Friday, October 29, 2010

The Benchmaker's Apprentice:Rails and Bench-Top

Here is the board that will be used for the top and bottom short rails and the two long rails.

After a lot of sawing, we have some rails. The short boards will be ripped down the middle to be used for the top and bottom short rails.

It took a bit of effort but I got this large piece of ash chopped in half for the bench-top. The piece was just long enough for a six foot bench. Not too shabby.

After only about four hours, I've got some jointed, planed, and square legs, pieces for the split-top, and pieces for the six rails. I'd say that's progress!

The Benchmaker's Apprentice

The Benchmaker's Apprentice--A project to build the Benchcrafted Split-Top Roubo Bench. The Benchmaker, Jameel Abraham, of course, and the Apprentice, me, John(Hunna) Abraham. I will embark on this mission with the assistance of the Benchmaker himself.

My woodworking experience does not begin here, though. Since I was six years old (I am now 16), I have been helping my uncle, Jameel, out in the shop. I also work part-time for Benchcrafted and have attended three Woodworking in America conferences and one Lie Nielsen event as an exhibitor.

But, enough about me. Over the next few weeks/months/years/centuries, however long it takes me to complete the bench, I will work almost every weekend to finish, and my trusty camera will be there the whole time to update everybody[cricket noise] on the status of the project.

After contemplating about what the bench should be made of, I decided to go with a mix of poplar and ash. The ash will be used for the bench top, leg vise leg, sliding deadman, and the deadman track. Poplar will be used for the rest of the bench and will be painted. We had some large pieces of ash laying around so the bench top material was covered, but for the poplar, I drove down to my local wood supplier and picked up these fine pieces.

Since most people work from the bottom up, at least I think that's how they built the Empire State Building, we will begin with the legs of the bench. The piece of poplar you see above is what I will be using to build the legs.

I used this old hand saw to chop this board down into 4 pieces for the legs. The saw, sharpened by Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Tool Works, cut great and went through the wood like butter.

This picture marks the beginning of a bench project, there is no turning back now.

The first rule of joining: be square, or be square... cheesy, I know.

Now that we have a couple jointed sides, lets do some planing.

After a little work, we have some dang near perfect square legs.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Fine Bench From England

Last week we received an email from customer David Barron who recently completed a joiner's bench in primed unsteamed beech, featuring the Glide Leg Vise, which he says " very nicely made and performs superbly." The bench is 56" long x 28" deep x 37" tall and weighs 280 pounds.

David builds exquisite modern English furniture with well-designed and delicately executed joinery. He trained at the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Notice the lack of any tail vise. David prefers to work with stops, and judging by the placement of holes in his top, the bench is well-suited to this type of workholding. David admits though, "I prefer this to using a tail vice, although if I did fit one it would be one of yours!"

There are a lot of folks who are impressed with well-crafted dovetails. We're no different. It takes some high skill to cut large dovetails with a flawless fit.

For more info on David's work, take a look at his website.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Project As Bench

I'm finishing up a dining table this week and it's one of the larger projects I've ever tackled. The top finished out at 120"x44"x1-5/16. I'm guessing it weighs north of 150 pounds. I don't usually write about furniture-making on this blog, but when it relates to benches and workholding, it's fair game.

This table presented some workholding issues that I'd like to address.

This top is made of five boards. The center board is about 15" wide, and the outer boards are about 9" and 7" (on each side of the center board). I glued up each outer pair, then joined each of those pairs to the center board.

