While building whatever it is that I’ve been building up until now, I’ve always had this feeling in the back of my head that I’ve been ignoring a type of construction that might be pretty useful. And this sort of hit home when I read through The Anarchist’s Design Book recently. I have to admit that I’ve always found the idea of round tapered tenons to be a little dodgy-sounding, but I didn’t have much faith in my reasoning. This kind of joinery is the basis for many kinds of chairs that seem to hold up just fine. When a lot of real-world evidence contradicts you, it’s probably not good idea to try to bend your mind to ignore that reality.
In the book, it doesn’t look all that complicated. I got to thinking, “Well, I could do that.” I ordered a tapered tenon cutter, a reamer, and picked up a piece of 8/4 red oak from the lumberyard. It was at least worth trying the first project in the book, the staked sawbench. I’ve been wanting to build a second sawbench for a while now, so what did I have to lose?
I started by gluing up the top of the sawbench (you’ll see that later), then worked on the legs. I picked the worst part of the board for the legs, saving the nice straight stuff for other projects. It seemed that, once dimensioned square, I’d want a reasonable way to get an octagonal profile, so I first tried to tack a leftover from the sliding deadman track onto an old sticking board to get some sort of channel for the leg to rest in:
But it wasn’t great. The leg tended to slip off of the sloped edge. I decided that it was worth making something better than this 5-minute hack.
I came up with a new sticking board-like thing with a proper channel (what are these things called?):
Simply put, this worked far better. The end is held in place with one dog that also serves as a stop for the work:
This is easy to do when you have round dog holes; you just bore a hole in the far end of the board to accept the dog. I clamped the whole thing in place on the other side with the tail vise.
I can use this for holding cylindrical stuff as well, but there’s one more advantage to this. Notice how the side is flush? This means that I can also use it in my bandsaw:
Since we’re hand-tool oriented here, we won’t dive deeper, but it should be clear enough that you can use the bandsaw to quickly rough out the profile, then move the whole mess over to the bench and finish it off with planes.
With the legs profiled, it was time to get them shaped at one end in order to use the tenon cutter. This was new territory; I decided to start with a drawknife that I’ve had for some time but never really had much use for:
The tenon cutter could almost fit at this point, but it still needed some rough shaping and I’m not confident enough with the drawknife to go too crazy. This is the point where I turned to my Shinto saw rasp, which turned out to be just the right thing.
I got the first one made in spite of going at it blind (other than seeing it in the book):
Getting the tenon straight was a little disconcerting (you can test it by putting it in a reamed hole and turning; if it wobbles around, it’s not straight). I eventually found that if you hold the tenon cutter in a vise or clamp or something, you can get pretty good results by holding the leg from the other end and turn, like you would a pencil sharpener. This works because you’re keeping a steady angle. You might find that the leg can want to shift to a different spot as you’re starting out. Let it do so; it’s shifting to the center.
I need to do more experimentation on the best way to keep the tenon cutter fixed and getting a stake to line up more easily at the beginning. I also found that if you rub a little wax on the tenon before you start, it makes for a lot easier job (and a lot less noisy). But the good news is that making the tenons got a lot faster as I got used to it.
Then it was off to reaming the mortises, which I’ve also never done before. I started by clamping the top to my first sawbench with some standoffs, then using a regular auger bit with the “sliding bevel resultant angle” method to bore the initial hole. Then it was off to reaming in much the same way:
This process, like the tenons, takes a little bit getting used to, but gets much faster as you get accustomed to it.
I’m not sure about that reamer. In the preceding photo, I’m using a 12-inch sweep brace, but the shank of the reamer is pretty soft and gets dinged up, and the chuck on this brace doesn’t hold it that well. I switched to a brace with a Millers Falls “Lion” chuck, which is better, but I’m still not thrilled with it. This reamer is really meant for power drills. For hand braces, especially this big one, something with a traditional square-taper shank would put my mind more at ease. I wonder if the power tenon brace adapter that Lee Valley sells is the right size.
In any case, I had the test fit ready in what seemed like no time:
Yes, Roubo would have a fit at the way I put the heart of the tree on the inside for the one edge of the top, but Roubo didn’t have southern yellow pine. This would be a disaster with, say, beech, but SYP is far more stable, and I did it this way to make the grain directions align in a certain way.
At this point, I decided to just jump off the deep end and glue it up right away. I could have planned ahead a bit better there. I decided that I would use a chisel to split the tops of the tenons to accept a wedge, so I didn’t put a kerf in there, but it didn’t dawn on me that I would need to bang the wedges in at the same time that I glued the legs in place… until I reread the book a little more closely. I didn’t even have wedges made, so there was a mad rush to make some wedges and pound them in.
So I don’t have any photos of that process. But I do have a finished sawbench now:
The hardest part, I think, was finding some way to hold the legs while sawing them to final length. I ended up clamping them to the end of my bench, but in retrospect, I might have done better by just clamping them to my original sawbench.
This seems to have gone OK, especially for the first time through. I really had no idea what I was doing here. The legs really line up well. It looks decent. I was especially happy about how quickly it went together. Really, this was just a few hours in the shop for a couple of days. Best of all, it seems to work, which should be a really big help when cutting down those really long boards.
With this behind me, I feel like perhaps I might be capable of making a chair one day. But there are other things requiring my attention in the immediate future.