Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 8

Yes, I know it is Friday.  Travel disruptions…  So sue me.

With the end point approaching on the design and construction of my Romastonian Low Bench (Roman low bench of two millennia ago + Estonian benches still in use) there are a last few elements to integrate and affix to the bench.  This week it’s the crochet to engage a workpiece for edge planing.

Since I wanted to make sure I did not crack my kneecap on the crochet more than necessary, it being at precisely that height and also immediately adjacent to the door of the shop, I used a piece of 2-inch chestnut from the scrap pile, aligned to be parallel to the bench slab rather than projecting at an angle that would make it even more weapon-ish.  I cut the inside taper to allow for workpieces up to 1-1/2″ thickness (it is highly unlikely that I would ever work thicker stock on this bench).

Using four of the 12×3″ old-style flathead wood screws from Blacksmith Bolt I put it in place and stood back to admire my handiwork.  As you can see the crochet is on the same end as the twin-screw vise (at the moment; I have the twin screw threaded sockets running the length of the slab edge so the vise can be laced anywhere along that side) and fits neatly behind my knee crook when I am seated.

I would say “I can’t wait to us this bench” but as is evident at the edge of this image, I am already piling it up with the stock for my big project for this coming winter.

Two more features and it will be done.

Workbench Wednesday – Sneak Preview

I have not made any more progress on the Romastonian Low Bench since the last posting on the subject, so I thought I would give you a sneak peek on the next workbench project.  This bench will be the most excellent nearly full-sized portable workbench 2.0, a newer and much improved version of workbench #2 from 1990.

The beauty of this new version is that it remains fully portable, roughly 50 pounds and fully collapsible, yet has an astonishingly high degree of functionality.


I am hoping that the pace of activities slows down here in Shangri-la, but lately we have had a lot of travel across the mountains for medical appointments in the Valley.  Nothing particularly earth shattering, but every trip to the doctor is an all-day affair.

I am now in the second week of physical therapy on my knee, the joint remaining pain-free and according to the PTs, “Way ahead of schedule.”  I would gladly take the credit but I had nothing to do with it.  One morning I went to sleep with a hurting knee joint, and two hours later I woke up pain free.  At this point the agenda for my sessions and ongoing daily exercises is to 1) strengthen the much weakened musculature throughout my left leg, and 2) get that hamstring stretched and supple.  Due to my limping over the past couple of years that muscle has weakened and shrunk, and lengthening it is an unpleasant undertaking.  The only pain I have now is from that process.   Interestingly I can now sense the gentle ache from arthritis in the knee; before the surgical housekeeping that sensation was being masked by the sharper pain from the torn cartilage.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 7

With the detachable post vise finished I moved over to the opposite edge of the bench slab and installed a twin screw vise.

Unlike previous versions of the bench outfitting I’ve seen, I decided to cheat a little and use Roubo’s method of making it rather than the Roman version, as demonstrated in his veneer sawing bench from Plate 278 from L’art du Menuisier.

The projecting screws on the Roman version looked like a cracked kneecap waiting to happen.  The true Roman version would have looked a bit like this mock-up, featuring a gift vise from my pal Derek Olson.  Thanks a ton Derek. I use the vise/press a fair bit in the shop for veneer work, but as a feature of a low bench?  No thanks.  I’ve limped enough as it is (actually I am now walking without any limp for the first time since forever).

Instead, I drilled a horizontal 1-3/8″ hole into the edge of the slab, then tapped it with my Beale threading tap.  I  used a Forstner bit with an extension to get the depth of hole I wanted, about seven inches.

The tap was likewise too short for the hole so I augmented my tap handle with an extender from my 1/2″ ratchet set, which fit the end of the tap perfectly.

As the need arises I will drill and tap holes all the way down the edge of the bench so that I can put the twin-screw vise wherever I need it.  The beauty of a low bench is that it is omnidirectional in use.  If the vise is on the wrong side I just stand up, rotate my kiester, re-straddle the bench and sit back down to work.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 6c

It was a most satisfying day as the upright vise was finished and put into action.  I first tapped the threads for the vise screw, and notched the handle for the screw itself.  And, the concept of the entire device being easily and rapidly installed and removed with a single whack of a mallet showed itself to be true repeatedly as the day progressed.

