Chris Schwarz's Blog

Schwarz: 3; Punk 1

“I know what you’re thinking, punk. You’re thinking, ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

– Harry Callahan, “Dirty Harry” (1971)

I’m taking off on Sunday for a week-long trip for work and really wanted to get this Old-school Roubo workbench project underway. While the air-dried cherry stock is surprisingly dry, I still wanted to cut the legs to length so they will (I hope) finish drying while I’m away.

The only real problem with the stock is it’s fairly punky in places, so I needed to make my cuts carefully.

Whenever possible, I like to start a project with an ax. I fetched my carpenter’s hatchet from my toolchest and began hacking away at the spongy stuff. This, I might add, is more satisfying than a marketing meeting.

Once I removed the bad stuff and hit the good wood, I started hunting and pecking around the planks for a half-decent 36″ length of wood. The legs will finish out at 4″ x 6″ x 34″, but I want a little extra length at this point in case I get some checking while the legs finish acclimating.

Then I started cutting the legs to length with my Disston 6-point D-8 , the coarsest crosscut handsaw I own. Senior Editor Glen D. Huey took some video of the work in case we decided to make a DVD of the process.

The first three legs gave me no problems. I was able to do a fairly good punk-ectomy on the legs, which will require only a little rot-fixing epoxy. But the fourth leg was sounder on the outside than it was on the inside. After about a dozen strokes with the handsaw it felt like I was slicing through wet toilet paper.

Chunks of red spongy stuff began jumping to their doom from the end grain of the leg. When the waste finally let go, the end grain looked like Mother Nature had made a mortise in the end.

Looks like I’ll need a lot more epoxy stuff.

Today the legs are reading at between 12 percent to 15 percent moisture content. We’ll see how they look on Monday.

– Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I won’t be able to check e-mail much next week. So if you send me a message, you probably won’t get a response until the week after.

16 thoughts on “Schwarz: 3; Punk 1

  1. Auguste Gusteau

    My advice is to use a white or bright rot-fixing epoxy. The best way to hide a defect is put in evidence.
    Good luck.

    Auguste Gusteau

  2. Andre

    In reaction of my earlier comment:

    Scoffing was not on my mind when I made the comment on using epoxy on a 18th century workbench.

    It’s just the irony of the whole thing. In the old days there was plenty of wood but not the highly advanced technologies of today (although they were not exactly ‘not knowers’ as we all know!!) and nowadays we have all this technology that lead to the some of the finest (hand)tools ever but we’re running out of old grown πŸ™

    I completely agree that managing forests and the use of wood could have been taken on differently up to now but since that is not the case we have to use what we can get without robbing mother nature and manage the stuff so there will be something to leave to our grandchildren!

    Just wanted to make the statement πŸ™‚

    I hope Chris fares well on this project wether that is with epoxy or without.

  3. g parkin

    Reminds me of the time, some 30 years ago now… we decided to harvest a dead maple on the property (100+ acres of hardwood)… it was a good 40 inches or so across the butt. The wood was so hard sparks would fly off as I cut… girdled the tree with the saw straight into the wood (yes it was wedged below the cut)… it wouldn’t come down. Had to drive wedges into the saw cut to finally bring it down. When it was finally down we discovered it was hollow about one foot above where I had cut. πŸ™

    Thats life eh πŸ™‚

  4. Al

    Chris, I’ve been working on restoring my 210 year old house for the past 10 years(mostly wih hand tools) and as far as punky wood goes, I’ve got plenty, and outright replacement is rarely an option, so I’ve gotten to know a couple of epoxy products very well.

    With all of the repair work that I’ve done, I recommend that you look into "Advanced Repair Technologies" Flex Tec epoxy. It is easy to use, moves well as the wood expands and contracts, and I’ve use hand tools to shape it, although it can be rough on plane blades. It even joins end grain surprisingly well.

    I would suggest using it as an adhesive/ filler for a laid in repair to the punky area of the leg. You won’t have to worry about a perfect glue joint since this stuff is so strong, and the leg will (mostly ) look like wood when you’re finished.

    Good Luck, I look forward to seeing how you progress thorugh this project.

    Al R. – No affiliation with the company, I just love the product.

