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 31


Smoothing the shelf boards – planing into a batten supports the workpiece and means it can be moved quickly.

The final significant task before I call the Roubo bench “done” is fitting a shelf between the stretchers. There are a few details to fettle, but I”m very much on the home straight and the finishing line is in sight.


Transferring the size of the recesses directly off the legs.

For the shelf I am using scrap oak left over from the Policeman’s Boot Bench and other projects – a number of the shelve boards are gnarly pieces which did not make the grade for furniture quality work. It is a perfect opportunity to get them off the scrap pile and into use, and to be honest the “character” fits in nicely with the rest of the Roubo bench. I really like tongue and groove joinery for base or back boards for casework, and shelves for the bench. With a dedicated plane cutting the joinery is quick and simple, and it provides a strong joint. It also gives me an opportunity to use my 1/8″ Philly beading plane, which is probably the most enjoyable tool in my toolchest.


Cutting the recesses with the Bad Axe 16″ tenon saw

The boards were all of varying width and thickness. Rather than loose too much material by making them a consistent width, I bought four down to a width of just over 10″, and a further pair to 9″ wide. All were processed to a consistent thickness of a half a pouce (keeping with the 18th century unit of measurement wherever possible for this project). While my tongue and groove plane is set for 1/2″ thick boards, offsetting the joinery does not matter providing both halves are cut from the same reference surface so that they match. Processing the boards also provided an opportunity to try another work holding solution – planing into a batten held by the planing stop and a holdfast. This worked very nicely, and not having the boards held down mechanically meant that the workflow was very efficient when changing workpieces over.


Tongue and groove joinery is a cinch with the Lie-Nielsen No.49

Once the boards were trimmed to length to fit between the stretchers I started by laying them out. Pairs of the wider boards were placed at each end, with pairs of the narrower boards set in next to them. The outer most boards need to be let into the gap between the legs so that they meet the narrow stretchers at each end of the undercarriage. Instead of measuring the recesses, I marked these directly off the surface of the legs by holding the board against the legs and marking both dimensions with a marking knife registering off the surface of the leg. I then cut the recesses using my Bad Axe 16″ tenon saw. Normally for piston fit joinery I would cut against, but not on, the knife kerf. However, a little bit of slop here helps to ease the fit of the shelf boards, as the undercarriage is not perfectly square. So for the recesses I cut on the knife kerf. The resulting fit was nice and clean, without being overtight.


Beading is about the most fun you can have in the workshop.

Once the end boards were in position, I then cut the tongue and groove joinery with a Lie-Nielsen No.49, and a bead on the shoulder of the “tongue” half with the Philly Planes beading plane. The boards are fitted together and rested on the shelf support battens – there is no need to nail or glue them in place as they lie quite flat, and the weight of my Moxon vise, shooting boards and other appliances will hold them in place. Being able to lift the shelf out easily will be beneficial, if I ever need to replace or repair the boards.


The shelf fits around the legs nicely.

With the four-board arrangement in place, I could then measure the remaining gap for a central narrower shelf board. I will fit this board and oil the shelf during the week, and then do some tidying up before calling the bench done by the end of the month. Having the width of the shelves reduce from each end towards the middle of the shelf adds a nice visual rhythm, and made fitting the boards a lot more straight forward.


There is one final board to fit before the shelf is ready to be oiled.


Roubo Is Coming… Part 30


Today was my first opportunity to spend any real time in the workshop this month, due to a number of factors outside my control. I’ve been itching to complete the Roubo bench build, and am determined to do so by the end of the month. That seems achievable right now.


The planing stop is one half of the work holding solution

Today’s work involved processing some oak stock for a pair of shelf supports on the long stretchers. This is straight forward work – flatten one face, joint an edge, rip the support off and clean it up, joint the cut edge and repeat for the second support. I’ve written plenty about processing stock with hand planes before, so don’t intend to write much about the process here. But what is worth spending some time talking about is how the bench functions and supports this sort of fundamental task. I processed and fitted the shelf supports for the short stretchers before I assembled the bench, but the difficulties associated with processing long stock on my Sjoberg bench meant that I’d procrastinated over the long shelf supports. And so, today was the first time I’ve processed a decent sized piece of rough stock with hand planes using the Roubo bench. Really, this is one of the first tests of the bench, and the experience was instructive to say the least.


A holdfast and doe’s foot is the second half of the work holding solution

I’d read plenty about the use of Roubo benches before I started to build mine, and I knew the theory of working with planing stops, holdfasts and doe’s feet. But with woodwork reading only takes you so far – the real learning comes at the bench, when you implement the theory for the first time (and the second time too). I’ve been itching to find out how working at the Roubo bench would feel, and put simply, it just works. Rock solid work holding which is swift and unfussy to set up. The bench is stable, has plenty of capacity for large stock, and does not make a song and a dance out of supporting the workpiece. It just holds everything in place while you work. Within a few plane strokes I forgot that this was a new way of working for me, and I was able to focus on processing the stock – work holding became second nature. Which is exactly what I wanted when I started building the bench.


