Workbench Wednesday – It Only Took Seven Years…

… for my FORP Roubo bench to find its rightful home underneath the bank of northeast-facing windows.

As I’ve mentioned previously the spatial arrangement in my studio has been undergoing reorganization, or as James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton calls it, “rearrangeritis.”  In one sense I am living with the curse of too much space, thus I need not be particularly efficient with my shop layout nor unduly burdened by the necessity of tidiness.  I am trying to improve on both counts.

After completing the construction and assembly of my 2013 FORP workbench last year I planted it on the north wall of the shop, thinking that would be a good place.

I was wrong.  I back-filled the space around it with my favorite little two-sided workbench and some other stuff and before long the whole space was a chaotic mess.

Plus, that new space was so crowded it precluded me even installing the superb wooden screw leg vise that was part of the original design.   In the original configuration the four inch round block plus the three inch moveable jaw would have made the whole thing stick out too far to even walk past easily.  There simply was no room to  use it even if it were installed so it remained on the sideline.

After much cogitation I decided to move it underneath the large bank of windows facing east.  This was not done lightly — rasslin’ an 8-1/2-foot, almost 500 pound workbench by myself is not something to undertake on a whim.  I set aside a day to move the bench and the other nine things that had to be moved first in order to accommodate the move around the corner, but it was absolutely worth it.

This should not have been a huge surprise to me as it was the location for my first Roubo workbench built from timbers left over from the barn re-erection.  Truly, this was THE right location for the bench and I was an idiot for not recognizing this from the git-go.

I now have a sublime arrangement of my beloved first workbench sitting in the middle of the floor at that end of the shop with the Roubo a simple body-rotation away.  The arrangement continues to make every day in the shop an unfettered joy.

In addition to the move itself I finally finished the installation of the Roubo’s leg vise after first reducing the thickness of the jaw from three to two inches and reducing the size of the bulbous block that was exactly at knee height and stuck way out into the work space.

To reduce the number of times I whacked it with said knee I tossed the vise screw in the lathe and cut down the outer terminus block by an inch in length, moving the wrought iron collar right up against the handle holes and shaping the end, yielding a result much more to my liking than the knee-cruncher originally made.  In fact completing this feature was one of the motivating reasons behind the move.

Using an outrigger stand temporarily until I get the sliding deadman built the bench works just like it is supposed to.

The integration of the massive Roubo into the workspace has other meaningful implications as well, almost like the ripples radiating from a stone being tossed into the pond.  Not the least of these effects is the rendering of the planing beam as redundant, clearing up that particular space in the not-too-distant future.   I may use part of that space as home to the full-service standing tool cabinet I have always wanted.  If so I will have to find a new home for the exquisite vintage mahogany I have stored underneath the beam.  Some of the other re-arrangeritis is more subtle as I will build a small, low Roubo bench for the space where the giant Roubo bench used to be.  This lower bench will allow me to work for long stretches while sitting.  As I get older I find the Eastern tradition of working while sitting down is all the more attractive; I actually do not mind working while standing, it’s the bending up-and-down that wears me out.

All things considered I am thinking that these changes will result in higher shop production-ableness while reducing the total footprint of the space.

Stay tuned.

Fauxrushi Inspiration

With some of my major time-gobblers finished or at least with the ends in sight — the gunsmithing partner’s workbench, the cedar siding, refinishing the dining chairs, the book manuscript (still a lot to do but at least the train is moving steadily down the tracks) — I am refocusing on a small handful of interests in the shop, including my efforts to replicate Asian lacquerwork.

I am noticing that with increasing age my general allergy sensitivity is getting worse so I am not likely to try using genuine urushi, it being the refined sap of a poison sumac tree and all.  It is not impossible, but unlikely given the toxicity of the emulsion.  Still the performance of the final finish is such that it has been the theoretical model of “the perfect finish” for decades or even centuries.  Anything that can be applied and polished to a mirror surface while being impervious to anything other than boiling nitric acid or long term UV degradation is a finish to not disregard entirely.

My allergic sensitivity is being driven home this year as we had a late, cold, wet spring (we had snow flurries three weeks ago!) so the “early pollen” and the “late pollen” are emerging back-to-back, resulting in the Mother of All Sneezefests.  I’ve been breathing through jello for almost a week now with the resultant gurgling loveliness.  Rather than compounding my miseries with liquid poison ivy (the same toxic allergen, urushiol, is present in poison sumac, poison ok, poison ivy, and mango skin)  I am instead going to be employing a variety of alternatives to accomplish “fauxrushi” objects.

