Monday, September 27, 2010

To continue...

This rifle has the traditional 8 pointed star on the cheekpiece - lovely and ubiquitous.  Well, it can be lovely - it can be badly done too.  This one is a nice piece - a copy of the original.  Pretty straightforward inlay work.  The small acute angles in between the points are of course the thing you look at for quality work.  Have they been chipped off and reglued?  Or are they all in perfect place, denoting nice, slow, poorly paid work?  I didn't chip this inlet, if I remember correctly.  I used sheet silver (pure) instead of the probably more historically correct coin silver, which would have been the typical gunsmith's raw material for most silver inlays.  Coin silver is slightly more yellowish in color, and you learn to look for this.  

Looks naxty!  (with an x)  Lamp black all over the place, hasn't been filed and sanded down yet.  

As if the other view wasn't awful enough.  There's a certain charming honesty about this really nice, delicate inlay being held into the stock with a big wood screw.  He didn't try to hide his tracks - he just screwed it down.  I love it.  No pretensions.  

The vent pick inlay.  It houses (until you lose it in the leaves) a small metal pick to keep the touch hole open.  This rifle is about 1810-20, I believe, and we can see inlays creeping all over the stock, replacing the once common relief carving.  This is an exceptional rifle - it has both wonderful carving and great inlays, but on most of his competition there would have been thin, weak, vestigial carving and more and more inlays, some of them tasteless and graceless.  The old ways and skills, like the old smiths, were dying off.  Tastes were changing.  Even if you bought an expensive piece of furniture, it wouldn't be carved, it would have probably been inlaid with veneer and marquetry.  Things fall apart - the center cannot hold...

Still not too shabby.  He knew his way around a rifle stock, that's for sure.  I sort of lied - the long east/west points on both the star and the vent pick inlay (which, on this gun, does not actually hold a vent pick - it just takes the place where carving used to be done) are held in place by small silver nails.  I didn't try to hide them too well because they're obvious on the original.  Once engraved, these guys will really whistle Yankee Doodle.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Taking a break to show the before and after.  This trigger guard is cast off a wooden master I carved myself because there was nothing available that was suitable.  Castings get smaller and less sophisticated through time it seems - the inevitable result of multiple generations being distanced from their sources which are usually someone's trigger guard they took off their antique rifle back in the 70's and cast copies of it, often for sale through Dixie Gun Works which was about the only game in town for a generation.

Sand castings are cheap and readily available but they're hella work.  As is evident.  Investment casting cost usually at least twice as much but it's a much bigger and more expensive project to get a custom investment casting made.  These were cast at a local sand casting foundry in Chattanooga for just a little more than stuff normally costs through the catalogs.  But I can take them almost anything and they can have ten of them ready in a few days.  I get lots of stuff cast there and making my own masters has really changed how I work.

Here is the master (embedded in a mold board) with two castings of a trigger guard I did based on the Brass Barreled Rifle, which is just a stunning trigger guard.  It's a whopper though, and takes almost an entire working day to bring it from the rough casting to a finished piece ready for mounting.  

The guard on the left you saw earlier.  It's taken from the John Sheetz of Staunton rifle and required a lot of work to get right.  The bow has to be very wide, and all the angles and details are just great.  It's quite versatile though, and with minimal filing can be used on a huge number of guns.  Also visible are two types of sideplates, which I also carved out and had cast.  They look and feel very different from sideplates cut out of sheet.  I've done it both ways and won't go back to sheet if I can help it.  

I intend to set up for home casting in a year or so.  It's a job of work, and dangerous too, but an integral part of the trade and one which (like forging or lock making) must be kept alive in home shops if it's to survive as part of the trade.  The more we buy from catalogs the less we make, the less we learn, the less we can pass on.  The trade doesn't belong to us - we just borrow it from our grandkids.  Just like the rifles.

A rifle - from start to finish

I thought this might be interesting.  A few years ago I built a rifle for a client who wanted me to photograph the process.  I had never done this before, and it wound up being a lot of fun.  Some of the photos didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but overall it was a success.

