Workbench Wednesday – SAD


One of my quirks is that I usually like to lay a piece of sacrificial sheeting on top of my workbench most of the time, and today was my day to swap out the old one for a new one on the FORP Roubo bench.  As I was making the swap I noted that it was also time to address one of the two main manifestations of Seasonal Affected Disorder that afflicts (?) wood in the natural course of events, sometimes called hysteresis, sometimes called rheological cycling, but generally known to us folks at the workbench as “wood expands, wood contracts.”  One of the consequences is that when there are pieces of wood assembled with different grain orientations eventually they get out of sync dimensionally.  In a Roubo workbench this become manifest as the tops of the leg tenons eventually protruding past the top of the slab.

As I was fitting new pieces of luan plywood to lay on the bench top I noticed that the tenons were quite proud of the slab, perhaps 1/16″.  I only assembled the bench a couple years go and did not notice the issue when I laid the initial sacrificial covering at the time, but it was there now.

You might have thought that since the bench was initially fabricated eight years ago it should be fully settled into its new environment.  Maybe, maybe not.  If the old adage that wood seasons at the rate of “one year for every inch of thickness” is true then the answer would be “yes.”  Since I moved to the hinterlands and talked to some of the local wood guys I have come to appreciate their view of seasoning woods, especially dense hardwoods.  To them “one year per inch” does not hold true; instead they use a formula of “one year for the first inch, two additional years for the second inch, three additional years for the third inch,” and so on.  By that metric my five-inch-thick bench top will pretty active for 1 year + 2 years + 3 years +4 years + 5 years, for a total of 15 years.

I dealt with the tenon ends directly in about an hour this morning, and will address the slight crown of the overall bench perhaps at the end of summer.

It might be worth reiterating that once I get a slab bench top flat I prefer to hit it with a toothing plane to give it a little texture.  I lose none of the planarity but gain a lot of grip on the workpiece.


Firewood Ladle, Part 2

My original strategy for sculpting a lovely kitchen accessory for Mrs. Barn’s Christmas was to gently work both the inside and outside of the workpiece until something beautiful and functional could be obtained.

As I mentioned earlier I knew right away that cheating via drilled excavation was the way to proceed with the inside of the bowl.  The nature of the piece’s morphology would constrain me to slow and gentle work, no wailing away on this one.  Still my plan was to carve and excavate, drill a little, then carve and excavate some more until it was finished.  3-4 mornings max, no problem.


As I got deeper into the bowl of the spoon/ladle I encountered my worst “working burl” nightmare.  The cherry burl was crumbly, as burls sometimes are, and caution and a turtle-like pace was called for.  But even caution and a slow pace was not adequate for this piece of wood.  It needed enhancement.

So, my routine for the next several dozen hours of working on the carving, spread over a dozen weeks, was to soak the entire bowl end of the workpiece with epoxy, allowing it three days to set fully, then carving until I hit crumbles again.

I did not use straight, full strength epoxy — that would have been a catastrophic failure on so many fronts — but rather my old faithful West System, diluted roughly by 1/3 with acetone to allow for greatest penetration when I slathered it on until the surface was fully wet.  Even so the effective saturation was only so deep.

With this protocol, slowly but surely the piece began to take shape.  My dream of getting this done by Halloween and moving on to other things was not dead but it did require some creative scheduling.  I did this for  little time, then I did that, then the other thing.  Actually if fit rather nicely into my ADHD.

Carving A Ladle From Firewood

Last summer while on her way to a walk in the woods, Mrs. Barn dropped by to check my progress on processing the coming winter’s firewood.  She noticed that I had set aside a couple of burls while continuing with splitting tons of hardwood bolts.

“Oh,” she said, “that would make a lovely spoon,” pointing to a piece I had already identified as a candidate for just that purpose.  We spoke no more of it and she headed into the woods.

For almost three months beginning in early September I hacked away at the chunk of burl.  Eventually it was finished, just in time for Christmas.

To this point I had never carved a spoon, I am behind the curve on that one as apparently every other woodworker in the universe has done so already, so I was looking forward to the project.  Of course I was embarking on some of the most nettlesome woodworking I had ever tried.

My first step, not knowing if it was the right one because I did not attend the University of Youtube course on spoon carving until I was almost done, was to remove all the parts of the piece that did not look like a spoon, using saws, shaves, and rasps.  Actually I did not design the implement, it pretty much designed itself.

Once that was done I started working the piece very gently as the burled wood was not tight.  At all.  Using spoon cutting knives or even carving gouges was not getting me anywhere as this was burled cherry, and was a combination of hard and crumbly.  Not optimal.

