Big Ash Bench

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Project by RobS posted 07-31-2007 05:03 PM 2953 views 2 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A few years ago I actually brought a slab of ash home in a suitcase.

While visiting my parents in NH, my father was making a point of how nicely the ash would rive along the length of the log. I decided we could split off a piece, small enough to fit in our large suitcase to take back to Texas. Wanting to use it for a bench, we used my dad’s old 1.5 inch auger to mortise 4 holes completely through the slab at a slight angle to allow the legs to splay slightly. I then trimmed the ends of the slab at an angle with my dad’s table saw, eliminating as much bulk as possible as not to exceed the airline luggage weight limit. The slab’s rough dimensions ended up being 27” x 12” x 3”. I think it was a 28 inch suitcase.

Texas would need to provide the legs; I ended up using 4 pieces of bois d’arc (aka, Osage Orange) from my own back yard. I hand cut the tenons using a saw and chisel, fine tuned it with rasps, a push blade and sandpaper. I used a hose clamp, set at just the right circumference, to gauge my progress on the tenon. Once the hose clamp slid up and down the tenon with just a slight clearance all the way around, I knew it would then fit the mortise snuggly. Then I just pounded the legs in and considered the bench done, no glue, just carefully snugged 3” mortise and tenon joints.

Fast forward to this last Saturday night; my wife moved the bench to a new site and a leg came loose in the mortise and slid out a bit. I said, “Hey, I could fix this and if I don’t use any glue or fasteners, I could then enter it in the joinery contest.” Remembering it also had a slight wobble from not so perfectly cut legs, I decide to provide it with a little TLC on Sunday.

Well it just so happened that the leg that needed fixing had not only the smallest diameter of the four legs, it was also the rascal contributing to the wobble. While attempting to saw a sliver from that old leg, I broke it, snapped right at the base of the tenon. No problem, there’s more bos d’arc where that came from. After choosing the right log, and cutting the new tenon, I decided to attempt to wedge all 4 tenons, a first for me, and this could only add to my joinery competition complexity, raising the bar just a little more, right?

Adding the new leg allowed me to add some pics of the tenon process:
(inserted above)

I cut the wedges from some scrap oak on the table saw and cut the tenon’s right down the middle with my hand saw. After sanding the whole bench down again, I added a couple coats of teak oil and now there is no wobble and I don’t think those legs are going anywhere.

So here it is, perhaps a bit bulky, a bit rustic, a little heavy but certainly sentimental as it has wood from my parents yard in NH and also from my yard in TX.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

15 comments so far

View RJones's profile


317 posts in 4360 days

#1 posted 07-31-2007 05:25 PM

Big ash bench! Nice man I love the name!! This rustic stuff really amazes me!! You know you are making the judging harder right??? Very nice!!


View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4611 days

#2 posted 07-31-2007 05:58 PM

good looking bench. I have had exactly the same experiences with rustic work that you have. Legs that fell out, even after gluing and wedging them. I went back to the book on rustic furniture this summer when I built two more benches out of cedar, and did what they suggested, which was putting a long screw through the side of the leg diagonally into the seat. So far, no loose legs. It does however, make it difficult to enter it in a “no-glue-no-nail-no-screw” competition, ha.

I also had a leg break off one time on a rustic stool when my son was pushing one of my stools around the room pretending to be a “train engine”. It snapped off right at the tenon shoulder and he toppled on top of it a big screaming pile. I was flabergasted, not at him, but that my leg broke off with such light play. He was real sad, crying, apologizing over and over, and I just said that, “We can fix it.” And then he helped me fix it.

Since then, I have used a bigger fillet on that shoulder, and make the tenons bigger in diameter. Also, I don’t let the boy push them around the room anymore. I just purchased a big slow speed drill motor, and now I want a 1-1/2” long auger bit to do the drill mortises. I am hoping to do more rustic work for fun as time goes along.

thanks for posting,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4512 days

#3 posted 07-31-2007 06:10 PM

Thanks Ron! I hope the name doesn’t offend others, I struggled a little with that, but in the end that’s what it is….

Thanks to you too Mark. The old tenon on the old leg that broke was not as snug a fit as the others and I think water entered that joint and contributed to it’s down fall. Bois d’arc is one of the strongest woods plus, at 1-1/2” in diameter and almost 3” long, the tenons should last a long time. And weighing in at roughly 36 pounds, the bench won’t get pushed around much by the younguns’. Thanks again.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View mot's profile


4922 posts in 4242 days

#4 posted 07-31-2007 06:20 PM

That’s great Rob! I like the description and demonstration of splitting along the grain. That came out really cool!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4366 days

#5 posted 07-31-2007 06:22 PM

the name is just the facts, right?? but boy, is that one big ash bench!!
I love it… love the look, love the story (especially the luggage part); love the “how to fix it” and the end result.

