When I started working on a bench design, I was all in on Roy Underhill’s french bench that I saw on the Woodwright’s shop and in his book The Woodwright’s Apprentice.  For those of you that have never seen this, here is part I of that episode.

I was totally sucked in by the angled legs and the awesome sliding dovetails.  But this bench was solving a problem I really didn’t have.  It was designed to use a “smaller” solid benchtop when compared to the traditional Roubo-style bench.  I was planning on laminating my top, so my benchtop was limited only by my ability to move the glue-up around.  Before I recognized this, though, I went ahead and laminated up a top.  This was also before I was really committed to handplanes and before I had my dewalt thickness planer.  That glue-up was done with the “as-ripped” boards.  It turned out OK, at best. Here’s an end pic of that top


These are ripped down 2X6’s and kinda knotty.  You can see gaps where the cup in the boards prevented me from clamping them completely closed.  But it will work.  I glued up the second split top using sections I ripped from a 2X12 and ran through the thickness planer.  This top is significantly better than the first one. Both in terms of the quality of the wood and the quality of the layup.  After gluing them up, I flattened one side with my jack and jointer and then ran them through my thickness planer.  That was fun.  Really.


Drawboring and Bolting

Working on a large workbench in inconsistent 2 hour periods at night is a sure-fire way to make slow progress on big projects.  In the last post I got the base together.  It’s now drawbored and bolted.  Here some glamour shots of the drawboring and the bed-bolt arrangement I went with

One thing that I failed to realize is that I should have made the oak pegs oversize for the 3/8 hole I drilled.  The pegs tend to twist and bend as they are driven home and open up little spaces at the edges of the holes.  I followed the PW guide on drawboring here, but neglected the pin shaping suggestions (other than adding a taper).  They look OK.  The end units are crazy solid.

I then drilled the counterbores for the washers with a forstner (same one I used for the mortises) and used the center point of the counterbore as a starting point to sink a 1/2 hole as far into the stretcher as I could.  I then disassembled the frame and drilled the stretcher as deep as I could with my existing bit.  If I had access to a drill press, I would have drilled the leg holes with the press to make sure that they were vertical and then used those holes to freehand the stretchers.  As it was, all the holes were a little angled, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Once these were drilled, I used the forstner to drill the crossbores and used a chisel to square up the resulting hole.  Everything pulled together at that point and is super solid.  The bolts were 8 inch long 3/8 bolts from the home center.  Next up, gluing up the tops and flattening them.

Progress & Dowel Plates

Augering through this, so to speak.   I am clocking about 30 minutes per mortise at this point, however things sped up a lot when I remembered that I had a 1 1/4-in chisel floating around my tool chest.  I also ditched the spur auger and switched to a forstner bit in my 1/2 in drill.  I didn’t think you would be able to use a forstner in a hand-held drill.  But you can.  Here is the base all dry fit and looking ready to go.


Now that the mortises are chopped and the tenons fit, I’m moving to drawbore the joints on the two leg modules.  Since the 3/8 dowel stock at the home center is not 3/8 in diameter, I bought 1/2 in rods and pounded them through my home-made dowel plate.  I made this out of a scrap piece of 1/4 steel I had lying around.  I add a little bit of relief by back drilling with a slightly larger drill after I drill the correct size through the plate.

Here I’m drilling through the plate.  I sized the holes in 1/16 increments from 9/16 down to 1/4.  I had used the 1/4 before for pegging the breadboard ends of the dutch tool chest.  After each hole is drilled, I flipped the plate, used the bit to center the milling machine in the hole, and then swapped out for a larger drill.  For the 5/16 hole I used a P drill, which is a little over 0.01 oversize and I kept that general rule for the rest of the holes.  The exact dimension probably isn’t import, you just need enough clearance to let the dowel drop through without a lot of effort.  I chose the 0.01 oversize because I could easily see the ridge that the drill leaves.  Here’s a shot of the ridge after the back drilling (which really isn’t an actual term, but I think it’s pretty descriptive).  If you look closely you can see a small ridge in the hole.  That gives me the clearance that I’m looking for.


This process is really easy in a bridgeport mill.  You can do it in a drill press, just make sure that you have a vise and then shift the vise around to line up the holes.  Then lock the vise down to the table and drill on!   You have to be careful because the drill will want to grab and pull itself into the hole.  You can easily drill all the way through if you’re not on your toes.

Workbench Build

After looking around the internet and reading a couple of books, I decided to go with a modification of the benchcrafted split top roubo.  Here is a, very basic, sketchup rendering of where I am headed.


I didn’t go with the leg vise because I have the face vise hardware from the old bench, so we’ll try a hybrid approach.  The benchcrafted design has the long stretcher bolts going through the side tenons.  I moved the long stretchers up because boring a hole through the tenon made me feel like I was removing too much wood in the leg.  The arrangement above gives me about 6 inches of clear space under the long stretchers and 3 inches under the short stretchers. Having the short stretchers lower should allow me to store my lathe under the bench.

