About overthewireless

One time historian turned construction lawyer, musician, martial artist, photographer, distance runner, builder of musical instruments. Hand tool user all the time, every time.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 19

DSC_1662

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.

DSC_1665

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.

DSC_1667

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.

DSC_1669

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.

DSC_1671

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.

DSC_1672

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.

DSC_1673

The transformation when planing rough stock never fails to amaze me

Roubo Is Coming… Part 18

DSC_1648

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.

DSC_1654

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!

DSC_1650

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.

DSC_1655

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.

IMG_4991

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.

DSC_1657

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.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 17

DSC_1630

I find that most projects have a reassuringly familiar tempo. Stock preparation and the early stages are quiet leisurely, the pace quickens a little as you get into the interesting joinery and decorative elements, and then at a point just before the main glue-up everything starts to speed up. For the Roubo build (which started in February) this has held true, save for a two month break over the summer when I was working on my stick chair for the Mortise & Tenon article. The increase in pace just before assembly has definitely been felt on this project – due to the sheer weight of the slab I’ve needed to draft in a team of helpers when it comes to assembling the bench, and given how busy everyone gets at this time of year we had to schedule the glue-up date a ways in advance. We’ll be assembling the bench tonight (Roubo is nearly here!), and as a consequence every available moment over the past few weeks has been spent getting ready for this deadline. As is often the case, you think there is not too much left to do on a project and then you remember all of the small tasks necessary before assembling it for the final time. And so my evenings have been very full (and often late finishing).

DSC_1635

The biggest single task has been to tune the fit of the legs in their respective sockets. If you have not yet watched the Lost Art Press video on building a Roubo bench, I highly recommend it. That video, and Chris’ book on workbenches, have been invaluable resources for this build. There is a moment in the video when Will Myers tests the fit of one of the legs, and it casually slides 3/4 of the way into the socket, coming to a final rest with only a few taps of the mallet. Well precisely none of my legs fitted like that, which I was expecting (still, it would have been nice). So I’ve been tuning the fit, making sure each leg moves nicely into position but is also good and snug. I think this work has partly resulted because I approached cutting the mortises as I would cutting furniture joinery – cutting against the line rather than on it, and aiming for a super snug fit. And actually, I suspect that a Roubo work bench needs a little slack in the joinery to allow it to all go together. Not cavernous gaps, but slightly more slack than you would aim for in fine furniture. Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better.

DSC_1637

In any event, some tuning has been necessary. This is a case of dropping the leg into the mortise, looking for the burnished areas on either component which indicate a too-tight fit, and gently easing those out. On the leg, I’ve found that refining the external surfaces with a smoothing plane provideds a very controlled method of fine adjustment, while the internal surfaces of the tenons need help from a paring chisel, as do any high spots in the mortises. Here’s one of the odd things about writing about woodwork – you can summarise a process in two sentences which might actually take hours of painstaking work. Easing the fit of the legs while trying to avoid introducing horrid gaps in the joinery meant that this was fine and pernickety work, taking on average two hours per leg. But it was time well spent, and the end result is legs which drop about 3″ into the socket under hand pressure, and which then drive home to 1/4″ shy of fully seated with persuasion from a 1lb lump hammer. I have resisted the urge to fully seat the legs for fear of extracting them – the legs are pretty dry and this stage, while the slab will take decades to dry out. Moisture transfer from the slab to the leg will help to lock it place, which is good at final assembly but far from optimal at this stage.

189FC932-B346-4F32-BEA3-0E27F27CADB6

Building a workbench is an exercise in creative workholding, particularly when tuning the fit of the legs because the slab is on top of my Sjoberg bench. To facilitate easy working while tuning the fit of the legs, I clamped a Bessey K clamp to the slab, and used the clamp head as a makeshift planing stop, which worked quite well.

DSC_1641

Other work included checking the fit of the stretcher tenons, and tuning these where necessary so that the stretchers drop into their mortises under hand pressure only (the joinery for the stretchers was cut in March, and we have had a lot of humidity changes since then). I’ve also chamfered the corner of the underside of the slab top, and the corners of the legs and stretchers, all with my new Philly Planes chamfer plane (a luxury item for sure, but one which makes cutting consistent chamfers a breeze, and Phil’s customary crisp workmanship means that the plane is as lovely to use as it is to look at). This was only a light chamfer, but will protect the delicate edges in use. The feet were also chamfered, this time with a 9 grain rasp, to avoid spelching the grain when moving the workbench.

