Movin’ In

One of the drawbacks to the Acorn House Workshop, as it is at the moment, is that it is an uninsulated, woefully under heated, former one car garage. Which means in winter, woodworking becomes a chilly proposition. Even bundled up, with an overhead radiant heater, trying to do extended work out there — especially quality work — becomes a race against hypothermia. Very frustrating when the creative juices are flowing but are apt to freeze if I try to do anything!

So my first project of the new year will be a workbench for the house. After reading about, and seeing in person, Chris Schwarz’s small Roubo bench with the cherry slab top that he intended for a similar, in house, part-furniture, usage, I searched for a suitable slab for the top. As I wrote in an earlier post (the second slab pictured), I found the ideal candidate in a 3 1/2″ thick curly maple slab, approximately 20″ wide and 3′-4′ long. I am going to go a little outside of the box and will keep the gentle curves of the live edges rather than squaring everything up. That limits the type of structure and vises that I can use, but I think for the intended purpose (luthiery and small hand work), it will be more than sufficient. So, as impressive as they are, I won’t be using the through dovetails of Schwarz’s bench, and will go with a through tenoned, Arts & Crafts inspired structure for the base and attach the slab to it with a couple of lag screws.

I was lucky enough to get the legs from a friends timber frame project. Quarter sawn white oak (QSWO) cut offs 3 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ thick that match the rustic nature of the maple slab. More cutoffs and left over 5/4 and 6/4 QSWO from the dining table build will provide the material for the stretchers. The first task was jointing and squaring the rough leg stock. (Even though I am keeping the curves in the slab, the base joinery is SO much easier on squared stock.) The legs proved to be not just quarter sawn white oak, but CURLY QSWO; really pronounced in two of the legs (I’ll use those for the front legs).  I dialed in my “new” mortise gauge to scribe a 5/8″ mortise, and marked the first set of mortises. (The two front legs are on the right.)

In order to save wear and tear on my router, and provide a safer, less stressful rout, I drilled out the waste from both sides with a 9/16″ forstner bit first.

Then, using a 1/2″ spiral upcut bit and the router fencer, I finished the sides of the mortises,. Not having to hog out ALL of the waste with the router was so much easier on both me and the bit. All I had to worry about was the grain direction of each side, doing a shallow climb cut first on any problem sides to avoid massive tear out.

After routing, the rounded ends needed to be squared up with a chisel and mallet. I much prefer a square end mortise to rounding the ends of the tenons to match the curve of the router bit. Especially as my mortise is wider than the router bit and isn’t perfectly round.

Making the tenons to fit was a piece of cake using the tenoning jig and the table saw. I will be pegging the tenons, so a snug fit was necessary. I will do a small chamfer on the protruding tenon ends prior to glue up. The top stretcher of these side assemblies will be dovetailed into the top (you can see them on the left). This bench won’t be racking any time soon!

(You might notice, I’ve set up a worktable inside the house for assembly and fitting. Can’t wait to get the real thing finished!)

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