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.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 17

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

Roubo Is Coming… Part 15

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Roubo Is Coming… Part 14

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 13

One of the reasons I originally wanted to build a Roubo workbench was the iconic leg joint – a double tenon which extends through the top, and where the outer-facing tenon is shaped as a sliding dovetail. The joint has practical purposes, as it doubles the surface area of the joint (for additional strength), and a double tenon should resist twisting out of alignment. But fundamentally, that joint excites me, both in terms of executing it, and seeing it on the workbench every time I enter the shop. As I’ve written before, this build is more akin to timber framing than to furniture (and is far removed from the lutherie I started with), and that double tenon joint has become for me an expression of skilled handcraft (providing of course that I don’t botch the joint, right?).

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Laying out the tenons

In contrast to the undercarriage, where I cut the mortises before the tenons, with the jeg joinery I decided to cut the tenons first. This way, I can then do a dry fit of the complete undercarriage and layout from that the position of the mortises on the slab top.

The first stage of joinery, as always, is laying out the joint, and Roubo poses us a choice – do we want to cut the joint as he describes it in the text, or as it is illustrated? The difference is the location of the rear tenon, which Roubo describes as being flush to the rear face of the leg (effectively as a barefaced tenon), but in the illustration is placed more centrally with two shoulders. Roubo explains that while most benches are built with the rear tenon flush to the rear of the leg, he considers that it would be best to have a shoulder either side of this tenon. I decided to follow historic French workbench builders, rather than implement Roubo’s suggested improvement.

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Laying out the dovetail slopes

To layout the joint I divided the thickness of the leg into three equal parts, and struck lines on the end grain and both sides with the Hamilton Toolworks traditional marking gauge. The baseline for the joint was measured from the end of the leg and then transfered to all four faces of the workpiece with a marking knife and Vesper 10″ square. Because the top of the slab has not been flattened yet, there is some variation in the thickness of the slab, and the baseline of the joint was taken by measuring the thickness of the slab at the locations of each leg joint and then adding a hair to the thinnest dimension.

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Cutting a notch into the waste side of the layout line provides a clean starting point for the saw

The final element of the layout was to mark the slope of the sliding dovetail – I set a sliding bevel to 60 degrees and struck lines from the rear corner of the dovetail to the face of the leg. An easy way to check that the dovetail is on the correct face of the workpiece is to make sure that the mortise for the short stretcher is on the opposite face – if you have dovetails and mortises on the same side, then something has gone wrong!

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Big joinery requires a big (and accurate) saw. Enter the Roubo Beastmaster by Bad Axe

Cutting the joinery though 6 pouce thick oak is heavy work, but straight forward. This build was one of the reasons I bought the Roubo Beastmaster tenon saw from Bad Axe – at 5″ plate depth and 18″ long, it is a timber framing saw with the precision required for big joinery. A good handsaw would also work for cutting this joint, although I personally find backsaws easier to use in this sort of application.

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Here you can see how the first two cuts have been made to the lefthand layout lines, and now I make the cuts against the righthand layout lines, turning the leg in the vise after each cut.

Cutting the joint is similar to cutting the tenons for the stretchers, albeit on a bigger scale and with a few additional nuances. The leg was placed on a block of scrap to elevate it above the top of my Sjoberg bench, and secured in the vise at an angle. Essentially the job is to remove the waste between the two tenons, and then cut the slope of the dovetail.

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Cutting the shoulders of the dovetail slopes

I find it easier to make all of the cuts to one side of a layout line before switching to cutting the opposite side of the next line, and so that is what I did here. Starting at the corner nearest me, I cut against the lefthand layout line until the saw hit the baseline and the opposite corner of the joint. I then rotated the leg 180 degrees in the vise so that it was facing the otherway, and then cut to the lefthand yout line on the opposite side. This meant that half the cuts had been made to each side of the joint, and I could now make the next two cuts against the righthand layout lines. With this second pair of cuts, the saw kerf had already been established across the end of the leg, so it was a case of starting in the corner nearest me and working down the remaining layout line until the baseline was hit. I then stood the leg vertically in the vise, and cut straight down to remove the triangle of waste that remained in the base of the cut. The slopes of the dovetails were then cut with the same saw, and the shoulders cut with the Bayonet.

