The Wiktor Kuc experience – take 2 and related reverie


This is another post that almost got lost in the drafts section of my site’s dashboard. I was reminded of it as a result of discussing the merits of various types of breast drills (for the metal-like qualities of the wood I work with) with the famous Bob Demers (aka The Valley Woodworker). One of my all-time favourite tool manufacturers is North Brothers. Despite that I have never been able to find a true North Brothers tool, only Stanley made versions of their tools. So when I ordered my second Eggbeater from Wiktor Kuc I went for the legendary North Brothers no. 1530.

It so happened that he had one that was halve way through the restoration process already so I was in luck, because my previous order took a very long time. That is of course because Wiktor is so good at what he does that everyone wants drills restored by him, which means that you have to be patient.

Anyway while Wiktor was busy finishing the 1530, I realised that what I really need is a drill with a low gear that would work better in the hardwoods. The Miller’s Falls no. 2 (circa 1938) he restored for me previously works fine for drill bits up to maybe 5 mm in hardwood, but is difficult to turn smoothly using something bigger. As luck would have it, I happened to stumble across a Goodell Pratt no. 5½B on Jim Bode’s site at that exact time. I have never given Goodell Pratt any thought, but it seemed to fit my needs perfectly at an price I could afford (back then, before Jacob Zuma’s well documented indiscretions). So I quickly checked with Wiktor who agreed for me to get it sent to him so he can ship it together with the 1530, which saved me a fair bit of dough. Thank you Wiktor.

A few months later the duo arrived in the Land of the Brave (quite literally sometimes). The Wiktor Kuc restored no. 1530 was as expected top drawer work. It is one of my favourite tools and I am so glad I bought it when I did because I probably will never be able to afford it again. Thank you Mr. Zuma.


That said, the Goodell Pratt was a real surprise packet. It is just one of those tools you bond with immediately. Like love at first sight. It clearly does not have the pristine beauty of the 1530, but boy is it a great tool. I now do most of my work with it and Goodell Pratt has shot up in my estimation as one of the best manufacturers known to man. It works particularly well in the hard stuff in it’s low gear, so that is where I leave the setting.

Here is some information I found on the Old Tool Heaven website for those who wants to know a bit more:

No. 5 1/2B

Goodell-Pratt hand drill no. 5 1/2BTwo-speed hand drill

  1. 1898— malleable iron frame; hardwood head and handles, head with mushroom-shaped top; detachable, elongated side handle; non-adjustable gear guide; spindle runs on hardened steel cone bearing; speeds adjusted by turning shifter knob on frame; three-jaw chuck adjustable 0 to 3/8 inch. Frame enamelled black; drive gear painted red, bright parts are nickel plated.
  2. 1911 — as above, but detachable chef’s cap side handle; ball bearing spindle.
  3. 1926 — as above, but mahogany-finished hardwood head and handles.

Manufactured by Millers Falls as of 1931.

Illustration from 1903 catalog.

Mine was therefore clearly made after 1911 and before 1931.


Here you can see where they all found a happy home on my Hovering Skeleton Chest.



As mentioned before, I had another delightful exchange with Uncle Bob concerning my preferred choice for a breast drill. He had the following to say:

Now as far as the elusive breast drills are concerned, agreed with you that the GP model 6 would be a good one, but…
these all enclosed switch mechanism don’t seems to come out very often. ??
You need a two speed model, Goodell Pratt, or Millers Falls, or North Bros and yes Stanley
Out of these 4 you can trace their origins to either GP or North Bros before being acquired by MF or Stanley

As for using them, they can be a bit tricky for the unwary 🙂 I’ll explain later in a blog post perhaps?
The second trust bearing on the wheel or a dedicated roller/slider to support the big geared wheel makes a big difference in how smooth they can operate since less chances of binding.
That leaves us with the speed selection.

