Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Gunsmithing Partner Bench 1

In the years since escaping Mordor for the idyllic solitude of Shangri-La (heck, “social isolation” is the normal practice for every day ending in “Y” out here) one of the valued local friendships is that of Tim, an all around cool dude and a primitive skills enthusiast.  One of those “primitive skills” is Appalachian long rifle-making and connoisseurship and he has been an invaluable aid in my work on the David Cooley rifle.

In recent months Tim has been engaged in salvaging a couple of mid-18th century log buildings from south central Virginia, re-erecting them on his place a few miles from here to serve as his workshop for making rifles and other tasks relative to 18thC frontier living.  Once I learned of this project I proposed building the tool to fulfill his need for a proper period-appropriate gunsmithing work bench.  Tim’s rifle-smithing is in the later-18th century English style, so his bench will be a Nicholson.

We picked up the superb southern yellow pine from Virginia Frame and Lumber in Fishersville and over the next few Wednesdays I will be chronicling the project to outfit him in the manner he and his new shop deserve.

Stay tuned.   I think you will find this an interesting trip.

One Of These Days… – Finishing And Accessing My FORP Workbench

Usually I find that hindsight is somewhere in the range of 20/20.  When I moved my FORP bench into the studio I though I had the perfect location for it.  It sure looked great there, at least until the space got put back together.

After almost two years of using it there I have become less enamored with the situation.

For starters I rely more on my original small torsion box bench more than anything else, in great part because of the vises already up and running on it.  The spatial relationship between my favorite bench and the FORP bench has precluded my finishing and installing the leg vise on the FORP, knowing that if I did install the leg vise the tight quarters would result in me cracking my knee on a regular occasion, resulting in improper verbal outbursts.

After cogitating on the issue for several months I recalled how much I enjoyed having my first Roubo bench in front of the eastern windows before I moved it to the finishing station twenty feet away.

Now I think I know what to do.

One of These Days – Repairing the Twin Screw Vise

On my favorite workbench, a 35-year-old torsion box top with an Emmert, a wagonwheel, and a 48″ twin screw vise, due to mucking about with the twin screw fittings in the distant past and very heavy use for all those years, the iron collars had become loose and no longer were tighten-able enough for the vise to work.  Given that the torsion box top is about 90% hollow this made the repair a nuisance albeit a simple one to address.

I removed the vise, the screws are held to the jaw by split collars, and set it aside.  The screw collars on the bench came off easily as the screws holding them to the bench were all loose, hence the need for the repair.

With the receiving collars off I fitted some pieces of 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood to the back sides of the bench apron, a tricky task made problematics only because my fingers were almost the same size as the opening.  Using white PVA I simply glued them in place.

The next morning I fitted them to the round opening with a rasp, then re-inserted the retaining collars and drilled out the extant screw holes with a smaller pilot hole.  Instead of using the previous screws I switched to some 2″ #12 slotted screws I had in my mini-hardware store, screws I bought from Blacksmith Bolt and Rivet.

I carefully installed the new screws, making sure to not strip out anything, and installed the 48″ jaw.

It is now better than it ever was.  Another checkmark on the list.

The Three-Legged Pig

One of my favorite jokes of all time is the old one about the heroic three-legged pig, with the punch line being, “A pig that good, you just don’t eat him all at once.”

This past week I was able to spend the evening visiting with my long time woodworking pal Tom in his shop.  If you recall, Tom and spent Wednesday evenings for many years working in his shop and it was such a delight to reprise those evenings.  Anyhow, to tie the joke to this post I tell you that Tom was clearing some space in his shop.  Translation: he was making me take a bunch of my stuff with me so he could get some more space.

One of the treats he threw into the mix as I was loading up the car was this exquisite slab of birds-eye(!) walnut, measuring 36″ x 16″ x 4-1/2″.  Now that is a spectacular pig and I do not want to eat it all at once.

I have some ideas about what to do with this treasure and the current front runner is this lovely accessory for the bench top.

Before It do that, however, I want to make a prototype from my stash of old growth, premium cypress staves from a c. 1840 water tank I bought during the mezozoic era.   Once I get that done I can turn my attention to the walnut one. 