I have already written about West System 105 Epoxy and the variations of their catalysts as the basis for my fauxrushi (Popular Woodworking April 2017) and I am currently looking at three different polyester compositions as a test comparison.  Polyester is reputed to be tougher and harder than epoxy but I have never used it for anything other than laying fiberglass fabric.  It does have the distinct disadvantage of being much stinkier that West Epoxy but that is not an insurmountable problem.

My little menagerie includes Asian lacquered pieces ranging from contemporary to probably 17th/18th C, and 19th C English japanned paper boxes (the two round pieces on the left).

I think this is my oldest piece, it is certainly the most complex. Red and black urushi are applied in alternating layers and then carved to reveal the layers. Urushi work is dominated historically by those two colors with the occasional blue piece with other colors even more scarce.

From time to time I pull out my own meager collection of genuine lacquerwork for inspiration and instruction, and delve into my library on the subject.  These sources spur me on to explore this art form, and when the resin base, whether epoxy, polyester, or even urushi, is combined with silver, gold, ad pearl, the sublime can emerge under the eye and hand of a master.  I am hampered by the near-complete absence of artistic talent but I nevertheless intend to stride down this path either until I lose interest (unlikely) or simply cannot physically do the work.  My hands are still steady so I am hoping it will be a long journey.

This modern bowl has a molded fabric core, and remains one of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen.

Roubo Turning Saw Prototype II

The conceptual foundation of this saw is the ability to rotate the saw blade within the saw frame.  When noodling the design and fabricating this hardware element I considered many options before settling on something nearly identical to Roubo’s.

I ordered a variety of of sizes and configurations of eyebolts from McMaster-Carr to play with.

The eye large enough to accommodate or incorporate the 1/2″ cylindrical rod for affixing the blade was simply too huge for the proportion to work properly.  The eye of the correct proportion was made for a threaded rod way too small for the 1/2″ wide blade.  In the end I took that smaller eye and drilled and tapped it for the cylinder rod of the right size.

I split the eye bolt with my jeweler’s saw and a #10 blade.  I then drilled the cross-holes through which the blade could be attached to this split rod.

One of the last things I did before assembling the whole saw was to de-zinc the hardware parts by soaking them in a citric acid solution (about 2 tsp/pint of water).  As soon as the mild acid began to work on the zinc the solution got cloudy.  I had to monitor the progress and removed the hardware when I had gone far enough.

I assembled everything to make sure it fit but I did not give the saw a test drive since I did not have the saw blade that would be used for it.

I disassembled it and shipped it off to Wisconsin.  I cannot wait to get a production prototype back to give it workout.


Making A Replacement Octagon Awning Window

During my most recent foray into the battle of the cedar shingles I was finally at the location of the octagonal awning window in the master bathroom, indicating only another hour or two to completion of that side of the house.  Alas, this is what I saw; the window was beyond repair even though I had painted it thoroughly when it was installed 33 year ago.  Admittedly I had not monitored it for a very long time and the unit was made from white pine, not renowned as a durable exterior material.  Both Barndottir and I searched the web diligently for a replacement unit, but a suitable one was not to be found.  We could get one that opened, or or that was the right size.  But not both.

Using a cat’s paw and small pry bar I got the window and casing out safely and more easily than I had originally feared, throwing away the exterior trim even though it was cedar.  I made the opening weather-tight then hauled the carcass back to the barn to start on making a new one.

I decided to make the new window from my stash of prized old-growth cypress for longevity’s sake and set to work.  I re-sawed the 11/4 cypress mostly by hand then dimensioned it with my lunchbox planer.

I spent the most time of the project getting the angle for cutting the miters perfect on the table saw so that all eight corners were tight when gluing it up.

I taped all the segments together, applied Titebond II to the insides of the miters and just rolled it up, holding everything in place with the tape after double checking the squareness.   I toenailed each miter joint with brads from my pneumatic gun and set it to dry overnight

Thus the first session ended with the octagon box glued up, a very satisfying stopping point.   Foolishly I did not take a picture of the octagon box at this stage but you can see it in the next installment.

Roubo “Turning Saw” Prototype – Part 1



With the Roubo Joinery Saw prototype winging its way to Wisconsin I turned my attention to, well, Roubo’s “turning” saw from Plate 12, Figure 5.  I used the identical design for the overall bow for the Joinery Saw, but there were more than enough twists and turns along the road to make it interesting.

