In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I’m thankful when I can see disaster coming. Being able to spot a potential problem is the gift of experience, but it is also like a tranquilizer dart used to take down a rabid African elephant.

Today I was cleaning up the sliding dovetail socket for the fourth and final leg of this French-style workbench. And the deeper I plunged with my router plane and chisel, the more concerned I became. What looked like a little punkiness on the underside of the benchtop was turning into a tumor worthy of “One Life to Live.”

I began to worry that when I drove the leg home that it would split off a big section of the benchtop right along the punk line. Game over, man. Game over. So I fussed over the joint. I did some type-A procrastination and swept up my bench area. Put some tools away. Checked my e-mail. Played with my hammer that is in the shape of a nut-fondling squirrel.

But I couldn’t put the process off any longer. I put two bar clamps across the benchtop’s weak spot and began gingerly driving the leg into the benchtop. After 10 taps I heard a popping noise from the benchtop. My heart sank. I walked to the back of the shop and rearranged the clamps on our rack. I answered a couple of text messages.

All my fellow employees had left except Robert W. Lang. Bob’s seen me do some dumb stuff, so I decided it was time to drive the leg in the last 2″ or so. Bob came over to watch. We all love a train wreck.

The leg seated home. I took the clamps off. Everything looked and felt surprisingly sound.

Then I noticed that there was an ugly gap where the leg’s shoulders met the underside of the top. I needed to disassemble the joint and tune up the shoulder.

Three attempts later I was ready for a beer.

But the leg went in. The shoulder was tight. Everything felt tight and right. I looked over the top and tried to figure out what went right. After I drove the other three legs home and flipped the whole thing on its feet I realized what had saved my hinder.

I think it was the epoxy.

I took some video of me driving the leg home, but it’s too boring to post even here. It was like watching a video of skateboarders where no one slips and racks himself on a handrail.

That’s my favorite kind of boring.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 16 comments
  • Brian

    Is it sad that i have this pic for my desktop wallpaper?

    Chris, if you have more black and white pics i can stick on my desktop wall paper that’d be awesome!

    Seattle, WA

  • Grant Springer

    Damn…………Looks scary to me Chris. I’,m pullin’ for ya.

  • Richard Dawson

    "I think this bench will inspire great lust. Right now you’re just seeing parts of the elephant."

    Hmmm… lust and elephant. Somehow I am having a problem putting the two together.


  • Swanz

    10-4..Once the cherry gets planed and oiled I bet it’ll look purdy.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I think this bench will inspire great lust. Right now you’re just seeing parts of the elephant.


  • Swanz

    You were on a roll there with those workbenches. This one, hmmmm? I don’t know. Can’t wait to see the final
    picture though.

  • Kenneth

    That’s such a nightmare waiting to happen. Glad it all worked out.


  • james

    One small problem with old growth timber/lumber however, it tends to be quite pricey. I purchased a slab of old growth walnut recently that ran $40 PBF and i was glad to get it as 27" wide lumber is difficult to obtain at any price.

  • Mark Harrell

    Another great choice for bench materials is through the recycled wood market. Here in SW Wisconsin, a friend of mine specializes in just that with Sebastian’s Specialty Hardwoods at Emil Smith, the owner, always has on hand a supply of wood well over 100 years old, usually old-growth (and fully cured!) that one may use for a Roubo project on the scale that Chris is describing. There are many such businesses across the country, and I like the idea of using vintage wood, which is both an environmental choice as well as a better wood altogether with dense growth rings and usually old-growth.

  • Oh "Aliens", is there no place that it’s *not* appropriate to quote you?

  • james

    Free wood is free wood!

    Yeah, i heard that. I think you are right, it will finish up great and its been fun following along as well.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Free wood is free wood!

    The project is in its ragged stage right now. Nothing has been cleaned off of leveled. And it’s beat up from mortising etc. The cherry has some curl to it. It think it’s going to look nice in the end.

  • james

    LOL, the punk line? MAN O MAN, get some decent timber when doing these projects! I am starting to think Chris likes doing projects with materials on the ragged edge, makes for a more enjoyable story.

  • spencer

    Kudos on the Bill Paxton quote! Awesome!

  • Mark

    Although my hat’s off to Chris and this attempt at an old school Roubo, I find I’m really grateful for modern glues and engineered lumber that allows us to put together a bench without having to deal directly with the mechanics of heavy solid timbers. My sense of it is, and many I think would agree, that new growth wood just doesn’t compare to what was available in the 18th century or, for that matter, even in the early 20th. I’m thinking someone building a bench in Roubo’s day would have seen the same punkiness early on as Chris did and may well have rejected such timber for this application, given the comparatively wider choice of materials. We’ll have to see how this ultimately plays out in the end but if nothing else, one message this should send to all later day woodworkers is to do what we can to wisely use the remaining timber stands we have and promote conservation and replanting of timber for the future (think long term). I can’t imagine that we’ll ever come up with a man made material for the things we build that will ever compare with the beauty and variety of the woods that we’ve all come to love. What a shame it would be for decent hardwoods, and softwoods, to ever become so scarce as to be priced well out of reach of the average persons wallet.

  • mdhills

    Forget the bench, I want to see the nut-fondling squirrel hammer. (I’ve got a few pending disasters in my workshop, so this might be just the encouragement I need)

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