Auxiliary Bench: Finished (Mostly)

A few final steps after glue-up remained to move the new bench to this state:

Those steps were:

  • Trimming the ends. I used a long-ish panel saw because it had the finest tooth pitch, in theory. Then I sanded coarse-medium-fine to get a smooth finish on the endgrain.
  • Flattening the top. This was the easiest thing I’ve ever done a flattening job on. Wish it were always like that.
  • Applying a quick finish, a varnish and tung oil blend. Yes, the tung oil is real tung oil, and yes, it takes forever to cure. I didn’t have any boiled linseed oil, and I didn’t care.

The two pieces of soft maple that I chose for the sides of the top are curly. I didn’t anticipate that, but I guess it looks fine. In this case, I only really cared if the grain reversed or not. On the front, it did not. On the rear, it did a little, but it doesn’t seem to be of much consequence.

This is the first somewhat large thing that I’ve made with southern yellow pine. I might post my thoughts on that later.

The size is a departure for me. I knew that it wasn’t going to be very long, but I also made it 33″ tall, which is a bit tall for someone my size. Well, at least for planing, but I don’t plan to plane much on this thing (I think it would work fine for small pieces, though).

Another note on the frame is that I made the side stretchers offset from the long ones on the front and rear. This allowed me to use longer tenons because they don’t meet in the middle of a leg, which I like. Wearing illustrates this in “The Solution At Hand,” though he uses through tenons.

I slapped on a temporary shelf and immediately loaded it up:

I hated this situation under my main bench, because the shavings and sawdust were always getting into the nooks and crannies of the planes. I’ll have less of that going on over here, so it should be a little better. I don’t expect the shelf to be there forever, though. I’d like to put a box of drawers in there, albeit one that doesn’t go anywhere near all the way to the top.

But I still don’t like it. I’m doing it now because these things were getting in the freakin’ way all of the time, but my thoughts are turning to the tool chest idea. It seems there’s a lot of merit in that, but I don’t have the time right now.

I probably won’t be working on much of anything wood-related for at least a week or so. There are some other things to take care of, but after that, I do have some plans to use this bench on a few diverse tasks.

Cutting Big Mortises

The mortises in the new bench/whatever-it’s-called are pretty big, and I can’t do them like my usual ones, because I don’t have a mortise chisel that large. So I’m using the old “bore holes to get rid of most of the waste and chop down all sides” method.

This got me thinking that there are a few extra things I do for these that might be useful to someone. So let’s go through them. First, when marking out the mortise, I scribe a line along the center of the mortise:

This is useful for the next step, boring out most of the waste with brace, because I know exactly where to put the lead screw of the auger bit:

Notice that I’m using a square to help keep the bit parallel to the long sides of the mortise direction, and a piece of painter’s tape on the bit to mark the depth. I liked these particular mortises a lot more than the ones in the top, because there was plenty of room to spare when boring down. Going a bit beyond your tenon depth with the brace makes it a lot easier to get out the required amount of waste. (And through mortises are cheating.)

Another note on the holes is that I’m staying a bit away from the ends by, say, 5mm or something. This makes it easier to chop the ends later on.

Next it’s time to get most of the waste off the sides. I’m using an old W. Butcher, uhhh, I guess it’s a firmer chisel, for the sole reason that it’s beefy:

You don’t want to go all the way to the side yet, and while you’re doing this, pay attention to the grain on your initial cuts. Because the wall of the mortise is longer than the chisel, the wood will split in the grain direction past the end of the chisel. If it splits in the wrong direction, you could split it out past your marks for the wall of the mortise.

Now that you’ve figured out the grain direction, mark the “low corners” of the mortise. What I mean by this is that the corners where, if you start splitting the grain at that point, the split will extend into the waste part of the mortise.

And of course, here I am, marking an incorrect corner:

In this board, the correct ones are the top left and bottom right. You’ll see this mark “move” later on in this post after I figured out what was going on.

If it’s just a normal, single piece of wood that you’re mortising, these “low” spots should be at opposite corners. Your grain could reverse or do some other horrible thing, though. And the piece above has the mortise spanning two laminated boards, so it’s possible that it wouldn’t follow that rule, either.

In any case, once you’ve got this done and enough of the walls wasted away, you’re ready to work into those “low” corners. Start with cross-grain chopping on the ends, but don’t go quite all the way to the side, and keep some wood left on the ends (remember that I’m ignoring that first erroneous mark here):

Then, when you’re close, chop down the side with a narrow chisel:

Notice how the waste is splintering out to the waste side of the mortise wall. You might need to do a little back-and-forth to get to your line on the side, but it shouldn’t be too bad with a narrow, sharp chisel.

You also might need to be a little cautious if your wood is uneven. This is (southern) yellow pine, and the darker latewood in this stuff can really shove your tools around. Douglas-fir can do that, as well.

When you’re all the way to the bottom of that corner, grab a wider chisel and chop the wall right next to the corner:

Work your way to the other side in this direction. The wood will continue splitting into the waste, as you can see above. When you reach the end, you can square it off like the “low” corner; when chopping the wall over there, it should not split because you can overlap the stuff that you’ve already done; the chisel will slice instead of tearing out at the border of where you already worked if you keep it flush to the wall.

