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Inside the Oldwolf Workshop
I had the base together now it was time to put the details together to finish it up
While I had the base sitting on the underside of the bench top I flipped it over and straightened, squared, measured, and fussed to get the bench sitting exactly where I wanted it to end up. Then I took a Sharpie and traced around the locations for all the legs. This would help me locate the stub tenons that would eventually connect the top and base.
The top moved back over to sit on the stools and I moved the base onto my low saw horses to work on it.
I measured and face glued two pieces of 1 by and 2 by 6 to make the deadman. Once things were set up I decided to make it a little pretty with a bead detail reminiscent of the detail you can find on the Anarchist Square that Chris Schwarz builds (The one most of us have prominently hanging in our shops) I marked it out and cut it out on the bandsaw.
I liked it so much on the deadman I dug out the jigsaw and repeated the detail on the front rail of the base.
The I decided to split from the script a bit.
I said it here before but I'm lucky that Don Williams has asked me to help him with the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench Exhibition this coming May in Cedar Rapids Iowa. This means I've been paying particular attention to every picture that comes across his blog (Don's Barn) or the Lost Art Press blog. As well as corresponding with Don and others about the exhibition. I'm very excited and I had the tool chest and workbench on my mind these days in the shop. I decided to have my first go at inlaying anything. A dot and darts similar to those that are in mother of pearl and ivory on the bandings of the chest.
I laid out the shape on the rail with chisels and a marking knife. used those lines to make paper templates which I transferred to a piece of (I think) mahogany veneer. I excavated a the thin recesses in the rail by chisel and router plane and glued the inlays into place.
The only thing left to do was nail in some cleats to the bases rails to hold the bottom shelf boards in place.
I also marked the centers of the legs and drilled a corresponding 1 1/2" radius by 1 1/2" deep hole, and cut some 1 1/2" maple dowel I had sitting around into four 3" long sections. I shaved and sanded those down a bit and rubbed canning wax on them until they cried for mercy.
Then, as if building a huge bench in a one man shop doesn't throw things into disarray enough. I had to clear out one whole wall, old bench and all, to slide the new bench into place.
Here's a slightly doctored shot of the place in disarray. With some help from physics and a wife who was willing to move saw horses in and out of place while I held up one end of the top I got the beast maneuvered into it's new home.
Did the dowels all fit? Well not perfectly, one out of four was off by just enough it wouldn't drop in smooth. A piece of sacrificial 1x6 and a good smack with the 8 lbs sledge and it stopped arguing.
If at first you don't succeed . . . get a bigger hammer.
My measurement was off on the deadman by a slim 1/4" But I can fix that with a shim. It won't help me much until I get my hands on some leg vise hardware. I'm leaning towards the ones made over at Lake Erie Toolworks. I just have to save a few pennies first because I already ordered a custom plane stop from Blacksmith Tom Latane. I should get it by the end of the month and I can't wait to show it off.
It was a long day finishing up the bench but from a pile of reclaimed barn beams to the final dimension of 12 foot long, 22 1/2" wide. 33 1/2" tall and solid as a freaking mountain. Definitely an upgrade for me.
That was enough for one night. The next day I would shiplap some 1x12 pine and line the bottom shelf but for now I was just looking to lay down and rest.
Ratine et Passionis
Casting about for additional resources to corroborate the design and construction decisions I'm making can be difficult. Often I have to tease the details out of a dozen varied other sources, other times I have to make an educated guess. But often I the other resources I find are like little Lewis Carol's rabbit holes and they threaten to swallow me up in an afternoon of distraction.
Today I found one page that nearly distracted the whole project. It's a surviving Miniature from the Turin-Milan Book of Hours created around 1420 - 1425. A book of hours is a devotional book, illustrating specific scenes or lessons from the bible In the days of yore they were often beautifully illuminated (fancy artful calligraphy) and contained miniatures (illustrated depiction of a certain passage). It's a depiction of the birth of John The Baptist and I think there's enough information in this one page to write an entire project furniture book. Let's take a closer look.
Here's the full page, but let's look a little closer at the larger top portion that depicts the birthing bed chamber.
I count up eight different builds within this one frame. That's enough for a book! Let me show you.
First there's this obviously central aumbry. It's fantastic with the details and the carvings, It looks nearly as tall as the woman standing next to it. You can see the hardware and even tell which way the grain is running. I may have to build this piece eventually anyway.
Next obvious is the hutch chest on the left hand side. I have built one of these before and I plan to build more in the future, possibly even offering them as a class.
