Musings

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.

Building Bench #18 – I

Once I realized I needed to make another Roubo bench for WW18thC, my sixth or seventh such tool, I began with a selection of SYP 2×12 framing lumber stacked underneath the lathe.  (Calling it my 18th bench includes a small number f no-account benches, for honest-to-goodness furniture making or repairing workbenches the real number is probably 13).   I ripped in half as much material as I needed to make the bench and legs and loaded the ripped lumber into the truck to cart downstairs to the planer.

After running it through the 10″ Ryobi planer to get clean surfaces on both sides (although I will have to set aside some time to address the snipe issue, which seems to be getting worse.  Go figure, I’ve only been using it hard for thirty years. Or, here’s a thought, run some new wiring down to the machine room/foundry so I can hook up my Mini-Max 15″ planer/joiner that has zero snipe) and then carting back up the the main floor I set them out spaced in my barely heated shop for a few days to equilibrate.

After spreading some plastic on the bench I glued up the core laminae using yellow glue to skirt any temperature issues.  Previously with 3-3/4″ stock I assembled the bench tops in two pieces so I could run them through the planer once assembled, but since this was 5-1/2″ stock I was going to have to plane everything entirely by hand.  No, I was not going to be slinging these slabs around to feed them through a planer.

 

I had not yet finished fabricating Roub0’s panel clamps, which could be scaled-up to work perfectly for this process, so I wound up using practically every clamp I had of this size to get things glued.

The next day I came back to glued up the outer laminae with the mortises, using 5″ decking screws as the clamps.  The resulting slab was right at the wight limit I could handle by myself.

Prepping for Williamsburg, a/k/a “Say Hello to Bench #18”

Presenting a demonstration takes a lot of time, as much time as actually teaching a hands-on session on the same topic.  When I used to manage educational programs in my previous life I usually budgeted staff time of one full day of preparation for each hour of a new class.  So if a colleague came to me with an idea to develop and teach a week-long class, I knew to budget for them eight weeks of prep time.  Time-compressed demos for a conference like Working Wood in the 18th Century are even more lopsided, as a 90-minute live demo requires roughly the same preps and materiel as a two week workshop.  So, for my two sessions at this year’s conference, Roubo Rediscovered: Merging 1760s Paris with The 21st Century and The Historic Gilder’s and Finisher’s Workshops,  I began preparing aand assembling the supplies in earnest before Thanksgiving.

Things were progressing swimmingly until just before Christmas, when I corresponded with Anthiny Hay Cabinet Shop master Kaare Loftheim about the logistics of moving Colonial Williamsburg’s Roubo bench to the stage of the auditorium.  His reply, which I should have expected, was that they did not possess a Roubo bench.  I smacked my head.  Of course they would not have such a bench since Williamsburg was essentially a 17th century English town!

It was time to rethink my strategy as I would need to arrive with my own Parisian workbench.  I already had three that would serve the purpose nicely but they were so ensconced in their places that it was easier to build a new one for this demonstration.

So I did…

Now THAT’S A Book

Recently I was back in Mordor for a couple of days and dropped in to visit my friends and colleagues at the Library of Congress Book Conservation Lab.  I was delighted to see them again, and can happily report that the work bench I custom made for them last year is suiting their needs perfectly.

There is clear evidence of use of the bench, and there is universal acclaim of its suitability for their needs.  They are especially appreciative of the stepped riser blocks so it can be fitted for everyone in the group.  As you can see there is a wide range of statures represented in the group.

The purpose of the bench is to serve in the re-binding of ancient books, a process that is typical every few centuries for books of the pre-16th century type, which were bound with solid wood cover boards.  In preparation for an upcoming rebinding of an important book (14th century?) they undertook a practice run of creating a completely new book that replicated the projected treatment for the old book.

Much to my surprise and delight they gifted this practice book to me, and it has become a treasured keepsake.  The workmanship and artistry are simply breathtaking.  They urged me to use it as a note book but thus far I have not been able to force myself to do that (although I did already ding one edge).  Time will tell if I ever can.

 

Barn Workshop – Knotwork Banding Inlay

One of my favorite aspects of working on The Roubo Translation Project has been the replication of many of the techniques he described in L’art du Menuisier.  For a long time I thought that intricate banded borders were dauntingly complex and fussy.  Then I did it the way he said and I realized that the artisans of the period had standardized the process so as to make them near idiot-proof.  Voila’, a method I can work with.

The knotwork banding  illustrated in Plate 287 is a perfect case of this.  Using a set of sawing and planing jigs to produce an infinite number of perfectly sized and fitted pieces the design pattern is a piece of cake.  But, as with most things, the set-up is crucial.  And that is what we will be doing in these three days; making the banding, laying out and creating the jig block, and making knotwork corners to your heart’s content.

**************************************************

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

Barn Workshop – Boulle Marquetry

Since seeing my first piece of antique furniture decorated with tarsia a incastro, or “Boulle work,” I have been captivated by both the art form and the technique.

This ancient method of  using a minuscule blade in a frame saw, usually a jeweler’s saw in our time, for cutting patterns in two or three layers of material comprised of the shell of a sea turtle, a sheet of brass, and sometimes a sheet of pewter, remains captivating to this day.   The result is the same number of completed compositions as the original number of layers in the stack.

Due to the prohibition of trade in turtle shells I invented my own very convincing replacement material I call Tordonshell.

So these three days will comprise of making your own piece of Tordonshell (I will have some pieces made in advance for the workshop) and sawing patterns from packets we will assemble for cutting.

Though we will be cutting them vertically to begin, there is a chevalet in the classroom and anyone who wants to give it  try is welcome to do so.

*********************************************************

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

Desk Prototype – II

With the legs in-hand it was time to build the writing box that went on top of them.  Again using mostly southern yellow pine from my pile I set to work.  It was straightforward but had to fit the legs precisely.  I dispensed with making the bow-front drawer for the box as it would be predetermined by the box itself.

To get practice for the re-sawing that would come soon in prized vintage mahogany I did that with this tulip poplar stock.

The joinery for the box was mundane but a necessary exercise.

I established the curve of the drawer frame and the top with drawknife and spokeshave.

And put it together.  The writing surface was simply tacked in place with finishing nails as I would need to remove it to check the internals once the real project was underway.  On that version the top would be glued in place with glue blocks.

Up next: joining the legs, box and shelf to finish the prototype.

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

The Desk Project – The Prototype

It’s been more than four months since I last wrote about my project to interpret an early 19th century writing desk for a client, when I had the opportunity to use period appropriate technology for virtually the entire project.  Previously I had written about deriving the design templates for the project, and this post will finally get down to fashioning wood.

My first problem(?) was that I was a bit hazy on some of the internal construction details of the original.  To resolve that void, or to at least come to a workable conclusion, I needed to build a full scale prototype.  Using some left over 2x SYP from a workbench-building  project I did just that.  I rough cut each leg element with a bandsaw (this was primarily a proportion and joinery exercise) then shaped them just enough to get the gist of the idea.

Then with each individual element fashioned I dove into the joinery for the complete leg assembly, with frequent dry fittings.

Using PVA I glued up each leg.

In the end I had two leg assembles shaped and fashioned, and joined, glued, and assembled.  This was an important moment as I  exerted my full weight on each individual leg to make sure they would hold.

They did.