I decided to cheat (?) and drill out a lot of the inside mass for the utensil to give me some entree’ for moving on.

It was only then that I encountered fully the feature that would plague me for the next several weeks while sculpting the ladle.

Geetar Club

One of the aspects to living in a locale so isolated as Shangri-la is that it is populated by folks who are at the very least comfortable with isolation; for the “born here’s” it is simply the life they have always known, for many of the “come here’s” it is the life they actively sought.  If you cannot tolerate isolation, you leave.  I can speak truth to this, for about 99% of the time my only in-person contact is Mrs. Barn.  Going to the Post Office or feed-and-seed-co-op hardware store a few minutes a week hardly describes a life of social interactions — “social distancing” describes every day ending in “Y” out here —  and during this season of psychosis our only regular time of interaction beyond ourselves is at church.  (I am increasingly convinced that functionally Covid-19, while deadly to a miniscule slice of the population pie, is more of a psychological experiment in repression than a public health crisis; I will believe it is a catastrophic pandemic when the elites act like it is one rather than jetting about for vacations in Cancun or group dinners at fancy restaurants and when politicians and gubmint employees rather than small businesses lose their incomes.)

One of the things in which I have been long interested is finding other woodworkers here for fellowship and collaboration.  They are around but like me they mostly stick to themselves.  I’ve had some success in finding and interacting with gunsmiths, blacksmiths, metalsmiths, this smith and that smith, but thus far the woodsmiths have kept to themselves.  In recent months this has begun to thaw as one retired “come here” with whom I am on a local Board revealed he is a luthier, and lo and behold there is suddenly a critical mass of luthiery-ish practitioners in the county.  One is a newly arrived pastor/amateur musicologist, another is an actual full-time guitar maker who moved here recently and has a small studio in town.  (When your region’s largest metropolis has fewer than 200 people…)  Together we are in the gestational phase of starting a woodworking club with just the four of us working in my studio, the only space any of us has that would be amenable to the enterprise — plenty of workbenches in a heated work space.  I think the plan is for us to gather weekly to work on individual projects as our schedules allow.

Since I am in fact the only one of us four who has never built a guitar from scratch I will be the main hindrance to the overall performance level.  Still my enthusiasm for the effort is high, and not too surprisingly I expect to bring my own peculiar approaches to building a dreadnaught six-string guitar.  Eventually I will build a hammered dulcimer for Mrs. Barn, who has expressed a strong desire for one ever since listening to the pastor/musicologist play his at a local music program.   She never reads this blog so I will be able to maintain the secret surprise until it is finished.

Stay tuned.

Salvaging A Busted Sharpening Stone

Among my inventory of sharpening implements is an old 8000-grit ceramic water stone that I bought perhaps 35 years ago.  I recently dropped it on a concrete floor with the resulting carnage you might have predicted — it snapped in two.  Rather than toss it out I tried to salvage it and put it back to work.

Based on the character of ceramic sharpening stones, namely that by nature they are comparatively porous, the foundation existed for adhering the two pieces back together.  In fact, since ceramic stones tend to be fairly soft and friable (fracturable) when adhering pieces of these ceramics together you have to pay attention to the adhesive-adherend margin, making sure that the density and hardness of the adhesive is congenial to the density of the adherend.  While I cannot modify the character of the cured adhesive film, I can use other methods to modify its performance.

In this case I followed my longstanding practice of using dilute adhesive to size the gluing margin (the surface of the adherend), thus rendering something more hardened-sponge-like than a block of hard plastic in direct contact with the soft ceramic.  The latter construct is much more likely to fail in somewhat short order as the harder, denser, and more cohesive adhesive breaks off some of the softer ceramic block, resulting in the failure.   In this case I used an epoxy I had on hand.

I mixed the two parts thoroughly, then diluted it immediately with with acetone to yield a watery solution.  This was applied directly to the broken stone surface, and soaked in to yield a fairly parched-looking surface.  This results in an adhesive/adherent region perhaps ten or twenty of fifty times wider than that accomplished by full-strength epoxy alone.  After a few minutes I added another application of the dilute epoxy, then set it aside until the epoxy was almost tack-free.

The it was ready for a bead of the full strength epoxy, which I applied to the lower half of the joint to make sure none of the full-strength epoxy would squeeze out the top glue line to excess.

Once the gluing surfaces were coated with the epoxy I placed the two halves together and applied very gentle clamping pressure, mostly to hold the two halves in correct alignment rather than drawing them together.  Their fit was wonderfully tight from the git-go.  There was a tiny bit of epoxy squeeze out on the top line, and I wiped that off immediately with a paper towel sodden with acetone.

