Those of you who follow me on the twitterbook know that I recently rearranged my workshop. I think it’s really great, especially now that my main workbench is under a window (south facing as it may be). And you may notice something about the main workbench itself: it’s a forest green Moravian knock down! Albeit a split-top variety.
With the new workbench rotating in, my eight foot Nicholson shifted against the wall where my tool chest used to live and my clamp racks still do. And my sharpening station is not on the right end of that bench, with the old sharpening station (a 4-foot Paul Seller’s workbench clone) having moved to another home. I still use the leg vise from time to time, because I love the foot-operated cog and screw parallel guide just so much. The Moravian workbench has a pinboard, which is fine but much less convenient (more on that in the future).
All in all, the new arrangement improves the flow of the workshop and the room actually feels bigger despite having another 4 square feet of overall workbench footprint (it’s a 13.5′ x 12.5′ bedroom, btw).
I need to work with the Moravian workbench for a few more months to get a better sense of how it fits my workflow.
Many moons ago, although surprisingly still in pandemic times, I made a small sitting bench out of scrap pine (Eastern White Pine for the top and Red Pine for the legs) that used angled, rectilinear tenons and a cross-rail on each end. After watching Grandpa Amu make a new workbench several times, this was an experiment and study in how these sorts of angled tenons work. The legs splay out at 10 degree (ish) angles, but have no rake. At the time, that seemed to me a good first step and was actually doable without any guides or other jigs. Just a chisel and a bevel gauge and some caution.
Shortly after that, I took a six foot piece of 8″ wide clear vertical grain douglas fir that was languishing in the lumber pile and turned it into slab top and four square legs for the next part of the experiment. Which then sat, leaned up against the wall, for almost a year. But the spirit moved me this weekend and I got back to it. For this piece, the legs would have both splay and rake (both at around 10 degrees). And it’s worked out nicely (and not just because CVG douglas fir is very handtool friendly).
Shortly after the original experiment, I made a couple of test mortises (also in Eastern White Pine) using the same technique as the first bench (freehand with only a bevel gauge to assist). They didn’t come out great, with the bottom of the mortise (on the underside) being wider than the top. This led to inconsistent leg angles that couldn’t be wholly attributed to the softness of the EWP top.
So what I did instead was cut a few angle guides from squared up 2×4 (more on that in a future post). That way, I could freehand close to the lines and then, in a final paring cut using the guides, get the angles dead on. At least within appropriate tolerances for a piece of furniture. I’m no machinist, after all.
So was it strictly necessary to go through all this fuss to make the angles perfect? Probably not. I’ve already drilled the peg holes into the top and this will live as a saw bench in my shop (replacing a pair that are about 6 years old and wearing out quickly). It didn’t need to be perfect.
But if I were to use a joint like this in a proper piece of furniture, I think the angle paring guides are the way to go. Could I eventually get good enough freehanding to not need the guides as a crutch. Sure. But that’s a lot of work and, in my view, if a simple jig works, it’s worth using.
And, for now, I’ll gladly use whatever help I can get.
Over the last year and change, I’ve been experimenting with the Moravian Workbench form popularized by Will Myers. I’ve watched the first three and a half hours of the instructional video probably 15 times. Every time, right up to when the top gets attached via blind-pegged dowels.
But up until now, I haven’t paid much attention to the leg vise assembly, because the previous benches I’ve made for others haven’t included leg vises. For the final version, though (the one I will keep), I’ve got to push through the rest of the video and figure out exactly how that part of the bench is made and works.
This particular version is 73″ long (i.e., 3″ shorter than the source material) and 24″ deep. But instead of a single slab and a tool tray, mine has two 12/4 ash slabs at 11.25″ wide each. The gap in the middle will eventually be bridged with a tool removable tool rack.
The legs and long stretchers are poplar. Along with the slabs, the short stretchers and the wedges are ash. Ash is my favorite wood, with poplar close behind. Both are cheap and readily available, making them perfect for workbenches. And, other than the slabs (which came from a single board) were already in my lumber pile.
Having made three of them now, I have some thoughts on the form and process of the main bench.
While the legs themselves are sawn from solid 16/4 poplar stock, the long stretchers are laminated from three 5/4 poplar boards. I did it this way in the douglas fir experimental version and found this easier than sawing and paring the tenons (like I did for the more accurate version I made recently).
