The Anarchist’s Saw Bench… part 6


The finished pair of saw benches

The second staked saw bench is now assembled, and I’ve had my first opportunity to press the pair of benches into use. In my last post on this project I had finished work on the legs for the second bench and just had the mortises to drill and ream before glue-up. I approached the rest of the build in the same way I’ve written about previously in this series (which is collected under the “staked furniture category” on the right-hand side of the screen).


The sliding bevel provides a reference surface for drilling the mortise, but is less assistance when reaming the mortise to match the tapered tenon.

This project has been my first introduction to staked furniture, and to the compound geometry chairmakers use. Dipping my toe into this new world (which is very different to the guitar building or casework I’m used to) has been a great experience. When drilling the mortises for the second bench I was amazed at how quickly the angles for the sight lines settled into my arms and eyes, and steering the auger bit through the bench top at the correct angle using only a sliding bevel for reference felt a lot more natural. There’s no voodoo to this – just a matter of practice. Unfortunately reaming the mortises still feels much less natural, I suppose because there is no reference edge on the reamer which you can use to follow the sightline. I was quite happy with the splay on my first saw bench – it could afford to be a touch more consistent, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. Somehow, despite prioritising the reaming on the second bench I managed to be less consistent than with the first bench. This is definitely an area I need to work on, and I think there may be a third saw bench in my future to really get to terms with this technique (anda to be honest  third saw bench would make sawing long stock easier anyway). I have total admiration for chair makers who can get this operation right time after time – it is definitely the most difficult element of the saw bench build. That being said, even with legs that look a little like Bambi on ice, the second saw bench is still rock solid in use, which goes to show how forgiving the form is.


A simple coat of shellac and pumice powder is all the finishing these saw benches need

In The Anarchist’s Design Book Chris didn’t apply any finish to his saw benches. I decided that a simple finish would help them survive the rigours of workshop use, and I wanted to try a recipe Derek had given me. Both saw benches received a coat of freshly mixed amber shellac (a one pound cut) to which I added pumice powder. After this had dried and sat for a couple of days I then burnished the benches with a handful of plane shavings. The result is a slightly grippy, matt finish which will offer the benches protection and which can be easily renewed as and when it becomes necessary.


Then just burnish the finish with a handful of fresh plane shavings

As soon as the finish has been burnished I was keen to put the saw benches into use, and so I used it as an opportunity to break down a 14′ long board of 12″ wide pine that I’ve been saving for a second Packing Box from The Joiner & Cabinet Maker. This is the first time I’ve used a good pair of saw benches sized specifically for my height, and the experience was extremely illuminating. My initial observations on working this way are as follows.

  1. I need to re-organise my workshop so that I can break down long stock without having to open the doors. This is something I’ve been thinking about doing anyway, but it is now clear that having the workbench in the middle of the shop (instead of against the wall) is not an efficient use of space. Time for a reschuffle in the new year. I’ll then be able to set up the saw benches down the middle of the workshop as needed.
  2. Crosscutting stock at the saw bench is a much more efficient way of working than breaking down wide boards at the workbench, especially with the Skelton Saws Panel Saw (which is a complete monster).
  3. For long rip cuts I think I still prefer working at workbench height and using an overhand ripping technique. Partly because I find it easier to keep to the line when overhand ripping compared to ripping on a saw bench (although I am sure that will improve with practice) but also because I carry an old shoulder injury from martial arts training which makes ripping at the saw bench somewhat uncomfortable.
  4. The saw bench design offers an excellent platform for sawing. Placing the workpiece along the length of the saw bench top provides a great deal of support for ripping long stock. Placing the workpiece across the width of the bench top gives a good reference edge for making square cross cuts.
  5. Two saw benches are good, three would be better. Working the 14′ long board required careful placement, and the occasional relocation, of my two saw benches, and having a third would definitely make life a bit easier. That will be another project (and opportunity to get the reaming bang on) for next year.

A good pair of saw benches can entirely change your hand saw experience

12 thoughts on “The Anarchist’s Saw Bench… part 6

  1. Very nice benches. I can sympathize on overhand sawing: I had surgery for a torn labrum in my dominant shoulder a few years back, and repetitive sawing/planing still causes me some pain. So it goes.

    • Thank you! Fortunately my shoulder injury only really bites for extended periods of bending low (so long rip cuts). Working at bench height is perfectly fine (which I am very grateful for). You have my sympathy for the torn labrum.

  2. This is good to hear. You touched upon one of the mysteries for me while reading through Chris’ chapter on these benches: reaming. It sounds like Vodoo but I know it’ll come by just doing it.

    And thanks for confirming one of my suspicions: the second “whatever” always looks like crap compared to the first. My first dovetails looked amazing…my second ones looked awful…my third looked better and so on. If we could figure out how to harness that first time when our concentration and innocence seem to peak, we’d really have something.


    • Thanks Shawn.

      Reaming is definitely the process I need to practice a whole heap more. It only took a few mortises to get the hand of drilling at funky angles (the small Vesper bevel kept my auger bit and brace honest), so it’s the reaming I need to focus on.

      It’s funny isn’t it. I wonder if there’s a grain of zen like truth in the second attempt never quite equalling the first. It is not for lack of concentration. But I do wonder if it is because the first time round you are approaching a task entirely fresh, and free of preconceptions (or as you rightly say, “innocence”). So it works. The second time, you start adding in over corrections or subconsciously complicating something your body can already do? Who knows. But No.3 will hopefully be the best yet.


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