Yesterday and today, I was in the shop building and applying a couple coats of stain to the “I Can Do That” project for the December issue. The photo shoot is on Tuesday, the project still needs a topcoat, and gel stain takes 24 hours to fully dry. So I guess I know what I’m doing after lunch on Monday.
My other project on a tight deadline is the bench Chris and I have been working on. That one is taking a bit longer than the three hours the ICDT piece took to build (one of those hours was spent fighting with the *%#@ router collet , one of the many reasons I’m not fond of routers). The bench has to be completed in time move it , and a lot of other benches , to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center for Woodworking in America. That gives us 17 days…¦and Chris is out for another week.
Thursday morning before Chris left for Germany, we cut the four mortises and dovetail sockets on the front and back pieces that will make up the four-board top (can you call a 5″-thick x 7′-long piece of wood a board?) of my new Roubo-esque bench. In Chris’s absence, I was tasked with marking out and cutting the male parts of the joints on the legs. Gulp.
Now I won’t say that I don’t know what I’m doing. After all, I just finished editing “The Workbench Design Book” (which, by the way, is on pre-order sale for 20 percent off until the day the book arrives in the warehouse , probably Sept. 22). And it’s been pointed out that we write about benches. A lot. So I edit writing about benches. A lot. I’m well-versed in theory. But there’s a difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. While I’m comfortable making a mortise-and-tenon joint, I’m not practiced in doing so on workpieces I have to struggle to lift (not to mention a lot of you will be looking at this finished bench, so I want it to be perfect).
But, after I wiped off the second coat of stain today, I decided it was time to buck up and get started on the legs. Thankfully, the cutting gauge we used was untouched from Thursday (yes, I hid it), so I was able to mark out most of the joints with no worries. But I needed to work from the actual cuts to accurately mark the dovetail, and that meant setting the tails exactly in place atop the legs (this caused me almost as much frustration as the router collet). It was a long slog to get everything lined up without any help , and I’m sure it would have been funny to watch. It was easy to set the top almost in place, but getting it perfectly aligned, well, not so much. I had to pin the bench leg between my knees and use my legs to move it ever so slightly one way, then the other, then forward, then back, all the while making sure the bottom of the leg was firmly planted on the floor. Clearly, I’ve lost the soccer juggling skills I once had.
I finally got everything aligned, made my pencil marks, repeated the frustration on the other front leg, then headed to the band saw. (At which point I realized I should have started with the back legs; mistakes there would be less obvious. Oh well.) I made a few test cuts in the waste area, just to get a feel for the monster 17″ band saw that I rarely use, and the cuts were straight, so I was feeling pretty good. I set the fence to make the cut at the back of the tenon…¦and the blade started to drift. I’d neglected to lock the fence on the one cut I’d made that actually mattered. Luckily, the cut drifted into the waste, so I was able to back out, reset the fence and make a good cut. At which point I decided I’d best go home and leave it for another day. So now I know what I’m doing before lunch tomorrow.