Compounding Errors and A Benchmaker’s Tale of Woe

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Techniques | 0 comments

My first mistake was working while I was sick. I’ve had a succession of three summer colds with no more than two or three healthy days between them. When I have a cold my ability to plan for the future drops to almost nothing. This is not a good frame of mind to work in when you’re designing a bench in a style you’ve never built before (Split-Top Roubo), for an imaginary customer (this is a spec bench), incorporating hardware you’ve never used before (damn you barrel bolts!).

When I build a custom bench I ask my customer all sorts of questions about how the bench will be used, where it will be used and what hardware they might want. I use the answers to these more general questions to generate a very specific set of design parameters, from the height at the bench top right down to the clearance under the rails. When I build an unsold bench I try to use a design that will appeal to as many potential customers as possible while still creating something highly functional for the end user.

This led to my second mistake. Typically I make the clearance under the rails of my benches around 3-4″ high. This gives you the ability to hook a toe under the rail during a vigorous planing session when you need a little extra leverage. On this spec bench I decided to make the clearance 5″ so that a shorter customer could cut the legs down and still get their toes under the bench.

The compounding errors began to pile up at this point. The higher rail raised the location of the barrel bolts. Had I been working with a clear head I would have realized the barrel bolts were going to interfere with the criss-cross. I may have been running a fever or maybe it was the 105 degree heat, but I shrugged this off and simply raised the location of the criss cross and thus the location of the screw. As I completed the layout I discovered the screw would pass directly through the center of the top rail. No problem. I’ll just make a new leg and a new rail.

At this point the third cold was still not going away so I finally made a trip to the doctor and came home with some antibiotics. I had to step away from the bench for a few days to prepare for a large show, so as the drugs did their work, the bench was out of sight and out of mind. Yesterday I got a few precious hours in the shop and was able to join up one end of the base, the one with the new leg. It really looked great.

This morning I got up at 4:30 and drove 8 hours to the show and, with my freshly cleared head, thought about the bench and the mistakes I had made during its construction. I should have drawn in all the parts. I should have visualized how they all fit together. I should have gone to the doctor sooner.

Then my heart sank. I should have realized that raising the screw was going to put the handwheel nearly flush with the top of the bench!

If this was my bench I would plug holes and drill new ones. I would laminate stock onto the front rail and move the barrel bolts back. I would solve the problems and fix the parts.I would make do and still have a great bench.

But this isn’t my bench. It’s your bench and it has to be pristine. So tomorrow I’ll call my lumber supplier and order up a few more pieces of 16/4 maple. When the show ends next week and I get back to the shop, I’ll break down that stock and get to work on a new base.

I’ll finish your bench and it will be pristine! See you a WIA!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: