Roubo Is Coming… Part 16

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Transferring the baseline with the Hamilton traditional marking gauge

Today is a momentous day – the joinery for the Roubo bench is now all cut. The one exception to this is the mortise for the planing stop, which will wait until the bench top has been flattened. But right now, all of the structural joinery is done, which feels like a huge milestone.

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The Vesper sliding bevel transfers the dovetail shoulders

Cutting the dovetail sockets for the legs is much quicker than cutting the mortises, but in many ways it feels more nerve wracking. Cutting a square mortise to the right dimensions is relatively straight forward, all told. But cutting the angled shoulders for the dovetail sockets – critical joints which will be visible every time I step up to the bench. That feels pressured. As often is the case, in practice it was not as tough as I had expected, although I am glad that I started with the rear pair of sockets first (these will face the workshop wall, so I won’t see them very often), to warm up. Breaking the operation down into a clear set of stages helps, as does remembering that joinery like this is just a series of fundamental hand skills (accurate layout, cutting to the line, and some chisel work to remove the waste).

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Cutting the slopes with the Skelton Panel Saw

First I transferred the layout from the underside of the slab (where I had previously traced it from the legs) to the top of the slab. This is simply a case of taking the precise angle of each side of the dovetails, and depth of baseline, from one side of the slab and striking corresponding lines on the other side.

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A motise chisel pops out the waste

After a bit of experimentation, I found that it was easier to cut the angled shoulders with a coarse cross-cut hand saw rather than a back saw, and my Skelton Panel Saw made short work of this critical cut. Setting the bevel to the right angle and standing it a few inches from the cut provided a clear visual guide as to how far to angle the saw plate. Cutting joinery with a hand saw feels counter intuitive at first, but works very well. I started each cut at the near corner, where I could see both the line across the width of the slab and also the angled line on the face of the slab. I knibbled a saw kerf along these two lines, and once I had hit the baseline of the angled cut, and the far corner of the straigh line, I allowed the toe of the saw to drop, taking full length strokes of the saw until the cut was complete. This is very much how I cut tails for furniture-sized dovetails, just on a much larger scale.

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Removing

To remove the waste I also cut five relief cuts in each socket, and then knocked out most of the material with a 1/4″ mortise chisel and mallet, working from each side of the slab into the middle. To avoid bruising the interior of the socket walls, I removed the waste from the middle of the socket first and then cleaned up the waste at the edges. The waste pops out easily, making this a very efficient way of hogging out a lot of material.

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A completed socket

To take the sockets to final depth, I use a similar approach to how I cut the mortises. First I deepen the baseline with a 2″ chisel and sharp tap from a mallet, followed by a 1 1/2″ wide chisel and mallet to get very close to the baseline. Once there is only a small amount of material left I moved to the big timber framing chisel. Although this chisel is huge, I find that it is very effective as a paring chisel when working across the grain, as the sheer mass means that it will cut without riding up over any difficult patches of grain, resulting in a flat bottomed socket. Ordinarily I would use a router lane for this task, but the sockets were deeper than my router plane could reach.

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Using a timber framing chisel to true up the bottom of the socket

My next task, once my slab moving team have helped get the slab back onto my existing bench, will be to test fit the legs into their mortises and to tune the fit where necessary.

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The slab now has all of the joinery cut

An interesting chair

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As regular readers will know, whenever I travel I always pay attention to the furniture in my accomodation. We have just returned from our annual family break in the Cotswolds, and the traditional cottages we often stay in have over the years provided some interesting furniture pieces to examine. This year’s trip was no exception, and in the corner of our bedroom I found an intriguing chair. When I first saw this chair, I started wondering  where it had come from.

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An elegant joint to the two arms, and a very stylised comb, all cut out of solid wood

The chair features an arm bow cut from solid wood rather than steam bent, and which terminates in pleasing rounded hand holds. The large comb was also cut from solid. The joint between the two halves of the arm is a neat way of hiding the shrinkage of an end grain butt joint (an issue you can find on antique Welsh stick chairs). The front pair of spindles have been wedged through the arm, and the legs are wedged in the seat. The rest of the spindles are fitted to blind mortises in the arm.

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Wedged spindle tenon

The seat has been saddled quite lightly, and has developed a pronounced amount of wind at the front.

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The seat was warped considerably

At first I thought that this chair was possibly user made as, the turnings aside, it had a rugged vernacular feel. However, turning the chair over revealed a maker’s mark stamp for J Elliott & Son. A google search identified that J Elliott & Son were a High Wycombe chairmaking firm, and this chair appears to be a “Smokers Bow Armchair“. Previously I’ve only encountered the use of solid sawn arms and a doubler in Welsh stick chairs – this is often a feature that is said to typify and distinguish Welsh stick chairs from other chair making traditions. In reality, I expect that many vernacular chair making traditions would have relied on using curved timber in preference to steam bending parts, and there was a lot about this chair that wasn’t Welsh.

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Maker’s mark

Of course, I couldn’t resist trying the chair out, and was delighted to find that it was very comfortable, with a healthy slope backwards which encouraged you to recline into the chair. Yes, the turnings might seem a bit heavy for contemporary tastes, but despite (or perhaps because of?) the warped seat and failing joint between the comb and arm bow, I found this to be a charming little chair.

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The joint between the comb and the arms has separated over the years, although the comb still feels solid

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