That's just two, but its a really great start.
The woman in the green dress is seated on a triangle shaped stool with a cushion. I can tell it's a triangle shaped stool because there's another one all the way to the right.
A good depiction and evidence of the existence of this style of chair back to early 1400's in France. Standing before the chair I believe is a distaff for the drop spindle spinning of flax fibers into linen thread.
In the back doorway is a Gandalf looking figure sitting upon a cushioned chest and reading his signed copy of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. These low boxes can be found in the furniture record. To Gandalf's left looks to be another triangle stool.
Above the door is a cool knick-nack shelf.
Last, but not least, there's a turned bowl and wooden spoon on the floor in the foreground.
1: The aumbry
2. The hutch chest
3. The three legged stool
4. The distaff
5. Gandalf's chest seat
6: The wall shelf
7: The turned bowl
8: The wooden spoon
That doesn't count the obvious objects like the bed, which is lacking in details other than the textiles that cover it, and what is undoubtedly another chest like Gandalf's under a red cloth to the left of the doorway. Off the top of my head the skills you can cover in this book starts with: mortise and tenon joinery, tongue and groove joinery, simple carvings, spindle turning, face plate turning, and spoon carving
Maybe another time.
I have to remind myself of the mission at hand and keep my head above water or things like this will carry me out with the tide and I'll never finish.
Ratione et Passionis
In the August 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking I penned an article about building the press vise shown on Plate 280 of Roubo's "L'Art Du Menuisier" As vise meant to clamp both veneer and solid wood. Since building it I have found it to be a very useful shop appliance that I am still finding new uses for.
Recently I shot some video of it's use and wrote some about the lesson's I've learned. With Megan Fitzpatrick's help I've gotten those posted over on Popular Woodworking's Blog. You can read and see more about the vise (and how fast I can move in the shop!!) by following this link
Pretty cool stuff.
Ratione et Passionis
The first challenge was to get the spacing right for the legs on the bench. There was a time when I would have just randomly selected the measurements and plowed forward. Those days have passed, I've been introduced to dividers, whole number ratios and all the fantastic things that can be done with them.
I don't have any ink in the printer, so I chased up an image of the workbench on Roubo's Plate 11 on my iPhone and tried to step it off with dividers. Ever tried to use a sharp pointed dividers on a touchscreen? I bet I'm the only one who's tried, no damage was done to the phone or the dividers. I came to the conclusion the outside overhangs were equivalent to 1:6 of the inside span, or the length of the stretcher.
Working off the front edge of the bench top. I crowded the two front legs down to one end and measured the remainder of the bench, Then I divided that measurement into eight.
I transcribed that measurement in from each end and marked a line square to the front. Then I laid out the legs in their final position and outlined their placement on the bottom of the bench top. Using the outlines of the legs I was able to get the measurements for the stretchers (plus 2" on each end for the tenons.
I know most of the woodworking world cuts their mortises first. I'm afraid I'm in the habit of cutting my tenons first and that helps me locate and size my mortises. To each their own I suppose. I used the table saw to make the shoulder cuts in these SYP construction 2x6's.
The stretchers were selected for good straight grain, so I was certain I could split off the tenon cheeks with no issues. I started by scribing a line with the marking gauge.
Then I bust off the waste with a sharp chisel working by halves. Remove half the waste in the first pass, then half of what is remaining, then half again until you get to less than 1/16th or so remaining. Then you drop the chisel in the scribed line and finish the job.
Well, not finish - finish. You will probably have to pare across the cheek some to get a perfectly uniform surface.
I chose to run the bottom stretchers off the ground at the same elevation as the bench top is thick. It's Symmetry! Then I laid out the placement of the mortises and hogged out the waste with a 1" forstner bit to a little past 2" depth.
The more you work, the better and smoother things like this go. Mortise and tenons used to give me fits, I guess most everything used to give me fits at one point in time. But I was happy because the last several times I've gone through this joinery process, it has worked out to satisfaction.
Once everything dry fit I pulled the legs back apart, stepped through the process of drawboring the joint together A little glue and the tapping of tapered dowel pins and I was finished with a long day number two.
It's almost a bench.
Ratione et Passionis
Once I got my hands on some quality carving chisels, my next question was "Ok, how do I sharpen them?" Leonard Lee's book on sharpening is great and has always been my bible in this arena, but he is wont to use jigs and gadgets. I was sure it could be simpler than making a dozen shaped blocks of wood charged with buffing compound.