The one you shown me, has the selector mechanism all enclosed and used sliding pawls to switch gears. I have no experienced with these, but it cannot be as strong as the simpler mechanism where you simply move the wheel one hole over., such as on my Miller’s Falls No 12s
Even there, we have a few small changes thru the years as to how to release and lock the wheel.
The earliest No 12 (green) simply uses a screw that you remove and re-install on the other hole. Simple, strong, but you got potentially a loose screw to keep track of.

Later models (red) uses a captured slider that you push or pull to release/lock the spindle wheel. Nothing to loose, bonus.
And then there are a myriads of variations on this theme, some No 12 uses push buttons to release/lock the wheel and etc.

Today these types of mechanisms lives on, a testament to their rugged simplicity.
Once in a while I come across modern German made version (Schroeder, and etc) They sport an all enclosed mechanism, gearing and all..
They seems to operate smoothly, but again, no personal experiences.

I always learn so much from these exchanges that I thought it might be useful to a wider audience. He has given me permission to publish it, so relax.

Thank you Bob.

Cape Yellow Wood Tool Chest Journey


Thanking Gerhard once again for opening up his website to woodworking friends and Toolgaloots. What follows is my Cape Yellow wood tool chests’ journey –  and some more!

Not surprisingly, not very long after I developed the fatal fascination/affinity for old tools, I realized that these restored things of beauty can’t forever reside wrapped in pieces of cloth, all around the shop. No, they needed a nice little tool chest/enclosure, a wooden one, not plastic, not that I had that many old woodworking hand tools at that stage! Included amongst the antique restored tools was a Lie Nielsen dovetail (just missed the Independence era when I bought it) and a set of octagonal Boxwood handled Robert Sorby chisels. Otherwise, the majority of the tools were antique (another “less vintage” set of tools was kept elsewhere).

So, off I went and built a little chest out of the available wood I had, 12mm plywood….. By the way, the chest is sitting on a Kiaat wood (Pterocarpus Angolensis also called Bloodwood, Mukwa, Dolfhout) 8 chair dining set made about 40 years ago by Kavango residents in the Northern Namibia bushveldt. Having no electricity, the logs used to be cut in a saw pit (one guy on top and the other at the bottom of the pit) and the resulting planks then left upright against trees to dry. The finer “kilning” details I know not! Do they frequently turn it, how come it doesn’t warp and twist??!! I’ve heard that it tends to shrink very little from its green state, that perhaps being the reason. Never seen them stacked and stickered, but must have been! These bush artists used to make beautiful furniture, this set an example using just saws, jack planes and for the carved bits, little self made axes (with astounding accuracy and dexterity) and homemade knives, finishing by sanding it (with sanding paper!!). Just furniture polish was then applied. Working on loose sand as reference, these furniture were often a bit wonky and therefore often needed to be trimmed at home, once bought. This set is 40 years old and going, still using it!


Back to my effort.


Somehow, the dovetails ended up on the side of the little chest….


As the infatuation with old tools grew, the requirement for proper storage increased. At some stage I started to do away with doubles and triples (also read a very sensible Chris Schwarz article on reducing your tools and rather getting to know the one’s you have better), I still continuously strived to upgrade some of the tools that I already had, to more valuable ones. The old Disston D8 and #7 was not good enough, no-no, it had to be a set of #12’s. Since the ordinary wedged-stem plough was hurting my office hands, a Mathieson 9B would be more practical…… Often now, in hindsight (also looking at the costs incurred), I’m in two minds whether to kick myself or not!! Must have been the “collector” part in me (but does it mean I’m an official ToolGaloot???). But….. must admit, these tools are “rather nice” to have in your hands, albeit they come at a price (and which took endless times of bidding on eBay because these type of tools demand mostly ridiculous prices). You have to search for “old plough” (with bad pics) instead of “Mathieson 9B”. Also “old rusty wood saw” (with bad pics) instead of “Disston #12”. And then ask questions and hope for honest answers. And so we have all burnt our fingers once (or twice…). But also in hindsight, one should also strive to still keep a balance in your live and your daily responsibilities, because these old tools research, collection, restoration etc etc could become a obsessive beast, consuming all your free time and energy and may just pull you away from your family! Should always be viewed as just a hobby!

