It has been a long, long time since I last reported on the progress with my Moravian workbench. I have been taking my time cutting the four different leg joints to ensure I get them right (or reasonably close to right). My methods have relied heavily on power tools for the bulk of fabrication and then gaining a tight tenon fit using hand tools.
Warning: this is a long blog post with a lot of photos. Let’s dive in by reviewing the various leg joinery…
As far as I can remember, I have never made a through mortise and tenon joint. This joint is difficult to make well because the fit between the tenon and mortise can be easily seen. Making a nice, tight, square mortise and then duplicating that same shape on the mating tenon is time-consuming and even a little stressful.
After having made the dovetail joint at the base of the leg (something I did twice before I was happy with the result), I made the angled mortise which will ultimately house the through tenon from the front and rear stretchers. I created a jig which was screwed to my table saw miter gauge to form the outer boundary of the mortise and then removed the waste with my router and did a little touch up work with a chisel and rasp.
The last photo above shows how I had to then make a mirror dado in the opposite half of the leg. You can see a tiny sliver of wood broken away along the left edge of the mortise. Because cedar is so super, super, super soft, little pieces of wood have broken away here and there (this wood is ridiculously soft).
Then I turned my attention to the through mortise joint mid-way up the leg. I drilled out the bulk of the waste with my old, rickety, tiny bench top drill press (such a drill press is better than no drill press at all). I then chiseled to my scribe lines. The resulting joint was sloppy due to the soft nature of the cedar I’m using. I learned that I needed a razor-sharp chisel at all times, otherwise the cedar would tear rather than cut. Tearing causes a poor shape to the outer edges of the mortises (and the interior as well).
So, I turned to template routing; I made the mortise slightly larger to compensate for the irregular cut of the original mortise and then made a template which I used on both sides of the leg since my plunge router couldn’t obtain the depth needed to make the mortise from one side.
The jig registers off the bottom edge of the leg and then is centered on the leg hopefully making the cut from opposite sides of the leg align. This went remarkably well and following a little clean-up with a chisel, I called these mortises done.
Next was the open mortise at the top of the leg. For this joint, I carefully marked the boundary of the mortise and called on a jig I originally made for the dovetail stretchers which enables me to stand the leg up vertically and make cuts at the table saw.
Then drill press and chisel work completed this mortise. Of course, I had to repeat all of this for each leg; a sloooowwww process. These were complicated cuts in which I wanted a pretty high level of precision. I am happy with the results.
Next – time to form the middle and upper stretchers along with their needed tenons. I cut the overall length of the stretchers long so they would extend through the leg mortises enabling me to trim them flush later. To cut the tenons, I simply determined the location for cheek cuts using a stop block at the table saw, and then made repeated passes to remove the waste.
Some people say that a rabbeting block plane is a poor choice for sneaking up on a proper fit for a mortise and tenon joint; saying that a shoulder plane is best for this task. For these long, wide tenons, this block plane worked wonderfully. I am sure for a shorter tenon a heavy shoulder plane is the tool of choice, but in my situation where I am forming tenons only a few times a year, I think the rabbeting block plane is a prudent option.
Then it was time to add the splayed angle to the top and bottom of each leg and cut a matching edge to the top of the upper stretcher. Finally, I began glue-up.
I turned to using blue tape and a Sharpie to number the joints helping me keep all the parts aligned correctly. Pencil dents the super soft cedar. I do like the color though. Cedar is a handsome wood, but it being so soft, I’m not sure I’ll use it very often in future projects.
One last task for the leg assemblies was to trim the tenons for the middle and upper stretchers. To do this, I add two slender strips of wood to the base of my plunge router using hot melt glue. This elevates the base above the leg and the tenons. After several passes with the router and some clean-up with my block plane and sander, the leg assemblies are finished.
Next, I’ll begin work on the stretchers which run across the lower front and back of the workbench. Theses will take a lot of fabrication too. They will need tenons at each end and within these tenons, I’ll need to cut away stock to allow the keys to slide in place.
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