Then you can go all the way to the ends. I don’t have any photos or anything of this; just use the standard practice of working your way back to the ends until you have enough left that you can cleanly chop it without bruising the wood. Though it’s not so relevant here, it really matters on a through mortise.

You’ll probably need to tune the walls a little due to the way that chisels tend to cut. One nice thing about these big mortises is that it’s really easy to stick a square down there to check to see if it’s complete:

Notice how the “low spot” mark on the near wall has migrated from the left to the right in this picture. Sigh.

So maybe this is helpful. I don’t know. Mortising can be time-consuming. I really understand the reason that hollow-chisel mortising machines exist. And I have to admit that they are kind of tempting.

In any case, the joint that I made in this post was the last one for the new auxiliary bench:

It’s ready for glue-up.

Auxiliary Bench: Leg Joints

Now I don’t know if it will be 12 joints or 16. Do twin tenons count as two joints? Something tells me no.

Of course, both of the joints on the front just happened to land on the two areas near the shallow knots on the only board of the top that contains a little bit of resin. Yuck, but I guess the one upside is that most of parts that are a little tacky will be covered by the leg.

Here’s what we’re looking at now:

In the end, the legs will not be this long, but I’ll trim them to length just before glue-up.

Now for the stretchers. 8 joints. For sure this time; I’m not doing any more twin tenons, and if I do double tenons, those probably only count as one.

Sliding Deadman

When I built my workbench, I did not include a sliding deadman because I was tired, lazy, etc. I said to myself that I’d add one when I needed it (or I actually felt like doing it), and just put some grooves inside the front frame of the bench.

I’d been tempted to make it several times over the past few months, but last week, as I was working on the stretchers for the new auxiliary bench, I found myself trying to square off the top of some medium-sized stretchers and not having a very good time of it. I thought to myself that I’d try the old “prop up the other end of the work with something” trick, and that was not at all pleasant.

So it was time. As I mentioned, I’d been thinking about this and had read the description in the Chris Schwarz book, and that had me worried. See, I had only plowed a measly little 1/4″ groove on both the stretcher and the underside of the workbench:

But the benches described everywhere have a triangular-profile rail (or “track”) on the bottom, and Schwarz says to plow a big, deep 1/2″ or so groove in the underside of the top so that you can clear that thing. He also integrates the track into the stretcher at times. I was worried, because I thought that maybe this was going to be a lot of work, or I otherwise screwed up in some massive way–it wouldn’t be the first time. The triangular-profile rail is a really good idea because it keeps shavings, dust, and small children out of a groove.

So in a fit of nervous twitching, I looked for a way around this. I made a rail in a triangular profile, and put a tongue on the bottom so that it would fit into the groove on the stretcher. Here’s a photo of how that looks (along with the deadman, showing the mating profile on the underside of that):

The theory here is that when you install the deadman, you do it in a unit with the rail. This way, only the tongue on the bottom of the rail needs to clear the stretcher when installing. Because this is significantly shallower than the really deep thing on the deadman, it would require far less of a groove in underside of the top.

Much to my surprise, this actually worked. Cutting that tongue on the bottom of the rail was a pain that I’d rather not recount (note to self: just tack the offcuts from the other side to my sticking board next time.).

I should mention that though I made the tongue with hand tools, I cheerfully turned to my bandsaw to do the profile on the top of the rail, as well as the channel on the bottom of the deadman. I guess I did all of the holes with a brace and auger bit (despite actually owning a drill press now):

With all of this done, it was time to see if it actually works in practice, and in that respect, it’s certainly an improvement:

There is a lingering question I have, though. In the first Schwarz book, when describing the deadman of the French bench, he says to cut a curve on each side so that you can get a hand between the deadman and a leg when up against a leg. I don’t get this; why would you need to put your hand there? It’s not to facilitate moving the deadman; you can just grab it from the other side and pull it over with zero effort.

In later work (the LVL bench), Schwarz says that a straight board will work but that a straight board is boring. I will admit that the curve makes it look cooler. But I’ve never been very cool. So I’ll leave it as-is until I have a real reason to change it.

Auxiliary Bench: Top Halves Glued

It’s been nothing but milling and glue-ups here. I’ve got the front and rear stretchers laminated, waiting for final dimensions, and the side stretchers are also nearly complete. I tackled the big task of jointing the two halves of the top and gluing them up today:

Huh, this is not looking too much different than my past post.

As was the case with my main workbench, this was a bit more painstaking than gluing up a bunch of narrow pieces because you can’t really count on any flex from the two halves. So there was a bit of back-and-forth of checking to see if the surfaces were mating, plus the annoyance of the jointer plane’s blade being not quite wide enough to swipe the whole edge at once. Oh yeah, and I don’t think my “straightedge” is as straight as it once was. Maybe I ought to do something about that.

I still have to slap on two pieces of maple on either side. I’ll probably leave this top in its current place while I do that. That should be a lot easier, as the maple is a lot thinner and more flexible.

In any case, we’re almost ready to do some legs and essentially get this project done. How long can 12 little ol’ mortise-and-tenon joints take, anyway?