With the fundamentals set I made a parallel guide from some 12mm baltic birch plywood from the scrap box, tarted up a bit just because.  Two sets of holes were drilled offset as is typical for such a component, and the pin was another piece from the scrap drawer.

I gave it a little test drive and love its performance; whether or not I like it as much in constant and ongoing use will be discovered once I get the other accouterments of the bench completed and put into regular rotation in the shop. One “concern” I have is that I made the off-set of the entire device toward the center of the bench rather than the outside, which would have allowed greater utility for clamping workpieces alongside the outer edge of the slab.  Again, only time will tell if I should have done it the other way, and if so, whether Romastonian Bench Vise 2.0 is in the offing.

One of the ultimate beauties of the device is that it takes only a single whack to install or de-install it, and is solid as a rock when in place.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 6b

After much consideration of building a Benchcrafted Carver’s Vise to affix to my Romastionian Low Bench, in the end I decided to go a different direction.  The BC vise was just too complex and robust (read: complicated/time consuming and heavy) and went simpler and lighter.

Yesterday was my first day back in the shop, where I went after packaging and sending a bunch of polissoir and wax orders.  Mrs. Barn gave me a warning in the sternest possible terms about not injuring myself and treating my knee with care, probably a well-founded warning.  Besides, she has more than forty years invested in us/me and she wants to protect her investment.  I was cane-free and pain-free by Saturday afternoon, walking more than a mile at a leisurely pace, so I was sure that a low intensity day in the shop was appropriate.  So late yesterday morning, able to see my breath in the chilly morning, I headed up the hill to continue work on the Low Bench vise.

The tapered open socket on the side of the bench was a perfect place to fit a small-ish vise for use while sitting on the end of the bench.

Beginning with a chunk of pine 4×6 from the scrap pile I cut and planed a tapered edge to fit perfectly into the side notch.  To make this undertaking quicker I cut a shoulder on the inside of the blank so that the vise en toto would project to the inside of the notch.  I decided this was a mistake ex poste, but there you have it.  I spent the time necessary to get the nesting just right so that the vise block was set firmly in place with one whack on top, and released easily with a whack on the bottom.

Once I had the housing and tapered block fit just right I marked out the jaw to be cut from the solid block.  To make the end result the most precise I chopped the mortise for the parallel guide through the whole mass, then drilled the holes for the screw holes.  I drilled a larger hole through the moving jaw face, then the smaller hole for threading by clamping the block in place for the larger hole halfway through, then swapping out the larger bit with one 1/8″ smaller.

Sawing out the movable jaw was just a matter of careful sawing.  Now everything was ready for final work and assembly.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 6a

Between travels and other disruptions I have not had much time in the shop lately, a trend that will continue for another fortnight as I get my knee worked on next week.

This post is about a discovery of happenstance.  I would like to claim this as a brilliant strategic plan from the inception of this bench but the fact is I only noticed it ex post facto.  The discovery?

Well, it turns out that the upright carving vise I acquired a decade ago on Craigslist and which has been residing most recently on my gunsmithing bench is almost exactly the correct size to fit into my side notch!  Now all I have to do is fabricate a custom wedge to hold it in place and I can use it with impunity.  (I also have the Benchcrafted kit parts underneath another bench, so making a similar vise dedicated to the Romastonian Low Bench in is the future.)


Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 5

One of the intriguing features of the low benches out and about in the woodworking blogosphere and LAP books is a notch cut into the side edge of the bench to allow workpieces to be wedged into it for cutting on the ends.  I decided to give this concept a try on my bench, if it was not to my liking I would just fill the notch back in and move on to other ideas.

The first step was to figure out where to cut the notch, which depended on my own body and working habits.  So, I sat down and held out my hands to mimic a long sawing posture, then located the notch a little closer to me than that.

I then laid out the notch to have a square rear shoulder and a tapered front shoulder into which would fit a wedge of that bevel.  The exact measurement of the taper is unimportant, it just needs to be slight.  I did not even measure mine, I just struck it where it seemed right to my eye.

