The Final Piece of the Puzzle

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Holdfasts have been central to the way I have worked over the past four years, and they are a critical workholding strategy for the Roubo bench. A hefty bench, such as my oak Roubo build, deserves a big hefty holdfast. The distintive holdfasts detailed in With All the Precision Possible are much larger than many modern designs, and I wanted something which would fit the overbuilt vibe of the bench. Specifically, I wanted a Crucible Tool holdfast, or one of Peter Ross’ amazing full scale “Roubo” holdfasts.

Unfortunately Crucible do not ship internationally, but a tip-off over Instagram led me to Hyvlar – a Swedish tool seller who stock Crucible tools and are happy to ship across Europe. My Crucible holdfast arrived today, and while I do not yet have any 1″ diameter holes to test it in, it appears to be an impressive tool. The design is very similar to the engravings in Roubo’s manuscript, and the large size and rough cast texture will complement the oak bench nicely. Of course, none of that matters unless the holdfast can steady workpieces, but everything I have heard from folk who use these holdfasts is that they hold like the dickens. I’m looking forward to putting this holdfast through its paces, and will report back once the Roubo bench is in use.

I’ll be keeping my current 3/4″ holdfast, and may well bore a 3/4″ diameter hole in each of my saw benches to assist with holding stock in place.

In Print the “hard way”

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Issue 285 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now in print, and mark the launch of a 12 month series I am writing about building the slab top oak Roubo bench (the magazine cover dryly refers to buuilding “a traditional Roubo bench, the hard way”). Every month we’ll be looking at one aspect of the bench build and covering it in detail. If traditional workbenches aren’t your cup of tea, not to fear as Mark Harrell continues his series on saw sharpening, Richard Wile examines a range of pencils for workshop use, and Derek Jones continues his bog oak box build. There is also a fascinating profile on the Gandolfi camera company.

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All About The Base?

Or: Roubo is Coming… part 8

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Test fitting a long stretcher to the leg. That’s not a bad dry fit at all, and the small gap will close up when the joint is drawbored.

After chopping the remaining two mortises and tuning the fit of the tenons, the base of the workbench is now complete. While it would be tempting to dive straight into processing the slab there are a few other elements I want to attend to first, including fitting battens to the stretchers to support the shelf, and fitting the vise hardware, all of which will make life must easier when it comes to assembling the bench.

There is a lot of work left to do, but this feels like a huge milestone in the build process, and I am on track for having a completed bench before the year is out.

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Roubo Is Coming… Part 7

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With Jenny and Nathan Bower, at Handworks 2017

Although my Roubo bench build on the whole is a no frills back to 18th Century basics type affair, I did want to find some way to add a little personality to it. To build this type of bench by hand, out of oak, is a significant undertaking, and I thought that it would be fitting to leave some sign for future generations as to who made it. The decision as to how exactly I would add a personalised touch was easy – I would ask my friend Jenny Bower to engrave a plaque to be mounted on the vise chop. Jenny is an incredibly talented artist and engraver, and I was fortunate to interview her for Furniture & Cabinetmaking back in 2017. Only a few months after that interview, I flew out to Handworks and hoped to catch up with Jenny and her husband Nathan (also a talented craftsman, and maker of beautiful clocks). What I didn’t anticipate was that we would have booked into the same B&B in Amana, and we coincided over breakfast the first morning of the event.

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The plaque Jenny engraved for me with be the perfect finishing touch for the Roubo bench

This is the second commission I’ve asked Jenny to make for me – the first was a wedding anniversary gift for Dr Moss. I already had an outline design in mind using the familiar diamond shaped OtW maker’s mark Tom Richards designed for me three years ago, but I also wanted to give enough scope for Jenny to add her own signature style. It did not take long until we had a firm concept – a 4″ wide plaque in brass which used the OtW logo as the base design, and contains the year in which the bench build started (and hopefully will finish), with plenty of canvas for Jenny to add what she refers to as “unnecessary embellishment“. Jenny sent me two options of the full design to choose from, then all I had to do was wait for the postman to deliver the completed plaque.

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There are days when it feels like all I do is chop mortises. Good job it is so much then then.

The plaque arrived last weekend and is a thing of absolute beauty, with the brass working perfectly against the oak. The engraving is crisp and expressive, and is a lovely reinterpretation of Tom’s wonderful branding. I still need to prepare the vise chop, but I’m already looking forward to installing the plaque. For me one of the great benefits of being part of the community of makers is that we develop connections with other craftspeople in complementary disciplines. Knowing that this plaque is one of the first things I’ll see every day I step into the workshop, and that it will remind me of friendships and community far outside the walls of my own ‘shop, is pretty special.

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I’m calling that one done

As for the bench build itself, I only have two mortises left to clean up and the undercarriage will be complete. Today I cleaned up a pair of mortises and fine tuned the fit of the tenons on one of the long stretchers, and couldn’t resist a three-sided test fit. This is the first time I’ve had a true sense of the proportions and size of this bench, and she’s going to be a substantial piece.

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Test fit. One long stretcher left to fit, then the undercarriage will be done!

