.

 

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A sharp block plane is a wonderful thing for cleaning up joinery

I cut the dovetails the same way I’ve cut every dovetail joint (and the way we will be doing it next week). After a year of mainly working on bench-sized oak timber, the 3/4″ pine for the drawers worked ike a dream, and it was nice to work at a different scale and tolerance. Once the glue had dried, I cleaned up the dovetails with a sharp block plane to see how the joints had turned out and was quite pleased. Once I am back from Kentucky I will clean up the rest of the surfaces with a smoothing plane, fit ply bottoms to each drawer, and give them a lick of paint (probably the green I used for the saw cabinet). With some clutter out of the way, it will then be back to the Roubo bench build. The autumn promises some enjoyable woodwork!

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Three drawers. They need a final clean up, but the joinery is strong and these will provide plenty of storage in the lathe sand

On a separate note, I will be at the Lie-Nielsen event at the Lost Art Press storefront on Saturday – if anyone finds themselves there, then do say hi (I’ll be the jetlaged Englishman).

Apron Maintenance

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Before – nearly three years of accumulated grime

My Texas Heritage ‘shop apron has seen a lot of heavy use in the nearly-three years I’ve been wearing it. And with my class at the Lost Art Press store front now imminent (I fly out in just over a week’s time) I thought it was about time I gave my apron a bit of a clean. I discussed the best approach with Jason, who was able to give some helpful pointers.

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After brushing and using an air gun to remove dirt

The first stage of clean up was to gently brush the apron down to remove the bulk of the grime. I then used an air gun, fed with 20psi from a compressor, to remove any stubborn dirt particles that had become embedded in the fibres of the apron, as well as removing the inevitable detritus from within the pockets.

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Hosed down

With most of the dirt removed, I hosed the apron down with cold water, being sure to empty the pockets out afterwards to avoid stretching as the apron dried (the waxed canvas pockets are very effective as water collecting vessels!). The canvas cleaned up quickly and very well, with just some stubborn patches of PU glue remaining (that stuff will likely survive the apocalypse), and while it is looking cleaner it still shows signs of being worn and used. Which is exactly how it should be. I fully expect that this apron will outlast me, which is a testament to the quality of Jason’s work.

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Cleaned up

 

A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Reprise

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The completed chair in situ

Long time readers may remember the stick chair I was building for the Apprentice, based on a child-sized 18th century chair held in the collection at St Fagans. That build stalled last year when my first forays into steam bending a comb proved to be unsuccessful. I didn’t abandon the build, but it went on the back burner while I built a steam box, and then all of my workshop time was absorbed by the article for Mortise and Tenon, and the Roubo bench build. But I never stopped looking for an opportunity to finish this chair. While I was processing stock for my stick chair for the M&T article and some other projects, I found within one of those huge oab slabs, some curved grain which matched the curvature of the comb for the Apprentice’s chair. Jackpot – no need to steam bend stock (although with the steam box now complete, I am looking forward to steam bending chair parts in the near future). I cut the comb out of the slab, and set it aside while I finished ther chair for M&T.

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Painting the chair

With the M&T chair (and article) complete, I managed to find some time to clean up the comb with spokeshaves, and did the final glue up for the Apprentice’s chair. The chair is made with oak from three different sources, and there is not enough consistency of colour across the various components to use a clear finish. So original my plan was to milk paint the chair green to match the green Chesterfield armchair I sit in. On reflection, I asked the Apprentice what colour she would like the chair, and we looked at some milk paint samples until she settled on Sweetheart Pink by Real Milk Paint. After quickly placing an order with Tools for Working Wood, we were ready to finish the chair.

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Painted, burnished, and oiled

I thought it would be fun for the Apprentice and I to paint the chair together, and she eagerly assisted me with the first coat. Milk paint often takes several coats for a consistent finish, and I applied a further three coats in the evening. Once we had a good consistent finish I burnished the paint with brown paper, and then ragged on a single coat of Osmo Polyx. The Osmo deepened the colour of the paint a little, and also emphasised the texture of the underlying wood (particularly the facets on the legs and sticks). The comb had some striking grain, and so I deliverately left that unpainted to add some visual interest.

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A satisfied customer

The chair now resides in our lounge, next to my reading chair, and the Apprentice seems to really love it. She is also facinated by the idea of making furniture, and so hopefully it won’t be too long before she joins me in the ‘shop.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 13

One of the reasons I originally wanted to build a Roubo workbench was the iconic leg joint – a double tenon which extends through the top, and where the outer-facing tenon is shaped as a sliding dovetail. The joint has practical purposes, as it doubles the surface area of the joint (for additional strength), and a double tenon should resist twisting out of alignment. But fundamentally, that joint excites me, both in terms of executing it, and seeing it on the workbench every time I enter the shop. As I’ve written before, this build is more akin to timber framing than to furniture (and is far removed from the lutherie I started with), and that double tenon joint has become for me an expression of skilled handcraft (providing of course that I don’t botch the joint, right?).

