Roubo

Workbench Wednesday – #7 (2011) Roubo Sawing Bench

In great part due to the rapidly forming manuscript for To Make As Perfectly As Possible – Roubo On Marquetry and the number of my essays describing the seemingly arcane practices of 18th Parisian workshops, in 2011 I built a slightly diminutive (2/3 scale) version of Roubo’s sawing bench as illustrated in Plate 278, Figures 10 and 11.  The dimensions for my version were determined by the space in my basement workshop; I now wish I had made it full sized.  Doing so would have doubled the mass of the bench, and in this instance mass is really the only important thing.  The construction was real meatball woodworking, I simply fit and fastened together 4×6 tulip poplar stock then drilled holes for the vise screws all the way through the top horizontally.  For the female threads I simply used the wooden vise nuts that came with the threaded screws.

This workbench has only one purpose and function, to hold a work piece firmly while it is being resawn.  What we found immediately in battle was that the bench vise did a fine job of holding the work piece in its jaws tightly.  Unfortunately the bench was simply too light to perform well in action as the whole thing danced around the shop with every saw stroke.  The only way we could get it to work was placing anti-skid pads underneath each leg and then loading it up with as much weight as was handy.  Currently this sawing bench is the storage home for several hundred pounds of fire bricks I keep handy.

Roubo alludes to this problem himself, extolling the virtues of massive weights being stored on or under the bench to hold it steady, or even more likely bolting the entire unit to floor.  In my old basement shop this made no sense on the concrete floor in a tiny space, it makes more sense now that I have wooden floors and lots of them.

Most recently I used the saw bench during my demo at Working Wood in the 18th Century at Colonial Williamsburg, employing an attendee as my stabilizing weight.  In preparation for that demo, and in response to my having cannibalized the unit to use the original vise screws on other benches, I made new screws and screw nuts with my Bealle threading unit.

I cannot say I have used this bench enough to become facile at resawing veneer, the best I can do is about eight leaves per inch.  Only time will tell if I ever get to the point where I can saw a dozen leaves to the inch like the old timers, but if I do this bench or one like it will be part of the equation.

Workbench Wednesday — #6 (2011) A Vise-less Roubo

Almost coincident with my previous Roubo this much more successful bench was built in the barn, using surplus SYP timbers from the barn itself.  The barn floor plan had been reconfigured from its days as a dairy barn so there were several pieces of unused timber available for new projects like this bench.

From the outset I made the objective that this bench would be the simplest possible, big slab, big legs, no vises relying instead on holdfasts.

Since we were not yet living in the Highlands the schedule of the bench project depended on my periodic visits to work on and in the barn.

The almost 6-inch-thick slab was glued up on an unseasonably warm January day when we were able to get the shop space up to almost 50 degrees with my two kerosene heaters.

The next session of working the slab was less than a month later when the outside temperatures were near single digits, and we were barely able to crack freezing in the space.

In another three weeks it was mild enough to work in shirt sleeves.  Ahh, weather in the mountains.

Once the top was dimensioned and the mortises cut and chopped, the leg tenons were worked with the pieces being held in my Emmert K1.  The legs were tulip poplar timbers left over from who knows what project, measuring 6″ x 8″.

Soon it was time to sledge home the leg tenons into the top mortises.

I added oversized stretchers and left the bench pretty much like this, in use, for another couple of years.

Eventually I spent the time on the final flattening of the top and filled its voids to make it a first-class working surface.  It was not smooth but I didn’t really care about that as long as it was flat.

Immediately after that I sealed the whole bench with thinned varnish/tung oil mix.  That really emphasized the cross-hatch pattern employed during the flattening process.

Once the sealant had hardened I toothed the entire top and pushed it up against the window and it remained there until last summer, when it was relocated to the other end of the shop where it still serves as my primary finishing station.

This was my first truly massive bench, so heavy I can barely move one end of it at a time.  I love the thick slab top but the legs are a little too large and the stretchers are just ridiculous.  With a re-do I would reduce the legs to more like 6″x 4″ and the stretchers to 3″ or 4″ wide at the most.

And, a bench without clamping vises works just fine, thank you very much.

