Drawers have been a common feature on casework for almost as long as casework has been constructed. The most prevalent style of drawer arrangement used in furniture today is based upon the style developed in the 18th century. Basically, a frame is constructed to divide the casework into sections and the drawers are constructed to fit the opening, and ride on top of the frame.
In the 17th century, however, most drawers were side hung, meaning that the drawers did not sit on top of a frame, but instead they hung by runners attached to the drawer sides. This was done in two different ways. The drawer could have small strips nailed to its side to form a groove, or a groove could be plowed directly into the drawer side. I wanted to add a small drawer to my workbench since I recently move my old standing desk out of the shop. So I decided to use the 17th century style drawer construction to do so.
I started with the drawer runners. I ripped these out of a 3/4″ thick piece of pine. They are both 3/8″ thick by 3/4″ wide and long enough to support the sides of the drawer for as deep as it will be.
The drawer runners were attached to the insides of the workbench aprons with glue and cut brads. They are spaced down from the top of the drawer space so that they will sit approximately centered on the sides of the drawers when the drawer is mounted.
To facilitate the groove on the side of the drawer for the drawer runner, 17th century drawers were often constructed using just a single wide dovetail. Using the wide dovetail allowed the wide groove for the drawer runner to be plowed only through the long grain of the drawer sides and not have to be cut through any end grain pins. I decided to follow that practice with these drawers.
The groove was started with a 1/4″ blade in a plow plane. However, this didn’t plow the full width necessary. So instead of resetting the fence and moving the plow plane over, I used a sash saw to saw the other side of the groove, then wasted away the remaining wood with a chisel and smoothed the bottom of the groove with a 1/2″ square rabbet plane.
With a minimal amount of trimming and planing, the drawer was fit into the opening under the bench top. The runners weren’t exactly centered on the drawer sides but instead ended up centered on the total drawer height. I miscalculated when positioning the runners because I was using the full height of the false front rather than the reduced height of the drawer sides. The height of the sides was reduced by 1/2″ because the drawer bottom is attached by nailing it to the sides front and back. C’est la vie. It still works fine, even if the drawer runners aren’t centered on the dovetail.
The last thing to do was to attach a false front to cover everything up.
I’m really glad to see Chris writing about this form. I’ve been a fan of what Chris has come to call staked furniture for a long time. I was first introduced to the form through Roy Underhill’s early books and shows. And since that time I’ve built several items (mostly for the shop) using this method of construction. One of them actually pre-dates this blog, though I wrote an article on it several years later to capture the process.
This saw bench was actually my second attempt at building a saw bench in this style. My first was built around 2005 or 2006 and did not have the additional stretchers. It was much more similar to the ones Chris has been building. I added the stretchers because I determined that legs made from home center 2x material do not do all that well in this design without the stretchers. The soft, spongy material has too much flex in it to be used without stretchers. The thinner 1-1/2″ top doesn’t help either. Using good hardwood, especially riven, and a thicker top, solves this problem. However, even with the shortcomings of using construction grade softwood, the sawbench pictured above is still in use today, and the joinery is still tight and solid, though it is about time I replaced the bench as the top is all chewed up from hatchet blows, saw cuts, auger bits, random oils, varnishes and glues, and other [ab]use that it has been put through in the last 8 or so years.
Another one of my earlier “staked” pieces was my shave horse. In fact, the shave horse was one of the very first items I wrote about on the blog when it was first started. I’m still using it today, the legs are still tight and solid. There’s some flex when I sit, but again, this has more to do with the softwood construction lumber used to build the bench rather than the method of construction.