The term “turning saw” has two particular meanings.  First, the saw plate is narrow enough so that it could be turned as it worked its way through the workpiece.  Second, the plate itself could be turned in the bow, enhancing the capabilities of the tool.

I began from the premise used in the Joinery Saw, namely that I would be trying to replicate Roubo as closely as possible based on his illustrations and verbal descriptions.  As before I used white oak for the wooden elements.  For the saw plate I just used a broken band saw blade since Bad Axe has not yet begun to develop theirs.

Thus the two crucial differences were the housing at the end of the bow arms through which the round spilt post passed, and the split post itself.

The bulbous end block was the simpler of the two problems to solve.   I glued scrap blocks in place, laid out the bulb, and shaped it to the design.   Drilling the hole for the post was simple enough.

Next time – the split post and related fittings.

Workbench Wednesday – Gunsmith’s Bench At Home

With a crew of stout-hearted folk we got the 10-foot bench onto a friend’s pickup just before the coming rain.  I did not make the trip with it just then but went on Saturday to see it in its new  habitat.

The gunsmithing shop is a newly re-erected late 18th century log cabin from the Lynchburg area, IIRC.   The new old-style doors with locally fabricated blacksmith hardware get installed this weekend.

As I approached the shop I could see it already being put to work.  The new owner was hard at work on a powder horn with the pile of shavings from the longhorn on the floor underneath one of the Moxon vises.    He declared that the bench was exactly what he had always hoped for, and that its addition to the shop, “… Made my year!”

Here are a couple of the historic replica long rifles akin to what the new bench will be part of making.

Testing The Envelope

There are times when I am working on the book manuscript when I just have to get up and do something physical for a change of pace.  Because of the peculiar way I write, editing and massaging-together is often more fatiguing than the original creation of the first draft so I need a diversion and relaxation.

Last week I spent an hour or so at the lathe trying to see how thin I could turn a bowl.  This concept interests me as I begin my re-immersion in replicating Japanese lacquerwork, a creative theme that will be prominent in the studio and on the blog for the foreseeable future.

I had a block of c.1840 11/4 old growth cypress handy and gave that a try.  I do not know why I had never turned the cypress before, it works like butter in the lathe.  I left the face of the block square as I am trying to come up with a form that suits my fancy, and a square/turned bowl with a feather-thin edge is intriguing.

I found out that feathering the edge is not possible without reinforcing it somehow, probably by impregnating it with epoxy, or the edge will simply shatter as you work it.  Ditto the base of the bowl where I did indeed find the edge of the envelope.  I tried the a similar exercise with some figured plum stump I harvested 15 years ago.  Same result.

Since failure is its own useful data point I now know I need to turn this form close to finished, then impregnate and finish up then.  I will report back on those results.

The next day I  tried the exercise with a southern yellow pine scrap and also had encouraging results.

One of the peculiar and captivating phenomena of that attempt was the turning began to “sing” as the wall was thinned, sounding much like a crystal goblet when it is being played like a musical instrument.

Then, back to the Eames chair knockoff for more wordsmithing.

Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Version 2 Prototype – Stirrups


I think that when creating a production-worthy Plate 12, Figure 3 prototype at the request of Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tools, I spent the most time and creative energy in working out the problem of retaining the saw plate in the bow saw arms.

My first effort two years ago worked well enough for one guy making one saw, but it was IMHO insufficient for any kind of production run.  The amount of work necessary to excavate the base of the wooden arm in order to receive this particular two-piece stirrup configuration made this option a non-starter.

Plus, like the configuration of my original Art Nouveau-ish bow saw frame it bore little resemblance to Roubo’s illustration.  His description and illustrations clearly represent a folded “T” shaped fitting-with-pin for holding the saw plate in a slot at the bottom end of the arm.  So, that is the direction I headed towards.  At this point my only fundamental deviation from Roubo was that Mark’s saw plate had two holes rather than Roubo’s one.

I ordered some 1/32″ steel sheet, unfortunately it did not come in narrow configurations so I wound up sawing it by hand until I had pieces that would fit into my little shear/brake.  Once I had the strips in-hand I started the process of figuring out how to accomplish this tricky series of bends.  Fortunately I had my sweet little shear/brake from Micro-Mark to help me.  Sort of.

