Shop made saw benches – 1


While my monster workbench is getting quite close to being finished, I want to start building two saw benches. I need to start preparing the stock as it inevitably takes a lot of time, seeing that I need to laminate bits of crappy wood to make up the boards I need. It pains me to see how those American woodworkers can rock up to a lumberyard and buy perfect boards (of almost any species) in any imaginable dimension, go home and start working on their project. I work for weeks to cobble together strips of wood to make up boards that will be appropriate for the task. I decided to use Tasmanian Blackwood in this particular case, as I have quite a bit of it and I do not like using it for anything else than shop structures.

I looked at heaps of different designs (in the past 6 months or so) to work out what would suite me best. The design I settled on is based on a saw bench in an article entitled “If the tool fits …” by Ron Herman, in the August 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

In the pictures below you can see the rough stock I picked. It is not the best stock at all, but I would rather use the good stuff for other purposes.


Here I tried to work out what the ideal height should be given my personal Vitruvianisms (I think this might be a new word). It seems that 18½” (47cm) fits my Vitruvian lower leg.


Arranging the strips for the first two glue-ups.


As per usual, I used my Festool Domino to ensure that the edges stay flush. The Domino is the only power tool I still enjoy using. It is fairly quiet and generally a joy to use.




The second batch of stock that was processed.


This is my woodworking buddy. Her name is Pipsqueack.


From these pictures you can appreciate the wide range of different colours one can find in Tasmanian Blackwood. These strips were the first to be hand planed on my new bench. The two planes I used feature in the last picture.


Another round of glue-ups.


Removing the dried excess glue with my shop made flush plane.







Lamination done.



I started preparing the laminated stock this weekend. The first and most arduous task was to get rid of the slight twist in the boards. Once one face was flat I used the electrical planer to flatten the opposite face.


After flattening one edge, …


… my shop made panel gauge came in handy to mark out the opposite edge. While doing this, I realised that by flipping round the lids of my sliding tool trays it creates an ideal stop (in conjunction with my planing stop) to do this task. Just another nifty feature of my bench design.


Yep, I am a “tails first” type of guy … for now anyway. This is my first attempt at multiple dovetails, so my approach might change depending on how it pans out.


Cleaning out the waste.


Transferring the tails to mark out the pins. Here you can appreciate how my shop made assembly table assists with this delicate task.


A first careful fit.


Also see Part 2 and 3 of this riveting series.

My 18th Century Workbench in progress 29


Since being part of the Woodspotting family I started reading Joshua A. Klein’s blog, The Workbench Diary. It is highly recommended, by the way. A while ago he wrote a series of posts with advice for woodworking bloggers. I realised that I tick almost none of the points he mentioned.

The point which is relevant to this post is that he recommended that one should post photos of yourself on a fairly frequent basis. I realised that I have posted almost no (such) picture at all. Apart from the Freudian look on my home page of course. My daughter Aoife (6 yoa) took to the camera this weekend, thus providing me with some material to scare off potential readers. I recently heard someone say about another person: “He has a face for radio and a voice for the printed media!”. I wonder whether Joshua considered this issue in writing his blog guidance? Maybe some of us should rather stick to pictures of old Stanley’s and dovetails.

Anyway, into the fray!


By now you might want to pray (just to make it today!) …


… fair enough, let’s get back to woodwork. Here you can see the first fit of the Roubo-esque sliding-deadman-cum-eggbeater-leg-vise.


… and the same beast after some oil. You might notice the candle wax I applied as a lubricant. It works like a charm. As you can see, it is quite easy to remove the jaw and it becomes a conventional sliding deadman when necessary.


It did not take too long for it to start paying rent.




Gerhard Marx

Woodworking recluse



I would like to thank Siavosh Bahrami sincerely for including my site on I have been documenting my woodwork journey since March 2013, without knowing whether there is anyone out there benefitting from it or not. Since he included me on his blog aggregator, two things have happened. In the first place, I have found heaps of other blog sites that I learn from and enjoy. In the second place, I can see that a few woodworkers are starting to look at my posts.

Being stuck in woodworking hinterland can be quite challenging when it comes to sharing ideas and that feeling of being part of a community. Since frequenting woodspotting, I’ve realised that there are several other woodworkers in a similar position, but I think I might still take the cake (so to speak). So far I have not found any other woodwork blogger from Africa, a continent that is home to 1 166 239 000 souls. It looks like Namibia is once again leading the way on the African continent! Or have I missed someone?