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Laying out the tenons

In contrast to the undercarriage, where I cut the mortises before the tenons, with the jeg joinery I decided to cut the tenons first. This way, I can then do a dry fit of the complete undercarriage and layout from that the position of the mortises on the slab top.

The first stage of joinery, as always, is laying out the joint, and Roubo poses us a choice – do we want to cut the joint as he describes it in the text, or as it is illustrated? The difference is the location of the rear tenon, which Roubo describes as being flush to the rear face of the leg (effectively as a barefaced tenon), but in the illustration is placed more centrally with two shoulders. Roubo explains that while most benches are built with the rear tenon flush to the rear of the leg, he considers that it would be best to have a shoulder either side of this tenon. I decided to follow historic French workbench builders, rather than implement Roubo’s suggested improvement.

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Laying out the dovetail slopes

To layout the joint I divided the thickness of the leg into three equal parts, and struck lines on the end grain and both sides with the Hamilton Toolworks traditional marking gauge. The baseline for the joint was measured from the end of the leg and then transfered to all four faces of the workpiece with a marking knife and Vesper 10″ square. Because the top of the slab has not been flattened yet, there is some variation in the thickness of the slab, and the baseline of the joint was taken by measuring the thickness of the slab at the locations of each leg joint and then adding a hair to the thinnest dimension.

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Cutting a notch into the waste side of the layout line provides a clean starting point for the saw

The final element of the layout was to mark the slope of the sliding dovetail – I set a sliding bevel to 60 degrees and struck lines from the rear corner of the dovetail to the face of the leg. An easy way to check that the dovetail is on the correct face of the workpiece is to make sure that the mortise for the short stretcher is on the opposite face – if you have dovetails and mortises on the same side, then something has gone wrong!

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Big joinery requires a big (and accurate) saw. Enter the Roubo Beastmaster by Bad Axe

Cutting the joinery though 6 pouce thick oak is heavy work, but straight forward. This build was one of the reasons I bought the Roubo Beastmaster tenon saw from Bad Axe – at 5″ plate depth and 18″ long, it is a timber framing saw with the precision required for big joinery. A good handsaw would also work for cutting this joint, although I personally find backsaws easier to use in this sort of application.

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Here you can see how the first two cuts have been made to the lefthand layout lines, and now I make the cuts against the righthand layout lines, turning the leg in the vise after each cut.

Cutting the joint is similar to cutting the tenons for the stretchers, albeit on a bigger scale and with a few additional nuances. The leg was placed on a block of scrap to elevate it above the top of my Sjoberg bench, and secured in the vise at an angle. Essentially the job is to remove the waste between the two tenons, and then cut the slope of the dovetail.

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Cutting the shoulders of the dovetail slopes

I find it easier to make all of the cuts to one side of a layout line before switching to cutting the opposite side of the next line, and so that is what I did here. Starting at the corner nearest me, I cut against the lefthand layout line until the saw hit the baseline and the opposite corner of the joint. I then rotated the leg 180 degrees in the vise so that it was facing the otherway, and then cut to the lefthand yout line on the opposite side. This meant that half the cuts had been made to each side of the joint, and I could now make the next two cuts against the righthand layout lines. With this second pair of cuts, the saw kerf had already been established across the end of the leg, so it was a case of starting in the corner nearest me and working down the remaining layout line until the baseline was hit. I then stood the leg vertically in the vise, and cut straight down to remove the triangle of waste that remained in the base of the cut. The slopes of the dovetails were then cut with the same saw, and the shoulders cut with the Bayonet.

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Drilling out the waste with a Woodowl bit and brace

Now, you could chisel out the waste from between the tenons, but that sounds like a lot of work. Much easier is to drill out the waste, which I did with a 1 1/8″ Woodowl auger bit (the largest bit I have) in my North Bros brace, getting as close to the baseline as I dare. As beefy as it is, the Roubo Beastmaster did not quite have enough depth under the sawback to reach the baselines of the tenons (which are 5 3/4″ deep), and so a small webbing of oak remained. I knocked this out with a mortise chisel and mallet, and the waste block dropped out of each joint.

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After drilling out the majority of the waste, the remaining webbing is removed with a mortise chisel.

There is a little bit of clean up to do on the tenons, mainly cleaning up the baseline between the tenons, and also a spot of paring on a few of the dovetail slopes. But this is a major step forwards with the bench, and as soon as my slab-moving team are next available we will move the slab into position to layout the double mortises and get the second half of this joint cut.

