The bang of mallet and chisel has ceased.
Twenty four weary men have rested.
Jefferson's seedlings have returned home.
Last week we wrapped up the French Oak Roubo Project at Wyatt Child's shop in Barnesville Georgia. Five days of grueling work (seven for some) in the Georgia heat and humidity have produced sixteen French oak Plate 11-style benches, and various stages of completion, and one extraordinary bench weighing over half a ton.
Perhaps ironically, my laptop could not handle the photographic data I was amassing, much like the men working the giant timbers, who at the end of each day groaned and moaned their way back to their quarters, hoping (not really) for a reprieve from their labor.
So in true L'art du Menuisier fashion, prepare yourself for a massive tome of blog.
July 13, 2013
A couple days before the official start, myself, Ron Brese, Jon Fiant, Raney Nelson and Don Williams arrived in Barnesville to get a head start on sorting and breaking down the slabs of French Oak.
A 20 foot boule of 24/4 French oak. The flitches measure 36" wide.
Raney Nelson of Daed Toolworks getting a closer look at the first slab.
Jon Fiant breaking down one of the slabs into 10' benchtops.
Bo Childs oiling down the Woodmizer mill.
Bo at the Woodmizer control station.
Each slab was ripped of its wane. Some of the slabs were also ripped along the longer end checks to stabilize the top.
Don Williams checking the width of a slab.
Late in the day, after we'd broken down about fifteen benches worth of top slabs, Bo turns to me and asks,
"How long can you make a Roubo bench?"
I reply: "I suppose as long as you want".
I had thought for a moment that Bo was simply keeping in line with his love of disproportionately large machinery. Then Bo began to explain. In his millwork and joinery shop Bo specializes in hand-scrape and hand-planed architectural elements. Box beams and especially flooring. Bo needed a sturdy bench with the capacity to handle 14' boards, capable of accommodating two joiners (one on either side of the bench) swapping out boards in rapid succession with a minimum of workholding devices. Scraping thousands of feet of flooring means the worker doesn't have time to fuss with vises. Nor are they necessary in this context. This was to be a true 18th century-style production-oriented partner's bench. As soon as Bo explained himself, and his real-world need for such a bench, I immediately began designing the bench in my mind. The fact that Bo was building a real tool, and not some sideshow freak bench, was extremely compelling.
We decided that Bo's bench needed to be 16' long. Here's Raney cutting the leg stock from the end of Bo's 16' top slab.
Planning the first cut on Bo's top.
The first cut.
Bo's friend Don and three of Bo's bench legs.
By the end of Saturday, we had 16 normal-size tops roughed out, and perhaps the largest Plate-11 bench in the works.
July 14, 2013
Sunday morning we prepped leg and chop stock (4" in the rough), then quickly moved to setting up the shop for Sunday evening's pre-build conclave.
Everyone's leg vises (Lake Erie Toolworks) and iron hardware (Peter Ross) were laid out on Bo's benchtop. Also included in the welcome package was an excerpt from the second volume of "To Make As Perfectly As Possible" : the text and details from Plate 11, translated by the Lost Art Press team and smartly printed on parchment cardstock. A hand-cast Roubo-bench apron hook was also presented to each participant.
After a brief welcome speech, the floor was turned over to Chris Schwarz, who delivered his talk "From Rocks to Roubo" detailing the history of workbenches from ancient Egypt to the late 18th century.
July 15, 2013
Steve Quehl of Woodcraft Atlanta, Roger and Don cutting 4x7 leg billets to length. After leg #18, I looked over to see Steve blowing frantically on the Dewalt chop saw motor. It wasn't the only smoke we'd make during the build.
Tops were flattened in one shot on the Oliver 36" Straitoplane. Only a couple slabs required another pass. We had all the tops ready for joinery by lunch.
Allen, Raney and Will Myers moving a top into position for the Straitoplane.
The exit side of Mr. Oliver.
Some of the tops sported spectacular ray fleck.
Will and Justin manhandling Bo's top into the shop.
Roger trying to take flight from Bo's top.
Chris and Krishen feeding the Northfield surface planer.
John, Raney and Brad handling outfeed duties.
Bo, Raney and Will getting the big top into position.
This was going to take more than three men.
As parts exited the Straitoplane, they were moved into the adjacent shop where the handwork would take place.
Group effort. Everyone's bench had a little of everyone in it. It was a great event full of comraderie and cooperation. Gluing up Niels' top with Chris, Brad, and Niels.
July 16, 2013
On Wednesday I got to work in earnest on Bo's bench. I made the decision early on that I would focus not on my own bench, but instead try to get as much done on Bo's as possible. I didn't want to leave Barnesville without seeing it together. Bo's legs did not get tapped up at Lake Erie Toolworks, so we cut the nuts from two normal legs, and dovetailed them into Bo's. For a few hours, among all the participants, I had the largest...desire to see this bench completed by the end of Friday.
Allan and his son Neal worked together on their bench all week. It was fun to watch.
All the legs were mortised in short order thanks to an pneumatically-controlled hollow chisel mortiser.
This guy seemed to really enjoy using the machine.
Jeff and I counted the growth rings on this slab. We stopped when we got to the war of 1812.
Bo tweaking the floor of one of his nut mortises.
Bo's iphone checks the joinery.