So, me being friends with “planning and scheming” started to make drawings en noting down ideas of what I require and would like to have eventually to store the majority of my old tools in. Again, as with my Roubo, not too large, not too small. Collected endless photos of other tool chests and played it off against what I wanted (and space I had). Because of my specific requirements, I didn’t really favour the idea of a large traditional floor standing tool chest. Have a bad back, so I wanted  it sitting on a wheeled chest of drawers (with my lathe tools and accessories in the drawers). Furthermore I wanted a drawer to keep my measuring tools and other small items apart from the large tools. Didn’t like the idea of diving into a toolbox in order to access something at the bottom! But all this is purely personal and what works for me! The downside is that it takes more planning in order to cater for the tools hanging down from the top part in order to optimize space available. And because you run the risk of losing real estate for tools just because you want your tools to be a little more accessible and visible, you have to have quite tight tolerances, measuring each tool and plan your drawer and drawer compartment accordingly. I have built-in dividers keeping the chisels in the sides away from the side of the drawer.

Also liked the Seaton idea  of some of my saws sitting in the lid (without overstuffing the lid). While the lid arrangement was a practical decision because of my smaller sized tool chest, it also serves a display purpose to me (remember I’m not just a user, I’m a collector-user)! I’m not working in the shop because I have to, no, I’m “playing” in the shop because I want to! “Playing” because I’m still not overly confident in many of the daily woodworking skills required in my cave, but love every step I take to up my knowledge, every new skill I acquire along the way. I suppose I’ll be a student until the day these old hands can’t hold these old tools anymore, just like the old hands that held them before me.

Lets continue now with the chest at last!!? Starting the project in parallel with my Roubo, you’ll notice some of the work was done on the old, metal framed bench (not wonder I struggled to get my panels flat!) Here I was also evaluating my newly acquired Mathieson jack and smoother.


Great timber to work with (also refer to my first post on the Stanley 246 regarding the Cape Yellow wood or Real Yellow wood (Podocarpus Latifolius)


Doing panel tails


Cleaning up


Trying my best with a mitre joint of the skirt…


Doing a very, very delicate balancing act. With a very, very expensive 607 on the oak bottom…..! What we’ll do for a work in progress pic…


Starting to work on the lid.


Panel insert


Decided to use brass detailing because I also have an affinity for Campaign furniture (not that I own any). Also practical to protect the corners, because Cape Yellow wood, although beautifully grained, is a lighter type of wood (just 510kg/m3 and a Janka of 830). Such a nice wood to work with, workability very similar to pine but ten times more beautiful (especially when aged). Bought the brass new and then “antiqued” it (files-sandpaper-ammonia fumes-rub/polish). Examples of the tree stages; new, fumed, final (the fumed one had not been man handled before the process, was just experimenting)


I treated it with a few coats of BLO, polish and finally a polissoir.

Toolkis24 (1)

Inside the lid:


Top half:


And then the drawer, which is still not finished. Want to make one or two trays that will drop into the drawer to really keep my measuring tools out of harms’ way. Cork or felt bottoms perhaps. And, trying to be extremely clever in an effort to use one piece of plank for the front, bottom of the chest (inclusive of the drawer front), I now have to make a cock bead (or something) for the drawer (in a 17mm thick front), because I’m not satisfied with the 1mm (saw width……) gap on the sides. The top on the drawer engages air tight (i.e. no saw width sized gap!!). Lets not go into the drawer planning detail… Perhaps I’ll just make another drawer when I REALLY have nothing else to do. I’m not as fast and experienced in drawer making as most of you guys! But as they say practice…..


Reviewing my chest now after using it for a while:

I’ll have to re-fit the inside chisel rack because I recently replaced the octagonal Sorby’s with Witherbys (re-handled with Kamassi ie Cape Boxwood).