Roubo Is Coming… Part 6

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Cutting a small notch to the waste side of the layout line gives the saw a good starting point

And then there were two! Both leg sub-assemblies (each consisting of a pair of legs connected by a short stretcher) are together and looking good and square. I’ve also cut the tenons for the long stretchers and roughed in the corresponding mortises with the bit and brace. All that stands between me and a completed undercarriage is a fair amount of chisel work to pare the remaining four mortises square. So the end of this stage of the build is coming into sight.

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Cutting the tenons on the long stretchers – establishing a good saw kerf all the way round the tenon will guide the saw

Repeating any process results in efficiencies and more accurate techniques. Cutting the tenons is quick work with a decent tenon saw, even in oak, so there is not much time to be saved on this process. There have been improvements in accuracy across these eight tenons. Accuracy is something that you develop with muscle memory and educating your eye, and while the first set of tenons didn’t require much in the way of tuning, with the second set I’ve been riding the layout line much more comfortably and accurately. Where tenons have needed a little tuning, the large router plane has provided an efficient and repeatable way to remove any inconsistencies or bumps from the tenon cheeks.

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Paring the baseline for a “first class cut” on the tenon shoulder

My work hasn’t involved too much mortise and tenon construction to date (the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and Saw Cabinet are the standout examples), but this is a really useful and enjoyable joint to use, and now that I’ve tuned my eye in, I want to keep cutting big beefy tenons. Fortunately there is still the joinery to secure the legs to the bench top, so I’ll be getting more practice at oversized mortise and tenon joinery later in the summer (with an added Roubo-flavoured twist).

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For a burly and aggressive timber framing saw, the Bad Axe Roubo Beastmaster leaves a remarkably clean surface

Next I will be pressing on with the remaining four mortises, and fitting the vise hardware before turning my attention to processing the slab top. There’s still lots to get done, but slowly a bench is emerging from this pile of oak.

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To completed sub-assemblies – the long stretchers will connect these into a complete undercarriage

 

 

Roubo Is Coming… Part 5

After several months of work, this is the moment when the various components of the workbench start to come together and look like something. There’s a great deal of distance left to go, but I now have the makings of a workbench undercarriage.

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Marking the tenon shoulder with the Vesper 4″ square and Hamilton marking knife

Cutting the mortises for the short stretchers was enjoyable but slow work, so I was looking forward to swapping my chisels for a tenon saw and cutting the second half of the joint. This is much faster work, even accounting for fine tuning the joint. When I laid out the mortises I had locked my marking gauge in position, and it will stay at that setting until the undercarriage is completed. I laid out the bare faced tenons with the marking gauge, and then scribed the shoulders with a square and marking knife, before shading in all of the waste with a pencil.

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The Roubo Beastmaster is the definition of controlled aggression – it ploughed through this 3″ oak tenon like the Apprentice ploughs through chocolate brownies

To cut the tenons I reached for my Bad Axe Roubo Beastmaster tenon saw. This build was one of the reasons I originally ordered this saw, and at 18″ long with 5″ depth saw plate it is a substantial tool. The key to cutting any joint is to establish a saw kerf to guide the saw through the entire joint, and cutting the tenon cheeks takes three cuts. First I set the stretcher at an angle so I can work to the layout lines on the end of the stretcher as well as one side. This keeps me cutting straight on both vertical and horizontal planes. I start at the corner nearest me, and keep sawing until I hit the far corner of the tenon end and the baseline on the side facing me. I then flip the tenon over and work down to the baseline on the newly exposed face, using the saw kerf along the end of the tenon to guide me. Once I hit that baseline, I place the stretcher vertical in the vise and cut out the triangle of waste that remains above the baseline.

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After making the first cut, turn the stretcher over and cut the second side, using the existing saw kerf to guide you.

Once the cheeks are cut, I cut the shoulders (this time with a Bad Axe Bayonet saw, filed hybrid – this is my “do everything” utility saw, as I’ve written before). The tenon shoulders are a “first class cut” and so I keepen the knife line with a wide chisel and pare out a small trench to guide the saw. Placing a finger gently on the toe of the saw prevents it from jumping out of the cut, and I saw down to the layout line until the waste pops out.

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Cutting the shoulders with the Bad Axe Bayonet

Placing the tenon in the corresponding mortise helps to identify if there is any tuning or further material to be removed. A broad chisel helps to remove any small humps from the tenon cheek, but to be honest if you have cut the tenon carefully you shouldn’t need too much tuning. Gently chamfering the corners of the tenon helps it to slide in smoothly without any junk in the corner of the mortise (often the hardest parts to clean out) fouling the fit.

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Chris Vesper says this is square, which is good enough for me

Once I had a pair of tenons cut I did a test fit with a pair of legs, checking for square with my Vesper 10″ square (the final arbiter of square in my workshop). I now have two subassemblies of legs connected by short stretchers, and next will be to cut the mortises and tenons for the long stretchers.

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One of the two completed sub-assemblies. Now to cut the joinery on the long stretchers and connect them all up.