In fact, the walnut slab is so thick I can re-saw it and make two of them.

No sense in wasting a pig that good.


Friday was a combination of several benches going together, others being palletized for shipping home, and the completed ones going into vehicles for transport home.

Early in the day the push was on to get together as many criss-cross leg vises as possible.

Once that was done it was time to merge the legs and the top.  One group used hot hide glue as a lubricant and adhesive for the joints, even though the latter utility was/is superfluous.

But for most, it was a simple process of placing the top over the leg tenons and rocking the entire unit up and down, switching from end to end.  Slamming the entire mass down eventually drove the top mortises onto the leg tenons soundly.

There then began a round of slamming tops followed by proud portraits of the makers and their new benches.

And out the door they went, some on to trucks, others into trailers, and some on to pallets for shipping home.

By 2PM the place was pretty much emptied and the tidying began.  Then all of a sudden another FORP was finished.

FORP III, Day 4 – Coming Together

Day 4 of FORP III was another one of feverish work as the participants were striving to start putting their benches together.  Which meant, of course, the final fitting of all the joinery.

One image that was prevalent during the day was sharpening tools to get the joints as crisp as possible; numerous sharpening stations sprouted around the room.

Another snapshot that amused me was this tray of analgesics that was emptied at some point in the day.  This was hard physical work, the kind few of us were used to at this level of intensity.

The buzz of activity was the air that we breathed throughout the day.

One of the benches I followed ws the one being built by this father-and-son team, whose tool kit had not arrived for reasons I never quite knew.  Nevertheless, I was pleased to make my own kit available to them and they put it to good and successful use.


Meanwhile around the room twenty tales were unfolding and moving towards completion.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the week, with Will providing some useful ballast to Horace’s bench.

Jameel and Jeff provided the real-time, real-space tutorial on installing the Benchcrafted criss-cross leg vise that was part of the package of every bench.

Tim the mechanic was the first guy across the finish line, and hearty congratulations abounded.

John and Phil were next to finish, and I think this will be a treasured family memory for generations yet to come.  The excitement was rising for another half-dozen benches ready to assemble Friday morning.

That evening was the open house with a cajun stew for supper, and my Gragg chair on display or anyone who wanted to give it a try.



Day 3 of FORP is pretty much an extended schizophrenic moment as the participants are settling into the routine of work and fellowship, knowing what and why they are doing what they are doing.  The morning generally starts out smoothly with restrained purposefulness but as the day goes on there is a palpable edge to the atmosphere as the sentiment, “Oh crap, I’ve only got two more days to get this done,” wafts into the shop.

Wednesday was Mortise Day and the intensity was thick.  At the beginning of the day everyone was first wrapping up their base assemblies so they would know where to put the mortises.

There was a fair bit of tenon trimming also, especially for the dovetailed tenon cheeks.


Oh, and lots of checking to make sure “square” was really square.

Around mid-morning Chris gave the sermon on executing the double tenons.  There were two major steps and some folks did one first (sawing the outer dovetailed tenon) and other went the other way (drilling out the waste for the inner tenons).

There was a lot of deep breathing as this was the start of irreversible steps.  For the most part everyone had on their game faces for sawing the dovetail shoulders.  Except for Brian #4 who was never more than a moment away from a hearty laugh.  I think the class had something like five Brians, four Andrews, and three Tims.

Once the angled cheeks were cut the waste was kerfed to facilitate removal.

For the inner mortises the waste was drilled out and for many the edges of the joint were established with a saber saw, a technique I have never employed.

Then the chopping began in earnest.

Somewhere along the line Schwarz encountered this beast of a hand-held bandsaw, using it to trim the ends of the slabs and kerf the outer mortises.

I included this picture just because the wood was so remarkable.

Yes indeed, the joint was jumpin’ this day.




Tuesday morning saw me working with Jeff Miller in the lower shop building because the Tannewitz band saw there was better suited for finishing up the tenon cheeks and the dovetailed shoulders on the front tenons.  Though there are no pictures of us doing that I did get a pretty neat pic of Bo’s crew distressing some sweet oak box beams for a custom interior someplace.

