Building Bench #18 – III

With the bench “assembled” I turned it over halfway and rough trimmed the bottoms of the legs. Even though I was handling it by myself, wrestling with a 350-pound behemoth is fairly straightforward if I am careful and make sure I am actually handling half or less of the total weight, which is the case if I am rolling or spinning it.  With the legs cut to rough length I rolled it the rest of the way over so I could work on flattening the top for a couple of hours.

With the bench on its feet, but on a rolling cart so I could move it easily,  I set about to installing the planing stop I had already glued up.  I planed it such that the fit was very tight, counting on a few humidity cycles to induce ccompression fit on both the stop and the mortise in which it resides in the hopes of establishing a nice firm fit in the end.  I’d wanted to put a full width (of the block) toothed tip on the stop but I did not have the piece of scrap steel in the drawer that could suffice so I just used what I had.  I filed the teeth, drilled and countersunk the holes for some honkin’ big screws and assembled the stop.  I also excavated the top of the bench so the entire assembly is flush.

photo courtesy of J. Rowe

photo courtesy of J. Hurn

With that I cut and affixed temporary(?) stretchers to the legs to support the shelf, Kreg screw style (without the Kreg jig), which on a decently built Roubo or Nicholson bench is the only functional purpose for stretchers.  If mortised stretchers are needed to stabilize the bench structure, it wasn’t built well enough.  Using scraps from the pile I cut and laid the shelf boards and attached the vise and for now, it was done.  Come summer I will flatten the top again and call it quits.  As it was the bench served my needs perfectly in Williamsburg to give me both a perfectly functioning work station and a focus for my sermon on workbenches and holdfasts,

Building Bench #18 – II

While the glue for the laminated slab was setting I turned my attention to the legs and their integral tenons.  As in previous efforts the three laminae of the leg are glued up with the center lamina off-set from the outer two by a distance equal to the thickness of the slab plus a smidge, using decking screws and fender washers as the clamping mechanism.  These are removed after they have done their duty.

If I did my layout and glue-up of the top slab correctly, and cut the dovetail pins accurately on the tops of the legs,  the double tenons are a perfect fit for the mortises already created in the top slab so all that is needed to put them together is a gentle tap to drive them home.  Since the bottoms of the legs need to be trimmed to matching lengths ex poste the protruding excess is no bother to me.

Before I do that, however, I de-clamp the slab after letting it sit overnight and spend an hour or so getting the underside flat enough to seat the legs evenly.  I do not care about the underside being smooth, merely flat.  A sharp scrub plane and fore plane make short work of it, as I said it was a little over an hour to get it to an acceptable point.

For this bench I did something I had not done before and remain unsure as to whether I would do it again.  Since I was installing a vintage screw and nut from my stash I decided to inset the nut into the back side of the front left leg, where the leg vise would be installed since I am right handed (if you are left handed it goes at the other end).  Doing this was no particular bother but I am unconvinced of its efficacy or necessity.  I also cut the through-mortise on the lower leg for the pin bar of the movable chop/jaw.

Before long I was assembling the bench and as you can see the space was ridiculously tight with not only this bench but two ripple molding machines being tuned up for the conference.  Since this is the only heated working space I have, everything that needed to be worked on for WW18thC was there.  It got to be pretty chaotic for a while.  I am not particularly tidy as a workman and that shortcoming becomes really evident at times like this.

At this point the bench was assembled and I was at the 12-hour mark for the project.

Barn Workshop – Make A Petite Dovetail Saw

In recent years my projects and inclinations have guided me towards more diminutive work in thinner stock.  This makes cutting dovetails somewhat of a challenge when using a standard saw, which is often too aggressive and thus harder to control effortlessly.  As a result of that I began exploring the prospect of fabricating my own petite dovetail saw.  I wound up making several with good-to-excellent results.  We will replicate that process and send you home with your own.