I looked around a little but couldn't find any body not sharpening chisels without slip stones or a shaped buffing wheel on an electric grinder. Necessity is a mother (and mother's only half a word), I understood what sharp was, I needed sharper chisels, and what did I have to lose by figuring it out by trial and error with the items I had on hand.
Thus I arrived at the simple technique I use today. It's as dumbed down as, "Rub the area you want to sharpen against an abrasive surface." But there are others out there starting to carve and I get the occasional email or question on social media. Instead of responding via a novel length text based dissertation on what I do, I decided to just shoot some video.
The best part? I'm not trying to sell you anything. Use what you have, adapt the technique to work for you.
Ratione et Passionis
The benchtop finished out at just under 3 1/2" thick by 22" wide and 12 foot long. Alone I could lift each of the beams to move them around the shop, now joined together . . .it's all I can do to flip it over on a set of saw horses. Moving it around requires applied physics. (levers and mechanical advantage)
Those who've seen the benchtop so far have asked about the holes already in the top, woodworkers have asked why I pre-drilled my dog holes in such a way. These beams came from inside a barn and it was obvious from where they were being used, and the variety of the sizes of beams around them, they had been recycled before, probably from another even older barn.
The barn I got them from was around 80 years old, I wonder how long the previous barn stood and how long it's been since these Fir beams were standing trees.
The holes in the beams must have been related to the joinery of the first barn. You can see evidence of the joinery in the larger leg beam as well. Big mortises 2" by 10" in size with a hole for a peg through the sides. Massive joinery with no apologies.
Before planing you could also make out the remaining pencil layout lines for a mortise. They had drilled for the mortise and before chopping out the waste, rechecked the measurements, realized they'd drilled on the wrong side of their line, plugged the holes and made the new mortise correctly. I'm not sure what makes you check one more time between drilling and chopping, I'd like to assume a apprentice/master type relationship where the master or a journeyman checked the young lads work and found it wanting.
I hand sawed the legs square at one end and found a problem to solve. I'm a good hand sawyer. I like to do it even, but I am human and that leads to small inconsistencies. These legs are too big to shoot the ends to achieve the same length so I had to find a reliable way to get repeatable consistency.
I've owned and used a tablesaw for nearly 15 years, I've never found a good enough reason to make a crosscut sled jig until now. I hate making jigs, but I decided it was the best way to accomplish the task with such heavy stock. I used the tablesaw's fence (with a spacer block) to set a consistent length of cut.
Some left over 1/2" plywood and an end of 1x6 and 2x6 joined to a couple oak runners and the jig was done. Now I guess I have one, so now I'll have to find a place to store it. Ughhh.
The results were very good. All four legs came out to the same dimension, and I was able to sort them into front and back legs and pick which one would be best for the eventual leg vise.
Getting the legs to length had eaten up nearly the entire day. I had enough time for one more task. Cutting the ends of the bench top square. I used the largest of my Benjamin Seaton Squares to square a line from the front face. I cut one end, measured down twelve feet . . .
. . . and cut the other.
Ratione et Passionis
I finished this earlier this month. It was a quick build because the client was hot to trot to get their hands on it. Originally I conceived this box as one half of a pair. Both boxes born from the same board. But the client came to me desperate for something fast and I'd already started this one at a demo. So I finished it up in a couple days and it's gone now. All I have left are the photos.
The box is red oak with black walnut trim. About 20 x 12 in dimension. I'm beginning to feel really good about these when they're done, I've started to dial in the details to where I want them. There are still things I want to explore in this form so I'm not done with it by a long shot.
As originally envisioned, I was going to build two carved boxes from the same board. The carvings were to complement each other or whatever I was going to do with those. But the insides, at least the inside of the lid, were supposed to be my first foray into parquetry.
But one hot to trot person with money in their hands and I cave to my ideals. Oh well, I have some friends who are having a benefit for their son who has recently been diagnosed with Hodgekin's Lymphoma. I think I'll finish up that box and donate it to the benefit.
The number one question I get when people see my boxes in person is "Wow, how long did that take you." I've gotten wise enough so the first words out of my mouth are, "Well, it's not the first time I've done this." which softens the blow when I tell them the time.
Truth is I can knock out a box like this in a weekend. I cut parts and dovetails on a Friday night and spill some Danish Oil on it Sunday night. Carving and glue ups happen in between. The puzzling thing to me is the reaction I get when I admit something like this.