Also, I nixed dovetailing the lower stretcher and just mortised it in with drawbored pegs. I’ve always thought the dovetailed lower stretcher on the source version must have been added later, when it became clear the leg assemblies weren’t rigid enough without them. I may be biased, but why use a lapped dovetail for only this joint when you’re otherwise using square mortises? Because you done F’d up and needed to fix a design flaw. That, or the maker just got sick of mortises and changed it up. Which I also understand.
Oh, and I painted the undercarriage forest green. Which then made the tenons too thick and I had to widen the mortises. Sweet, sweet irony.
And, with that, it’s back to making the vise assembly. I’ve procrastinated long enough. And I have just the board for both the backer board and the chop. An 8/4 ash board that’s been acclimating to my shop for almost 4 years. It’s almost too perfect.
But every board, in the end, gets sawn up. No matter how perfect the board is.
This is something I’ve wanted to post for a while, but I’ve been concerned it would come off as snooty or elitist. But I’ve finally got the nerve and here is is:
Am I the only one who takes to heart that the face mark (from the Latin: facies) denoting the reference face of a board (i.e., a tried and trued surface) should be written like the top half of a cursive, lower case “f“?
Maybe I’m just an elitist prick, but the rando squiggles you see in some woodworking media infuriate me. In fact, I’m not sure which is worse: the rando curly cue that doesn’t even make it to the reference edge or the backwards (!) “f” that is otherwise correct.
Is there some pre-Industrial French spelling convention I’m not aware of that F’s are written backward when not accompanied by a vowel with an accent grav or something?
There seems to be near unanimity in the woodworking community that use of anything other than traditional marriage marks should be discouraged because it can lead to assembly errors, so why don’t more people care about this?
This has bothered me for a long time. I may not be the best woodworker, but when I make a face mark, it looks like a god damned “f”.
Thanks for listening. I am prepared to lose readers and followers over this issue.
Working with unprepared stock is usually no fun. I prefer to work from rough lumber purchased from the yard (because it’s both more economical than pre-surfaced stock and there is more variety available). But for things where 3/4″ white pine will suffice, it’s hard to beat the home center common boards. Spend an hour digging through the pile and you’re bound to find clear, straight grain stock. And if you don’t, come back in a week and try again.
But even the clearest, straightest grain stock tends to cup and twist once it’s been in the shop for a week. Re-flattening can take it down to 5/8″ thickness or even less (depending how severe the cupping is), and it adds time and aggravation to the process.
But what if cupping and twist didn’t matter? If you’re just gluing and nailing something together, couldn’t you instead flatten the boards with some clamping cauls and go to town? The answer is, of course, “yes”. And that’s the approach I took when knocking together a quick Japanese-style toolbox for a recent trip out of town (don’t worry; I quarantined both before and after).
We modern woodworkers get hung up on perfection, sometimes. To us, everything needs to be piston fit and machinist flat, even when it really doesn’t matter. But, in reality, only some surfaces need to be perfect. Our forebears knew this (just look at the hidden surfaces in any period masterwork). If the wood is going to restrained, it doesn’t really need to be perfect in the first place.
And so, once glued and nailed, and then reinforced with floorboards and gussets, also nailed on (and maybe even glued), any wayboard boards on this toolbox will be restrained from future movement. Might it blow apart in the future from some unforeseen stress? Maybe. But probably not.
And, in any event, if it does, it’s just some home center common grade white pine 1×12’s joined with glue and nails. I can always knock it apart and add some dados to keep things more in alignment.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: a friend or relation knows you can make things (in my case, out of wood) and are otherwise handy at need. Instead of paying a professional, whose livelihood depends on finding jobs like this, they ask you, an amateur to make or fix or modify something. Being a good friend/relation/human being, you dutifully pack up your traveling tool box with what you think you’ll need and, before you go, ask the person to confirm they have a decent workbench to work on, or at least a sturdy table for you to clamp a portable workbench to. They of course respond “yes”.
Then you show up. Their “workbench” is a bit of screwed together 2×4 and plywood that sways like a willow in a hurricane from the lightest wracking force. Even worse, it’s a plastic, folding card table. Or their partner won’t let you clamp your portable workstation to their IKEA dining room table. You can’t work like this, so eventually you make portable workbench that doesn’t rely on clamping to another stable platform (like a staked, roman-style workbench). But those are a pain (literally and figuratively) to move around.
Do this enough times, and your conclusion will be “why don’t I just make all my friends and relatives workbenches, so I always have one handy when they ask me to help with something?”. And your conclusion is correct. I, myself, have been secretly filling my friends’ and relatives’ homes with proper workbenches for years.