If you have a particular piece of wood to use for the handle (tote) feel free to bring it to work with.  Otherwise I will provide all the materials for this workshop.  We’ll aim to fold and finish the back, taper and insert the plate/blade, fit and fashion the handle to your hand, and file the teeth.

The tool list for the workshop is a short one and will be sent to attendees well before the event.


The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule:

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

Bowsaws, The Next Frontier

While visiting Mark Harrell recently our conversation returned to a topic we had engaged in previously, namely that of the repertoire of saws in an 18th century Parisian workshop.  Whatever they had, Mark wants to try to make it.

The literary evidence is pretty clear that the workhorse saws in these shops were frame saws for much of the heavy dimensioning (ripping) work and bow saws for the rest, including joinery.  (Roubo makes no references to back saws)  We might tend to see bow saws as a northern implement, coming from Scandinavian and Germanic traditions, but Roubo places inordinate emphasis on their use and utility in the Paris of his time.

The variations within this theme are many, but at present I am trying to brainstorm about adapting Roubo’s images and descriptions to the tasks of a workshop in 2018.  I am starting from the premise that the saw plate Mark developed for the frame saw should serve equally well in a bow saw with the plate fixed parallel to the plane of the frame.  With that in mind I have been noodling the designs and begun replicating at least one of a pair of Roubo bowsaws (the other being a compass or “turning” saw, so noted as having a shallow blade that can both follow a curved cut and be rotated in the bow handle for greater facility) in time for demonstrating at CW next week.

Hoping for success.  Wish me luck.

I Came. I Sawed. I Collaborated.

My recent trek around Flyover Country included an intersection between my path to my home town in southern Minnesota (the tropical part) and LaCrosse, Wisconsin, home to Mark Harrell and his ambitious enterprise Bad Axe Tool Works.  I’ve been collaborating with Mark for some time on the development of a frame saw/sash saw  with the promise that he would put one in my hands.

As the owner of two c. 1800 four-foot frame saws I was delighted to share the particulars about them with anyone who wanted to know.  Their details are spectacular, from the hand forged hardware to the forged plates in near-perfect condition.  (by that I mean there are no kinks or missing teeth, there was plenty of surface rust and the teeth needed touching up)

Like other saw makers, Mark contacted me some time ago and I took the time to talk with him at length about the vintage saws I have, in addition to the diminutive version I made for myself.  Mark was particularly interested in a model halfway between my vintage big ones and my new smaller one, and we worked out the details over many emails and phone calls, an interchange I welcome from any tool maker who wants my two cents worth.  To this point my only fee is that I get one of the tools in question if they ever go into production.  I think Bad Axe might have had this model at Handworks 2017, but I was so busy I could never get to their station once they got set up, so this was my chance.

Accompanied by The Oldwolf, Derek Olsen, we arrived late-morning.  And the saw geek-dom commenced.  Behind this modest door and awning is a buzzing hive of saw making.

Mrs. Barn and I got a quick tour of the facility, getting the opportunity to meet and greet each of the the sawmaking elves there.

I was especially impressed with the classroom they have set up there for saw making and sharpening workshops.  Mark definitely has the leads for mondo saw sharpening vises and setters.

Then we got down to the real fun as Mark brought out several models of saws for me to play with.  I already own two Bad Axe saws, including a custom made dovetail saw I commissioned and that has now become ensconced in their product line.  Under Mark’s watchful eye the playing commenced, and it was glorious!

Our exploration of the topic continued almost non-stop and we were torn between talking about saws, and sawing.

Then came the “official” purpose of the visit,  taking delivery of my own Bad Axe frame saw based on Roubo, my old saws, and my new one, with a bit of Bad Axe special sauce tossed in for good measure.

It performed perfectly right out of the box and will be integrated into my shop work as soon as it gets home.

More about the visit in the next post.

