John and I have decided to make significant changes to the manufacturing specifications of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” So much so that I’ve taken the unprecedented step of deleting my post from Jan. 29 to avoid confusion.
After much research, we’ve decided to offer “Roman Workbenches” fully bound with a two-part cloth cover, sewn binding, heavy endsheets and headbands. The binding will easily meet (and likely exceed) what we offer on typical Lost Art Press Books.
The price (including domestic shipping) will be $87 – still less than the $100 we promised. The book will go on sale at noon Eastern time on Sunday, Feb. 5. There will be 500 copies available.
Why make the change to the binding? Well, once I started pricing sewing and taping the binding, it was only a little bit more money to simply complete the binding. So John and I decided to go all the way (with the book binding).
If you are like me and really really want to bind your own book, we will have some unbound book blocks and will put those up for sale once the 500 are bound. I suspect the price for the unbound book blocks will be $77 (I know, it’s not a big savings; hence, our decision).
I am sorry (and a bit embarrassed) at this change. We try not to alter manufacturing specs like this in midstream. But I know it’s the correct thing to do.
See you Sunday (I hope, or we will flush away many thousands of American dollars).
Gluing and wedging the legs into the seat is pretty easy if you don’t have stretchers between the legs. But there are still lots of opportunities to mess things up and get into a bind when you open the glue bottle.
Here’s how I prepare for the glue up so I don’t have many surprises.
First I knock the legs into the seat and pencil around all the tenons – both above the seat and below the seat. The mark around the tenon above the seat tells me about where I should crosscut the tenon before assembly. The mark around the tenon below the seat tells me at what point I should stop sawing a kerf for the wedges.
With the legs still in the seat, I also number each one and mark its position in the seat so the leg’s annular rings run parallel to the grain in the seat. I know that this runs contrary to some sound advice out there. Here’s my rationale:
If the legs are going to shrink, they are going to shrink more in the direction parallel to the rings than they will shrink perpendicular to the rings (that’s the way trees work). So I want to apply a wedge against the annular rings to resist this shrinkage. So the annular rings in my legs run front to back, the grain in the seat runs front to back and the wedge cuts across the legs’ annular rings.
Honest: I am not trying to talk anyone into doing it this way, and I am certain other tactics work. But this is what suits my head at this time.
Then I kerf the tenons with a tenon saw, stopping short of the pencil line representing the underside of the seat.
I gather all the materials I need for assembly and lay them out on the bench. This includes extra wedges, rags, a toothbrush for cleaning up the glue, a cup of hot water, several mallets and hammers and a 1/2″ chisel.
To assemble, I paint hide glue on the inside of one mortise. Then I paint glue on its tenon and drive the leg home. I strike the leg with a 2-1/2 lb. sledge until its stops moving into the seat when I strike it. Repeat for the other three legs.
I clean up any glue on the underside of the seat then flip it over.
Usually, driving the legs into the seat will close up the kerfs I just sawed in the tenons. Instead of trying to wedge the closed kerf and risk destroying some wedges, I open up each kerf with a 1/2″ chisel and a few mallet blows. This reduces wedge failure by about 345 percent.
I paint glue on a wedge and drive it in with my hand sledge. When the wedge stops moving, I stop hitting it.
Finally I clean up all the glue I can find with rags and a toothbrush. I put the chair on a bench and walk away, resisting the urge to fiddle with it too much and make it worse.
There’s almost certainly a sort of Reinheitsgebot for chairmakers. If you don’t use hand tools at every stage, you receive one evil eye.
Truth is, lots of chairmakers I know use power tools at some stage of the process. Many use a band saw. Others use an angle grinder to roughly shape their seats. Many use electric lathes. And a few – gasp – use sandpaper.
Me, I’m indifferent to this claptrap. I like to use the tools I like to use. I avoid the tools I dislike. Simple.
So this is how I saddle my seats.
I don’t have an adze. Why? I don’t know; it just never happened. Sure, I’ve tried a few adzes here and there at woodworking shows, but I’ve always started saddling my seats with a scorp (mine is from Barr Specialty Tools). It takes longer than if I had an adze, but I’m happy I don’t have to take care of an additional tool.
So after marking out the saddle I begin by traversing the seat with the scorp. Traversing in chairmaking is not like traversing with a jack plane. You don’t work with the cutter 90° to the grain.
Instead you pull the tool directly across the grain, but you angle its cutter in the direction the grain is flowing in the board. If this sounds odd to you, try it with a jack plane. Say you are traversing a board where the grain directions runs from right to left. The best plan is to push the tool directly across the grain of the board but angle it 30° to the left.