Also, while its nice to have the Mathieson jack and smoother, and though I’m using them sometimes (the smoother much more often) which is a real kick, it means that my other (very nice and very old) planes (Stanley 4½, 5, 6 and 7) are sitting in a wall mounted cupboard – and gets used more often. As previously mentioned, I’m still trying to reduce my tools but it is very difficult for me to say “bye” to my Mathiesons! Bit of a dilemma.

Furthermore, I have replaced the very nice tough looking cast iron “Campaign like” handles that I bought via eBay (which snapped first time I tried it out) with brass Campaign handles from Whitechapel. Still don’t trust these handles, even though they’re brass…..

The lid holding chains, even though they may be appealing, are not very practical. Might be looking at a simpler lid stay ala Chris Schwarz, just not as ugly (sorry Chris)!!  Also have to take into consideration that I have to remove my saws from the lid without interference. Speaking about the lid, I’ll have to revisit the saw till as well, because while removing a saw is quick, but to put it away takes double the time and more care, not a simple out and back in, especially the Disston #12. I have to guide the saw a bit. Tried to design and built too tightly with too close tolerances. But, currently it works, so why change something that works!!

Although I achieved what I wanted with this chest in that it is unique as well as suit my personal requirements (also trying to built heirlooms), perhaps I should have given more attention to ratios, like in Golden ratios… Even if I increased the width by an inch or two, it would have looked less “upright”. But then it would have taken space away from the chest of drawer top, in front of the tool chest, which was a design requirement of mine. But given me more space inside the chest. Should have sacrificed that outside space….. Eish.


Frank Bartlett

Cape Town

A tribute to Ying


We recently spent a week in Thailand before moving on to Hong Kong for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Annual Congress. I have to warn you that this post contains minimal woodworking, but there might be something towards the end that interests spoon carvers. However, I think that our woodwork is often inspired by a range of different things, not only the work of grand masters. It is my wish that this post will illustrate what I mean by the aforementioned statement.

It is amazing how a trip to a foreign country can inspire new ideas for the shop even without trying to find it. What struck me most was how the Thai people live close to nature and use everything it provides them with to the fullest. The best example of this is their use of the humble coconut. Literally every part of it is used and often for a number of different tasks. I will elaborate on this later.

Let’s first take a tour around the island of Koh Samui. I bought a stunning painting of the Buddha from this artist.


Yes we did have many Happy Hours during our 1 week stay.


There are so many perfect beaches it is difficult to know which one to enjoy.


These are called “long-tail boats”. I took this photo one evening without a tripod so it is not perfect, but it has a few things going for it. At the very least it captures a little bit of the long-tail’s romance, I hope.


I think it is now time to plunge into the main reason for writing this post. We attended a full day cooking class with a true artisan by the name of Ying. She first took us to the local market. We bought all we needed for the day’s cooking and was able to ask all those questions a westerner might harbour regarding some fairly challenging produce.


Such as frogs …


… and chicken feet, which are actually both on the milder end of the (weird) scale as far as my palate goes.


Here you can see how the wife is sweating like the proverbial “Gypsy with a mortgage” If you venture outside the comfort of your airconditioned hotel room in 35º celsius with > 80% humidity this is bound to happen. Now add to that a sizzling Panang curry and that Gypsy needs psychotherapy.


Ying explained how one should open up a Coconut.


We did the final bit of “shopping” in Ying’s back garden.


During the perambulations around her beautiful garden, we came across this pile of coconut shells. Ying’s father turns these into charcoal for cooking food. The soft fibrous outer layer is used in upholstery.


The best shells are turned into these beautiful small bowls, which got me thinking …


Our festive cooking stations.


Here we are preparing curry paste from scratch. With all this effort in the mentioned weather conditions, that proverbial “Gypsy” is now needing chemical restraint.


While the girls continued to pound away at the paste I was summoned to harvest coconut meat from the shells. Ying’s Dad built this delightful coconut shredding stool, for lack of a better term.


Our ingredients.


The food we cooked.


