Preparation for Bending Wood


FIG. 127. Smoothing section edge before cutting board for sifter. Avinurme, Ulvi village, Photograph by author, 1947. Photo library 1089:98.

This is an excerpt from “Woodworking in Estonia” by Ants Viires; translated by Mart Aru.

MATERIAL USED. In Europe bent-board containers were made of various types of timber. The flexible and easily cut aspen was popular in Estonia, and was also widely used for that purpose in Russia, Finland and northern Sweden.35 In southern Estonia linden was also used. The sides of the sieve, sifter and “külimit” were all made of aspen. In the case of chests and hampers, birch and ash were often used (especially in the islands), as well as bird cherry. In western Saaremaa chests were mostly made of oak. Oak served as raw material for chests in southern Sweden and southwestern Finland.36 In some countries coniferous wood, pine or spruce, were used for the bent sides of the container, but this was not the case in Estonia. On the other hand, the base of many of these containers was often made of pine or spruce.

CUTTING. The boards were always brought in when still green. This was done so as to prevent them from cracking during the bending process. Furthermore, the board had to be split with an axe, not cut with a saw. The sawn board would easily crack or chip, whereas the chopped board retained the tree rings in good condition and facilitated the bending process. For chests, sieves and sifters, boards 5/16″–1/2″ (7-12 mm) thick were used: for hampers 3/4″- 1-1/2″ (2-4 cm). In western Saaremaa very thin (around 1/8″ or 2-4 mm) boards of oak were sometimes used for chests.

There were two ways of cutting boards for the bent container. The primitive method, used throughout the country, was to make use of the smooth surface of the barked tree for the surface of the container, cutting the log accordingly. This process required preliminary cutting of the log to the right size, i.e., into two or four sections. After that the inside surface was hewn out with an axe and a trough axe, until a curved board of the desired thickness was achieved. The inside surface was finally smoothed with a draw knife.  Such a board is easily bent. This method was also common in Russia and Finland.37

The author had the chance to follow the second method closely in Avinurme in the summer of 1947. Apart from Avinurme, this way of cutting is used also in the Nõva and Hiiumaa home industries. Here, again, the log was first cut into half and each half was further divided into thirds or halves, depending on the original thickness.

Two boards were obtained from each of the sections. The sharp edges of the segment were smoothed with an axe (Fig. 127), and a line was marked along which the cutting was to be done. The splitting itself followed with three wedges first driven into the edge: one in the middle,  and one at each end. Sometimes only one large wedge was used, placed in the middle. As the split formed, smaller wedges were driven into the wood to “guide the split” (Fig. 128). And thus, by driving the wedges even deeper, a double size board was obtained. It was then further split in two, using the same method (Fig. 129). The process is actually very fast, lasting no more than five to 10 minutes.

Both sides of the board are then scraped with the axe, the work being done on the bench. At the same time the bark is removed and the stroke of the axe has to fall along the rings of the wood. Then the curved surface on the outside is cut straight with a planing knife (Fig. 130) and the inside planed with a curved jack plane (Fig. 131). In Avinurme the latter job was done with a draw knife as late as the first decade of the 20th century (Fig. 132).


FIG. 132. Inside surface of sifter board being shaved with drawknife. Avinurme, Laurisaare village. Photograph by Vittoff, 1921. Photo library 439:162.

Splitting with axe and wedges was typical in Sweden and central Europe and was also known in areas where home industry was prevalent (especially for smaller boards). Here they were cut straight, and not along the tree rings, as was the use in Estonia.38  The latter is more closely associated with the first, more primitive method.

35  Филиппов, p. 222; Granlund, p.115-116.
36  Granlund, loc. cit.
37  Филиппов, pp. 224-225 (Simbirsk Gubernia); Tруды XI, p.3158 (Vyatka Gubernia), Granlund, pp. 121-122. Karrakoski, p.144.
38  Granlund, pp. 118-120; Филиппов , p. 224.

Meghan Bates



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Roubo Bench for Sale – Come & Get it


Will Myers working on one of the mortises in the base.

This week Will Myers, John and I are building a massive slab workbench in the Roubo style for an upcoming video (more on the video later). We’re just about done with the shoot and are offering the finished bench for sale at a very good price.

But here’s the non-negotiable catch: You have to come get it (we’re in the Cincinnati area). We cannot ship this bench.

The bench is a massive single-slab oak top – 5-1/2” thick and 9’ long – made from red oak harvested and cut in North Carolina by Lesley Caudle. The joinery is all traditional. The base is all drawbored mortise-and-tenon. The top is joined to the base with the classic through-tenon and sliding dovetail joint found on French benches. The bench is 34″ high.


The leg vise features a Benchcrafted classic vise screw with a Crisscross mechanism. The planing stop is handmade by blacksmith Peter Ross. The holdfast is from Crucible Tool. The bench is finished with boiled linseed oil.

Right now the bench components are still a little above equilibrium moisture content for the Midwest. Some bits are 12 percent; some of the thick bits are at 16 percent. But the bench will dry quickly in the next few months if stored indoors. Like all slab workbenches, you’ll need to flatten the top once it settles down. But Will and I think this slab is really mild – it was dead flat when we started with no twist.

