A Benchtop in the Wings

After I built my French-style workbench using dimensional yellow pine in 2005, I tried to acquire a solid slab of hardwood to make a second bench that would be constructed just like the one shown in A.J. Roubo’s “L’art du Menuisier.”

I contacted several sawyers, who all told me I was crazy. I convinced one sawyer to give it a try, but he stopped returning my calls. This part of the story goes on and on, so I won’t bore you. But let’s just say I kept getting abandoned at the altar with me in a shop apron and holding a bouquet of mortise chisels.

Last night I finally got my wish. Thanks to a fellow woodworker, I now have a slab of poplar that measures 6” x 22” x 130” on my back deck. It’s still kinda wet and has some checks on the bark side, but the heart side is solid and almost completely clear.

If the slab remains stable as I finish drying it, I’m going to make a bench that resembles the beasts in Plate 11 of Roubo’s book. As to vises, I think this might be the one to trick out with a Benchcrafted Glide with the company’s forthcoming Criscross parallel guide. I’m not sure about the end vise. I have a Lie-Nielsen improved tail vise sitting in a box in the basement.

What I don’t have yet is a place to put the bench. I think it would look awesome in the front room of the house, but I should start saving up for the marriage counseling and florist bills starting today.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. For those of you who don’t read my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine, you might be interested in this post from yesterday about two changes I’ve made to by 2005 Roubo workbench.

About lostartpress

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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31 Responses to A Benchtop in the Wings

  1. Doug Peckham says:

    Store it in my shop. (That was too easy)

  2. Dang Chris! That’s no joke. How do you plan on drying it, and how long do you think it will take?

    Jonathan
    ========================================

    • lostartpress says:

      I’m going to dry it under tarps beneath the deck. My guess is that it will be another year before I begin work. Plenty of time for me to find an apartment and to get my affairs in order.

  3. Freddy Roman says:

    Chris,
    I wish I knew earlier, for we could of gone to the mill site in Marion, MA ,and you could of had a choice of picking any tree that’s on the pile. Then we could of milled a top to your specs. The individual who has wood mizer is the same one that Peter Follansbee used last year to mill up all that walnut. The only issue would of been getting this slab home. I guess next time we may be able to do something, for I bet this won’t be the last bench you make.

  4. Orion says:

    Read the first sentence as lawyer, not sawyer, twice. Really had me confused. Thought it was going to be a sarcastic post. :-)

  5. ronald tibbs says:

    Impressive slab! I’d offer you all the barn space you need to store and build but the shipping costs to Sweden might land you in more hot water than an addition to the front room of your house.
    There is a lot of forestry work in the surrounding area and I purchased some 3 and 4 meter logs @ about 55 to 70 cm in diameter each. I’ve never dealt with slabs this thick, would you recommend avoiding the core and the widest part of the log for a slab? Maybe go with two narrower cuts like your daughter’s bench?

  6. Jay C. White Cloud says:

    Morning Chris,

    I mill a considerable amount for my own timber framing work, (Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indigenous folk styles,) this involves a lot of slab work, particularly for the 나무바닥 – Tong-Maru flooring from Korea.

    I have some white pine slabs that will form the beam work and floor for a frame currently going up. The primary slab beams are 125mm thick, the secondary slab beams are 75mm thick, with a lay in slab floor of 40mm thick. The primary slab beams are live edge averaging 750mm wide, (approx. 30″.) by 4500mm long. I find that most of the timber I work, of this size takes considerably longer to dry at it’s core than one year. If I can get wood into a drying shed, (no kilns-it case hardens the wood to often) I may be able to speed the process up. I have come not to trust moisture meters for they seam to only work for furniture dimension size wood and the feedback I have gotten over the years from many elders, is the wood of this size drys really slow, (decades in some cases.)

    What do you think?

    Also, is this current slab you are going to use Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)? It seemed like you had a hard time finding a miller that would do large slabs for you? If that is the case let me know, since most of my contacts work with timber framers and are accustomed to “big sticks.”

    • lostartpress says:

      Jay,

      I think this slab will take a lot longer than a year to fully acclimate, but I think I can make a bench out of it in a year and just flatten it every few months for a while as it settles down.

      I hope to not make a habit of working with big slabs, but I’ll shoot you an e-mail if I need another one. Thanks for the offer of help.

      • Jay C. White Cloud says:

        Will you press (weight) dry it and Is the slab Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)? I like your idea of planning it over time instead of all at once. Regards, jay.

