Roubo Part 2. – Mortises & Malaise

Now that I’d milled, glued, and squared up an adequte stock of lumber for the bench legs, it was time to create the mortises for the stretchers and rails.  

Before I get to that though, let me speak about the tenoning of said stretchers and rails.  Now, I like handtools as much as the next guy, and even own a pair of very nice 14” back saws specifically to cut tenons of this magnitude. However, after about 30 seconds of my rip saw chattering through what felt like concrete (Ash), I abandoned all thoughts of doing the bench joinery by hand and walked over to the table saw.

Tenon shoulders on the table saw are easy enough.  Set the fence as your stop, and use your miter gauge.  Presto-chango, 5 minutes later I’ve got perfect shoulders cut for all 8 tenons.  

What about the cheeks, you ask?  Well, I don’t have a dado stack.  That would obviously would have been the easiest thing.  Instead, I’ve got a delta tenoning jig which is worth more as a boat anchor then as anything to do with wood working. So I used that to get close (within a 1/16), and then used a router plane to get the cheek faces in line and to the correct depth.  After I got tired of sharpening the router plane blade, I just grabbed my router and a spiral upcut bit to finish the rest of them off.  You may accurately sense my impatience; it will prove to be my undoing shortly.  Just keep reading for the next few posts.

Also, I didn’t take any pictures of me cutting or truing the tenons.  Sorry.

The mortises!  Well, I don’t have any fancy-pants hollow chisel mortiser, and I HATE routers (despite what you may have read just 3 sentences prior), so that left me with a drill press and forstner bits.  This honestly wasn’t that bad of an option, considering the fact that I have a monster of a drill press.

A quick aside – That magfence you see in the above picture is another ill-advised purchase, an engineering disaster.  A good idea in theory (magnets! they’re magical!!), but poorly executed. The problem is in setting the fence.  Those levers to the left and right are how you release the fence. But instead of retracting the magnets, they actually lever the fence off of the table. This means it is impossible to set the fence accurately where you want it while those levers are down, and once you’ve put them up so the fence sits flat on the table, the only way to move the fence is to smack it with your hand or a hammer.  So fine-tuned adjustments aren’t really an option.

Anyways, after getting that fence in place, drilling out most of the waste went pretty quickly.  I then cut out the corners using a combination of chisels, corner chisels, and a Lie-Nielsen float (I had the good fortune of visiting the LN showroom in Maine this past summer, and Deneb recommended the 1” bed float.  Who was I to say no?).  The float was magical.  It’s also the only tool my wife can reliably recognize because she’s a veterinarian, and apparently they use floats on horses teeth.  That sounds painful to me, but what do I know?  But seriously, the float was incredible.  It beavers through wood, and leaves a nice smooth surface. 

This is where the malaise set in, though.  Squaring up 12 big mortises (and I’m using the term “square” loosely) is tedious work.  Especially when my previous experience in squaring up mortises was exactly zero.  Was I maybe a little ambitious in thinking I could build a bench like this?  Would this thing have a 90 degree angle on it anywhere? About halfway through, I would have traded my SUV for a hollow chisel mortiser.  Eventually though, I finished, and was rewarded with some pretty decent leg assemblies, and things even ended up pretty square and straight.

Didn’t I say I would talk about the knockdown hardware in this post?  Well, I’m tired of writing and I haven’t even cut the tenons on the front and back rails yet.. We’ll have to wait for the next post!

– Matt

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