I started out by gluing up and then squaring up the legs

That’s nearly every clamp I own.  One observation from this process, cheap bar clamps are horrible.  They twist when you clamp down and you spend an enormous amount of time shifting everything around.  I am putting some quality parallel clamps on my christmas list this year.

I squared up the legs by first traversing the reference side of the legs using a jack plane and then followed up with a jointer plane. Incidentally, Chris Schwarz described the same traversing process that I used on the legs just a day or two later on his blog here when starting his roman workbench build.  I then ran the legs through my surface planer to get the other side level and to make all the legs the same thickness (height?).  I left the legs long.

That part was actually kinda fun.  Mortising the stretchers has not been fun.

I am currently augering out most of the mortise and then chopping the waste.  This is sweaty work, but it is coming out ok. I have found that it’s better to drill a couple of smaller holes and start chopping rather than trying to drill the biggest hole possible.  I tend to not keep the far edge of the mortise square when chopping.  Hopefully I’ll get better.  One side and 4 mortises done.  12 more to go.



This is the first workbench that I built.

I wish I had better photos, but I think this captures the important points.  That’s a face vise on the far left.  I am right handed.  Stupid.  The top twisted almost immediately and because of how I built it, I couldn’t flatten it enough without throwing everything out of wack.  Worst of all, the thing was light, flexy, and tall.  Not a good combination.  I didn’t enjoy working with it, so it sat unused.

Tonight I started ripping yellow pine for a split top, Roubo-like bench.  How many 8-foot rips can you get from a single battery charge on a cordless circular saw?  About 2.5.


30 (or 13) Days of Dovetails

Before I started in on the Dutch Tool Chest build, I tried out the thirty days of dovetails challenge.  I got to 13 before I gave up.  The last six of those were on the DTC and lower chest, so they’re not really in the spirit of the challenge.  But I managed to go from my very first dovetail to “acceptable” quickly.  Here’s a picture of my first (ever) dovetail and the one from six days later.


The first one, on the left, is only holding together because I glued it.  The seventh one is what made me move on to building the DTC.  All told it took about 3 hours of practice to get to a point where I felt like I could build something.  So I did.

Here are the bottom dovetails on my DTC and two corners on the bottom chest.  The DTC bottom are definitely “carpenters dovetails” since the pins and tails are pretty much the same width.  Not that attractive, but I painted them so they’re hard to see.

No part of this was hard.  Some of it was annoying, like learning to not slam my chisel through the base of a tail or a pin as I was clearing out the waste and having to endlessly plane the end grain so that it was square.  The most important thing I learned during the dovetail challenge is that the baseline is everything.  Take care to cut a clean, flat baseline and the joint will look fantastic.  Cutting the pins and tails so that they close up cleanly is not actually that hard.  Getting the baseline to be consistent and tight is what I still struggle with.

The Bar

Like all bad ideas, this blog started with alcohol.  Not directly from alcohol, but as a result of wanting to store alcohol in an attractive manner.  I was looking for some sort of desk top bar that I could put in my home office.  Something small, attractive, and wouldn’t scream “alcoholic” at a chance glance. I found this “campaign style bar” that was awesome looking and was pretty much exactly what I thought I needed.  Then I looked at the price. Nope.   My wife is understanding, but not that understanding.


I am a mechanical engineer in real life and the first thing that all mechanical engineers say about anything they want is “I can build that.”  So I hit google and started looking for campaign furniture plans.

That led me straight to Lost Art Press.  Chris Schwarz’s book Campaign Furniture showed up in my mailbox a few days later and I was hooked.  I put a bunch of LAP books on my wish list and I got the Anarchist’s Tool Chest for Christmas that same year.  That book blew away a lot of my accumulated thoughts about building and craftsmanship.  I already consider myself a person who is intimately involved in making stuff.  I design and build on a daily basis as an Engineer and I had a tendency to translate that approach to all things that I build.  I can design things in CAD that have no reliance on my own personal skill in fabrication.  I do get satisfaction in a well thought-out design, but the final product is somewhat hollow since I usually had no direct involvement in the actual fabrication.

To fill that gap, I have always built stuff in my garage.  This need to build, as Schwarz talks about in ATC, may be genetic. My dad is an Engineer and as a kid we were always in the middle of a project.  Car restorations, docks, decks, barns, pretty much anything you can image, except furniture. That was the one thing that we always discussed but never did.  I did build a TV stand out of plywood and pre-sized red oak from the big box store once.

ATC and other books, Robert Wearing’s book in particular, have caused me to want to build furniture.  So this blog is going to let me catalog my progress, or lack thereof, and give me a publically accountable outlet for my work.  I also write a lot as an Engineer, but none of it happens in a more free-form way for a wider public audience.  This blog is also a way for me to practice that craft as well.  Like all good (wannabe) joiners my first real project was a tool chest.  Because of space limitations I built the small Dutch Tool Chest.  This chest represents a bunch of firsts for me, my first dovetails, hinge fitting, tongue and grooving, panel glue ups, and breadboards.  I learned a lot and everytime I use it I simply feel happy. My red, rolling tool chest doesn’t make me feel that way.