Time for Tea

The latest issue of Popular Woodworking landed on my doorstep yesterday. I’ve been looking forward to this particular issue because it includes an article I researched and wrote at the start of the year about the restoration of the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed “Willow Tea Rooms” in Glasgow.

Following PopWood’s entry into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year it wasn’t clear if this article would ever see the light of day. Fortunately, with Active Interest Media’s purchase of PopWood, the magazine seems to be in better shape.

I’m grateful that this article is now in print, as it examines a painstaking (multi-million pound) restoration of a hugely important Mackintosh landmark, and shows the very finest of contemporary Scottish craftsmanship. It is a breathtaking project, and I hope readers will find it as interesting as I have.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 19

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Trimming the drawbore peg with a flush cut saw

With the Roubo bench now in position in the workshop, the finish line is starting to come into focus. That being said, there is still plenty left to do, including flattening the bench top, shaping the vise chop, cutting the planing stop mortise (and fitting the planing stop), abd drilling the holdfast holes. I’m hopeful that the bench will be in use by the end of the year, even if there are a few things left to finish off in January.

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Paring the peg flush

The first thing I did to the assembled bench was to trim the drawbore pegs flush on both the external and internal faces of the legs, cutting the waste off with a flush cut saw. Flush cut saws always feel like a compromise tool to me – in theory they should do the job perfectly, but in practice it is very easy to find them marring the surface of the work. To avoid this, I gently angled the saw just a hair away from the surface of the leg. On the show surfaces I then pared the remaining waste flush with a paring chisel. On the internal surfaces of the legs, I left the pegs as they were cut off the saw.

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Looking clean

Now that the bench was looking less like a well staked vampire-Roubo, it was time to start flattening the bench top. This will need to be done periodically as the slab moves, although my expectation is that after the first year or so the slab will move very little. The first flattening takes the most work, as the top side of the slab had not been dressed before assemling the bench. This is critical work, as I want a flat surface to work on free of twist or undulations, and so I decided to pace myself across several sessions rather than rush to get it done in one go.

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Checking the top for twist

The first step was to get an understanding of the topography of the bench, using winding sticks and a 60″ straight edge to identify where the main bumps and hollows were. The top was roughly “m” shape in cross section, with low points along each edge, and two bumps separated by a hollow in the centre of the top. Traversing the top with a jack plane (my normal method for heavy stock removal) is ideal for getting the bench close to flat, as the plane will skim the tops off the bumps and bring them down to the level of the hollows. I divided the bench length into two sections, and focused my initial efforts to the rear half.

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Flushing the tenons with a No62 low angle bench plane

Before traversing, I decided to flush up the end grain of the leg tenons, as these were protuding through the bench top in a number of spots. That sheer mass of end grain is not much fun to plane with a bevel-down hand plane, although it can be done. Fortunately, I had recently invested in a Lie-Nielsen No62, which as a bevel-up plane works wonderfully on end grain, and flushed the end grain rapidly leaving the bench top ready for traversing with the Clifton No5. The No62 is not essential for this task, but having it to hand did make tackling the slab much more pleasant, including on some harrowing knots which the low angle blade geometry cleanly slices through where my No5 wanted to ride over.

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Planing across the grain allows you to remove more material quickly, and flattens out any bumps and hollows

I left the bench top with the back half traversed flat. When I am next in the workshop I will traverse the front half flat, following which I will then joint it so that there are no bmps or hollows along the length.

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The transformation when planing rough stock never fails to amaze me

Roubo Is Coming… Part 18

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The top is not yet flattened, but this joint looks ok

Glue-up is often the most stressful element of a build, even when it goes smoothly. So glue-up of a piece that cannot be easily disassembled in the event that something goes wrong, and in the presence of other folk? I’m going to be honest and say that I wasn’t much looking forward to assembling the Roubo workbench. That being said, all of the work fussing the fit of the joints, and mentally rehearsing the sequence of assembly countless times, paid off. The glue-up went without incident and I owe a debt to my team of helpers.

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Drawbore pegs, which I will trim next time I’m in the ‘shop.

The set-up for assembling the bench was quite simple. I had three portable heaters running for a few hours before hand to get the temperature to hide-glue friendly levels (I used Titebond Hide Glue for this assembly as it has a lower working temperature than Old Brown Glue), a bucket filled with boiling water to keep the glue bottles warm and to help with clean-up, a pair of lump hammers, and solder brushes for glue spreading. No need for clamps for this glue-up!

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Underneath the bench top – shelf supports and the other end of the drawbore pegs

The first stage of the process was to glue and assemble the undercarriage. We made two sub-assemblies each of a pair of legs joined by a short stretcher, then inserted both long stretchers into one sub-assembly and manouvered the second sub-assembly onto the opposite end of the long stretchers. At this stage the stretchers were not clamped in, nor were the drawbore pegs inserted, as I wanted to allow the undercarriage to flex a little when the legs were inserted into the top. After a quick clean up of squeeze out with wet rags and toothbrushes, we then painted the double tenons on the legs with glue, and moved the slab top onto the legs. This was the moment I have been simultaneously looking forward to, and dreading. The slab settled nicely about three inches onto the tenons just under its own weight, and gentle hand pressure moved it slightly further along. To drive the tenons the rest of the way through, we lifted each end of the bench (by the short stretcher) in turn, and dropped it from about 6″ off the ground. The shock of the legs hitting the floor drove the slab deeper onto the tenons, and after three drops per end it was fully seated.

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The bench in situ, ready for the top to be flattened.

As a final step we then inserted the drawbore pegs to achieve a completed clamp free-assembly. The pegs were covered in glue and then driven home with a lump hammer, after which we did a thorough clean up of squeeze out and drank a celebratory beer while feeling quite satisfied with life. The fit of the tenons in the top looks ok, and there were only a few gaps big enough to drive wedges in. That may change as the bench settles and I flatten the top, but I have plenty of wedges prepared (all cut from an offcut of a stretcher) so can gap fill as necessary.

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Richard, Dad, me, Dan, and Hanu (l-r) after assembling the bench

The workshop was feeling quite cramped wih two benches in situ, so a few days after we had assembled the bench I reconfigured the ‘shop layout. The Sjoberg bench is now at the end of the ‘shop where it will serve as my shapening station, replacing the temporary sharpening table I set up when I moved into the workshop 5 years ago. With the Sjoberg relocated, I was able to move the Roubo into position 6″ out from the left hand side wall, and re-hang the saw cabinet on the wall. It’s funny, but now that the Roubo is in position it looks a lot less monolithic than when I was working the slab over the past few months. At 102″ long it is going to be a very useful work surface, and I can’t wait to finish the bench and start making furniture on it. The next tasks will be to trim the drawbore pegs flush to the legs, and then flatten the top,. Roubo is not here quite yet, but the end is now in sight.

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In situ. I really need to sort out the timber storage corner next to the drill press. That will be the next job once the bench is finished.