Jeff had an appointment elsewhere for a few hours so I was working with Jameel to get all the tenon cuts finished, and we did.

I got back up to the main work room just before lunch and there was a flurry of activity and the bench parts began to come together.  Lots of tenon valley cleaning out,

edges being trued to make sure the layouts of the mortises were correct, (the long curls were ankle deep that afternoon),

the dovetail cheeks were cross-cut and trued

and a whole lotta stretcher mortises were matched with their mortises.

Before long there was a collection of upside-down bench bases on display.

Around mid-afternoon The Schwarz gave a demo on laying out the base to the top and marking and cutting the mortises into the latter.

So that’s what was happening all over the place for the rest of the day.

The day was capped by another walk through the yard full of antiquities, with Chris being captivated by this sculpted sandstone bank faced detail of a bee hive.

FORP III Day 1 – Variety

I  thought I had been told to arrive at 9 the first morning, so I did, only to find out that the first students arrived before 7AM to stake out their work stations and set up, so the bee hive was buzzing long before I got there.

As I came to learn throughout the week the students body was an amazing mix of folks; a chemical engineering professor, a video production entrepreneur, a lawyer/lobbyist, three professional woodworkers/furniture makers, a cybersecurity geek, a geophysicist, a playwright, a CPA, a custom floor maker and his furniture design student son, a fireman, a mechanic, an energy engineer, an electrician, a high-end custom home builder, a rancher, two surgeons, a military helicopter pilot, and maybe another couple of folks I cannot remember at the moment.  There was no shortage of interesting things to talk about during meals and breaks.

Frankly put, the gallery of student set-ups was a dizzying cornucopia of horses and tool inventories, with the former ranging from old-school carpenter’s horses to sooper high tech devices the likes of which I had never seen.

Take a look.

As for tool inventories and their containers they ranged from several ATCs and Dutch cabinets to plastic tubs to simple canvas bags.  I’ll take a look at them in another post.

As I arrived the last of the bench tops were being fed through the Stratoplaner, the prehistoric minivan-sized machine that planed all four surface of the 300-pound slabs simultaneously.  One by one these took their places in the appropriate work stations.

In short order the preparations for the 80 legs commenced.

A quick tutorial on laying out the double tenons on the tops of the legs (and keeping track of them!) was followed by the soundlessness of eighty sets of tenons being laid out.

While that was underway Will Myers and Father John Abraham prepped the stretcher stock, and once again Jeff Miller and I tag-teamed to make jigs for cutting the tenon shoulders.  Which we did.  A lot.

As the day closed the air was filled with the sounds of wailing away on the valleys between the double tenons and the scriiitch of planing the edges of the tops square and true so the double mortise layout could be executed.

And that was Day 1.

FORP Day -1

We recently convened the third iteration of the French Oak Roubo Project in Barnesville, Georgia, chronicled at some length by the Brothers Abraham.  It was even more frenetic than in the past as there were several more benches being built (21) and fewer instructing enthusiasts, so we were all a-hopping.

Once again our incredibly generous host was Bo Childs, a renowned importer of French architectural antiquities and manufacturer of uber-elite interiors in the style of the ancients.  The setting is intoxicating with artifacts hundreds of years old scattered around the lot.

I arrived on Saturday night in order to put in a solid day of work preparing on Sunday.  (Driving straight through downtown Atlanta at 8PM after dinner with dear friends was a real treat, at one point there were 16 lanes of traffic, none of them moving.)  None of us like working on Sundays,  preferring it to be a day of fellowship, meditation, and rest, but some times reality intrudes.

The Abrahams had already begun the stock preps several days earlier with Bo on the bandsaw (he is an artist with that thing)  and those benches that needed gluing up were mostly already done.

As the final bit of sawmilling and gluing-up was completed, the undeniable reality was that our work spaces for the coming week serve as a functioning commercial millwork shop the rest of the time and these spaces needed to have some discipline imposed on them.

Slowly the students began to trickle in and the piles of 5-1/2″ thick white oak slabs grew.

The  festivities began at 6PM with a barbeque, and the The Schwarz took the stage to introduce the program of the week.