Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Going against the grain

Category: Workbench

Roubo Workbench Build: Chopping Mortises by Hand

The mortises in the top are huge.  When I say huge, they are caverns of darkness that suck the life force from unsuspecting victims.  They measure two inches wide, by 5 inches long, by two inches deep.  There are four of these soul sucking vampires to slay.  If you want to face these monsters, you’ll need the right weapons.  If you want to see how I chopped these giant mortises by hand, proceed with caution.  I have warned you!

  1. Bit and Brace – check
  2. Large Mortise Chisel – check
  3. Heavy Mallet – check
  4. A healthy breakfast and a good night’s sleep – check

Marking Out

Align your legs web

Align your legs web

Start by defining a line 15″ from each edge of the bench top.  This aligns with the outside edge of each leg.  Next, line up each leg with the line and the edge of the bench top.  Make sure that your alignment is perfect!  Check it twice.

Carefully mark out your mortises with a knife

Carefully mark out your mortises with a knife

With the leg aligned, trace around the tenon with a pencil or marking knife.  I prefer to knife in my line.  Make sure that the leg does not move during this process.  Next, number each tenon and its corresponding mortise.

Define the Edges

Before boring out most of the waste, define the edges with a mortise chisel.  This will give you a nice crisp edge.  It also provides you a bit of insurance.  I failed to do this on my first mortise.  Not even my freshly sharpened Irwin bits could prevent blowout when I hit some funky grain.  My knife lines weren’t deep enough.  Do yourself a favor.  It only takes a minute or two per mortise.

Start with the corners

Start with the corners

Bore Out the Waste

Start with the corners

Start with the corners

With a large bit, drill out most of the waste.  A depth gauge (painter’s tape) prevents you from boring too deep.  A couple of try squares keep you drilling straight.  Start with the corners and work inwards.  I found that boring out several lines worked best.  Once you’ve drilled out most of the waste, you can knock out the rest with a mortise chisel.  Be careful not to ding up your edges.

All bored out

All bored out

Roughed out mortise

Roughed out mortise

Clean Up

Complete Mortise

Complete Mortise

With most of the waste removed, start cleaning up the mortise walls.  I used a large 1/2 inch mortise chisel for the end grain and a bench chisel for the long grain.  Set a try square on the bench top to make sure you are square.  Use a small square to check that your walls stay square.  I used a 4 inch double square that allowed me to check the mortise depth.  If you are shallow, use your mortise chisel with the bevel down to deepen the mortise.  Work from the middle outwards.

Check the Fit

 

chamferred tenon

Chamferring your tenons will help start them in the mortise

I chamferred the tenons on my legs with a block plane.  This helps start the tenon into the mortise.  Chances are that you will be a little tight on your first attempt.

Test fitting mortise

Not quite there

I suggest removing material from the tenons if you’re tight.  In this case I was able to get the tenon about 3/4 of an inch in the mortise.  I knew that my tenon cheeks were square, so there was interference from the mortise.  I checked the mortise and discovered I had missed some material near one corner.  After some minor tweaking, I was ready to give it another shot.

Mortise by Hand Complete

A Perfect Fit

Presto!  A near perfect fit.

I was a little intimidate by the task.  After the task was complete, I realized the concern was unwarranted.  It really isn’t hard.  It’s just a little time-consuming.

Stay tuned.  Stretchers are next.

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

Roubo Workbench Build: Leg Tenons the Hybrid Way – Video

I intended to demonstrate cutting the large leg tenons for the Roubo workbench build two different ways: by hand and with the aid of a band saw.  Unfortunately, my camera shifted while I was cutting the tenon cheeks.  Consequently, you’ll only get to see my poor cross-cutting skills today.

Marking Out

I like to start by marking out my shoulders.  I prefer to do this using a square against the long grain, as opposed to using a cutting gauge against the end grain.  I get more consistent results.  I hold the square using my thumb against the stock and one or two fingers on the blade.  Make sure that you draw straight back with your knife.  Start with one or two light cuts, and gradually increase pressure.  Flip your piece, place your knife in your previous line, reference your square off of your knife, and repeat.  Always make sure that you are referencing your square off of your face or face edge.

Once I have my shoulders marked out, I move on to the cheeks.  I use a simple wheel gauge for the cheeks.  I set the fence and give it a couple of quick passes for each side.  There really isn’t much to describe here.  When I’m finished, I like to darken all of my lines with a mechanical pencil.

Cutting the Shoulders

With the marking out-of-the-way, I move on to the shoulders.  In the video above, I am using a small backsaw.  Before I start sawing, I make a little trench on the waste side of my work piece with a chisel.  This gives my saw a little groove in which to ride.