 

 

 

The Week Before Ripplemania II

The second annual gathering of Rippleistas convenes a week from today, and I am readying the barn classroom and main room.  I’ve heard back from all three of last year’s participants and they hope to be here, along with one other person who will drop by if he can.  I’ve had no other confirmation of attendees wanting to join us even though the event is open-invitation and tuition-free so perhaps the charm of ripple moldings is less than I thought.

Although I no longer have the Winterthur Museum ripple molding cutter here, it having been made functional and returned, I know that one of our posse wants to experiment with a bench-top version of a ripple molding cutter, another will be perfecting his own machine built since last year, and two of us will no doubt be working on a new machine and revisiting my own machine design from last year.

I’ve ordered a pile of the nece$$ary hardware from McMa$ter-Carr so we should have everything we need to have a week of productive fellowship and undulating creativity.

Stay tuned.

Polissoirs Custom-Made For Spoon Carvers

Early last week I was contacted by two separate spoon carvers asking about customizing Roubo’s polissoirs for their needs.  I do not know if this is a point of discussion among spoonsters or both of these creative folks arrived a the same point at the same time.  I gave it a try, and both orders have been sent off.

Given their descriptions of their needs I started by looking through all of the turner’s polissoirs I had on-hand, selecting the three with the longest bristles.  Ostensibly these are designed to have 1/4″ bristles that can be gently domed for polishing the concave contours of bowl turnings, but in this case the crown needed to be dramatically more pronounced to fit into the bowl of the spoon.  Since all of the polissoirs are hand-made there were minute variations in them, I wanted the ones that were a smidge longer (its a technical term you might not recognize) to accentuate the curve that could be imposed on them.  Longer bristles allowed for a higher crown, so that is where I started.

With the first test I discovered that a very dramatic crown was possible.  I worked cautiously to impart the contour I though they needed and arrived at a point that made sense to me.

The test subject got pretty dirty and the label beat up so on the subsequent two I first wrapped them with aluminum foil to provide a bit of protection.

I hope these work for the spoon makers, if not I guess I will hear back from them.  Of course the unmodified end can serve to burnish the flat and convex surfaces of their spoons.

My practice polissoir remains on my workbench and I will carve a spoon-sized shape to see how well it works.

Stay tuned.

Another Amazing Studley Workbench Replica

The original end vise from Studley’s bench. The rising dovetailed dog is the giveaway.

I was noodling around the interwebs recently, looking for any new images or information about piano-makers’ vises, (I am in the pattern-making phase of reproducing H.O. Studley’s vises) and came across the web site of Victoria Morozova.

Victoria is a Moscow miniaturist who was steered towards Studley by Bill Robertson, who is both a famed miniaturist himself but also a contributor to Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.  The gallery of her work on the bench is breathtaking.  Give it a look.

PS – She also has a three-part step-by-step description of replicating (I think Jameel Abraham’s) Roubo bench.  Prepare to be blowed away, real good.

2018 Barn Courses Fortnightly Reminder

The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule, which I will post every couple of weeks to help folks remember the schedule.

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Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950

contact me here if you are interested in any of these workshops.

Wood Thread Lubricant

Recently I was noodling around with the gigantazoid wood vise screw that was part of the FORP package from several year ago.  Since I only got my bench up on its feet in recent months, I’d had no reason to give the leg vise much thought.  These screws were custom made by Lake Erie Toolworks specifically for the FORP benches, and are a thing of fearsome beauty and function.

To make sure it would operate easily I ordered some unscented mutton tallow and worked into both sets of threads with a toothbrush, and sure enough it works like a charm.

Previously I had been using wax on threads like these, sometimes even a wax/petroleum jelly blend, but find the tallow to work much better.  Since we live in sheep country I’ll have to see if any of the locals make it.

Excising Gobs of Mass, aka Fancyin’ Up the Roubo Bowsaw Prototype

With Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Prototype tested in battle and found wanting in the lightness department, it was time to think about ways to reduce the overall weight and bring that down to a point I was comfortable with.  As it was now, it was a massive beast that was simply too heavy to use as a one-handed saw for cutting tenons or dovetails.

I rounded all the edges substantially, but that was not enough weight reduction.