The bench above is a pretty faithful representation of Will Myer’s “Moravian Workbench”, other than it’s entirety constructed from Douglas Fir 2×4’s (except the wedges, which are red oak, and the tray, which is poplar). And I omit the leg vise.
Pre-pandemic, the twenty 2×4’s needed to make this entire workbench would cost about US$80 in total. Add in an oak hobby board for the wedges and a bottle of PVA glue and you’re barely pushing $100 for the raw materials. Unfortunately, with the lumber prices being what they right now, the materials would currently cost almost twice as much.
But that’s okay. A good workbench at a friend or relative’s home is worth its weight in figurative gold.
I’ve resisted it for a while, but finally gave in to this Roubo Workbench craze (if you can call something at least 15 years old a craze). Not because I need it (I have to many workbenches already); but because I need to prove to myself that I can do it.
I was never able to sell my old workbench, so cut the back wing off the slab and set that side after plugging the holdfast holes with epoxy and covering them with poorly matching dutchmen. That repurposed wing is still about 3″ thick and 7 inches wide and will become something, eventually. Probably a mantle, if I’m being honest.
The main slab was still about 3.75″ thick, even after several flattenings. It’s 90″ long and about 15″ wide, consisting of two boards edge glued together. It started as a single, 180″ long piece of 16/4 ash, as a reminder. And after 5 years or so seems to be pretty dry and stable. And the holdfast holes are still pretty plumb even after all that flattening. This is no 6″ thick, 24″ wide slab of green red oak. 15″ is far too narrow for all four legs to be straight up and down (the bench would be too tippy).
So that means another weird Stent Panel (i.e., stretcher-less) style workbench!
I’ve made a quasi-Stent Panel workbench before, with angled back legs. Unlike the last time, though, I won’t mortise the angled back legs into the underside of the slab. Instead, just like a saw bench, I’ll dado the back legs into the side of the slab and cut an angled lap joint on the leg itself. Glue and a large lag screw will secure those back legs to the slab. I contemplated a sliding proper dovetail, but there is a ton of glue surface here (although I may cut it at a couple of degrees for a little bit more mechanical strength).
The front legs, however, need to be more solidly attached to the top due to strain from the leg vise and the holdfasts. In my previous Stent Panel workbench, the legs were merely blind-mortised into the top. A friction fit, with glue and drawbores, made a very stout joint that was nothing special to look at. But that was last time. This time, we’re doing the Roubo tenon/sliding dovetail! All these years later!
I’m not sure I agree that this is a simpler joint than a double tenon (i.e., where the front recess is also square instead of angled for the dovetail). Well, at least the mortise part. The dovetailed tenon is dead simple to cut, if a bit fiddly to get those little front shoulders in line with the center shoulders.
But it does look nice, especially after a few wedges fill up any remaining gaps. I apparently cut one of the joints a bit too tight, as a hairline split emerged along the front of the inside tenon. I don’t think it will be structural, and it doesn’t appear to have gone all the way through the slab. The glue joints are large and sound, so we’ll see if I need to drive some lag bolts in to secure it.
I had never cut a double tenon before (sliding dovetailed or otherwise). I’m now satisfied that I can do it effectively now. But if I ever do this again, I know now to make it a bit less friction fit and let the glue do the work.
After a decent hiatus, I’m back and exactly the same as ever! Seriously, I have one big project in the queue (a replacement dining table since my mother absconded with my old one), but instead I’ve been dicking around with the Moravian Workbench.
My first try started with a simpler design that any apartment DIYer with a miter saw and a basic set of tools (saw, chisel, drill driver) could build from home center 2×4’s. Having a basic Apartment Workbench would help, but it’s not really necessary. Just laminate the slab for the top first and use it as a worksurface.
I planed and squared the pieces before laminating, but you could get by with just sanding a bit as long as the stock is relatively straight and untwisted. The angled, through mortises for the tusk tenons were laminated into the legs as I went, which worked really well.
To keep things manageable, the crossrails on each leg assembly were lapped in and secured with screws, rather than mortised in. This worked well on the lower and middle stretchers, but it was a bit dicey on the top stretcher and I think the bridle joint used in the original Moravian Workbench design would have worked better. In retrospect, I think using Spruce (instead of Douglas Fir) for the leg assemblies would work better for this DIY approach. Spruce is a bit softer and lighter, but still very stiff, and somewhat less prone to chipping out.
Like the leg assemblies, the joints on the long stretchers were formed with a longer middle piece to form the tenon and two shorter pieces with the angled shoulders pre-cut. Just use the same angle setting as you used for the leg assemblies. The only real joinery in this version of the bench are the mortises for the tusk tenons. I used a brace and bit, boring in from each side and paring down to the lines, but chopping is just as easy.
