Five-Board Bench

After building a number of boxes of different styles and uses, I wanted to build some furniture pieces. I thought I should start pretty simple and I decided to build a five-board bench. These are classic utilitarian pieces with straight forward boarded (nail joinery) construction. The design involves, wait for it, five boards, a top, two ends, and two rails. The rails are inset into the ends for better stability. I chose to make mine 18” tall to match our dining chairs. It was 38” long and 11 1/8” wide with the width being dictated by the widest pine board at the home center, 1×12 gross dimensions. I bought the clearest, straightest 1×4 (rails) and 1×12 spruce-fir-pine (SPF) boards I could find that day at the home center. I let them acclimatize to my house for more than a month before dimensioning each piece.

Sidebar: I store all my project wood (before, during, and after construction) in the house. This helps to keep the materials at a more constant moisture content than they would stay in my shed workshop. A more constant moisture content means better stability to resist further cupping or warping. My house remains between 40-60% relative humidity while the shed fluctuates from 30% to 99% depending on the weather. I read about this storage approach in Jim Tolpin’s book The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set.

This project started where all hand woodwork starts by cutting the boards to rough length (1” longer than finished) and planing them so they have at least one true face and one true edge. Probably my favourite description of this planing process is in Joesph Moxon’s book The Art of Joinery. It seems that SPF boards from the home center always need significant work to get them flat even though they have already been surface planed at the mill. In fact a considerable pile of shavings was needed for these boards and they started at 3/4” thickness and ended as flat boards as 5/8”.


Once the boards were flat I marked and cut the notches on the ends for the rails. Then I made the cuts on the ends that defined the “feet” of the bench, basically these are large v-notches. I could have ‘gang-sawed’ (pieces clamped together and joints sawed simultaneously in both pieces by sawing through both boards at same time) the notches, but as my hand dimensioned pieces were not all the exact thickness I cut them separately to insure a better fit. With the dimensioning and joinery cuts finished, assembly was done using 6d cut nails. I used 3/32” pilot holes (pilot hole depth was 2/3 nail length) for the cut nails. I affixed the piece to my bench also using my twin-screw vice and clamps to aid in the tightness of the nail joints as I nailed the piece together. Nails were set using a nailset I filed to match the pattern of the cut nail’s rectangular head.

The finished piece before painting.

five board bench, unfinished

I painted the piece using two coats of ‘Lexington Green’ milk paint followed by an application of Danish oil. My references for learning to use this type of paint were articles by Mike Dunbar and Christopher Schwarz.

five board bench milk paint cut nails


Damn Those Mosquitoes – Building Screen Panels

As my woodworking space is in a shed, I get to not only experience the sites and sounds of hand tools working but also the ups and downs of the seasons. This winter the cold made building a little difficult. I think I managed to work on my workbench build until it hit 8 degrees in the shed. The hot just requires a beverage and shower. The mosquitoes are another story. So one of my goals this summer was to build screen panels for the doorway of my shed. That way I did not have to contend with many of those little devils any more.

The screen panels were a pretty simple design. I did not go all out and use mortise and tenon. They were built using 1×4 yellow-pine and half-lap joinery. The half-laps were glued and screwed. I had read about half-lap joinery and seen how others have sawed the shoulders and split out the waste (cheeks of the half-lap) with a chisel. I learned very quickly that splitting yellow-pine yields a frustrated woodworker and poor joints. Thus I did some additional reading and finished the remaining six end joints by sawing the shoulders and cheeks. That worked pretty well and the two panels turned out solid and pretty square. Actually much squarer than the doorway of the shed so some planing with my Jack plane was needed to get the fit finalized. The fibreglass screen as attached to the panels using a staple gun. The panels have been a great addition to my workshop and now the mosquitoes I see are flying outside behind the screens and not in my ear as I try to saw or chop.

Wooden screen panels half-lap joinery

Dull Saw to Sharp Saw – Building a Saw Vise

One of my skills I wanted to develop this year was sharpening handsaws.  Since the availability of new, well-made handsaws is limited, the ones I have acquired are used (via antique stores, ebay, etsy, and Second Chance Saw Works) and date to before 1950.  Currently, I have some of the common Disston models D-23, No. 7, and D-8 with 26″ saw plates and a variety of tooth patterns.  As a reference, Matt Cianci’s post on WKFineTools gives a great overview on saws required for hand woodwork.

