Disston back saw (ca1887)


I bought this beautiful saw from Jim Bode Tools in June and organised for them to first send it to Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Tool Works for a proper sharpening.

Mark had the following to say when he received the saw: “It’s a VERY nice 1887 saw from the PHILAD’A era (1887-1896) in impeccable condition. The only thing that needs to be done to it is to retooth the asymmetrical toothline”. 



I received it together with another saw Mark sharpened for me on the above date packaged as illustrated below. I will write a separate post on the mystery saw in future.


OK you can have a sneak preview of the mystery saw to wet your appetite.


Didi got stuck into testing it out before I could even remove the Bad Axe Business card.


I have to say that Mark did a sterling job of sharpening this saw as it cuts exceptionally well. I have no hesitation in recommending Mark to anyone who wants to get a saw sharpened to absolute perfection.

My new Disston also fits my hand like a glove and therefore became my favourite saw within days. It was already used on several tasks while finishing my most recent bench.


Roubo sharpening bench – part 12


By 18h30 yesterday evening the bench was finished and in it’s place. When I say finished, it means that it is adequate for it’s intended use over the next year or so. It will simply function as a stand for my drill press, a permanent sharpening station, grinder and a few more things. Once my shop get’s expanded, it will receive a holdfast vise and start functioning as workbench.

I used my Disston no. 12 to saw off the the protruding through tenons, wedges and drawpins. As you can see, I left quite a bit in tact in order not to damage the bench surface too much.

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The rest of the protrusions were planed away with my Lie-Nielsen low angle Jack plane. I find this to be the best plane for end grain work like this, especially when used with a toothed blade.

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I then used a Stanley Bailey no. 3 smoothing plane to get rid of the toothed blade’s characteristic finish.


In this picture you can see that my crosscut saw did chew a bit of the leg in this case. Fortunately this is the side of the bench that goes up against the wall.


While I had the bench in a convenient position I screwed the cleat to the bottom of the long stretchers.


The Marx-Roubo bolts were covered up with inlayed chunks of perfectly quarter sawn Scots pine. As you can see, the inlayed pieces were initially 1-2 mm proud of the surface. After the glue dried, it was planed flush.


I decided not to do a proper flattening of the top as it is not necessary at this stage. Seeing that the bench will only be used as a table for now, I thought the top could happily move with the changes in humidity and settle down over the next year or so. Once I need to start using it as a proper bench, I can then do that fine tuning.


After a treatment of Tung oil and turps. I decided to leave the top beams at full length at this stage. By the time it becomes a proper bench, I might add breadboard ends on both sides. Currently it is 3370 mm (just over 11′) in length.


The next task is to finish off the preparation of the shelve boards. Here you can see my Lie-Nielsen no. 48 in action. It is one of my favourite tools.


Pewa is a bright young Namibian whom we are helping to realise her dream of becoming a Medical Doctor. She is currently staying with us while writing her final school exams. She took a break from her studies to help me to get the bench to it’s home for the next little while.



Here we are in the process of clearing the area allocated for the bench.



While the helpers took a break I quickly treated the underside of the bench with the mentioned potion.



It just so happened that our friend Heidi turned up at the right time to help us with the tricky resettlement procedure.



Once the bench was in place, Pewa and I started to populate it with paraphernalia.


My second commission – part 1


It might be a bit of a stretch, but it makes me feel good to call this a commission. My only other commission (which really was a proper one) was back in 2001 when a friend of mine wanted a top for his bar and I needed money to fund a move to New Zealand.

You might remember how I came into possession of this pile of exceptional Scott’s Pine, by agreeing to build a table for the former owner (and personal friend) and get to keep the rest of the wood. Well, the plan has mutated on several occasions since then. We started off with the idea of building two trestle type structures with an unattached top simply sitting on them.


I started by getting my team of boisterous apprentices to clean up the reclaimed wood. After that I took out all the nails and other foreign objects.


After a long day of sawing the beams into pieces of the appropriate length by hand, we (my friend Anton and I) had another chat about the design in the shop. We used the actual cut pieces to get an idea of what the structure would look like. We realised that, for the intended function we might be better off using some of the timber in my Knysna Forest collection.