  5. Jonas Jensen

    In theory we in Denmark should have enough oak to supply a lot of workbenches. In 1807 the British stole our entire fleet (navy) and subsequently a lot of wealthy landowners planted a heck of a lot of oak trees, so we could build a new and strong fleet when the trees were grown. It was made illegal to cut down any of these trees since they were granted the kings navy, and now they are nice 203 year old trees. My problem is I don’t know how to get my hands on them. Oh and in the meantime they started making warships out of steel instead of oak.

  6. Mitchell

    Those that are scoffing a Chris’ use of epoxy in this historically based project seem to me to be missing a very big point being made here.

    In Chris’ first post in this series, he stated how he has been looking for material suitable for this build since 2005. That means that someone who is seriously plugged in to the woodworking scene in America couldn’t find "suitable stock to build an old-school version" of a Roubo workbench in over five years! When Chis did finally find suitable stock, it wasn’t in the species of choice, but instead, he had to make a compromise.

    I’m not climbing on an environmental bandwagon here, but to me, this does point out one very obvious issue – old-growth trees are gone and we in North America are not managing the stock we have well enough to replace them.

    Over 250 years ago, there was such an abundance of massive wood planking available that using them to build something as commonplace as a workbench was the norm. Today, finding any material that even comes close to those old dimensions is perceived as a "score", punk filled or not. Sadly, when it comes time for our kids to build their dream workbenches, they won’t stand a chance in hell of using anything close to these historical examples.

  7. james

    "So I allowed myself the luxury of one cut — 4.5" to 6" on the band saw."

    Although i am not in the woodworking trades, my son is and last year i offered to pay his tuition at Follansbee’s workshop in NC on riven oak wood boxes. I showed him all the purty pictures on Peter’s blog chattering all the while about how cool is this!, boards are split, not sawn, the wood is green, bla bla bla.

    He looked at me like i had a third eye in the middle of my head and said " Are you F!@#$%^ crazy? Why would anyone do all that with hand tools when power tools are available?" I muttered something lame about how learning traditional woodworking could help one in the power tool area but he wasnt buying it at all.

    So the question is, why is traditional woodworking important?

  8. Jonas Jensen

    I’m sorry that the wood was not perfect, but at least it shows that you are also struggling with some of the same problems as the rest of us.
    You normally find some obscure text explaining how they fixed this sort of problem in earlier times. maybe they poured molten lead into the leg or something similar. Good luck. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

  9. eric

    Why is it always the last one that gives trouble? If we knew the answer to that, we’d know a lot more about the universe (DA). I had to change an axle in a blizzard once, 3 bolts came right out, I had to cold chisel the last one off. Sorry off topic, but the last ______, always; strips, breaks, melts, leaks, jams….

  10. Christopher Schwarz


    Good question. Ron brought the legs in at 6" x 6" — I had ordered them at 4" x 6". We missed each other on the phone call while the sawmill was running.

    So I allowed myself the luxury of one cut — 4.5" to 6" on the band saw.

    Which really sucked as far as band saw cuts go.

    Everything else was by hand. And everything else WILL be done by hand.


  11. John H. in Baltimore

    Excuse me, but how were these leg pieces ripped? I hope that it didn’t involve the exploitation of migrant electrons.

    Upstream decisions affect downstream results. Fatigue and time expenditures associated with ripping affect the next stages of the build. I think most everyone is hoping that you did your ripping by hand while wearing a Bjorn Borg style terry cloth sweatband.

  12. David Barbee

    Old school bench? with epoxy? Just like Roubo would have wanted it! You won’t earn your honorary Adam Cherubini puffy pants like that.


  13. Andre

    Well, well, well Christopher Schwarz…..epoxy on a 18th century workbench eh πŸ™‚

    This again shows us how wood can play tricks on us…all nice and shiny on the outside, but when one starts sawing or chopping it really shows itself.

    I hope you get ‘lucky’ and all will turn out well, I’m looking forward to the next post (and of coarse to this ‘undecided on’ DVD)!

    P.S. I too like to start new projects with an ax, but when I approach they allways run away πŸ™‚

  14. Al Navas

    Nice score so far, Chris.

    Oh, yeah? PUNK! PUNK! PUNK!

    I chuckled, as your story reminded me of our daughter and my nephew, when they were both 2 years old. He had thrown a banana peel over his shoulder, and hit *my* mother on the face. I told him to apologize to Grandma. He proceeded to tell me "…you are not my Dad, you PUNK, PUNK, PUNK!!!…"

    In those days it was OK to punish a kid for not minding their elders. Needless to say, his butt was red after a while…


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