A lot of this is self explanatory, but I'll chime in when it's necessary.  If nothing else, it'll give us a break from cell phone photography.

The barrel goes in - four to five hours of really hard work.  I use a round bottom plane to cut in the main channel of the groove, and take the sides down with a straight chisel.  Places where the corners strike can be taken out of the round groove easily.  As I later found out, this is the method Jack Brooks uses also.  I have tried most of the other methods but nothing works as well as this.

The lock is inlet and the buttplate is on.  Now the main parameters of the stock are in place.

  The basic architecture of the stock can now be worked down.  Extra wood is left for the relief carving behind the cheekpiece.  

The ornate four piece box is roughed out.  The finial and lid are pretty close to being finished, but the hinge has yet to be made (the crux of the job).  Sideplates are chopped out.  Beneath it, the rifle we're copying here.  This was a documentary copy of a rifle by (I want to say) George Eister.  But I might be wrong.  I'll have to look at Kindig to remind myself.  I built a string of these late 18th century/early 19th century guns for clients - Schweizer, Eister, Haeffer...all with big beatiful four piece boxes and several inlays.  Also a great North Carolina gun by Vogler that I actually shipped off without ever photographing.  I still hate that.  It was over the top, and one of my favorite things I ever built.

The sheet metal shop.  Finial and lid to the box, and ramrod pipes in varying stages of completion.  

Smoking in the box.  Finial and lid are together and the hinge is as it should be, so it's time to sour it down.  Tedious work this:  after a couple of hours you want to start driving the box into the stock with a hammer, but you just wind up breaking off vital pieces of wood and deforming the box.  So after a couple of lousy rifles with messed up boxes, you learn to slow down and (like G. Gordon Liddy reccomens) "stop caring that it hurts."

Initial fitting of the side plates of the box.

Right side finished, laying out the left side.  Super fussy work now - all those little acute angles in the brass signify a weak point on the stock inlet - a weak corner that can so easily be broken off and lost forever.  I have spent hours looking for a certain tiny chip of wood that came flying off while inletting.  Do that once or twice and you'll learn the value of slowing down so that you don't make stupid mistakes.  (You only make smart ones.)

Whew...praise the Lord.  Finished.  I don't time (line up) the screw slots on my boxes because I think this is an aesthetic that is inappropriate for most longrifle work.  Perhaps others more knowledgeable than myself have evidence that they did this sort of thing, but I've not seen it.

I'll stop here for now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bench update

Final work on the bench - it's basically finished now.  The final skirt board is on (a clear 2x12 from sappy Southern Yellow Pine) and I'll peg it into place in a day or so, then drill the holes for the holdfasts.  I'm going to get at least one pair of holdfasts from Peter Ross, who was master blacksmith at Williamsburg for many years, and has now semi-retired to an idyllic setting in central North Carolina, not far from Roy Underhill's Woodwright's School in Pittsboro.

Here you can see the bench over on its side to make it easier to fiit the skirt board in place while at the same time coordinating the "joist" across the middle.

It's inserted without glue, nails, wedges, or ceremony into each skirt board and is made from an oak 1x5.  Dead simple and dead solid.  You can see how simple the legs are also, and hopefully if you wanted to construct a similar bench you could figure it out from the photos alone.  It ain't rocket surgery, as they say.

Let me encourage you to do this - perhaps not on this scale - but in this style.  Let me encourage you to think of a bench more as a massive, simple table with rudimentary vise hardware, and less of a CAD designed work of art with a geometrically flat top and expensive machined vises and everything pretty enough to be furniture.  I guess if that's what you really want, that's fine, but that's not what this stuff is about, and it's an aesthetic at which our forebears would be amazed - and quite possibly laugh.

