It’s funny how my chainsaw skills have gone through the roof since I started to build lots of workbenches in 1999.
Today I cut down a buttload of 6 x 6 x 16’ Douglas Fir beams for a bench-building class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking that I’m teaching next week. And when you get into crosscutting 6 x 6 beams, the best tool is a chainsaw.
Because I do a lot of quick cuts over many hours, I find an electric chainsaw to be less nerve-wracking. After many years of using gasoline chainsaws, I made the switch to electric – despite the fact that they feel less powerful and don’t leave you smelling like gasoline and oil (a smell that chicks really dig).
Next week’s class is the biggest bench-building class I’ve ever taught. Eighteen students will all be building a Roubo-style workbench, and I’m going to build a bench along with them. The bench design will be totally old school, but it will be built with a combination of hand and power techniques.
We’re going to mortise the legs’ tenons through the benchtop, but we’re going to form the joints with power equipment before we glue up the benchtop. All the joints will be drawbored, but we will rough out the tenons on the band saw and drill press. Every surface will be hand-planed.
It’s a fun and exhausting class, but everyone walks away with a completely assembled bench that is ready to receive its vises. I might be a crappy carver and a middling turner, but I know how to get benches built in 40 hours.
Today as my chainsaw bit into the first Douglas Fir beam, I was rewarded with a spray of sawdust. Dry sawdust. It was then that every sphincter in my body relaxed. Many times when you buy Doug Fir, it’s too wet. The first time I made a bench with fir, I ripped down the beams and was soaked by a spray of water flying off the sawblade.
This stuff has been kiln dried and is free of heart. After picking through the entire load of beams, I found only one split, which was about 12” long. That’s impressive.
After cutting all the parts down to the correct length I wiped the chainsaw clean and covered the blade. Who knows where these burgeoning chainsaw skill will take me – perhaps to the land of chainsaw bears or cigar store Indians.
— Christopher Schwarz
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