Thicker pieces, like this 2″ thick oak, can be held in the same way for edge jointing

For the uninitiated, the work holding strategy on the bench top (as distinct from holding in the leg vise) is comprised of two elements – the toothed planing stop, and a doe’s foot secured by a holdfast. The doe’s foot is simply a piece of scrap with a 45 degree corner cut out of the end. The workpiece is pushed into the planing stop (a tap from a lump hammer or mallet drives it onto the teeth), and the doe’s foot is then slid into position to constrain the rear end of the workpiece. A holdfast keeps the doe’s foot in place. This allows the face of the workpiece to be planed, and thicker stock can also be rotated for edge jointing. One benefit of this arrangement is that releasing the work holding is very quick, to allow for the workpiece to be moved or measured, which makes for a very smooth workflow. This is exactly how I like my work holding solutions – dirt simple, effective, and quick to set up. The Crucible holdfasts have a tenacious grip, and the doe’s foot is incredibly effective for such a simple fixture. I mocked up a quick doe’s foot using some scrap pine today, but will make a few nicer versions of varying thicknesses (for processing stock of different thicknesses) using hardwood when I have a free moment.


The Texas Heritage Saddle Bag holds smaller tools while I work

The Texas Heritage Saddle Bag is also proving to be very useful as a safe resting place for measuring and layout tools while I’m at the bench. All of my tools go back into my Anarchist’s Tool Chest at the end of the day, but having somewhere to put delicate tools within easy reach while you’re working is a great way of speeding up workflow, and the Saddle Bag does this perfectly.*


Grease pot full of paraffin wax

I also filled up the grease pot with paraffin wax. While I ordinarily use mutton tallow, I was concerned that having a large pot of tallow open to the air might attract critters into the workshop (who doesn’t want rendered sheep fat on demand?) so decided to use paraffin wax instead. Paraffin wax works very nicely, and a 1kg block was very cost effective. The grease pot has already proved its worth while processing the oak stock today – locating the post next to the leg vise and planing stop means that the  wax is easily at hand so I lubricate more often, and having the pot rotate under the bench top means that it stays out of the way while working. Another feature of the bench that just works. I think that the Roubo bench and I will get on just fine.

*N.B it is worth commenting that I purchased the Crucible holdfasts, Peter Ross planing stop, and Texas Heritage Saddle Bag at full price. Just a gentle reminder that I’m #neversponsored

Roubo Is Coming… Part 29


Paring the walls square

One of the bench details Roubo mentions in passing is a grease box, mounted under the benchtop. The engraving at Plate 11 shows a simple box, but on the whole there is not much time spent describing the grease box. Hand tool work benefits greatly from a lubricant for plane soles and saw plates, and regular readers will know that I use mutton tallow as my lubricant of choice. Adding the grease box mentioned by Roubo was high up my priority list when I started planning this build, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable, and quick, addition to the bench.


Hollowed out, and with the shaping marked in

Roubo does not give any dimensions or specific details for the grease box. I decided to use an offcut from the stretchers, which I trimmed to length so that it measured 5 pouce long, three pouce wide, and 2 pouce thick. While this is a simple part of the build, the sequence of operations is critical if you are to enjoy easy workholding – carry out key operations in the wrong sequence and life will be that much more difficult. After laying out the grease compartment and the shape of the box, I drilled the mounting hole, as it was easier to hold the workpiece with a holdfast before the box was hollowed out and shaped. Another reason for this order was that I could then test the layout of the compartment by holding the grease box in place under the bench top with an auger bit through the mounting hole, and pivot the box out. Once I was happy with the layout and the position under the bench, I clamped the box to the underside of the bench next to the left-hand front leg, and drilled the pilot hole for the screw in the benchtop using the mounting hole in the greasebox as a guide.


Rounding over the front corners with a 13 grain Auriou rasp

To hollow the box I used a forstner bit in my North Bros brace, as this removed material rapidly and the centre point leaves a much shallower divot than the lead screw of an auger bit. The walls of the box are 1/4 pouce thick, and I left a 1/2 pouce thick bottom. Counting the revolutions of the brace resulted in a pretty even box floor, following which I pared the walls flat and square with a wide chisel.


Hogging out the cutaway with a firmer gouge

Most of the work on the grease box was shaping it. I decided to make my grease box roughly the same shape as that shown by Roubo in Plate 11, with a rounded end, and a gentle cutaway under the mounting screw. After gently rounding the front corners of the box with an Auriou 13 grain rasp, I then shaped the rounded rear end with a 9 grain rasp (also by Auriou). The 9 grain rasp is aggressive but still very precise, and by working from each side to the apex of the curve, I was able to achieve a flowing curve quite quickly. The tool marks were removed with the 13 grain rasp and a quick rub down with sandpaper (the first time I’ve used sandpaper on the bench build).