I start by drawing the saw back a few times.  This deepens the groove, and helps ensure I stay on track.  Next, I take a few light passes on the far corner, and lower the saw plate until I’m taking cuts across the entire width of the leg.  At this point, I saw down to the baselines at the corners to make sure that my cut stays square.  I finish the cut by removing the triangle left in the center.

Cutting the Cheeks

This is the easy part.  I believe this is the best way to cut tenons.  If you have a band saw and haven’t given it a try, what are you waiting for?  Simply line up the fence to the waste side of your line, and go.  Cut down to your shoulder line, flip and repeat.  It’s fast, easy, and produces a nice square cut (assuming you set up your band saw properly).

Cleaning Up

With the waste removed it’s time to start cleaning up the shoulders.  The band saw produces square cheeks right off the saw.  I will mark the mortises directly from the tenons.  There is no need for them to be identical, only need square.

Use a chisel and deepen your knife line on all three sides of your shoulder.  Then, take over-lapping passes from on side to the other using your knife line as a reference.  If you’ve left too much waste, you might have to take a couple of passes.  It’s easier than trying to remove 1/16 or more in a single pass.  Check your work with a small square.  I undercut mine by a few thousandths.

Stay tuned.  Mortises are next.

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

Music: Good Old War – My Own Sinking Ship

Roubo Legs: Squaring End-Grain

There’s a bit of stigma when it comes to squaring end-grain.  It really isn’t all that difficult.  Just follow the same rules you do for long-grain and make sure you have a sharp plane iron.  The real trick is ensuring exact, crisp layout.

Knifing in the line

Knifing in the line

Start by knifing in your line using an accurate square.  Assuming your board is 4-square, your line will be perfectly perpendicular.  Here are some tips to ensure your layout lines meet perfectly as you move around your board:

  1. Always reference your square against your true face or true edge.
  2. Ensure that you’re holding your square securely against your stock.  I like to place my thumb in the center of the square stock and a finger on the blade.
  3. Start your knife line with two very light passes, followed by one or two heavy passes.  This will ensure that you establish your line without applying too much lateral pressure to your square.
  4. Ensure that the bevel of your knife is towards the waste side of your board.
  5. As you move from one face to another, place your knife in the previous line and slide the blade of your square up to the knife.
Increase visibility with a mechanical pencil

Increase visibility with a mechanical pencil

Create a trench using a chisel

Create a trench using a chisel

Once I’ve established my knife line, I like to go back over it with a fine mechanical pencil.  The effect is subtle, but makes the line more visible.  I then follow up by chiseling out a small grove on the waste side of my line.  This will give my saw a small groove in which to ride, and makes the cut easier.

Kerf in your line with a small back saw

Kerf in your line with a small back saw

Once, I’ve chiseled out a groove, I establish a saw kerf all the way around the stock with a fine backsaw.  This will help keep the cut square when I move to a more aggressive panel saw.  From there, I complete the cut on my sawbench with a panel saw.

Squaring the end-grain with a low-angle jack

Squaring the end-grain with a low-angle jack

With the waste removed, I start truing up the end-grain with a low-angle jack plane.  I work in from the outsides to avoid tear out.  I approach this exactly like I would long-grain.  I check everything with a square, mark the low spots, and plane the high spots.  I repeat until satisfied.  Once I’ve squared up one end, I mark the leg to final length, and repeat on the other end.

A good glue joint should break along the grain, not the glue line

A good glue joint should break along the grain, not the glue line

I like to test my offcuts for a good glue-joint.  The offcut should never break at the glue-line.

Next up, I will cut the tenons for the legs.  I will show you how to do this two different ways.

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

Roubo Workbench Update: She’s Got Legs…

Roubo Workbench Legs

Roubo Workbench Legs

The Roubo workbench project is finally starting to come together.  I have all four leg blanks glued up.  Two legs have been 4-squared, and I will complete the other two legs tonight.  Then, I will cut them to length and start working on the joinery.

Milling up the legs was much easier than milling the bench top sections.  Part of this is due to the fact that the legs are so much shorter.  Not only were the bench top sections a pain to mill, but they’re a pain to move around.  The other significant factor is experience.  Nothing will hone your milling skills like building a Roubo workbench from construction lumber.  I almost feel like I could teach a class on milling lumber by hand (if I weren’t such a lousy teacher).  It’s also excellent cardio!

Now the real fun begins.  I get to start on the joinery!  I’ll start with the tenons on the legs and then move on to the huge mortises on the bottom of the bench top.  But, first I need to flatten the bottom of the workbench.