Here I have one of the outer pairs (already glued up) held in an 8' Roubo bench. Notice that I'm using both the deadman and the right leg to hold a support batten with holdfasts. This board is heavy. I don't want it sliding down. The leg vise is not enough to hold this board, it's simply acting as a clamp in this case, the batten supporting most of the weight. It's important that the batten be made from softwood. This is an offcut from a pine 2x4. I don't want to damage a carefully jointed edge. Notice also that I didn't bother mounting up my sliding leg vise. I'll say it again, don't bother with a sliding leg vise. They are totally unnecessary. In fact, in this instance it would be very difficult to mount this board with two leg vises. You'd have to lift the entire board into the air to get it in the jaws. With the batten arrangement, you rest the board on it then slide it into the leg vise from the side. It's stress-free and virtually risk free. And you don't need to side-step around the sliding vise when jointing the edge. So if you're thinking of building a sliding leg vise I say don't waste your time and money. Build a massive deadman instead. Mine is just under 3" thick.

So now I have the center board in the vise and one of the outer assemblies on the bench top. I joint the edge of the latter as well as I can (I'm not fitting it to a mating edge), and stage it on the benchtop. The center board in the vise is then jointed until the edge is square and I get continuous shavings from one end to the other. Then the first test is done. I carefully lift the side assembly onto the center board and test the joint. I then adjust only the board in the vise if the joint needs work. I don't touch the board on the bench again. That way I'm fitting a fixed surface (the edge of the board on the bench) to a changeable surface (the edge of the board in the vise). This workholding arrangement works for me. The sizes of these boards is just about my physical limit though. Moving boards of this size without damage the joint's arris takes diligence.

At some point a workpiece becomes large enough that a bench becomes almost unnecessary. The board itself is massive enough to stay put on its own. It simply needs a basic stop to resist planing forces. To stabilize the board, I clamp a handscrew to the bottom edge, then clamp the handscrew to the leg of one of my low horses.

To resist planing forces I drive a nail right into my floor in front of the horse. If you have concrete floors in your woodshop, start saving for wood right now.

The low horses also allow wider assemblies to come together with greater ease. A low bench here is not as versatile. You want an interrupted surface here, for clamping access, and for hand access. I also like to fit these joints with the boards vertical. The weight of the boards allows you to detect minute twist in the edge and correct for it quite easily with a sharp jointer plane. Try tweaking the fit of edges this size on a power jointer. I can't do it. I like to be able to control the joint fit by a thousandth or so at a time. I think it's important on boards and joints of this size. You could draw a sprung joint together with clamping pressure, but why try to build in compensation for a less-than-ideal joint when you can dial it in with precision? I figure if the boards sits dead flat and light-tight (I sight along the joint and look for light from the window behind the joint) you can't get a better glue bond. I don't like to build stress into joints (unless it's specifically designed for it, like a drawbored tenon).

Bottom line. You don't need a bench to make a top this size.

For those still reading, I'll post some pics of the finished table soon.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Whirlwind That Was WIA

I don't know about the other exhibitors that attended WIA this year, but for us, it came and went in a blink. The friend's we've made over the past couple years at this event has made us look forward to participating every year. But there is one drawback to this event. There just isn't time for us toolmakers to catch up from the previous year. I can't speak for other makers, but talking tools with others of like mind has a way of turning the cognitive gears like nothing else. We always come away from WIA with new ideas and enthusiasm. I can't let the cat out of the bag quite yet, but I did meet one very interesting individual at WIA that I'm quite excited to be working with. More on that in the hopefully near future. And it helps that the the small makers that attend WIA all get along with each other, and in most cases, openly recommend each other's products. To those friends who we enjoy seeing at this event, nice seeing you again, and we look forward to doing it again next year. We did manage to get away for a few moments with the camera.

Click HERE for full-size slideshow

Monday, October 4, 2010

WIA Bird's Eye Maple Box

We got several comments this past weekend at WIA about the bird's-eye maple box we were using to hold brochures on our Shaker-style bench. Several folks requested pictures. So here they are.

I built this box this summer to house some moulding planes I bought from M.S. Bickford. 

It's loosely modeled after the School Box from "The Joiner and Cabinetmaker".

The handles, hinges, lock and escutcheon were all purchased from Horton Brasses.

The lid stay is a leather strap fastened with a couple extra screws that came with the handles.