Shaped, and ready for oil

Shaping the cutaway involves working across the full width of the box. Instead of working across the full width straight away, I prefer to bevel one edge and rough in the curve on that edge before expanding the curve across the width of the box, refining as I get closer to the line. The 9 grain rasp roughed in the curve, and then I removed much of the waste using a wide firmer gouge to work across the grain. Once the curve was roughed in, I went back to the 9 grain rasp. Each Auriou rasp is hand-stitched for either right or left handed use, and is intended to be skewed across the workpiece (I visited the Aurio forge in 2016 – see posts here and here for more about these heirloom tools). However, ecause of the width of the box, I worked side to side, moving the rasp across the box instead of skewing it. This ensured that the curve was even across the width, and still removed material cleanly. Once the curve was shaped, I moved to the 13 grain rasp to remove tool marks, followed by sandpaper.


The grease box rests underneath the bench top, next to the front, left-hand leg and the leg vise

Once I was happy with the appearance of the box I gave it a coat of boiled linseed oil, and left it for 24 hours for the oil to dry, before mounting it under the bench using a 1/2″ x 2″ square headed lag screw and washer from blacksmithbolt.com – this will easily support the weight of the box. The mounting hole in the box is slightly larger than the width of the bolt, meaning that it pivots freely, and I also drilled a flat area to allow the bolt head and washer to seat cleanly on the cutaway. All I need to do now is order some more tallow (or possibly paraffin wax) and load it up.


Rotated out, ready to be filled with paraffin wax or mutton tallow

Roubo Is Coming… Part 28


The planing stop bites into the workpiece and holds it in place effectively

While the focus of this build has been on trying to hew as close to Roubo’s description of the French-style bench as far as possible, when planing my “Roubo” bench I decided I wanted to add a swing away seat by Benchcrafted. I find chopping dovetails, and some detail work, more comfortable when sitting at the bench instead of being hunched over it, and having a seat which is attached to the bench and folds out of the way, seems to be a space-efficient solution. I fitted the swing away hardware to the right-hand bench leg over the Christmas break, but hadn’t had an opportunity to turn the seat itself until this weekend.


Planing the seat blank smooth

I had been saving an offcut of the oak slab I used for my Mortise & Tenon stick chair for the seat top, which meant I could keep to a single species for the whole bench. I cut the blank into a rough hexagon, about 12″ wide, and then planed it to 1″ thick. This also gave me a chance to test out the planing stop I fitted last week, and found that it gripped the workpiece very well indeed with only a sharp tab with a mallet to drive the workpiece onto the teeth of the stop.


Marking out the diameter of the seat, on the underside

Once the seat was at final thickness I scribed an 11″ diameter circle on the rear side, and then removed some more of the excess material forming corners with a back saw, in order to reduce the risk of a catch on the lathe. I then mounted the lathe faceplate onto the rear of the seat, and slid the seat into position on the lathe.


Turning the seat blank

This is the first time I’ve turned anything this year, and while a 11″ wide disc is about as simple as turning can be, it was immensely satisfying. The process of taking an irregular-shaped piece of wood and changing it to a perfectly round circle in a short period of time was remarkable, and I”m looking forward to turning some bowls and platters later over the coming months. To turn the seat I used an EasyWood roughing tool for most of the grunt work, followed by an EasyWood finisher to clean up the surface and to round over the corners a little. After drilling the holes for the mounting screws and mounting the seat on the hardware bracket, I applied a coat of boiled linseed oil to the seat top.


Fitted and ready for oil

This was a quite a simple stage in the build, but it was very satisfying to get another element of the bench finished in what has proved to be a very busy week. All that remains now is to make the grease box, and then to mount the shelves on the stretchers. Roubo is very nearly here.


The oiled seat, ready for use

Roubo Is Coming… Part 27


Marking the final width of the tenon

I find it interesting how a lot of work can result in something very simple. And how simple does not always mean straight forward (or easy). At first blush, the planing stop is incredibly simple – a square mortise and a square loose tenon that fits the mortise. But that simplicity requires a lot of attention, and being prepared to fuss over the fit. The planing stop needs to be friction fit to the mortise – too loose and it will fall out of the mortise. Too tight and it won’t move at all, or worst case, will split the bench top. So, this most simple element takes time and patience. But that’s ok – I work wood because I like spending time at the bench. One day (soon, hopefully) the bench will be complete, and I’ll be using it to work other projects. All of that is a slightly round about way of saying that the planing stop is fitted and functioning as intended.


