Elementary Vernacular

The basics of a thing are important in everything, and staying in touch with the foundation those basics provide is even more so. When I hit a standstill in the shop I try and return to something basic. Often that surfaces in the form of shop made squares, lately it's been a push to finish up a handful of projects started and unfinished. The unfinished ones weigh you down.

There is nothing more basic and primal to woodworking than breaking down your own stock from the tree. Last July I took a trip to Tom Latane's land and spent the day with a small group of guys talking smart and hewing wood.

I got half a section of cherry log. I'd never really used an Adze before that day (you can read more about it HERE) but I sure had fun hanging out with like minded companions. In the end this is what I brought home and dropped on my bench.

I stripped the bark off and did a little more clean up and flattening with planes. I sketched some rough ideas for a scooped seat with a sharpie. Then I decided I had other projects I was in the middle of and I needed to finish. So I sealed the ends of the slab with wax and set it aside.

A few weeks ago, while I was doing some clean up and a little rearranging I unearthed the slab and freed it from the pile. Time to finish that too. I started scooping out the seat side with a large joinery gouge. These great tools are in a lot of old inventories along side the bench and mortising chisels but they aren't gouges for carving. They are meant for serious stock removal.

After starting on the seat side I just wasn't happy. it didn't feel right to scoop out a seat on a slab bench, the aesthetic didn't look good but I had committed.  Frustrated I set the slab aside. A few days later I was walking by and the arch of the scoop caught my eye just right. I decided I'd make the dug out even all the way across and flip the slab upside down from my original plan.

Things were moving forward again.

I needed legs for the bench though, I intended staked legs of some sort, but I've been reading a bit of both Mike Dunbar's and Peter Galbert's books on Windsor chair making lately. (talk about two different roads to the same destination!) I'm quite taken with Windsors, they're high on my bucket list, I just can't afford the time to work my way through a whole one now I figured I could work my way through the legs.

I drew out a Mike Dunbar pattern full size and chucked some walnut into the lathe. The fun part of this is it's part of the stash of walnut I split from some culled logs almost five years ago and have had drying around the shop since.

Between the cherry slab and the walnut legs I'm the one who stripped the bark off all the stock in this project and air dried it. That's pretty unique to most woodworking endeavors these days.

Dunbar says he can turn a leg in around six minutes. I was clocking in at around an hour a leg.

It took five tries but I got four usable legs. No the top ends weren't chamfered. I don't have a tapering tool and didn't want to buy or make one just yet so I went for a straight dowel like socket and a tight fit. To keep things together I drilled for and drove a 3/8" riven oak peg in from the sides to lock the leg into the seat forever.

I drilled out the leg sockets from the top of the bench. I used a 1:6 slope away from the center in both planes. Then I leveled the bottoms of the legs to themselves and the ground and hit the top with a quick sanding at 120 grit. I didn't want to remove hand tool marks, just soften them some.

A coat of Danish Oil and a treatment of paste wax and the bench was done.

Often by the time I'm done with a piece I'd rather light it on fire than see it again. I get hung up on my mistakes and miscues and it's never as good as what I can envision in my minds eye. However I find myself proud of this little bench. It fits my personal aesthetic more than a lot of other things I build, a combination of rustic and refinement with a heavy dose of execution.

The only problem now is there is no place in the house to fit it, so I may have to sell it. Anyone interested?

Ratione et Passionis


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