The price is $3,000, cash or check. It goes to the first person to say: I’ll take it and I’ll come get it. If you want it, please send an email to If we don’t find a buyer, we’ll just throw the bench on the large pile of benches behind my shop.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The Letterpress Version of ‘Roman Workbenches’


We are quickly closing in on getting “Roman Workbenches” to press at Steamwhistle Press, and I would like to tell you this now: This is unlike any book we have done before.

The book will be printed letterpress on an old Vandercook proofing press – the same press we used to print “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” posters. To print the book we will first make special polymer plates that will be affixed to the bed of the Vandercook. Every sheet of paper will be fed by hand into the press and pulled for drying by hand.

Normally we print our books at Lost Art Press using a modern and highly automated offset process, which is (relatively) inexpensive and produces a nice result.

But letterpress printing is something else. It’s physical instead of chemical. Every character and every line makes an impression into the paper. The ink spread is regulated by hand. So a letterpress book is as much a textural experience as an intellectual one. If you have ever held a book from the 18th or 19th century and wondered why it spoke to you, my guess is you have sensed this manufacturing difference.


This week Brian Stuparyk at Steamwhistle and I pored over paper samples to find the right combination of brightness, weight and texture. Right now it looks like we are going to use paper from Mohawk, which made the paper for the deluxe edition of “Roubo on Marquetry.”

Also, Nicholas Moegly is now working on the 14 hand-drawn illustrations for the book (a draft of Figure 1 is at the top of this entry).

Once we deliver our finished layouts to Brian at Steamwhistle, he estimates it will take him an entire month of running the press to print the 500 books we’ve ordered.

After going over all the details of this book – handmade benches, handmade illustrations and a manual letterpress, I wondered: What the &^%* am I doing here?

But this weekend we had the Lost Art Press storefront open and we were busy from the time I unlocked the doors until I kicked the last two customers out at 5:15 p.m. Many of them were fascinated by the two Roman workbenches in my shop. How do they work? How did you find out about them? How did you make them? Can you use them to build furniture?

This short book – 64 pages and only 3/8” thick – will answer all those questions. And it will be a (for lack of a better word) sensual experience.

The downside? There will only be 500. That’s the absolute limit for the equipment, people involved, space and energy. We’ll sell it only through Lost Art Press (there really aren’t enough to ship them to retailers). But we’ll make special arrangements so international customers can buy them from us.

We’ll have a price for the book and more details later this week. Until then, I hope you dream of Perdix (shown above) and the tools he invented.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Drawer Making


Fig 471. Why a shallow drawer has greater side play than a deep one.

This is an excerpt from “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing.

A well-fitting drawer can be likened to a piston working in a cylinder. For a drawer to fit well, not only is it important that the drawer itself is absolutely accurate on the outside, but equally important is the accuracy of the opening into which it must slide. Therefore, when setting out a carcase, great care must be taken to see that the drawer opening is as large at the back of the job as it is at the front. Indeed, to ensure a really good fit, it is better to allow a very slight clearance at the back, both in height and in width. This will make certain that the drawer will not wedge at the back, and will allow for any slight inward bowing of the carcase.


The amount of this clearance is directly related to the length of the drawer side (Fig 471) but on the longest side should never exceed 1mm (1/32 in.) on each side of the drawer; a greater amount would allow the drawer to wobble even when nearly closed. In the type of job where drawer guides are used, this clearance can easily be obtained (in width, but not in height) by adjusting the guides when the drawer is being fitted. Any twist in the carcase or framing will also cause a drawer to jam.

Test the accuracy of a job as it is being built. Take a small strip of wood about 3mm (1/8 in.) square, and cut it to length so that it just fits into the front of the opening into which the drawer will slide. Push it to the back where it should be a much slacker fit. This ‘feeler gauge’ test should be applied both horizontally and vertically, and should also be applied at the glueing stage when distortion caused by cramping may occur.


Fig 472. Note that the drawer front is grooved to receive the bottom. This groove must be contained within the bottom dovetail, otherwise it will show at the sides. If plywood is used for the drawer bottom it is unnecessary to make allowance for shrinkage.

The joints on the previous pages (above and left in blog post) show the various joints used in drawer construction. The front joints are normal lap dovetails and, as they are exposed to view when the drawer is opened, they should be decorative as well as strong, with the pins not too large, say 3mm (1/8 in.) thick at their thinnest point. It is the practice of some craftsmen to make this dimension as small as possible – in fact only the thickness of a fine dovetail saw. This causes the pins to appear ‘floating’ or detached from the rest of the front and so generally out of proportion with the rest of the joint.

The through-dovetails at the back have a particular arrangement to allow for the fixing of the drawer bottom. The top edge of the back is set down about 3mm (1/8 in.), and the bottom edge is raised so that the drawer bottom can be slid in beneath it. These spaces above and below the back allow the air to flow in and out as the drawer is moved. A larger space at the top would allow papers and other flat objects to fall over the back; 3mm (1/8 in.) clearance is ample.


Fig 473. Methods of holding bottom.