I sculpted the tops of the arms, it was pretty but insufficient.

I transformed the stout cross-bar into a diamond cross-section with tapered chamfers providing the transitions.  Nyet.

It wasn’t just a smidge heavy, it was a couple pounds too heavy.  Achieving any more mass reductions would have been quicker with a new starting point since I had obviously selected the wrong one here.  Since Bad Axe had sent me some new plates to my specs, that’s where I went next.  We’ll see if 3/4″ white oak stock is up to the task of restraining these plates, or if I need to address this frame again with acres of carving and other diminutions.  At the very least, with 3/4″ stock I would start with a 40% reduction in weight, so the idea was promising.

Stay tuned.

Roubo’s Panel Clamps

When asked how many clamps they have, any woodworker worth their salt usually has two connected answers “1) A lot, and 2) not enough.”  Given the expense of manufactured clamps in our age, consider the relative cost 250 years ago when everything was made by hand.  I would imagine forging a single functioning iron clamp was the better part of a day’s work.

In part for this reason, Roubo and his contemporaries devised inexpensive, high-performance and practical solutions to the problems of clamping, especially for clamping up panels.  I too have followed their lead, and despite having many bar and pipe clamps I find these to be a terrific addition to the workshop.  The engravings are petty self explanatory, straightforward enough that I could crank them out in minutes.

My base stock for these is scrap 2×4, with clear grain if possible.  Laying out a series of square holes, off-set from the center line (almost certainly overkill, but then I tend toward overbuilding everything), I punched the 1/2″ square holes through the 2×4 with my mortiser.

That done I just re-saw the 2×4 on the table saw, yielding two identical halves of one clamp bar set.

Add a group of squared pins to connect the clamp bars and some wedges to tighten on the panel being glued and you are pretty much done.  NB: Before using for actual gluing all the surfaces of all the components should be coated with wax or grease to prevent sticking once the glue dries.

In use I just place half of the bar pair on the bench at each end of the panel assembly and insert the cross pins into the square holes, followed by placing the gluing subjects in place.

The other halves of the clamping bars go on top and once everything is squared the wedges are driven in to squeeze things together.

Finito Mussolini.

Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Prototype – Frame

With the stirrup system finalized for anchoring the saw plate it was time to move on to the frame.  Armed with some extra-dense 5/4 white oak I dove in.   I wanted to make sure the frame was both simple in construction and beefy enough to withstand the stresses of tensioning such a robust plate.

The overall structure couldn’t be much simpler — two vertical arms connected by a crossbar that was inserted as an unpinned mortise-and-tenon into the arms.  Once I had the dimensions and proportions where I wanted them I used my mortiser to cut the pockets in the arms and sawed the tenons on the crossbar.

 

Then I moved on to the housings for the stirrups.  It was a simple matter of laying them out against the base of the arm, removing the material so that the stirrup fit neatly, then sawing a slot for the plate to go through.

With the arms and crossbar cut to length and fitted together, and the stirrup housing made, I sawed the curved shape of the arms on the bandsaw.

I assembled everything together just to make sure the parts all worked together before moving on.  I really was pleased with the manner in which it all fit together.  It seemed a little beefy, but I had not put it to work yet.  Besides, it is considerably easier to make elements smaller ex poste than to make them larger.  It made me recall on of my Dad’s favorite quips in the shop, “I just don’t understand this.  I’ve cut it twice and it is still too short.”

With rasps and spokeshaves I shaped the arms to be more congenial to being hand held.  Once it was far enough along to give it a test drive I assembled it completely and strung the top with multiple strands of linen cord for tensioning, found scrap stick (a practice spindle from the writing desk) to act as the windlass paddle, and it was ready for the race track.  I’d added a small vanity flourish at the top of the arm so I just knew it would saw like a banshee.  I cranked up the tension until the plate twanged like one of Stevie Ray’s guitar strings (before he broke it) and lit into a scrap of wood.

 

And it did saw like a banshee.  Made from concrete.  It was so heavy I actually grunted when picking it up to use the first time.  Somehow I had to hog off a gob of mass or otherwise it was a two-handed-only tool, and I wanted something that could be used with one hand.