Try it and it will click.
I usually bottom my seats to be about 5/8” deep at the deepest point near the back of the seat. Then I saddle it about 3/8” near the front of the seat.
After I get it as clean as possible with a scorp, I switch to a travisher (mine is from Claire Minihan). Again, I work across the grain with the tool angled in the direction of the grain. I take lighter and lighter cuts as I work. When I can’t refine the surface any more, I switch to a card scraper.
I scrape out the tops of the dawks and try to remove any high spots my fingers can feel. I scrape and scrape until I can’t get it looking any better.
Then, finally, I wrap a piece of #180-grit sandpaper around a cork sanding block and try to refine the surface even more. After I scuff up the surface entirely with the sandpaper, I come back with a scraper and remove the sanding scratches.
The last 15 minutes of the process is me switching back and forth between a scraper and sandpaper, trying to get it as perfect as possible.
Eventually I give up – never satisfied with the final surface. But that’s typical.
As some of you will recall, I last reported from Ecuador back in August, when I showed you the workbench that I had completed. Since then…nothing. What happened? Well, as it turned out, a variety of events and situations conspired to the extent that I ended up with virtually no time to do any actual woodworking. I did get started on a project, but wasn’t able to finish before we had to leave.
You will at least be happy to know that the bench found a good home in the workshop of the architect friend who earlier pointed me in the direction of wood merchants in my neighborhood.
And I did learn a few things along the way:
Lesson 1 – Colorado (aka Lyptus®, Eucalyptus grandis x urophylla) is not a hand tool-friendly wood.
Lyptus is very hard, about the same as hard maple or the very hardest of white oaks. And it has interlocked grain, which tears out readily no matter which direction you try to plane it in (even cross grain!). I eventually figured out how to plane it: with my plane set to a 60° cutting angle and taking extremely thin shavings, I was able to achieve a surface that could later be sanded smooth. But removing 1/16″ of tearout a thousandth at a time is not my idea of fun.
The wood reminds me of sapele, which is similarly hard and also has interlocked grain, although it’s more brittle and doesn’t tear out quite as much. Like sapele, it’s very difficult to get a decent finish without a considerable amount of sanding.
Lesson 2 – At some point, a baggage handler will drop your tool case very, very hard.
The damage shown here occurred when the lever cap knob of my Veritas low-angle jack plane punched through the bottom of the tray from below. Given that when the trays are stacked together there is at most 1/2″ of play before the knob contacts the tray bottom, I don’t want to think about how far the case must have fallen in order for this amount of destruction to occur. Fortunately, it appears that all of the tools are okay.
Lesson 3 – An outdoor woodworking shop in Tumbaco may not be the best idea.
This one was completely unexpected, and it’s the fault of these guys:
The soil in Ecuador is virtually all volcanic ash, in some places hundreds of feet deep. Very fine, very abrasive volcanic ash. Add to that the fact that the climate in Tumbaco is dry, and afternoons are usually windy, and you begin to see the problem. I would finish up one day and come back the next to find everything covered by a clearly visible layer of ash. Ash that wreaked havoc on my tool edges.
The ash ends up indoors, too. We had a housekeeper that came to clean every week, and still the pile-up of dust near windows and doors was impressive.
I’ll have more to write about our adventures in Ecuador (plus a couple of weeks in Peru) soon, so stay tuned. But for now, I have some pent-up woodworking to attend to.
On Wednesday we will begin to take orders for people who would like handmade copperplate prints from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” made by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. Because of the time and expense in offering these prints, however, we are going to offer these only one time.
We will offer all 12 prints for individual sale at $110 each. If you order the complete set for $1,300, they will come in a handmade custom box made at Ohio Book in Cincinnati.
Ordering will be open during February and March. Then, in April, we will close ordering and Briony will start making the prints and they will ship out to you in special protective packaging. Check out this short film on how Briony made the prints.
Each print will be made on cotton rag paper that measures 11” x 15-3/4” (approximately).
I’ve had a set of these prints in my shop now for a year and they are just stunning. Modern printing methods pale in comparison to the clarity, texture and imperfection of a copperplate print.
We hesitated in offering these prints because they are expensive in comparison to the Farrah Fawcett poster you still have from college. But, like a fine tool or piece of handmade furniture, these prints have an intangible quality that I like.
If you’d like to see them in person before you purchase one, please stop by our storefront on our open days on Feb. 11 and March 11. I’ll have the complete set on hand, including the handmade box from Ohio Book.