I forwarded some pictures of Nakashima style tops to him the following week via e-mail and he liked it. For the legs we first considered a very elegant design I found in a document on Danish modern furniture, as it reminded of the trestle idea we started off with.

The next step was for Anton to come and look for appropriate boards that would fit the bill. Unfortunately they have been going through a tough time with a father in hospital after MVA. That meant that we did not manage to pick out the timber until this weekend.


All the wood in this collection was dried naturally after being sawn into planks between 2000-2004 (several batches that was bought back then). In other words it has been matured over 10-15 years of which the past 4 was spent in the very dry Windhoek climate.


As per usual, my apprentices were integral to this activity.


We decided on Kershout (Pterocelastrus tricuspdatus) for the top with Nakashima style Witpeer (Apodytes dimidiata) keys to stabilise cracks. I have not built a Nakashima-esque top before, so it is a tad stressful to think that it might go wrong at some stage.

In the picture below you can see how we stored the chosen boards to acclimatise to the shop environment.


Roubo sharpening bench – part 11


It gives me great pleasure to report that the bench was successfully glued up yesterday. Before I show you those pictures, let’s just look at the lead-up . In the pictures below you can see how the dowels finally came into being. I changed the cutter on the dowel cutter to a ¼” size and cut a short section at the end of each dowel to that size. This made it easy to fit the dowels in a cordless drill to do a quick bit of sanding.


The dowels had these burnished areas coming out of the no. 77.


A quick sanding made for a very smooth dowel.


They were then chopped to length …


… and pointed using the BPS.


The hand made dominos were shaped using this block plane.


I used an array of rasps, a spoke shave and a block plane to cut the stopped chamfers on the legs.


The Marx-Roubo bolts each received their own little slot, which will be covered up with wood in future.


I used a mortise chisel, Lie-Nielsen router plane and my new 1887 Disston backsaw for this operation.


The wife was so kind as to help me with the dry fit and the actual glue-up a day later.


Dry run finished.


On Sunday afternoon it was time for the glue-up. The three beams forming the top remained 3 mm apart to allow for wood movement. The are only linked by the (unglued) dominos to ensure that they line up flush and support each other.


Annamie looks like an evil Urologist about to examine a victim’s prostate.


As you can probably see I used slow setting epoxy, as the glue-up took more than an hour.


All the draw pins and wedges in place.


Just a reminder why I make such a fuss with wood movement in terms of my bench design. This is the ambient humidity and temperature for the past month or so. By mid rainy season it would be up around 75-80%.


Didi’s bird feeders


My son has been honing his woodworking skills by making several bird feeders over the past few weeks. He takes advantage of my obsessive collection of offcuts and nails these very basic double story feeders together while I am working on other stuff.


Here you can see one of his feeders with an Acacia pied barbet having breakfast on the top storey.


On the weekend he made this monster using the ends of the Without boards I processed last week for my bench’s shelve. He painted it with a mixture of Diesel and recycled car oil as an African wood preservative. Then he used bits of scrap metal we pick up all over the place for the rest of the hardware. Three screws drilled through the wood acts a convenient place to fix bits of fruit for White-backed mousebirds and African red-eyed Bulbuls.


If you want to look at a few more ideas on bird feeders go here. My friend Bob Demers (The Valley Woodworker) is a very experience woodworker who likes making them too.

Roubo sharpening bench – part 10


As the bench is approaching it’s glue-up stage, it is as if my toil has taken on a new verve characterised by a strange mixture of pep and angst. At this stage I plan to get it assembled in the next couple of weeks.

The pictures below should  suffice as an explanation of how I created the custom bolts, which will fix the top beams to the apron in conjunction with the Roubo joinery. As you can see, it is made up of galvanised 20 mm threaded rod and scrap mild steel rod forming a T. The ends of the T-piece is bent downwards ever so slightly to ensure that the custom hardware exert pressure across it’s entire length once properly fastened. We will call this the … wait for it … Marx-Roubo Bolt.