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Four legs with the joinery cut

Roubo is Coming… Part 12

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With the legs assembled I could check the final width of the slab

The slab is now processed on five of its six surfaces, with only the top left to flatten (which will wait until the bench has been assembled). The final surface to be cleaned up in this stage of the build was the rear edge of the slab, and this the one area where my approach to the build has created a little extra work. In his book, Chris recommends processing the slab first, so that the stretchers are cut to suit the final size of the slab. However, because I decided to limber up for this build by preparing the undercarriage first, I had to size the slab to suit the stretchers. To be honest, this was not too much extra work, and given the time it has taken to get this far into the build, I’m glad I didn’t work on the slab when I first started, as it would likely have moved again in the intervening months.

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Direct measurement from components reduces the risk of error

The rear edge does not need to be square, or super flat, but it does need to be of the same width as the legs and short stretchers. Whenever possible, I prefer to avoid measuring, and so to test how close the slab was to final width, I assembled the legs and short stretchers, and placed them in position on the slab. I’ll admit that this was also for my own curiosity and to get a sense of the scale of the bench. With the legs in situ, I could see that the slab was 11/16″ too wide – not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but more than I could want to remove with a jack plane from a 6″ thick, 102″ long slab or pretty truculent oak. Instead, I decided to rip the waste off with my 119 year old Disston D8 handsaw.

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Ripping the slab to width. Yes this felt like work, but with patience it is possible to accurately cut 6″ thick oak by hand.

To provide a line to cut to, I set my panel gauge to the width of a pair of legs (still no measuring), and struck a line down the slab. When cutting 6″ thick timber, the key is to go slow and steady, and to keep the saw plate lubricated with plenty of mutton tallow. I used an overhand ripping grip for most of this work, alternating occasionally to lay down a guide kerf by sawing at a shallow angle to the top of the workpiece.

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The waste has been ripped off

Once I had ripped the waste off, I rotated the slab (with assistance from my ever-helpful slab moving team) so that the freshly cut edge was facing up, and the slab was resting on the saw benches (in the same position as when I worked the front edge). The rear edge is not bang on perpendicular to the underside of the slab, nor is it dead nuts straight. But it is within perfectly acceptable tolerances for this surface. I spent a few minutes cleaning up the area where the rear legs are situated with a jack plane, so that these are perpendicular to the underside, as this will make for an easier layout when cutting the leg joinery (the next stage of the build).

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Tuning the area where the leg joinery will be cut

The slab is now ready for the leg joinery to be cut, which means that we will be moving it back into storage while I cut the double tenon on the legs. The build is continuing to progress smoothly, and I am aiming to assemble the bench shortly after I get back from teaching at the Lost Art Press storefront in September.

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The slab is processed on all surfaces save for the top, which will happen once the bench is assembled.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 11

So far every step of the Roubo build has been spent on processes which directly contribute to the structural integrity of the bench, or which affect its usability. And it has all been great fun. Sometimes though it is nice to do some work that has no bearing on how a project functions, and is purely about decoration. So, while the slab was in the right position, and the weather made for a nice evening in the ‘shop, this week I inlayed the plaque that Jenny Bower engraved for the bench. This was really enjoyable work – most of my inlay experience is for irregular, and much smaller, shaped pieces for guitar inlay. The large and regular sized of the plaque was a nice change of scale, although the processes are very much the same.

When I originally commissioned Jenny to engrave the plaque, my intention was to inlay it in the vise chop, where it would be prominently displayed. While that is still a good location, it did occur to me that the vise chop could conceivably be separated to the bench in decades time. So I decided instead to inlay the plaque to the face edge of the slab top, to the left hand end of the bench where it would be seen every time I entered the shop.

Having determined the final location, I placed the plaque on the slab and traced round it with a marking knife, using several passes and light pressure to cut a clean line without pushing the plaque out of position. Crisp inlay requires a clean edge to the recess, and I like to deepen my layout lines with a wide chisel (in this instance a 2″ butt chisel) and a sharp rap from a mallet. I then pared a shallow tough into the layout line, using the same chisel, and working from the waste side outwards. This is similar to preparing a “first class cut” for joinery, and helps to prevent any cutting tools straying over the edge of the inlay recess.

With the edge of the recess cleanly established, excavating the recess was easily done with a large router plane, working down the depth incrementally until the plaque was sitting just a hair below the surface. The corners of the recess were a little tight for the large router plane to reach, but a No271 router plane with a spear-tip blade reached into those with little trouble (collecting the unusual blades for this tool does occasionally pay off, even if 95% of the work is with the standard square tip blade!).

A test fit of the plaque showed that it pressed into place nicely. The brass, and Jenny’s outstanding engraving work adds a touch of personalisation and class to this monolithic bench. The workbench should outlast me (and in all likelihood the Apprentice’s grandchildren), and so knowing that my logo will be carried into the future in this way is very humbling.