From my perspective, one of the very best things about The Anarchist’s Design Book is how Chris used it as an opportunity to democratise furniture making – the suggestion that you need a minimal tool kit and only a handful of core techniques in order to make durable and stylish furniture is an incredibly powerful message. Yes you still need to develop those core skills, but by focusing on a small number of key techniques and removing the need to purchase an endless list of expensive tools, or to spend a lifetime making fancy jigs, furnishing your home with your own hands suddenly looks very feasible. For me, never has this been more apparent than reading the chapters on staked chairs and benches – chair making can often appear to have more than a touch of voodoo to it, so to see staked construction methods and compound geometry placed firmly within your grasp, is quite frankly intoxicating. Building this pair of staked saw benches is the equivalent of dipping my toe into chair making, and I hope to be spending a lot more time working on chairs of one form or another over the next couple of years.
Once the glue had cured on the first saw bench I trimmed the wedges and tenon stub with a flush cut saw, and then smoothed the whole bench top with my No.3 smoothing plane. Next was another introduction to a key element of chair making – levelling the legs and trimming them to length. As with the compound joinery, this actually sounds a lot more difficult than it is, and Chris’ clear instructions in the book left me with a bench that was level and stable in next to no time, and didn’t require any complex jigs (there is nothing I enjoy in the workshop less than jig making). After checking various available surfaces with a spirit level I decided to use the lid of my Anarchist’s Tool Chest – the raised panel was plenty big enough for the saw bench and it just happened to be the most level surface available. Standing the saw bench on top of the tool chest, with the spirit level on top of the bench, I wedged up the legs until the top was perfectly flat across it’s length and width. The oak wedges I made for the luthier’s thin panel jig worked perfectly for this operation, as I was able to tap them in to make precise incremental changes, instead of diving into the scrap bin for suitable off-cuts.
Once I was satisfied that the top was level I was able to work out the appropriate height of the saw bench by measuring the distance between my kneecap and the floor, and then determine how much the legs needed to be trimmed to get the top of the bench to the desired height, using nothing more complex that a 24″ rule in a combination square, and my small Sterling Tool Works Double Square. To continue the simple-jigs-or-no-jigs theme, to mark off the legs I taped a scalpel with No.10 blade to a piece of scrap the right height, and marked off each facet of the legs.
Actually trimming the legs is a bit nerve wracking at first – there’s not much margin for error if you want the bench to remain at the right height, and the angles are (yet again) a little funky. For the first leg I kerfed in the line on all eight facets of the leg to create a path of least resistance, and then trimmed the leg fully. That worked fine, but was a little fiddly, so for the other three legs I decided to be brave and just go for it. Positioning yourself properly definitely helps reduce the risk of this operation – standing where you can see the lines on at least three of the faces of a leg helps keep the saw at the right angle. After the first leg or so it became easy to dial the correct angle in by eye, and I think goes to show that compound angles are not to be feared. To trim the legs I used a 12″ carcase saw by Bad Axe, which although a little slower than my 16″ tenon saw, gives a very precise cut which needs virtually no clean up. As a finishing touch I gave the feet of the bench a 1/8″ by 1/8″ chamfer using a fine (13 grain, 7″) Auriou rasp.
A quick test with the new Skelton Saws Panel Saw confirmed that the first saw bench is rock solid and at the perfect height. All that remains to do now is apply a simple finish, although I will wait until the second bench is finished.