Roubo Is Coming… Part 4


Laying out the mortises with the Vesper 10″ square and Hamilton marking knife

After processing the legs and stretchers for the Roubo bench I was looking forward to cutting some joinery. Roubo explains that the stretchers are flush to the front of the legs (which also means that the long stretchers will be in the same vertical plane as the edge of the bench top) and situated between 4 and 5 pouce above the floor. He is silent on how the stretchers should be fixed to the legs, although mortise and tenon joinery is the obvious choice for this element of the build. I decided to follow Chris’ approach to this joint and use bare faced tenons, the advantages of which are that you only have one tenon shoulder to worry about, and you can include a good solid 1 pouce thick tenon (and 3 pouce long) in the joint. As with everything on this build, the joinery is big, which is why this bench should last forever.


Laying out tenon width also established the dimension of the mortise

To break up this element of the build into manageable chunks, I decided to cut the joinery for the short stretchers first to create two sub-assemblies of legs, and then cut the joinery for the long stretchers as a second round which will leave me with a completed undercarriage. Whether you cut mortises or tenons first is, I think, purely a matter of personal preference. I tend to cut mortises first. What is important is careful layout of both halves of the joint, which I much prefer to do in one sitting so as to avoid any small (but significant) changes in measurement.


Boring out the waste with a 1920-era North Bros. brace and 7/8″ auger bit. The Vesper 4″ square and my great uncle’s Starrett combination square keep me plumb to the workpiece

The Veritas mortise gauge is my go-to tool for laying out the joint, and I typically start by marking out the tenons. This establishes the setting for both halves of the joint and the gauge is then locked into that position for the remainder of this project. With the tenons marked out, I then laid out the mortises, measuring from the bottom end of each leg. The ends of the mortises were scribed across the full width of each leg, as this will enable me to wrap round the positions to the sides of the leg for the long stretcher mortises.


Ready for paring

As I’ve said before, this oak is tough stuff. There are no medals for cutting these mortises with only a chisel and mallet, only blisters. Also, the widest mortise chisel I could find on the internet was 1/2″ wide, which would effectively require cutting two mortises for each joint, and removing the thin webbing between them. That sounds a lot like work to me, and so I took a different tack while staying firmly hand tool only. So, with my big Jet drillpress standing tantalisingly close, I fitted a 7/8″ Jennings pattern auger bit (from Tools for Working Wood) to my 1920s era North Bros. brace, and bored out much of the waste by hand. Yes the Jet would have eaten much of this oak for breakfast, but I really enjoy using the brace and bit, and taking it at a steady pace this did not feel like a particularly tough job. The key is to be bold and use the largest bit you can, to remove as much waste as possible. A knife line down the middle of the mortise also helps to give a clear centre line in which to place the lead screw of the auger bit.


Squaring the ends of the mortise

With much of the waste removed to depth, the mortise could then be cleaned up with chisels. Effectively paring the mortise walks square and true relies on taking small bites with a chisel, and nibbling your way back to the baseline, very much as you would when chopping dovetails. First I removed any webbing left between the auger holes, and then square up the ends of the mortise using a 3/4″ chisel. The end grain is brutal hard stuff, even with a freshly honed chisel, and a sharp tap with a mallet helped ease things along.


Paring the sides with a wide chisel

The sides of the mortises were easier going, and I used a 1 1/2″ wide Blue Spruce bench chisel for these – that width gave me a very consistent straight wall but without being so wide that it needed too much force to push through the cut. Again, paring the excess away in small bites and working back to the knife line, is essential. I also use a two handed grip for this work – my right hand is on the chisel handle with my thumb looped over the end for maximum downward pressure, while two fingers of my left hand are wrapped round the front of the blade, pulling it flat against the wall of the mortise. Each hand only has one job to do – the right hand drives the chisel and the left keeps it running in the right direction. This grip keeps the chisel from drifting out of the cut, and also from under cutting the wall of the mortise.  A small combination square can help test the walls of the mortise – if the blade of the square does not make contact with the top of the mortise then there is a bump which needs paring flat.


Checking for square with the vintage Starrett

Next up will be cutting the tenons for the short stretchers, and tuning the fit of the joints. And then repeating the whole process for the long stretchers.