Two days after our cooking class we nipped back to Ying’s place to ask if we could buy a few of those coconut shells destined to become charcoal. Ying would have nothing of it and said we could have as many as we want. In the picture below you can see the fruits of our shell smuggling efforts back in my shop in Windhoek. I want to turn these into a set of 18 lights for our beach house. You will have to wait to see the final product. I am pretty sure my friend Jonathan White (The Bench Blog) will need anxiolytics (having heard about my intentions), given my trackrecord with electricity and how he feels about it. Jonathan, you know whom to call. Special price, only for you!!


In the meantime I made this spoon out of a shell that did not survive the journey intact. It has a Witpeer handle and seems to be a very respectable cooking utensil.


I plan to also do a slotted spoon and a soup spoon with the shells below.


In conclusion, I would like to thank Ying for her incredible hospitality and the wealth of knowledge she imparted during our day together. She also inspired several new projects that I cannot wait to get stuck into. Relax Jonathan relax!!

Mystery Tyzack? … yeah right!


This is a post that I almost forgot about, but since chatting to the famous Bob’s your Uncle Demers (aka The Valley Woodworker) recently it reminded me of the information he found on this saw. As you might remember, this Tyzack was part of my December 2015 tool finds in the Garden route. I asked for help to get an idea of the saw’s history.


I received the below information from Bob Demers on the 10th of March 2016:

In 1839, 30-year-old sawmaker Henry Tyzack moved from Sheffield to Shoreditch, just outside the City of London. Henry’s father Samuel was a sawmaker, as was his younger brother Joseph and his uncle, Thomas Tyzack. We do not know exactly when Henry started making saws and other tools under his own name, but 1843 is the date used by the successor firms. In 1861 or shortly afterwards, Henry transferred the business (with two employees) to his eldest son, Samuel, who in 1860 had leased a small shop of his own. By 1871 Samuel had five employees. Henry died in 1876 and Samuel died in 1903.
The “& Son” in the name S. Tyzack & Son likely refers to Edgar, born in 1877, although another son, Horace, was also involved in the business. The name changed to S. Tyzack & Sons in 1905, after Edgar Tyzack inherited the business.
Throughout its history, the Tyzack firm resold tools made by others and also sold tools that they made themselves. Their product line primarily consisted of hand tools for the carpentry and cabinetmaking trades. This website’s focus is machinery, and this firm is listed here because they made miter trimmers (which straddle the fuzzy line between tools and machines) and, from 1920 to 1959, metal-turning lathes. These lathes, and some of their miter trimmers and related products, used the “ZYTO” brand name.
The company operated until 1987 when it was finally wound down. Early history of the firm

So your back saw is from BEFORE 1905 (when the name changed to Tyzack & Sons)
and AFTER 1860 when he transferred his business to his eldest son.
So between 1861 and 1905.
6th Jan 1871 a city ordnance renumber No 8 old street to No 345
So your saw was made between 1871-1905

In all respect it is a good saw



Clearly there is no mystery in the antique hand tool world too big for Bob to solve.

My second commission – part 5


These Witpeer (Apodytes dimidiata) boards had a good 5 weeks to settle after all that hand milling we (yes “we”, we are a team now, I do the work and you get to read about it in the comfort of your own shop/home) did in the first part of April. They were clamped to each other to prevent even a thought of warping. It has therefore become time to glue them together to produce the first of three layers of timber that will ultimately become the trapezoid leg of this table.

In the photos below you can hopefully see my usual artwork on the face side. The boards were arranged with much deliberation on where the cracks and interesting areas of colour change should endup. Once that is done I usually draw a so-called carpenter’s triangle (sometimes referred to as a cabinetmaker’s triangle) across all of the boards to ensure that I can easily get them back in this order after planing individual edges.


I then marked out the location of the dominos I use to line the edges up during glue-up. Dominos are similar to biscuits, just better (as you would expect from Festool). I use the mark illustrated below to indicate where the slots for each domino should go. The ring around the end of the line is there to help distinguish these marks from others. I have found in the past that one can get confused with the lines of the carpenters triangle once the boards gets mixed up.