They Just Don’t Make (fill in the blank) Like They Used To

Notwithstanding the fact that I believe we are living in The Golden Age Of Woodworking Tools, the precipitous decline and apparent imminent demise of Sears/Craftsman is a cautionary tale, although I remain uncertain of its ultimate meaning.  As a devotee of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” premise, I do not mourn Sears/Craftsman’s passing as much as I celebrate the role going to the Sears tool department played in my early life.  The tool department was large, the shelves fully stocked with high quality products, and the sales folks knew what they had and how to use it.  Really.  That is probably incomprehensible to anyone going to Sears now, but it was true in 1970.

The trips there with my Dad were too numerous to recall, and were equal parts utilitarian errands and incalculable treasure hunts.  Our bond of toolism and tinkering was foundational, continuing until the day he took his final breath and we parted with no unfinished business.  In fact that bond remains as after his funeral my brothers and I divvied up his tools, some of which get used in my shop now.

The first tool I ever bought with my own lawn-mowing money was this pocket knife, still in use 49 years after its purchase.  (full disclosure — I could not lay my hands on mine at the moment, it is probably in a pair of pants or overalls that I have hanging on some hook in some closet.  This is an identical one I saw on ebay.)

My first power tool was this 3/8″ Craftsman drill, still going strong after 47 years.  It’s a low-speed, high torque unit that can just as easily spin you around if used carelessly.  The only changes from the day I bought it are a new power cord and Jorgensen chuck.

I still have many other wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers from the same store bought around the same time.  None has ever given me a lick of trouble.

But recently my mondo Craftsman Shop Vac gave up the ghost, after only 44 years of faithful service.  Or at least I inferred that it was dead based on the acrid smoke shooting out of the motor casing moments after it ceased operating with a snap, crackle, and pop.  I did not even bother with an autopsy, merely cutting off the power cord and taking the canister lid to the dump (I never throw away a good power cord).  I saved the rolling base, it still serves as a receptacle for scraps.

On the way home from the dump I stopped at our local farm coop and hardware store and bought a successor model.  Given the current state of Craftsman products, I guess I will only get 30 years or so from it.  I can only imagine how cranky I will be shopping for a new one at 92.

Behold the Humble Clothespin Redux

Some time last year I wrote an honorific on behalf of the clothespin, an integral tool in my workshop.


I’ve overlooked another vital function of this remarkable tool — if you get better-quality pins, as I do, they can be used as wonderful little shimming wedges for leveling something as heavy as a work bench or as a clamping wedge for something as delicate as carved tortoiseshell.  I recently moved my workbench a foot or so and it wobbled just the slightest bit.  I probably could have worked with it, but alas a wobbly workbench is one of my craziness-inducing hot buttons.  So I just grabbed a maple clothespin, took one half as the quick and high-performing wedge shim, and tossed the other half back into the container with its mates for the next time I need another tapered shim.

Right Tool(s), Right Place(s)

My studio space in the barn is a work in progress.  It has been so since the first day I put a single, raggedy workbench in there several years ago even before all the walls were up, and the process will continue as long as I work there.


I find that the fluid nature of shop organization is one of the threads binding craftsmen together, and a source of celebration when we gather together.  Fortunately for me, I do not have the urgent requirement for maximized cash flow velocity generation from my work space, since my primary source of income these days is in the crafting of words while sitting on my recliner.

And, since I have been limited in the scope of my activities recently I have been reflecting on, and to some degree changing, the spatial flow for the studio.  One of the advantages of this long lead time of several years of working there is to evolve a better sense of what the space should be to best serve my needs.  And now I am making those changes, albeit slowly as there is only so much you can do on one leg.

I’ve already written about the reconfiguration of one corner to more optimally serve as my bench for doing the “fussy” work I encounter frequently in the conservation and restoration of decorative artifacts, and increasingly the repair of vintage gun stocks.

Other issues have nagged me, and are now in the process of being resolved.  The first of these was my inadequate space in a single location for the residence of my hand planes. I liked the space I had chosen, directly over the planing beam, but I needed to consolidate all my inventory, which involved several steps.


