Chris Schwarz's Blog

Joints, Pass; Arm Strength, Fail.

I walked in to work Monday morning with trepidation. After cutting the massive tails and tenons for my new “Petite Roubo” bench over the weekend, it was time to find out what kind of grade I’d earned for my work. My bench instructor was back from Germany, and I was more than a little anxious.

Too scared of splitting the top piece by too-tight joints, I’d not even tried to pound the legs home after my weekend fitting, so while my cuts looked OK to my untutored eye, I had no empirical proof thereof.

But I think I passed. We had to take a few shavings off two of the mortise walls with a shoulder plane, and I had humps in the bottom of two mortises that were quickly removed with a little bit of chisel work. Then, with some encouragement from Chris’s heavy brass mallet, the legs all seated. There are a few small gaps that will be easily shimmed (though mostly for aesthetics , thus you’ll be able to easily identify them and tease me about it at the Woodworking in America conference). All told, the final fitting took about 45 minutes.

So all in all, I didn’t do too badly on the cuts. Where I failed was in arm strength and height. We had the top piece upside down on Chris’s bench as we seated the legs, and I was unable to get my arm high enough above the work to make the weight of the mallet work for me. I might as well have been using a plane-adjusting hammer for the wussy tap tap tap I was able to effect. So I put in my earplugs and watched Chris whack away.

Had I climbed atop the bench to get above the work, I’d like to think I’d have been able to pound the legs home. But, in the picture above, I’m trying to knock out one of the legs so we could move on to fitting the next , and I am above the work. I think I moved it 1/8″ or so.

My goal for today is to get the top glued up so the thing stops looking like a Japanese planing bench. After that, I’d best head to the weight room.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

– See where this whole bench obsession started: Plate 11 from AndrÃ?© Roubo’s “L’Art de Menuisier.” (Warning: It’s contagious.)

– Want to build a Roubo-style bench? Check out Chris’s “Build an 18th-century Workbench” DVD. He shows you how to build the bench I’ve been working on, using only hand tools. (But I won’t tell if you, too, use the table saw and band saw.)

13 thoughts on “Joints, Pass; Arm Strength, Fail.

  1. ironmike7707

    Sherri, is it really necessary to criticize Megan’s looks so publicly? Kind of harsh and in no way the focus of a woodworking blog.

    On second thought, why don’t you post a photo of yourself? Perhaps you might benefit from some of ironmike’s personal grooming pointers.

    By the way Megan, I don’t know how you can stand working with Schwarz. I mean, gracious me. He’s a good woodworker and all but his hair is too long and those eyebrows need a good waxing. Shameful!

  2. Ellis

    I’m really enjoying these features on bench making, but does anyone know where I can get one of those brass mallets with the wood faces like the one Megan is using in the above picture??

  3. Tom Dugan

    Graham,

    Getting the top off is fairly easy if you do it just like you did to get the top on. The only difference is that instead of dropping the legs onto the floor, prop a strong-enough timber that’s somewhat longer than the legs under the top, then when it’s dropped, the top hits the timber and momentum carries the base towards the floor. Problem solved. Credit Roy with this one, as he did it in passing in the show where he assembled the bench with the angled legs. Can’t remember how long ago that was, though.

    Megan,

    Don’t worry about the weight room. That’s definitely an ergonomics problem. IIRC, Chris’ bench is already taller than most (for obvious reasons). If it were me, I would have dropped (literally!) it onto low horses to work on. Just a tip for those who will do this in the future.

    -T

  4. Graham Hughes

    I had this problem with my bench using those types of joints, and I’m a lot bigger than you. The solution I came to was to pick the bench up and drop it, letting the weight of the top force it onto the legs; that worked very well. Getting it off the top afterwards is probably impossible, but fortunately I don’t much care.

  5. Sherri

    Megan,

    Your work ethic and courage approaching these larger and more challenging projects are an inspiration to us all. However, I have two words for you my dear: 1. conditioner – split ends look just as bad on hair as on tenons; 2. moisturizer – heavy grain in a figured wood is great, not so on your hands.

    Keep up the great work!

  6. Megan

    Thanks Matt. I actually did use a bowsaw to remove the waste on the mortise in one of the legs…and realized quickly that my bowsaw skills wouldn’t allow me to cut anything critical with said implement. Must practice!

  7. Matt Davis

    It occurred to me not long after reading your account of sawing these joints with three different saws that these are the PERFECT joints for a bowsaw. Still, nicely done.

  8. James Watriss

    Depending on the size of the gaps, you may be able to fill them more simply… just drip water on the end of the tenon towards the end of glue up. Wood should swell up and help you out a bit, and glue itself to the inside of the mortise.

    Steam iron might be another way to go, provided the end grain of the bench top is well sealed.

    And, true to my Army training, there’s the tried and true BFFI (Brute Force and ******* Ignorance) philosophy of doing things. Wet down the end grain, and use a ball peen hammer in the middle of the end grain to help mushroom it out from the inside. If your tenons are proud of the surface when everything’s assembled, you can always pretty it up later.

  9. Shannon

    Don’t feel bad Megan, bench building is the great equalizer especially when dealing in Roubo style. I had no assistance on my build and I when I drawbored the legs to the top I had the top upside down on the floor. The legs went in nicely and everything went smoothly…until it was time to flip the bench up on its feet. Ah the best laid plans…

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