Using the No3 smoother to fine tune the fit of the tenon

Before I started fitting the stop itself I checked the mortise, and did a little tuning with a 1″ paring chisel to remove any bumps or stray lumps. With the mortise in good shape, I started to fit the tenon. I had deliberately left the tenon a few mm oversize, pending the final fitting, and so the first task was to take it down to size. At this point, the numbers are not important, what matters is that the stop fits the mortise well enough to move freely when encouraged with a mallet, but tight enough not to move otherwise. I presented the tenon to the mortise and got two perpendicular sides pressed nicely against the mortise walls. I had deliberately struck the layout lines for the mortise longer than necessary, as this helps to fit the stop. With the tenon located firmly against two sides, I marked off the final width on the remaining sides by dropping my marking knife into the mortise layout lines and nicking the side of the workpiece. I used these marks to set a marking gauge, and struck lines on the stop to identify the final width.


Chamfering the corners

After planing the stop down to the marking gauge lines, I tested the fit in the mortise, and made fine adjustments with a smoothing plane until the stop moved 1/8″ with each mallet tap (thanks to Mark Hicks for his advise on fitting the stop and this tolerance as being a good indicator of appropriate friction). This took several rounds of fitting, and making small localised adjustments with the plane. I also knocked down the corners with the Phillychamfer plane, as these are a weak point and I did not want any stray fibres in the corners spoiting the fit. I had not squared up the top end of the tenon, and once it was fitting in the bench I planed it flush with a low angle block plane.


Planing the show-end flush and clean

After testing the movement of the stop through its full length, it was time to drill the hole for the toothed planing stop itself, which Peter Ross forged for me a few years ago. The planing stop had a tapered shaft with a square cross-section, and I drilled the holes while the tenon was fitted in the bench top. I bored the narrowest diameter hole needed first, which was the full length of the stop, using an auger in my North Bros brace. After this, I used engineering bits in an egg beater drill to drill the remaining, wider sections. The tip of the engineering bit follows the path of the pilot hole better than a spur and centre wood bit, which makes them very useful for reaming wider holes. Once the pilot holes were drilled, I hammered the stop into position, placing a saw bench underneath the wooden part of the stop to prevent it being driven through the mortise.


The toothed planing stop fitted in a 15″ long tenon

To prevent the teeth of the stop from sitting on top of the bench (and catching tools or fingers) when not in use, I knocked the stop as close to the benchtop as possible, and traced roung the teeth with a marking knife. After removing the stop from the mortise, I used a chisel to deepen my marking knife lines and a small router plane to remove sufficient material to allow the teeth to rest under the surface of the bench. This is a small detail, but one which did not take too long and which adds a nice point of interest (and functionality) to the bench.


Fitted and ready for use

Roubo Is Coming… Part 26

While I was in a boring frame of mind after last week’s blog post, I bored out the waste for the planing stop mortise, using the same WoodOwl ship’s auger in my North Bros brace as I had for the holdfast holes. With 8 holes bored round the perimeter of the mortise, the middle portion of waste lifted out easily. The second feature of the holdfast drilling jig then came into play – the 90 degree face providing a useful surface to register the 1 1/2″ timber framing chisel on when paring the mortise flush without any undercutting.


Paring the mortise flush with a timber framing chisel

The planing stop needs to be friction fit in the mortise, so that it can be easily adjusted with a mallet, and not so tight that is splits the bench top. Having a consistently sized mortise will make fitting the planing stop a lot easier, and also a lot less prone to seizing up (I hope). So some effort getting a clean mortise is definitely time well spent. I started by paring the to end grain surfaces perpendicular to the top of the bench, followed by the long grain sides. This sequence of work ensured that chopping the waste from the long grain would not result in a split in the bench top. I cut the mortise entirely from the top, as flipping a completely assembled Roubo bench sounded a lot like work. There was some minor blowout on the underside, but nothing any one will see, and certainly nothing that will impact on the integrity of the slab.


A square and true mortise

Once the mortise walls were pared clean I did a final sweep round the corners, which is invariably where junk collects. I did allow some slight undercutting in the corners, as the substantial sides and ends of the mortise will provide the gripping power on the planing stop, and relieving the corners ensures a good fit without reducing the necessary friction.


Squaring the planing stop

With a clean and plumb mortise, I started work on the planing stop itself. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to use the Benchcrafted Glide C vise since I installed it in the bench, and I was not disappointed – it combines sweet and smooth movement with a tenacious grip. Processing the planing stop in the vise with the big Lie-Nielsen No8 was a rock solid experience, and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life working with this vise hardware. Processing the planing stop was pretty usual fare – I trued up two perpendicular faces, testing for a 90 degree angle with the Vesper 4″ square, and then worked the remaining two faces from the reference surfaces. I left the planing stop a hair oversize at this stage so that I can bring it down to final dimension while I am doing the final fitting.


It’s not square until Chris Vesper tells you it is square