I'm going into detail on this bench because I believe it's (1) a tremendously versatile, durable and traditional design and (2) it's dead simple and nothing to get too overly analytical about.  I've alluded to it before, but I believe modern hobby workshops look the way they look (which is a bunch of dangerous machines crammed into a garage) because of a chain of circumstances that the woodworker is confronted with:

1.  You need to crosscut and rip stock to build projects, whether it's a bluebird box or a mahogany highboy.  Whatever else you do, you rip and crosscut first.

2.  You have a handsaw but its probably not set up properly - it's probably not sharp for one thing.  A sharp handsaw will cut through 2" thick oak by virtue of the weight of the blade alone.

3.  Let's say you actually have a handsaw - where are you going to rest your boards while you size your stock?  Chances are you don't have saw horses, or if you do, they're the tall Home Depot kind made to be worked on with circular saws.

4.  Your present workbench is probably covered with tools and miscellanea - cans of paint, boxes of screws, etc. and to clean it off would take an hour.  Then, when you got it cleaned off it would be taller than the saw horses, making it way too tall for proper sawing.

5.  You get confronted with these barriers a few times and you realize "I need a place to cut boards."  So you clear some space between the eight snow tires and the clothes dryer and buy a table saw, because...well, isn't that what you do?  (I mean, Jim has one, and man is it ever nice!)

Back up.  Rethink this.  Clear out some space.  Get rid of stuff - sell stuff - make room.  Build a good solid, simple bench as heavy and as long as you can make it, and up to about the height of your wrist watch.  Yes, that short.  Make a couple of saw horses the height of a chair seat.  Yes, that short.

Now, bingo - you have a place to saw boards!  You have a place to plane boards!  Your handsaw suddenly makes sense, and when you get it back from the guy that sharpens them it cuts through stock so fast it makes you dizzy.  You clamp it down on top of your bench and that short work height makes sense as you're able to lean over your plane and dang how the shavings roll off.  Epiphany.  It dawns on you that THIS STUFF WORKS.

You better believe it works.  A proper bench is the great enabler of so much good work and embodies so much capability. Don't let misconceptions about its construction be a hurdle foisted on you by the perfectionism of others.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

D. Boone - Poet

A Companion for Owls was a lucky find.  I don't read a lot of poetry - I suppose because I think much of it is contrived and superficial.  People who can't write decent prose can crank out what sounds like acceptable poetry, much the way people who can't sculpt a believable human hand can spend all day in the barn with a welder and a bunch of old car parts and suddenly they're sculptors.

The premise is that Boone carried with him a little day book and in it he would occasionally write poetry.  Simple enough.  He was a fairly literate man, and for the day (and his peer group) very well read.  It is known that for many years he carried with him a copy of Gulliver's Travels, reading the amazing, almost psychadelic travel tales by who knows how many lonely camp fires.  Gulliver's adventures among people small enough to dance in his hand must have seemed in some ways no less strange than the odd juxtaposition of his modernity crashing head long into woodland Indian traditions.  I'm sure he often felt as odd and out of place as a man who found himself among a race of super intelligent horses that had developed for themselves language and society and culture.

Boone was a man made famous in his own time, something that didn't happen to dozens of his colleagues, many of whom were more successful, smarter, and probably better woodsmen.  Boone himself was amazed at his fame and said on more than one occasion, basically, "I don't understand the fuss - others did more and better than me.  But whatever."  Living a life pock marked by loneliness and loss, and being of a reading bent, it's no great stretch to imagine him writing poetry.  And A Companion For Owls is woodsman's poetry - simple, sturdy, sinewy.  Dealing with everything from God to getting drunk, to his childhood games with Indians, to his mother speaking to him in Welsh, the pieces meander through his life and work, taking no discernible path, much like he meandered through the mountains, going from salt lick to salt lick, hunting, musing, wandering...would he head back east before winter, or in the spring?  Time to decide that tomorrow...or next week.