Stay tuned…the excitement starts soon.

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

Roubo Build: One Stout Bench Top

One Stout Roubo Bench Top

One Stout Bench Top

Everything I’ve done for the past 6 weeks has built to this bench top completion.  It isn’t easy milling up 8 ft long sub assemblies that weigh over 50 lbs apiece.  However, the wisdom gained was worth the effort invested, and the rest of the Roubo build to should go more quickly.

I can’t believe the stability of the Roubo bench top.  There’s zero flex, even with my 190 lb frame down bearing directly over the center.  It don’t think it would have a problem with a Buick parked on top.  At nearly 200 lbs and 4 1/2 inch thick, it shouldn’t have any problems with the modest amounts of abuse it will see over its lifetime.  Overall, the build has gone smoothly, but it hasn’t been without its lessons.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to take your time. I sped through the early stages and ended up with some small gaps in the sub assemblies.  This is likely due to small amounts of snipe from the planer, which I didn’t initially notice.   I don’t expect this to affect bench top durability, but it is a constant reminder of my impatience. The seams between the sub assemblies are virtually gap-less. I will mask the gaps with some epoxy, unless anyone can give me a better solution.

Roubo Bench top clamped web

Bench top clamped web

If you attempt a build like this take your time, plan, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.  The legs are already in progress.  I have already ripped, jointed, and stickered the boards.  With any luck, I will have the blanks glued up by the end of the weekend.  Stay tuned…

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

 

The Importance of Planning

Failure to Plan

Failure to Plan

I’ve heard it said that, “failure to plan, is planning to fail”.  This is how I felt yesterday afternoon as I prepared to glue the two halves of my bench top together.  I quickly discovered that I had forgotten to purchase more paint rollers to spread the glue.  I didn’t have a sufficient alternative, so the glue-up will have to wait.  Fortunately, another warm day is right around the corner.

I didn’t let this hiccup set me back.  Instead, I started working on the legs.  I rough cut all of my boards and set them aside.  Today,  I will joint and edge and rip to width.  With any luck, I will be gluing up the blanks this weekend.   The important thing is to keep moving.

Stay tuned.

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

When Things Come Together

Roubo Benchtop Clamped Up

Roubo Benchtop Clamped Up

Sometimes you just get lucky. That’s what happened to me when I went to test fit the two halves of my bench top. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.

Prior to fitting, I gave the two matting edges a quick touch up as they were each out of square by a few thousandths. Somehow I managed to get one of the 100 lb halves on to the other by myself. I lined up the edges, and then gave it a quick once over. Each edge was slightly concave, giving me about 1/64th gap in the middle. I checked for cupping along the width and found very little. Needless to say, I am both surprised and relieved.

Checking the Roubo Top for Cupping

Checking the Roubo Top for Cupping

A perfectly sprung joint

A perfectly sprung joint

Unfortunately, the weather is still too cold for the final glue-up. That will have to wait until Monday when the temperatures are supposed to rise into the low 60’s. Stay tuned.

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

A Quick Roubo Build Update

Here’s where all of that hard work on the Roubo bench top really starts to pay off.

After milling up two of the top sections, I took a couple of passes with my No. 7 to clean up any snipe. Then I broke out the saw benches for a test fit. Everything looked pretty good. With the boards oriented for optimal appearance, there was a slight bow in one of the boards that was preventing the ends from meeting. I brought out the No. 7 and planed down the hump until I was satisfied. A second test fit revealed that one of the boards had an edge that was slightly out of square. This resulted in some cupping that would be more difficult to remove later. Back to the jointer. I was fully satisfied after the third test fit.

Roubo Slab Glue-up

Roubo Slab Glue-up

I proceeded to rehearse my glue up. I lightly tightened parallel clamp at each end of the slab and one in the middle. Then, I placed an F-clamp on the seam at each end to ensure that the boards would stay aligned. I tightened down the parallel clamps and checked for any defects. No gaps, no cupping. Everything looked great, so I proceeded with my glue-up.

Roubo Benchtop Looking Good

Roubo Benchtop Looking Good

The assembly is now out of the clamps and looking good. I suspect it weights just shy of 100 lbs. I ended up with 10 5/8th inches of width and 4 5/8th of thickness. I hope to have the other half completed by the weekend. Stay tuned!

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

Roubo Build: Jointing Wide Edges Dead Square

Jointing Wide Edges by Hand

Jointing Wide Edges by Hand

Jointing wide edges can be tricky. Fortunately, I did my research. It was time consuming, but not difficult.  If I can do it, so can you.

