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.