Here I am preparing the glue surfaces of the edges that go together. The idea is that you fold each board (on either side of the joint) down and away from you, much like you would do with a book were the cover is facing you and you close the book. Then you clamp them together with the two edges flush at the top. This way your error (if you go ever so slightly out of square) would cancel out for a perfectly flat joint once planed. You also want to create a very slight hollow in the length of these edges, which will result in a so-called spring joint. In other words, during assembly the ends of the joint will meet first and very gentle pressure from your clamps will close up the minute gap in the centre of the joint.


As a wannabe exclusive hand tool woodworker (AKA a hybrid woodworker) I have to admit that one power tool I really do enjoy using is my Domino. Why? I am not sure. It might be because it is relatively quiet, fairly accurate and very easy to use. Here I am preparing the small (3 mm) slots for the three dominos I decided on for each of these joints. I prepared only three edges and then glued them up one at a time. PVA glue sets so quickly in our dry environment that I simply cannot risk doing more than one at a time.


The next day the edges of those glued up panels were prepared and glued to each other.



The day after that the two bigger panels were then prepared and glued. As you can see it necessitated a different strategy to clamp in my bench(for edge preparation), but the bench came to the party.


I honestly cannot remember what one calls this thing that I made to stop the leg vise from twisting (when you clamp on only one side of it), but it works like a charm in situations like this.


For the final glue-up I had to first cut 1″ galvanised pipe to appropriate lengths as all my other clamps were too short. Luckily there were a few left in the stash that came from my father’s shop.


Didi assisted me to make sure this joint ends up flat as (this is a Kiwi expression for those of you who thinks that it is just poor grammer).



Once the whole panel was glued-up, I used a Festool TS55 track saw to cut out the trapezoid shape.


For the angle of the sides of the trapezoid shape my Stanley no. 18 bevel was simply set to that of the prototype/mockup pictured below.


The panel was then clamped to straight Kershout (Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus) beams to keep it honest, while I mill and shape the timber for the next layer.


The second layer will consist of three strips (top, middle and bottom) of Tasmanian Blackwood that will run at 90º to the grain of the first layer. This second layer will ensure that the trapezoid leg cannot cup or bow over the years. It will also be completely invisible once the third layer is installed. The unmilled Tasmanian Blackwood is on the left of the picture leaning against the wall. The third layer will be milled from the Witpeer board to the right of it, lying on the sawhorses.


The reason why I chose the slightly softer Tasmanian Blackwood for this layer is because it will take a nail better than Witpeer. I plan to nail the third layer to TB layer using brad/finishing nails. You will have to wait a while to see exactly what I mean. Anyway, the Tasmanian Blackwood will be unsighted so it does not matter that it is a different species.


The two TB boards were ripped on the bandsaw and then received a light planing before being clamped to settle over the next week or so.


The Witpeer board was ripped using the track saw and stored to acclimatise to the shop’s ambient humidity.


Hopefully we will be able to deal with the next two layers in part 6. I would love to get that done by the end of June, but if not that is fine too.

African Rosewood Roubo


I’m sure this must be the millionth Roubo journey that’s been blogged about! Thanking Gerhard again for the opportunity, this time to convey my African Roubo experience to you, here goes yet another one.

Since reading Chris Schwarz’ Popular Woodworking Magazine blog entries on workbenches years ago, I have always wanted to build me a decent solid workbench. Nothing less than a Roubo. I like working with my hands and I’m not scared to strive to acquire new skill sets (still have a hard time with welding and plastering though…). Sure, at that stage I already had a few projects under the belt. Some of you may associate with this, you know, sawing on the stairs with the wife standing on one end, planing on a temporary table in the shop and picking the work piece up from the floor every few minutes because of makeshift bench stops, sanding outside on the lawn etc. And surprisingly these projects came out fine (also despite working with “hobbyist class” tools). Later I got my hands on a workbench that was quite sufficient but it was an ugly, impractical apparition. Partially perhaps because it doubled for the previous owner as a metalworking bench – steel framed, scaffolding plank top with a 16mm plywood sheet screwed onto it. Adding a vise and bench stop eased the pain a great deal.

