Roubo

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, Assembled and at Work

With a little logistical cogitation my pal John and I, both 60-somethings and neither of us mesomorphs, managed to maneuver the 300+ pound top of the French Oak Roubo Project workbench out into the light.  Immediately I was struck by both the magnificence of the 240(?) year old white oak slab, and the waney void adjacent to a glue line on the underside of it.  I suppose at one time I was just going to leave it as-is, an admittedly foggy memory going back four years, but given that one of the leg mortises needed to go right through the flawed region I decided instead to fill it.  I could have grafted in another piece of oak but instead fell back on a tried-and-true method of repair that I have employed several times in the past as it was especially well suited for a repair of this size.

I first sized (primed) the margins of the effected area with standard West System epoxy, thinned about 25% with acetone to get deep penetration.  One of the reasons for any potential epoxy failures, whether in adhesion, consolidation or filling, is that the epoxy does not penetrate adequately to knit the entire construct together nicely.  What then often happens also is that the differences between the high density inelastic epoxy and the less dense, much more elastic wood, may result in a fracture at their margin when they are intimately bound together in a cyclic stressful environment.  The diluted epoxy addresses the first of these problems, the filling of epoxy with large wood flakes addresses the second.

 

In this case I ran a scrap of oak through the power planer to yield the typically large shavings you would expect from the machine.  I took handfuls of these shavings and packed them down into the void that had been previously primed with the thinned epoxy.

I then drizzled un-thinned epoxy on top of the wood flakes, then sprinkled on more shavings and packed them again through some wax paper.  I left the entire fill to harden overnight.

An additional feature of fills like this is that when the volume is large enough, the exothermic reaction of the epoxy hardening causes the adhesive to actually boil in place, aerating the  fluid as it hardens and reducing further the density of the hardened fill.  This is a very good thing.

The resulting repair is much closer in density to the wood, thus reducing the risk of a system fracture at their interface, and yields a repair that can be easily smoothed with a rasp or Surform tool.

The success of the repair can be clearly seen in the edges of the mortises I drilled and pounded through the slab and the repair.  It held together wonderfully and had working properties nearly identical to the adjacent oak.

When I set aside the oak Roubo bench 4+ years ago it was still quite  ways from being done.  The leg tenons were all cut, but only two of the dovetailed mortises and none of the rectangular mortises, so clearly a lot of drilling and chopping was in store.  There was nothing exceptional about the task or process other than it required flipping the top a couple of times to get the job done.  The last two dovetailed open mortises took about an hour to knock out.

Drilling and chopping the closed mortises went smoothly.  For three of the four.  And the fourth?  Grrrrr!  For some inexplicable reason I switched from a Forstner-style bit to a long auger bit for my drill, and it went astray.  Not just astray but bound tighter than a drum and would not move forward or backward (a theme that was not yet fully played out).  After a lot of fussing and fuming I was eventually forced to drive it through the other face using my sledge hammer.  Sheer brute force.  I was reminded of my late friend Mel Wachowiak’s quip, “With enough force you can pull he tail off a living cow.”  Or drive a 7/8 auger bit through an inch of solid oak.

This blew out a chunk of the face adjacent to the mortise, leaving me less cheery than you might expect, my anger being tempered only by the fact that all this damage took place on the underside of the slab. An hour later I had knitted together all the splintered wood and glued it back in place to leave overnight.  In the end it was a patience-expanding experience.

The good news is that the repaired place (epoxy and shavings filled) held up perfectly when chopping the mortise in that area.  The repair felt just like the adjacent wood and held a nice crisp corner with no chipping or fracture.

So now the mortises were all done and seemed to provide a nice snug fit, and I was looking forward to driving the legs home in the morning.

Oh, about that…

I was eagerly anticipating installing the legs after having it wait on me for more than fours years.  The joinery was all done, the repairs completed, and all looked well.  The first few whacks on the bottom of the legs (the bench was upside down) produced pleasing results, and flipped the bench over the finish driving them home from the top.

A few good moments of movement, then, nothing.  No mount of persuasion would budge the legs any more than about halfway in.  Even with my 12 lb. sledge nothing was moving.  On any of the four legs.  So I tried driving them back out to fiddle with the joint shoulders.  Nothing happened.  No matter how hard I beat on it.  A cold clammy sweat began prickling me all over.