(and the name, of course).

Well done!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4452 days

#6 posted 07-31-2007 06:38 PM

Very nice looking bench, rustic. I like it too good. jockmike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4512 days

#7 posted 07-31-2007 07:45 PM

Thanks Tom, Debbie and Mike.

Tom – Yes, dad and I split the ash with wedge and sledge (maybe a froe too).

Glad you like the name too Debbie, something along the lines of “if the shoe fits….”

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View Karson's profile


35149 posts in 4606 days

#8 posted 07-31-2007 07:51 PM

Great bench Rob. And great recovery.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4532 days

#9 posted 08-01-2007 01:11 AM

I think I remember that trip… you brought up a bunch of consumables, (and presumably mailed all your clothes home), to fill up the suitcases with wood… our kids must think we’re nuts – or everyone else is!

Kudos on getting your big ash bench done long before my (long forgotten one)... which I hate to admit, is bigger.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4382 days

#10 posted 08-01-2007 01:33 AM

Good entry, Rob.

Best wishes.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4411 days

#11 posted 08-01-2007 02:46 AM

Hi Rob;
—-this is rustic furniture at it’s best, and then from NH to Texas….and then ‘big ash’ is all-ways bigger in NH. Ha!,....sorry if I have to disappoint the Texas crowd….

And I suppose that when you say ‘split’, you are referring to ‘riving’ ? I like how you have chosen to do the tenons with saw, chisel, rasp, and push blade….by the way I was wondering, is the rasp with the wooden handle one that you have made? I really like the handle. Also your use of the hose clamp to gauge tenon diameter is one of noteworthy consideration.

....and then hand cutting the oak wedges and hammering them in for ‘wedged through tenons’. Your craftsmanship at doing rustic by hand and hand tools is one where the bar that has been raised is now shown to be possible in ‘wood joinery’.

Great finish, great rustic bench and a great worker of wood you are!
Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4449 days

#12 posted 08-01-2007 02:10 PM

It sometime seems the more i get into woodworking, i find myself using more hand tools than i used to. Some of it is learning how to sharpen properly and keep sharpened.

Nice bench …
I have not built rustic furniture yet, but after reviewing you bench I may try some. I have all the logs from a walnut tree behind the shop, haven’t taken to a saw mill yet.

-- Joel Tille

View PanamaJack's profile


4483 posts in 4283 days

#13 posted 08-01-2007 02:19 PM

Nice bench, Rob, and great story about how it came it came to be.

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4512 days

#14 posted 08-01-2007 03:45 PM

Thanks to all for all the comments!

Frank, you caught me on 3 fronts:
-Yes, after I read the definition of riving, that is indeed what I meant. Ash rives nicely along the length of the log, I’ll fix the story.
-Yes, Dad gave me the micro plane intended for use in a hacksaw handle, I feel that I have more control with my homemade handle, perhaps I’ll post that as a project (cause you know there is a small story there, too).
-I’m sorry to disappoint, I cut the oak wedges on the table saw. In my haste to finish the story, it does read like I cut them by hand also, I’ll fix that too. All else was by hand and I do enjoy the hand tools, I believe they let you understand the wood better, they may be slow sometimes, but they “still work”. If there is a good way to make wedges by hand, then someone please blog it/post it, I’d love to know how.

Armed with that third point you may wish to change your comments, Frank, you are too kind indeed. Thanks again.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4411 days

#15 posted 08-02-2007 12:16 AM

Hi Rob;
—-no-need to amend what I said….hey, it’s still great working of wood....ha!; and once the standard has been raised, how can it be lowered….

I have and still do rive my wedges by hand with a froe and maul….timber framing slick….or ax, lesser in size I use smaller chisels. After riving the wood you then have to spend time cleaning up the wedges by hand using gouges. Yes, it can amount to a lot of time spent making those wedges….for speed I will use my pull saws and bandsaw. In the end what it all amounts to is….how much time do you have and what gives you the most satisfaction….by hand-tool or by power-tool it’s still called ‘working the wood!

Also why not do that story and post a project on the rasp and ‘homemade handle’....I like stories!

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

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