At its best, this is amazing stuff.  His ruminations on the death of his son Israel, on finding his body, "with buzzards maddened at his throat, their wings tipped with his blood..." is powerful.  Looking down into Kentucky for the first time, with the hill and valleys laid out before him like a woman's skirts, and so beautiful that his dogs and horses stood mute, is an unforgettable image.  Maurice Manning has a woodsman's sense of hunting, of fire, of rifles...sleeping one night he senses a bear snuffling him.  He lies still and the bear gently turns him over like a log, looking for insects.  He's disgusted with the way that the Indians are treated when William Henry Harrison defeats the last band of Shawnee in 1811and inscribes on a tree: "Old Tippecanoe can goe to hell."

At the end of the volume, he draws a map of heaven, one corner of which is marked with strange crooked X's - this marks the spot "where all old longrifles go to be buried."  Hard not to get misty over that.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Asphaltum is petroleum tar.  It is a deep, wickedly dark brown color - about the color of coffee so strong it stinks.  Gary Brumfield, past master of the restored gunsmith shop at Colonial Williamsburg, has been something of a champion for using asphaltum as a stain for curly maple.  The traditional staining technique is of course dilute nitric acid, with iron mixed in, making a horrid poisonous reddish mud that you paint on the stock, heat with something like a bar of iron heated red hot, at which point the acid soaked wood turns a glorious reddish brown.  The curl in the wood has great clarity and vibrancy (the actual word for this dancing curly maple figure is "chatoyancy", I kid you not...) and it's well documented as being the standard staining method time and again in period sources.

But there are other ways.  I am going to research the documentation on asphaltum, but in this simple photo you can see the piece of maple scrap really jumps out.  The color is more brown than the red-brown typically seen with nitric, but then I've gotten this same color before using acid, so it's a bit of a crap shoot.  Part of the fun.

Although asphaltum will dry hard, I will follow tradition and use a beeswax finish on top.  This makes a really tough, waterproof finish.

Just a quick pic - I'll post more when I finish the rifle.  Notice there is no visible curl in the wood because the sun is bleaching it out, but the asphaltum really makes it stand out.

Quick look at my own rifle

I don't have a rifle of my own.  I know, it's a hard world.  I've built two for myself - the first built long ago I became disgusted with and disassembled for parts, and the second I sold, but it was a .58 caliber and I felt like I was feeding a cannon after a while.

So I am building a rifle for myself that is not for sale, period.  It's related to the Brass Barreled Rifle, famed in song and story, and a gun that I at first thought was just weird looking but now cannot get enough of.  "I look at it long and long," as the poet says.

The castings are my own work, from my own wooden masters.  Chambers Early Ketland lock.  Simple brass box with a single silver disc in it.  Don't ask me why - it just seemed right at the moment.  I'm going to stain it with asphaltum and will probably finish it with beeswax and turpentine - a really tough finish, for all weather use in hard conditions.  I'll post more photos when it's done.

Seen here in the buff, with no buttpiece on.  I just like the way the architecture looks in this shot.  I think we're gonna be good friends.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Planing hook

a'la Roubo...using both sides of my bench enables me to use a planing hook as illustrated in the original documents.  One thing I've noticed: most of the modern interpretations of the planing hook do not try to make it look like the original.  To me this is heresy - the original shape of the hook is quite plainly shown in the original engraving.  It has a long bearing surface for maximum bolting/pegging area, for rock solid stability, and short, steep shallow angle hook area because that's all you need.  It seems people want to get uppity and go changing things.

Let the word go out from this time and place: You generally cannot improve this stuff, you can only modernize it.  To wit:

This is by far the most common form of planing hook I see when I look at modern Roubo interpretations.  Notice that the parameters have flip flopped: you have now a short area for the mating surface (hook to bench) and a long, shallow hook.  This is exactly the opposite of the original.  And why is that wrong?  Because what you've done is very effectively reduce the hook's ability to stay attached to the bench while at the same time dramatically increasing the power that the planed board has to rip it off.  By making the hook shallow you allow the board to "get under" the hook and lift it out - perpetually out - with every stroke of the plane - against whatever tiny little bolts will be crammed into that small mating area.

Part of what's going on here is that this hook form is often coupled with a face vice - they're depending on the vise to do the bulk of the holding and the hook is just there to help out.  To each his own, but I think there are better ways to skin this particular cat.

