It may seem odd to start a blog with a workbench, but to anyone who has done much work with hand tools the necessity of a good stable bench is obvious. After years of Ebay sniping and Flea Market picking I had about all the antique tools a man could want, (ok so obviously we can never have enough right?) but every tool must wait in rapt anticipation until it could sail across that nice flatish expanse of solid wood and accomplish its varied goal, to cut, score, groove, or smooth.
I in picking the style of bench I had several goals to achieve. Basically I wanted a bench that was not too heavy to move around, used no glue or metal fasteners to hold her together, and I wanted to do it all with hand tools. The so named “little French Bench” from Roy Underhill’s latest book fit all these prerequisites and looked quite nice to boot, so I basically copied it, save a few alterations I will touch on as we go.
My local hardwood dealer was able to sell me an expanse of rough sawn 12/4 maple for about 200 dollars, and I was able to get all the legs top, stretchers, and vise chop out of this 10X15 foot slab.
As with many projects everything started with my favorite saw, “Bertha” a Disston no.7 with 4 ½ TPI. Bertha has one heck of an appetite and positively devours wood, but even so going through the 12/4 maple was slow sweaty work. After about 3 hours I had all the ripping done and a serious bicep cramp in both arms. The more hand work I do the more I see the true underrated advantage to ambidextrous training, and ripping is a prime example.
Ripping was followed with a marathon of “Six side squaring” using my Millers falls No 11 set up as a fore plane and Stanley No 5 set up as a panel, smoothing, try plane (uncambered blade with ears taken off set very fine) Cherry Winding sticks/straight edges help quite a bit, especially on the longer pieces.
After a bit of head scratching trying to wrap my brain around Roy’s Rising dovetail and back leg splay, I decided to just jump right in and see if I could swim. Ideally a few practice runs on scrap would have been in order, but somehow I lucked out and they worked out ok, not perfect but darn close enough for a bench. Roy had a 32″ high bench with legs splayed out 1:4 so from a 10″ slab out to 18″ of leg base spread…Well maybe my back is not right after too many humps in the Corps, but a 32″ height is even painful to look at. So I decided on a 38″ bench height and a 24″ spread on the back legs, so my splay angle looked more like 1.5:4 I think, or was it 2:4? Must start a log to keep track of these things, at least for posterities sake!
I found boring out the back leg mortise and following with a chisel the easiest method for me, reminded me a bit of chiseling out a plane throat. I found a heavy 2″ framing chisel a great asset as we are nearly timber framing with these size joints anyway.
After a few long days in the Texas heat (103) Ive got the legs in their respective mortises and Larry the Lizard stopped by to give his approval and gulp a grasshopper nearly half his length down…puts things in perspective? Please stay tuned for next installment as I get the stretchers and bottom shelf put together with the help of some nice old joinery planes.