Before you joint an edge it’s important that you establish a reference face that is flat, straight, and free of twist. I covered how I accomplished this here: Milling the large beams for the Roubo bench top

Once you’ve established a reference face, it’s important to assess the board.

  • What are the major defects?
  • Is there any significant bow along the length?
  • How out-of-square is the edge?

I don’t worry too much about minor cupping. This will be remedied, by running both sides through the planer.

Checking for Bow Along the Length

Checking for Bow Along the Length

In my case, there was some significant bowing. I measured about 1/16th of an inch in the middle of the board using a 48 inch straight edge. The edge was also significantly out of square. I chose to tackle the bow first. I removed the high-ends of the board by taking overlapping diagonal passes with my No. 7. When I was close, I started taking overlapping passes along the length of the board. Start from the outside and work your way towards the center of the board. I continued until there was less than 1/64th of error.

Take Overlapping Passes from the Outside to the Center

Take Overlapping Passes from the Outside to the Center

With the bow removed, I started working on getting the edge square to my reference face. I reassessed the board and mark the low spots with a pencil. Take a shaving from each edge, being careful to avoid your pencil marks. Then work your way inwards taking full-length shavings. Reassess the board every couple of passes. If you’re lucky, one side will be high for the entire length of the board.

Check the Edge for Square Using a Jointed Face as Reference

Check the Edge for Square Using a Jointed Face as Reference

Avoid Your Low Marks

Avoid Your Low Marks

In my case, the board was square for the first 6 inches on one end, high on the right side throughout the middle, and high on the right side for the last 6 inches. Here is how my routine went.

  1. Take a stopped shaving on the left side until I reach my low spot.
  2. Take another shaving on the left starting just after my low spot on the far end
  3. Take a stopped shaving on the right until I reach my low spot on the far end.
  4. Work my way towards the middle with full length shavings.
  5. Reassess the board and repeat
Don't Forget to Mark Your Jointed Edge

Don’t Forget to Mark Your Jointed Edge

Jointing wide edges sounds complicated, but I can assure you it’s not.  Just go slow and check your work frequently.  Don’t hesitate to ask any questions.  Feedback is welcome!

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

Roubo Build: How to Joint Wide Edges Dead Square

Jointing the wide edges of the beams that will be used for the Roubo benchtop

Jointing the wide edges of the beams that will be used for the Roubo benchtop

Jointing wide edges can be tricky. Fortunately, I did my research. It was time consuming, but not difficult.  If I can do it, so can you.

Before you joint an edge it’s important that you establish a reference face that is flat, straight, and free of twist. I covered how I accomplished this here: Milling the large beams for the Roubo bench top

Once you’ve established a reference face, it’s important to assess the board.

  • What are the major defects?
  • Is there any significant bow along the length?
  • How out-of-square is the edge?

I don’t worry too much about minor cupping. This will be remedied, by running both sides through the planer.

Checking for straightness along the length of the beam

Checking for straightness along the length of the beam

In my case, there was some significant bowing. I measured about 1/16th of an inch in the middle of the board using a 48 inch straight edge. The edge was also significantly out of square. I chose to tackle the bow first. I removed the high-ends of the board by taking overlapping diagonal passes with my No. 7. When I was close, I started taking overlapping passes along the length of the board. Start from the outside and work your way towards the center of the board. I continued until there was less than 1/64th of error.

When jointing along the length, take overlapping passes starting from the outside

When jointing along the length, take overlapping passes starting from the outside

With the bow removed, I started working on getting the edge square to my reference face. I reassessed the board and mark the low spots with a pencil. Take a shaving from each edge, being careful to avoid your pencil marks. Then work your way inwards taking full-length shavings. Reassess the board every couple of passes. If you’re lucky, one side will be high for the entire length of the board.

Checking for squareness of the edge using the face as a reference

Checking for squareness of the edge using the face as a reference

Stop planing just before you reach your low marks

Stop planing just before you reach your low marks

In my case, the board was square for the first 6 inches on one end, high on the right side throughout the middle, and high on the right side for the last 6 inches. Here is how my routine went.

  1. Take a stopped shaving on the left side until I reach my low spot.
  2. Take another shaving on the left starting just after my low spot on the far end
  3. Take a stopped shaving on the right until I reach my low spot on the far end.
  4. Work my way towards the middle with full length shavings.
  5. Reassess the board and repeat
Mark out your edge with an arrow that points to your reference face once you achieve a square edge

Mark out your edge with an arrow that points to your reference face once you achieve a square edge

It sounds complicated, but I can assure you it’s not.  Just go slow and check your work frequently.  Don’t hesitate to ask any questions.  Feedback is welcome!

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