This is as the original was drawn:

A long mating surface for glue/pegs/bolts/whatever to hold this thing onto the bench for, oh let's say maybe 200 years, and a short steep hook angle so that the planed board doesn't get under the hook so much as slam into it head-on...a direction of force which is much easier to counteract.

The old stuff isn't the way it is for no reason.  These people weren't bored hobbyists.  This stuff fed their families and kept them out of debtor's prison.  It had to be right.  It had to make sense.  It had to work.  (If it seems like I get worked up about this stuff it's probably just because I get worked up about this stuff.)

So anyway, I free-handed a little swoop onto a piece of oak scrap (it even had a nice S curve in the grain that nearly followed the profile, so much the better.)  I cut it out and dressed it up a little.

I decided that I would hold it on with three lag bolts (I had acres of room to bolt it to the bench - my options were limitless...see how this stuff works?) and would orient two of them at an angle away from the direction of planing, so that the force of planing would push the hook on the long axis of the bolts rather than at right angles.  The middle bolt would just be perpendicular.

Countersunk heads, lag bolts with washers.  Notice the front and rear holes are at angles to the middle one.  There would be no way to accomplish this much holding power if I used the modern permutation of the planing hook.

And "soured down" as we say, it was the veritable Rock of Gibraltar.  I slapped on some BLO so it matched the rest of the real estate.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Installing the vise garter

Okay, bear with the photography.  I'm going to get a good camera for Christmas.

I was dreading completing the last task of making the vise for the bench, that of installing the internal wedge garter that locks into a groove on the top of the screw, so that when you back off on the screw, the vise chop automatically moves out with it.  I believe most ready made wooden vise screws now come made so that you purchase a nice brass garter, or two halves of a brass ring, that will screw right to the face of the vise chop.  But I bought my screw (I actually bought a pair) more than ten years ago, from an old gentleman who was, as far as I could tell, the only person in the country still making them.

His screw was made with a groove for a wedge - an internal, not an external garter.  This wouldn't be any big deal, except this requires you to drill and chisel and file out a mortise deep into the oak chop of the vise.  The mortise has to be precise - it has to wind up in exactly the right place, and with its inserted garter/wedge, must be a precision affair, locking with a smooth but play-free fit to give the vise a secure action.  There are lots of ways to weasel out of the job.  You could just drill in and put a dowel in there, for instance.  I saw a photo once of a garter that was a brass bolt that screws in from the side, and on its end is a nylon roller bearing that fits the groove...blah blah blah.  Which just proves that there are some people who will fine a machine shop solution to any and every conceivable problem.

Laying out the location of the mortise.

No doubt about it, I needed a proper hardwood wedge in a proper mortise.  I chose ebony, as I always have several pieces laying around, and once you start working with ebony, you will find excuses to use it.  It's wonderful stuff.

Using a marking gauge to lay off the thickness I need:

I just had to drill two 3/8" holes about 8" - 10" deep through the side of my vise chop, and have them intersect with the screw groove at exactly the right depth, and in the right place fore and aft so that the wedge would ride smoothly without binding.  You can see why I put this job off.

But, while waiting for some shellac to dry, I just tore into it.  First I measured the groove and started orienting in my mind how it would all go together.  I much preferred an internal mortise and wedge to a face garter - it's simpler and more traditional, and I can make it and repair it myself without having to buy expensive hardware.

At some point I couldn't put it off any longer, and I had to drill.  I don't know why but I chose to drill the top of the two holes (that would later be worked into a rectangular mortise) and it felt really right.  No way to know, though - it is too high up in the chop to enter into the 2" diameter screw hole.

Once that was done I did The Nasty - the actual hole that would cut into the screw hole and form the most important part of the work - the floor on which the wedge would rest as it intersected with the vise screw.

And it worked.  I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I can drill a hole.  It wound up right where I wanted it.  My heart soared like the hawk.  All that remained was about an hour of chisel and rasp work.  Luckily I had a 3/8" square rasp (a tool I almost never use) and it did the trick.