Two of the four mortises cleaned up and ready for tenons

OtW on Tour

It has been a pretty sociable weekend, between a visit from good buddy (and regular F&C contributor) Richard Wile, and the Midlands Woodworking Show in Newark. Friday morning found Rich and myself getting a very early start to drive to Newark in order to set up before doors opened. The Newark show is not one I’ve done before, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. While much of the focus is on power tools and turning demonstrations, Classic Hand Tools had established a large hand work section and I was very pleased to find my pitch between Oliver Sparks and Lie-Nielsen, and opposite Skelton Saws. That is a good neighbourhood.

With Ollie Sparks and Molly

For me, these shows are all about getting to catch up with good friends, meet new people, and enter into a wide conversation about woodwork. The power tool element of the show did give me an opportunity to look at the new Laguna 14BX band saw (a very impressive machine), but the defining aspect of the show was definitely the company we kept for the two days. At times when my stand was quieter I was able to pitch in with demonstrations at the Lie-Nielsen stand with Curtis Turner, and also caught up with Derek Jones (of F&C) and Anarchist’s Tool Chest classmate Matt Estlea, not to mention some long time readers of the blog.

Ollie Sparks’ egg plane is functional, gorgeous, and has an ingenious adjustment mechanism

There were of course some excellent hand tools to try. Ollie Sparks always has something interesting (and enticing) to see, and this show was no exception. His “egg” thumb planes are not only striking but also highly functional and I can see these being a welcome alternative to the traditional luthier’s thumb planes, especially as he plans to offer a curved bottom variant. The other highlight was taking the Skelton Saws new Chippendale dovetail saw for a test drive. Now, I fully recognise that daddy has a saw problem but hot damn if that saw is not something else entirely. Shane has combined some seriously clever engineering with his customarily astonishing fit and finish, to create a truly special saw. I didn’t order one, but resisting that level of temptation is no mean feat.

The Skelton Chippendale saw is just staggering

It also turns out that Newark has excellent Nepalese food, and the camaraderie continued on Friday night with an fantastic meal with the Classic Hand Tools crew, as well as post-show beer with Ollie Sparks and Molly. So all in all, two days spent talking woodwork and spending time with good friends, makes for a good weekend. It also yielded some new opportunities, which I’ll be writing about very soon. Thanks to Classic Hand Tools for the invitation to join them at the show, and to everyone who stopped by to say hello and talk handwork.

Rich with the hammer he designed for Lee Valley

Midlands Woodworking Show


Just look for this banner

The Midlands Woodworking Show is at Newark on 22 and 23 March (Friday and Saturday of this week). I will be there (with special thanks to Classic Hand Tools for kindly inviting me to be part of their exhibition area) along with good buddy and regular Furniture & Cabinetmaking contributor Richard Wile.


I may not have my Anarchist’s Tool Chest with me this year, but the guitar will certainly be coming along

As well as my customary 12 string guitar and willingness to chat about woodwork (including progress on The Book Book) I’ll also have OtW tees, buttons, and stickers for sale. As always, if you already have an OtW tee and wear it to the show you can claim free buttons and stickers.


If you are attending the show do stop by my stand to say hi and chat. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Roubo Is Coming… Part 3


And with that, the undercarriage is all processed. Four legs and the same number of stretchers. My reward for all of this stock prepartation will be cutting 8 mortise and tenon joints, and fitting the vise hardware to the front left leg. Not that I’m done with planing stock for this project – far from it. There is still the vise chop and lower shelf to process, not to mention the small matter of flattening the slab top. But after six weeks or so of nothing but planing oak until it is square and true, I’m looking forward to some joinery. At the outset I did wonder if processing this quantity of material by hand without any distractions might be repetative, but while it has been heavy work with occasionally truculent timber, it has all been very enjoyable and offered many learning opportunities.

Now time to put the hand planes to one side and sharpen my chisels in readiness for cutting those joints. It’s going to be good to see the base come together.

A Community Together

The following is based on an article originally published in issue 276 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking. Richard Arnold has just annonced that this year’s open house event will be taking place on 8 June – I will be there (with Dr Moss and the Apprentice). Hopefully I will see some of you there!

Every summer in the ancient market town of Market Harborough, Leicestershire, celebrated joiner and furniture maker Richard Arnold holds an open house event. The format is very simple. At the open house, Richard and plane maker Ollie Sparks (whose workshop is a few doors down from Richard’s) open their doors and welcome the public as well as likeminded makers and retailers. A charity auction of tools offers the opportunity to add some interesting pieces to your tool collection while supporting a good cause. The end result is a convivial and relaxed day of friends and makers coming together to talk woodwork and browse the treasure trove of Richard’s antique plane collection, as well as the wonders of Ollie Sparks’ workshop, all while fund raising for Macmillan Cancer Support.