Then a stroke of genius came down.  How about if I used a hydraulic bottle jack and placed it under the bridge between the two balconies with a 6×6 post filling the excess space?  I practically dislocated something patting myself on the back for that one.

The first attempts revealed the propensity for the jack force to lift up the bridge beams.  No big deal, I just cut 4×4 spacers to fit between the top of the bridge beams and the barn frame, essentially bringing the entire weight of the barn into the equation.

I began to have some results as I levered the 12-ton jack and could hear and see the legs creeping into their mortises.  Then I started hearing creaks from places far away, and rapidly backed off when I realized that the process was literally inflicting enough force to potentially tear the barn apart.

This episode opened an avenue for contemplation.  Namely, how about constructing a frame to capture both the feet of the legs and the hydraulic jack against the slab top?

Brilliant! sez I, and I set about making one such device from oak 6x6s and framing 2x4s.  I placed the lower 6×6 cross piece underneath the feet at one end of the bench and captured the bottle jack with the other 6×6 above the slab.  Good concept, poor execution.  The corners were pinned with 1/4″ lag bolts, which almost immediately bent to such a degree that the unit was not functional.

For the next iteration I ripped a pile of surplus 3/4″ CDX plywood into 5″ wide strips, the fashioned them into a more robust frame what was three pieces for the stiles and seven pieces for the beams, all glued and screwed with four 1/2″ carriage bolts holding each corner together.

I held my breath as I maneuvered the bench and the frame to their respective locations, placed the bottle jack directly over one of the legs  with a metal bar at the top to transfer the force to the frame and started pumping the lever arm.  The results were almost immediate and immensely gratifying as I worked my way around the bench from leg to leg.  With each new stroke of the handle the legs would be driven into the mortises about 3/16.”  In about 30 minutes I had all four legs seated and a huge note of thanks for the person who invented the portable hydraulic jack.

At “peak compression” I noted that even the seven-layer beam deflected almost a half inch due to the force.

Finally the bench was on its feet, with zero wobble and clearly no need for glue in the joints.  I installed the stretchers and the shelf, and having already completed the game of Tetris required to move it where it was going and the six steps of moving other things to make it happen, including four other workbenches to new locations,  with two 8-foot workbenches being hoisted to the fourth floor, and the 450 lb. FORP bench slid easily to its new home.

Some day I will finish all the details, but for now I am too busy using it to stop and do that.

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, The Making

As we tried to acclimate to the choking heat of July in south Georgia the work on our individual Roubo benches took hold.  With the slab tops readied by the monster Stratoplaner machine that surfaced all four sides, it was now incumbent on us (me) to glue two of the slabs together to make the top.  Unlike the rest of the crew who chose the mega jointer and PVA for any gluing they needed I worked with a hand plane and hot hide glue.

 

By the next morning I had a complete slab ready for trimming to the right dimension.  I must say that operating a 16″ circular saw is a pretty unforgettable experience.

Then it was on to giant joinery, all of the time.  Working with Jeff Miller, he and I created a sled jig to cut the dovetailed leg tenons on a giant bandsaw, reducing the time for producing that from a few hours to a couple minutes.

Otherwise the leg-top tenons were simply a matter of sawing and chopping.  My old faithful tulipwood mallet was up to the task.

By the third day things were looking positive for getting the unit up on its feet before the week ended.  Once again I took a different tack than the others when it came to the stretchers.  I inset dovetailed stretchers into the surface of the legs rather than the mortise and tenon route, and idea I gleaned from Bob Lang’s video on his modern workbench.  By the end of the day I had the legs all fitted together and was ready for chopping the mortises through the top, which I was set to begin in the morning.

That’s when disruption occurred.

Thursday morning I awoke with my right eye badly inflamed, and told my housemates Raney and Chris that I needed to find an eye doctor.  Right now.   That eye is my more “at risk” of the pair, having undergone at that point 19 surgical procedures according to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and inflammation was absolutely an enemy.  (The history of that eye proves to me that I’ve got backbone, having gone through all those surgeries and being asleep for only one of them.  Nothing proves your stones quite like complying with, “Now Mr. Williams, hold your head very still and stare straight ahead without blinking while I cut into your eye with this scalpel.  You’ll feel a little sting.” Yeah, that shows your stuff.  Well, that and once facing down a drunk with a gun.)  Thanks to Chris’ smart phone we found a surgical/eye clinic about thirty miles away that could see me “immediately” and thanks to Raney’s generosity in setting aside his own day of working on the bench he drove me there for the appointment.  It took much of the day to undergo the examination (they found no foundational cause for the inflammation) and after getting some medication we headed back to the shop for the end of the day.

