Friday, December 4, 2009

A Dedicated Sharpening Bench - part 5

Shaping the Feet and Finishing the Frame

In my last post I finished the leg to bench surface joinery and can now get into the rest of the mortise and tenon joinery to complete the frame work. As mentioned, the stock is 1 1/2" square so I'm making 1/2" tenons and mortises. It's a work out chopping through the Ipe but my mortise chisel is up for the task. Remember I usually bore out the waste with my brace and bit but this wood wreaked havoc on my vintage augers and they only went in about 1/8". So lots of hammering and sawing and fitting the tenons. One nice thing about the 1 1/2" stock is the tenons are relatively small so after a few hours of banging around the basement I'll have the frame complete.

Chopping a Mortise

First thing is to establish the perimeter and I do this with some crisp knife lines. In this first shot you can see where I've marked the overall size of the stretcher and then in the middle you can see my scribe lines...notice I marked off the center? This would have given me somewhere to register my auger bit but as mentioned, it didn't quite work out that way.

To begin, I place my mortise chisel at the far end of the mortise area, about 3/16 " away from the scribe line. I hammer down, taking small 'bites' as I go. I'm holding the chisel so the bevel side is facing my body and work my way down the mortise section. I'm careful to stay inside the lines and not to hammer the chisel in too deep...yet!

Once I get to the end of the mortise section I stop just shy of the scribe line, again somewhere in the 1/8" range. I then go back and carefully pry out the small chips and get ready for a second, deeper pass. This time I'm a little harder on the hammer and begin working my way down through the hardwood.

I continue on with this routine until I get close to my finished depth, checking after each pass. Once the mortise is at it's finished depth I'll square up the ends. Place your body in front of the work so you can eye the chisel straight down, square into the opening. If you have trouble chopping square then place a square on your bench top, behind the work for reference. Another mortising trick you can try is marking the finished mortise depth on the back side of your chisel with a felt marker before you begin; that way you can make sure you're not chopping down too deep.

This process is repeated fifteen more times and when complete I'll begin to saw out the tenons. Refer back to my last post to see my set up for that.

When everything is looking good I go back and re-visit the foot components and shape them.
This being a workbench I could have easily left them square- not like anyone will be looking at them ~ ;) but I've always liked the look of rounded feet on workbenches. I find it gives the bench a traditional look and there will be much less chance of me tripping on them while I stumble around the shop. My own workbench has square feet but I think that taking the extra 30 minutes or so to round them over adds a nice touch.

Shaping the Feet

To begin shaping the feet I draw out the arch and scribe the lines to determine the recess in the top of each foot. On my bench hook I'll make the first cross cut to establish the small fillet down and then I'll put the stock upright and rip down to remove the shoulder.

Next, I make an angled cut to remove most of the waste and with some rasps and files I fair out the curve.

As you know, my work shop is in my basement and the floor down there is far from flat! With that in mind I decide to remove the middle, underside of the feet to create four contact points where they meet the floor instead of the bench sitting on the entire length of the foot stock. This will make for a more stable bench.
To remove the material I make a series of cross cuts down to my desired depth which in this case is 1/4".

Then I grab my biggest, meanest Japanese chisel and start chopping the waste out between the saw kerfs. I take my time doing this part so I don't blow out any of the wood grain. Working from the inside of the foot I chop down a little over half way and then flip the board over and now working from the outside, show-side of each foot to complete the cut.

A quick going over with a sharp card scraper and it's done. When I have the first foot shaped I'll use it as a pattern and trace the rest of the feet off of it. This will insure they're all the same without having to measure every time. A bit of sanding and they're good to go!

With the feet shaped and the joinery cut I'll do another dry fit and we'll call it a day. I begin by laying out the left front and back legs and insert the cross stretcher and foot. I'll mirror this assembly on my bench top with the right hand side as well.

Leaving the frames flat on the bench top I'll insert the cross stretchers.

Finally, I'll peg the right hand frame onto the end of the stretchers and stand the whole unit upright. I'm happy with the results and my joints are looking pretty descent. In this final shot you can see how the work surface will slide down into the front slip joints and sit on the rear stub tenons. When I glue up the frame I'll drill and peg all of these joints for a bench that'll probably be around a lot longer than I will...My mortising is done for today but I'll add another cross stretcher at the top, rear of the frame that will serve dual pupose- it'll have a dado running along it's length to peg the drawer holders into as well as another pick-up point for the surface to sit on. This final cross stretcher will be made of oak because I want it to be at least 2" wide and as you know, the Ipe came pre-dimensioned at 1 1/2".

In the next post I'll cut the giant hole in the work surface top for the granite insert (the horror-the horror!) as well as make the final stretcher and some last minute details before I glue up the frame assembly and build the under carriage that will hold the granite in place...stay tuned.


  1. Coming together nice Tom! I'm anxious to see how you handle the granite. I have a granite surface plate that I use very rarely, but it's nice to have it when I want a nice flat reference surface. Unfortunately, it's 80 lbs. so moving it out and back from under my bench isn't a lot of fun. I definitely don't have the room for a dedicated bench like this in my current shop, but I'm still always looking for ideas for the future.

  2. hey bob, thanks for the comments...
    i'm installing the granite plate lee valley offers. it's 2" thick and 9" x 12"...i didn't weigh it but it's pretty meaty !
    your podcasts are going great- really like the bench top appliance one...
    for anyone else who wants to watch some fantastic hand tool related podcasts go to:


  3. Hey Tom. Awesome work! I've enjoyed looking through the blog. More and more i find myslef turning to handtools, especially at night when my neighboors are sleeping and i'm still working. I've got a 9 x 12 x 2 granite in my main workbench i use all the time. It is flush mounted and is tied into the dust collector for downdraft sanding. I also have a similar downdraft cabinet system for my 18x24 granite in the machine room. I've got pics somewhere on my Blog. Anyway. Have a good one.

  4. Will,
    thanks for the comments- just visited your site and have to say there's a ton of interesting info there ! from snakes to slabs, old martins to incredibly turned vesels- ...very cool. I play a 1969 Martin D-18 that I love as well as a mid 90's little 0001R that never seems to see standard tuning- lots of open tunings like DADGAD and CGCGCD. they make some sweet sounds!
    oh yeah, love the Glenn Gould clips on your, that's the sh*t !
    keep in touch and all the best-

  5. Thanks again Tom! If you haven't listened to this already you might enjoy / This is the record Launched into space by NASA on the Voyager space probe in the 1977. All kinds of music (including a Glenn Gould recording) sounds of earth, greetings in 55 languages and other interesting info and photos that "exemplify earth" As of 2008 voyager escaped the gravity of our solar system and is now in "Deep Space"

  6. thanks for the link will- this is really amazing- i did hear a bit of this some time ago...nice to have it online.

  7. Hi Tom

    I follow your blog and enjoy it a lot.

    How do you like your LN mortise chisel? How do you compare them to the big hirst chisel.

    thanks for sharing all this


  8. hey martin,
    thanks for the comment. I really like the Lie Nielsen mortise chisels, they're really well made and I find them a little more manageble than the giant Hirschs'.
    they (LN) only make up to 1/2" so if you need anything larger than you'll have to take another route.
    The heritage door project I made was a good example of this and I used the Hirsch.
    Hope that helps.

  9. Hey Tom,

    I've been trying different mallets lately and I'd like to know more about the one you're using. Where'd ya get it? Does it come in different weights?


  10. James,
    thanks for the comments-

    this one is sold by Lee Valley...I've been using it for years mortising and you can see its held up pretty well.
    here is a link to their site:,41504