Tag Archives: Woodwright’s Shop

The Humble Hewing Bench

If you’ve watched Roy Underhill on the Woodwright’s Shop with any regularity then no doubt you’ve seen him using a hewing bench. It’s a great little bench made from half a log on 4 modest legs.  Roy’s used it for hewing, trimming, holding, sitting and many other common shop uses. It’s a project you can complete in an afternoon and will serve you well for many years in the shop.

Why would anyone really want this rough little bench?

If you do any sort of green woodworking it’s nice to have a place you can quickly hew a blank in the shop with a hatchet or similar small ax. When the ax hits the long grain of the bench it will not dig in the way it would if you were using the end grain of a stump or similar log section. (It also protects the reference surfaces of your real workbench) For tapering the end of treenails, splitting wood or roughing a green turning blank  it has been a priceless addition to the workshop.  It also makes a nice place to sit when people visit the shop. 😉

How do I make one of these benches?

Like any good Roy anecdote it starts with “First you find a tree….”

Splitting the oak log with metal wedges and a heavy leather faced mallet
Splitting the oak log with metal wedges and a heavy leather faced mallet

In this case I took a 12-15″ wide and 30″ long section of white oak from a large tree I recently felled in my yard. This tree was over 130 years old so the growth rings are nice and tight. Using metal wedges and a large leather faced mallet I use for my timber framing I split the log in half.

Watch to make sure the split runs the way you want down the log
Watch to make sure the split runs the way you want down the log

If the wedges alone cannot do the whole job of splitting for you, a froe can help it along.

Log split in half. You can clearly see the heartwood and the sapwood
Log split in half. You can clearly see the heartwood and the sapwood

After letting the slabs sit for a few days, it was time to de-bark the logs. If you don’t have a dedicated de-barking spud you can use any tough metal roughly chisel shaped tool or ax. In this case I used a 16lb post hold digger as shown below.

De-barking the log on the right. A metal post hole digging bar makes a good impromptu barking spud.
De-barking the log on the right. A metal post hole digging bar makes a good impromptu barking spud.

Back again in the shop I squared up the edges of the log with a hatchet. Being a green piece of wood this razor sharp ax made quick work of it.

Square up the edges with a hatchet
Square up the edges with a hatchet

I flipped the log over and removed any remaining bark.

Remove any remaining bark with the hatchet
Remove any remaining bark with the hatchet

Now time for the legs…

Ideally you want to split out some 1.5 inch diameter legs. In my case it was snowing and I didn’t have suitable wood on hand to do that, plus the largest ship auger bit I had on hand was 1″. I ripped down some nice straight grained 2x3s I had on hand to 1 1/4″ by 30″ long. I put them on the lathe and turned down the top 6″ to 1″ diameter. I then used a block plane to chamfer the edges.

Split or rip some leg stock. Drill holes with an auger and set your legs
Split or rip some leg stock. Drill holes with an auger and set your legs

Using a ship auger bit I bored a through hole into the log to allow the legs to splay a bit in both directions. After you set the first leg you’ll want to visually reference that first leg when drilling the next leg. Repeat this process for all 4 legs. After test fitting you’ll want to cut a kerf in the end of each tenon and re-install the legs. Make sure those kerfs are perpendicular to the grain of the log so you don’t split it with the wedges. Then glue and wedge the tenons. If you have ever built a windsor chair, this is a cruder version of the same process you’d use to fit the legs and level the feet.

Test fit on a level surface like a table saw
Test fit on a level surface like a table saw

With the legs installed I put the bench on a known level surface, in this case my table saw. Using a compass or similar tool mark higher up on the legs and cut them where you marked them. Then chamfer the ends of the feet and you’re almost done.

Mark what you want to remove to reduce the height and level the feet
Mark what you want to remove to reduce the height and level the feet

Next I applied some end grain sealer (from Land Ark/Heritage Finishes) to reduce the likelihood of splitting in my heated shop. I also trimmed off the wedges and tenons.

Seal the end grain to reduce checking
Seal the end grain to reduce checking

Now the bench is read for use in the shop. This bench, with it’s delicate looking legs, can hold me standing on it, so it should have no problem handling my in shop hewing needs.

Trim the leg stumps and the wedges
Trim the leg stumps and the wedges

Shown here is a Gransfors Bruks hand made Swedish ax. This carpenter’s hatchet is my goto ax for small trimming work and is sharpened to the point of being able to shave with it. The poll (the other business end) of this ax is hardened and can be used like a hammer. The handle is carefully tapered to fit in the hand and without looking you know when your hand is at the end of the handle. The notch under the bit allows you to use this ax much like a large chisel or plane and can yield impressive results. I used this to quickly level bits of the bench surface.

Enjoy your new hewing bench
Enjoy your new hewing bench

For short cash, a few tools and an afternoon in the shop this project is well worth the effort.

Take care,
-Bill

Making a Jointer Plane with Willard ‘Bill’ Anderson — Part 2

When last we left our plane-making heroes they were in the process of making a traditional single iron jointer plane with my friend Bill Anderson at the Woodwright’s School.