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Drilling out the waste with a Woodowl bit and brace

Now, you could chisel out the waste from between the tenons, but that sounds like a lot of work. Much easier is to drill out the waste, which I did with a 1 1/8″ Woodowl auger bit (the largest bit I have) in my North Bros brace, getting as close to the baseline as I dare. As beefy as it is, the Roubo Beastmaster did not quite have enough depth under the sawback to reach the baselines of the tenons (which are 5 3/4″ deep), and so a small webbing of oak remained. I knocked this out with a mortise chisel and mallet, and the waste block dropped out of each joint.

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After drilling out the majority of the waste, the remaining webbing is removed with a mortise chisel.

There is a little bit of clean up to do on the tenons, mainly cleaning up the baseline between the tenons, and also a spot of paring on a few of the dovetail slopes. But this is a major step forwards with the bench, and as soon as my slab-moving team are next available we will move the slab into position to layout the double mortises and get the second half of this joint cut.

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Four legs with the joinery cut

Roubo is Coming… Part 12

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With the legs assembled I could check the final width of the slab

The slab is now processed on five of its six surfaces, with only the top left to flatten (which will wait until the bench has been assembled). The final surface to be cleaned up in this stage of the build was the rear edge of the slab, and this the one area where my approach to the build has created a little extra work. In his book, Chris recommends processing the slab first, so that the stretchers are cut to suit the final size of the slab. However, because I decided to limber up for this build by preparing the undercarriage first, I had to size the slab to suit the stretchers. To be honest, this was not too much extra work, and given the time it has taken to get this far into the build, I’m glad I didn’t work on the slab when I first started, as it would likely have moved again in the intervening months.

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Direct measurement from components reduces the risk of error

The rear edge does not need to be square, or super flat, but it does need to be of the same width as the legs and short stretchers. Whenever possible, I prefer to avoid measuring, and so to test how close the slab was to final width, I assembled the legs and short stretchers, and placed them in position on the slab. I’ll admit that this was also for my own curiosity and to get a sense of the scale of the bench. With the legs in situ, I could see that the slab was 11/16″ too wide – not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but more than I could want to remove with a jack plane from a 6″ thick, 102″ long slab or pretty truculent oak. Instead, I decided to rip the waste off with my 119 year old Disston D8 handsaw.

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Ripping the slab to width. Yes this felt like work, but with patience it is possible to accurately cut 6″ thick oak by hand.

To provide a line to cut to, I set my panel gauge to the width of a pair of legs (still no measuring), and struck a line down the slab. When cutting 6″ thick timber, the key is to go slow and steady, and to keep the saw plate lubricated with plenty of mutton tallow. I used an overhand ripping grip for most of this work, alternating occasionally to lay down a guide kerf by sawing at a shallow angle to the top of the workpiece.

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The waste has been ripped off

Once I had ripped the waste off, I rotated the slab (with assistance from my ever-helpful slab moving team) so that the freshly cut edge was facing up, and the slab was resting on the saw benches (in the same position as when I worked the front edge). The rear edge is not bang on perpendicular to the underside of the slab, nor is it dead nuts straight. But it is within perfectly acceptable tolerances for this surface. I spent a few minutes cleaning up the area where the rear legs are situated with a jack plane, so that these are perpendicular to the underside, as this will make for an easier layout when cutting the leg joinery (the next stage of the build).

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Tuning the area where the leg joinery will be cut

The slab is now ready for the leg joinery to be cut, which means that we will be moving it back into storage while I cut the double tenon on the legs. The build is continuing to progress smoothly, and I am aiming to assemble the bench shortly after I get back from teaching at the Lost Art Press storefront in September.

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The slab is processed on all surfaces save for the top, which will happen once the bench is assembled.