It is fascinating to see pictures of the different weather conditions that prevails outside some of the blogger’s shops. It got me thinking. I should start taking pictures of the unique semi-desert/savanna terroir around my shop. Even the shots of birdlife, as per Peter Follansbee’s site, is inspiring. My son is doing a science project at present where he records all the indigenous birds we see in our garden. Once I have a decent lense for my 7D, you might see some pictures of the Shaft-Tailed Whydah, Paradice Flycatcher, African Red-Eyed Bulbul, Green-Winged Pytilia, etc etc. In the meantime, you will have to be content with the picture of Zebras taken in the Etosha Game Reserve a few years ago.

Anyway, it feels good to at least have some vague sense of being part of a woodworking community.

Siavosh, you are a legend mate.


Gerhard Marx

My 18th Century Workbench in progress 28


This was one of those weekends in the shop were I did not feel I got much done despite working almost 2½ days. I am still busy with the two sliding deadmen for my bench. One of them will double up as a sliding leg vise, a la plate 279 of “L’Art du Menuisier” (pictured below). Mine however, will be on a smaller scale and retains it’s deadman anatomy too. The point being, this is slow and fiddly type work.


Cutting the thread for the wooden screw.


One Assegaai wooden screw being cut. This antique German screw box is frighteningly sharp. It felt like I was cutting custard.


Here I started working on the leg vise’s jaw.


Each deadman has a base which slides on top of the bench’s long stretchers. The joinery is a complete overkill (as per usual). It includes, through mortises that were wedged and draw bored. As you might gather from the pictures, I experimented with slow setting epoxy and normal PVA wood glue for the draw pins. The epoxy, which has a consistency similar to vaseline, certainly improves the ease of clobbering them home. I think it has to do with the fact that it acts as a lubricant and also does now lead to immediate swelling of the dowel, which is the case with the water based glue.


The protruding tenons and wedges were worked flush by passing it over the table saw several times followed by paring. The surfaces which will be in contact with the top of the stretcher were then covered with sealskin.


I simply do not have the technical vocabulary to describe what I did here. The pictures will have to tell the story.


Just to be different, I decided to use an eggbeater drill as inspiration for an alternative looking sliding-deaman-leg-vise. With a bit of imagination, you will probably be able to deduct where this is heading.


This is a very handy idea if one wants to shape and sand small round parts. This piece is destined for the eggbeater-leg-vise-deadman.



OK, one more clue dressed in sealskin.


Dog maker


My nearly finished workbench needs a profusion of dogs. In order to speed up the production and have some degree of consistency, I made this dog maker out of a scrap piece of beech. It has a multitude of “high-tech features” such as:


1) Self-tapping screw to hold the stock in position.


2) A hole for drilling the bullet catch hardware hole.



3) A kerf to saw a flat face (leaning 2º forward from the vertical position, ensuring that the upper most tip would touch stock first)


4) A kerf to cut each dog to the exact same length.


That is followed by a few more steps, once the dog is liberated from it’s maker. The pictures tells the story.






The Old Warhorse


I bought this Stanley no. 77 dowel machine from Jim Bode in October 2014. It took 3 months to reach me in Deep Dark Africa. If you are interested in reading the travel journal of the package it traveled in (absolutely riveting, by the way), check out this post:

Anyway, this is one of the earlier models as the later versions were blue (rather than black). I am not sure in which year the colour change transpired. My came with a ¼” cutter.


It has three oil holes (sure there must be a better term), that got fed this weekend.


I found a piece of scrap wood that already had the correct dimensions to fix the main casting to. This enables me to quickly clamp it to the assembly table. When I need dowels.


I first tried Ysterhout (Olea capensis macrocarpa), but this stuff is so hard and wild that even the old warhorse had trouble taming it. That was followed by beech, which were a lot more agreeable as you can see.


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 27


On Friday afternoon I finally fitted the planing stops. It must be at least 3 months since the Ysterhout scraps were laminated. During the coarse of these months, I had several different ideas as to how the planing stops should be kept in place. In the end I simply went with a very tight friction fit. In other words, you take a mallet and bliksem (colloquial Afrikaans meaning many things, depending on the context, in this particular case ‘clobber’ comes to mind) them in and out of their little nest. So far it works like a charm, but I will report on how it turns out in the long run.

I decided to place the planing stops in front of the leg vise, rather than behind it as seen in most traditional benches. This shortens the bench surface available for planing, but also means that most of the planing can be done without having to lean over the leg vise. For longer boards I will eventually have a stop at the very end of the bench as well.


During the course of last week, I moved all my bench planes to their new address. You will notice that some of them have leather sleeping bags to stop them from collecting excessive woodworking debris. I am slowly stitching these by hand during weekends away from the shop.