Bill demonstrating with a great bench plan cross section model
Bill demonstrating with a great bench plane cross section model

Bill had a great cross section model of how this sort of bench plane works — made by one of his students. With the body of the plane taking shape, next up was tuning the mouth opening and the abutments. If the mouth is too wide or too large the plane may not cut cleanly so you need to carefully fit the iron to the opening. If the abutment is not carefully placed when you re-flatten the sole of the plane you’d also be opening the mouth more. You also need to take care flatten the face of the bed that supports the iron — if there are high points the iron can pivot on those and make it tough to use the plane. One of the many testing/fitting gauges Bill had was a ‘bed testing gauge’ which looks and works much like a pair of ‘pants’ we use in timber framing to test out the thickness of a tenon, except in this case you are using it to check the thickness of the cheeks and how close your bedline is getting to the line scribed on the side the plane body.

Planing the wedge
Planing the wedge

With the mouth and throat all set, next up was making the wedge to hold the iron in place. The wedge needs to be carefully planed to fit the abutments inside of your plane and tightly hold the iron in place. Again here you are using an abutment gauge (wooden wedge of a known profile in degrees) to test your work as you go.  With all the gauges and specialized tools you can quickly see why plane-making was its own dedicated craft specialty.

Shaped and fitted wedge
Shaped and fitted wedge

The wedge is further relieved so that the shavings can clearly escape the plane body.

Templates, gauge blocks and pants
Templates, bed gauges blocks and pants

Above you can see some of the many gauges used in laying out and testing parts of your plane, along with templates for the handles.

Starting to shape the handle
Starting to shape the handle

The handle is first cut out from a rough blank and then carefully shaped by hand to have flowing, graceful lines similar to that of a quality hand saw. The result is a handle that fits the hand so well it, the whole plane feels like an extension of your body.

Auriou rasps used to shape the handle -- they were a pleasure to use
Auriou rasps used to shape the handle — they were a pleasure to use

Various rasps, files and sandpaper are used to shape the handle. Using crisp hand stitched Auriou rasps made quick work of shaping the handles.

Finished handle
Finished handle

Above is the handle after a bit of light sanding.

A finished Jointer Plane
A finished Jointer Plane

Shown here you can see Bill’s finished/sample plane which is based on an historical example.  I’ll post the final shots of my own plane when I finish it soon in my shop.

Rear 3/4 view of the completed sample plane
Rear 3/4 view of the completed sample plane

At the end of the workshop one of the most important tasks was to make sure you plane can take a nice shaving. I’m happy to report that I was able to get a nice full width shaving with my mostly completed plane. (I need to finish setting the handle, trim the edges, apply some finish and use my maker’s name stamp and it will be ready for regular use in the shop).

Making the first shaving with a new plane...
Making the first shaving with a new plane…

In an upcoming post I will complete this series with how I finished off the plane. Stay tuned…

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Bill Anderson or take a class with him, and I highly encourage you to do so, please check out his website here.

-Bill

P.S. You can see the first post on making this jointer plane here.

The Tool Store at the Woodwright’s School

The Woodwright’s School is already hallowed ground for a lot of woodworkers, but hovering above workshop is Ed Lebetkin’s Antique Tool store….

Up the stairs and take a right at the large model plane
Up the stairs and take a right at the large model plane

Before heading up there, I was warned to leave my wallet behind as there would be a lot of temptation at the top of the stairs….Ed’s store is filled with just about every kind of traditional woodworking tool and accessory you could want.

Wide angle view of Ed's Antique Tool Store
Wide angle view of Ed’s Antique Tool Store

An amazing assortment of chisels, planes of every kind, marking gauges, braces and bits.

Wall of molding planes
Wall of molding planes

One whole wall of the shop is filled with molding planes .

Chisels, mallets, auger bits etc.
Chisels, mallets, auger bits etc.

New stuff is always coming and going so you’ll want to visit often — or see about renting a space to camp out and be first to check out the new arrivals. 😉

Self-advancing Boring Machine
Self-advancing Boring Machine

During my visit I was enamored with an unusual boring machine. The castings on the tilt mechanism look similar to my old Swan boring machine but what made this machine unusual was the mechanism to advance the business end of the unit horizontally via the large knob on the bottom — rather than the whole dance of shimmying yourself and the unit up the timber and re-aligning the auger to make the next hole. The runners and support structure for it was all metal which leads me to believe it was a later design towards the end of that era.

New toys from Ed's tool shop
New toys from Ed’s tool shop

I tried my best to get out without buying anything — especially since the Nashua Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction is coming up in a couple of weeks, but it’s like Ed knew I was coming. I found a great reprint book on Concord NH furniture makers, a book on the Shaker Barn full of tools at the Shelburne Museum in VT which I wrote about here, a MWTCA reprint of a tool catalog, a nice old Stanley auger bit extension for use with a bit brace, and a Stanley 203 bench clamp. This neat little clamp is something I’ve looked at in the past — and makes a nice addition to any bench with a sliding deadman. I look forward to giving it a try.

I’m looking forward to my next visit. If you’d like to plan a visit to the tool store or contact Ed you can find his contact info on the store’s web page here. Ed’s a great guy. If you meet him, be sure to tell him I sent you. 🙂

Take care,
-Bill