The thing I like so much about this method of construction is the simplicity of it. A sawbench like this can be built in just a few hours. The one pictured above was built in a single day, maybe 6 hours of work, even with the three added stretchers. Once built and assembled, the bench is very lightweight, but at the same time, the structure is extremely stiff and rigid, making for a very sturdy work surface. I also like the aesthetic of the style. There’s a simple elegance to it. While I like high style period furniture as well, I don’t keep much of it in my own home. The simpler, less decorated, “country” style pieces are more my taste for my own home. The higher style pieces (like the ball & claw stuff I’ve done) are fun to build, but I don’t really want most of it in my house. So I’m excited to see what else Chris has in store for his upcoming book. It sounds like the stuff he’ll be including is exactly the stuff that interests me most. High style, fancy stuff is nice. But the simple elegance of the less ornate “country” stuff is a bit more my speed.
Recently, my friend Mike Siemsen and the folks over at Lost Art Press put out a DVD called “The Naked Woodworker“. The DVD is aimed at the new woodworker who has no tools and no idea where to start. I picked up a copy to watch and then donate to my woodworking club’s library. After watching it, let me just say, that if you are the new woodworker I just described, you need this DVD. It will be the best $20 and the most valuable 4½ hours you can spend before you start woodworking.
The first disc of the 2-DVD sets starts with Mike at the MWTCA meet, buying tools. He tells you what to look for and what to avoid when shopping for tools. But most importantly, he focuses only on what tools you will need to complete your first two projects, a sawbench and a workbench.
This section alone is the kick in the pants that so many new woodworkers need to stay focused. I’ve long suggested that when you’re new to the craft you should focus on a project and let your project dictate the tools you start with, not the other way around. But far too often, the focus of new woodworkers is to try and buy every tool they think they might someday need before they ever cut a single piece of wood. Mike’s no nonsense approach to tool shopping shows you how to focus only on the good user grade tools that you will need to get the two projects done, without spending a fortune in the process.
In the second half of the first disc, Mike talks about how to get your new tools ready to go to work. Regardless of whether you go the new tool or old tool route, you need to know how the tools function, and more importantly, how to maintain them and keep them working like they should. All tools get dull in time, so knowing how to keep them sharp is the most important skill any new woodworker can learn.
The primary focus on this part of the disc is on sharpening plane irons and saws, but Mike does briefly discuss the setup of the rest of the tools he bought as well. Then, using a simple and inexpensive sandpaper setup, Mike sharpens the blades for all of the planes he bought in the first part of the disc, and shows you how to adjust the tools and get them working properly with minimal fussing. There’s no uber tuning and shaving measuring going on here. These tools are set up to build stuff, not show off on internet forums.
After the planes are set up, Mike moves on to the saws. The difficulty of sharpening ones own saws is so over exaggerated it can be sickening. The fact of the matter is that it’s really not that hard. It’s no harder than learning to sharpen a chisel or plane iron. It takes some practice, and while your first sharpening is not likely to result in perfection, it will still result in a saw that cuts better than a dull one. Mike shows you how simple it is and discusses both rip and crosscut saws, again, focusing on getting the saws to an acceptable working level, not striving for perfection.
Disc 2 is all about getting to work with your new tools. Mike builds a sawbench and Nicholson inspired workbench in this disc. The saw bench is straight forward, simple and inexpensive. The design gives you plenty of sawing practice, requires no complex joinery, and results in a rock solid, sturdy sawbench. Oh, and he builds it using only a pair of 5 gallon buckets to work on, because that’s probably all you will have to work with.
Then Mike goes on to build a full sized workbench, again, only using the sawbenches to build it, because that’s all you will have. Mike’s modified Nicholson bench design is really simple to build and incorporates a bunch of really great, inexpensive workholding options. Maybe I like the design because the way he built it is so similar to how I built mine, but it’s simplicity is only outdone by its functionality. Mike has made this bench so easy to build, using no complex joinery, that I’m betting my 9 year old daughter could almost build it with very little help from me. This is the first workbench every new woodworker should build.
So to repeat what I wrote above, if you are a new woodworker, just getting started, buy this DVD before you do anything else. If you follow along with Mike’s teachings in this video, you could have a basic tool kit, a sturdy place to work, and be on your way to building furniture in no more than a week or two.