DSC_1640

Boring the draw bore holes and shaping pegs was the final task. I used straight grained, riven oak stock, to ensure that the pegs are strong with grain that runs consistently from tip to tip. The pegs are shaped slightly oversided using a block plane, and then cut using a Lie-Nielsen dowel plate to tghe final 5/8″ diameter. When planing the rough pegs, I find that a bench hook provides a good way of holding the workpiece.

Today I will be doing final prep for assembly, and keeping every available digit crossed that we have a smooth glue-up – this is not one where taking everything apart to ease the fit is really possible! But I am looking forward to it, and to hitting a major milestone on the bench build.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 16

DSC_1564-2

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.

DSC_1565-2

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).

DSC_1569-2

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.

DSC_1573-2

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.

DSC_1578-2

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.

DSC_1582-2

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.

DSC_1581-2

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.

DSC_1584-2

The slab now has all of the joinery cut

An interesting chair

DSC_1510-2

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.

DSC_1512-2

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.

DSC_1520-2

Wedged spindle tenon

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

DSC_1526-2

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.

DSC_1517-2

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.

DSC_1516-2

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

DSC_1528-2

 

Roubo Is Coming… Part 15

DSC_1410

Transferring the joinery to the slab top

If I’m being honest, cutting the joinery in the slab top is the element of the bench build that has me feeling the most apprehensive. I’m going to look at these joints everytime I stand at my bench, so I want them to be good. The scale of the slab (currently 5 3/4″ thick, with the top surface still to be flattened) also adds an additional concern – this is big joinery, and the accuracy with which the joinery is layed out and cut will determine how well the bench goes together. No pressure then.

DSC_1413

Using an unhandled marking knife allows me to get up close to the leg

To transfer the joinery from the legs to the slab I once again called upon the assistance of my slab moving team, and we put the slab upside down on my existing workbench, and assembled the undercarriage (also upside down) on top of the slab. Each leg was clamped to the slab and then checked for square against the slab in front/back and side-to-side directions. This invariably involved some repositioning and adjusting until all four legs were flush to their respective edges of the bench top, and perpendicular to the slab on all sides. Once the legs were properly positioned, I transferred the joinery using an unhandled marking knife by Hock Tools. I keep this marking knife in my chisel roll for leveling chair and table legs, and marking tasks where I need the whole knife to be flush to a component (where the handle of my other marking knives would foul the line). It worked perfectly for this application, and left a good clear line which I then filled with 0.2mm pencil for increased visibility.

DSC_1416-2

Boring out the waste with bit and brace – this felt a little like work

The mortises are a little over 5/4″ wide, and to hog out the waste I used a 1″ diameter WoodOwl ship’s auger in my North Bros brace. The increased length (18″) of the ship’s auger makes it easier to keep perpendicular to the workpiece, and I also clamped a guide block with a 90 degree face to the bench top as a visual aid, along with my 10″ Vesper square. WoodOwl bits cut very cleanly, and if you are careful there is no spelching on the exit side of the hole. This meant I was able to bore all the way through the bench top in one go, rather than going half way and then flipping the workpiece over (I try to minimise the number of times the slab is moved, as I have to call on my slab moving team each time). Drilling through the slab meant that chips were able to fall through to the floor as I pared the mortise, which meant I did not have to stop and periodically clear the mortise of debris. I bored five holes in each mortise, which removed the majority of the waste.

DSC_1417-2

Paring the mortise walls

I then knocked out the webbing from both sides of the mortise using a chisel. When removing this material, efficiency is key, and I find that making a relief cut with the chisel in the centre of the webbing, then cutting each side, gives the chip a route to pop out. The majority of the webbing was cut from the top of the mortise, but I did kneel under the bench top to remove some from the underside to avoid spelching. Once the webbing was removed, I pared the mortises back to the baseline, checking for square as I went. Despite being a deeper through mortise, the process is very much the same as I wrote about for mortising the legs. The main difference is that I did not pare to the full depth from one side. Instead, I pared to roughly 4 1/2″ deep, (leaving 1 1/4″ left to go) and will finish cutting the mortise from the opposite side. This will prevent blowing out the grain on the exit side, and also ensures that the mortise is plumb throughout.

