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Moravian Workbench: Dovetail Stretchers Part 2

A substantial amount of brain power has been utilized since my last update. I needed to come up with a better way to cut dovetails for the lower, dovetailed stretchers of my workbench (see more here). I called on a shop made jig for this. Also, the next step in this build will see me utilizing a second jig and I think a third jig could come into play before these legs are completed. All these jigs are needed to ensure accurate repeatability as I cut the four different joints needed for each leg, and has had me thinking, searching online and thinking more about how to cut the remaining leg joints.

Last time I had attempted what I call the dovetail stretcher’s joinery by way of a Veritas dovetail saw. And I wasn’t happy with the results. Even after taking care to scribe lines and chisel a little valley in which the dovetail saw could ride. Here is what my first attempt looked like…

Close-up shows gaps.

Since this is most likely a workbench I’ll use for the rest of my life, I wanted clean dovetails (even though it took a hammer to tap the joint apart, meaning the joint was sound). I decided to re-cut these dovetails. And since I wanted them to work this time, I decided making them at the table saw was a method I could gain more control over…

A quick jig to keep things vertical.

You can see jig #1 in use above. I simply glued three 1/2 plywood boards in place on my table saw fence, then glued on a thick upright board which you can barely see behind the stretcher. Simple and throw-away quality, but I may keep the jig around since it worked so well. I tilted my saw blade to eight degrees and made the four cuts on the two stretchers. Nice and clean cuts.

Cutting the shoulders.

I finished the dovetail profile with cross cuts and used a chisel to clean up the corners.

Completed dovetails.

The original dovetail sockets were enlarged to accommodate the larger dovetails.

The legs were trimmed to final width (3 3/4″) and temporarily screwed together. The screw hole will be cut away later.

Nice beefy legs.

Much better dovetails.

Currently.

So with the dovetail stretchers completed, time to move to joint number two: the front stretcher through mortise. As I mentioned at the top of this post, I have been searching for the best way to cut at least the boundary of these mortises with my table saw. I’ll need to make a 16 degree angled cut to create the walls. After looking online, I opened the current issue of Fine Woodworking and saw these two photos…

Marcus Soto building his trestle table.

Tim Manney building a shaving horse.

Marcus Soto’s article titled “A Fresh Take on the Trestle Table” showed him making accurate, repeatable cuts at the table saw using a slender sled attached to his miter gauge. And Tim Manney’s article, “Build a Thoroughbred Shaving Horse” showed Tim hogging out a thick dado using a circular saw. I’ll have to come up with a unique jig for my workbench legs, but a jig which borrows an idea or two from Marcus Soto. And then I’ll use something like a circular saw and a router to get rid of the waste. That will be next…

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It’s Really A Moroubian Workbench

Note the name in the post title: “Moroubian” used to describe my workbench design. This mash-up of Moravian and Roubo better describes my design; a Moravian base and a split-top Roubo top. But, I am going to continue to call it a Moravian workbench.

This morning, while scanning a Google image search of Moravian workbenches, I came across this image…

Adian McEvoy’s Moroubo workbench.

Adian McEvoy’s workbench is almost an exact copy of my design; except that I only recently finalized what I have been envisioning for the top; specifically the gap stop, or the piece which fills the gap in the bench top. So, while my original design predates the McEvoy’s blog post showing off his Moroubo; the split top does not (see the McEvoy blog post here). There are a few features of my design not found on the Moroubo: mine has a modern cabinet below the top and an inset vise, but the rest of the two designs are pretty much the same. Two woodworkers on opposite sides of the Earth with amazingly similar ideas. I was stunned upon seeing the photo. He calls his a Moroubo; I have been thinking about a unique name for mine: Moroubian. Sort of spooky when you think about it.

A similar thing has happened with my family room coffee table. I designed and built it many years ago and ultimately made a woodworking plan based on the design (see it here). Sometime later, I was scanning SketchUp’s 3D warehouse and came across a coffee table design which is almost identical to what I created. And in this case, the other guy’s SketchUp model predated mine. But, I had never seen it before. So, think you have an original design? Chances are that someone else is thinking just like you are.

Update on my Moravian bench

One leg half pulled away.