As well as a collector of vintage planes, Richard also makes some very nice wooden planes of his own

From humble beginnings

As a keen collector of eighteenth-century wooden planes, Richard found that he was buying large lots at auction just to acquire a specific plane within the lot. As a result, he was building up a large inventory of surplus planes which didn’t fit within his collection. Instead of trying to sell the planes on, he decided to open his workshop for a day and let people pick through the unwanted planes in return for donations to charity. Macmillan was identified as the charity of choice from the beginning, and so began an annual tradition.


Vintage shoulder planes as far as the eye can see

Over the years, the open house has grown in scope. As word seeped out that something very special was happening, the event rapidly became a highlight of the woodworking calendar as makers benefitted both from Richard’s knowledge of historic tools and from the strong sense of community engendered at the open house.


I’ve never seen so many vintage planes in one place as I have at Richard’s workshop

The workshops

I first heard about the open house back in 2016 when Richard Maguire mentioned it on his blog (, and my interest was piqued. Events had conspired against my several on several years, but this year on 9th June I finally made the journey to picturesque Market Harborough.  Enduring the predictable M6 gridlock was well worth it – both Richard and Ollie’s workshops were buzzing with plenty of familiar faces and animated discussion of woodwork, tools, and historic trades. Joining Richard and Ollie were Skelton Saws, Classic Hand Tools, Bill Carter, and Mac Timbers (who I am happy to report are once again back in business after previously closing down in 2015).


Mitre plane by Bill Carter

Entering Richard’s workshop, I was greeted with a stunning collection of vintage planes, including many 18th century wooden planes. Not only does Richard collect vintage planes, but he also makes beautiful reproductions of some of them, and seeing modern and vintage versions of the same tool side by side is a wonderful experience. When I was able to tear myself away from Richard’s tool collection (a feat which took real determination), I found plane maker Bill Carter and many of his beautiful planes, including several made from the brass backs of vintage saws: a signature style of Bill’s. As an added bonus, on display this year was a Welsh Stick chair made in 1992 by celebrated chairmaker John Brown.


Welsh Stick Chair by John Brown

If Richard’s workshop is a study in wooden planes and vintage ephemera, then Ollie Sparks’ workshop is the work of a genius mad scientist. As well as a display of many of his completed planes, Ollie also had prototypes on display as well as his design and sketch books. One particular highlight was Ollie’s new Kimberly Patent Plane, which features a patinated phosphor bronze escapement fitted to a Macassar ebony body. As well answering questions on tool making and hand planes, Ollie also demonstrated his metal casting techniques.  If that wasn’t enough, Skelton Saws were also set up in Ollie’s workshop. It is always a pleasure to see Shane and Jacqui Skelton, and marvel at the beautiful saws Shane makes. The open house was no exception, especially as Shane had examples of his new Mallard saw (named after the Mallard steam locomotive, which had a significant influence on the appearance of the saw) and reproductions of some of the saws from the Seaton Tool Chest.


The new Mallard in flamed beech, by Skelton Saws

The Auction

The auction this year extended to 37 lots comprising a wondrous variety of tools (both vintage and modern), classes, books, and timber, all donated by supporters and tool makers. The generosity displayed by the donated auction lots, and the level of bids made in the auction, really emphasised the strength of community and also showed the profile of the open house – as well as bids from attendees, supporters from across the globe were also allowed to submit bids electronically. Some of the highlights of the auction included tools by highly sought-after boutique makers including Ollie Sparks, Philly Planes, Skelton Saws, Bill Carter and Jeremiah Wilding, along with classes with the London School of Furniture Making, and Derek Jones. The auction was presided over by the inimitable Jim Hendricks, whose fledgling tool museum in Kent is gaining a lot of attention (stay tuned for news of the grand opening in the hopefully not too distant future!).



The auction table

The Community

The auction, and seeing the workshops, was wonderful. But what made the open house a truly special event was the sense of community. Catching up with many friends from previous classes and events, and becoming acquainted with like-minded woodworkers, can be a challenge in what can be a solitary trade or hobby. Events like the open house offer an important reminder of why it’s so vital to make time to connections with the wider maker community. I left Richard’s workshop feeling invigorated and inspired as much by conversations with skilled craftspeople as by seeing the products of their crafts.