      • lostartpress says:

        Sorry. It is tulip poplar, which is fine for a workbench. I’ll sticker it and weight it down with bricks during the drying process.

      • Jay C. White Cloud says:

        The fact you are using tulip wood, I think is grand. I have built entire timber frames with this species, and it is one of my favorites. I am still shocked by the number of “experienced” wood workers, particularly architectural, that informed me with confidence, that the wood is of low standard and should not be used.

        I know of several, (including one of my own,) robust work benches, (old and contemporary,) that are well worked and holding up strong through the decades, all made of this species. Good luck and keep us up to speed on your progress. Regards, jay

  7. Scott Garrison says:

    Chris, I got my maple log cut in 1996 and have air dried it since – brought it down to GA from NH where it was cut. Though you will probably still have your bench built before mine ;-) I have a question.

    My original thought was to joint the side of each, glue them together to get width (my small end is about 12 inches – large about 18) and go with pith side down. However, all that I’m reading including your stuff is pushing me in the direction of cutting the board into 4 inch wide strips and rotating 90 degrees to get quartersawn grain alignment.Now this will be a huge task cutting 5-6 of these from my 3-1/2 inch thick planks. Are you planning on this? Or are you simply going to go with the outside of the log as your top?

    This is my next big project (after nightstands [SWMBO politics] and jewelry boxes for my girls for Xmas) and I’m leaning back to not worrying about quartersawn.

    thanks
    Scott

    • lostartpress says:

      Scott,

      I’m not going to saw up the slab and I’m going to use the heart side up, as per Roubo’s instructions. If I were you I wouldn’t saw anything up. Just glue up what you have.

      • Jay C. White Cloud says:

        Chris,

        I am only familiar with Jacques-Andre work on benches from the few I have seen and what is written in “The Workbench Book,” by S. Landis. I have always wanted to ask someone on your caliber for a discourse on the different approach methodologies for the use on large wooden members in structural work, both architectural and furniture, between European and Asian concepts.

        This is perhaps not the venue for a lengthy discussion, (please make a suggestion,) but I would love your thoughts on the European vs. Asian concepts. I often have the wood in a timber frame all oriented according to Shinto spiritual mandates, (or similar dictum.) With the bench in discussion, (Asian benches are much simpler,) you would place the slab, “as the tree falls in the forest,” bark side up. I have stood by these edicts because of the style I work in, my heritage, pith side has longer splinters and the fact that wood decays faster in the pith up position. Please share your thoughts.

      • lostartpress says:

        The idea is that the heart side will bow while the bark side will cup. This will cause the benchtop to bear against the top of the legs. In most Western furniture the tendency is to put the heart side facing out when possible. This helps keep corners tight at the top of a chest, drawer etc.

        I know that the Japanese perspective is quite different but valid.

      • Scott Garrison says:

        Heart side UP – thanks Chris

  8. Floss says:

    Have you thought about making a solar kiln?

    A little bit of clear visqueen and some 2 X 4′s would suffice.

    I believe Gene Wengert has some plans on his site? I am not sure if he is still at VA Tech.

    The cyclical drying of the kiln seems to mitigate case hardening and may put you well ahead of the game with lowering moisture content, more than just letting it sit under a deck, before you build.

    F.

  9. Ted Beyer says:

    Do you think you will get a 10′ + bench out of it? Maybe you have to plan some cracking at the ends.. I plan to build your Holtzapfel bench this fall and was planning to buy 8/4 ash to laminate. Did look around for 12/4 to avoid laminating but it is expensive, harder to find and I was thinking it would be more maintenance to keep flat.

  10. Mike Agnew says:

    Holly S!*#!, that is a big piece of wood. If that was my wood I would make everybody look at it…

  11. Tim Henriksen says:

    Suggestion: Skip this whole drying nonsense and just make a large bad a$$ joint stool!

  12. Brett says:

    If you change your mind about building Roubo’s Plate 11 bench, you could build one like the the Dominy bench you described in your October 2007 blog post (“Dominy Workbench Under Glass”).

  13. Graham Burbank says:

    glad to see the “limit your number of tools” mantra is more of a theoretical goal to strive for, not a “sip the coolaid” religion. Now what can I bolt this Yost on? hmmm…

  14. Patrick says:

    Well Chris, I think you’ve launched a new area of Freudian pyschoanalysis: wood-envy.
    (I’ll be discussing it with my shrink tomorrow.)

  15. Adam W says:

    Are you planning on through dovetail tenons?

    I hope it’s not too twisted or bowed.

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