Saw benches and workbench after the Naked Woodworker

These first few projects that I have highlighted so far were great learning opportunities and helped me build confidence in building projects with hand tools. They did however underscore the importance of having a workbench of proper design. My increasing use of western handsaws also highlighted my need for proper saw benches.

In mid 2014, Lost Art Press released a dvd entitled the Naked Woodworker. In this video, Mike Siemsen shows beginning woodworkers how to select and restore tools, build a saw bench and construct a Nicholson style workbench. This instructional resource was perfect for me as a I lacked saw benches and workbench and needed some guidance on construction of a workbench. Mke Siemsen does an excellent job in this two dvd set and presents very clear details and methods.

I started these two projects after Christmas 2014. I finished the saw benches in a couple days of the holiday break. The workbench took me a couple of weeks working at night. There were some pretty cold nights during that time period while I worked outside in my shed. Finishing these items definitely changed the types of items I could build and the workholding methods I could employ. After about an hour of using the workbench, I started to glimpse how critical a solid, well-designed truly is for hand tool woodworking.  The sawbenches followed the exact design outlined in the Naked Woodworker, while the workbench proportions were adjusted so it could be built 5 feet long to fit in the workspace of my shed.

And here they are…

Naked Woodworker Saw Benches

Naked Woodworker Workbench



A Rabbeted and Nailed Box

Sometime in the fall 2014 I watched one of the Woodwright’s Shop episodes named Peter and the Box. In this episode, Peter Follansbee makes a carved ‘bible box’. It had very simple joinery (rabbet and cut nail construction) and was made out of red oak. As my primary interest in making pieces had been boxes, I thought I would make a box with a similar design, but without the carving. I have not done any carving and do not own any of the appropriate tools.

Rabbet and cut nail joined box - back

The box began as a piece of 1×6 pine I found. I think it is ponderosa. The board had been siting around for some time, at least 10 years but perhaps more, and had a great patina to it. In the article Peter Follansbee wrote entitled Recreating a 17th-Century Carved Box, he stated that many of the bible boxes he has studied had 1/2” material on the fronts and backs and 3/4” for the sides. Thus my first task was to cut this 1×6 board into the rough dimensions I needed. This involved my first attempt at resawing lumber into thinner stock. The four boards for the box carcass turned out pretty flat and uniform; I was pleased. I cut the rabbets at the end of the front and back pieces and nailed the carcass together with 4d cut nails. The top was made from two pieces of the pine I edge glued with Old Brown Glue (a liquid hide glue). Had a bit of trouble with the hinges, but the lid mostly sits alright. I finished with two coats of danish oil rubbed with a brown paper bag between coats. Finished the piece in late 2014 and it was delivered to its recipient, my mother-in-law, in early 2015.

Rabbet and cut nail joined box - end

Rabbet and cut nail joined box

Building a Gift for My Mother: A Little Free Library

My third significant project was building a little free library for my mother. A Little Free Library is a small structure where anyone can stop by and borrow a book and bring back another book to share. Typically they are mounted on posts similar to mailboxes. The site can be used to register a location and the website provides a map and details from those put up worldwide.

John and His Little Free Library

I sketched out the design to make sure that it would hold large size books and so I could utilize 1x12s as my widest piece. When I built this in the summer of 2014, I did not own clamps greater than 12” and had not yet glued up any wide panels. The design was loosely patterned after the appearance of an Amish shed. I cannot take credit for the post construction. My brother-in-law built the post for the library out of cypress and set it in the concrete footing. He is a timber framer and did an outstanding job on the post.

The construction of the main carcase of the little free library was simple, 1×12 yellow-poplar nailed with exterior finish nails (like cut nails these needed pilot holes to). I covered the nail heads with exterior putty and painted the library with two coats of exterior latex. I used cedar siding for the roofing materials and used brass nails to fasten them.

The door provide me some real skill building. It was constructed using mortise and tenon joinery with a rabbeted back which holds the plexiglass panel. The plexiglass is held into the rabbet with square dowels nailed into the door frame with brass nails. This was my first my first project with a mortise and tenon. I chopped the mortise with a 1/4” mortise chisel and cut the tenons with a Japanese ryoba saw. The rabbets were also a first for me and since I own no joinery planes I cut them with a chisel. The layout of this door followed the descriptions presented in Chapter 3 of The Essential Woodworker (Lost Art Press) by Robert Wearing. This is an outstanding book on hand tool woodworking and I really could not have produced the quality of the door I did without this reference. The project also included my first attempt at a mortise hinge installation. Thanks to Robert Wearing’s instruction I was able to hang the door successfully.

Little Free Library Mortise and Tenon Door

Japanese Toolbox Build

As I mentioned in my last post, my second box project was to build the toolbox design presented in Toshio Odate’s book, Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use. I started my Japanese toolbox by coming up with some raw dimensions based upon my longest tool I owned at the time. I also studied a great post on the giant Cypress blog showing his build of a similar toolbox. This post is very informative and greatly facilitated construction of my own toolbox.

