It was certainly full of sound and fury for about 15 minutes, but perhaps it signifies something – like me learning yet another lesson… :-)
I spent most of the summer since July 4th away from home – in sunny San Jose, California. No, not a vacation, but working away on software, as usual. (Not that I didn’t enjoy the weather which was its usual monotonous perfection, but I hate living in a hotel). I finally am back home and taking a few days off. I swore I would get out into the shop and get that bench going. Perhaps not finished, but well on its way.
So I spent the last few days waling away on the legs and stretchers, getting them just right – plumb and square. Then I sharpened my chisels and started hacking the mortises out. I am following Chris Schwarz’ Roubo which uses laminated 1.25” strips for the top and the legs and stretchers. Then, by cutting them just so, instant tenons! Works well, though in retrospect I should have been even more careful to keep the “tenon” pieces at 1.26-1.28”. This is because I bored out the mortises with a 1.25” Forstner so the tenons that snuck under 1.25 (like 1.23”) were just a little undersized. Not a big deal, but I would be more careful if I did it again.
Did I mention being careful? Well, I bored out all the mortises, then started whacking with the chisel. Clearly, I have more practice to do but I got them all done. All but one. And while testing that one in the mortise, I pulled too abruptly on the stretcher and it zoomed back towards me and hit me a right bonk on the nose. Blood immediately dripping everywhere. Just a small cut on my nose but it’s unlikely to improve my looks. At first I thought I might have broken my nose, but it was much more minor than that. Oh well, first shop accident. If that’s the worst I have, I’ll be very fortunate.
Then today, ah today. Assembly day! Everything was ready! I laid out all I needed; glue, wet rags, sharpened oak dowels, mallet, drawbore pin.
And so I began. All the legs and stretchers were labeled: LR, LF, RR, RF. How could I screw it up? How the gods must have laughed.
I glued up and fitted the first two joints – the short stretcher between the front and back legs. Not perfect, but for a newbie amateur, not bad. I was pleased. Fist pumps and the whole nine yards. I set the first pair of legs and stretcher on the floor and admired it. I then turned to the second. It went just as well and soon I was wiping up the last of the glue and thinking I’d give them a couple of hours to set then do the long stretchers.
I was pleased, checking the fit and angles – everything square and plumb, wow! Then I thought I would check the width top and bottom to see if it was plumb top to bottom. First set of legs, 23 5/8”, as expected (supposed to be 23 3/4 originally, but I made the short stretchers a hair short – no big deal). Checked the second pair of legs. What the hay? 23 1/4” ??! How can this be? 3/8” off? Can’t be. Stepped back and thought about it, looked again and a horror ran through me.
I had put the stretchers in the wrong mortises on the first pair! The tenons on the tops should have been 90 degrees to the stretcher, but they were parallel! I had assembled it backwards. Dear God in heaven! It was drawbored and glued. All done! And it had been drying for over 10 minutes! Did I say sound and fury? OMG. What to do? Only thing to do, take it apart, like right now!
But how? I quickly sawed off the protruding pieces of the oak dowels, then grabbed my drill and a 1/4” bit and drilled out all four of the dowels, then went to a 3/8” and drilled it out again. Banged against the joint with a 12 oz dead blow hammer. Nothing. Again and again. Nothing. Nice joint, Ric! Strong! So I grabbed a couple of my big bar clamps, which one is supposed to be able to invert and use as stretchers. Never tried it before, but no time like the present! I’m yanking on those suckers like there is no tomorrow, pieces flying all over the shop (meanwhile the oldies station on the radio is playing ‘The Last Kiss’ by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers – who asked for that?). I get the clamps in and manage to start getting some pressure and Mirabile Dictu! The joint starts coming apart and then I have it off.
One off, but now what? I can’t use the clamp trick again because there is nothing to push against. I quickly slam the leg down on the bench top (the bench isn’t done and I’m already using it a lot!). I put two more clamps on the stretcher, clamping it very tight to the bench. Then I grab my 5 pound “single jack” (mini-sledge) a piece of pine scrap and start pounding on the leg. One, two, three, four times – hard! And the joint begins to come apart. Again and again and the joint comes free!
Hallelujah! Of course, I have now mangled the joint, at least somewhat, but at least I am not totally screwed. I clean up all the glue, carefully remove the mangled remnants of the dowels and look it over. I actually all looks fairly good. The holes in the stretcher are kind of mangled, so the “draw boring” isn’t going to be too effective, but oh well, some extra glue and a clamp should make it usable. Maybe an extra dowel into each tenon. I clean it up a little more, then, armed with 4 new dowels, I repeat the assembly – this time putting the stretchers’ tenons in the right mortises… ;-)
The Lesson: Use lots of clear and unambiguous labels! Check everything twice! Think!
So the assembly was more exciting than I intended, but I and the bench seem to have survived. I’ll go have lunch now and let it dry for a couple of hours, then try to finish the assembly. Phew!
-- Ric, Northern Illinois, "Design thrice, measure twice, cut once... slap forehead, start over"