Before sharpening saws, one must have a proper saw filing vise.  Gramercy Tools makes a great vise; one can also use a vintage vise or a shop made one.  The plans for a wooden saw vise in Popular Woodworking (June 2010 issue #183 p. 52-53) seemed like a good route for me.  I made mine of 3/4″ thick yellow-poplar.  It was joined with SPAX no. 8 wood screws (not to be confused with Spanx woman’s ‘shapewear’) .

Saw sharpening vise

Now that my saw vise is done, I will begin the more difficult part, filing several of my rip and cross-cut saws.  Here I am ripping a pine board with a Lakeside (Warranted Superior medallion) 5 1/2 ppi saw.  The first that I have filed.

Ripping on saw bench

And Another Box, This Time Dovetailed

After building my tool chest and feeling pretty comfortable with rabbet and cut nail joinery, I wanted to expand my box building experience with a dovetailed box.  My design for this box was of similar style to the previous box I built from pine joined by nails. It would end up a little larger, 9 5/16″ L x 5 1/2″ D x 4 1/2″ H, and be made from 1/2″ yellow-poplar.  Before cutting the boards to rough length with my sash saw, I did a couple practice dovetail joints.   After these practice joins, I felt reasonable confident I could layout and cut the ones needed for the box carcass.

I finished the box at the beginning of this summer after a couple of weeks of working at night, perhaps 8+ hours of work including stock flattening to final finishing.  Dovetails were cut by sawing pins first, removing primary waste with coping saw, and finishing with chisel paring cuts.  Box lid and bottom had 3/8″ chamfers made using my jack (no. 5) plane.  The dovetail joints were trimmed with a no. 4 Stanley smoothing plane which I bought for $12 at an antique store and restored in the fall 2014.  This plane was also used to true-up and smooth the box sides, lid, and bottom.  The bottom was attached to the carcass using 4d (1 1/2″) headless cut brads.  Brass hinges and Danish oil finished this piece.

Dovetailed box frontIMG_2911

Dovetail box - PinsDovetail Box - Tails

A Joinery Tool Chest

The first piece constructed using my new workbench was a portable tool chest. I store my tools in the house, while I do all of my woodworking in my shed and outdoors. Therefore this chest would help me organize and transport my growing body of joinery tools including two western style back saws (14” hybrid filed sash saw and 9” dovetail saw). That way I could grab this box when I head out to the shed and I would have most of the tools I need to layout pieces and cut joinery. The chest measures 22” W x 17” D x 9 ½ H (including battens) and holds most of my primary tools except my rip and cross cut handsaws, Stanley no. 7 jointer plane, and hand drills (bit brace and ‘eggbeater’).


The carcass of the chest was built using 1×8 pine from the home center and rabbet and cut nail joints. The chest bottom was tongue and groove yellow-poplar. I used poplar flooring boards with precut tongue and groove as they are fairly inexpensive and because I do not own a plow plane. The chest lid was made using two pieces of pine held together with yellow-poplar battens and clinched cut nails.

Christopher Schwarz’s book The Anarchist‘s Tool Chest provides a very good overview regarding the design of a tool chests and stresses good planning on how the space is arranged and tools stored. To lay out the interior for this piece I sketched varying dimensions and how items like my backsaws, tool roll, Stanley no. 4 smoothing plane, and try squares would fit. I also needed to consider how wide the chest would be based upon the longest tool I wanted to store in it and a comfortable width for me to carry it quite regularly from the house to the shed. I settle on 22” wide. While I cannot store my Stanley no. 7 in it, it fits through our door ways and I can handle it pretty easily with my “wingspan”.


About a third of the chest interior is made-up by the backsaw till. This till is made from yellow-poplar and has 1/8” grooves cut vertically to hold the backsaws. The grooves are deep enough so the saw is supported by its back and not the toothline touching the bottom. I ripped these grooves by holding the pieces in the Moxon twin screw vise I built. Since 1/8” is wider than the kerf of any saw I owned, I had to rip these using a saw cut on each side of the groove and removing the waste with a coping saw. After my first attempt to saw these grooves was a failure, my second approach was to saw each side of the groove incrementally (i.e., saw a bit on one side then saw the equivalent depth on the other) until the depth had been reached. In addition to the saw till, I mortised a piece of walnut to hold my small try square and made a support on the side of the chest interior to hold my 9” try square. The the hinges and handles are basic home center stuff. The exterior of the chest was finished with two coats of danish oil. The chest has served well so far and I am pleased with its design.