I  found that the brake’s bending was so crisp that the steel snapped off at that point.  Actually, what happened is that I could bend crisp 90-degree corners then had to spread them in order to bend the next set of corners, then bend the original corners back.  That’s when they snapped.  I eventually did figure out how to get it done (see below).

After the steel sheet gave me trouble, before I figured out the solution I tried some .030 copper flashing I had sitting under the stairs in my hardware store.  It cut like butter with my engraver’s hook and folded in the brake without a hitch.  (I swear I do not know why Photoshop and WordPress cannot play nice with each other!)

Since copper worked so nicely but was pretty soft I decided to try something halfway in between, .030 brass.  Unlike the copper it was really stiff so I annealed it on my hotplate before trying to bend it.

By this time I had hit on the solution to the earlier problem that caused the first steel stirrup to snap.  Instead of making the first bends to 90 degrees then bending them open, I bent them only enough to establish the corner.

This allowed me to use the brake for the second bend.  Then by hand I could fold the unit closed with a hammer and cold chisel until it was in the “T” configuration.

I worked this system in all three materials and found the solution to be darned near perfect.

I drilled out the stirrup and arm to match the holes in the saw plate and held the entire unit together with binding posts.  I apologize for not taking a picture of this assembly all by itself.

With the entire stirrup now passing through the bottom of the saw arm there was virtually no joinery involved; just make the slot for the stirrup and plate, widen it a bit, and slip it all together.  Inserting the binding posts completed the assembly of the saw and all it needed for working was the windlass and cord.  I used a much smaller windlass bar than my earlier one, about 1/3 of the weight of that one.

I took pictures, dismantled it and shipped it off to Wisconsin.

Now, on to Roubo’s Turning Saw.

Blog Comments Dysfunction(?)

Recently I was clearing out the Trash and Spam folders of my web site and came across a legitimate and thoughtful Comment at the top of the Trash list.  I started looking a bit more, something I rarely do as I routinely get a almost a thousand bot Comments for every real one, but again in going through the folder found many legit Comments to the Blog, to which I have or will be replying as appropriate.  I have no idea why these Comments wound up there, certainly it is not because of anything I did knowingly to the filters or some such.

If I have failed to notice or post your Comment I apologize, I do not know how long this dysfunction has been occurring.

Thanks for sticking in there.


I am inclined to wear an apron while working in the shop, and my recent sessions working on the house while wearing my ancient Skiller’s vest (basically a wear-able tool box) have led me to reflect on shop aprons in general and the ones I had in particular.  So, I took a couple hours to rectify my discontent with the aprons I had by making one to fit my own preferences.

Some of the shop aprons I have go back decades, and they look like it.  Others are more recent, but all of them have shortcomings that led me to grouse about them silently almost every time I put one on.  For starters, I like a shop apron that is really heavy weight.  Second, I want the apron to have its hem well below my knees.  Even more particular I want the apron to wrap all the way around the the back side of my leg.  Admittedly it could be my physique that precludes this functionality (depending on your frame of mine I have either a “prosperous” or NFL linebacker- sized body).

These last two features, length and width, (or their absence) determine whether or not a shop apron is truly useful when I am working while sitting down.

The aprons I have encountered and own are so narrow that when I sit down to work at a low bench they creep up over the thigh and become little more than a wide loincloth, entirely insufficient for any apron-y task.

Recently I took an afternoon to begin making the apron I’ve always wanted but never found in the marketplace, at least not at a price I was willing to pay.  I started with a large scrap of heavy linen canvas 20(?) years ago I had squirreled away “for just the right project,” and this apron was it.  Using the apron I wore the most as a pattern, I laid out the new one to be of the same general ilk but almost a foot longer and more than a foot wider compared to the aprons I use normally .

I cut it out and folded over the edges about 1/4″ then hand sewed the edges.  This took about two hours using a hefty needle and upholstery thread.  Fortunately for me the linen was so heavily sized that it stayed put when I folded the edges over, making the sewing a snap.

Since I like my apron bibs “high and tight” I made the neck loop from some of the linen canvas scraps and sewed it in place to just barely have room for my head to go through it.  With some linen tape I sewed on waist cords such that the apron tied in the front, another feature I demand.

The added width was a particularly desirable feature as even when seated the apron covers my legs entirely.

Now I have an apron that meets my preferences, all I have to do is wear it for  while to figure out exactly what pockets I need and where to put them.  I’ll give this a month’s test drive then put on the pockets.

Stay tuned.