Simultaneously I developed the need for better quality tools (not that I deserved them). That was when I started visiting antique shops looking for quality, antique bargains. And soon had the unfortunate life changing experience by discovering eBay (and the intimacies of shipping costs).

Fast forward to the Roubo. I started to investigate what lumber to use that was available in at least 4″ thickness. Didn’t really feel like following the “laminated pine” route, rather wanted to use solids as opposed to laminated wood. Our Pine is also generally softer than the US version(s), except perhaps for the Cape grown lumber, which has much tighter growth rings than those from up north in Southern Africa (because of less favourable growing conditions, I assume). I considered using railway sleepers and then just plugging all the holes but that could turn messy (and ruin your tools). Oak was available from a local timber agent but prohibitively expensive in such dimensions. Started to contact mills for rough cut lumber (any lumber of sufficient dimensions) and eventually got referred to a company that were importing and then kiln drying lumber from countries up north (Southern Africa). It turned out that they did have four sleeper sized beams that they wanted to get rid of, the reason I can’t remember anymore (not that the reason really mattered to me!). Between 2,4 and 3,2m lengths and 110mm (4½”) thick. It was African Rosewood (Guibourtia Caleosperma), family of Bubinga. Eisch!


For R400 (about US$30) all in all. Kiln dried at no extra cost (the courier down to Cape Town was about R900)!! Ridiculous, I know, a real giveaway!! Although I felt remorse using such beautiful timber for a workbench, I reasoned if I strive to do a real special job, I may eventually pass it down to my son as a heirloom! Furthermore, I have sentimental value to the tree species, since my dad and me used to camp under these species trees on our numerous hunting trips in the far north of Namibia. Winters in Namibia makes for a grey/drab landscape and these trees were the only evergreen trees in the veldt. It is ideal to set up camp under one of these. They call it “Ushivi” up there).

Usually, I can be quite a pain when planning something, because I have another pet hate, and that is to have to do something over, just because I messed up because of a lack of planning or because I was rushed. Perhaps a tiny bit of Kavango-bush mentality (“there is always tomorrow) left after all these years? Therefor I prefer to take my time, investigate something pretty thoroughly and only then commence with my project (which therefor often seems to take forever). And yes, I know I’m boring. I’m also well aware that I’m a jack of many trades but master of none. So, since I’m doing this part-time, there’s no rush? If some chores around the house comes up, it tend to take priority (or gets made my priority…) and my woodwork projects tend to gather dust. So, the bench for this part time wood butcher had to be not too large (I have limited shop space), not too small, dimension ratios acceptable, tenon selection also had to be a special feature without building a bells and whistles thing. And simultaneously optimising usage of my available lumber.

Also decided to build it with hand tools (bit of a traditionalist, but lets not go there yet), so ripping and cutting these beams into manageable pieces was a mountain I had to cross, sooner or later. But by just Googling a few black and white pics of (must be) “desperados” cutting down rather large Redwoods in the early days with hand saws and axes, made me feel much more positive about my intentions! The more the bench took shape in my mind, the more urgent my urge became to start plonking away!

Roubo1 (1)Roubo2

Sure enough, the project slowly started to gather momentum. Dimensioning the legs on my old workbench to 120x100mm (5×4 inches)

Roubo3 Poot

Dimensioning one of the tree top beams. Note, because of its sheer weight I required no clamps except for an improvised “bench stop”, just in case…