That I can be both efficient and proficient in getting something like this done seems to result in diminishing it's value. Non woodworkers want me to tell them I slaved over the carving for six months. Woodworkers want me to tell them it took me four hours to cut the dovetails by hand (an hour per corner without a router is the average guess)
It's a paradox I simply cannot wrap my head around sometimes.
But that rant is probably for another day.
Ratione et Passionis
|Noah building the Arc at his workbench. From the Maciejoski Bible circa 1250AD.|
What I need the bench to do is easy. Workbench Whisperer Chris Schwarz has a list of ten rules for workbenches that lays out everything you need to know. Really, it's everything. trust me, if it's not on the list then forget it.
Want to cover the ankles of your workbench with lace so the sight of it's slender ankles doesn't unduly excite the men-folk? Your answer is on that list. . . trust me.
My issue is in all the names. There are so many names, and fads, and trends when it comes to workbenches. Sometimes it's like hearing the well off doctors at work talk about their cars.
"What kind of workbench do you use?'
"Oh, I'm into a standard Roubo now, but I may upgrade to a split top next year."
"Have you seen the specs on the Nicholson? I understand it's back in vogue again."
"Did you see Jim was still planing on a Holtzapffel. . . that's so ten years ago."
As I reflect on it, I find it a little over the top. I don't remember my grandfather's workbench having a name, It was his workbench, it did what he needed it to do or he modified it. It wasn't a near and dear thing. It was a workbench, a tool, a place to work. Sentimentality need not apply.
But there is sentimentality for an old bench. I have enjoyed the hours I've spent working at the one I'm using now, but I can do better and I've grown as a woodworker, so much since I built the first bench. I need better. As I make the decision moving forward on my new workbench, I try and take the lessons I learned from my last bench and step forward.
The only name I've truly considered is Dominy.
On display at Winterthur Museum is the preserved remains of the historic Dominy Brother's workshop. Included is a 12 foot long workbench. It's that correlation in length that has made me think about it.
In the end, I'm not that interested in a twin screw vise for my workholding. I have a moxon vise that does that better (hmmm another name). I like a leg vise myself but I like the sliding deadman a lot especially considering the 12 foot span. The trouble is every picture I can find of the Dominy bench is obscured by the rest of the museum and that damn tall clock case.
Then I saw this bench, called "The Workhorse," from Richard Maguire, a man who makes traditional workbenches for a living, and it seems like the right configurations. Mine will be a little different yet. I want a traditional saw toothed plane stop. and I'm not so sure about a tail vise. I don't have or use one now.
In the end I say, forget the name, figure out what you like and name it yourself.
Ratione et Passionis
This is one of my favorite lines from an old SciFi TV show called Babylon 5. It's been ringing in my head over the last few days.
A month ago today I posted here about some beams I picked up to build a new bench. At the time I thought those beams would sit in the corner of the shop for at least a few months before I was able to fit a bench build into my schedule. That was supposed to give me time to dwell and think about bench I wanted to make. Carefully weigh and debate my options and maybe save some pennies for new hardware and vises.
This is usually how I work, A big project has to sit and ruminate in my mind for a while. I pick apart the details and build it over and over a hundred times before I pick up a saw. Then, once I'm ready to go I can move through the project efficiently, because I have it all planned out.
This time, a trouble maker raised his hand and threw a wrench in the gears.
Mike Siemsen, The Naked Woodworker himself, was having a little spoon carving gathering at his place and I asked if I could come, hang out, and learn some from the folks there, I've dabbled a little in spoons lately myself, nothing much to be proud of really. But Mike picked up on the bench build and offered to help me run them through the big machinery he has for the school.
How could I say no. I packed up the beams in the truck and headed out for the weekend.
Mike does not mess around with his machines.
I have never owned a powered joiner or planer but I can really respect the power and ability inherent in these size tools. Mike is probably right when he says owning a smaller joiner that his really is just playing around.
We ran the three thinner beams (4" thick = thinner. . . ) through the machines and glued them up into a benchtop in one evening. The next morning we scraped the glue and ran the whole benchtop through the planer one more time, top and bottom.
The result was spectacular.
We also sawed the larger beam in half and squared it up so I could bring it home and make my bench height decisions later. I just wasn't ready to commit just then, I hadn't cogitated on it for six months yet. And that's the crux of my next issue.
I don't want to wait to get this benchtop framed into a bench. The longer I wait to get it fixed the greater the chance of something going wrong, the top warping or falling off the stools I have it sitting on. I just can't let myself wait and see if it goes wrong. The same idea as gluing up a panel of boards as soon as possible after you joint and plane them. you want to lock in that flatness with the strength of the surrounding timber. Strength in numbers.