And after some fussing and fitting, it all came together.  Good smooth action, full engagement into the groove, and solid glossy ebony that will probably not wear out in my lifetime.  I took my stub of a candle and greased everything up and the action in and out was super.  Some decorative file work on the wedge capped it off.

So the vise is finished.  Next job is the Roubo planing hook.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New bench - with ghostly cellphone pics...

For something as foundational as a workbench, I didn't do much of a job documenting its construction.  I want to apologize up front for the eerie cellphone photography.  My daughter moved off to college and took the good camera with her.  But frankly, I like the gauzy glow I get with this phone - call it instant atmosphere if you will.

Here we see possibly the quintessential simplest form of bench (not counting that Japanese carpenters use only an inclined board, or work on the floor) - and notice that there is no screw vise on this model.  Roubo illustrated many benches, many of which had screw vises, but when you say "Roubo bench", this is what you mean, whether you know it or not.  Very few people actually build this guy today.  For one thing, we tend to do more operations in our home shops than the simple planing and thicknessing of stock that this bench is designed to do.  But still and all, it's a wonder of design.

There is definitely a new appreciation for massive, minimalist workbenches.  The spare beauty of the Roubo bench with a simple planing hook or the Nicholson bench with its skirt board (with dog holes) are inspirational to many people who would love to build their own bench, but get a little dizzy at the thought of buying hundreds of dollars worth of complex screw vise hardware, then having to dovetail and mill and fit and fuss over wagon vises, and face vises, and parallell guides with roller bearing nylon bushings, and removable tool trays, and...and...

So the simple "big heavy table" is very liberating.  A bench is largely a table you plane boards on.  Sure, there's a lot more to it, or can be, but planing boards is what it's all about.  This is accomplished admirably by the minimalist benches, and the planing hook (just a big wooden snag you run the board up against) makes you admit "Well, I guess I don't HAVE to clamp it..."  Stand the board up on its edge, run it against the planing hook,  strike home a hold fast, and you're ready to go in a matter of seconds.  The great liberator here is the hold fast - a miracle of gription that allows you to hold a board flat on the bench without having to grip its edges in any kind of complicated vise.  Once you get your head around that, much of the cost and complexity of a modern woodworking bench seems less neccessary.

So anyway, I decided to build a big (8' long) and heavy (probably 400 pounds) solid oak bench on which I could do all the joinery and carpentry I might need to do, including furniture making.  I decided against any of the metal vises out there.  Their names are legion - but I wanted to stay in the 18th century as much as possible.  I want to replicate the work of that period with the tools of that period, and that starts with a bench.  I was going to use a wooden screw vise, but also wanted to use the planing hook.  I didn't want to use them together on the same side though, as some do.  To me this seemed to cramp the vise's style, and I could see myself needing to vise something up that would interfere with the hook.  This is personal opinion, and it works for others.  I just wanted to keep the vise side clean.

Unlike (it seems) most benches, mine will stand out away from the wall.  I intend to use both sides.  One side will have a wooden screw vise, the other will have a planing hook.  I see no reason (other than space, and easy wall-hung tool access, and rock like stability) to put a bench against the wall.  OK, there are at least three good reasons to put the bench against the wall, I'll admit it.  But I wanted a bench solid enough so that aggressive planing across its surface wouldn't set it to rockin', and this way I have in effect two benches - one with a beautifully simple planing hook and the other with a wooden screw vise, which is handy for a myriad of operations, and doesn't take me out of my century.

The  bench started as legs for a gunmaking bench that never materialized.  They were built from oak 4x4's about 10 years ago, and since they were intended for gunmaking, much of which takes place at about chest height they are too tall by far for a planing bench.  Luckily, I had put the fore and aft stringers far up enough from the floor so that I could cut off several inches from the legs below them and still have a gap to put my toes under as I work.  Don't underestimate the importance of this.  If you have to lean forward over your work, you'll tire much quicker.