The idea all along was to fit a traditional crochet to operate in tandem with the leg vise, but last week I saw this idea on another blog (unfortunately I can not remember which). I simply drilled four x 3/4″ holes in the side of the top beyond the leg vise. A simple Assegaai dog can now be used in the appropriate hole as a stop.


This weekend was actually the first opportunity to use my new bench properly. In the pictures below you can see how it assisted in an array of different ways to do bread-and-butter type operations. I am working on a sliding deadman for each side of the bench.




I wrote a separate post on this shop made beader, which you should find in the recent posts section. I added the beads to hide the laminated nature of the stock that makes up the deadman.


Shop made beader


… or at least that is what I think it should be called. I have been in the market for a beader for some time now. I found a nice pre-1900 Stanley no. 66 recently, but it is still hanging with Patrick Leach in the US of A. Patrick usually hangs on to my acquisitions until “critical mass is reached” (as he puts it) to justify a shipment.

This weekend I wanted to use beads to hide the fact that the two sliding deadmen I am currently working on are laminated. So I whipped this little guy together from some scrap Witels (Platylophus trifoliatus). I saw the design idea in a Fine Woodworking article (I think), a few years ago. It is armed with a Lie-Nielsen blade. According to LN, these blades will fit the Stanley no. 66. I will hopefully be able to report on that in the not too distant future.

As you can see, it did a sterling job.


Shop made tools used in building my 18th century bench


Seeing that my 18th century inspired bench is getting very close to being finished, I though it might be an interesting exercise to look at all the shop made tools that contributed to the final product. As you might know by now, I am based in Namibia. This means that I do not have the luxury of buying good quality woodworking tools from stores. At first it used to frustrate me with a vengeance, but over the past three years it became apparent that it is a blessing in disguise. Since I started building my own tools and restoring quality vintage tools, my learning curve went into overdrive.

Once you have managed to build (and to a lesser degree restored) a tool, you tend have a much better understanding of how it works. I also find it much more satisfying to use a shop built tool than any other.

So lets look at the lineup that helped me to build this bench. I simply picked photos from the 26 (at this stage) posts documenting the building process in superfluous detail. These posts are all entitled “My 18th Century Workbench in progress” followed by a number. I include links to posts I wrote on how each tool was built for in case you might want to take a closer look.


This is a shop made dowel plate and the mallet that did 90% of the damage needed to cut all the gargantuan through mortises.


This picture features a shop made wooden fore plane (right) and scrub plane (left). We will deal with the scrub plane later.


These sanding planes were used extensively during the tedious lamination phase.


My version of a birdcage awl (right), which I fashioned out of an old centre bit. The marking knife was made using an old plane blade and a scrap piece of Tamboti.


This is my heavy dead-blow mallet that was indispensable during the assembly of such massive joinery. It is also featured in the post entitled “Mallet Mania”


This turned Assegaai mallet was employed for the majority of the fine-tuning that the joinery needed.


At this stage I have to say that this scrub plane is my favourite shop made tool. It absolutely mutilates (in a good sort of way) any excess material that needs prompt attention. It also comes in handy as an aggressive fore plane due to it’s length. If it was not for this warmonger, I would still be trying to flatten the two laminated beams that makes up the twin-top of the bench.


A large shoulder plane with some je ne sais quoi.


This is my version of a Melencolia square.


Winding sticks



In the pictures below you can see a wooden jointer and straight edge.




This is my version of a panel gauge.



A few bench hooks.



My assembly table was probably the most indispensable shop made tool in building the bench. In the the pictures below you will also see the legvise and sliding deadman I built to enhance the repertoire of the assembly table. I chose a few photos that illustrates how the assembly table made short work of otherwise tricky tasks.




A flush plane



Some shop made squares.


I hope that this might inspire other novice woodworkers to build their shop and tools with their own shop made tools. It is a very satisfying journey.





Fourth acquisition from Patrick Leach


My fourth shipment from Patrick Leach arrived this week.

It included:

1) This Stanley no. 203 bench clamp. It is in the process of being rehabilitated in this picture.


2) Stanley no. 923 12″ brace. In the picture I am cleaning and lubricating the chuck.


3) This Disston no. 12 18″ 12pt cross cut panel saw. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of the blade befor sending it to Kenney for a clean. It was rusted on one side. According to my research it would have been made between 1896-1917.


4) Sargent no. 407 smoothing plane and a Stanley no. 3.


Goes without saying.




… and Marples gouges.