So for me, a simple pebble, the avalanche has started. It doesn't matter what else is on my plate, (and there are quite a few things right now) today is the time to build a bench.
Thanks Mike for the kick in the ass!
Ratione et Passionis
Earlier I wrote about solving a problem making dados in turned columns by marrying a router plane and a joiner's saddle. You can read about my process HERE.
I edited together some video I shot of making the dados. I thought it might help in the understanding.
I move down the column in one direction to rough out the depth. Coming back in the other direction finishes the cut and allows me to move into the stopped end of the dado.
Ratione et Passionis
If you look at the chair you see round, turned columns joined to rails with mortises, not terribly difficult to accomplish with hand tools, but the kicker in the joinery design is the green panels fit between the rails. This requires some variety of groove or dado along the length of the columns to hold and hide the edge of the panel.
There were two ways to think about it.
First I could plow the groove in any standard way while the stock was still square. Then hope against hope that while I turned the legs on the lathe I wouldn't catch and tear out the groove too bad or worse, catch it very bad and wrench the whole piece off the lathe and send it careening across the shop.
On top of those dangerous prospects would be the gymnastics of getting the groove at proper center and depth before turning. Maybe with a CNC router or lathe, but not in my shop. The idea was out pretty quick.
So I turned the legs and chewed on the problem the whole while. At first I thought I would build a jig shaped like a long box. From either end I would clamp the column and from the top I would make a lid for the box that had a long slot cut in the center.
I would then run a router with a pattern template up and down through the slot and make my groove. I even went out and purchased the lumber, clamps, and a router base plate and bushing set from Milescraft to carry out the job. As I started to build the jig, my gut started to talk to me. I can't say exactly just what made me stop the process and switch gears. There were too many x-factors and measurements and it just seemed too likely an opportunity for me to screw the pooch.
Did I mention I wanted these grooves to stop at a point and not just blindly run the entire length.
Making the legs out of walnut, I didn't have any spare stock to make another if thing went wrong. I had to be smarter than the problem, and that's sometimes tough for me.
I waited and I thought.
I worked on other things and I thought.
I searched the internet, paged through books, wrote unfinished emails asking for advice.
And I thought.
My joiners saddles were my first inspiration.
I wanted to use my plow plane to make the grooves, and if I could figure out how to attach a joiners saddle shaped addition to the fence, I'd be golden.
But the physics of the plane defeated me. As you cut deeper with a plow plane, the fence moves deeper too. There was no way to do it and keep the fence centered on the round column. (Sitting here this morning I have thought of another way to do this with the plow that probably would work. I'll leave that for another day)
I thought about what else I had that made grooves, chisels, and a router plane.
Once I landed on the combination of router plane and joiners saddle I knew I'd picked the lock.
All that was left was to figure out the specifics and see if it worked.
That hurdle is behind me, the next one, the finish, is still in my teeth.
Ratione et Passionis
We had a nice selection of finished pieces and examples. An impressive little collection of work If I do say so myself.
Tom demonstrated the early parts of the process. Taking the fallen tree and riven or pit sawn pieces and breaking them down into workable stock.
|Hewing away with the adze|
|Putting your froe into it|
|planing to thickness|
|Checking your work|
|Working the timber down with a slick|
|Working with a scrub plane.|
|A well deserved rest leaning against the nearly finished leg of his spring pole lathe. The thing is massive.|
|The panels I carved ahead of time for display. My first true foray into green riven white oak. |
What a pleasure to work with.
Thanks to Tom and Paul for letting me pal around and make some woodchips with you.
Ratione et Passionis
Back in June I did a little carving demo at the annual Gala for the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor. I carved a front panel for a document box out of walnut.
Just this past weekend I was part of another demo there, more focused on woodworking itself, and I decided to finish up a couple pieces to have as. ". . . and here's what it looks like when you're done." pieces. I spent last week finishing the till, lid, and turning a set of feet.
Here's the finished results.
The primary wood is black walnut, the inner till is made from cherry and the bottom is pine, (So you get that wonderful scent when you open the lid) .
The box measures approximately 20" across and 14" deep.
This small chest is also FOR SALE. I need to make more room for new pieces, (and help finance the materials for them) I'm asking $450 USD.
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you're interested or have more questions.
There should be a lot more actual woodworking stuff coming from me soon.
Ratione et Passionis