Needless to say my heavy work for the week was finished, having lost the entire Thursday to cultivating the screaming headache that hung on into Friday.  I wanted to get back home ASAP to let my own eye doctors on Monday take a look so I spent Friday morning packing up and hit the road that afternoon.  By Saturday afternoon I was back at the barn, having arranged with a friend to bring some of his bubba buddies to help me unload the bench top.  They were ribbing me about needing hep for moving the top, until they set their beers aside and picked it up.  Their grunts and curses soon quieted their ridicule.

The pieces of the bench were ensconced in the barn and remained essentially untouched for more than three years until I could return to it and finish it up.

And they never did find out what riled up my eye.  Sometimes the meat machines we live inside of just get cantankerous.

Summer 2019 Workshops at the Barn

I have settled on the topics and approximate schedule for next summer’s classes here in the hinterlands, with three of the four classes emphasizing toolmaking.  I will post about them in greater detail in the near future.  One minor change I’ll be instituting next year is that three-day workshops will now be Thursday-Friday-Saturday rather than Friday-Saturday-Sunday as before.

June’s class will be a metalworking event, Making A Nested Set of Roubo’s Squares.   The objective will be for each attendee to create a set of four or five solid brass footed squares, the sort illustrated in Roubo’s Plate 308, Figure 2.  The special emphasis will be on silver soldering, a transforming skill for the toolmaker’s shop.  The tentative dates for this are June 6-8 or 20-22, $375 + $25 for materials.

July’s class will be my annual offering of Historic Wood Finishing.  Each participant will complete a series of exercises I have devised for the most efficient learning experience to overcome finishing fears and difficulties.  Of particular importance are the aspects of surface preparation and the use and application of wax and spirit varnish finishes using the techniques of the 1700s.  Probably July 11-13, $375.

In August we will continue the pursuit of Roubo’s tool kit, this time Making and Using Roubo’s Shoulder Knife.  I have no way to know exactly how prevalent was this tool’s use in ancient days, but I suspect more than I can imagine.  Each participant will fabricate a shoulder knife to fit their own torso, so its use can be both the most comfortable and the most effective.  Probably August 15-17, $375.

The final class for the year will be a week-long Build A Ripple Molding Cutter.  As I have been pursuing this topic and blogging about it, fellow ripple-ista John Hurn and I have settled on a compact design we think can be built by every attendee in a five-day session.  Together we will be teaching the process of ripple moldings and fabricating the machines that make them.  September 23-27, $750 plus $200 materials fee.

Save the dates and drop me a line for more information.

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, The Wood!

The stage and setting for the 2013 French Oak Roubo Project workbench build has been covered like a blanket around the woodworking bogosphere so I do not need to address it again here.  Just do a search for “french oak roubo project” in your favorite surveillance vehicle/search engine and you will get a multitude of responses, probably somewhere north of 25,000 citations including blogs from about a half dozen of the participants including me.  Now I’ll spend a couple of posts discussing the making of the bench, then one on the using of it.

Our raw material was oak harvested from France following the catastrophic Christmas ice storm of 1999, which destroyed over 10,000 trees in the forests around Versailles alone.  The trees were harvested and the lumber placed in storage, eventually purchased and exported to the US by entrepreneur Bo Childs, our host for the event who in concert with Jameel Abraham made it available to us.  The most mature trees were likely alive even during the lifetime of Roubo himself, and some amatuer dendrochronology on at least one of the slabs put the seedling of the giant timber back to the Napoleanic era.  Safe to say that none of us had ever encountered lumber like this before.  These imported slabs measured up to sixteen feet long, two feet wide and six inches thick.

Soon enough on that sweltering July week we were coordinating into teams preparing the stock for the battle ahead.  The end point?  Slab topped benches made from almost 250-year old white oak, weighing in at about 500 pounds.  Impressive.  Fortunately thanks to his business Bo had the full range of machinery on hand, ranging from the forklifts needed to move these half-ton slabs around and the bandsaw mill to render them into rough slabs.

Beyond the material handling aspects, Wyatt Childs, Inc, possessed stock preparation capacity beyond anything I had ever seen outside of a full-scale furniture factory.

Before you knew it we all had slabs and legs roughed out, ready for us to get to work.  Mine is the one farthest from the camera.

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.