Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Going against the grain

Category: Design

Changing Gears: Furniture Design

Furniture Design

I’d like to change gears for a minute and discuss something that I’m truly passionate about: furniture design. It’s one subject that just isn’t talked about enough. It’s the one thing that sets the masters apart from amateur. More importantly, I believe it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Design is something I plan to talk about more in the following months.  I want to examine what makes a piece of furniture genuinely beautiful. What are it’s proportions? How does grain pattern and color compliment the piece? What makes the piece unique? I plan to examine these topics in detail, as I attempt to develop my own personal style.

If this is a subject that excites you as well, stay tuned…

Roubo Design Update: What I Learned

Roubo Sketchup

The design is complete.  The bench top might be taking longer than I’d like, but at least I was able to finalize the details.  Does anyone want to donate a powered jointer?

I had a few minutes over my lunch break, and was able to finish the sliding dead-man, bang out a vise chop, add a planing stop, and locate my hold-fast holes.  It might not seem like a lot, but here is what I learned.

  1. Planning out all of the details will help you work out problems you might not see otherwise.
  2. I don’t really need bench dogs or dog holes.  A planing stop will work better for me.
  3. I often joint long boards.  A sliding dead-man will make it easy to support long boards
  4. Thinking about how I work allowed me to plan out the location of hold-fast holes before I turned my bench top into Swiss cheese

Back to work.  I hope to have a completed bench top soon.

You can find links to my other Roubo posts here:  Project Index

Sketchup to the Rescue


While reviewing the instructions for my Bench Crafted leg vise, I realized that the location of the tenon for my front stretcher was going to interfere with the mortise of the criss-cross. Bench Crafted provides details on how to work around this if you’re using their nuts and bolts. However, I wanted to stay as traditional as possible and drawbore the stretchers. I quickly turned to SketchUp to see what could be done.

After tinkering around a bit, I discovered that the solution wouldn’t be difficult at all. I need to move the location of the mortise for the stretcher back a bit. I want to have at least half an inch between the two mortises. The original location was 1 1/4 inch behind the front edge of the leg. Moving the mortise back to 2 inches gives me room to spare. I will also need to thicken the front stretcher in order for it to remain flush with the front of the legs.

Leg Joints

Criss-cross Mortise on the left, and stretcher on the right

Crisis averted.

The only thing I have left to do is layout the dog / holdfast holes, and design the vise chop.

If you’re not yet using SketchUp for your projects, I would highly recommend you look into it. The software is free and there’s a great instructional series on

You can find links to my other Roubo posts here:  Project Index

Warm Weather Means Outdoor Furniture

It’s getting warm, which means I’ll likely be building lots of outdoor furniture. Here I’m using Cypress to build a pair of Adirondack chairs for a new customer. They will be based off of Norm Abram’s classic design, but differ in a few key details. This time I will be using a template on a router table to cut all of my curved pieces to size. I hope that this will speed up the build process. Once all of the parts are cut to size, I will assemble the chairs with stainless hardware and an exterior wood glue. I will finish them with Epifane’s Clear Varnish. This should help them to hold up to the elements for decades.

photo 1

Cypress is great for outdoor furniture.  It’s naturally bug and rot resistant, and it’s also light weight.  My first pair of Adirondack chairs have been sitting in the backyard for about a year now.  They are in direct contact with the wet ground, and in full sunlight.  Despite being unfinished, they show now signs of giving up.

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I created a template out of mdf (left).  I will use it to cut the rough sawn pieces (right) to final dimensions.  This will ensure that all pieces are uniform and greatly speed the build process.

You Can Never Have Enough…

Knowing that you can never have enough storage, I wondered if there was anything I could do with the plywood I had leftover from my other cabinet projects. I was able to scrounge up just enough to build this nice little hanging wall cabinet. I am going to use it to store wood finishes and glue. It’s not much more than a face-framed box with doors, but it works. It was hung using French cleats, so that it would easily be moved to a different location in the future.

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Here’s the finished cabinet.  As you can see, it’s a very simple design.

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Here’s a closeup of the french cleat.  I secured the bottom piece to the wall using 4 x 3″ screws.


photo 3


I just need to clean up a few edges and install a shelf our two.

Design and Inspiration

I recently began to delve into the design aspect of my woodworking journey. Ultimately, the goal is to create some general rules to live by, and develop an aesthetic that I find pleasing. While I prefer modern design, I lean towards hand tool construction. While this isn’t a common approach, I hope that this will lead me to a very unique sense of style.

I picked up a copy of By Hand and Eye, and have been searching everywhere for inspiration. I quickly discovered that inspiration can be found everywhere. Where do you find your inspiration? What have you found that works for you? Did you find anything that didn’t work?

More on Shop Cabinets

I am currently finishing up my second set of shop cabinets.  This build is definitely more complex than the last.  It will include two base cabinets and a rolling cart for my miter saw.  The miter saw cabinet will sit between the two base cabinets, with the top of the miter saw flush with the top of the base cabinets.  Eventually, I will build a custom router table that can be swapped out for the miter cabinet.  By far, the most complex cabinet in this set will be the base cabinet that will sit on the left-hand side.  Below I will detail the build of this cabinet.

This base cabinet will be 48 inches wide and 30 inches deep.  It will be about 35 inches high and include levelers at the base.  It will have a total of 8 drawers in two equal banks.

The first thing I did was cut most of my parts.  It’s critical that the sides, back, and face frames are dead square.  After the parts are cut, I glue and nail my doublers to the inside of the sides.  I mark the sides to identify the inside left and right.  It’s important to get the doublers level and parallel to one another, because this is where your drawer slides will mount.


Once the glue has dried, I use the sides to mark the location of my doublers on the center supports.  It really helps to clamp things down.  Once, you have transferred your marks, go ahead and nail/glue your doublers.  



Next, I carefully marked the center of my face frames and rear supports, and added two scrap pieces to help strengthen and position the center, vertical supports during assembly.  Once, you have these done, you are ready for assembly.


Check back for more updates.

Children’s Foot Stool

My wife recently informed me that our two year-old son was in need of a small foot stool to help him learn how to brush his teeth.  I took this as an opportunity to practice a few skills I haven’t yet mastered.  I decided to make the stool from soft-maple.  I used a very simple design and focused on the joinery.  The legs attach to the top via hand-cut dados, and the legs are connected via a stretcher that uses mortise and tenon joinery.  This was my first attempt at through mortises.  The results were sufficient but could have been cleaner.  I would have preferred a shellac finish, but my wife insisted on painting the stool to match the bathroom.  I think it turned out great.


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The Venerable Bench Hook

I’ve been spending the past few days working on plans for a bench hook. A bench hook is a simple, shop-made tool that aids in making accurate cross-cuts by hand. It consists of a flat board with a simple hook and fence. The hook catches on the side of your workbench and the fence holds the work piece. It’s a dead simple device. However, it has afforded me the ability to work on some of my lagging hand-tool skills as well as learn some new software. I’ve been hearing some good things about SketchUp, so I thought I would give it a try. I think I’ll be using it a lot more in the future.

bench hook2