The top is 2" thick oak.  I had several white oaks taken down and told the miller to cut out several 2x6's for a bench top.  He cut me 3.  One of them was too badly bent to use.  So that left me 12" of width.  I called around and found some 2" oak 2x8's (which turned out to be red oak but they would work.)  They were straight and dry. The odd knot meant nothing.  I pegged with the top as the reference face of course, but there were still some areas that needed to be brought down with the scrub plane.  I know, this is not an 18th century plane form.  I should have used a try plane, but I frankly have trouble seeing the difference between a convex-edged try plane and a convex edged scrub plane.

The boards were planed and jointed (I used my hilariously tiny little Garrett Wade bench for this, just one notch better than holding them in my lap) then pegged and glued together, then clamped like all get-out.  Careful jointing with my beloved 29" jointer really made this job.  The drilling was done by eye - and all the pegs lined up nearly perfectly.  No gauge or setup jigs required.  I am a man of few talents, but after years of drilling ramrod holes 48" deep into a gunstock, I can bore with the best of them.

I decided to have the legs protrude through the top, a'la Roubo, with a simplification.  A 2x4" tenon would be cut on the top, which would leave 2x4" of bearing support under the top at each leg.  Of course, man handling this incredibly heavy top around while I marked out, then drilled, then chiseled the mortices was the worst part of the job.

But with careful drilling, the mortices were very tight and the look wasn't sloppy at all but rather attractive.  I also like looking at the bench and immediately knowing how it works.  I've mentioned this in the post on the Carter Mansion - looking at something, and immediately understanding it, is very pleasureable.  I look at modern benches, with their seamless un-fenestrated tops, and I wonder immediately "What holds it together?"  And I'm sure it's some concoction of bolts or screws.

The tenons get sawn flush, then planed smooth.

I decided to go with the Jorgensen metal bench planing stop.  One will live on the bench top - in a mortise which keeps it flush, until needed.  At which time it will be raised up and turned to it's working direction, 90 degrees from the mortises.  The other two will live in the skirt board when not being used.  I didn't go hog wild with dog holes - I'm going to see how few I can drill.  If I need one, I'll drill it, but I saw no need to punch a dozen holes in the top when I'll probably only wind up using 3 or 4 for 90 percent of what I do.

The  face vise is the traditional wooden screw affair, famed in song and story.  I just copied the various good massive vises I saw others building, particularly Adam Cherubini and Chris Schwarz.  Again, an immediately beautiful, obviously useful device.  Just lovely.  You can't not play with it.  It begs you to, when no one's looking, squeeze your hand in it just to see how strong it really is.  Tell me you haven't done this - I ask the coldest of you mortals.

I ran a moulding around it with my sash ovolo plane, a beauty made for me by Tod Herrli of Mississinewa Workshop.  Tod has made several planes for me, and they're all incredibly nice.

A view underneath, showing the parallel guide, bench screw (the actual screw block or "nut" that engages the threads isn't in place yet) and the as-yet unsupported top.  It is as solid as the sidewalk like it is, but I will, when the second skirt board goes on, add a couple of cross-wise joists just because I don't want the pegs and glue doing all the work for the life of the bench.

The almost finished bench.  The side facing away from you will the the "Roubo" side, with planing hook and Nicholson skirt board.  I'll get that knocked out in the next week or so.  I put a coat of boiled linseed oil on the top and it looks varnished.  I'll stick with BLO - it just smells better than varnish.  How's that for reasoning?

Still to do: drill the parallel guide for standard stock thicknesses.  Install other skirt board.  Install planing hook.

Is this the be-all and end-all of benches - of course not.  It's a collection of compromises, tradition, heresy, and inspiration.  There are limitless ways to make a great bench that will work well.  To see what can be done taking things to the next level, and still staying very traditional, watch this fantastic video by instrument maker and woodworker Jameel Khalaf.  The secondary, set-in-place screw vice has me drooling.  It'll take a minute or two to download, but it is very much worth the time.

Roubo Bench