Earlier this year, the museum I volunteer at took down a red oak tree on site. So throughout the volunteer season, we’ve been working on several projects from the wood that we split out of that tree. I’ve been working on a carved box (you can call it a bible box, or document box or whatever, but it’s just a box). I worked on carving the front panel over the weekend. The design was inspired by the work frequently done by Peter Follansbee. I’m not a big fan of working with oak in general, at least when it is sawn and dried. But working with green, riven stock is fun. It’s a different skill set from fine cabinetmaking really. And while I don’t like the look of flat sawn, kiln dried oak at all, I love the look of the riven stuff. So different.
I spent the day greatly appreciating the work that people like Larry Williams & Don McConnell, Matt Bickford, Caleb James, Phil Edwards, and a host of others do every day to make these wonderful tools available to us. Anyone who thinks that today’s premium hand planes are over priced should try building one for themselves. After the work I put in today, I think these guys are charging just enough to get by, and probably should be charging more. This stuff ain’t easy folks. But it is fun!
When the name Andre Roubo is mentioned, most people’s first thoughts are of a massive workbench. However, when you delve into the myriad of plates that were published as part of Roubo’s series of volumes on the many different facets of woodcraft, you will immediately realize that these books are about so much more than a workbench.
My first introduction to Roubo came a little over a decade or so ago, just a few years after I sold most of my power tools and machines. At the time I was engrossed in Moxon and Nicholson, but I was looking for more than what those two books were providing. Somehow, during an internet search of old books on woodworking, I came across a bunch of PDFs of plates from an old French woodworking book. I couldn’t read French, so I couldn’t understand any of the text, but the engravings were so well done that I was able to infer a lot of information just from looking at the various plates. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I found out that I had been studying plates from Roubo’s various volumes.
The plate above, Plate 14 from Roubo on Furniture Making, was one of the first ones I noticed, I think primarily because there were so many things that were familiar on it. From the try square, to the marking gauges, to the winding sticks at the bottom of the page, this plate was really consistent with many of the things I had seen and learned from the historic English texts on the craft. However, the engravings at the very top of the plate were quite interesting to me. It was obvious from the engraving at the top right that he was referring to another type of winding sticks, but these were a bit different than the typical winding sticks I had always seen and used (he appears to picture these at the bottom left of the plate). I tucked the odd winding stick engraving away for awhile and went on doing other things for the next several years.
I came back to this plate recently when I was writing an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine. I was researching the different types of miter squares I had seen for the article, and Roubo’s Plate 14 had one that appeared to have several different angles, so I built a version for the article. I was again reminded of those odd winding sticks, but I hadn’t the time to try them out at the time. So again the image got tucked back into the memory banks to be recalled at a later date.
Recently, Don Williams wrote a short blog about his own version of Roubo’s odd winding sticks. Of course Don is the driving force behind the English translations of several of Roubo’s works, currently available, and soon to be published by the folks over at Lost Art Press. While the volume on marquetry is currently available, the volume on furniture making is still in the works, so don’t go trying to find the above plate in the volume on your book shelf. Don’s recent post reminded me of these unusual winding sticks, so since I had been making a new pair of traditional English style winding sticks anyway, I thought I’d finally make a pair of Roubo’s as well, and try them out for myself.
The first thing you notice about these winding sticks is that they aren’t just a pair of sticks. Instead, each has a pair of “legs” that lift the stick off the surface of the board. At first this seems to not make any sense. How on earth can the sticks be used to assess a board’s flatness if they don’t even touch the board. That’s when I realized that their primary purpose is not to assess flatness at all (though they can be used to do so, as I’ll discuss in a minute). They’re winding sticks, they’re primarily used to assess wind.
Traditional winding sticks, while sometimes ornate like my new pair, can be nothing more than a pair of straight sticks with parallel edges. When placed on the face of a board, they allow one to assess a board’s state of flatness and wind. In the photo above, the gap underneath the bottom of the sticks indicates that there is a slight cup across the face of this board. In addition, there is a very slight twist in the board as well, indicated by the left ebony inlay sitting slightly higher above the top of the front stick than the right ebony inlay.
