Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Do Our Workbench Designs Say About Us?

Mine says I'm bottom-heavy.

But really, it's more than that. Our benches are often a reflection of our personalities.

Maybe you used reclaimed lumber because you're concerned about wasting our natural resources. Maybe your bench is basic and functional because it's a tool, not a piece of furniture.

We've all seen workbenches that are so beautiful we'd be afraid to work on them.  Or, heavily used, well-loved benches handed down from generation to generation.

This is an old 18th- or 19th-century
 French workbbench I saw in an
 antique store. 
Early woodworkers didn't have the leisure time that we do, so they built their benches to fit their needs, not necessarily their desires.

And yet, I have seen antique benches with a bit of flair added to them, much as you might see in old wooden planes that sport a bit of chip carving.

My bench will be solid, sturdy, and practical, but will have some decorative elements. However, the biggest thing it will reveal about my personality is that I always try my hardest, but fully embrace imperfection. I'm leaving the dents and dings and gaps alone. I'll even point them out to people.

My personality is exactly the same. What you see is what you get; I don't hide a thing.

During this community bench-build, I'm seeing woodworkers personalize their workbenches even if they're working from a set of plans. I think that's a big part of why we love to see others' benches. It says something about the builder.

So, what does your bench style say about you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Roubo Stretchers

This is not glued up yet.
Just checking the fit.

After fitting all four legs to the two top boards, I set my sights on the stretchers.

Each of the two end assemblies will be made up of two legs and two short stretchers.  The pieces will be fox wedged, glued, and pinned with dowels.  I don't want these guys to come apart.

The long stretchers will be connected to the end assemblies with tusk tenons which might wiggle loose after a lot of handplaning, so I want to be sure the end assemblies are rigid.

I took a page from Chris Schwarz' Workbench Design Book to determine the location of the stretchers. First, I rested the top boards and legs upside-down on a work surface. Then I cut support boards to equal length, clamped them to the legs, and took turns laying each of the stretchers on top of them. This ensured that the stretchers were parallel to the top and enabled me to mark their location on the legs.

After that, I laid out and chopped the mortises, cut the matching tenons, and fit one end assembly together. I'll cut and fit the other assembly and then start working on the long stretchers.

I'm still calling this a transportable bench even though the end assemblies require one large man who works out on a regular basis or two middle-aged ladies to lift them.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

1923 Swedish Cooper Video

Here is a link to a very enjoyable film of two Swedish Coopers in 1923.

Looks like they're using mainly homemade tools. The different knives and shaves are particularly interesting, as is the "clog vise."

Kinda neat to think that the older man was probably born around 1855.

As always, if anyone finds links to vintage films like this, please let me know.  I just love them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Just Do It

Years ago I was asked to be liturgist during a church service. That meant getting up in front of the congregation of 200 and reading passages from the bible.

Besides running a lathe, public speaking is probably the only thing I'm afraid of. Oh, and spiders.

When I mentioned my anxiety about getting up in front of the congregation to my parents, my Dad said, "Bulls**t, get your *ss up there and do it."

Dad's not the best motivational guru but I did what he said, didn't trip on my way to pulpit, didn't faint, and lived to read another day.

What's this have to do with Get Woodworking Week?

I've noticed how often we delay starting a project because we're afraid we'll mess up, waste wood, make something that's not fit for show, won't know what we're doing, etc, etc., especially if we're planning to do something we've never done before.

This can be a roadblock, particularly for new woodworkers.

My advice is to just do it. Jump right in. Find a project in a magazine that spells out the details and start building.

One of my very first projects.
And I'm proud to show it.
As Chuck Bender said at a recent SAPFM meeting: woodworkers are afflicted with paralysis by analysis. Because of this and for other reasons, Chuck has started an online program to help woodworkers get moving.

And once you build your first couple projects, be proud of them. They represent the beginning of your exciting adventure in woodworking. The first project I made (which I no longer have because someone in the house pitched it) was a few small pieces of wood tacked together to form a box, and a scrollsawn cactus, painted with crazy southwestern designs, glued on the front.

Be fearless.

It's what I'm going to tell myself when I stand up in front of a group of strangers in April to give a presentation at a local museum.

And if you need more words of encouragement to get started woodworking, I'll be glad to give you my Dad's number.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Roubo Design

A few people have asked about the two boards that make up the top of my workbench. Here is my design so you can see what it will look like.

I do not plan to glue the two boards together. That way, I can more easily remove the top by myself when I need to take the bench on the road.

Half a bench or skinny hall table?
You decide.
The two boards will be separated by about an eighth inch gap. Because it's winter (low humidity), I'll keep an eye on the space, and as we approach Pennsylvania's 75% summertime humidity—and the boards expand like my waistband at Christmastime—I can shave off some wood in between the two.

The boards will be supported by upper stretchers on the end assemblies. I'm hoping that with each board pinned to two legs and supported by the short stretchers, it will keep the top stable. If they slide at all, I'll need join the two boards with something that still allows them to be separated for disassembly.

The long lower stretchers will be tusk tenons so they can be removed. Both sets of short stretchers, upper and lower, will be mortised and glued into the legs.
Tenon/dovetail number two.

I plan to build a separate tool box that will sit on cleats that are attached to the lower stretchers.

I may or may not build a sliding deadman. It might not be necessary because the bench is so small, but it adds a coolness factor. And I'm all about aesthetics.

The leg chop will reflect my love of all things Pennsylvania German. I may tweak the design once I get to that part of the build but you can bet that it will have curves.
Transferring marks from one board to
the other. Pictured are the undersides
of the workbench top.

I'm fitting the third leg right now. Tenon/dovetail number two fits really well and took less than half the time. I sped up my time once I stopped paring like a girl.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fitting the Legs

After countless hours of chopping and paring, testing and tweaking, I finally got one of the legs to fit into the top of my workbench.

The next three should go a little more quickly because I learned something very important: trust my layout lines.

Rather than sneaking up on the lines and testing the fit of these very heavy boards along the way, I'm going to cut right to them.

Because these legs will need to be removed on occasion, I left a sliver of a gap between the tenons and mortises. I also rounded over the sharp corners of the front of the dovetail slot. Otherwise, they're too fragile and would chip.

The joint slides together easily. This being winter with low humidity, I expect that they'll be a little tighter when the weather gets warmer. Nothing a little paraffin wax...or more paring...can't handle.

When all the legs are fitted, I'll trim the tops so they're flush with the benchtop.

This is a more difficult build than I had expected but it's a great learning experience.

And that's what it's all about after all.