After doing some additional glue up of stock to create the upper and middle leg stretchers, I began thinking about cutting joinery for the legs. Using SketchUp to obtain dimensions for the joinery locations, the measurements ended up being some funky numbers because the bottom and top of each leg is angled. There are four different types of joinery in each leg – somewhat complicated to execute (see exploded view above). So the simple thing to do was to make a template. I isolated one leg and set up SketchUp to make a full-size template..

Leg template ready for use.

The first joint to form is the dovetailed stretcher shown in yellow above. I carefully laid out the dovetail location in the first leg and began cutting the socket using the Chris Schwarz method. This was going really good until I realized I was cutting the dovetail on the face of the leg, not the end (but I got some good experience with this technique 🙂 ).

Ultimately I got the first two dovetail sockets cut and the fit worked, but it was a little sloppy; but only a little…

One base end with dovetail stretcher in place.

Close-up shows gaps.

Since this is going to be the workbench I use for the rest of my life, I am going to make another attempt at better dovetails. I’ll remake the stretchers with a slightly larger dovetail and expand the socket of the legs you see in the photo. That is the plan for today, then I’ll start on the joinery for the red and blue stretchers. Happy woodworking to you all.

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Moravian Workbench: Getting Started

I have read twice recently that woodworking is a journey. And it is. I can remember being nervous while attending my first woodworking class; “Wood Technology” while a senior at The University of Alabama. For more than 30 years now, I have been on my woodworking journey. But each project is a journey as well. I think this because there is a leap of faith which needs to be taken as a project gets underway. A confidence that you know what you are doing, or mostly doing.

And so it is with my new workbench. I have in my mind what I need to do to make this project a success, but there are unknowns and some assumptions which I hope will end up leading to a successful workbench.

One thing that has been an unknown is what material I’ll use for the base. I have been envisioning a darker wood for the base and a lighter wood for the top. One option I had considered was red oak for the base and ash for the top. The legs for the Moravian workbench are three inches thick which can be made by joining four 3/4″ thick boards together. The red oak at the home center was slightly less than 3/4″ and there is always the possibility that even in their already milled state, such wood may need further surface planing making these less than 3/4″ boards even more thin.

By the way, I was at Lowes. Why does Lowes call their horrible, awful, pitiful economy pine “Top Choice.” It must make Lowes feel good to carry Top Choice lumber, but the pine I saw there was worse than bad…

Super bad; nothing about this lumber is Top Choice.

One reason I was at Lowes looking at their pine is a recent blog post at Lost Art Press (see it here) where they were announcing some openings for a Moravian Workbench class at Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s School. The blog post had photos of Moravian benches under construction with the wood of choice (at least for the base) being pine. Nothing fancy, just good ol’ pine (I’m sure not the Top Choice kind). Since red oak was not a good option and I didn’t like any of their pine, I headed for the door. Something caught my eye – some cedar. It had a kind of reclaimed look to it; once side surfaced and the opposite a little rough. I have never thought to make anything out of cedar; it is a softwood and this stuff was definitely soft, but it looked good. Plus the board thickness was about 7/8″ thick. Wanting to get this project started; wanting to end the constant wondering about what wood I should use, I bought enough cedar for the legs. This week, I got busy preparing this lumber.

First up: Make the legs and stretchers highlighted above.

Most of my time has been spent doing glue-ups of stock. My miter saw stand was perfect for breaking down stock. I can get three parts out of each eight foot board. The glue-ups had me using every small clamp I own, and even five pipe clamps. All this to glue two leg boards together (highlighted in orange in the image above).

This past week I did a lot of this.

Today, I began milling this stock closer to final size, but still over-sized…

Some have said the 6″ jointer is too small for fine work. Not so. Flattened the edge and one face.

A little trimming at the table saw.

Making the boards thinner with my planer. Thinking about adding some dust collection to it.

Currently.

In the photo above, I have leg stock partially glued up and I have some stretcher stock in clamps. I have quite a bit of joinery to cut on the legs. I’ll do the yellow stretcher’s dovetail sockets prior to gluing the two leg halves together. The blue stretcher will need a through mortise which I am thinking about doing at the Alabama Woodworkers Guild. May even do the notch for the red stretcher there as well.

I worked up a little sweat in the workshop today. It has been a nice Spring in Alabama, but it was humid today. In my case humid = sweat and as I began cleaning up from all the mess my planer made, a light shower passed through.

Some rain and sunshine at the same time. View out my basement door.

So, this journey has begun and while there is not much to show yet, I hope you will have some faith that it will start looking good soon. 🙂

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).