Monday, September 10, 2012

4 crude benches

Look what I did with my Saturday! These 4 crude benches were fun and mostly pretty easy to make, although not without their challenges.
4 crude benches being tested by my assistants.
 I've had this large maple limb sitting in my backyard for a few months now, mostly because it's too massive to move. Removing the limb was half the motivation for this project, having seating for an upcoming outdoor part the other. I'll walk you through my process really quickly, mostly with pictures.

First, I sawed the log into a couple of sections 4 or 5 feet long. I used a beefy Japanese-style crosscut saw made by vaughan for this. My arm was tired by the end, but it allowed me to cut it right on the ground, which was good since I couldn't lift the limb.
I think it's called a "golok machete". I like it because of the heavy weight balance. It is an amazingly useful tool, and has more or less replaced my little hatchet for yard-work.

I found a natural split starting and followed it by pounding my machete into the end of the log. Mostly because my froe is [intentionally] much too dull for the task.
started to follow the split with an iron wedge
Once the split was started, I just had to follow it with my meager selection of splitting tools., starting with my only iron wedge.

The machete came right out, so I jammed the froe in the end as a placeholder.
My favorite tool, the humble but versatile shim.

Now comes the fun part, because at this point some would say I'm out of wedges. Rather than try to use the head of my axe, I used ordinary wooden shims, like what you might use to level your dresser. I use them in pairs so that they're stronger, and thick enough to do the job.

Skinning bark with the machete. Essentially hewing.
I skin some bark off to get a good look at the crack, so I can find a spot where the shims will do some good without getting twisted or caught, and gradually pound them as far as I can get away with.

Now that the shims are in, I can wiggle out the iron wedge by hitting it sideways a couple of times with the maul.
Iron wedge finding a second purchase.
...second purchase found.

Once free, I look for a spot where the iron wedge will do the most good. At this point I'm just playing wedge-leapfrog.
I hear cracking while pounding shims. I guess I was gently tapping them with the back of this axe.
shims, buried

The second time I use the shims, I find a spot where I can pound them home and I hear cracking several times as I'm doing it. So, they're more than just a bookmark.

The iron wedge in what is to be it's final position

By the third time I position the iron wedge, the log looks almost ready to go.

A few over-the-head, full-power swings of the maul later, and I get what I was waiting for.
The froe finally gets in on the action.

The log busts open. There are still some fibers connecting the halves, so I used the froe to lever them apart.

Four proto-benches, shown with tools used.
I went through this whole splitting process twice, producing 4 half-round bench seats.

This is where I found the shims.
Incedentally, the maul I used to beat wedges into the log was made out of another branch from the same tree. I highly recommend making one, even if you don't have the perfect tap-root handy. Mine is indispensable for jobs like this.

I thought about propping the bench seats up on some notched log half-rounds, but quickly decided to just make legs out of a hefty dowel. I purchased 6 1-1/2" poplar dowels in 4' lengths from the local big-box and retrieved my 1-1/2"auger bit and brace.
This is as far as I got using the brace.

Boring holes turned out to be a real challenge. My brace just didn't have a large enough swing to generate the requisite torque. I was repositioning my arm 3 times for every revolution. I gave up on that after about 1 inch.
Looks weird, doesn't it?

Since the auger bit has a hexagonal shank, my next idea was a socket wrench. It actually worked pretty well! It solved the problem of repositioning my arm, but it still had a hard time delivering enough torque.
Even this approach got tiring.

At this point I broke down and got my power drill. Last time I used it with an auger it was a little hard to control, but I figured I was out of options. Turns out, all it could do was hum and make ozone--not enough torque.
Electricity didn't solve the problem.

So I found an old vacuum cleaner pipe and slid it over the socket wrench handle.

Physics to the rescue!
With the pipe in place, I finally had plenty of torque. I finished the first bench with this technique. It was still slow going though, swinging that long pipe around a full revolution to earn every 3/32" or so.

Isn't there a saying about the right tool for the job?
At this point I spotted my neighbour and asked him If I could borrow a beefy drill. He was generous enough to lend me a battle-scarred Dewalt that instantly solved my problem. I had to be very deliberate to avoid taking my kneecaps out with the handle, but I felt comfortable with it very quickly and I think I drilled the last 12 holes in about 10 minutes.
cutting legs
I drilled the holes about 4 inches deep and did it all by eyeball. I cut the dowels into 16" lengths and pounded them home. I trimmed only 5 of the 16 legs to make the benches roughly level. I'm really please with the result, although I think I will hew the tops a little so they don't catch on peoples clothes.



I made 4 benches in an afternoon. That doesn't happen often. These sort of rough building techniques a fun change of pace from the exacting practices necessary to make guitars. The results have their own crude charm (I think), and it's satisfying to get big things done quickly. I'll be doing this sort of work again, and also bringing some of these tools into the workshop more often.