Drawer bottom: The method of fixing the drawer bottom to the side usually depends upon the material being used, or on the quality of job. Three commonly accepted methods are shown in Fig 473. Method A is used in the finest quality work, and with this method solid timber should be used for the bottom. If plywood were used, the top layer of veneer would be liable to chip along the shoulder. This method is suitable for desk drawers where papers and flat objects are housed. B is used in large drawers for housing linen, etc. It is somewhat stronger than A having a larger groove and is therefore capable of bearing more weight. Method C is simple and direct, but the absence of a drawer slip will cause the edge of the side to wear rapidly. This is usually countered by increasing the thickness of the side, but this gives the drawer a heavy, clumsy appearance. This method is used in carpentry, joinery and kitchen furniture.


Fig 474. Screw fixing of bottom to allow movement.

The bottom has an important function in the construction of a drawer. Its front edge is tongued and glued into the drawer front so that the bottom will hold the whole drawer framework true and square (see inset Fig 472). It also keeps the sides straight, thus helping the drawer to run evenly. Where solid wood is used the grain should run from side to side of the drawer. The bottom must not be glued along the slips since allowance must be made for shrinking. To secure it along the rear edge the bottom is either slot screwed (solid wood) or screwed (plywood) to the underside of the drawer back (Fig 474). Where solid wood is used the back edge is left protruding about 3mm (1/8 in.). When the drawer is very large (e.g. in a chest of drawers) the bottom is not made of just one piece because this would tend to sag or split in the centre. It is divided into two, or even three parts, and muntins are fitted between them. These are like very wide slips, except that they are not quite flush with the bottom edge of the drawer. They are morticed and tenoned into the drawer front and fastened up under the drawer back with screws.

Meghan Bates

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Update: ‘Roubo on Furniture’

lap-roubo-pressmark-1That deep exhaling noise you just heard is probably coming from Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. Today we finished initial production of the long-awaited “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture.”

Weighing in at 470 pages, this book represents too many hours of work by too many people on too many continents. As I paged through the final product today before sending it to our printers for a quote, I could feel only relief. Not joy. Not satisfaction. (Those feelings might come later.)

Instead, today I have only to tell you something that we rarely say: This project was difficult at every stage. It ground all of us down to a nub. I am glad that I’ll never have to repeat it. And I am fearful to tally up all the money that we spent on it.

Was it worth it? I hope so. Like all of our difficult and protracted publishing projects, I know “Roubo on Furniture” was the right thing to do for the craft and the historical record. But when I count up the hours and calculate the communal grief, I question its value.

All of us can see how much better this project could be if we only had 20 more years to explore this, that or the other thing from the original text.

But some of us won’t be around in 20 years. So here is what we have. It’s not perfect. But it is done with all the precision possible.

In the next week or so, we will offer “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” for sale in our store (and through our network of retailers worldwide). And then we will start work on the deluxe edition of the book (details to follow on that). But as of today I don’t have any more information for you on this book. No prices. No delivery date.

But those details are coming. Soon.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Does This Entasis Make me Look Fat?

Antiquity Greek Temples Columns Paestum

Well no, dear, the curvaceous tapering just makes you look muscular. Or maybe it’s just an optical illusion. Or maybe the builders knew that the swelling, though slight, imparted a bit more strength to the column. But let’s not get hyperbolic and venture too far on these theories. It’s good to leave a little out (speaking elliptically) so let’s step away from this parabolic trajectory of conjecture and look at the types of tapering that can be generated with simple geometric constructions.

In our book “By Hand and Eye,” we showed a simple straight taper – common enough in Roman columns and quite easy to generate. But some columns from Greek antiquity display a taper that follows a curve. As shown in the drawing below, the curves get more radical as you move from parabolic to elliptical to hyperbolic. All were developed, not from a numerically dimensioned layout, but from the generation of a relatively simple geometric construction familiar to ancient artisans.


The parabolic curve is the simplest and fastest to execute. As shown in the drawing, it is simply a matter of dividing up (with dividers of course) the inset amount of the top of the column into equal segments, than running straight lines (with a straightedge or string) from these points to the corner of the column shaft at the base. You then create station points at evenly spaced, horizontal intervals drawn across the length of the column. (I show only four intervals here for clarity – plus I’ve compressed the height-to-width ratio to exaggerate the curve.)

To create the elliptical curve, the artisan drew a half circle to the diameter of the bottom of the shaft, then segmented the half sector into six even slices. Lines drawn vertically from the intersection of the horizontal segments with the rim of the arc create your station points above. The hyperbolic curve station points arise from evenly spaced segments stepped along the circumference of the half circle. And yes, this particular curve does make you look fat.

— Jim Tolpin,

Posted in By Hand & Eye, By Hound and Eye, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lost Art Press Storefront Open Saturday


Just a quick reminder that we will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday to sell books and talk woodworking at our headquarters: 837 Willard St. in Covington, Ky.

We have our full line of books here, plus lots of T-shirts, stickers and posters – including some letterpress “Anarchist’s Tool Chest Posters” that I just dug up. And we also have about 13 blemished or returned books that are half price (cash only), including a few copies of the standard edition of “Roubo on Marquetry.”

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 9 Comments