Japanese Toolbox Side

My version of Odate’s toolbox turned out to be 36” L x 11 1/4” W x 10 5/8” H. A design note: I built the box a little long for my “wingspan” and it makes carrying it fully loaded difficult. One should consider when building their own tool chest.

I built this toolbox in April/May 2014 and it was constructed primarily from 1×12 softwood boards purchased at the home center. The carcase was put together with 6d cut nails. The design of these toolboxes have several very neat features. Outer end boards are thicker to serve as handles (mine were made from 5/4 oak). The lid slides within the top opening to securely close the box without the need for hinges or latches. Like my packing box project, the battens that hold the lid in the toolbox opening are clinch nailed.

Japanese Toolbox End

Construction of this box was fairly straight forward. Cutting the piece for the lid presented my first long rip cut with a handsaw. Also be careful that the nails that hold the top boards do not intersect with the nails that secure the end boards. You may guess why I provide that caution. This seems like a simple concept, but during my first few projects I had some design/layout issues such as this.

Low (or Floor) Sawhorses: A Necessity for Japanese Saws

After reading Toshio Odate’s book, Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use, I was inspired to make a toolbox for my second project.  Descriptions in Odate’s book indicated that low (or floor) sawhorses were commonly used with Japanese saws.  Japanese saws work on the pull stroke and sawyers typically work in a bent over position while using these saws.  I built a pair of these low sawhorses to help facilitate the cross-cutting and ripping I would need to do with my ryoba during the toolbox build.

Japanese Low Horse

These low sawhorses were made from a Douglas-fir 2×4.  The 9 inch wide “legs” were held to the 20 inch long beams using 5/8″ oak dowels. If I were to build these again, I may have used a 2×6 for the beams as to give me a little more height above the floor when sawing.

A Packing Box

My first task when I started woodworking was learning how to cut boards to length. I did much research on what type of saw I need and how to use them. After studying the very well-done askwoodman and giant Cypress sites on Japanese saws, I purchased a 12” ryoba saw from Japan Woodworker. Incidentally I do like my Gyokucho Japanese saws, but I now have more or less converted to western hand and back saws except for rough carpentry work. I spent much time cutting 2x4s into small pieces while I learned to use the ryoba saw.

My first project with my newly acquired sawing skills and the collection of tools pictured in my last post was to build a small packing box.


This is the initial project presented in The Joiner and Cabinet Maker. The first part of this book by Lost Art Press is a reprinted fictional account of a young woodworking apprentice, Thomas. Originally published in the early 1800s, the book essentially tells Thomas’ story during his years as an apprentice. Along the way it provides instruction on hand tool woodworking shop practice and three projects, a packing box, a school box, and chest of drawers. The second part of this book is written by Christopher Schwarz and he provides additional description (and analysis) on how to build the three projects presented in the original text. I was fascinated with the packing box and its simple construction (wood and cut nails) made it an ideal first project for me as well.

I did not yet have a bench or dedicated place to work, so I built the project on my back patio using a work surface of two plastic sawhorses with a plywood board on top. My packing box was built from 1/2” yellow-poplar and 4d cut nails. Battens secured the lid boards together and nails through the lid were clinched. While I felt the box turned out pretty solid and square, two things become apparent very quickly. I needed a work surface that did not slide around as I tried to plane the box joints smooth and I needed a sharper plane iron.


The Start of My Woodworking Journey

My hand tool woodworking journey started 18 months ago with the collection of tools and books pictured.


Some tools were purchased and some were acquired from family members. I received the plane from my grandfather probably more than 20 years ago. One of my first tasks was restoring it back to service and I learned much from this process. He won the Stanley Handyman No. 5 as a Christmas door prize in the late 1940’s (1949 I believe). The Stanley drills were a gift from my father-in-law. The books, The Essential Woodworker and The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, are from Lost Art Press and are outstanding for learning hand tool woodworking. I have read them each in their entirety, twice.

I have had an interest in carpentry and woodworking my whole life. I have been fascinated with Roy Underhill’s show and his woodworking approach since the early 1980’s when I would watch it on my family’s black and white television. I made a point to watch when I could and hope the TV static over the antenna was not too bad that day.

Before acquiring the pictured items I had done little more than use a cordless drill, hammer nails and assemble pre-made furniture together with as screw driver and hex wrench. I cannot really point to one thing that started me down this woodworking path. Though in the fall of 2013 I had an odd urge to “have some project” or “make something”. I pondered a couple of activities to address this, but one day while I was on the computer I got the notion to search for “traditional woodworking”. This one action started my journey and the last 18 months have been filled with studying woodworking books, following woodworkers blogs, hunting for and restoring tools, and building a number of projects from small simple boxes to a 17th century joiners workbench. The forthcoming additions to this blog will outline my path so far, what I have learned, the items I have made with hand tools, and the joy that I have gained.