First, I started undertaking a serious evaluation of many of the planes marginal to my work, deciding what to keep and then tossing aside planes that took up space but were not part of my working regimen.  Down they came and out they will go.


That cleared some space, but not enough.  So, I added more shelving without adding more shelves.  How?  By simply doubling the depth of the shelves in situ.  Why I did not do this from the git go remains a mystery.  Then I removed the silly brackets holding my Stanley/Bailey planes and hung them on the wall.

Presto!  The result is twice as many planes in the same visual space.


The next move was the consolidation and moving of my Japanese tools from a nearly inaccessible place on the east wall to a cabinet in the remaining niche over the planing beam.  With saws on the outside and more saws, chisels, planes (and space for more on the inside) I am pleased with the result.  (You needn’t scold me that I have the planes upside down in storage — I do not care)


Two final (?) issues to be resolved are the rat’s nest of a space halfway down the long north wall,  which had become nothing more than a pile of stuff, some good, some less so, but all in the wrong place.  This hodgepodge will be replaced in October when I build my Nicholson bench prototype for the rescheduled Refinisher’s Group bench-build (probably May 2016).  This can serve as another work bench and my sharpening station.


And I keep asking myself: with such a wealth of windows, why do I keep covering them up with stuff?  Without a good answer other than, “Because you are an undisciplined slob,” I have begun to deliberately move many of the tools that were blocking the view to somewhere else, like alongside the overhead beams.  That one will take a fair bit of trial and error to bring to fruition.

But I am determined to travel much less in the coming year or more, and pouring my time and creative energies into the barn and homestead.  This will allow much in the way of improvements and I am anxious for them to unfold.


Like many woodworkers, over the years I have compiled more tools than I need (shhhh!; fortunately Mrs. Barn does not read this blog much so she does not need to be made aware of this confession).  It was often from noble impulses as I would see a nice tool that was way underpriced, and say to myself, “Let me get that and find a good home for it.”


Regardless of the true motive, one undeniable fact remains;  that “good home” was not to be my studio.  There is no need for me to have several bushel baskets of tools that I do not and will not use.  Some redundancy may be sensible, but do I really need six #6 Bailey planes?  Or two dozen coffin planes?  Two drawers full of bench chisels?


Over the past week I have been trying to impose, or at least, evolve some sort of order and organization to the barn studio.  And time after time I would want to derive just the right spot for a tool or set of tools only to find that perfect spot was already full of boxes, bins, and tubs of tools.

So, beginning now and continuing through winter I vow to winnow my tool inventory, compiling a collection that I will sell, gift, or otherwise dispense.  I will try to have a nice collection for sale at the Maple Festival in March, but otherwise will find places I can facilitate the parting of company., SAPFM Chapter meetings, etc., and if necessary get a table at MJD’s auction next summer.   I am not going into the tool mongering biz– it is done far better by folks like Josh Clark, Martin Donnelly, and Patrick Leach, and others, and I will leave them to it — I am merely cleaning house.

Some tools will be, or can be made into, very nice “user tools.”  For example, the #7 Bailey I bought recently for $15, with flaking varnish on the handles and a blade that has never been sharpened.  Since I can sharpen fairly quickly it would be nice to get each edge  tool presentable.

It will be quite nice to gain the space occupied by these tools, and hope they will do good work in the service of craftsmanship.  In someone else’s shop.

And all I have to do is stop buying more tools I don’t need!

To Paraphrase Crocodile Dundee…

… now THAT is a well-tuned hand plane.

I can sit and review Roubo for only so long, and when my computer wanders  the internet it finds amazing things.  You might be familiar with this particular video — I am aware of the Japanese planing contests but had not seen this one before — but I certainly got a kick out of it.

God bless the Japanese, they take any manifestation of excellence and turn it into an all consuming monomaniacal pursuit.