Ollie Sparks demonstrating metal casting

Richard’s annual open house is a real highlight of the woodworking calendar – an opportunity to meet likeminded woodworkers, spend time in professional joinery and tool making workshops, and raise money for an excellent cause. This year between the auction and cash donations over £7,100 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support. The open house will be a permanent fixture on my calendar, and I hope to see many of you there in future years.


Just a small selection of Ollie Sparks’ sublime hand planes

Roubo Is Coming… Part 2


Timber selection – picking the final two legs and vise chop out of these beams. In the rough this timber looks a little gnarly, but it cleans up very nicely.

Although I’ve not written about the Roubo bench build for a few weeks, I have been hard at work processing stock for the undercarriage. All four stretchers are now square and cut to length, and as of today three of the legs are also processed. Only one leg remains and then I will be ready to start cutting joinery (eight mortise and tenon joints to connect the stretchers to the legs). Processing stock of this size, in oak, by hand is a significant undertaking, and cutting some joinery will be a real treat. That being said, I am really enjoying the change in scale with this work, and instead of a sprint to get all of the stock processing done, I’ve been taking my time and enjoying the journey.


Transforming grey timber into something beautiful and useful. The scrub plane is perfect for raidly removing high spots

Processing all of the stock by hand has partly been an ideological choice – for this build I want to, insofar as is possible, get as close to the bench described by Roubo, and that includes the process of building it. It is also a practical decision – my 12″ Dewalt lunchbox thicknesser is a fine workhorse for furniture sized material, but this bench is more akin to timber framing and I have serious doubts that it would cope with some of the monstrous timber I need to clean up for this build. So, meat-powered tools are pretty much the only game in town for this work.


Smoothing surfaces with the No3

To be honest, although the work is much heavier than processing furniture sized material, it hasn’t been too arduous, and there have been opportunities for technical insight. I am used to processing all of my stock by hand – it is how I’ve always worked. But working with oak beam stock has offered some valuable lessons in honing those skills because the scale of the work ,and the toughness of the oak, means that you want to work as efficiently as possible.


Mutton tallow – lubricating the soles of planes makes for much easier work when taking heavy cuts in difficult timber.

Firstly, I’ve been remembering to lubricate the sole of my planes more frequently than I often do. I always have a tin of mutton tallow in my apron pocket for lubricating planes and saws, but when working more forgiving timber such as pine I am not always fastidious about using it. This oak is tough stuff, and it is remarkable how a smear of tallow can improve the ease of hogging off material. Later in the build I will be building a grease pot to hold my tallow, and right now I can easily say that I am a convert to lubricating planes. Ease of work is also directly influenced by sharpening. Now, we all know that sharp fixes everything, but how many people sharpen as often as they need to? No one, that’s who. We can (and should) all sharpen more. This oak lets me know immediately if my planes are not sharp enough, and as a result I’ve been getting in the habit of sharpening much more frequently as I work (on occasion twice per leg). Hopefully that will be a habit that sticks, because in reality breaking for three minutes to freshen an edge is far quicker than battling on with a dull tool. So thank you, truculent oak for the helpful reminder.


Trimming the legs to length. The Skelton Panel Saw cuts so accurately I can get a square end straight off the saw without any need to clean up with a block plane

Early on when cleaning up the legs, I asked myself whether I wanted to treat each and every surface with the smoothing plane, and if not, what sort of surface would be acceptable. I’m not advocating sloppy work, but these large beams are going to be turned into a workbench, which will see a lot of abuse over the decades I work at it (and hopefully long after I’ve returned to the soil). So really it was a question of proportionality. But also, I know that I’m going to spend a lot of time standing at the bench, and a big patch of tearout will frustrate the dickens out of me, especially as it’ll be a total bear to try and pretty up some of the surfaces once the bench is assembled. In reality, a smoothing plane is a great tool for making localised adjustments, so I’ve been hitting every surface with the smoother, although also not sweating minor surface imperfections if they are on inward facing surfaces. I think that’s the right balance.


It’s not square until Chris Vesper says its square.

Next weekend I will tackle that final leg, and then put my planes down for a while to cut the mortise and tenon joinery, and fit the crisscross for the leg vise (this is much easier to do before the legs are fitted to the bench). After which it will be time to process the slab top – a task which will require some perseverence, grit, and maybe an assistant.


Current progress – three legs and four stretchers all processed and ready for joinery.