I didn’t end up laminating a new top for this. I repurposed the plywood slab from the Plywood Roman Workbench. This bench will live in the garage of a friend who has recently gotten more into DIY, so I may have gotten a bit lazy near the end. I didn’t make the back shelf, as my buddy has a kreg pocket hole jig and some extra plywood. It can be his first project on the workbench. I also didn’t make a leg vise for the bench. He’s got clamps.
So, all in all, this worked out just fine. It allowed me to explore the Moravian Workbench form without worrying about wasting more expensive lumber while I experiment.
And this practice served me well, as I make a second version that follows the actual design more closely.
Things are weird right now. Well, now and for like the last couple of fiscal quarters. But one of my happy places is casual dovetailing with whatever scraps I have hanging around. Often, that casual dovetailing ends up in a toolbox which gets gifted to a friend or loved one. This one, though, I’m keeping for myself.
This particular tool chest is for outside woodworking, so one of the important things is making sure the rot strips hold up. So I went to the MAX with some sort of plastic that is used in boat building. They’re pretty slick when sitting on engineered surfaces, but they work great on grass and concrete. Plus they (and the stainless screws) will never rot away.
The inside of the chest is pretty utilitarian; essentially, it’s a gentleman’s chest. The well is big enough for both a No. 7 and a No. 4 or No. 5 bench plane, and the saw till holds one back saw (a carcass saw) and one hand saw (a modified Simmonds that I cut 4″ off the toe and re-toothed at 11tpi rip cut). I also added a sliding till for holding chisels and marking tools, although a combination square sits on top of the saw till at the back of the well.
All in all, I think I’ve hit the right balance with this tool box. Some prior versions didn’t quite work out, for various reasons. But this one is easy to carry, holds the right amount of tools, and best of all, it used up the last of my Driftwood paint from General Finishes and cleaned out some of the scrap pile. I didn’t get a good shot at it, but I also got to use a few pieces of scrap cherry as battens along the edges of the lid to keep it flat.
So if you’re wondering why it’s been so long since I last posted, it’s because I’m rather displeased with the new wordpress blocks system. They’ve removed some basic functionalities that I’ve relied on since the beginning and it’s so dumbed-down it’s clearly meant for non-facile folks. It takes far longer to do basic posts and I’m really sick of it. They even got rid of the click only autofill on tags. It’s fucking bullshit.
If anyone has a recommendation for another platform, let me know.
I call myself “The Apartment Woodworker”. But, really, nowadays, I’m the “small space woodworker”. Which doesn’t sound as cool, but it still pretty accurate (my workshop where my workbench and tool chest reside is a 12×13 bedroom). But after all these years of woodworking (8ish?), I’ve finally figured it out: the setup for woodworking in an apartment or other small space like a proper woodworker.
This is literally the apex of everything I’ve worked towards.
Without hyperbole, I feel like I’ve reached the apex of the intellectual exercise of small space woodworking. It starts with the Apartment Workbench, which is constructed entirely from 10 or less home center 2×4’s and built basically like a heavy-duty sawbench. Although the saw-bench construction might make the bench a bit tippy if the legs are too far in from the ends, the vertical legs might have a benefit: the design makes it easy to clamp onto the gussets.
When you add a couple of shop made sawhorses in the Japanese style, some F-style clamps, and maybe a strip of 3/4 plywood for a tool tray, you’ve apparently got an actual workbench. The gusset on the legs clamps to the cross beam of the sawhorse (both front and back) and that’s your workbench. Some lumber stored across the lower stretchers would add to the mass of the bench, but it’s not strictly necessary. And I’d probably add some non-skin disks to the sawhorses to make sure you’re not sliding around on a slick, laminate apartment floor.
The legs barely extend past the sawhorse.
But, all in all, it works as well as I could hope. It’s not perfect, as the combined height of a typical sawhorse (29″) and a 2×4 slab (3.25″ or so) is uncomfortable for much besides hand planing. But one can always clamp on whatever workholding you need beyond the palm, such as a moxon vise. I prefer a bench around 34.75″ high for most work (I’m exactly 5’10”), btw.
But, as far as I can tell, this is absolutely serviceable for a small space woodworking bench. It’s basically a Japanese planing bench, with some Western brute force adjustments.
Although I would recommend chopping mortises at the back end over the back sawhorse. For whatever reason, it jumps less when you chop on the back than the front.