The idea is that the top of the T will be embedded/entrenched (and covered up with wood) crossgrain in the top, which will prevent it from rotating when it needs tightening due to possible seasonal movement of the wood. It also provides quite a wide area across which it exerts downward pressure to keep the top beam tight against the apron.


A task that I though would take me 30 min has been dragging on for the past week. I thought that my Stanley no 77 dowel machine  equipped with a ½” cutter would make short work of the 24 dowels (½” x 6″) I need for the bench. It turns out that perfectly straight grained Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) tends to fight the machine all the way.

I chose Assegaai as it is very hard, yet extremely flexible and does not move much at all once dry. The problem is that even with a very sharp blade it is hard work to make the dowels. On the upside, it is absolutely perfect dowel that emanate from the no. 77’s hind side (third picture). I will post some more pictures once the dowels are finished.


As you can see the kids also got stuck in once my arm was completely moer-toe.


By the way, this is the stock I prepared for the no. 77. It is perfectly straight grained Assegaai pointed using the legendary new tool in my shop known as the BPS (Boorish Pencil Sharpener).


Due to the extreme exertion inflicted by the dowel making activities, I had to come up with ample “legitimate” reasons to take a break. One of those was to check whether I prepared enough Without to span the entire length of the shelve below the bench.


OK, so I have enough Without, … now what? Back to the Dowel machine? Eish!!, … maybe not just yet. How about fitting the last set of stretcher tenons? That sounds better.

These beautiful girls assisted me to do just that.


The legs were finally cut to length using my Disston no. 12 crosscut saw. It is without a doubt one of my favourite tools and probably one of the best that was ever made.


While all this was happening, my son Didi got stuck into making the Dominos we need. It was very good practice to hone his sawing skills.


This is what a bench looks like where several different jobs are being done at the same time. I like jumping from task to task and have different stations set up for each. This way I do not get bored or tired doing one thing for too long. It works well for me, especially when there are tasks that necessitates serious stamina, like drilling a gazillion dog holes with a bit and brace, hand sawing 4″ x 5″ legs to length, creating dowels from Assegaai by hand etc, etc. The down side is of course that you need more workspace.

I am interested to hear what others think of this type of approach.


Here I am using the ½” bradpoint bit to mark out the middle of the draw pin (Assegaai dowel) on the tenons. Once I know that location it is fairly easy to mark out the required offset for the hole through the tenon.


Boorish Pencil Sharpener


A few months ago I bought an electric pencil sharpener from Tools for Working Wood. Very excited with my new purchase I changed the plug (as we have different plugs in Namibia), inserted it into the power outlet and sharpened a pencil. Afterwards I saw some smoke emanating from the device, followed by a prompt discontinuation of function. On further inspection, I saw that this was a device made for 110 V power! Were the hell do you find 110 V in Namibia, I did not even know something like that exists!

I did, however, not allow my ignorance to get me down. This past weekend I found an old drill stashed away in a corner of the shop. It is in such a poor condition that it cannot be used as a drill anymore, but does still turn the chuck most of the time. For some unknown reason I thought of turning it into a pencil sharpener. Yes, I know it is probably a fire risk, can cause cancer (in California), might disturb the migration of several million mosquitoes during the next rainy season etc etc, but in Africa we do not fuss too much about stuff like that.

The result of my inventive activities is on display in the picture below. Unfortunately, it is probably the loudest tool in my increasingly hand tool orientated shop. One small downside of my ingenious invention is therefore that I need to use earmuffs when sharpening a pencil!

The BPS  works like a one armed bricklayer in Bagdad, but certainly would get some Greenies upset with the speed it churns through a forest. Please feel free to let me know how dumb (and/or politically incorrect) I am, or alternatively how I can find 110 V electricity in Africa, or how to turn the 110 V sharpener (what is left of it) into a 24O V consumer.


