half lap

Shop, Project

Sawbench - Part 2

Final assembly of of the sawbench base.

With the stretchers complete, I turned my attention to the half-lap joints that connect the base to the top.  The top of the sawbench is made from two separate boards spaced apart to allow for a ripping notch.  I wanted to use hardwood for the top of the sawbench since it will have to withstand a fair amount of abuse, so I dug out an old off-cut of sappy cherry.  After I milled down the two top boards, I was able to set my marking gauge off of them, layout the half lap joinery on the top of the legs, and cut the joints using the same methods I outlined in my previous post.

All four legs are cut to join with the top boards.

Smoothing knotty material isn't much fun.

At this point, I had a decision to make.  My brain was in full-on joinery mode and I wanted to charge ahead and cut the corresponding notches on the top boards to complete the leg-to-top half laps.  The spacing on those notches was critical, however, because there’s no slop in the joints.  If I didn’t have the stretchers dry-fit perfectly when I laid out and cut the notches in the top boards, I’d be sunk after I glued up the base.  So, I decided to take a step back and glue up the stretchers and legs to lock in that spacing.  I ran my smoothing plane over all the parts before the glue-up, which wasn’t nearly as fun as it looks in the picture.  The construction grade lumber that I used for the base was filled with knots, which turned a simple task into a frustrating one.  There’s some tear-out on the legs, but this is just a sawbench, so I reached a point where the surfaces were good enough.  I glued up the stretchers and legs and was ready to confidently lay out and cut the notches on the top boards. 

Gluing the stretchers to the legs yields two trestle sub-assemblies.

Finishing up the top boards was straightforward: I cut the birds mouth and smoothed out the cuts with a block plane. Planing that end grain was a pleasure after working with the construction-grade stock earlier.  Finally, I cleaned up both boards with my smoothing plane.

Two boards of sappy cherry serve as the top of the sawbench.

Planing the end grain of the birds mouth on the top boards.

The top boards ready for glue-up.

I completed the assembly of the base by attaching the trestle sub-assemblies together with two short rails.  These rails have half laps cut into their ends, but I didn’t cut mating notches in the legs to avoid weakening the attachment point for the top boards.  I also decided not to glue these two rails on; they are attached with screws only.  This makes iteasier to partially disassemble the bench if repairs are ever needed.  Honestly, though, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need to do that.  Time will tell if that was a good decision or not.  In the third and final installment of this build series, I’ll attach the top, peg all the joints, flush up all the mating surfaces, and apply a finish!

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!


Stickley Tabouret - Part 3

Before I tackled the half-lap joints, I needed to address the curve on the bottom stretchers.  The image in the Stickley catalog shows a graceful curve on both ends of the bottom stretchers, resulting in a corbel shape.  There’s a couple of different approaches that one could take to layout and cut these curves.  If I were building large batches of tabourets, I would create a template out of 1/4” MDF, rough cut the curve on both stretchers, and flush trim them with a router.  I’m only building one tabouret, however, so I decided to skip the template step and just layout the curves directly on my workpiece.

The Stickley 603’s design is all about symmetry: identical legs stand across from one another and identical stretchers are half-lapped together exactly in the center of the base.  Therefore, it’s important that all four curves on the bottom stretchers preserve this symmetry.  I started by drawing a 1/2” square grid on both ends of one of the workpieces.  On the right side of the workpiece, I used a french curve to find a pleasing arc and traced it onto my grid.  I noted the key intersection points of the curve and plotted those onto the grid on the right side of the workpiece.  Once those were in place, all I needed to do was connect the dots using my french curve and I was left with two symmetrical curves.  I then double-stick taped the two stretchers together and headed over to the bandsaw.

No template needed.  Draw the curves directly on the workpiece.

Curves are rough cut at the bandsaw.

Of all the phases of a woodworking project, I find none more terrifying than shaping a workpiece on which I’ve already cut, fitted, and perfected joinery.  So, as usual, my heart jumped into my throat as I made that first tentative cut on the bandsaw, but, like that first scratch on a new car, once that was over with I stopped worrying and just got on with it.  Smoothing the curve was quick work with a spokeshave, a card scraper, and some sandpaper.  After I carefully pried the workpieces apart and removed the tape, I had two identically shaped lower stretchers.

So smooth...

A matched set.

Cutting half-lap joints is all about proper layout.  On this piece, layout is even more critical because if the joint is even slightly off-center, the base will be impossible to assemble.  Each leg was assigned a number: 1, 2, 3, and 4, and each dovetail and tenon was labeled with the number of the leg they were fitted to.  When laying out the joints, I needed to ensure that I half-lapped the top and bottom stretchers together in the same configuration or I would suffer great heartache. To cut the joints, I started by drawing the centerlines in both the X and Y axes on all four stretchers.  Using the centerlines and a combination square for alignment, I used the workpieces themselves to layout the joints.  When I cut half-laps, I totally understand what Michelangelo was getting at:  you just need to chop away the wood that doesn’t look like a half-lap joint.  I know it sounds stupid, but it really is that easy.  I used the bandsaw to cut the shoulders and remove the bulk of the waste, and my trusty router plane brought all the joints to a consistent depth.  Boom, done!  If you find that your joints are a little too tight, use a smoothing plane to slim down the stretcher, taking equal passes on each side.  Don’t muck around with trimming the shoulders of your mortises with a chisel… you’ll just create gaps in the joint.

Half laps are cut...

... and dry assembled.

In the next installment, I’ll glue up the base and get started on the top.  I have a curly cherry board with some beautiful grain that will make an excellent top for this piece.