The Policeman’s Boot Bench… Part 1

There may be better ways of starting a new year than with a new project, but I’ve yet to find any. I started off 2017 as I mean to go on – spending the first day of the year in the workshop breaking down stock for my next funiture build. It all seemed very appropriate.

For this project I’ve been commissioned to build an oak side table and shoe rack to sit in a hallway. The client had a strong idea of what he wanted, but was open to some design input from me, and so we batted sketches back and forth until we reached the final specification. This was a perfect opportunity to apply the key design tenets from the Anarchist’s Design Book (a book that has had a significant impact on how I think about design), whilst meeting the specific dimensions the client wants (the piece will fit in a corner of the hall between a wall and radiator). We started with a low “boot bench” type design (and the name has stuck), although the final design did take advantage of the one dimension I could change, by increasing the height somewhat. Where we ended up was a 43″ wide, 14″ deep table with the top secured to the sides with through dovetails, while the four shelves (the client and his housemates have a lot of shoes!) are let into the sides with dados. To protect the wall behind from being marked by shoes, and to add rigidity to the piece, tongue and grooved boards will be set into a rebate and nailed to the back of the carcase.  So, dados, rebates, cut nails, and tongue and groove backboards. That definitely sounds like an Anarchist’s design!

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Rough oak boards, waiting to be turned into a boot bench

The boot bench will stand on a period tiled floor, and the client wants to make a feature of the floor as much as possible. So one of the design questions was how to give the table a solid footing without obscuring the floor tiles. My suggestion was to carve the bottom 3″ of the sides (up to the lower edge of the first shelf) into a cyma reversa foot detail similar to the feet of my Roubo bookstand build. This retains a good base for the table, but still allows sight of the floor tiles. The table will be finished with shellac and topped with a home brewed hard wax (the recipe for which is courtesy of Derek).

With the design agreed, my next stop was Sykes Timber, who were able to provide some gorgeous 15″ wide 5/4″ thick oak boards. These lay in stick in the workshop for November and December, before being broken down and moved into the house to acclimatise.

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Drawing full sized plans – I wouldn’t want to be without my set of Roubo curves by Sterling Tool Works for drawing curved parts.

Working from scaled drawings is all well and good if you’re following instructions from a design someone else has tested, but when building a brand new design I’m not happy putting saw to wood until I’ve worked up a full sized drawing. I find that making a full sized drawing gives me the opportunity to spot any design issues I’ve overlooked, and also to clarify in what order I need to carry out each stage of the build. I like rolls of lining paper for making full sized plans, as you can cut each piece to the precise length you need it, and the thick paper is quite durable. And so over Christmas I hunkered down and drew full size front, back and side elevations for the boot bench. With the drawings complete I then wrote a detailed list of each stage of work, making sure that each stage followed logically and wouldn’t complicate any stages that followed. This will be my masterplan for the build going forwards, so is worth getting right!

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Laying out the top and sides on one of the 15″ wide boards.

The moment that you start to work on rough boards always feels transformational to me – taking splintery and dirt encrusted timber in order to realise the beauty and furniture within. It can also be a somewhat nerve wracking moment – you only get one chance to make that first cut! S0 only once I was happy that the design worked, and that the dimensions would fit in the physical space the client has available, did I start thinking about breaking the oak down to size. If I’m honest, making the three cuts for the top and sides took over an hour, and even after a lot of careful checking I was still a touch nervous about cutting such beautiful stock. Having pulled the three oak boards out of their resting place, I selected the best board for the casework, and spent time laying out the top and sides so that they would run sequentially along the one board, avoiding any knots or shakes. These boards were very clear, but in any wide stock there is bound to be a couple of minor defects. Having laid out the cuts for the top and sides on one face of the board, I flipped it over to make sure there weren’t any surprises on the other side. Through careful layout I was able to place the few knots in areas where the foot detailed would be cut away, or in waste sections. The other two boards provided the four shelves. Breaking down 9′ long boards by hand definitely makes me want to build a third saw bench to support the extra length, but the two saw benches I do have worked perfectly and provided a lot of support to these wide oak boards. The Skelton panel saw is a monster, munching through the wide oak like it wasn’t even there. That saw is definitely a worthwhile addition to my tool chest.

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For breaking down rough stock the Skelton Saws cross-cut panel saw and a pair of saw benches is the perfect combination.

The stock is now safely stored in the house to finish acclimatising before I start work on the build proper, more of which next week.

3 thoughts on “The Policeman’s Boot Bench… Part 1

  1. I like the idea of a third saw bench too after the work I’ve been doing lately. Don’t tell the apprentices, but I purposely built their little Nicholson bench to just about saw bench height and I’ve used it as such from time to time.

    My next obsession (you know, after the table, benches and chairs I’ve got lined up) is to try to build a low Roman bench in the laminated style just to see if it works in lieu of a slab.

    • I’m starting to think that a third saw bench is more of a necessity than a luxury, particularly if (like me) you tend to buy stock in significant lengths. All of my recent timber purchases have been 8-16 foot long. Good work with pressing the girls’ bench into dual purpose, Jim!

      I’ll be interested to see how the laminated Roman bench works out. Will you go for an 8 legged octobench, or just a 4 leg version?

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