I let the assembly sit until the epoxy was fully hardened, then re-trued the surface, first with a sheetrock screen and then with sandpaper over a flat surface.  Since it is an ultra-fine polishing stone it does not need much water; to make sure the epoxy is not challenged I simply wet it on the surface instead of soaking the stone in the water bath.

In use there is a little click as the steel is passed over the fracture line, but the stone still works just fine.

Roubo Winding Sticks Video

While browsing around the interwebz over the weekend I noticed that Rex Krueger featured Roubo’s winding-winding-sticks-on-stilts from our Roubo on Furniture volume.  He is to be commended for bringing the message of hand-tool woodworking to a new audience.

More Woodpile Treasure

A while back a local friend brought me a pile of wood from his firewood pile.  Not until he cut and split it did he realize that it was a load of quilted cherry.  Quick as a bunny he brought it over, and I have been waiting for the best time to saw it up into usable boards.  Unfortunately that time has not yet come, but my eyes glance over to the pile every time I go down to the first floor of the barn to feed the stove.

Even when viewing it along the cleavage line from splitting it is clear there is something pretty special inside.  A few minutes with a scrub plane and fore plane, followed by a dousing of shellac, confirms the initial optimism.  Given the firewood-size of the pieces, this one was about eight inches wide, I’m thinking of some particularly figured panels or small-ish boxes.

Spectacular, and I am betting that if you have a firewood pile there is plenty of woodworking and woodturning treasure in there too.

A Youtube Treasure (and Redoubt of Sanity)

Mrs. Barn and I do not have a television that is hooked up to much more than the DVD player and an internet thingy so we do not watch any broadcast or cable television (hence our comparative sanity), we basically stick with movies checked out from the library or the occasional internet video.  Lately I have been binging on a channel that comes from James Townsend and Son, a company I first learned about twenty years ago when our daughters were doing 18th Century reenactment encampments with their history teachers.  Townsend provides clothing and accoutrements for the vast world of historical reenactors.  I am not going to steer you towards their commercial enterprise, you can find that easily enough, but rather to their youtube channel with almost eight hundred excellent educational videos wherein the participants are re-living history.  There are lots of videos on historic crafts that just might suck you in for an hour or a day, week, whatever.

Here is a charming video where they are building a primitive shaving horse with even more primitive tools.  Enjoy.

Readying for Gragg Workshop 2

I cannot deny that our spirits were vexed at the end of the second day when we had a nearly 100% failure rate bending the seat/back slats.  We re-thought our process and examined the broken elements.  It was then that I noticed ex poste all the failed bends were in kiln dried stock that I had planned for a different used and they accidentally went into the “bend” barrel.  D’oh!  We enacted a couple of minor ex ante revisions and combining these with the proper selection of wood we had perfect results and reveled in a couple days of almost 100-percent success (I think we had one failure and that might very well have been my impatience, bending the piece faster than it could stand).

I’ve had good and bad streaks of steam bending, but these were the most stark examples of the challenges inherent in taking wood to the brink of what it can be forced into doing.  We rejoiced as the inventory of chair parts grew into that which was needed for next August.

For now the chair parts are just hanging off the beam, seasoning until used by the workshop students.  I have some more Gragg projects of my own to work on so there will undoubtedly be more experience interacting with wood, steam, and forms.

Parts Is Parts

During our recent days of work preparing for next August’s “Build A Gragg Chair” workshop my  friend John and I prepped a lot of wood sticks, and bent them to the forms required to become Gragg chair parts.

We got the steam box set up, the forms set out, and set to work.

John hand planed dozens of chair pieces to get them ready for the thermodynamic adventure.


Once he had five or six pieces ready to go, he used the template board I created for this purpose and affixed the bending straps to all the pieces.  When you have to execute two 90-degree bends only twelve inches apart in a dozen seconds, bending straps are pretty much mandated.  We used flanged sheet metal screws and plumbing straps and attached them BEFORE they went into the steam box because the brief time to get the bending done after steaming does not allow for the straps to be put in place afterwards.  And since the chairs get completely painted, any staining or screw holes can be dealt with.

I placed them into the already heating box and waited for them to reach maximum temperature, which in my set-up is about 200 degrees.

Using a state-of-the-art steam box seal we set the timer and waited the requisite time, 25 minutes for the arm and serpentine pieces, 45 minutes for the bent seat/backs.

On the first day we had good success especially with the thin pieces, only one failure out of eight or ten attempts, but on the second day we had a string of failures approaching 50% when bending the continuous seat/back slats.

At that moment we could discern no reason for the degree of failure  We needed to re-think our process.