Traditional winding sticks have a drawback though. They aren’t so reliable when assessing the crowned face of the board. Sure, they’ll tell you if the board is crowned, but they really can’t be reliably used to assess wind on the crowned face because they have to be balanced on the crowned face. This allows the sticks to rock on their centers, which can throw off the reading and make you chase wind that may not even exist. Sure, you could just assess the cupped face, but if the board has enough cup and twist, trying to plane the cupped face can be quite a circus act as the board rocks on its crowned face. Wedges under the high edges can help, but only so much. Sometimes, it’s just easier to flip the board over and work on the crowned face rather than chase the board around the bench.
This is where Roubo’s winding sticks shine. Because these winding sticks have “legs”, they are able to span over the crown in the board, and provide a precise assessment of the state of wind of the board. The legs ensure contact with the board only at the outside edges, where it is most important for assessing wind. But wait, there’s more…..
Closer examination of the engraving in Plate 14 reveals another interesting use of Roubo’s winding sticks on stilts. Because the “legs” span over any irregularities in the face of the board, they make correcting any wind in the board almost as easy as detecting it. Looking closely at the engraving, you can see that the legs of the winding sticks are actually reading off the bottom of a rabbet planed along the edge of the board. This was the light bulb moment for me. Using a simple rabbet plane, the wind in the board can be corrected by planing a rabbet that tapers from shallower at the low corner to deeper at the high corner. When the sticks align, the wind is gone. The resulting tapered rabbets then act as pseudo marking gauge lines. Plane the remainder of the face of the board until the rabbets just disappear, and the face is free of wind. By checking that the floor of the rabbet is flat from one end of the board to the other end, you are also ensured that the face of the board is flat.
In the photo above, the rabbets were planed a bit deeper than they needed to be for illustration purposes. This board actually did not have that much wind, but I made the rabbets a bit deeper than they needed to be just to show how I think these winding sticks would be used.
Above you can see how the rabbet is planed along the edge while the center of the board is left untouched. The rabbets then become depth gauges for planing the board flat and free of wind. As an additional benefit, the rabbets allow you to traverse the board (plane across the grain) without fear of blowing out the grain on the far edge. When you get close to being finished, you can also slide the legs out of the way and use the sticks alone as a straight edge. There’s a lot to like about this method, and these winding sticks.
So after building and using these winding sticks, I’m even more anxious to read Don’s detailed essay on them in the upcoming Roubo on Furniture volume that will hopefully be released later this year. My observations are really based only on the engravings and my own experimentation. I have no text to back any of this up. So I’m interested to see how my experimental archaeology compares with what Roubo (and Don) actually wrote about these winding sticks. I’m curious to see if there are any other uses for them that I haven’t yet discovered.
On the down side, the legs do make assessing minor wind a bit more difficult than traditional winding sticks without the legs. The tops of the legs break up the straight line of the sticks, so when there is only a minor bit of wind, I find it easier to see with the traditional sticks. However, I can see the legged versions being more useful for stock that is a little less flat to start out. And using the rabbet as a marking gauge for planing is, in my eyes, just pure genius. It allows you to more or less plane the entire surface of the board flat without constantly stopping to check for wind during the process, because you are simply planing to a line.
Can’t wait to see what other gems Don and crew have uncovered when the new volume comes out!
Woodworkers love hand planes. But in a period shop, the bench planes that are so coveted and extolled today were actually among the minority when it came to the tool inventory. The joinery planes and molding planes vastly outnumbered the bench planes. Today, amateur woodworkers are once again beginning to realize the usefulness of the joinery and molding planes in the small home shop. So the next few episodes are going to be a series on tuning up and using the joinery and molding planes. To kick off the series, I’m starting with the simplest of all the joinery planes, the unfenced rabbet plane.