Roubo4 Blad

After the top glue-up, it was time for the leg top tenons. Decided (speciality factor) on rising dovetails (inspired by Roy Underhill, I think), which I knew was going to be fun and games in these large dimensions, all three cuts being taper cuts. To start the cut correctly, snugly next to the line on this tough hardwood, is really the key (second to the initial accurate measurements and marking, of course). Saw just wants to (and does) slip in the tough end grain. Chiselling to the line to aid the start (First Class cut),  helped with some of the cuts. If done carefully, minimal planing is required afterwards. Still, it is a workbench, so it doesn’t have to be perfect!! This timber weighs 800kg/m3 and has a Janka of 2090. I orientated the legs so that my cut would be more or less vertical using my sash. At that stage I still had trouble sawing accurately to a line, so I sawed 10mm at a time and then scrutinised my cut, until the cut was complete. Took forever, but the result, I felt, was acceptable. Had no room (read extra wood) for major errors. This is not necessarily a stronger or less stronger joint than the other traditional joints being used on Roubo. Just a bit of a fancy joint (for that x-factor aka je ne sais quoi!!) that I strived for to make the bench special. Also one of the joints the woodwork community calls “impossible joints”, because once assembled, it appears to have been impossible to assemble.

Roubo7 RDT pootRoubo8 RDT pootRoubo9 RDT pootRoubo10 RDT pootRoubo11 RDT pootRoubo12 RDT poot

Turning to the top 1800x600x100mm (72x24x4″)was ideal to test a recently restored 1″ Witherby, but I found it was almost too small for the job at hand.

Roubo13 RDT blad

Then the horizontal supports.

Roubo14 poottap

With lapped dovetails in front.

Roubo15 spartapRoubo16 DT spartap

The jaw (200mm or 8″ wide) was also a challenge to shape with ordinary spoke shaves etc

Roubo17 kaakRoubo18 kaak

Think these were sold as antique book clamps but they appeared acceptable to be used in the vise. Used the least chipped thread (almost 2 inches diameter) because there were some wear and tear on them. Not a nice tight fit on the female thread anymore after all these years but had to do. Using beeswax on them to reduce friction.

Roubo19 skroef draad

Something else that I found quite challenging was the glue-up because all the parts had to be simultaneously glued, fitted and clamped in the limited open time. Do you ever have enough clamps?? By the way, dry fitting (and disassembling) these tight fitting huge tenons was not a walk in the park either. Eventual result was fine though. Then used a caster wheel with a 6mm sawn off drill bit as axis to ease/support the vise operation. Also did something similar at the rear end of the vise (top of the tenon hole of course, in order to support leverage of the vise)

Roubo20 kaak glide

African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) for the garter and handle knobs. Will probably inlay the garter later on (when I feel like acquiring inlaying skills!!)

Roubo21 garterRoubo22 garter

And finally the tool rack that’s mounted to the left rear of the top. Will add additional bench dog holes etc as required. Didn’t want to start boring holes just to find out later on: “this hole actually needs to sit 1,357211cm to the left…”!!

Roubo23 toolrak

Eventually, after flattening and some Danish Oil, voila!

Roubo24 kaakRoubo25Roubo27 (1)

Some reminiscences…. After working with it for a few years now, I have no regrets (of course I would say that…). There’s nothing bothering or irking me. Every shop should have a solid workbench and by building one yourself, it teaches you lots of skills along the way. I like the size of my Roubo and adjust my work accordingly. The final height is 870mm (34,25inch) because I’m tall-ish. The darker wood works perfectly fine, although I think lighter wood may perhaps have been more practical. Would have liked more natural light in my cave though, but have to make do with extra artificial light. Would like to replace the vise screw sometime (with another wooden one) but at least this one is not jumping threads and actually works fine! I have added a traditional bench stop recently and drilled two or three extra holdfast holes. Thinking about a sliding dead man but haven’t really had the need to use one yet and there are other ways to circumvent that. Oh, yes, and then perhaps an end vise, even one with just a 20cm range span could also be a helpful feature. Personally I’d prefer not to bolt a Record 52 or something similar to the end of the bench to double up as ‘n end vise, but that’s purely personal. This thing weighs a ton, so I’m currently satisfied to use it just as it is. Saves a lot on medical bills, by not having to manipulate it (yet) for additional mods!

Hope I didn’t bore you with this African Roubo experience! Just thought many of you may relate to much of this.

Cape Town greetings!

Frank Bartlett