As is my preference for a lot of large-ish joinery sawing I grabbed a trusty Japanese saw and set to work.

My typical procedure is to cut the shoulders of the joint first, then make several cuts in the waste to aid removal.

Then I whack the waste with a hammer to remove as much as I can, leaving the remainder for the hammer and chisel, followed by a rasp.

With the notch cut I fashioned a wedge to fit the taper and gave it a test drive.  I will no doubt make a number of similar wedges of differing thickness (or perhaps a series of spacing shims) to accommodate a great variety of workpiece thicknesses.

I worked it a few minutes and liked the concept very much.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 4

With the slab established and the staked legs in place and trimmed to length the time had come to start tricking out the bench.  Needless to say I blended existing ideas with some new flavoring of my own.  In this episode the emphasis is on 3/4″ holes.  Lots of them.  My slab was over 4-inches thick so I was not too worried about weakening it.  If it were a 2-inch slab I would have been more cautious, but a 4-1/2-inch slab is inherently stronger than 2-inch by a factor of almost eight (cross sectional strength being the ratio of the two cross-sections to the third power).

The starting point was the reality that I was using a recycled planing beam for the bench slab so some holdfast holes were already in place, sort of. This was particularly relevant on the edges of the slab.  All I had to do was deepen the existing holes in order to make them amenable to holdfast use.   Edge holdfasts are not usually incorporated into low benches, but here the opportunity was too rich to pass up.

In addition to the edge holes, a low bench requires a number of vertical holes through the slab in order to use both holdfasts and aligning/wedging rods to facilitate upright edge planing.  With a spacing strategy that will become more apparent in a couple weeks, I drilled and added these devices.

I am not entirely pleased with the splay of the staked legs on the end closest to the camera so I may re-drill them.  This is the end I will be sitting on most of the time when using the bench.  I am perplexed as the angles of the far end legs are perfect.  I must’ve not had the template in the right orientation (closer examination suggests this as the most likely culprit) or was distracted by some compelling point in a podcast or a captivating riff on a CD or whatever.

Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 3

Given the “new growth” nature of the wood it took only  short time to get the bench slab flat enough to move on to the staked legs.

For the leg material I was able to recycle the hunk from the edge of the original slab when I ripped that to the width I wanted.  I made five leg blanks just in case.

To guide my tapering of the ends I made a quick template based on my tapered spiral reamer, bought for a song at a tool flea market.

I laid out the holes for the legs by insetting them four inches from the side and end, then angled out at 12-degrees on the diagonal.  I drilled 3/4″ holes all the way through from the underside, then reamed them with the spiral taper until the taper intersected with the top.  In retrospect I should have made the angle a bit more, perhaps 16 or even 20 degrees, but I think this will suffice.  If it does not, I will simply move the hole location and drill new holes.

Once I had the leg ends tapered with a drawknife and block plane I just drove them home into the reamed holes with a small sledge.  They seated with a crisp thunk.  I tried several heights for the bench with a series of mock-ups, and once I determined which height worked best for me I measured the legs and cut them off.

Rolling the bench over and putting it in place this step was finished.  Now it was time to begin tricking out the bench.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 3

With the two timbers glued into one slab I pulled out my trusty scrub plane and started hogging off material since the wind was a tad pronounced.  I was able to get the initial pass finished out in the great room of the barn, and again put my mighty 10-inch circular saw to work cutting the slab to the 13″ width I wanted.  As with the initial timber splitting I was left with an inch or so to cut by hand.

Moving the sized slab onto my Roubo bench in the studio I employed the Roubo technique for achieving the flat plane of the slab.

First I shot a rabet down each edge of the slab, using two pillared winding stick to determine when they were perfectly parallel to each other.  My original Roubo winding-sticks-on-stilts were unavailable so I just used two hardware store aluminum bars sitting on identical blocks.  Once I had the parallel edge tracks established I grabbed the scrub plane and got the surface flat in about a half hour each side.  It’s worth noting that even though the wood was southern yellow pine, it was new growth SYP and much less dense than the timbers from the barn itself.

Next, it’s on to the staked legs.