DSC_1421

The timber framing chisel, against my regular Blue Spruce chisel for scale. And two completed mortises

I have approached this build with the intention of using only the furniture-making tools already in my tool chest. However for this stage of the build I did add a timber framing chisel to my tool kit, because of the significant depth of the mortises (which would have all but swallowed my existing chisels). The 1 1/5″ wide timber framing chisel is a monster, with a 10 1/2″ long blade. Not only is the extra length very useful for cutting deep mortises, but the additional weight means that it is very efficient at paring mortise walls, as the chisel effectively drops into the cut, especially when used in conjunction with a guide block. This specialist tool was a very worthwhile investment, even if it won’t get used very often.

DSC_1422

This is what the other side of the mortises currently looks like – they will be pared square next

The slab has been rotated and my next task is to cut the remaining elements of the mortises, before moving on to the dovetail sockets.

DSC_1424

The slab has been flipped over, ready to finish cutting the mortises.

 

Roubo Is Coming… Part 14

DSC_1365

North Bros brace and auger bits

It has taken a few weeks since my return from Kentucky to get back into the workshop in earnest, but I am now back at the bench. After being spoiled by a week working at the Lost Art Press store front (which has the most amazing natural light, and an embarrassment of workbenches) my own workshop feels very modest indeed. But it is good to be home.

DSC_1358

Chopping the mortises in the vise chop for the hardware

I decided to kick-off my return to the Roubo bench build by fitting the hardware – this was a nice discreet step in the process before I start cutting the joinery in the slab top. I’ve had the Benchcrafted Glide C vise and Crisscross Retro since the slab arrived in August 2018, and I also added a Benchcrafted swing away seat and pair of Crucible holdfasts to complete fitting out the bench. Having used the Crucible holdfasts at the LAP storefront, I can confirm that they do indeed hold like the dickens.

DSC_1283

Boring holdfast holes in the front right-hand leg

I bored three holes in the front right-hand leg of the workbench partially as a place to store the holdfasts, and also to facilitate using the holdfasts to slamp long boards in place while edge jointing. These holes were bored with a 1″ diameter, 18″ long WoodOwl ship’s auger bit driven by my early 1920’s North Bros brace. the extra length of the ship’s auger assists in keeping the hole perfectly perpendicular to the surface of the workpiece, which is essential if the holdfast is to work correctly. The swingout seat is attached to the same leg, and positioned so that the top of the seat will be 19″ from the floor. To attach the seat mechanism to the bench I ordered some (frankly gorgeous) square headed 1/2″ diameter bolts from blacksmithbolt.com.

DSC_1281

Quality hardware is a must on major projects, and these bolts are gorgeous

Most of the work with this stage of the build came with fitting the vise hardware. Benchcrafted have produced some incredibly detailed and clear instructions for installing their hardware, so there is nothing to be gained from recounting the steps necessary. A few people have asked which iteration of the Crisscross mechanism I selected, and I went with the Retro (rather than the “Solo”) because I figured that the stepped mortises would be more straight forward than drilling the pin holes (which must be dead nuts accurate) through over 6″ thick oak. Chopping the mortises in the left-hand leg and vise chop did involve a fair amount of chisel work, but was not that difficult, even if I did use some particularly gnarly oak for the vise chop. To make like easier I hogged out most of the waste with a forstner bit and then cleaned up with a chisel.

DSC_1368

Tapping threads in wood using a battery powered drill is an entirely new experience for me

Fitting the hardware is quite involved, but an enjoyable process. There are definitely some new skills to be learned from this process, including tapping threads in timber to allow for the use of machine screws – this was entirely new to me, but thanks to the very clear instructions it went smoothly. After completing the installation I couldn’t help but do a test spin of the vise, and was pleased to find that it moves just as sweetly as advertised, and grips tightly. Once the bench is assembled I will trim the top of the chop level with the bench top and finish shaping it.