Wait… don’t answer that.

Auxiliary Bench: Lamination Station

Though I’ve done a couple of shop-oriented things, most of the work I’ve been doing in the last couple of weeks has been milling and laminating stock for the new bench/table/thing/whatever it’s supposed to be. I’ve only done a little bit at a time, but at this point, I have all four legs milled to size, and the top mostly together. The top is currently in two halves, and I glued up the second half today:

The clamp situation still stinks, but I think I’ll be able to manage getting the two halves together with what I’ve got by using single clamps midway through the thickness rather than the doubling up that I’ve been doing up until now.

There’s still a bit more to go on all of this laminating, though–I haven’t started on the stretchers yet. I’ve also nearly emptied another bottle of glue, but that comes with the territory.

Coffee Table: Finished

This project is finally done and in its intended location:

Here’s the obligatory drawer-open, from-the-side photo:

For those who haven’t been following this project, the dark wood is black walnut, the lighter wood is ash. Drawer bottoms are western redcedar, and a few other parts here and there that you can’t see are tuliptree (“yellow-poplar”). Finish is the usual varnish, and this time, I waxed the top, anticipating heavier wear than usual.

The photos here show how the panels and drawers are arranged so that each side looks like it has a continuous piece of ash, framed in. This wasn’t too bad to execute, even though the drawer fronts are a lot thicker than the panels on the sides. You just have to mark stuff out and remember where everything is. It also helps to remember what your plans were in the first place, which can admittedly be a problem when a project takes as long as this one.

Quickie: Napkin Holder

I’ve had a crazy, yet admittedly modest dream for many years: That we would start using napkins instead of paper towels (as napkins, that is), and that I would make a napkin holder for the napkins. Last week, SHMBO made the decree that napkins would now be used in our household.

I was excited. See, I had grand plans for the napkin holder, involving delicate mortise-and-tenon joints and all sorts of other nonsense. These dreams pretty much evaporated the moment I took the 1/8″ mortise chisel into the ash and realized that for what I wanted to do, it would tend to split badly.

So I sat on the sawbench for about 20 minutes and fooled around with the wood that I had milled to size, and realized that I could probably make something halfway decent relatively quickly if I just sandwiched stuff together. I ended up with this:

I was careful to make the protruding napkin width equal on the two sides and the top, for whatever that’s worth. But the thing that I’m most happy about with this project is that it happened very quickly. That’s a true rarity in these parts.

Here it is without the napkins:

Auxiliary Bench: Legs Glued, Top Pieces Ripped

So it’s come to this:

I’ve got the legs glued up (laminated) and close to final dimension, and started ripping boards for the top today. And I almost apologize for the horrible lighting in the front. One of these days, I’ll get an additional light or two for this side of the bench.

I have decided to aim for a thickness of 2.5″ (65mm or so) on the top. I do this with some trepidation; I’d prefer a little thicker, but I just don’t have the wood on hand. My main Roubo-style bench (also shown above) is about 3.5″ thick. But I figure this will be OK, because I don’t actually plan to do much handwork on this thing. I don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t use my main bench for planing, and on the off-chance that I decide to mortise or something on the new bench, I’d do it over a leg anyway.

I have not decided on the width. I was considering around 20″ (510mm or so), but I could go wider, again because this is not my main bench and the problems with wide benches will not matter on this new one.

Another note is that I will likely use a strip or two of hardwood for the front part of the bench, as I did with beech on my main bench. I have some soft maple on hand that should fit the bill.

I’m almost out of glue. I ordered more liquid hide glue, but I do not know when it will arrive, given current circumstances. If that does not ship soon, I do have a backup: hot hide glue. For now, though, I’m going to let those pieces for the top destress a little before I flatten and prepare them for face-jointing.

Auxiliary Workbench: Getting Started

With the coffee table in the finishing stage, it’s time to move on to the next thing. I haven’t quite figured out what the next furniture project will be, but I do have a fairly immediate need in the shop for something to help out with a number of tasks, including assembly, storage, and miscellaneous kinds of work.

There are a few partial solutions to this problem, including framing up a wall to add some shelves for storage, but due to current events, I don’t think I’ll be getting the help I’d prefer with the framing down there.

So I think I’m going to make another workbench, meant as an auxiliary to the Screwbo. The reasoning is that it will solve the immediate organizational problems, and then when I get around to framing the wall or something, I can move the new bench to another part of the shop, where I already know it will be useful.

To that end, I picked through my hoard today to get some wood to get the frame started:

This is southern yellow pine. I don’t have a good source of it here (apparently the closest big-box source is in Richmond), but the borg nearby has “project wood” that happens to be SYP. The catch is that, due to bad planning, it’s cut into three-and-four-foot lengths.

The length should be OK, because I’m imagining something perhaps around three and a half feet (1060mm or so) long. I haven’t decided on the benchtop thickness yet.

This will be the first “big” thing that I’ve done in SYP. I made a stand with it about a year ago and was happy the way that turned out (even if it was sort of a quickie).

In any case, it’s a fair amount of wood to mill. Time to get rolling.