Roubo sharpening bench – part 9


I managed to do a little bit of work during the evenings last week. One of those tasks were to add two strips of Meranti to the sides of the bench top’s centre beam. These strips comes from a doorframe. A friend of mine Anton Nel, rocked up at my shop a few weeks ago with this doorframe. He is a builder and was working on a house just around the corner from us. The so called carpenter on the site, arrived (as is exceedingly common around these parts) without any tools of his own. He needed to remove about 20 mm from each side of the 80 mm thick frame.

My table saw struggled as it is not made for this dimension of cut, so we decided to cut a 20 mm deep groove from both ends as a guide. We then used my monster 26″ Disston no. 12 rip saw to remove the timber between the grooves. Two cuts of 2 meters each had us both sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage.

It was these offcuts that I planed down to 15 mm (thickness), before gluing and screwing it to the sides of the beam. The idea behind the addition of these strips is to close the gap between the three beams that make up the top to only 3 mm. This will be enough to allow for wood movement, but small enough to prevent most things from accidentally falling through.

In the second and third picture below you can also see the slots I made with my Festool Domino. The three beams making up the top will have several dominos between them to help them to keep each other flush and straight. They will not be glued to allow free movement (horizontal), while only restricting movement in one dimension (vertical).


I used my 10 mm bit to cut the Domino slots. Unfortunately I do not have any 10 mm Dominos so I planed some Witpeer down to the desired dimension. Come to think of it, the standard Dominos would have been too short anyway as these will be breaching an 18 mm gap underneath the Meranti strips, extend 28 mm into one beam and 24 mm into the other. The slots are 28 mm deep in both beams, so the extra 4 mm allows for wood movement. In other words, I need to cut my home made Dominos at 68 mm (in length).


Here you can see how I am progressing with the row of dog/holdfast holes along the front edge of the bench. They are not perfectly in line as the marked difference in hardness between early and late wood cause the auger bit to follow the softer stuff, but I am not overly fussed by this. One could overcome this problem by building a jig, but for this bench it should be fine with the slight meandering of the row.


I spent most of my shop time this weekend on fitting the stretchers to their mortices. In the picture below, you can see how my chopping station is on one side of the bench and a station to shave the tenons down on the opposite side. I find it to be a very convenient setup and once again all those dog/holdfast holes come in handy. Monsieur Schwarz might have a heart attack, but he asked to be disobeyed.


For each leg, I first fitted the long stretcher.


In this picture you can see how handy the gap between the split top of my bench can be when fitting through tenons.


Once the long stretcher’s tenon was in place, I marked out the exact location of the “mortice” that will allow part of the short stretcher’s tenon to run through it.


Next up, the short stretcher being fitted in the absence of the long stretcher.


This picture illustrates nicely how the one tenon pass through the other. As I stated in an earlier post, this is a slight variation to the joinery used in my first bench that was inspired by Japanese joinery.


When fitting massive joints this precise (like a piston, as my friend Jonathan would say), it can be tricky to disassemble them. The picture below illustrate how useful my sliding-deadman-cum-leg-vise proofed to be in this regard. It kept the leg in position at the side of the bench, which allowed me to use both hands to carefully tap the tenon out with a mallet and a small off-cut.


Once that was done I could check whether both stretchers fit simultaneously.


At this stage I started to prepare timber for the shelve between the stretchers. I found two Without (Ilex mitis aka Cape Holly/African Holly) boards in my collect that I thought would go very well with the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Another reason for this choice concerns the fact that I have not worked with this species before. I am consciously trying to use all the different species in my collection during the shop-setup phase of my journey, in order to get a feel for each. Hopefully by the time I start building furniture it will enable me to make smarter choices.



This is a picture from the internet to show what it looks like once planed and sanded.




The next few pictures should be a reminder to all of you out there who can walk into a lumber yard and pic from hundreds of perfect boards that is ready to use. I have to do a whole heap of work to liberate decent bits of wood from these feral planks. You might be able to see how I marked out the useable areas.



My Disston no. 12 crosscut handsaw took care of all the crosscuts, while the bandsaw made short work of the rip cuts. I decided to keep the shelve’s boards at different widths to waste as little timber as possible and there seems to be a certain je ne sais quoi about the utilitarian appearance it creates.



As I said, at least there is minimal wastage this way.