Shop, Project

Sawbench - Part 1

The sawbench is an exercise in half lap joints, which are easy and fun to cut with hand tools.

Breaking down rough stock causes logistical issues in most shops.  I don’t care if you use a jigsaw, a circular saw, a hand saw, or your teeth to break your project parts down to rough dimensions, you need a low, wide, and sturdy sawbench to support those heavy timbers.  Recently, I built a sawbench based on Tom Fidgen’s design.  I needed a wide platform at a height that allows me to hold the stock in place with my knee while cutting.  A bird’s mouth on one end and a ripping notch down the middle are additional nice-to-have features.

Shop projects are a great way to use up scrap lumber, so I dug around and found some scrap pieces of 2x4 and 2x3 for the base.  Unfortunately, I had used up most of my “good looking” construction scrap when I built the laminated wood top for my sharpening station, so I was stuck with some pretty gnarly boards in this case. Thankfully, they looked much better after I flattened, squared, and milled them down.  My goal was to maintain as much width and thickness as possible.  I’m not sure what the final dimensions of the base components ended up being, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no impact to the functionality of the sawbench.

These gnarly paint-splattered 2x4 and 2x3 scraps will become the base of my sawbench.

They looked a lot better after I milled them down.

Building this sawbench was an exercise in half lap joinery.  Half laps are easy, fun, and fast to cut with hand tools, so that’s how I cut all of mine.  I also think that Battleship is a great movie, however, so that automatically calls into question my other personal preferences (or so I’ve been told).  At any rate, you could also cut these joints on the table saw with a dado blade, but I’ve found it difficult to get a nice consistently tight fit using that method; I find the setup fussy.

Saw the shoulder of the half lap joint...

...and split off the bulk of the waste.

I started by cutting the shoulders on the two long stretchers.  These pieces are small enough that I could have just cut the cheeks with a tenon saw, but I really wanted to try splitting out the waste.  I’d never tried this method before, so it was a bit of a learning experience.  I used a chisel and a mallet and worked my way across the end grain, taking half of the waste with each pass.  Grain direction is key when splitting out the waste, so I took extra care when the grain wasn’t running perfectly straight.  Once I removed as much waste as I dared, I shaved the remaining material down close to my layout lines with the chisel and finished it off with the router plane.

I used a chisel to get close to my knife lines.

The router plane made everything flat and consistent.

Chopping out the waste in the leg to receive the stretcher.

With the stretchers completed, I laid out the mating joints on the legs with a marking knife, sawed the shoulders, and chopped out the waste.  Notice in the lead picture of this post that I purposely left the stretcher slightly proud and long.  This allowed me to plane everything flush after glue-up.

With the four half laps joining the stretchers and legs dry-fitted, I had two complete trestle sub-assemblies ready to go.  In the next post, I’ll cut the remaining joinery and assemble the base.  Stay tuned!